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Title: Misread Passage of Scriptures
Author: Brown, James Baldwin, 1820-1884
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    MISREAD PASSAGES
    OF
    SCRIPTURE.


    BY
    J. BALDWIN BROWN, B.A.,
    _Author of "The Divine Life in Man," "The Home Life," &c., &c._

    New York:
    CARLTON & LANAHAN,
    805, BROADWAY.
    1869.



PREFACE.


The accompanying Sermons on "Misread Passages of Scripture" form part of
a series which the author projected, but which through ill health he has
been unable to complete. He sends them forth in this imperfect form, in
compliance with the wish of the publishers; and in the belief too that
the topics of some of them will not be without interest, in the conflict
of thought on theological subjects which waxes rather than wanes year by
year.

The reader will see that much space has not been occupied with critical
discussions; nor has the author gone out of his way to correct the
English version of the Scriptures. He appreciates fully the value of
critical inquiries; but it is wonderful how the sense of leading
passages of the Bible gets moulded, apart from, and even in defiance of,
critical considerations, by the bias of the various theological schools.
Each school makes, if not its own version of the Bible, its own
interpretation of the leading passages; and tradition plays an important
part in the Protestant as well as in the Roman Church. The text being
accepted, each party makes its own version of it, and widely different
senses are extracted from the same words. Hence it happens that
important passages of Scripture have certain ideas associated with them
in the popular mind, which, if they are erroneous, are not to be
corrected by a simple announcement, on competent critical authority, of
the true rendering of the text.

The author of this little volume believes that there are some very
popular but very detrimental misapprehensions, not of the true reading
only, but of the true bearing of many important passages; and he offers
this slight contribution towards a true understanding of them in the
earnest hope that it may stimulate some so to search the Scriptures as
to find in them not the confirmation of cherished dogmas, far less
stones for the slings of theological war, but the Word of Eternal Life.

                                                   J. BALDWIN BROWN.

            CLAPHAM,
    _New Year's Day_, 1869.



Misread Passages of Scripture.



I.

THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST.

    "My kingdom is not of this world."--JOHN xviii. 36.


Perhaps there is no passage of Scripture more constantly misunderstood
than these simple words; and certainly there is no misunderstanding of
Scripture which has exercised a more detrimental influence on the life
and development of the church. The whole passage contains the very
marrow of the doctrine of Christ concerning His kingdom. It is the basis
of its constitution. To this, its subjects have rightly looked in all
ages for instruction as to its fundamental spirit, principles, and aims.
Words more solemn, more pregnant, were never spoken in this world, in
this universe, than these. They were spoken at the very crisis of
universal destinies. They form the dividing line between the two
eternities. From eternity all things had been working towards that
hour--the consummation of the incarnation; and to eternity the influence
of that hour would go forth, remoulding, regenerating all the worlds.
Beyond any words that have ever been spoken, these words are worthy of
intense and reverent attention. They are the words with which the Son of
God passed on to the cross, that He might pass up to the throne.

The two kings stood there in presence. The representative of the king of
this world, who wielded all its force and guided all its movements, the
man who had but to nod and the whole civilized world trembled and
obeyed; and a King, the elements of whose kingship few could discern,
who wielded a strange power and produced a deep impression that He had a
right to rule over men, but who wore no signs of royalty and laid no
claim to the possession of this world's thrones. Nay, a kingdom had been
forced on Him, and He escaped as from a deadly danger from the homage of
His subjects, while He spake to them such searching spiritual words that
they conceived a great dread of His kingly commands and claims. He bade
them begin to rule themselves when they were dreaming of a splendid rule
over the gentiles; and He turned inwards on the inner obliquity,
foulness, and deformity, those eyes which were watching eagerly for the
signs of an approaching advent of a glorious, celestial imperator to the
world. Jesus looked on Pilate's kingship, and fathomed it perfectly. He
knew from whence the power sprang, and by what springs it was fed, which
seated Pilate's master on the world's imperial throne. Pilate found the
royalty of Jesus unfathomable; none of his worldly experiences helped
him to understand it. Art Thou a king then, poor, worn, tear-stained
Outcast, forsaken of every subject, of every friend, in the hour of Thy
bitter need? And yet the nascent smile of scorn was checked by something
which cast a spell even on that worn-out profligate's heart. That lonely
wasted Man there had that about Him which made the representative of the
world's master afraid. It seemed mere idle talk to a man like Pilate: "a
kingdom not of this world;" "witnessing to truth;" "disciples of the
truth:" it was all childish to the trained intellect of this experienced
ruler; and yet there seemed to be some power beyond the grasp of his
intellect, which something within him recognised, and which might create
and rule a kingdom after a fashion which till then had never even
crossed his dreams. But to him the mystery remained insoluble. He wrote
a title to which his instinct gave a reality that his intellect denied,
"JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS." And here in this passage we have
the Lord's own declaration of the constitution and aims of His kingdom;
the kingdom which, from that hour, has been the ruling element in the
history of this world, and, as we learn from the Apocalypse, of all the
worlds of the great universe of God. And men persistently misread it as
they misread Him, and employ His words as they employed His works, to
frustrate the purpose for which He entered into the world.

Let us see how the misunderstanding of these words arose.

"My kingdom is not of this world:" literally "not from," originally "out
of" this world. A clear understanding of the full force of this will
give us the clue to the interpretation of our Lord's words. There is an
old sense of the preposition "of," which closely corresponds with the
full sense of the word employed in the Greek, expressing "out of,"
"springing from." But "of," like other words and other things, in the
course of time has got weakened by the wear and tear of life; and the
sense "belonging to," "connected with," is its natural suggestion to
modern ears; whereby the sense of our Lord's words has been grievously
weakened too. Did the Lord mean to say, "My kingdom has nothing to do
with the institutions and arrangements of the worldly life of men: you
need not fear any rivalry, delegate of Caesar; My kingdom is in a quite
different sphere, and will keep there, without touching yours: it only
has to do with men as spiritual beings, with a view to their final
destiny in the eternal state: keep to your secular province, and we
shall never cross or clash: the two spheres are quite separate, and
nothing but mischief can come of their commerce: I leave you to rule;
leave Me to teach, unfettered by conditions; for I aim at no influence
on earth, My one object is to persuade men to live a life separate from
this world, as much detached as possible from its interests and
pursuits, that they may enter into My heavenly kingdom when death
releases them, and where the sphere will be all My own"? Was this His
meaning? or did He mean to say, "My kingdom is not out of this world; it
comes down into this world from on high: this world is, like man, made
of the dust of the earth, 'of the earth, earthy,' except some spirit
breathe into it from the higher world--then it lives: My kingdom comes
to the kingdoms of this world, the interests, aims, pursuits, and common
life of men, like this breath of Divine inspiration: without it they all
languish and must perish; with it they live: it is a descent of heavenly
truth, heavenly love, heavenly life, into the sphere of the earthly, to
make it live anew; the earth languishes for My kingdom, for without Me
it dies: leave Me free to fulfil My mission, not because this world is
nothing to Me, and My kingdom will not trouble itself with its affairs,
but because My truth, My life, My love are needful to the life of this
world as vital air to the body; because all business, all domestic life,
all friendship, all society, all government, all thought, all art, all
learning are waiting, are panting, for the living baptism which I bring.
I am not of the world, My kingdom is not of the world, in the springs of
its influence; it is essentially of heaven, and from heaven: but it
seeks the world as the sphere of its influence, the field of its
conquest, the realm of its rule. With yearning desire, eagerly as man
yearns for fellowship, a friend for the brother of his spirit, the
bridegroom for the bride, I seek and claim this world as My own"?

Here are the two ideas of the meaning of these words of our Lord set
fairly against each other. The number of those who would deliberately
adopt and justify the former is happily growing less year by year. Were
we caring only for formal misunderstandings of important passages of
Scripture in these discourses, it would be hardly worth while to discuss
seriously a perversion which is vanishing with the changed aspects of
the times. But the spirit, the savour, of an error continues long to
work after it has been formally exploded; and we discuss this passage
in this present discourse under the strong conviction that the false
view which we have described above continues to tincture very deeply our
theology, our preaching, and our social ideas and habits, even in those
who would utterly repudiate the formal idea of the Lord's kingdom on
which it rests.

Some of the results of this misconception of the true nature of the
kingdom have been as follow:--

1. The idea has been widely entertained that the aim of the Lord has
been, not to save the world, but to save a chosen few out of the world,
leaving calmly the great mass to go to wreck. The favourite notion has
been that the Lord's disciples have been in all ages, and still will be,
an isolated band, like Israel in Egypt; hating the world around them,
hated by it, and waiting only the happy opportunity, the hour of
deliverance, to pass out of it triumphant, and leave it to perish by the
strokes of the Lord's avenging hand. This idea, that the Church is a
little band of chosen ones in the midst of a hostile and reprobate
world, is a very favourite one with the disciples in all ages; and it is
nourished by the tone in which the apostles wrote and spoke to the few
poor men and women who were to begin the work of restoration, and who
needed to be upborne against tremendous pressure by the assurance of the
special and personal intervention of the God of heaven on behalf of the
little company whom He loved. They needed a strong support against a
world which was bent on destroying them as it had destroyed their Lord;
and so the apostle wrote, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal
priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth
the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His
marvellous light. Which in time past were not a people, but are now the
people of God; which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained
mercy." "Fear not, little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to
give you the kingdom." That the disciples have been the few in all ages
is alas only too palpable to those whose sight pierces no farther than
Elijah's, and who cannot fathom the secret things which are unveiled to
the eye of God. But it is a dark heresy to believe that the Lord meant
that His own should be the few in all ages, and that the rescue of an
election from the impending ruin can satisfy the heart of Him who cried,
as the hour of His anguish drew nigh, "And I, if I be lifted up from the
earth, will draw all men unto me."

2. Closely associated with this is the notion that all which belongs to
the earthly life of men has a certain taint of evil upon it, is corrupt
and corrupting in its very nature; so that if a disciple touches it he
must touch it like pitch, cautiously, and expect contamination with all
his care. That if he must enter into the world's activities, buy, sell,
and get gain, marry and give in marriage, rule households and take part
in the government of states, he must do it under protest and under the
spur of a sharp necessity, and is bound to long anxiously for the time
when the need of all this will be over, and he will be free to meditate
on Divine things and to praise through eternity. If Christ's kingdom be
not of this world, he argues, then all which is of this world, politics,
literature, art, society, trade cannot be of Christ's kingdom; and His
subjects, hampered by these evil cares for a time, must be ever looking
forward eagerly to the day when they will be freed from them for ever.
And this is the meaning which is constantly veiled under the phrase,
"the coming of the Lord Jesus," and expressed in the prayer, "Even so,
Lord Jesus, come quickly."

3. Then further there is the notion that it is only in a very partial
sense that we can talk of Christ's kingdom here, that it belongs
essentially to the future and eternal state, and can only be fully
comprehended by him who can separate it in thought from all the
blemishes and accidents of time, and behold it, pure from the defilement
and degradation of the earthly (that is the human) in this world, in its
glorious Divine form in eternity.

And surely there is a great truth here. The perfect image of it, as
Plato said of the polity of which he dreamed, abides only in the
heavens; and we need to refresh both courage and hope, when we see the
blots and fractures of the kingdom here, by contemplating the pure form
of it which abides in the heavens with God. But dreams and
contemplations will never bring it down from the heavens; it is here, or
nowhere. It is this earthly image which is to be translated into that
heavenly likeness; and if we would be near to and like the King, we must
follow Him into the very heart of the world's business and throngs, not
that we may seek His chosen there and rescue them from the world, but
that we may rescue the world from all that makes it other than Christ's
kingdom, by driving out of it "everything that defileth, or worketh
abomination, or maketh a lie," and thus purify its atmosphere, cleanse
the ducts and channels of its life, invigorate its energy, and
consecrate its activity, till it grows like its ideal in heaven.

And what has been the history of the kingdom? Since the first hour of
its establishment, perpetual intervention in an action upon the worldly
affairs of men. It is literally true that Dean Milman's history of Latin
Christianity is the completest history of the Western European world
during the middle ages, extant in our language. And why? Because during
the middle ages, and until now, the Church has been the backbone of
human society. All man's dearest interests and hopes have gathered
around the kingdom; over its destinies, and under its banners, all man's
deadliest battles have been fought. "Yes!" it may be answered; "but this
is just the corruption of the kingdom; because it mixed itself with
worldly affairs, and suffered worldly men to administer it, it became
the centre and pivot of all the movements of human society." But this
state of things was at any rate the confession that the men of this
world could not get on without the kingdom, that when it was once
revealed it inevitably tended to gather around itself all the vital
activity of the world. Since Christ appeared, men have felt everywhere
that they must place themselves and their concerns in some kind of vital
relation to the Church. And this has been the key to the public life of
Christendom; in fact it has made Christendom in opposition to
heathendom, as the province of all the most cultivated and progressive
races of mankind. The forms of relation which men created were no doubt
worldly enough; but the sense that they needed the relation, and must
find it to live out a true man's life was not worldly, but true, noble,
and Divine. The Church from the very hour of the ascension of its Head,
began to act on human society as incomparably the most powerful
influence extant in the world. It literally re-made society from the
very foundations. Far from contenting itself with mastering the will of
individual subjects, and wooing them away from the pursuits and
interests of the world around them, it entered the homes of men, and
cast out the harpy passions which had befouled them; it gave marriage
new sacredness, parents new authority and new responsibility, and
children new grounds of obedience to their sires. It entered the market
and established just weights and balances, honest word, and loyal trust.
Theft could be no virtue, and lying no graceful accomplishment, where it
established its reign. It entered states, and changed tyrants into
kings, serfs into subjects, slaves into freemen, nobles into guardians,
pastors, and captains of industry to the poor. That very Rome which
doomed the King to a malefactor's death, it entered as a conqueror, and
it broke that proud empire to fragments. The time came when Rome could
live no longer in the moral atmosphere which it created; and then it
summoned purer, nobler, hardier races to occupy the homes and to till
the fields which Rome had depopulated and destroyed. It introduced its
laws into every code in Christendom. King Alfred begins his statute
book by reciting the laws of the kingdom of God.[A] In truth it has
penetrated and permeated every vein and fibre of human society, and it
has made it all anew. There is literally nothing with which you in this
nineteenth century can concern yourself,--trade, literature, politics,
science, art, government, social and domestic life, human rights, human
duties, human powers, human fears, aspirations, hopes and joys,--there
is not one element of our complex social and political life which is not
what it is, because eighteen centuries ago the Lord Jesus witnessed this
good confession before Pilate "Thou sayest that which I am, a king."
From the world it has asked nothing, taken nothing, but its reverence
and love: of the world in that sense it has never been. But in the
world, and through the world, the stream of its heavenly virtue and life
has wandered, and the wilderness and the solitary place have been made
glad by it, and the desert has rejoiced and blossomed as the rose. It
has sought studiously to mix itself up with all the relations and
interests of mankind; it has a word about them all, it has a law for
them all; the weight in the pedlar's bag, the sceptre of the monarch on
the throne, are alike under its rule and cognisance, for it claims man
as man to be its subject. It says that man was made to be the subject of
this kingdom, and all man's life is the true domain of its sway. It
looks upon this worldly life of ours--our life as men of this world--as
the most solemn, most sacred thing in this universe; God's school of
culture of the beings who are to fill His heavenly kingdom through
eternity. It cannot spare one relation of men, one art, one industry,
one field of activity, one interest, one joy, one hope, one love, from
its domain of empire. The whole man, the whole world, in the wholeness
of its life, it claims absolutely; and it aims to present the whole man
and his whole life, body, soul, and spirit, perfect before the presence
of His glory at last. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies
of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable
unto God, which is your reasonable service."

And now let me ask your attention to some principles which are suggested
by a true understanding of this statement of our Lord.

1. His kingdom is not _of_ this world. It is from above, and all the
springs of its power are above. The attempt to help it from beneath, to
bring the strength, the riches, the honour of this world to help the
Spirit who is from above in the work of the kingdom, cripples its
energies, frustrates its aims, and exhausts its life. Its one power is
the power of truth; "to this end was I born, for this cause came I into
the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth," said its Founder
and King. It has absolutely no other power. "Every one that is of the
truth heareth my voice;" and all the efforts of men to force, tempt, or
bribe mankind to support it, but silence that witness, which is all that
it asks to win the world to itself.

One can understand the argument of those who support a state
establishment of religion and the whole apparatus by which men seek to
win for it the supremacy to which it rightfully aspires. They say, "It
is of God, it is the heavenly truth, it is worthy of all that men can
give to it and of all the power which man can bring to bear on the
accomplishment of its work: the state does itself honour, and gives
itself stability by supporting it; monarchs are never so royal as in
lending to it their influence; all the world's riches are never so
precious as when they are poured into its treasuries, and are employed
in the promotion of its ends."

And this is no more than the simple truth. The kingdom is worthy to
receive the tribute of all the monarchs, the nobles, the wise ones, the
rich ones of the world: the more it has of the good-will and help of
every man, from the king to the beggar, the better for the kingdom, the
better for mankind. All that we say is, Let it win them. Let it win in
its own way, by putting forth its own power, the nursing care of the
noble, the rich, and the wise. Leave it to employ its own spiritual
force to do this and all at which it aims. Lend your heart to it, your
hand, your tongue, your pen, your purse, and everything else which it
can command and use to win its way to human hearts. But if you bring
your human authority to bear to win from your subjects and dependants an
outward homage, if you endow it with dead gifts administered by the
scribes and lawyers of this world, if you lend worldly pomp and power to
those who claim to be its ministers, you oppress and stifle it, and
destroy its power of progress in the world. It wants free air, the free
air of willing obedience, loyalty, and love. Rob it of that, it dies. It
is not of this world. Every gift that is wrung for it from an unwilling
hand beggars it. Its riches are the gifts of free will. Mere gold, with
no spirit of loving loyalty in the giver, is worse than dross to it; it
cankers and eats into its life. The power which has troops of soldiers
and legal tribunals behind it blights it by its very breath. All that it
asks is freedom; power to do what Christ did, in the way in which He did
it; power to bear witness to the truth, and weaken the long silent
echoes of truth in human hearts. We have cut off its heavenly
connection, and rooted it in the powers and policies of this world; and
now we wonder that it languishes, and that one half the people in a
Christian kingdom believe nothing of its truth and care nothing for its
King. Oh! for the days of apostolic trust and simplicity, when the
disciples, "continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking
bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and
singleness of heart, praising God and having favour with all the
people." Oh! for the baptism of Pentecostal fire from on high. Oh! for
one of the days of the Son of Man, whom the Father sent into the world,
armed with no authority but that of truth, clothed with no power but
that of love. How eagerly then, eager as the thirsty earth when the
sound of rain is in the sky, would men drink in the words of Him who had
more faith in the power of truth to conquer hearts than in the arms of
twelve legions of angels, and whose supreme trust was in the
all-mastering force of a love stronger than death--a love that laid down
its life that death might not for ever tyrannise over the world.

2. Make your life, your man's life in its wholeness the domain of its
empire in you. Beware of a double allegiance. How earnestly and
emphatically the Lord denounces it: "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."
Beware of yielding to Christ a part of the empire which is all His own.
Beware of that fatal distinction between the man as a Christian, and the
man as a citizen, the man as a man of business, which has grown out of
the misunderstanding of the principle laid down by our Lord. Christian
saint, Christian worshipper, Christian citizen, Christian merchant,
Christian parent, be Christian wholly. Refuse to touch a thing in any
department of your activity, which will not square with your Christian
ideas and aims. Let your daily transactions be as freely open to
Christ's inspection as to the world's honourable judgment: let it be the
aim of your life at home, abroad, in the shop, the exchange, the forum,
to show what the laws of Christ's kingdom can make of a life which is
square with their precepts. Adorn the doctrine of God your Saviour, not
by fellowship with His people only, but by winning men to worship Him by
the spectacle of your diligence, your industry, your purity, your truth,
your charity, gentleness, patience, faith, and hope in God; and when
they learn that these are the King's gifts to you, at once the signs and
the fruits of His reign, they will, like the people of old, break forth
into thanksgiving, and confess joyfully that God is with you of a
truth.

3. Count it your chief work on earth to be His fellow-helper in His
kingdom; help to win for Him the empire of the world.

His kingdom is not of this world. But it is over this world, and it
claims this world as its own. The Lord has a heart so large that only
the world can fill it. He uttered its whole longing as He entered the
cloud of the last agony:--"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will
draw all men unto me." Bear witness in the world that the one thing
needful to it is Christ. Tell statecraft that it needs the laws of the
kingdom, to regulate its methods and to indicate its ends. Tell monarchs
that they need to observe _the_ Monarch, that their rule may be a
benediction to loyal subjects instead of a curse to cringing slaves.
Tell citizens that they need to become citizens of this kingdom, that
the commonwealth on earth may be the image and the vestibule of the
commonwealth of the skies. Tell classes that they need the instructions
of this Master, that society may be less a den of selfish contentions,
and more a field of gracious ministries and ennobling toils. Tell
commerce that she needs the inspiration of this duty, that the dull, the
common, the base may be transfigured and wear the forms of beauty,
nobleness, and truth. Tell life that it needs the quickening of this
spirit, that it may not drop piecemeal through the corruptions of sin
into the darkness and rottenness of the pit. Above all, tell every soul
that hears you, that it needs Christ, the living Bread; the bread of
Christ's truth, the bread of Christ's life, the bread of Christ's love,
that it may not settle into the darkness of death for ever, but "have
everlasting life," where Christ lives and reigns at God's right hand
eternally.

FOOTNOTE:

[A] King Alfred's "new book of laws" opens with the sentence, "And the
Lord spake all these words and said, I am the Lord thy God," etc. Then
follows the decalogue; and then, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do
unto you, that do ye also unto them." Besides, there are many passages
quoted from the word of God, with most wise reflections on them and
applications of them to the matter in hand; and then he proceeds to the
laws of the realm.



II.

THE DUES OF CÆSAR AND OF CHRIST.

    "Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's; and
    unto God the things that are God's."--MATT. xxii. 21.


What things are Cæsar's? Clearly the things which bear his image and
superscription; the things on which he has the right and the power to
imprint his mark.

What things are God's? Clearly those things which bear His immediate
mark and superscription, which belong to the diviner part in man, which
are in man by the breath of the Divine inspiration, and which God
claims, and therefore has the right to claim directly and exclusively
for Himself. The Lord will not stand between Cæsar and that which bears
his image; let not Cæsar dare to stand between God and that in man which
bears His image, and which He claims to rule directly by His word and by
His Spirit indwelling in human hearts.

This text is constantly quoted to justify the refusal to pay to Cæsar
the tax, be it church-rate or anything else, which he may demand for the
support of a spiritual system, which we may not believe to be in
accordance with the Divine will. I confess that the teaching of our Lord
in these words seems to me to point in precisely the opposite direction.
The argument which one often hears is to this effect: Cæsar is intruding
into God's province when he demands anything from us for spiritual uses;
this is a department with which he has nothing whatever to do, and we
are giving him that which is God's if we yield to his claims. God alone
has the right to claim anything at our hand for spiritual uses; and we
are wronging Him, we are robbing the Lord of what political theologians
call His "crown rights," if we give unto Cæsar one farthing for the
maintenance of any Church system or systems, or any spiritual operations
of any sort, since these are of the things which belong to God alone.
The argument of our Lord in these verses points surely the other way.
With Him the test of the demand is not the purpose, but the thing
demanded. If what is asked has Cæsar's image on it, enough; let him have
it; the responsibility of using it rests with him. If Cæsar asks that
which has not his image upon it, which he cannot compel before his
tribunals or distrain by his officers, such as your judgment, your
conscience, and the support of your voice and your hand, obey God rather
than man. If you yield to Cæsar, yield because you see that it is right
in God's sight, that it is a duty to God to yield to him; if you refuse,
refuse because to yield would be wrong in God's sight, and then be
prepared to sustain your refusal even unto death.

Do not misunderstand the difficulty of the Jewish rulers, which was a
very real one. It was a case of conscience with them. They did not care
about the amount of the tribute, that was a small matter; but Cæsar was
a Gentile, idolatrous prince. Idolatry was the state religion of the
Roman empire. It was a bitter thought to the Jew that an idolater, one
capable of setting up his own image in the holy of holies, should rule
over him and exact his tribute. Was it not a betrayal of duty to God to
consent to it? Was it not right to suffer any extremities rather than
yield to the imperial claims? There was a party among the Jews who felt
so grievously the degradation and the burden on their consciences, that
they were in a chronic state of rebellion against Rome. They were always
seeking to foment the differences between their own and the Roman
government; and they were prepared to stake their own lives and the life
of the nation on their fealty, as they understood fealty, to God alone.
It was one of the questions most eagerly debated among them, which they
asked the Saviour to solve. A case of conscience,--conscience grieved by
being compelled to support a system of government other than that which
they believed had been ordained to them of God. Our Lord's solution is
most original and striking; and it offers the clearest guidance to us
through the multitude of kindred perplexities which cannot fail to arise
by reason of the ever varying relations of the secular and spiritual
powers in every age of the world. (Matt. xxii. 15-22.) The image on the
tribute money settled the matter. This is _primâ facie_ evidence that
Cæsar has a right to claim it. The power of putting an image on the
money marks it as a thing between you and Cæsar. You accept it and use
it in daily life, at Cæsar's hand. That image on the penny, the right of
coining money being represented by it, is the symbol of all the order
and benediction which flow to you from Cæsar's rule; and Cæsar's right
to exact it back again is distinctly a question between you and the
earthly monarch, into which you have no right to drag, for the purpose
of protest, the name of God. Cæsar is ordained of God to take visible
charge of this department, the order of civil society; and he and you
must settle between you the fair adjustment of his claims. A piece of
money bearing Cæsar's image is no battleground for the rights of God.
Pay whatever Cæsar asks for his purposes, no matter what they may be, so
long as by using Cæsar's mintage you give the stamp of your acquiescence
to his rule; and if his purposes seem to you to be wrong, fight him with
nobler things than pennies--with voice and pen, the free utterance of
opinion, and, if needs must be, in the last extremity, with swords.

If Cæsar asks your homage to his idol, the bending of your knee, or the
acclamation of your voice, the answer is clear,--Thy image and
superscription are not here; my knee is for my God, my voice is for my
God; and all the powers of the universe cannot bend the one or awaken
the other without my will. Here I follow the Divine precedent:
"Nebuchadnezzar spake," etc. (Dan. iii. 14-18.) But if Cæsar asks my
pennies for any purpose which he comprehends within the aim of his
government, let him have them; they clearly belong to his sphere. I
scorn to hold back what his force can wring from me the next moment;
they are his, the responsibility of taking them is his, and the
responsibility of using them is his. If I am not satisfied with his use
of them, I have nobler means of protest and influence; or, in the last
extremity, I can go forth from his empire and have done with him and his
pennies for ever.

This is the principle on which it seems to me right to act in
church-rate matters. Suppose that one were living in a neighbourhood in
which the church of the district had been built under a special act of
parliament, to be paid for by a rate levied on the householders during a
term of years. It would be our duty to pay year after year our share of
the tax which parliament imposed. The money asked for has Cæsar's image
and superscription on it: by using it we consent to Cæsar's sway. We
have no right to pick and choose which claims of a government we will
honour, and which we will refuse. We get the good of the government as a
whole, and we pay its claims as a whole, always endeavouring by moral
means to secure that the adjustment shall be righteous and fair. And so
it may become a clear duty to pay for the building of a church which we
never enter, and whose minister regards our ministry as an unauthorized
and mischievous intrusion on his sacred domain. If the Church, by
Cæsar's ministry, will have our tribute money, we say, Take it; and if
the demand be very harsh or peremptory, we say, Take it, in very scorn.
But God forbid that we should ever consent to belong to a Church which
can condescend to take tribute by force of the unwilling, and which
gives the adversary thereby such strong temptation to blaspheme.

Such seems to me to be the bearing of this principle on this and kindred
questions. It seems to me distinctly to enjoin on us the course which it
is constantly quoted as denouncing. The money Cæsar needs, for the
carrying on of his government in the best way he can, is the first
charge on the property which the order of civil society suffers us to
possess and enjoy. God claims none till Cæsar is satisfied; for Cæsar's
claim is His ordinance. Having satisfied Cæsar, take counsel with him
about the rest.

But these reflections open up many, some of them perplexing, questions,
on which this seems to me a good opportunity to offer some brief remark.

1. Does not Christ in this place seem to recognise some divided
allegiance--man under two masters, owing duty to Cæsar, owing duty to
God? Will he not be puzzled perpetually to determine their limits, and
to settle what is secular and what is sacred? and is there not something
repugnant to the very essence of Christianity in the idea that man at
any moment, in any relation, can have to do with another being than God?
Is not God the sole Lord of his being and of his life? What can be
Cæsar's, in contradistinction to that which is God's? I think I have
learnt from the Scripture, and I am always preaching the doctrine, that
God claims the man in his wholeness; that body, soul, and spirit,
riches, knowledge, power, and love, all belong to Him; that there is but
one empire, one service, one King; that life is simple, simple as the
infinite God. "_Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and
soul, and mind, and strength_," "_and Him only shalt thou serve_."
"_This do, and thou shalt live._" What claim can Cæsar have on man then,
which is not also God's claim? What tribute can one pay to Cæsar, which
is not also paid to God? None, absolutely none. The Lord recognises no
divided allegiance; His words rightly understood are in perfect harmony
with the doctrine of His own sole and supreme lordship over every
thought, every passion, and every possession of man. "_Render unto Cæsar
the things which are Cæsar's._" Why? Who ordains it? Who has the right
to demand it? God. Within the sphere of Cæsar's government, obey him,
not because Cæsar can force you, but because God will have you; make it
a part of your Divine obedience, to obey wisely and loyally as a subject
and a citizen; and consider that Cæsar claims your service within the
sphere which belongs to him, as the ordained minister and representative
of God. There is no secular and sacred since Christ appeared. It is all
sacred. Civil obedience is an ordinance of the Church. The Scripture
bears most explicit witness to these principles wherever it touches on
the relations of civil society and its institutions. (1 Pet. ii. 13-17;
Rom. xiii. 1-7; 1 Tim. ii. 1-4.) It is God's institution. He sustains
it; He, through the ruler, claims your tribute; the result, the order
and progress of society, is His work. Innocent III. was right, though in
a sense of which he little dreamed. The moon has its own relation to the
earth; but they have a common relation to the sun. The moon's orbit is
included in the earth's orbit; but the sun sways and balances both of
them, and there is not a movement of the moon in obeying the inferior
earthly attraction which is not also an act of obedience to the superior
sphere. So God has set us under rulers, in societies, as a kind of
interior province of His kingdom; but our loyalty as subjects, our duty
as citizens, are alike part of the one duty which we owe to God. There
is no schism in the body of our service, no double authority in our
Lord's realm. The two worlds, the two services, the two spheres, are one
in Christ. "_One is your Master, even Christ._" "_Thou shalt worship
Him, and Him, only shalt thou serve._"

2. It is needful to inquire how far this principle of obedience is to
carry us.

If the money has Cæsar's image and superscription, let him have it; he
has a right to it, and in recognising that right we are fulfilling so
far our duty to God. Here is a clear and simple principle: but is it a
sufficient guidance? does it provide for all the possible exigencies of
social and political life? How about the right of resisting Cæsar, when
he rules unrighteously? How about John Hampden's refusal of the
ship-money, and the grand and glorious struggle which it inaugurated, by
which our liberties were won? This is a very grave and important
question, and one which, having voluntarily selected such a subject as
this, we have no right to pass by. There is a Divine precedent here. (1
Kings xii. 12-24.) What is it which is ordained of God in government?
Not any particular king, nor any particular form or institution, but the
good of men in the order of civil society. This it is at which God aims,
and to this end kings and institutions are His ministers. The king or
institution which may best assure this end is the open question in the
settlement of which God demands the concert and co-operation of mankind.
Every king, every magistrate, every political institution, has a certain
Divine sanction, inasmuch as it is the keystone of the arch which He has
built, and under whose sheltering dome we live and work. But a keystone
which, instead of securing the arch, threatens its stability, has no
Divine sanction longer than for the time during which it can be
successfully replaced or repaired. The Divine shield is cast, not around
the particular king, but around the society and the civilization of
which he is the head. It is only in the unity of the society that the
Lord's sanction upholds him; let him mar that unity or distract it, and
God passes to the side of those who are seeking to set up a new and real
keystone in his room. There is nothing like the duty of passive
obedience to tyrants implied in the text, or enjoined in the word of
God. "_Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's_," while Cæsar is
the recognised lord. In those crises of history in which Cæsar has to be
weighed in the balance, in which the question has to be tried, Who is
king and by what rule shall he reign? godly men have to keep clear
before the mind's eye what God means by human society, what He aims at,
and to help Him, yes, help Him to secure it. If no Cæsar be worth
recognising, or Cæsar be altogether too bad to be borne, then refuse his
tribute, resist his myrmidons, draw the sword of the Lord and of Gideon
to strike for deliverance. The Lord is the Cæsar of such an hour; the
Captain of the Lord's host, His sword drawn in His hand as at Jericho,
is in these times of revolution busy among men. They best honour Cæsar
and serve Christ in such hours, who have the clearest eye for the good
of the commonwealth, and who prepare the way for the reign of a Cæsar
who, like David, shall rule according to the will of God. The sacred
sense of the obligations of a subject or a citizen which those cherish,
who have learnt from Christ "by whom kings reign and princes decree
judgment," and who know that obedience to the powers that he is a form
of obedience to God, makes them patient, beyond the measure of mere
political patience, of the weaknesses, follies, and sins of the men who
occupy the world's high places; while it makes them stern and firm as
death when God has pronounced the sentence of deposition, and has bared
the avenging sword and committed it to their hands. These are the men
who, like Cromwell, do their work with a terrible force and
completeness, and who read lessons in God's name to Cæsars, which remain
doctrinal through all time.

3. Surely our Saviour intends us to understand how little money, or
anything with Cæsar's image and superscription upon it, can do to make
or to mar the fortunes of God's kingdom, which spreads and rules like
the dawn, like the moisture in the south wind, like the blush of spring,
like the splendour of summer, like everything that is quickened by the
breath of God. Tribute! We are always perplexing ourselves about
tribute--a steady stream of regular contributions, a flood-tide of
golden gifts. It is our measure of power. Quite other is Christ's. His
power flashes like lightning from one part under heaven, and shineth to
the other part which is under heaven. The world flashes into light,
glows into life in a moment, when the times of refreshing, of
quickening, come down from God. Men catch it from each other's eyes,
each other's lips. It spreads as flame, and gathers strength as it
widens its circuit. Money, social and political influence, the force of
this world, all that seems solid and potent to men while they are
enacting the masque of life which we call living, faint back like
rushlights in the lightning's flash, like aged institutions in the hour
of revolution, when the breath of the Spirit as at Pentecost is falling
on the world. I speak, and I am quite sure the sacred writers spoke, in
no scorn of money. No _thing_ is base: we keep our hate, our scorn, for
base spirits, not for things. But for money Paul must have starved, and
the kingdom must have perished in its birth. What the Lord means us to
understand is that money is the inevitable satellite of higher things.
Spirits in earnest movement sweep it with them in their course, as the
earth sweeps its atmosphere. Give us hearts of fire, fire that kindles
and flashes from heart to heart, from peak to peak of the human; and
what work will wait long for gold? Men who in common levels of interest
dole out their tens and hundreds, and feel some dull glow of
satisfaction stirring the stagnation of their hearts, scatter forth
their thousands when God fires their spirits, and their whole being is
alive and thrills with joy. Money! nothing greatly spiritual was ever
made by money, or was ever marred by money in this world.

There is a touch of scorn in the Saviour's words, "_Shew me the tribute
money_." Scorn of the vain worldly mind that was perplexing itself about
tribute, while the love of God and the belief in judgment were fast
dying out of human hearts. One sacred conviction in their hearts would
have answered the question, and lifted them above the sphere of
tribute--as Paul was lifted--into the region of that kingdom which would
sweep Cæsar's as a satellite in its sphere. Did the Lord foresee sadly
the scene from which a few dark days divided them, when they would yield
to Cæsar--these men, who were groaning and haggling over the
tribute--absolutely everything that was God's? (John xix. 7-16).

The leader of the band who turned the world upside down witnessed this
confession, "_Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I
thee: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk_." They
were poor as beggars, but richer in power to draw forth the treasures
of this world than kings. What king's command could have wrought this
miracle? "_And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and
of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he
possessed was his own; but they had all things common._" (Acts iv. 32.)
In truth, this love of Christ is the universal solvent. Nothing remains
any man's own when once the heart is touched by this Divine fire. It
melts all selfish separations and appropriations, as sun warmth the
bonds of winter, and quickens in the universal human heart the glow and
circulation of the spring. Nothing starves in summer for want of the
bread that perishes; supplies lie thick everywhere around. And no Divine
work stays for lack of the gold that perishes, when once the sun of the
Divine love has loosed men's hearts from the winter of their isolation
and selfish grasping care. Don't worry about the tribute. "_Trust in the
Lord, and do good_," and things will right themselves at once. Tribute
will pour into the treasury, and even the exactors shall become
ministers and yield their willing aid. "_Thine officers shall become
peace, and thine exactors righteousness._" "_Kings shall be thy nursing
fathers, and queens thy nursing mothers._" "_Violence shall be no more
heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders_," if the
King is in thy palaces; if thy heart, soul, and hand are loyally devoted
to Christ. I often think, in these days of grand Christian institutions,
with their vast fixed incomes and endowments, and all the magnificent
apparatus without which it seems to us the Lord's kingdom must perish
out of this land and out of the world, of the little company who trudged
wearily about the highways of Palestine, seeking their morning meal from
the fig-tree by the wayside, and lodging wherever a poor cottager's
faith and love gave them shelter for a night, and who,--beggars as to
the things which were Cæsar's, but filled as never men were filled
before or since with the things which were God's, faith, hope, joy,
truth, wisdom, and Divine charity--went forth in this their might and
re-made society: the grandest revolution in the history of this
universe, accomplished by its beggars and, as the world thought, its
fools. And the fact repeats itself in every revolution. Let a man in any
age go forth with the fire of God in him; and the force he wields, the
mastery he wins, the new life he quickens in a nation, in a world, pours
silent contempt on gold. The gold is gathered, as spirit gathers flesh
about it and becomes incarnate; so all that belongs to Cæsar's sphere is
at the commandment of that which comes straight from God's and glows
with the inspiration of His life. Gifts of a splendid lavishness in such
seasons are abundant; and strangely enough the givers feel enriched
unspeakably by the joy of giving, enlarged immeasurably by
impoverishment, and increased by abnegation. The richest in such seasons
are those who give most, not those who have most. A wonderful sense of
the glorious wealth of a heart which has a guest-chamber for Christ, and
whose pulses beat joyously as the free tide of the Divine love flows
through and over it on all around, kindles men's souls to a new
conception of riches. It fills the beatitudes with a wonderful meaning,
and shows the sorrows and straits of poverty overflowed by the riches
and joys of God.



III.

"UNTO THIS LAST."

    "I will give unto this last, even as unto thee."--MATT. xx. 14.


These words appear at first sight to set us very decisively face to face
with the sovereignty of God, in its sternest and most naked
form--affirming its right to distribute its gifts and payments at its
pleasure, and refusing to consider the question of equity when urged by
the creature's sharp complaint. "Take that thine is, and go thy way."
"Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?" "I will give
unto this last, even as unto thee." There, it is said, and with apparent
truth, is Sovereignty--pure, naked Sovereignty. The "I will" of God
seems to be the sole explanation which is vouchsafed of His
dispensations and decrees. But this view of the matter has always seemed
to me deeply unsatisfactory. Equity is a strong instinctive principle,
which God Himself has established in the judgment seat of the human
conscience; and God never beats down with the bare assertion of an
irresistible Sovereignty the soul that is perplexed about the equity of
His ways. It is equity, pure, celestial equity, which reveals itself to
those who will search for it in this parable; equity to the poor souls
who had been standing all the day idle in the market-place, because no
man had called them to the vineyard; equity to the labourers who had
borne the burden and heat of the day, and had made the dignity and
culture of the Lord's husbandmen their own. It is an equity which
invites the closest criticism from those who will search it thoroughly,
and which reveals to the searchers deep vital truths about man and about
God.

"I will give unto this last, even as unto thee." It is a startling
sentence. This man had been labouring in the vineyard under the burning
heat, through the blazing noon; he had borne and bent under the whole
burden of the work: while this one had been brought in at the eleventh
hour, in the cool evenfall, and by a few minutes of light sweet labour
he had won the equivalent prize. There is something startling here, and
men have felt it; and they have striven in manifold and curious ways to
square the method of the Master with their fundamental notions of the
righteousness of God. There are theologians who feel no need to square
it. According to a theology which has exercised a wide-spread and malign
influence in the past, Sovereignty answers amply every difficulty, and
treats our ideas of equity as a high impertinence, when they claim to
weigh the ways of God. If it pleases God to make some men to be saved
and other men to be damned, who shall question His rights? and if He is
glorified equally by the salvation of the chosen and the damnation of
the reprobate, who dares complain, or to what court can we carry the
appeal? There are theologians who would have us rest calmly on the
conviction that a sovereign and inscrutable will is ruling, and trouble
ourselves in no wise about the equity of the decrees. But one cannot but
reflect that this composed contentment with the doctrine of reprobation
is mainly conspicuous in those who feel themselves safe from its
trenchant stroke. With the exception of Lord Byron--to whose malign and
scornful tone we believe that this was the real key--we hardly discover
the disciples of the doctrine among those who believe that they are
reprobate; and in the case of the theological school whose influence is
happily dying away, but which survives in out-of-the-way places to an
extent little dreamed of still, we may fairly entertain the question,
whether, if it were flashed suddenly on their souls that they, the
theologians, were doomed by the Divine decree to everlasting anguish,
their rest in the inscrutable Sovereignty would be so calm, and their
contentment so assured. For thinkers of this school, of course, such a
parable as this presents no sort of difficulty. A penny more or less
would not be likely to stagger them, when the gift of heaven or the doom
of hell raise no question as to the equity of the Divine decrees. But
with the great multitude of Christian thinkers the parable has been the
source of much grievous perplexity, as the manifold explanations amply
prove. The question is, in which verse of the parable are we to find the
key to it? "Unto this last will I give, even as unto thee," states the
problem. Is the solution to be found in the body of the parable, or must
we seek it outside in a general study of the ways of God?

There can be no question, I think, that the broad bearing of the parable
is on the impending revolution in the visible Divine kingdom, whereby,
as the Saviour says, the kingdom of God was to be taken from the
Pharisees, and "given to a people bringing forth the fruits thereof." I
say advisedly, from the Pharisees; from the party which held the chief
influence and authority in the Church. Their influence, their
standing-ground, was utterly shattered by the Saviour's advent; the
kingdom passed visibly, absolutely, finally, out of the rule of their
hand. But there was never any question of its passing wholly from the
Jews; the Jews were never to be disowned. Paul earnestly, with intense
emphasis, asserts this, and makes it the basis of a long and profound
argument. "I say then, hath God cast away His people? God forbid. For I
also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
God hath not cast away His people, which He foreknew." (Rom. xi. 1, 2.)
The Jews, as such, were not cast away. We think all too slightly of the
strength of the Jewish element in the apostolic Church. And it is the
Jews--the people, not their leaders--who are in question here. They had
borne the burden and heat of the day; they had done the work--with what
result, well or ill, is not the point in debate. There is no idea of
their being dismissed without honour or recompense; the question is
simply concerning the bringing in of other husbandmen, the Gentile
nations, at the last hour, to share in full measure in all that the
Jewish workmen had won by their long and hot day's toil.

Perhaps the favourite mode of reconciling the Master's dealings with
fundamental principles of equity is to be found in the suggestion,
towards which some sentences in Olshausen's Exposition strongly lean,
that the first called laboured so lazily, and the last called so
strenuously that (regarding the actual amount of work accomplished) the
Master's arrangements were more equitable than might at first appear.
Notwithstanding the apt illustration of this which appears to be offered
by the history of St. Paul, who, though the last called, "laboured more
abundantly than they all," the explanation seems to me to miss the whole
point of the teaching of the parable, and to proceed upon very low and
worldly conceptions of the method of the Divine ways. There is no hint
of such a solution in the body of the parable itself; which is a
sufficiently grave objection. If this be the key, its existence is
carefully suppressed, and the souls that were most sorely perplexed by
the appearance of injustice are left wholly ignorant of the truth. Nay,
their ignorance is confirmed by the language, or rather by the silence,
of the parable. The answer to their protest on the ground that they had
"borne the burden and heat of the day" would have been decisive and was
ready at hand. But no hint of a justification on this ground is suffered
to appear. Their assertion is allowed to pass unanswered, and must be
accepted for the purposes of the parable as the truth. Whether they had
wrought well or ill, though it may be the main point in other parables,
is plainly not the point which is in question here. And in the
interpretation of parables we get into endless difficulties, if we, so
to speak, travel beyond the record, and consider the details in any
other light than as the garniture of the one central idea which the
parable is intended to set forth. As far as this parable is concerned,
we must accept it as a fact that they had borne the burden and heat of
the day; and no explanation of its equity can be entertained which sets
that fact at nought.

That we may the better understand what it does mean, let us consider:--

I. The work of the vineyard to which all were called, and in which the
first called bore the burden and heat of the day.

II. The reason of the idleness of the husbandmen who at the eleventh
hour were called to the work.

III. The Lord's justification of His ways.

I. The work of the vineyard.

I believe that there is nothing very definite in detail here set before
our minds, and that we shall get into dire confusion if we inquire about
the class or classes of members of the Church which may be signified by
the husbandmen. There is no question of classes of Christian labourers,
or kinds of Christian work, in the narrative. It is God's work, and
these are God's workmen in the field of His visible Church, in the
broadest sense which those words may bear. The vineyard is the visible
field of God's tillage. The vast invisible field we are not called to
consider; except to assure ourselves that one grand principle rules,
explains, and justifies God's methods with the whole. The visible field,
up to the day of Pentecost, was the Jewish commonwealth, which was about
to expand into the Christian commonwealth when our Lord delivered the
discourses which contain our text. In the Jewish commonwealth, not
priest and prophet only, but every child of Abraham was a called
husbandman; just as every Christian disciple, as much as apostle,
bishop, evangelist, or deacon, is a called labourer in the wider
vineyard of the Christian Church. The broad feature of the work of the
vineyard is, that it is man's true, noble, God-ordained work.

It is the work for which all his organs and powers were fashioned, and
in which his whole being was made to rejoice. Why were these men
standing in the market-place? What took them there? Why were they not
lounging idly about the fields, or sleeping at home? Clearly because
some divine instinct within them moved them thither, that they might be
in the way of being hired for a day's toil. A divine instinct, I say. He
little understands humanity, who imagines that the great bread and
cheese question is at the bottom of even a tithe of the daily labour of
mankind. It would be hard to find a man who just works enough to provide
the bread and cheese and beer which he needs to sustain his animal
nature, and then folds his arms and takes his ease until new hunger
compels new toil. There are such men about the world, no doubt; but it
is a hard matter to find them. And when they are found, men attach to
such a bestial idea of life the epithet "unmanly" with a bitter
emphasis, which reveals how deeply there is inwrought into the very
texture of man's nature the divine instinct of work. Man is made for it,
as the flower of the field is made for the free air of heaven. Shut out
from it, he grows irritable and sickly, his powers droop, his courage
fails, his hope dies, his life is a wreck. And very noble motive
inspires well-nigh the whole of human labour. Love, pure self-denying
love, love of wife, love of child, of friends, of mankind, is the moving
spring of most of man's most strenuous toil. God's work, work for God,
and for man for the love of God, is but the highest form or mode of
human labour. Man's divine work is not something essentially different
in principle from all his other work. All his best labour in his daily
tasks proceeds upon the existence within him of powers and organs which
can only find their highest exercise, and which can only justify their
lowest exercise, in the work of the vineyard which the Lord has given us
each one to do. Man is simply unmanned while he stands all the day idle
in the market-place; his goodliest powers and organs are rusting, his
blood trickles with dull stagnant motion through his lazy veins, his
whole system is oppressed and burdened, his muscles ache for exercise,
his cheek is pale, his eye is dim. The kingly being is unbraced and
discrowned; no joys or honours attend the _fainéant_ king.

Who are the pitiable ones here? On whom shall we spend our regrets and
sorrows? The hardy sunburnt workmen, who have spent their strength
manfully in a brave day's work; who watch the westering sun as only the
tired labourer has the right to watch him; and who settle peacefully to
the workman's rest till the gay sunlight wakes them again to new glad
toils in a young, fresh, dewy world? Nay, the work of the vineyard is
man's honour, joy, glory, and bliss. To be called to work in it is the
crown of his manhood; to finish his work with joy is his noblest praise.
But why should it not end here? If he is to be counted blessed who works
in the vineyard, if his work gladdens, enriches, and ennobles him what
room is there for the thought of pay? What can the pennies in this case
mean?

Man is made with a large capacity, and a large thought and hope of
happiness. He can take a large blessing into his being, larger than he
can meet within his present sphere. The range of his nature takes in the
infinite and the eternal. The work is noble, glorious exercise; but God
only can fill and satisfy his spirit. Man needs something beyond the
mere play of his powers, though their free play is an intense
exhilaration and delight. He needs the fellowship of beings to satisfy
the yearning, to feed the appetite, of his nobler nature; he needs the
love of God, and communion with all that is of God, that he may rest and
be blessed. This is the reward which the earthly day of his toil and
patience will bring. The true workman is happy in his work, and sings
while he toils. But God has a yet richer benediction for His children
when the work is done, a blessing which will beautify and glorify life
through eternity. This He gives to the workman out of His royal bounty,
His own blessedness. It is His own to give; and all true workmen,
whatever the measure of their work, because of the spirit of their work,
shall claim it at His hand.

II. The reason of the idleness of the husbandmen who were not called
till the eleventh hour to the work.

"And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing
idle, and said unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say
unto him, Because no man hath hired us." The true key to the parable
lies here. There are many other answers conceivable. They might have
said, Because we like to lounge and loaf, work is irksome; or, Because
we are over-tired with yesterday's toil; or, Because the pay does not
suit us, we are out on strike. Imagine that any one of these answers had
been given; the whole character of the parable would have been changed,
and the equity of the ways of God would then have been dark, dark
indeed. But no. The men were willing to work; they were waiting to be
hired; they made no bargain about their pay. "Go ye into the vineyard;
and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive," the Master said; and
they went, content to leave their wage to His justice. The men evidently
cared more about the work than the pay. In truth the idlers were to be
pitied. The Master pitied them, and He gave to their will the wage which
lack of opportunity had forbidden them to earn before.

And this opens up some serious thoughts about the pagan world, and its
relation to the kingdom of God. There is a profound, but not an
impenetrable mystery hidden in the words, "the fulness of the time."
Through long ages the pagan world was left groping in the darkness,
"_feeling after God if haply it might find Him_," and moaning as it
grasped at phantoms in the gloom, and saw them slip from its empty hand.
Looking at the anguish and misery of the world at this moment, one is
constrained to confess that the Lord of the world is One who can bring
Himself to look upon, and to bear the responsibility of ruling over, a
terrible amount of pain. But what shall we say of the long ages of pagan
darkness, when men were not _feeling_ after God only, but crying for
Him, shrieking to Him, were maiming their quivering flesh and torturing
their shuddering hearts, because the void only echoed back their own
voices and none could tell them the Divine Name. The time is gone by
when it was possible to look upon the history of heathendom as the
history of one long stern effort to break away from God, to blot out His
name from the universe, and to tear every trace of His image out of the
life of the human world. It is now well understood that the deepest
thing in heathen life and heathen literature was ever the cry after the
living God, and the effort to find Him; the grandest passages in the
religious records of heathendom are the words in which the founders of
the great pagan systems proclaimed what they believed had been made
known to them of His Being and His Will; and the gladdest, in truth the
only joyous, passages in pagan history, are the records of the
generations in which men persuaded themselves that God had at length
visited His world. Soon the gladness vanished, overborne by wrong and
lust. But while it lasted it made the solitary gleam of brightness which
crosses the blackness of the pagan night. The revival of morals, of
manners, and of hopes, which for a few brief generations has followed
the teaching of the great masters whom paganism adores, is the one ray
of heavenly light which shines in the pagan darkness, and bears witness
that there is sunlight, though shining on other spheres. The joy which
filled the hearts of the heathen peoples, when Sakya-Mouni, Zerdusht,
Confucius, or Mahomet, proclaimed at any rate a purer faith, a nobler
idea of life, than the dark, soulless, senseless formulæ in which a
tyrannous priesthood had buried the Divine Name, is like some faint and
far-off glow of the joy which leaped from heart to heart like flame when
it was known that God had in very truth visited His people, and that the
King of Glory had taken possession of His earthly throne.

Through this long sad night, lit only by these rare faint gleams, men
had been looking, longing, and moaning for a deliverer; and steadily
settling the while, and they knew it, into the slough of the devil's
accursed dominion, because no Almighty Helper and Saviour appeared. We
see their misery, their tears, their mad outbursts of passion, their
foul orgies of lust; and our hearts bleed, nay there have been hearts
that have burst, as they watched this tragedy of despair. And heaven
heard it all, saw it all, through long ages; and still no deliverer was
sent. It is a profound mystery, the millenniums through which the world
was left to grope and to moan in the darkness, while the clear sunlight
of God's truth was flashing its brightness so joyously on the homes of
the chosen race. I say again, the mystery, though profound, is not
inscrutable; for there is Calvary to expound it. In the long run, in the
great day of eternity, it will be seen, that this forsaking of the
heathen world was an essential part of a benign and merciful plan, of
which Calvary is the centre; and that it lies in the full harmony of a
love which "_endured the cross, and despised the shame_," that a whole
world might be gathered at length to the great Father's heart. But the
"_no man hath hired us_" has a profound and pathetic meaning, when we
search the records of pagan religious effort and aspiration, and when we
see how everywhere, when the gates were flung open, the Gentiles
thronged, streamed, crushed, into the kingdom of God. I find in this
thought the whole mystery of the parable unfolded. The Gentiles had been
looking, waiting, longing, in their own dull way, for the work of the
vineyard. It was the Master's counsel, as well as their own dull hearts,
which had kept them idle during the noontide heats. And it was the work
which it was in their hearts to do that the Master honoured, when He
made them equal to the favoured and happy husbandmen, had they but known
it, who had "_borne the burden and heat of the day_."

III. The Master's justification of His ways.

"So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward,
Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last
unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh
hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they
supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received
every man a penny. And when they had received it they murmured against
the goodman of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one
hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden
and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do
thee no wrong; didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine
is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it
not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil,
because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for
many be called, but few chosen" (Matt. xx. 8-16).

These words imply--

1. That there is infinite grace, through which a certain equity shines,
in the things which God has provided for all who have wrought, even
though feebly and tardily, at His work. The work is honour and
happiness; the want of it is shame and pain. The early labourers are the
enviable; the late labourers are the pitiable. But God in His boundless
grace adds a boundless gift to all: "the gift of God," which "is eternal
life, through Jesus Christ our Lord." But through the grace a certain
equity shines. Man was made for Life, he was born for it. To miss the
glorious boon which God has the power to bestow on him through Christ,
were to miss the very end and issue to which God touched his spirit. A
well-nigh infinite capacity of being, loving, and enjoying, is in him,
which God only can satisfy and eternity only can complete. And God in
His boundless love and mercy meets him in his idleness and degradation,
and proposes to him a work which His grace will crown with glorious,
everlasting joy.

2. None shall miss the blessing through the order of the dispensations.

If the Jews were called, and the Pagans were left sad and idle in the
streets, the evenfall shall adjust the balance, the evening of earth's
life, the morning of the everlasting day. Idle and sad, I say. When you
are next at South Kensington Museum, place yourself before the cartoon
of "Paul preaching at Athens." Mark the foremost in the group of pagan
hearers; he bears in his sad wistful countenance the whole tale of
Gentile waiting, longing, hoping, disappointment, despondency, and
despair. Few preachers can preach such a sermon as utters itself mutely
from that man's eyes and lips. This parable is Christ's answer to the
mute appeal: "No man hath hired thee, poor outcast! the day spent, the
soul lost! Come in, at the last hour, come in. These have wrought in a
noble service the long day through. The sweat of manly toil is on their
brow, the joy of a work well done is in their hearts. Come in; the sun
still lacks some hours of setting. Bend thy soul to the task, put thy
heart into the labour of the hour, and the same meed shall be thine.
Even as unto this first, will I give unto thee; come in."

9. On a wider scale the parable is Christ's assurance, that through all
outward inequalities of gift, endowment, opportunity, position,
prospect, which jar this jangled world, there is a sublime equity ruling
which will right all wrongs, adjust all balances, and square all issues
with pure celestial justice at last. "_No man hath hired us._" How much
does this explain of the bitterness and misery with which the world is
filled! Cross purposes, cross callings, cross relationships, cross
necessities, cross issues of life! Men with power in them for a service
which is never asked of them; tied down to a desk or a counter, it may
be, while they feel within them the stirrings of a power to guide the
coursers of the sun. Men bound in a home which has no beauty for them,
no love; while beyond there is a vision of the Eden which might be, if
bonds could be unbound and bound afresh. Some overflowing with fatherly
or motherly tenderness, in a barren home. Some shrinking from the
prattle of infant voices, yet with stuff in them of noble texture, shut
up to a nursery through the prime of their days. Some longing, pining,
panting for a work they love, bound to a work they loathe. Some with a
genial, generous, royal nature, wrestling with the serpents of care and
penury their long life through. "This is a mad world, my masters;" "the
times are out of joint;" it is all out of joint everywhen and
everywhere! "No man hath hired us" to the work which we are fit for; a
glorious wealth of being, of power, is left to "fust in us unused."

Patience, brothers, patience! One grand work, the grandest, spreads
broad and fair before you; "in your patience possess ye your souls." The
hiring is in higher, wiser hands; the patience, the hope, are in yours,
with all their glorious eternal fruit. None of the sighing, none of the
groaning, none of the desire and yearning of your spirit, is hidden from
Him who made you, and who in His own good time will call you to your
God-ordained work. "UNTO THIS LAST WILL I GIVE, EVEN AS UNTO THEE"
reveals the sublime equity of His dealings. Await with strong patience,
with steadfast hope, the things and the times of His sovereign
appointment; till you find with profound and wondering joy, that your
patience has won a prize whose splendour outshines the constellations,
and whose bliss shall outlast eternity.



IV.

LAW AND LIFE.

    "In the place where the tree falleth, there it shall
    be."--ECCLES. xi. 3.


There are few passages in the word of God which are more constantly
misapplied than this. It is systematically wrested to the establishment
of doctrines with which it has nothing whatever to do. The popular
interpretation of the text treats it as equivalent to the assertion,
that the condition of the human soul through its long eternity is
settled absolutely and irrevocably by death. We believe that nine out of
ten, of those who hold this doctrine would quote this passage if they
were suddenly asked to sustain their belief out of the word of God. With
the truth of the doctrine in question we are not dealing in the present
discourse; there are passages in the word of God which bear on it with
most unquestionable cogency. But this is not one of them. Our present
purpose is to show what it _does_ mean, and that its reference is to a
subject which is well-nigh as far removed from that on which it is
supposed to bear as the poles.

We approach a dread, an awful subject, when we contemplate the condition
of those who pass into the unseen world impenitent and faithless; who
despise finally, as far as we can trace, the riches of the mercy and the
love of God. It is a subject which is occupying the most earnest and
solemn thoughts of some of the wisest of our Christian thinkers, and on
which a large freedom of judgment will have to be conceded within the
visible pale of the Christian Church. It is easy to state the doctrine
of universalism, and to offer it as a solution of the dark difficulties
with which the subject is surrounded. But it is not easy to get the
doctrine of universalism out of the Bible; nay, it is not possible,
without grievous violence to some of its plainest and most awful
statements: nor, on the other hand, is it easy to harmonize it with any
intelligent conceptions of the moral freedom and responsibility of every
child of the human race. Others seek refuge, for it is as a refuge that
they appear to cling to it, in the theory of annihilation--that is, the
annihilation on a vast scale of that which God made to be His
masterpiece, which He constituted in His own image, and into which He
infused by inspiration the breath of His own life. More grievous
violence must be done to the plain language of Scripture by the
advocates of this theory than by those of the former; and it seems to us
still harder to find for it a place in any intelligent and harmonious
conception of the scheme on which God made the worlds.

Were it possible for us to hold it, it would seem to unfold a terrible
vision of the issue of the great experiment of creation. The free beings
whom God made to be the glory of His universe, drooping down in throngs,
after a life struggle full of anguish and despair, into the darkness of
the everlasting night! One would be tempted to ask passionately in that
case, Why was not the dire experiment of liberty ended in the hour of
the first transgression? why was not the free universe, parent of such
wrongs and miseries, strangled in its birth?

Nor may we dare to hide from ourselves and others, in these days, the
dread considerations involved in the doctrine which the Church has drawn
from explicit statements in the word of God. Eternal punishment; eternal
suffering in the universe; moans rising up ever in the ear of heaven;
the cries of souls in anguish piercing the serenity of the heavenly
rest. Eternal evil too. Evil never more to die out of the worlds on
which the dew of the primal benediction lay, and which flashed back the
smile of Him who looked upon them and saw that "_they were very good_."
The curse rioting, sin reigning unto death, in some region of the
universe sustained and ruled by the Divine hand; never to be expelled
from the creation, never to be drawn under the merciful reign of God. We
are too prone to hide the awful reality which is behind this language,
by vague notions of the judgment as the final banishing of evil from the
sight of God and of the blessed. Nothing that is can be banished from
the sight of God; nothing that exists--we will not say lives, life is a
sacred word--can exist from moment to moment without the interposition
of the Divine hand. Ever present before the great Father must be the
anguish and the moans of the souls in torment; ever to His eye there
must be this dark counterfoil to the joy and glory of the redeemed. And
yet the question forces itself upon us: What else can the plain
statements of the Scriptures mean; nay, what else can in the essential
nature of things befall a free spirit that chooses to exercise its
freedom in sin? We may well feel with a wise one of old, "Such
knowledge is too wonderful for us: it is as high as heaven, what
can we do? it is as deep as hell, what can we know?"

Sore difficulties beset us in working out a clear and harmonious theory
of the judgment and its issues. But blessed be God that we can rest in
the belief that all will be, in ways that we see not, so wisely and
righteously ordered by the Judge of all the earth, as to satisfy the
yearning heart, not of the great Father only, but of the Redeemer of
humanity, and to fill the universe with praise. Here as elsewhere, when
we are bewildered and perplexed by thoughts too high for us and which
reach too far, we find a sure refuge and rest in faith. We believe God
in Christ, and we can leave our future and the future of humanity in His
hand. Meanwhile, our work, our duty is clear: "_Now then we are
ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you
in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God._" "_This is the work of God,
that ye believe on him whom he hath sent._" "_Other foundation can no
man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ._" "_Believe on the
Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved._"

But this is beside the scope of the present discourse. I have to
consider what these words, so strangely misapplied, do mean, and to draw
from them those most pregnant lessons concerning the conduct of life
which they are intended to afford. "_Cast thy bread upon the waters: for
thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to
eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. If the
clouds be full of ram, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the
tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the
tree falleth, there it shall be. He that observeth the wind shall not
sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. As thou knowest
not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb
of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who
maketh all. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not
thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or
that, or whether they both shall be alike good._"

I. The key to the passage, the broad idea which underlies the whole, is
in the first verse. In the sixth verse the writer repeats the thought
under a varied form, and it is evident that it rules the whole. Let us
ask ourselves what it means. It is a fair question whether we have here
a reference to a popular proverb descriptive of the most useless and
apparently hopeless work, "casting bread upon the waters;" or whether
there is a reference to Egyptian husbandry, which might seem just as
futile a method, did not experience prove that a harvest of splendid
abundance is the well-nigh certain result. I do not think that it is
needful to settle the rival claims of the two interpretations,[B]
inasmuch as the essential point of the author's meaning is involved in
both. In either case you have a husbandry of faith; and in either case
you have a grand image of all noble spiritual work. All husbandry is of
faith to an extent which we little realize, but most especially this
husbandry. The seed-corn scattered from the hand vanishes from sight,
the very bed in which it is hidden lies buried, and an uncongenial,
impenetrable element spreads its barrier between the sower and the seed,
which he must leave in the hands of God. The farmer who has ploughed his
field and settled his seed in the furrows feels less shut out from it;
he sees at least where it lies, he can test its condition, he can trace
the first green bloom on the brown surface of his fields, which is the
prophecy and the pledge of harvest. But seed cast into the waters! where
is it? who can trace it? what can withhold the waters from rotting it,
and burying the promise of the seed and the hope of the husbandman in
their depths? And the seed dropped into the furrows of the human
seed-field, the heart that has been broken up by the deep ploughshare of
God's discipline, and over which a fertilizing flood of quickening
influences has passed,--where lies it? What glance can follow it? What
hand can touch it? What eye can foresee, what brain can forecast, its
destiny? There is a dread likeness here, to the eye of the
understanding, between this perilous husbandry and spiritual labour;
man's knowledge is so limited, man's hand is so powerless, the seed
passes so far out of his ken, and lies buried in such deep depths
within.

There is a mystery in all husbandry which it is manifestly the purpose
of God to keep clearly before the eye of the soul. He will not suffer us
to forget it. "_And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man
should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and
day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the
earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear,
after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought
forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is
come_" (Mark iv. 26-29). This is the daily miracle of nature, the
"sign" which is done daily before our eyes. There are those, and they
constitute a large and powerful school of thinkers in our day, who
refuse coldly to listen to any evidence as to the miracles of Scripture,
and who see this sign of an unseen energy at work around them and within
them each moment, but feel powerless even to inquire from what fountain
it springs. It is deeply unjust to brand the Positivist school of
philosophy as explicitly either materialistic or atheistic. They are by
no means blind to the fact that there is a hidden mystery in nature;
they see quite as clearly as we do its marvellous depths. There is
something quite as wonderful in their sight in the daily growth of the
corn and the assimilation of our daily bread, as in the feeding of five
thousand in the lonely wilderness by the word which came forth from the
mouth of the Saviour. But they say, this region is simply impenetrable
by the human intellect; in all its efforts at discovery it simply meets
with shadows projected under various conditions and at various angles by
itself. Our fair charge against them is, not that they are blind to the
fact of a mystery in nature, but that they dishonour the royal faculty
of the reason with which God has gifted them, by distrusting its ability
to deal with a vast class of phenomena--the manifestations of the
working of unseen powers with which God has surrounded them--which are
as definite and substantial as the physical facts out of which they
educe their laws. The world of spiritual experience and activity with
which mainly the Bible deals, claims from us, at any rate, observation,
thought, and deduction, as reverent as that which we joyfully devote to
the phenomena of nature; and we accept as eagerly the thoughts and
suggestions of seers who have insight into this world of mystery, as we
accept the teachings of science concerning things which are beyond our
sight. And if words come to us from this higher sphere, which harmonize
discordant elements and make the chaos of our spiritual consciousness
and experience a cosmos ruled by intelligence and love, we joyfully
accept the truth which sustains and explains the phenomena, and feel
that in proclaiming it we are "holding forth a word of life" to our
fellow-men. And the Scripture miracle is to us a flash of sunlight,
which illumines the darkness of the unknown: we see unveiled the Hand
which is working each moment these signs and wonders within and around
us; and, studying the nature, the mind, the heart, by which that Hand is
guided, we find rest in the assurance that the power whose awful
manifestation in nature might well appal and overwhelm us, is under the
absolute rule of One whose declaration of Himself is that He is Love. We
receive an emancipation from both the terrors and the idols of the
imagination, when we learn that the daily bread of our lives comes to us
from the hand of the Father, and is crowned with His benediction. The
poor believe it quite simply: they have a beautiful sense of dependence
on the Hand which feeds the birds and clothes the lilies. As a child
hangs on the mother's breast, they hang daily as trustfully on the
bounty of the Lord. And they are more free from vain fancies herein than
the philosophers. It is the wise and the scribe who are in bondage to
idols: simple hearts, which have received the revelation of the
relations of the two worlds which the Bible offers, walk free in the
sunlight, and dwell quiet from the fear of evil.

"_Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many
days._"

The main point here then is, that in all husbandry there are two
elements--the intelligence and energy of the man, and the co-operation
of a secret force, the springs of which and the methods of which escape
him, but on which absolutely depend all his fruits. Neither without the
other can produce the harvest. Paul plants, Apollos waters; but God
giveth the increase: but neither without Paul's planting does the
harvest spring. "_Behold, a sower went forth to sow._" The human sower
is, as far as we see, the indispensable fellow-worker with the Most
High God. But God, and not the human sower, has the absolute control of
the result.

Let us look at this more closely. To impress this upon us is the main
object of the writer in the text.

II. The writer of this book asks us to consider how much that has the
most important bearing on the results of our activity is hopelessly
beyond the control of our hand.

No doubt this is a truism: but it is the meaning and force of these
truisms which most easily escape us; custom is the blind of truth. No
matter what it may be to which we put our hands, we are dealing with
elements which only partially subject themselves to our control, or
rather reveal to us the secret by which they may be bent to our use.
Always there is a large variable element in the problem of our
activities; and on this variable element, which we have no means of
calculating, depends all that is most precious and vital in our results.
Husbandry here is the great witness for, and key to, higher things.
Certain bases are fixed and unalterable; else our work would be a pure
lottery. Much on which its fruits depend is variable; else our work
would be purely mechanical. God gives us a large measure of assurance,
that we may work bravely and put our hearts into our labour, as those
who have a right to hope that they will carry the sheaves of their
harvest home; but He crosses our toil with a zone of uncertainties, that
we may be faithful workmen, trusting and praying as well as working, and
may be kept in holy and blessed dependence on Him who can lift us above
all servile care for immediate results. Consider--

1. The awful force and inevitable certainty of the processes of Nature,
the unfailing "order of Nature" which furnishes forth the field of our
toils. That order God guarantees. The assurance is thus expressed:
"_While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat,
and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease_" (Gen. viii.
22). That word of promise which has nursed the trembling hope of man
into strong certainty--for he is as sure that the sun will rise on the
morrow as he is of his own existence--lies at the foundation of all his
steady activity as a workman in this lower world. The joyful outgoings
of the morning and evening, and the succession of the seasons, are given
to him as the constant elements in his husbandry. These are assured to
him by the voice that called them into being and the hand which sustains
their motions. God tells him that he may count absolutely on this order.
And what guarantee, when we come to think of it, have we of that order,
but such as a firm belief in an intelligent Ruler of the universe, who
sympathises with the hopes and blesses the toils of His children,
affords? Then further,--

2. There is the absolutely certain sequence of physical causes and
effects, or antecedents and consequents, which we call laws of nature,
which vary not one hair's breadth from their ordained order in obedience
to the mandates of our will, but which, by observing and mastering the
principle of that order, we can use for the accomplishment of our ends.
These are our tools to work with. A thousand subtle laws are concerned
in every process of the husbandman's toils. On a large scale and in the
long run the question of his success depends absolutely on his
comprehension and observance of those laws. The progress of man's
knowledge of nature is really a progress in the mastery of the variable
element in the problem of his labour. A thousand accidents, which baffle
the ignorant and careless husbandman, obey the control of the
intelligent and strenuous. The order is rigid. There is an awful
sternness in its certainty; but it grows benign to him who has mastered
its secret. It obeys him as a servant, it helps him as a friend; and the
certainty with which he can calculate its action is one essential
element of its friendliness. If he could not weigh the materials and
measure the forces which are constantly around him, if he could not
count on their known relations and actions with the same calm certainty
with which he expects the sunrise to light him to his daily toils, his
life would be one of miserable dependence; he would live the serf of
nature, and not her king. It is the unalterable fixity of relations and
forces which God has given him the power to discover and to employ,
which constitutes the royalty of his rule over nature; if that be
destroyed or shaken, his crown rolls in the dust. The constancy of the
relations and forces of the universe, their impassibility to the force
which man's will can bring to bear upon them, of which his husbandry
gives him full experience, is an essential element, perhaps we might say
_the_ essential element, in that higher culture which they offer to his
spirit; it is this which makes the life of even the workman something
higher than a lottery, and the toils of earth an education for the works
and the joys of heaven.

3. The writer of this book, while he sees this grand, calm, and constant
order very clearly, and appreciates its ministry to man, has a dark, sad
vision of the uncertainties which cross it--the strength and magnitude
of the variable element in nature and in life, which perplexes and
baffles the strenuous workman, keeps him constantly on the tenter-hooks
of anxiety, and not seldom rends his heart with anguish, and lays his
fairest and proudest achievements in ruins in the dust. A certain order
is there, all men can see it. Yes, men say,--and especially orientals,
in whose climate the destructive agencies often run riot; but there is a
dire disorder, and the disorder triumphs. Who knows the pathway of the
storms, the earthquakes, the lava floods, the drought, and the deluge?
who knows and rules their times? The fairest homesteads are made
desolate in a moment; verdant beauty as of Eden vanishes, and blasting
and burning as of Sodom reigns in its room. There are malign powers in
the universe which seem to watch all beauty and increase, that they may
make it their prey. Do not men in all ages tremble as they rejoice in
prosperity? Do not the proverbs of all nations warn us that trouble in
such moments is near? There is a hand unseen which deals destruction to
our harvests and homesteads, in the moment when they smile on us most
gaily; and we are powerless to resist it; we can but sit like Job on the
dunghill of our ruined fortunes and bemoan ourselves, and it may be
curse the day which sent us forth to till such a treacherous seed-field
as this. The dearest things, the things which we love most tenderly, the
possession of which is our life, may be struck down in a moment, the
delight of our eyes laid low at a stroke; we may plead and pray, we may
wrestle with God in a frenzy of supplication: the hand which grasps our
treasure is pitiless; pass a few days, we shall be standing tearless and
defiant by the grave of our beloved. Pagans exclaim against their gods
as treacherous, and refuse them service. Catholics revenge themselves by
cashiering their saint. Nay, the same brutal instinct may be found in
Protestant England: I have heard of a farmer, whose harvest was all
ruined, sticking a rotten sheaf in the hedge and leaving it there, to
make, as he said, God Almighty ashamed. We shudder at the blasphemy; but
it is only a coarse expression of the anguish of the helpless in the
hand of a power which seems inexorable and merciless, which crosses
their most settled purposes, destroys ruthlessly their most precious
harvests, and murders all their brightest joys. "_If the clouds be full
of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall
toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree
falleth, there it shall be. He that observeth the wind shall not sow;
and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. As thou knowest not
what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of
her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who
maketh all. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not
thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or
that, or whether they both shall be alike good_" (ver. 3-6). There is a
power at work behind the veil which may at any moment cross our purpose
by some unexpected stroke, which gives to us no account of its methods,
and which allows no court of appeal from its decrees. The tree falls,
and who can foresee when it may fall? And when it falls, it cares not
what it crushes, and the wrecks of it strew our fairest fields, and bury
our golden harvests in the dust.

III. What then? There being this law of calamity at work, defying all
calculation and all defence, what is the true policy of life?

There are mainly two policies of life; the stoic and the Christian. The
Stoic says,--Everything is beyond my control, but myself. There is a
kingdom whose sceptre can never be wrested from my hand. _Things_ are
certain enemies of my peace. I will make myself independent of _things_.
I will reduce my relations with things outside me to a minimum. I am
surer of a crust than of a banquet; so I will train myself to care only
for a crust; a crust of food, a crust of wealth, a crust of friendship
will be enough for me. I will fold the cloak of my manhood around me,
and shake myself free of all dependence on fickle fortune and mortal
friends.

The Christian says,--Everything is beyond my control, but myself. So
far, he and the Stoic are at one. But he reflects that what is beyond
HIS control is not beyond all control. This law of calamity obeys the
rule of One who has given the most solemn and awful pledge that He loves
me as a friend and treats me as a child. He would not have me adopt the
demeanour and policy of an outcast in a storm, but of a child at home. I
will throw my nature open to the sunlight. I will make myself as rich as
possible in all good and beautiful possessions, and in troops of
friends. It is the will of Him who rules my life that I should be so; He
made me with all these affections and sympathies; He made me to feel
life a blessing. I will work and be glad, and live and love according to
His will; and trust, not my own hardness, but my Father's mercy, to
spare me over-much pain, and to make life in some due measure a joy.
Here are the two policies. How does the text decide? "_Cast thy bread
upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days._" "_If the
clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the
tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the
tree falleth, there it shall be._" "_In the morning sow thy seed, and in
the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall
prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike
good._" The argument is, God who made you to toil, to till the ground,
and to till the more difficult and perilous seed-field of domestic,
social, and political life, made the world thus. Both your vocation as a
workman, and the field of your labour, with the conditions of that
labour, are ordained by Him. There must then be an essential harmony.
One wise and intelligent Being as the author of the whole system; and
this law of calamity is not at war with your vocation, but is also its
minister, and in deep and far-reaching ways is working with you to your
ends. It is not, according to the dark pagan theory, the work of a
malign spirit, strong enough to break in and make the homesteads and the
lives which God has made His charge, a wreck. "_I form the light and
create darkness; I make peace and create evil; I, the Lord, do all these
things._" It is all the work of one hand, and that a wise and loving
one. Work on, work bravely, work gaily; storms may sweep your fields and
shadows may darken your homes; but no calamity, inward or outward, is
unto death. The storm and blight of this year will swell the bulk of
next year's harvests; and the deeper cares and sorrows of our spiritual
husbandry but load us with an increase which the years lay up in the
garners of eternity. Practically, the husbandman finds it to be so.
Making the fullest allowance for all the crosses, the storms, the
blights, the violence of Nature and of man, the balance is still amply
on the side of the faithful workman. Year by year man's tillage
advances; the wilderness and the solitary place is made glad by his
toil, and the desert rejoices and blossoms as the rose. This means that
a wise and loving Hand holds all the disturbing forces under control,
and fixes their bounds where they instruct and stimulate, but never on
a grand scale scare and paralyse mankind. The losses and the crosses of
the croupier of the gaming table are borne with profound patience, for
there is a certain chance in his favour which must inevitably in the
long run fill his coffers with gain. How calmly, now joyously, should we
work on through our storms and sorrows, who have, not a margin of
security guaranteed by the theory of probabilities, but the certainty of
an abundant and glorious harvest, if we are faithful and patient,
guaranteed by the living God.

And do not pervert the teaching of the Scripture by narrowing its scope.
It does not say,--Work, for the work is good for you; results are
nothing. It says rather,--Work, for God is working with you, and results
are His care. The Lord does not say,--Take no thought for the morrow,
for these cares of food and clothes and health are sordid; despise them,
and think exclusively of higher things. Quite other, and infinitely more
wise and tender, is His teaching,--Do not be distracted by cares, "_for
your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things_,"
and how He furnishes those who trust Him let the birds and the lilies
declare. "_Cast thy bread upon the waters_," for there is One watching
it who will bring it back after many days. "_They that sow in tears
shall reap in joy._" "_He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious
seed, shall doubtless_"--doubtless because the Lord of the harvest
assures it--"_come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with
him_."

Three practical principles, which indicate the Christian policy of life,
I gather from the text:--

1. Do not be afraid of giving with bountiful hand lest your charity
should be wasted. Scatter your gifts freely: "_freely ye have received,
freely give_." "_He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed_,"
blessed with the blessedness of Christ, and like Christ he shall gather
in rich harvests. Sow your gifts as the husbandman scatters the seed in
his furrows, leaving it with God to watch it, to bless its springing, to
ripen its fruit. Much of our charity, our effort to bless mankind, must
seem to be futile. The waters close on it, it vanishes from sight and
touch, it is rotting, we think, in the depths. No; I think that the
discovery of the unknown fruit of the patient efforts and the loving
sacrifices for men which on earth seemed to us to be wasted, will be one
of the purest and intensest joys of eternity.

2. Do not be afraid of working lest your toil should be fruitless. There
is no fruitless labour. Every hammer-stroke on the forge of duty welds
something which will outlast eternity. Work with a will then, with a
courage, an energy, a hope, to which Heaven lends its inspiration; and
believe that nothing is so sure in the universe as your harvest. This
seed of your toil may be stolen, that may be crushed, that may be
blighted when it is set for fruit; but the grand sum of your labour is
beyond the reach of the Harpies. God guards it, God quickens it, and God
and angels will rejoice with you when one day you bring your golden
harvest home.

3. Do not be afraid of loving because every love is a sure germ of pain.
Throw wide the doors of your heart to all comers in the name of the
Lord. The sorrows will spring, but the joys will overflow them. Count
yourself rich, as you are rich in love. Keen sorrow it must bring, but
with it superabounding joy. Ask God to hallow your loves, and to
consecrate your crosses, and the pain is purged of all its bitterness;
it is but the first throb of a great unspeakable joy, which will play
like sunlight around your life in the homes where the weary are for ever
at rest.

FOOTNOTE:

[B] Those who wish to settle the critical question will find ample help
in Dr. Ginsburg's learned and exhaustive "Commentary on Ecclesiastes."
(Longmans, 1861.)



V.

THE LOST BIRTHRIGHT.

    "Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye
    know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the
    blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance,
    though he sought it carefully with tears."--HEB. xii. 16, 17.


These words have always seemed to be among the very saddest in the book
of God. No place of repentance, though sought carefully with tears! It
is a very terrible picture, and seems to describe the experience of what
must have been a very wretched and blighted life. It is possible that if
we study the matter closely some of the tones of sadness may be
lightened; but still Esau and his sad history will remain one of the
dark perplexities of Scripture, just as the acts and the fate of men
like Esau are among the most inscrutable mysteries of life. There are
men like Esau cropping up everywhere; men who seem born to lose their
birthright, to be befooled by the keen and subtle Jacobs, to be seeking
ever places of repentance, and to find Fate inexorable to their tears.
Men _born_ under the dark doom of the rejected, we are tempted to
say--so inevitable their destiny appears from the first. In this case,
"_the elder shall serve the younger_," was written of the twin brethren
in the womb, and Jacob was the successful supplanter from his birth.
There are many sad mysteries in life, and the history of such natures
and their destiny are among the saddest. We cannot hope to fathom it on
earth; but blessed be God for the assurance which we are not only
permitted but bound to cherish, that all which is inscrutable here and
dark with shadows will unfold a divine order and beauty in the long
bright day of eternity.

Esau and Jacob, both in their personal character and their relations
with each other, are representative men, and foreshow in brief the
essential character of large phases and long periods of human
development. They place before us, as we read the record of their
personal history, the great twin brethren, the Gentile and the Jewish,
perhaps even more widely the Christian and the heathen, sections of
mankind. The earlier records of the book of God are full of such typical
characters and lives. In truth, in the earliest time life was typical;
men lived in large and free intercourse with Nature and with their
fellow-men. The conventional swathing-bands with which modern society
has bound itself were unknown. Men lived boldly from within, and what
they said and did had broad human significance, and forecast naturally
what men would say and do under the same conditions to the end of time.
Hence, we imagine, the exceeding fulness of the book of Genesis in its
painting of character and life. Nowhere have we anything like such large
and graphic portraiture as here. The reason is surely that in those ages
life was richly doctrinal, and that the God who caused all Holy
Scripture to be written for our learning saw that the history of such
lives as those of Abraham, Isaac, Esau, Jacob, and Joseph, would be the
most precious legacy which could be handed down from the age of the
patriarchs to all time.

The contrast of these two men is peculiarly rich and instructive. Esau
is the lusty, genial, jovial pagan; impulsive, impetuous, frank, and
generous, but sensual and self-willed. A man keenly alive to the claims
and experiences of the moment; slow to believe in unseen realities and
the harvest which could only be reaped beyond long years of patience and
pain. Jacob, on the other hand, led from the first a meditative and
interior life. What may be meant by the description, "a plain man,
dwelling in tents," is not very apparent. It certainly does not simply
describe a fact in his history, but rather a feature of his character.
He loved the home life; while the burly Esau was abroad in the field, he
loved to sit at home, meditating on many things, and amongst them the
highest--a plain man, sound, pure, pious, as some commentators have it.
The meaning of the word is certainly moral; "_integer vitæ_," may
perhaps express it. The pilgrim Abraham was reproduced in Jacob in some
of the main features of his character. He could understand, at any rate,
what Esau apparently could never understand--the sacredness of a Divine
vocation, the value of a birthright which carried with it a Divine
benediction, and which was freighted with the Divine promise to the
world. The grand distinction between the two men from the first was,
that Jacob had faith, while Esau had none. Jacob had the heart of a
pilgrim, Esau the heart of a "prince of this world." Jacob saw something
behind the veil, which filled his soul with awe and made his life a
constant aspiration; Esau saw that on this side the veil which filled
him with the only pleasure which he cared to grasp at, and which taught
him to look upon his brother's pilgrim lot and halting step as the sign
of a broken and wasted life. Esau had his grand success in the princedom
which he founded. You may read the list of the "dukes of Edom, who
sprang from him," in the chapters which record his history. The sad and
weary Jacob, standing before Pharaoh when his race was well nigh run,
witnessed this confession, "_Few and evil have the days of the years of
my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the
life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage_." His success lay
beyond generations and ages, beyond the rising of the "Star that should
come out of" his house, beyond the resurrection day. Jacob's life won no
success but such as he shares with humanity in time and in eternity. His
success is our success; in his blessing we are blessed. He stands forth
in the early twilight of history as the typical child of the kingdom,
the Prince of God, having power with two worlds. He is the
representative of the elect men and races. This election is a broad,
plain, principle of God's government. In all ages God is wont to call
men, races, nations, out of the commonwealth of humanity, and to bring
them near unto Himself. Their election is to service--high service, hard
battle, stern endurance. First in honour, they must be first in perils,
pains, temptations, and toils. Privilege is a word of abundant meaning
in the book of God's dispensations; but it means privilege to be
first--to lead the van, to clear the way, to open new paths for progress
through the jungle of ignorance and night. Privilege to belong to a
privileged class, to special advantage and certain success; privilege to
run the race of life, light and trim against weighted competitors, is
part of the devil's gospel, not of God's. Of this royal class, who are
God's elect ministers to mankind in all their generations, Jacob is a
typical representative. We learn from his character and history what God
means by callings, birthrights, and blessings, and how much those whom
He places in the front rank have to toil and suffer for the world. There
is something in Jacob's character and in the development of his life
which is significant for all time, which forecasts the course of Jewish
and Christian ages, and prophesies in broad outline the method of God's
universal culture of our race.

At the same time the patriarch of Israel presents to us a wonderfully
complete image of the race which sprang from him. We speak of Jacob
rather than Abraham, as the founder of the people to which he gave his
name; Abraham, the father of the faithful, is the founder of a yet
richer and mightier line. But Jacob is the typical Jew. His life, like
the life of his people, is simply incomprehensible to those who cannot
realize a Divine vocation, who cannot cling to a Divine promise, who
cannot struggle and suffer in faith for the sake of far-off divine
results, whereby humanity at large would be blessed. Jacob's life was
made what it was by the commerce which he held with the unseen God of
his fathers. They have but a dim eye for the meaning of history who
cannot see that, under all this man's questionable deeds and chequered
experience, this faith in God was the deepest and strongest element in
his nature. It ruled the critical moments of his life, it sustained him
through all the stormiest scenes of his pilgrimage, and it shone out
clearest and strongest in death. Scarcely had he gone forth an exile
from the house of his fathers, when this fruitful commerce with God and
the spiritual world was established. The beautiful narrative in Genesis
casts a flood of light on his life. "_And Jacob went out from Beersheba,
and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried
there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of
that place and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to
sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder set up on the earth, and the
top of it reached to heaven: and, behold, the angels of God ascending
and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I
am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land
whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy
seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to
the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in
thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither
thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land: for I will not
leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And
Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this
place, and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is
this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the
gate of heaven._" (Gen. xxviii. 10-17.)

Precisely the same influence was formative of the character and
destinies of his race. This high and grand quality, this openness to the
influence of the "powers of the world to come," which is surely the
grandest of all qualities, renders the highest Divine culture possible,
with eternally blessed and glorious results. But it was marred and
debased both in Jacob and in his people by the alloy of selfish, base,
and carnal elements, of the earth earthy, which it was the great aim of
all the Divine discipline under which he and his people suffered so
sharply, to purge away and to destroy. And herein he represents a wider
family than Israel. This Divine tincture, in a measure, is in all of us,
mixed with the baser earthy matter. God's chosen ones, the subjects of
His highest culture in all ages, have mostly the earthy element in full
force, struggling with the Divine. No model men were the chosen people
of ancient times, nor the saints of apostolic days. The one question is,
Hast thou faith? "_Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief_," is
substantially the confession of Jacob, of Israel, and of all who in any
age form part of the Church of the living God. When Jacob, when the
Jews, suffered themselves to forget the Divinity which was with them,
which was in them, their superior power revealed itself as simply
masterly craft. Jacob, viewed in one light, is just the most
accomplished and successful schemer of his times; in another light, he
is the grandest spiritual prince. His people repeat the anomaly. The
race of the grandest spiritual power, of the most intense religious
belief, have earned the character of the most accomplished hucksters and
tricksters of the world. The power capable of the one, under the true
inspiration, without it sank easily to the level of the other. There is
a modern instance remarkably in point. In many respects the Scotch have
succeeded to the character and position which the Jews occupied in
ancient society. In both people there is the same grand spiritual power,
the same prophetic spirit--Edward Irving was more after the fashion of
an old Jewish prophet than any man, except perhaps Savonarola, whom we
have had among us in these modern days--the same intense religious zeal,
the same heroism in fighting and suffering for their faith, mixed up
with the same worldly ambition, the same cautious and canny temper, the
same facility of dispersion, and the same power of getting on and
winning wealth and influence wherever God might cast their lot. Is
there not a manifestation of the same law in the history of the
universal Church? As with Jacob, as in Judaism, so in Christendom, the
leading spiritual magnates, the prominent Churchmen of all ages,
forsaking their true strength, divesting themselves of their true power
as Christ's priests and kings, have sunk to the level of the most
selfish schemers, and have won the reputation of the cleverest and
wiliest statesmen of the world. Churchcraft in all ages has been held to
be a shade more worldly, more subtle, more ruthless, than statecraft.
The old proverb, "the corruption of the best is the worst" partly
accounts for it; but something is due also to the principle whose
workings we trace through Jacob's history, that the power which,
inspired of God, is capable of Godlike activity, when the world or the
devil get hold of it, is capable of all manner of worldly and devilish
work with fell energy and success.

But Jacob's life was purified and elevated as it passed through its
tremendous discipline. The aged pilgrim, having won the title of Prince
of God, stood before Pharaoh clothed with a dignity and power which made
the world's mightiest monarch bend eagerly under the blessing of his
hand. "_The Angel which redeemed me from all evil_," he spake of, when
his eyes were growing dim in death. The history of his life is the
history of that redemption, and this is its rich meaning for us. He
sinned basely and shamefully, he suffered as few have suffered, and
wrestled as few have strength to wrestle for the blessing which purified
and redeemed his life. A sad, stricken, broken man, halting painfully on
his thigh, he went on his way, but ennobled, purified, and saved. His
life is a revelation of the way of God in the discipline of our spirits;
how power gets educated and purified, and made meet at last for the work
and the joy of eternity. So Judaism, as it struggled on and suffered,
lost some of its baser elements, and came forth, developed, into a
higher region of experience and power, in the life of the Christian
Church.

The study of the character of these two men is full of the richest
interest and instruction; but our present purpose is with the elder, and
this profoundly sad passage of his history. There is much, in the matter
of both the birthright and the repentance of which our text speaks,
which is frequently very grievously and even disastrously misunderstood,
which is supposed to present ideas of the dealings of God with man which
contradict the fundamental principles of the gospel, and casts no
trifling stumbling-blocks before the steps of faith. That we may
understand it truly let us consider--

I. That the rejection of the elder, and the election of the younger to
honour and power--to all that the election of God could bring--by no
means stands by itself in the history of the Divine dispensations; and
it illustrates an important principle on which we will dwell for a
moment before we pass on.

We are tempted to think that, on the whole, Esau was a hardly used man,
and that we have here an instance of the exercise of the Divine
sovereignty which is harsh, arbitrary, and unjust. In the natural course
of things, Esau would have had the birthright and all that it was worth.
It is made to appear that by a purely arbitrary act Esau was robbed of
it, while Jacob was endowed with it, having no sort of superior claim.
Paul, in Romans ix. 10-13, is careful to insist that whatever the
principle may be which is at work here, at any rate it is not merit, for
the decree was pronounced long before any questions of merit could have
force. The sovereignty of God is here the keystone of his argument: it
is worth our while to discern, as far as we may, the reason on which
this act of sovereignty rests. Of course the sympathy which we extend to
Esau is based upon some idea of the rights of the elder born which seems
to be instinctive in the human heart. This opens a wide question into
which we have no need in this place to enter. The principle is
recognised plainly enough in the word of God. In Deuteronomy xxi. 15-17,
there is explicit legislation on the subject. "_If a man have two
wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children,
both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be her's that
was hated: then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that
which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn
before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: but he shall
acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a
double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his
strength; the right of the firstborn is his._" Joseph was evidently
grieved when Jacob blessed the younger with the blessing of the
firstborn, as though some sacred order had been violated: and the very
word "firstborn" is employed as a term of dignity and pre-eminence both
in the Old and the New Testament scriptures. I believe it to be for the
good of society that this order should exist; that the eldest son should
be looked upon as the representative of the family, while the younger
sons should regard it as their lot--and not the worse lot in the sight
of God and the angels--to carve out a new fortune for themselves. I
believe this to be a Divine institution, and that God contemplated it
when he established the family life as the basis of human society. But
just because it is an order ordained of God, man shall not make an idol
of it. A certain free play in the working of an order or an institution
is essential to the well-being and progress of society. If God had so
ordered all the dispensations, that the elder son was constituted
invariably the organ of His communication with the household, the tribe,
the race, it would have instituted a caste instead of a principle of
order, and the great majority of our race would, in that case, be
outcast from their birth. That this rule of the elder might not become a
tyrannous thing, that the younger sons of the house might feel that they
too had a man's part to play on the theatre of life, a part which might
easily become grander and more glorious than that of the firstborn, God,
at great critical moments, seems to have broken through the order, and
made the younger the heir of the promises and the organ of His
revelation to mankind. Jacob is a notable, a typical instance. The case
of David is hardly less remarkable, 1 Sam. xvi. 6-13. And Paul in the
spiritual family illustrates the same principle; the youngest born of
the apostles, one in his own estimation hardly meet to be called an
apostle, laboured more abundantly than they all, and was crowned with
the most glorious success. But these arbitrary selections, as they
appear at first sight, in reality, when we look more closely, are found
to deliver the institution of primogeniture from arbitrariness; and they
show to us that the Will which rules the world maintains its freedom
under the guidance of its wisdom, and remits to no institution, however
useful or honourable, the supreme power in the conduct of human affairs.
It seems as though, knowing man's inherent propensity to formalism, the
Lord had visibly broken through, from time to time, the very forms which
He had Himself established, that He might show decisively that forms can
have noble use alone in the hands of the free. Two singular instances of
this, closely parallel to each other, are to be found in the numbers of
the tribes of Israel and of the apostles of Christ. We talk familiarly
of twelve tribes and of twelve apostles. But were there truly twelve or
thirteen in each case? The question is by no means easy to answer. The
tribe of Joseph was split into two. Theoretically, it is easy to regard
the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh as forming together the one tribe of
Joseph. But, practically, we must remember that the tribe of Ephraim was
the most powerful and masterful of the tribes until the rise of the
house of David. If any tribe might be looked upon as complete, certainly
it would be the tribe of Ephraim. So that, looking at it in the light of
actual history, we should be compelled to reckon thirteen, but for the
fact that the separation of the tribe of Levi for the priesthood reduced
to twelve the number of tribes claiming tribal settlement in Canaan, and
active in the spheres of industry, politics, and war. Similarly, it is
an open question how far the place of Judas among the Twelve was
lawfully filled up by the election of Matthias. It is far from clear
that Peter and the infant Church were not acting hastily in this
election and ordination of a successor to the apostate. We hear the name
of Matthias only, and then he disappears from history. While we soon
meet with an apostle of the Lord's election, who, if Matthias was duly
called, raises the number of the apostles to thirteen. Is not this
uncertainty, this fringe of doubt, left hanging around the numbers in
these important and critical instances with a set purpose, that men
might not make an idol of the number? That men might not think in the
one case that the firstborn were the world's sole masters, nor dream in
the other that a college of twelve was essential to the conduct of all
the great spiritual movements of mankind.

II. The question of the birthright seems to us to be one on which there
is, popularly at any rate, a good deal of misunderstanding. We will look
at it a little more closely, before we proceed to consider the
unavailing repentance which will form the topic of a second discourse.

There is something which reaches beyond the merely
historico-representative character, in the history of these twain. Most
of the earnest and generous students of the Old Testament would, we
imagine, if they were to make frank confession, sympathise with Esau as
a wronged and ill-used man. A sentiment of pity for the big, burly
hunter, so helpless in the hands of the subtle and masterly Jacob, takes
possession of us as we read the history. It seems a hard penalty to pay
for a moment's weakness under the pressure of the pangs of hunger; while
the crafty treacherous falsehood by which the blessing as well as the
birthright was won from him enlists us wholly as to that transaction on
his side. This sentiment of compassion is much strengthened by the vague
impression that, through the craft of Jacob, Esau suffered a terrible
and irreparable loss. And younger sons, as they see the paternal acres,
the family mansion, and the dignity of the family name, passing to the
elder, are prone to make the same moan, and to reckon themselves the
predestined victims of the social order of the world. Learn from this
history how the matter really stands. Esau had all the birthright which
he honestly cared for; while Jacob had simply that birthright which,
blessed be Christ, is within reach of every child of every household
upon earth. Do not waste your pity upon Esau, on the ground of what he
lost. Pity him rather on the score of what he did not care to win. It
would be a great mistake to suppose that Jacob's treachery left the
elder brother a broken and ruined man; on the contrary, the ruin in the
worldly sense fell on the man who won the birthright; and though the
blessing was added, he went a broken and halting man to the end of his
days. That exceeding great and bitter cry, which was wrung from the
disinherited when he saw the paternal blessing following the birthright,
did not continue to wail through his life. He was a warmhearted, loving,
and generous man, though of fiery passion. The loss of the good old
Isaac's benediction struck him to the heart; but we are wrong in
supposing that it remained a burden on his life. Nothing of the kind; it
had been better for him if it had been so. But the fury seems soon to
have passed away, probably too his regrets. He became a chieftain of
wealth and renown, rich, strong, illustrious. We meet with him again,
and there is no trace of a shadow over his life. "_And Jacob lifted up
his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred
men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto
the two handmaids. And he put the handmaids and their children foremost,
and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost. And
he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times,
until he came near to his brother. And Esau ran to meet him, and
embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept. And
he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, Who
are those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath
graciously given thy servant. Then the handmaidens came near, they and
their children, and they bowed themselves. And Leah also with her
children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and
Rachel, and they bowed themselves. And he said, What meanest thou by all
this drove which I met? And he said, These are to find grace in the
sight of my lord. And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that
thou hast unto thyself._" (Gen. xxxiii. 1-9.) "_And Esau took his wives,
and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and
his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance, which he had got
in the land of Canaan; and went into the country from the face of his
brother Jacob. For their riches were more than that they might dwell
together; and the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them,
because of their cattle. Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir. Esau is Edom._"
(Gen. xxxvi. 6-8.) Read the catalogue of his princely descendants, and
remember that Edom played a splendid part in the political, and
especially the commercial, history of the oriental world. Esau lost
that, and that alone, which his soul had no love for, and no power to
use to honour. But he won that in which his soul delighted; he passed a
lifetime of splendid and careless prosperity, and in a good old age went
down to his grave in peace.

And what did Jacob win by his birthright--his rights of the firstborn?
Simply the power to become God's pilgrim, the power to win a lofty
height of honour and renown by life-long patience, by heroic struggle,
by wearing, wasting toils. What good shall this birthright do to me,
said the hungry hunter, mad for the mess of pottage which the thrifty
Jacob sold. But what good did the birthright do to the supplanter who
bought it, and filched the blessing with it? None, absolutely none, in
the sense in which they talk of "good" who are reckoning gains. It drove
him forth from the very hour when he stole his father's blessing, an
exile to a distant land. It made him for long years, his best years, a
hireling in his kinsman's house. It exposed him to precisely the kind
of trick which he himself had practised, in a matter of yet deeper
moment to his affection; for it imperilled the winning of the woman whom
he tenderly loved. After he had served for long years as a hireling for
a hireling's wage, it brought him back at length to the threshold of the
promised Canaan. Rich in the wealth of the East, he drew near the
borders. His soul was filled with perturbation when he heard that Esau
was coming to meet him. The wrong which his brother had suffered rose up
freshly before him in all its disgraceful features, and he could hardly
believe in the hunter's generous forgiveness as he cowered a suppliant
at his feet. Entered at length on the land of his inheritance, discord
breaks out in his home and embitters his life. He is struck to the heart
through his dearest affections. "There I buried Rachel" is the epitaph
of a great agony; and when Joseph was not, he felt that he should go
down mourning to the grave. At length the land of his inheritance
refused to sustain him; and the weary old pilgrim, with one foot in the
grave, goes forth once more an exile--the second and final exile--into a
land where the sons for whom he won and held the birthright were
destined for centuries to writhe and moan as slaves. What good did the
birthright do to him?

If you look at the things which are seen, which are mostly in view when
birthrights are in question, Esau, the hardly used man, the victim, had
most unquestionably the preferable lot. The time came when he stood as a
prince before Jacob, and Jacob bowed himself at his feet. There was no
malignant spirit at work here, as we are sometimes tempted to conceive
of it, making Esau's life wretched and broken, while Jacob's was heaped
high with all which could gladden a grasping and sensual heart; on the
contrary, the chosen son won only that which Esau would not have cared
to lift if it had been laid at his very feet. Esau lost only that which
would have been life-long a torment to his easy, jovial, sensual
nature, which he would have prayed to get rid of, which he would in some
way have got rid of, if it had clung to him, no matter at what cost.
There were some, remember, who, finding their herds of swine in peril,
prayed even the merciful Saviour "to depart out of their coasts." Jacob
seized a bitter inheritance as far as this world was concerned, by his
clever impersonation; while Rebekah, who prompted and managed it, paid a
yet heavier price for it; in this world she never saw her darling more.

What he won was power with God and with man as a spiritual prince; power
to pray, and to conquer by prayer; power to trust and to hope in God's
mercy through stern struggles and bitter miseries; and power to reach a
hand through death and lay up the hope of his soul with God on high. The
heart which could crave for a spiritual thing, which pined to be a child
of promise, which clung to the traditions of his fathers and the hope of
his house, all which Esau scorned, God trained by suffering to aim
continually at higher and yet higher things. He won, in a word, a high
place in God's high school of discipline, and a name of renown as a
spiritual hero in time and in eternity. This was practically his gain;
and it is precisely this which God places fairly within your reach. You
too may be the sons of promise; "power to become the sons of God" is the
birthright which in Christ is yours. Jacob, no doubt, and most justly,
seems to you the grander man as compared with Esau, and his life the
nobler and more glorious life. Then live it. All that he won you may
win. Make yourself a prince of God by wrestling prayer. The birthright
of broad acres and family honours may pass to your elder. The birthright
of hard work, stern struggle, strong effort, high aspiration,
disciplined power, victorious faith, eternal renown and joy, is yours.
Christ has won it, and freely bestows it--no younger son's portion, but
the birthright of the eldest, the only-begotten son, glorious through
time and eternity. It may be that many a younger son may read these
words; many a one who may be tempted to bemoan himself that the younger
son's portion, the lot of toil and struggle, has fallen to him in life.
Well! if it be so, bless God for it. If the lot of the younger be toil
and struggle, if it falls to them mainly to open new paths, not without
peril and pain, to win by earnest and patient effort strength and
wisdom, and to take the leader's place in the battle-field of life,
don't moan over it if it has fallen to you, but again I say bless God
for it. The nobler, the richer, the lordlier inheritance, is yours.
Pity, do not despise, but pity the elders who sit clothed in purple and
fine linen, faring sumptuously every day. It would be a strange history
if it were fairly written out, the history of younger sons, with a just
estimate of what they have done in comparison with the elder for the
service and progress of mankind. The eldest born, the heirs, with the
inheritance which the past has lazily left to them; the younger sons,
with the domain of wisdom, strength, and influence, which their own
right hand, God helping them, has won. If Jacob seems to you the petted
child of fortune, the chosen favourite of heaven, and Esau the wretched
reprobate outcast, spurned alike of man and of God, then take Jacob's
inheritance; take it, it is fairly yours. Spurn Esau's, which the devil
is putting into your hand. Be your choice the pilgrim's toils and
struggles, the name of renown, the everlasting portion; and with the
words of the pilgrim's hymn upon your lips pass on your way.

    "Contented now upon my thigh
       I halt, till life's short journey end;
     All helplessness, all weakness, I
       On Thee alone for strength depend;
     Nor have I power from Thee to move;
     Thy nature and Thy name is Love.

     Lame as I am, I take the prey;
       Hell, earth, and sin, with ease o'ercome;
     I leap for joy, pursue my way,
       And, as a bounding hart, fly home;
     Through all eternity to prove
     Thy nature and Thy name is Love."



VI.

NO PLACE OF REPENTANCE.

    "He found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully
    with tears."--HEB. xii. 17.


We have shown in the last discourse that a close examination of the
question of the birthright lightens some of the deeper shadows which lie
upon it. Comparing the outward and visible aspect of the two men--the
man who sold the birthright and lost the blessing, and the man who won
them both--it would appear that the balance of worldly prosperity was
altogether on Esau's side. Esau lost just that which his soul despised,
and he won what his soul lusted after, wealth, power, and the position
of a prince. He lived prosperously and splendidly, and died peacefully
we may believe, with few regrets. There is certainly nothing in the few
words which are devoted to his subsequent history to suggest that he
lived a disappointed ruined man. On the contrary, he seems to have
displayed on his meeting with Jacob that magnanimity and generosity
which shallow natures are wont to manifest in a prosperous lot. It is
just the glow of the sunlight reflected from their lives: the rippling
shallows make a braver show in the sunlight than the still deep pools;
and Esaus are gayer objects to look at, when all goes well with them,
than the careworn halting pilgrim, who bears on his brow, and no
sunlight can efface it, the marks of many toils and tears. But be that
as it may, there can be no question that the Bible does not picture the
life of Esau as a broken and ruined life, as far as this world is
concerned. The man grew rich and powerful, so rich that he could afford
to make light of Jacob's presents, so powerful that Jacob's company was
helpless in his hand. It is written that once the children of Israel
cried for flesh, and "_God gave them flesh, but sent leanness into their
souls_." Something like this was the history of Esau, and of how many a
worldly-hearted man whom fortune loads with gifts, while the springs of
his higher life sink low and die. And his race prospered. As Jacob was
to Esau, quite the weaker and more dependent of the two, so when
centuries passed was Israel to Edom. The descendants of Esau had
attained to such strength and political influence that they were able to
bar the gates of their land against the elect host, pilgrims through the
wilderness like their sire, angel-led, and saved by hope. On the whole
then, for himself and his descendants, his life must be pronounced a
worldly success.

Jacob, on the other hand, had to reap life-long the bitter fruits of his
craft and fraud. His life was a weary, wasting struggle with selfish
craft and evil passion in all who surrounded him. He spent the best
years of his life in exile, and stood before Pharaoh, in his own
judgment prematurely aged and decayed. He won a name and a place which
called him to submit to a searching discipline, to live the life of a
pilgrim, to dwell as a stranger in his promised land, and to die in
exile at last. The world was fuller to him of sorrows and toils than of
benedictions, and the crown which the Prince of God at last was able to
bind around his brow was set with many a thorn. But he won the power to
follow the Angel, the Angel which redeemed him from all evil; his life,
halting as was his step, was a noble spiritual progress from strength to
strength, from victory to victory, till he passed up to receive the
prize of his conflict in a world and from a hand which Esau "despised."

Looked at in the light of this world's interests then, some of the
darkest difficulties vanish as we read the record of this birthright
lost and won. But then there is Esau himself, the man who despised his
birthright, who counted himself unworthy of the honour to which God had
ordained him, incapable of the glorious toil and patience to which God
had called him, and careless of the prize which God had placed within
reach of his hand. The life of this man, from the higher point of view,
was as sad, wretched, and faithless, as was the pilgrim Jacob's from the
lower. He won his wealth and his princedom by his energy of hand and
will in all things that pertained to this life; but he let all the
interests and hopes of the higher life fade out of the horizon, and the
crown of his spiritual manhood slip from the grasp of his careless hand.
He touched it, but he could not hold it. What good shall this birthright
do to me, he moaned when the mess of pottage steamed before his hungry
senses; and the crown rolled in the dust. There is the man Esau, under
all his possession and princedom, in the sight of God a very wretched
and poverty-stricken outcast of the kingdom whose citizens believe in
truth, duty, spiritual effort, conflict, prayer, self-sacrifice, heaven,
and God. About the case of Esau personally there are many heavy
difficulties. His course seems to have been in a measure marked out from
his birth: "_The elder shall serve the younger_" was said of the twin
brethren while they were yet in the womb: and some such relation of the
two seems to be involved in the destiny which a higher Will had from the
first decreed. And this opens the vision of an abyss of mystery, into
the depths of which no finite intellect can search--the relation of
connate constitution and temperament to character, and the measure in
which this bears on the supreme fact of man's being, responsibility.
Responsibility, implying freedom in the largest sense, we hold to be the
corner stone of our dignity as men. If man be not free, with the
everlasting crown of freedom within his reach as the prize of all his
toils and struggles, why! there is not a cur that prowls about the
streets whose lot is not more enviable. In that case man would be a
combatant by a profound instinct of his nature, struggling sternly
life-long against innumerable evils, with nothing after all to struggle
for; pressed, crushed, by the weight of intolerable ills, with no hope
to sanctify and no harvest to repay his pain. Who would not "rather be a
dog and bay the moon," than such a creature? For freedom, and the
responsibility which it brings, as the fundamental spiritual fact of our
nature, we contend earnestly, yea vehemently, as for the only
justification of God's constitution of the human world, the only key to
the woes which He lets loose to afflict it and the discords with which
He allows it to be torn. And for the reality of this moral freedom we
shall have to do stern battle with the school who are urging now, with
great subtilty and force, that all the moral phenomena of man's nature
are just the finest efflorescence of the nerve matter of which his
intelligence is manufactured, the cream of the milk of his natural law.

But it cannot be questioned for a moment that men appear to be under
various conditions of advantage, as we might call it, with regard to the
exercise of their freedom and its fruits. The differences arise partly,
but not we believe chiefly, from circumstance. The child of a household
of thieves or vagrants, for instance, seems to have but a poor chance in
life compared with the children who grow up, pure, cultivated, comely,
and pious, in your serene, happy, and orderly homes. But the more
serious source of this inequality is to be found in character and
temperament, inbred lusts, passions, tempers, and proclivities which may
make the life of a man one long agony of struggle and failure, while
another man more fairly endowed may find from the first the way of
wisdom a way of pleasantness and all her paths paths of peace. A man
born with a brutal nature and feeble spiritual energy, or with a native
propensity, as far as we can see, to certain forms of sin--the
temptation to which exercises the kind of fascination over his will
which the serpent's eye is said to exert over the victim bird, but which
another man would burst through as easily as Samson flung off the withes
of the Philistine harlot--is, one is tempted to think, at a terrible
disadvantage in life's battle, compared with the man who has a halo of
saintly glory around his brow from his birth. It is a dark, sad mystery,
much of which, after all our brooding over it, we must leave in trust
with God.

I believe firmly that inequalities arising out of circumstances are
after all far less real than they appear. The facilities and
opportunities for a fair unfolding of life are not so uneven, in
the various classes and callings, as they seem. There must be some
deep meaning in the Saviour's words, "_Blessed are ye poor_," and
in the terrible sentence, "_How hardly shall they that have riches
enter into the kingdom of God_." There is an amount of practical
Christianity--daily, hourly trust in God and ministry to each
other--developed by the circumstances of the lot of the poor, which
we may fairly set against the intelligent beliefs, the doctrinal
correctness, and the measured charities of the richer class, as in
the sight of God of equal or of higher price. There is nothing in a
workman's lot or toil, to remove him farther from the gate of the
kingdom than rich men, nobles, priests, or kings; nay, the balance
is altogether in his favour. But, alas! there is a class far below
the workman, a vast class, vastest in the great cities where
Christian civilization is at the height of its splendour and power,
whose lot it is terribly difficult to comprehend in a theodicy, and
of whom it is hard to believe that they are not from the first at a
fearful disadvantage as respects nearness to the gate of the
kingdom of heaven. But the gravest side of the difficulty is not
circumstantial; it concerns nature and temperament. Though perhaps,
if we could search a little more deeply, we should see that each
type of character has its own peculiar class of difficulties and
temptations; and that the most beautiful and saintlike have their
dread perils of shipwreck, which make their course as arduous as
that of the souls which bear about with them a great load of
fleshliness and groan under the bondage of tyrannous passions
and lusts. Still it is a truth which is not without its awful
significance, that temperaments, passions, and powers, are very
variously distributed to men, while the burden of existence is laid
equally upon all, and "every soul must bear its own burden" in time
and in eternity.

These things lend infinite meaning to the word "Father" when uttered by
Divine lips. Like as a father pitieth his children, the Father pitieth
and beareth with us: "he knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are
dust." It is a father's compassion, tenderness, and equity which we
need, to be the basis of our confidence and hope. A father considers
with fatherly care, interest, and love our individual endowments,
difficulties, and temptations, in ruling and in judging us; and He will
ordain our eternal state with a merciful wisdom, which has to satisfy
not a rigid justice only but the hopes and yearnings of a paternal
heart. If it were not for the belief that the bar of judgment before
which we shall stand is a wise and righteous fatherly heart, the best
endowed might well faint under the burden of existence, while the worst
would moan under its agony and curse the day on which they saw the sun.
There are some very terrible sentences in the word of God, which utter
the moan, not of the worst men, but of the best and noblest with whose
history it deals. "_After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day.
And Job spake, and said, Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the
night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived. Let that day
be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light
shine upon it. Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a
cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. As for
that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the
days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Lo, let
that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein._" (Job iii.
1-7.) "_Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto
the bitter in soul; Which long for death, but it cometh not: and dig for
it more than for hid treasures; Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad
when they can find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is
hid, and whom God hath hedged in? For my sighing cometh before I eat,
and my roarings are poured out like the waters. For the thing which I
greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come
unto me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet;
yet trouble came._" (Job iii. 20-26.) "_Cursed be the day wherein I was
born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed. Cursed be
the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, A man child is born
unto thee; making him very glad. And let that man be as the cities which
the Lord overthrew, and repented not: and let him hear the cry in the
morning, and the shouting at noontide. Because he slew me not from the
womb; or that my mother might have been my grave, and her womb to be
always great with me. Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see
labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?_" (Jer.
xx. 14-18.) These were not bad men, crushed under the burden of their
own iniquity, but just, upright, and God-fearing men, who felt that
existence was too terrible for them under conditions which hid from them
the Father's ruling hand. And if they shrank from the burden of
conscious responsible being, how shall weaker men escape its terror, but
by taking refuge under the shield of a Father's equity and love! But
these thoughts lend a most blessed meaning to the words of the Saviour:
"_Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto
you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do:
for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For
the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself
doeth: and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may
marvel. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even
so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but
hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the
Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son,
honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say
unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me,
hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is
passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is
coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of
God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in
himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath
given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of
man._" (John v. 19-27.) "THE FATHER HATH COMMITTED ALL JUDGMENT UNTO THE
SON." "BECAUSE HE IS THE SON OF MAN." Because He can take a man's
measure as well as a Divine measure of a man's weaknesses, perils, and
temptations; can measure, as a man, man's need of mercy, and utter the
Divine Father's judgment from pitiful human lips. Few words, as we pore
over these dark mysteries of existence, are so full of consolation and
hope as these words of the Saviour upon judgment. We can bear the
darkness, we can bear the anguish, if we are called to pass through it,
because we know that the ordering of our destinies is in the hand of One
who mingles with a brother's sympathy and tenderness the Divine Father's
equity and love.

But the text does not touch upon these difficulties of Esau's history.
It treats him broadly as the typical instance of the reprobate, the man
who by his own base acts has cast himself out of the position for which
he was born and trained; who by one decisive manifestation of his
character and propensities has shut himself out from a high career which
opened fairly before him, and who finds no means of reversing the decree
which excludes him, though he seeks it carefully with tears. It opens a
very terrible vision of the inexorable rigour with which deeds done,
facts when they are once fairly established, react upon our lives. But
the words are often perverted to yet darker meanings--suggesting visions
of unpardonable sins, of fruitless agonies of personal repentance,--with
which souls under strong conviction not seldom torment themselves, and
with which the text has absolutely nothing whatever to do. A man seeking
change of heart with an agony of tears, pleading with God to renew him,
to restore him, and to cherish him to new life and hope, yet spurned
from the gate of mercy, flung forth accursed from the arms of love, is a
picture which, blessed be God, has no original in the Divine word. No!
thus runs the gospel: "_Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy
laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your
souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light._" "_Ask, and it
shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be
opened unto you._" "_For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that
seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened._" "_If ye,
being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much
more shall your Father which is in heaven give the Holy Spirit to them
that ask him?_" "_Whoso cometh unto me I will in no wise cast him out._"
"_This man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood;
wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto
God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them._"

If any who reads these words has ever made this text a stumbling-block,
has ever suffered the devil to thrust the thought into his heart that he
has sinned too deeply for repentance, and wandered too far for
return--that he can but lie moaning and weeping like Esau, and pleading
with anguished heart for repentance, to find his moans rained back in
anathemas, and his tears with the fire of the wrath of the Lamb,--let
him sweep back the thought as an unholy thing to the devil who inspired
it, and cling to the outstretched hand of Him who "_will not break the
bruised reed, who will not quench the smoking flax, but will bring forth
judgment unto truth_."

The text has literally nothing to do with personal repentance before
God. No man can spiritually seek a place of repentance carefully with
tears, and fail to find it, for the very act is an act of repentance. I
do not care to discuss the question whether the repentance here spoken
of is a change in the mind of Isaac, or of Esau himself. In either case
the meaning is substantially the same. He found no means of reversing
the decree, of winning the blessing of the firstborn, of inducing his
father to recall the benediction which had been treacherously diverted
to the younger, though he sought it carefully with tears. If it were
possible that this text, in all its dreadful meaning, could bear on
personal repentance for sin, and frighten men from it lest after all it
should be hopeless, it would deny the fundamental ideas and promises of
the gospel; nay, it would itself "_trample under foot the Son of God,
and count the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an
unholy thing, and do despite to the Spirit of grace_."

No! the text is a very solemn and even terrible warning of the
irrevocable character of deeds done in folly or frenzy; the inexorable
character of the fate which takes possession of them when once they have
gone forth from us, and which makes by them, it may be in spite of our
tears and prayers and desperate struggles, a complete revolution in our
lives.

Esau's history is but the repetition of the history of the fall. And it
is a history which we all constantly repeat in the critical moments of
our lives. Esau fell as Adam fell, and fundamentally for the same
reason. Adam despised his birthright, and thought that there was a
readier way to the satisfaction of the desires of his heart. Esau by one
act changed, not his own history and destiny only, but the destiny of a
great nation; Adam changed, by his one sin, the destiny of a great
world. "_Wherefore_," says the apostle, "_as by one man sin entered into
the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men_." (Rom.
v. 12.) Adam, like Esau, saw through the eyes of Eve that the "_tree was
good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be
desired to make one wise_." What good shall my birth-right do to me, he
said practically when he saw the forbidden fruit, and he sold it; and
that moment's work for him, for you, for me, for all the myriad human
generations, can never be recalled in time or in eternity. There is
something very much nobler here than in Esau's profaneness. It was not
in a moment of sensual lust that our first father sold his own
birthright and ours. The desire of wisdom, or what he took for wisdom,
had much to do with the force of the temptation; but the essence of the
matter is the same: Adam and Esau both chose, in the place of the good
which God had provided for them, a good which they provided for
themselves. Bitterly Adam, like Esau, repented of his folly, and sought
to undo his work. When the wilderness lay cold and bare before him, and
the flaming sword of the cherubim guarded the backward path to the
bright abodes which he had lost for ever, he measured for the first time
the full significance of his transgression. And when the sun set angry
and lurid on the wilderness, and the moaning winds swept hoarsely over
the waste, while a shudder shook the breast of nature as the tempest
clouds gathered in the sullen sky, Adam caught the infection of the
tremor, and watched with quivering eye the awful conflict of the forces
which had broken loose from his allegiance, and which seemed to come
thundering on as the doomsmen of the death which his Judge had decreed.
Think you that then his heart did not cling to the memories of the
splendours and serenities of Eden with passionate longing; think you
that he did not prostrate himself in an agony of frenzied supplication
that the barred portal might be unclosed again, that the fiery sword
might be sheathed, that the flowers of Eden might again spring beneath
his footsteps, while the balmy breezes whispered a blessing as they
played around the field of his labour and his bower of rest?

And what has been the long and bitter cry of man's sad history? O God,
reverse the sentence, reopen the gate of paradise, revoke the curse, let
the sunlight of Eden shine once more on a holy, peaceful, and happy
world! This is the great burden of human literature in all its deeper
and more sacred utterances; it is the meaning of all the world's great
poems, the refrain of all its immortal hymns. Recall the curse! let life
again become pure, peaceful, and blessed! Men, nations, ages have
agonized, over the sentence; but they have found no place of repentance,
no means to change the mind of the Judge or their own condition as the
subjects of it, though they have sought it carefully with tears. Esau
was the rejected of the birthright; you and I are the rejected of Eden.
Sinners we are by nature and proclivity, with a sinner's burdens, a
sinner's experience, and a sinner's doom. And there is no way to change
the past, to rid us of the burden, to cancel the sentence, to mitigate
the anguish of a life on which the devil has seared the shameful brand;
no way to force the barred gates of paradise, even by the banded
energies of a pain-racked, sin-tormented world.

And I suppose that the private experience of most men furnishes the key
to this. Who has not known something of the agony with which one dark
deed of passion, lust, falsehood, knavery, baseness, can torture a human
heart? Look back. Is there nothing in the past, rising up at this moment
in the full menace of its hateful form, clear as the ghost of Banquo
before his murderer's sight, which you would give your wealth, nay, some
of you would give worlds if they had them, to undo; if conscience might
but recover its serenity, and life its brightness; if the leprous flesh
of their experience might again become, like Naaman's, fair, pure, and
sweet as the flesh of a little child. It is not every Gehazi whose
leprosy comes out in his flesh, and makes him loathsome to his fellows.
How many Gehazis move about among us, burying their leprosy within, but
none the less plague-stricken and perilous! Happy those who have no dark
chambers in their being, haunted by the skeletons of their dead lusts,
sins, or crimes--skeletons which never fail to come forth at their
banquets to scare them, choosing ruthlessly the hours of their festivity
and triumph to murder all their joys. There may be some readers of these
words who know this in all its horror, in whom the anguish of the
irrevocable and irreparable has killed all the joy of life--a word
spoken, a passion indulged, a deed done, which in one brief moment has
drawn a brooding shadow over the once sunlit landscape of their lives.
And you have wept and prayed, lying prostrate on the cold, ground,
beseeching the merciful God that He would blot out the record from your
memory and from the lives which it has embittered and cursed; but "the
heaven has been as brass, the earth beneath has been as iron." The word
"irrevocable" has forced its meaning upon you in all its terrible
sternness, and you have needed no commentary to expound, or preacher to
drive home, the meaning of the sentence, "_Beware lest there be any
fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold
his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have
inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of
repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears._"

And if there may be some readers who know this experience in all its
horror, there are a multitude who know it in its more modified forms,
and who find it terrible enough even then. Who has not had forced upon
him the misery of regrets or remorse, the causes of which remain
unalterable, fixed as the stars in their orbits, and the fruits of which
leave deep traces on the experience and the destiny through time, yes,
and through eternity? Did David, think you, ever look coldly or
carelessly on his bold soldier's bloody grave? Was there no sad shadow,
to his eye, around the beauty of Bathsheba's child, which no murmured
"Jedidiah" could chase away? Was his home ever free from the shadow,
from the hour when Nathan's "Thou art the man" drove conviction home,
and wrung from him the most bitter cry of a sinner's anguish which has
found record in the literature of our world? Few things in the book of
history are more terrible than the sorrow which entered David's home,
the discord which rent his kingdom, the anguish which pierced his heart,
from the hour of his great transgression. A sad, careworn, broken man,
he finished his course and went down to his grave. Compare the David of
1 Kings i., ii., with the young shepherd in his early prime, if you
would estimate the havoc which one great sin may make in a noble life.
Ah! in a measure we all know it, in some form or other; words, deeds,
outbursts of passion, which have wrung dear hearts with anguish,
sundered precious bonds of love, have sullied reputation, clouded
prospects, withered hopes, or blighted the promise of lives which we
were bound to cherish, or of our own. And we would give worlds to blot
out their record, and to repair the evil which has been wrought; but it
remains engraven with an iron pen in the rock for ever: man cannot
obliterate it, and God will not.

To complete the subject, let me ask you to consider two thoughts.

1. These dread seasons of crucial trial, on which the future of life,
nay of eternity, is hanging, never come upon us in a moment.

It would appear from the text that one morsel of meat settled the
question of the birthright; that one hard, hot morning's chase settled
the destinies of peoples for all time. That is one side of it, the
outside. But the real settlement of the question was made already; any
trifle will serve to disclose what has already established itself as the
permanent character within. Esau had nursed his contempt for the
birthright by a thousand daily lustings and cravings; many a bitter
scoff too he had flung at Jacob's pious and meditative mood. Things like
this never stand alone. The life of the chosen family is described in
words of wonderful beauty and power in Heb. xi. 8-14. "_By faith
Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after
receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither
he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange
country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with
him of the same promise. For he looked for a city which hath
foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Through faith also Sara
herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child
when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as
the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea
shore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the
promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and
embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on
the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek
a country._" This life Jacob believed in profoundly; this life Esau as
profoundly despised. He despised it all, and made his contempt
abundantly apparent. "_And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife
Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of
Elon the Hittite. Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah_"
(Gen. xxvi. 34, 35). This shows how thoroughly out of sympathy with the
spirit of the chosen race he was from the first, and remained through
life. All his sympathies and associations were with the pagans around
him. Jacob was the true heir of the promise, for he believed in it; Esau
its outcast, for he despised it, and had despised it from the first. His
every act had expressed his contempt of it, and the sale of the
birthright for a mess of pottage but completed the witness that he was a
profane person, a pagan at heart. These moments mark the crises for
which a long train of thought and habit has prepared. Many a secret sin,
born of luxury and nursed by royal power and splendour, broke out into
the daylight when David looked upon Bathsheba, and filled his life with
unutterable sorrow and shame. God takes no man in a hasty moment and
brands him reprobate. A thousand daily touches through long years have
shaped the image which there reveals itself, and on which is moulded
the everlasting destiny. The little sins of life are busily, hour by
hour, creating the great sins. The small habits and actions, which we
allow to pass unrebuked--they seem to be such trifles--soon pass away
beyond the power of memory to recall; but they leave their ineffaceable
trace on our constitution and character, and lay silently the train of
some great outburst of lust, passion, or wickedness, like Esau's or
David's. Then is written a record on our nature and destiny which one
day we shall agonize to blot out; but the inexorable eye looks coldly
down on the frenzied pleader, and the stony lips fashion themselves into
a voiceless "Too late!" Meet sin, meet all the devil's seductions and
enticements, sternly on the threshold, and the citadel remains for ever
sure.

2. The irrevocable is not the irreparable, through the abounding mercy
and grace of God.

_Things_ cannot be obliterated or abolished. They remain, and their
record remains, for ever. But, blessed be God, they may be transmuted,
and wear Divine forms of beauty and joy. And this is what redemption
means. Eden is closed for ever. To abolish the condition of man as a
sinner, otherwise than by one grand sentence of doom which would abolish
his existence as a creature, is beyond the power even of heaven. A
sinner's lot you inherit, a sinner's experience you must know, a
sinner's agony you must taste, a sinner's horror of darkness you must
pass through--to the pit, if the birthright never again seems to you
beautiful and glorious, a thing to be won by toil and tears and prayers;
but if your soul pines in its rioting, if it sickens in its worldly
wealth and splendour, if the question forces itself upon you as it never
seems to have forced itself upon Esau, "_What shall it profit a man if
he gain the whole world and lose his own soul, or what shall a man give
in exchange for his soul?_" then the sinner's anguish, from which there
is no escape for any one of us, may be made by Christ's dear love the
strait gate to the splendour, the glory, the bliss of heaven. And this
is Redemption. Divine love, love that could die, love that _did_ die,
that its beloved ones might not die, is the solvent which transmutes all
the shame and pain of sin to heavenly glory and bliss. "_Where sin
abounded, grace did much more abound; that as sin had reigned unto
death, even so might grace reign through righteousness, unto eternal
life, by Jesus Christ our Lord._" Here is no reversal, no obliteration
of the past, mark you; the thing that was is and shall be; no power in
the universe can blot out its trace. The experience of a sinner is part
of your being, and in its transmuted form must remain part of your
being, through eternity. These wounds and sores of sin, suffused by
Christ's great love, become the lustrous pearls of heaven. Nothing in
the past, I care not how dark or damning it may be, is irreparable by
the love which "_endured the cross and despised the shame_," that it
might win the right and the power to redeem. There is no sin whose
stains may not be wept out at the Redeemer's feet. There is no life
which may not win "She hath loved much, for she hath much forgiven" as
its record, earnest of a rapture of eternal bliss. But dream not that
the path can be an easy one, and that penitence can transmute the sorrow
into joy by a word. You have done that whose issues could only be undone
by the agony and bloody sweat of Gethsemane, the cross and passion of
Calvary; and you too must die, die to sin, that you may live to God. The
flesh, which has despised your birthright, must be mortified, crucified,
by grace. "_I am crucified with Christ_" you must learn to say; you must
know the fellowship of the sufferings of your Master, and taste the cup
of which He drank the dregs, or the lost birthright is lost for ever,
and the deed done on earth remains irreparable as well as irrevocable
through eternity.



VII.

THE CURSE OF THE GROUND.

    "Cursed is the ground for thy sake."--GEN. iii. 17.


Are these words part of a curse, or part of a blessing? Are they a
sentence on man, the doom of his transgression, or the first stage of a
process destined to issue in the redemption of the heir of promise from
sorrow and sin for ever? Few phrases are more frequently on our lips
than "the curse of labour." Men, women, yea little children,
overburdened and crushed by the stern toil which is the necessity of
their existence, easily catch up the sentence, and submit to the
necessity in the sullen bitter mood with which a slave accepts his
chastisement, or a criminal the sentence of doom. Few things are more
firmly fixed in our minds than that the toil and the strain of life are
God's curse on transgression, having merciful bearings and issues no
doubt for the man who lovingly submits to the discipline, but in
themselves evil and hateful, born of sin, and a part of death.

I propose to examine this idea in the present discourse, and to
endeavour to estimate this curse upon the ground in its bearings on
man's development as a spiritual being, and his relations to his
Redeemer, God. That toil, care, and pain spring out of the one great act
of transgression which every life repeats is the plain and indisputable
affirmation of the word of God. The dark tones of man's present life
gloom against a background of radiant brightness and beauty; in the
childhood of humanity, as in the life of every human child, Eden shines
behind all the toil and sorrow of the world. There has been a grand
cataclysm in man and in nature. The structure of the world has been
rent and contorted, and the fractures and contortions repeat themselves
in life. "_Sin entered into the world, and death by sin_;" "_God made
man upright, but he sought out many inventions_," are the sentences of a
sound philosophy, estimating the facts of consciousness and history, as
well as statements of the word of God. There has been a fall, a rupture,
by the sinful guilty action of the freewill of the creature, of the
pristine perfect relation between man and God and man and the world.
Transgression, the sinful exercise of freedom, is the fundamental fact
of man's present nature and life; and the sentence on the transgressor,
the inevitable sentence, "_the soul that sinneth it shall die_," lies at
the root of all the bitter anguish of the world.

There are abundant signs of the action of terribly destructive and
desolating forces in the physical structure of the world. The earth has
been torn and convulsed as by the spasm of some great agony, and the
signs of it lie thick around. Huge beds of rock, thousands of feet in
thickness, have been cracked and shivered like potsherds; streams of
molten metal have been injected into the fissures, and have surged
through the rents and swept vast floods of burning lava over the smiling
plains. There must have been times in the history of the development of
this earth, fair and calm as it lies now under the sun, when its whole
structure must have been shaken to the very centre; when there was dread
peril lest, like some lost planet, it should be shattered into fragments
and fill its orbit with a cloud of wreck. But some sure hand has helped
earth's travail, and has brought forth out of the chaos of struggle and
storm an orderly, smiling, serene, and beautiful world. The signs of
past agony are there, to those whose eye can pierce the surface; but a
loving hand has clothed it all with a glow of beauty and a robe of
grace. The regions where the convulsion was fiercest, where the scars
are deepest, are the regions of glorious mountain beauty, whither
pilgrims wend as to nature's most sacred shrine. The rents and chasms,
clothed with the most splendid forests, with streams leaping and
sparkling through the emerald meadows to the hollows below, breathe
nothing but beauty, and stir all hearts to joy and praise. The touch of
the destroyer is everywhere masked by beauty; and out of the chaos of
confusion God has drawn forth, what never could have been but for the
chaos, the infinite variety, the grace, the splendour, the glory of the
world.

This mystery of order and beauty, of cosmos, which reveals itself to us
in nature, unveils itself too in man's spiritual world. Life, the life
of the human, bears traces everywhere of kindred dislocation. A great
convulsion has rent man's nature, has torn it away from God and from
Eden, and scattered what, but for a redeeming restoring hand, would have
been blasted wrecks, about the world. Toil, pain, care, anguish have
chased the serenity and bliss of paradise from man's heart and from
man's world. Earth is full of wailing, and life of misery. Looking at
its surface aspects, we are tempted to call this life of man the
abortion of freedom, and to cry with Job, with Jeremiah, Why did it not
perish before it saw the sun? Look deeper. As in nature, so in man's
life, a loving restoring hand has been working; the wastes of sin are
already clothed with some tints of greenness; flowers of rare beauty and
splendour spring up on what sin had made a dreary, blasted desert. The
moral chaos, touched by the hand of the Divine love, the love of God the
Redeemer, already puts on some dress of beauty; nay, it glows here and
there with a nascent glory whose fountain is beyond the stars. Some
vision of a grand and glorious purpose of redemption unveils itself as
we search the secrets of man's sad history. "_Where sin abounded_," we
read in the book of life as well as in the book of Scripture, "_grace
did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might
grace reign, through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ
our Lord_." (Rom. v. 20, 21.) What we see accomplished helps us to
realize the visions of the prophetic word. "_The wilderness and the
solitary place, shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice,
and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even
with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the
excellency of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord,
and the excellency of our God._" "_Then the eyes of the blind shall be
opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame
man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the
wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the
parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of
water: in the habitation of dragons where each lay, shall be grass with
reeds and rushes. And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall
be called The way of holiness: the unclean shall not pass over it; but
it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err
therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up
thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs,
and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and
gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away._" (Isa. xxxv. 1, 2,
5-10.) Sin, the sin of the first parent, which every child of Adam
repeats, is the fundamental fact of man's being; no religion, no
philosophy, which makes light of it can lay firm hold of man's
conscience and heart. But, blessed be God, grace is the crowning fact;
and it is the crown which will remain conspicuous through eternity.

The sentence on sin then is a dread reality. "_The soul that sinneth it
shall die_" remains as God's judgment record, which no art or effort of
man can cancel. But in this first sentence on His sinful child God has
wondrously interwoven benediction and judgment, warning and promise,
words of life and dooms of death. On the serpent the curse is decisive
and final: "_And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast
done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of
the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the
days of thy life._" (Gen. iii. 14.) But the sternness relaxes and the
doom melts into a promise, when the Judge addresses Himself to man. The
very curse on the serpent is pregnant with blessing to the woman and her
seed; the Executor of the Lord's judgment on the tempter is the
everlasting triumphant Redeemer of mankind. And throughout the sentence
on our race blessing ranges in fellowship with judgment; and the
sternest words, prophets of many ills and sorrows, are rich benedictions
in disguise. And this "_cursed is the ground_" is amongst them. It
sounds hard and stern, and prophesies a long and hard apprenticeship of
toil and pain; but stern as it seems, it is part of the blessing and not
of the cursing, of the benediction and not of the doom. It describes the
first stage of the redemptive process of which the sentence on the
serpent had spoken, and is the condition of man's elevation out of the
estate of a sinful, suffering, degraded creature to the friendship,
fellowship, and likeness of God. In order that we may appreciate this,
and see the true meaning and bearing of the judgment, I shall ask you to
consider with me--

I. The range of the sentence.

II. Its work.

I. The range of the sentence. It is the sentence, as far as it bears on
man's present condition and experience, that I wish to consider,--the
"men must work and women must weep" aspect of our life--excluding the
deeper and more tremendous question of death and its issues. Not that
any full consideration of the one is possible without reference to the
other. The whole sentence hangs together; our life is of one texture,
one warp runs through the whole piece; and every groan, every pain,
every bead of sweat upon the brow, every shadow that glooms over the
life, has its full interpretation in the fact that "_sin has entered
into the world, and death by sin_;" all pain is truly a beginning to
die. But for our present purpose it is possible sufficiently to isolate
the conditions of man's life as the workman and the sufferer, and to
consider how they bear, benignly or malignly, on his essential interests
as a spiritual being and his education for the destiny which through
grace sin has been instrumental to create rather than to destroy. The
elements of the sentence which are closely connected with the cursing of
the ground, which in fact are links of the same chain, are three:--

Toil--pain--care.

1. Toil. This is fundamental. On this man's existence hangs; to pause
here is to stop the pulse of life. "_And unto Adam he said, Because thou
hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree of
which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the
ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy
life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou
shalt eat the herb of the field: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat
bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken:
for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return._" (Gen. iii. 17-19.)
The life of man in Eden was as free from toil as the life of a bee among
the limes. Toil is wearing, wasting work; work to which no inward
impulse, but the pressure of a stern necessity, moves us; work which we
must do, whether we love it or whether we hate it, whether it gently
tasks us or strains and exhausts our wearied powers; work which compels
us to put aside much that we would infinitely more gladly work at, which
cuts us off from pleasant occupation, profitable to our intellectual and
social life; work, in a word, which puts a yoke upon us, a yoke which
wears and galls; work which makes us moan, and curse the day that we
were born to it, and fills us with wild, rebellious passion, which vents
itself in railings, blaspheming the wisdom and goodness of the Creator
and the divine order and beauty of the world. This is the work which we
sinners are born to; work which urges us with bloody spur, and exacts a
tribute of our life-blood as it drives us through the merciless round.
This is toil. This is what the curse of the ground has done for us; we
eat our bread, not joyously, thankfully, as in Eden, but in the sweat of
brow, brain, and heart. How bright the contrast of the Eden life! "_And
the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man
whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow
every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of
life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good
and evil. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from
thence it was parted, and became into four heads.... And the Lord God
took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden, to dress it and to
keep it._" (Gen. ii. 8-10, 15.) Sweet, light labour, parent of yet
sweeter rest. To dress and to keep the garden! A garden planted by the
hand of the Lord. The fairest, brightest garden of the creation; dewy
fragrance, radiant colour, splendid form; all that imagination can dream
of beauty and glory, bathing man's life in an atmosphere of ravishing,
exquisite, inexhaustible joy. One act of transgression, and the garden
vanished. Like a dream it faded; and hard, stern realities, unlovely
hues, ungraceful forms, unkindly elements, rose round Adam in its room.
Instead of the garden where the touch of the Divine hand still lingered
in forms and tones of bewildering beauty, a bare hard wilderness
stretched everywhere around him, whence not a morsel of bread could be
wrung but by the most strenuous labour; where not a gleam of beauty, not
a nestling nook of verdure, would smile on him, until he had created it
by earnest, persistent, and wasting toil. "_Cursed is the ground._"

2. Pain. Part of the sentence of toil is pain. "_Unto the woman he said,
I will greatly multiply thy sorrow, and thy conception; in sorrow thou
shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and
he shall rule over thee._" (Gen. iii. 16.) The fountain-head of pain is
travail. It begins at birth, it ends in death; life on the whole,
between the limits, is one long struggle to endure. "Men must work, and
women must weep." It is not a complete division: for men weep while they
work, and women work while they weep; toil and tears are the bitter
heritage of us all. But the man has on the whole the chief share of the
strain, the woman of the pain, of life. Her life, if she has a woman's
nobleness and the sense of a woman's mission, is one long travail. This
bearing and rearing of children is symbolic. What is the life of all
noble, unselfish, ministering natures, but the continual bringing forth,
with sore pain of travail, of things which shall gladden and enrich the
world? But pain is a great mystery. Why the good God, serenely blessed,
should suffer pain to torment His child! How the heavenly powers can
bear to look upon it, to hear all the moans of anguish, to see all the
wrestlings of pain which each moment distract and waste the beings whom
they love! For much of the pain of life man himself is, directly and in
the first instance, responsible. He makes it, in spite of God, by his
insane folly, passion, or lust. But how much lies at the door of the
heavenly Ruler, is His word, His ordinance, the discipline which He
presses sternly on His child! Pain, that torments and maddens him while
he works; pain that pierces him from everything that he touches,
everything that he delights in, every being that he loves; pain, that
searches the roots of his courage and endurance, which makes the marrow
quiver in his bones, the blood curdle in his heart; pain, which rings
from a man who is the very type of endurance the most bitter curses, the
most fierce anathemas on the very sunlight which shines on him, on birth
and all its agony, on life and all its intolerable woe. "_In sorrow
shalt thou bring forth children_," and everything which is freighted
with any portion of thy life. Pain in birth; tears in the eyes of
helpless infants on their mother's bosom; the paths of the wilderness
wet with the tears of brave men and women wrestling with pain too sharp
for endurance; tears rung out from the glazing eye, when it settles for
one painless moment into the fixed, cold stare of death!

3. Care. "_Dust thou art._" Here lies the secret of care. I believe that
these words suggest altogether the most bitter and miserable experience
of mankind. Toil may be borne, pain may be borne; but who in his own
strength can wrestle with and master care? Man's condition is that of
the most dependent of beings, while the things which he needs for the
satisfaction of his nature refuse to recognise the mastery of his hand.
He comes into the world the most helpless of all the infants of
creation. It is horrible to imagine what a human infant, in the hands of
a careless or cruel parent, may be made to endure. And this condition of
his infancy follows him through life: he is really an infant, a
nursling, as dependent for the daily bread of body, mind, and spirit on
supplies which he cannot command, as an infant at the mother's breast.
So large is the range of his necessities, so infinite his wants, that he
needs just the arm and the treasure of the Omnipotent to supply it. And
the sentence "_dust thou art_" meets him everywhere. He feels it in the
miserable infirmity of his arm; he reads it in the accidents of life and
the decrees of fate. He knows that there are things needful to his
happiness, needful to his very life, things which he would die rather
than miss; and yet they mock the puny efforts of his arm, the feeble
breath of his prayer. He sees them passing hopelessly beyond the limits
of his horizon, and he must live on and drag on from day to day, a
broken, wretched, beggared life. Who has not groaned in utter misery
over his wretched helplessness in the hand of calamity, as though his
life were the sport of a demon, and all his pleasant things but
instruments of torture, with which some malignant spirit can torment his
soul and desolate his life? He is in the presence of masses and forces
in the creation, which oppress and crush his spirit; but there seems to
him a maligner demon behind the veil of the creation, who delights to
make sport of his weakness and burn in the sentence "_dust thou art_"
upon the tablets of his heart. Toil, pain, care, these are the bitter
ingredients of his experience; these make up how much of the daily
course and order of his life. Verily men may well imagine that a curse
was meant here rather than a blessing, and dream that a devil, a
malignant spirit, is nearer to them and more potent on their lives than
God. So dread is the pressure, that in the absence of revelation, in the
absence of the assurance "_Like as a father pitieth his children, so the
Lord pitieth them that fear Him, for He knoweth their frame, He
remembereth that they are dust_," devil worship becomes inevitably the
religion of the pagan world.

Such is the range of the sentence. Now let us ask--

II. What is its work? Is it malign or benignant? Is it, in its very
essence, a curse or a blessing to man?

Our first notion on reading these words, "_Cursed is the ground for thy
sake_," is naturally that part of the curse on man has fallen on the
ground. It is cursed "_for thy sake_," by transition of the curse from
thee. But the word bears a nobler meaning. "For thy sake" may as well,
nay better, mean "with a view to thy good." The root of the sentence
would still be transgression. There had been no need of toil, care, and
pain, had not sin entered into the world. But sin having entered, toil,
care, and pain are ordained for the sake of man in the loftiest sense;
they are the most perfect ordinance which could be framed to bless him
(or rather with a view to his full and perfect blessing, for they only
begin what higher influence must complete), by the Almighty Father's
wisdom, power, and love. I am very anxious that the full force of this
statement should be understood. It is quite possible to take the
following view of it:--Man having placed himself before God in the
attitude of a sinner, justice demanded that he should be sentenced:
toil, care, pain, and death _are_ the sentence, the expression of God's
anger against the transgressor, making man the outcast of His love; that
then, in pity, God took compassion on the outcast, and began a remedial
work, which, while leaving him still for the present under the action of
the sentence, sought to rescue him ultimately from its final doom. This
would appear to me a very imperfect and partial statement of the truth.
To me it seems as if the whole sentence were the expression of the
tenderness which began to work in the Father's heart in the very moment
of the transgression. The death which is the righteous doom, the
inevitable fruit, of sin, is in the very moment of the sentence held in
suspense as it were by the promise; and the toil, care, and pain which
are expressed in the sentence are the very first steps of the remedial
work. The sinner in the very moment of transgression is drawn to the
bosom of God's mercy. Since the first promise was spoken, the death
which was the sinner's doom can only be tasted in its bitterness by the
man who treats the promise as a thing of nought. And all the hard and
stern conditions of man's present lot, instead of being the doom of a
judgment from which mercy is moved to rescue him, are themselves the
motions of mercy by which the work of rescue is begun. This is the
principle on which alone it appears to me that the text can be
understood.

I do not propose to occupy your thoughts with any of what I may call the
minor mercies of the sentence, and the minor ministries of toil, care,
and pain to the true development of man. The sentence of toil at once
began man's higher education. It brought him firmly and sternly, but not
malignly, into contact with the laws which he had broken, and whose
penalties he had defied. Not a morsel of bread could he win without
again submitting to them; humbly, absolutely, utterly, he must become
their servant if he would win the lightest blessing from their hand. But
the blessing was there, it was clearly possible that he should win it.
Hard and stern as has been his toil, through all these ages it has
nourished him. Nature, though stern, is the reverse of malignant; all
her conditions are not penal, but disciplinary; the sentence placed him
at the foot of the ladder, a vision of which Jacob once saw, whose
highest rungs are lost in heaven. But instead of tracing this, I wish to
dwell rather on the ministry of the sentence at once and directly to the
unfolding of man's Divinest life. The more you look at it, the more
clearly I think will it become apparent to you that it is through toil,
and care, and pain alone that such a being as man can rise to the full
height of his godlike stature, and grow into the likeness and the
fellowship of God. Let me ask you then to consider these three points:--

1. Through toil, and care, and pain, man becomes a creator--not a
servant, but a master workman, and springs, as compared with his
condition in Eden, into a higher region of life.

2. Through toil, and care, and pain, he becomes acquainted with all the
experience of a father; the deepest and noblest relationships unfold
their significance, and unutterably enrich and exalt his life.

3. By toil, and care, and pain, he rises to the full and sympathetic
knowledge of God his Redeemer, and enters into the holiest fellowship of
the universe for ever.

1. The experience which grows out of the sentence constitutes him a
creator, a master workman, and lifts him into a higher region of life.

Man in Eden was the loyal, loving servant of his Creator, no more. God
"_placed him in the garden to dress and to keep it_." Fair, sweet,
genial work, like life in one of the soft bright islands of the Pacific.
Every moment an exquisite sensation, every movement a pulse of joy.
Well! there you have the whole of it. And I say boldly there is not
enough of it. To dress and to keep even a paradise is poor, slight work
for a being framed and endowed like man. It was inevitable that sooner
or later he should get to the end of its interest and the lees of its
joy. A strong, hardy, brave, cultivated Englishman soon gets to the end
of the soft, sweet life of the Pacific island. It suits the islanders,
who are mostly pulp, morally and mentally,--the human jelly-fish,
without muscle and fibre; but there is not enough of it for the
cultivated and developed man. Toil, pain, and care set the exile of Eden
at once about higher work. He went forth with a great sorrow in his
heart, and a great shadow over his life, into the hard stern wilderness.
There he had not to _dress and to keep_ a garden, but to make one, and
that is altogether higher and nobler work. A higher range of faculties
was at once called into action. He had to create fruitful fields and
homesteads, and to frame a new paradise in imagination, which his
strenuous toil, pain, and care were to realize in time. His creative
work as a husbandman is symbolic of all his creation, his work as
parent, thinker, artist, poet, and master of the world. In Eden
everything was made for him, and was ready to his hand; in the world he
had to make, or at any rate to mould, everything, and to make his hand
ready for an infinite variety of work. And what does this constructive
creative toil imply? It means that he had to discover, to think out, and
to reproduce, by the utmost strain his faculties would bear, the
thoughts of God. He had to study nature, and to master her methods; he
had to discover the uses of his powers and the possibilities of his
life. He rose at once sad and stricken, but grand through the gentleness
which had made him great, to the fulness of a godlike stature; and what
are toil, and pain, and care, through life's brief day, if they lift man
up to this excellent glory of his manhood, the power to think, to work,
to create, in the track and after the method of God?

2. By toil, and pain, and care, man becomes acquainted with the
experience of a father; the deepest and noblest relationships unfold to
him their significance, and unutterably enrich and exalt his life.

Travail is the symbolic pain. "_In sorrow shalt thou bring forth
children_;" and in sorrow all the products of the higher life are born.
The question is very simple. Ask a woman, when the cry of her first-born
sounds in her ear, and its cheek nestles on her breast, how far the joy
transcends the pain. She can only murmur--"Unspeakably," and clasp her
nursling closer to her heart. How much the pain enters into and exalts
the joy, who shall tell? Ask the man, a man like poor Palissy, or the
blind bard who got £10 for a "Paradise Lost," how the account stands
with him. He can but answer, The work, mighty as has been its cost, is
the joy and glory of my life--perhaps because of its very cost. In a
grand and glorious country you must have the mountains and the valleys;
the depths measure the heights, you cannot divorce them; the two make
the beauty which pilgrims come from far to gaze upon, whose vision
quickens the life in its dull springs. And all the toil, and care, and
pain which our intimate, our dearest relations with our fellows cost us,
as husband, wife, parent, brother, sister, friend, teacher, poet,
prophet, will be found closely, essentially connected with our highest,
purest, and most enduring joys. Mothers shall be our witnesses: theirs
is the typical pain, and care, and toil. How say you, careworn, toiling,
but rejoicing mothers? Where lie the springs of your sweetest pleasure,
where lie the treasures which you would guard with life? The toils, the
cares, the pangs that grow out of our human relations in a sad,
struggling, mortal world like this, call forth and string to the finest
tension passions, loves, faculties, thoughts, energies, which Eden never
could have developed. There was little that was noble in the words of
Adam on Eve's temptation in the garden; indeed, on neither side does any
nobleness appear. But in the wilderness there are men by myriads who
would shield the woman they love from a pang or a reproach, and count
the cost light if they gave their lives. Oh! my friends, take a large
and noble measure of the breadth of thought, feeling, faculty, which
toil, and pain, and care develop; and remember that every filament of
love and care which binds you to a human being, though intensely
sensitive, and therefore in a world like this inevitably doomed to throb
with pain, is a tentacle of your spirit life which can never be detached
from it but by your own baseness, and through which life, joy, rapture
will flow into it in the world in which sin is beaten, crushed for ever,
in which there can be no more tears and no more pain.

One word more.

3. Toil, care, pain raise man to the full and sympathetic knowledge of
God his Redeemer, and bring him into the holiest fellowship of the
universe for ever.

I say bring him. That is God's purpose; that is what God means by it:
but God does not force him. The word must be mixed with faith in them
that hear it; faith in the Son of God, who died that the sentence might
be a benediction instead of a doom. Some, when they heard, did not,
would not believe; and their carcases fell in the wilderness, and their
bones whiten the sand.

Toil, care, and pain. Does God know nothing of them? "_He is despised
and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we
hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him
not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we
did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was
wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the
chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are
healed. All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one
to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He
was oppressed, and he was afflicted; yet he opened not his mouth: he is
brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers
is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from
judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out
of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he
stricken._" (Isa. liii. 3-8.) Count it the highest ministry of the
sentence that it enables you to understand that; count it the highest
aim and glory of a man's life to enter into fellowship with that life of
the Lord. Hold this to be the deepest, most solemn prayer which has ever
been uttered by human lips: "_That I may know him, and the power of his
resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings: being conformed unto
his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the
dead._" And grudge no pain, nay glory in every pain, which opens to you
a fuller comprehension of the sorrows of the Man of sorrows upon earth,
the joy and glory of the Lord of glory in eternity. Light the affliction
which is but for a moment: its ministry is unspeakable blessing in this
life; you will find it infinite blessing in eternity. Sons of God, wear
with joy the marks of sonship! Brethren of Christ, tread with courage in
the Brother's footsteps! Heirs of glory, pay gaily with songs the price
by which your glory is to be won.

"_What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came
they?" "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have
washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night
in his temple; and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the
sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of
the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of
waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes._"



VIII.

THE EASILY BESETTING SIN.

    "The sin which doth so easily beset us."--HEB. xii. 1.


These words occur at the close of the most brilliant rhetorical passage
of the New Testament scripture. They form the point too of the most
close, subtle, and profound argument which is to be met with even in the
epistles of St. Paul. We constantly use them; no sentence of the Bible
is more frequently on our lips. But we isolate them from their
surroundings; we handle them as though they dealt with private matters
of individual experience, the sins and follies to which each nature in
its private propension is specially prone, rather than some broad human
fault or infirmity which is the common sin and sorrow of mankind. We
must read these words in connection with the great argument of which
they form the culmination, and the splendid burst of eloquence which
they close; or we shall miss their large and weighty meaning, and shall
narrow to a private and partial experience what the writer intends to
set forth as the easily besetting sin of mankind. The Epistle to the
Hebrews is certainly one of the most important and profound books in the
New Testament. Be it by Paul himself, as I believe, or be it by some
Pauline man, it is in a measure the keystone of the arch of revelation,
if the Apocalypse is its crown. The way in which, in the order of the
Divine dispensations, the old grows into the new--the method by which,
while so much once ordained by God goes apparently to wreck, to the eye
of God and in the judgment of the far-sighted among men nothing Divine
really perishes, no Divine promise fails of fulfilment, no Divine
purpose or hope misses its fruit--is a subject of supreme importance,
the consideration of which is needful to the completeness of Scripture,
while it is full of suggestion as a key to the Divine ways, to the
successive generations of mankind. Judaism has passed away in every
respect in which it is stronger than a memory. It is essentially, though
Jews live among us in Christendom by millions, a thing of the past; but
the Epistle to the Hebrews, which unfolds the method by which Judaism
developed into Christianity, is a living book in our Bibles, as full of
vital interest for this present time as it was for the generation which
watched with strange awe and wonder the tremendous overthrow of the
elect nation, and saw the last fragments of the ritual and order of a
Divinely established system swept along by the flood as wreck. There is
profound instruction concerning the method of development in
Christendom--how the Church grows, and strikes deeper root through the
ages, while that which men call the Church and cling to suffers constant
shocks, and is ever dropping piecemeal into decay and death--in this
sketch of the philosophy of the most remarkable and startling
development recorded in man's spiritual history. Whether Paul wrote it
or not, it is the work of a man with Paul's grasp of intellect, and
saturated with Paul's ideas both of Judaism and Christianity. One can
hardly imagine Paul's life-work complete to his own mind without the
production of such an essay as this. He alone grasped with perfect
clearness the vital relation of the two dispensations; and we can well
imagine with what intense earnestness this Hebrew of the Hebrews must
have desired to justify his apostolic ministry to his countrymen and to
mankind. Be this as it may, and these a priori judgments are of little
worth in criticism, the book is one of large thoughts, views, and
principles, reaching deep down to the foundations on which the edifice
of man's spiritual faith and hope is built.

Let us try to realize some of the main difficulties of those to whom it
is addressed, whose tormenting doubts and apprehensions it was intended
to remove. They would be chiefly, I think, of two kinds; and they might
be put into the shape of questions.

1. Can anything which is ordained of God be abrogated?

2. Can the Messiah, the kingly Son of David, be come, while those who
follow Him are the world's outcasts, spoiled, persecuted, and slain?

The first is a standing difficulty with all the students of the
mysteries of God, in all ages of the world. It pressed on the Hebrew
Christians with peculiar force. They and their fathers for ages had
believed that a certain visible system had been established on earth by
God's own hand, and sustained by His almighty power. It seemed to them
as if the very foundations of the universe were shaken, when their
temple, their priesthood, their glorious Jerusalem, their beautiful
fertile Palestine, vanished like a dream, and left them the beggars and
outcasts of mankind.

The second difficulty was equally grave. It touched men where they are
ever most sensitive, in their individual experiences and hopes. Can the
head of this Christian Church be the God-man, the glorious Being of whom
our prophets prophesied, and of whose kingdom they had such brilliant
visions, whilst its subjects are despised, hated, and down-trodden, and
its princes are the scum and off-scouring of all things unto this day?
We say that the Jews were expecting a splendid temporal kingdom, a
visible reign of the Messiah in righteousness over a regenerate and
exulting world. We say it with a touch of scorn. We may spare our scorn;
Christendom is always dreaming of it too. It would be a wonderful thing
if the Jews had not nourished some such expectations. All men have not
faith. How many Christians understand Christianity better than the Jews
understood the Judaism of their times? What is the Papacy but an
endeavour to realize this splendid and prosperous reign of Christ, of
which Judaism dreamed? A rule of righteousness, peace, and goodwill,
under the sceptre of Christ's immediate delegate and regent, is the
vision which has haunted in all ages some of the ablest minds in
Christendom; and the desire to realize this has been near the heart of
some of the most desperate struggles which rent the civilized world
throughout the middle age. We cannot wonder at their sad thoughts. We
think the same when things much less visibly ordained of God are
shattered and swept away as wrecks. The answer of the writer of this
epistle to the question which was wrung out of the death agony of that
nation and church was substantially this: God does not establish things,
He plants seeds which grow. The principle of life in the seed is the
principle of identity through the successive stages of the development
of the organism. The body of man is one, though it changes form very
visibly at successive eras, and though every particle of matter
composing it is in constant flux, passing away from without, restored by
the constructive force of the living principle within. Rise, he says, to
a loftier and more comprehensive view of the Divine dispensations. See
how the living principle of God's relation to you, to man, as Father and
Redeemer, runs through all the dispensations, moulds the outward form of
the Church according to the exigencies of the times, and is ever
bringing forth new forms as the ages need. See how the germ which was
planted before the law grew into the legal dispensation, and how when
the leafage and fruitage of that dispensation grew old and withered, as
_things_ must grow old and perish, the living principle within took new
and diviner form, suffered, as all divine things do, death and
resurrection, and lived with a new and divine life in a new and
regenerated world. "_God, who at sundry times and in divers manners
spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last
days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all
things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of
his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things
by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat
down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; being made so much better
than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent
name than they._" (Heb. i. 1-4.)

It ought not to be hard for us to understand and enter into the sore
perplexities of the Hebrew believers when they found their ancestral
kingdom uprooted, while no sign of the new Messiah's kingdom appeared,
except the sway which a shameful cross was wielding over individual
human hearts. Can this be the beginning of the kingdom? Can Christ be
reigning there, and we His subjects here, the objects of His tenderest
care and love, be so harried and tormented for our truth and
righteousness as never men have been harried and tormented for lies and
sins? Is it credible that God's sons in the world should be the world's
outlaws; that those whom the hand of Omnipotence shields should be the
helpless victims of the most puny foes? Are slaves and beggars the chief
subjects of Messiah's kingdom? Does the fellowship of this new realm
draw us into loving, tender communion with the saddest, the poorest, the
most ignorant, the most wretched of mankind? Is the life of this new
regenerate state a ceaseless struggle, a constant pain, with no issue
but by the gate of death, whose apparitors may be a lion's jaws or a
headsman's axe? Is the symbol of this splendid empire a cross? The
answer to these questions is the text. The question is the sin which so
easily besets humanity, you and me quite as intensely as the Hebrews;
and the cure for the sin, the answer to the question, is the faith which
draws from the writer this splendid eulogy, a faith which scans the
bounds of the invisible universe, and measures the range of the Divine
thought from the height of the Divine throne. It is as though the writer
had said, Looked at on the lower level, by the measures of the things
seen and temporal, the lot is dark enough and sad enough: "_If in this
life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable._"
(1 Cor. xv. 19.) But rise to a higher level. Get up into the mountain,
and survey the horizon of a wider world. Search into the nature of man's
true well-being, and see where the springs of it rise. Measure the range
of man's existence, the endless ages of his being, the boundless faculty
of joy or sorrow, of bliss or anguish, that claims eternity as its time.
Above all, measure the stature of a man. Study the image after which he
is fashioned, the godlike form he wears, the godlike experience he is
made to fathom, and the kind of satisfaction which his godlike powers
demand, robbed of which they hunger and pine and fill him at last with
madness and despair; so shall you comprehend more fully the grandeur and
the glory of his Christian vocation--sharing the conflict, the toil, the
sorrow, the joy, and the triumph of hisever God. Then lay aside "every
weight and the sin that doth so easily beset you." That sin is poverty
of faith--a poor-spirited estimate of life, its experiences and its
issues; a love for the serfdom of Egypt rather than the freedom of the
wilderness, the fleshpots of Goshen rather than the bread of Canaan, the
pleasure of the moment rather than the joy which springs from fountains
that outlast eternity.

The sin which doth so easily beset us. Want of faith.

I. In ourselves. II. In God. III. In the future.

I. Want of faith in ourselves--poor, base views of our nature, power,
and destiny.

The essential dignity of man's nature, as God constituted it, and the
utter debasement it has suffered through sin, are facts which in nowise
clash or contradict each other. In truth, no man who has not faith
enough to comprehend what "_power to become the sons of God_" may mean,
as spoken of man, can enter into the depth of anguish and shame wrung
out in the confession, "_I was as a beast before thee._" "_I have heard
of thee with the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee;
wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes._" At the root
of the humiliation, the debasement, lies this want of faith in our
higher being and destiny. We prefer the slave's portion, with the
slave's security, to the cares and burdens of freedom, with its hopes
and joys. The main difficulty in the emancipation of serfs arises always
from themselves. They do not care, nay they fear, to be free. The
responsibility of self-government and self-control is a burden from
which they shrink;--let us creep safely on the lower levels, rather than
strain perilously up the mountain paths, with the free air around us,
the bright heaven above us, the mists, the clouds, the storms, seething
and flashing beneath our feet. This is the cry of our souls--yours and
mine. God is ever stirring us to take the higher view of our nature and
destiny; we are ever burying ourselves in the lower:--"_'Let us alone,
Jesus, thou Son of God._' Thy words are perilous; they search and judge
us; they trouble us in our politics, our pleasures, our trade. We are
fairly content as it is; why should we weary ourselves by straining
after the higher good, which seems thin, impalpable, and may easily
elude our hand? Let us alone; depart out of our coasts." This was the
mood of these Hebrew Christians; it is ours. And nothing does the
devil's work more surely within us than this feeling that on the whole
we were made for poor work, poor interests, and poor joys. Paul seeks to
stir us to a nobler mood, to fire something within us which will burn
with a heavenly lustre and seek to mingle itself with the brightness of
its native skies. Man is made to deal with the substance of things, the
eternal substance; you are content to converse with their fleeting
shadows. "_For the law, having a shadow of good things to come, and not
the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they
offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For
then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the
worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But
in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every
year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats
should take away sins._" (Heb. x. 1-4.) The heavenly things themselves
your minds were made to contemplate, your hearts to love, your spirits
to commune with; and you are grovelling amid the ashes of the perishing,
while the imperishable, the eternal, passes for ever beyond the range of
your sight. Believe in humanity as the first step to a nobler life. Not
the poor, weak, trembling humanity which your self-communings reveal to
you; but the glorious, Divine humanity which God has set before you to
help your infirmity, to recall the memory of the height from which you
have fallen, and to kindle the hope of the royal dignity to which you
may be restored. Look within; and man seems poor enough, and pitiful
enough. But look above: "_We see Jesus who was made a little lower than
the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour;
that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man._" Then
"_lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset you,
and run with patience the race that is set before you, looking unto
Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set
before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at
the right hand of the throne of God_."

Behold in Him the perfect image of a man, in His life the beauty of a
perfect human life. Believe in that image; gaze on it, meditate on it,
till contemplation kindles sympathy, and sympathy grows into love.
"_Consider the apostle and high-priest of your profession, Christ
Jesus_"; and if you tread in His footsteps of present sorrow and
humiliation, glory in it, and pray that you may go on to know it more
perfectly, "_the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his
sufferings, being made conformable unto his death_." Believe that all
that a man was meant to be, to do, to become, can only grow out of this
vital fellowship with Jesus. Believe in Him rather than in the world's
ideas, maxims, and hopes. Leave them to the Pagans. You, sons of God,
heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ, learn nobler lessons out of the
book of His life, aim at loftier marks, thirst for purer and perennial
joys.

II. Poor belief about God--unbelief in the Incarnation, and all its
blessed meanings to mankind.

The low and slavish idea of man's character and destiny inevitably
infects our views of God and of God's action and purpose in the world.
Having poor hope ourselves, we cannot understand God's hope, the hope
which lit the path to Calvary, and shed a flood of glorious light around
the saddest and most shameful passage of man's sad and painful history.
To those who believe that man is the serf of the creation, the
Incarnation is incredible. God would be ashamed to be called the God, in
any high Christian sense, of such beings as some men believe themselves
to be and act as if they were. The Hebrew Christians could not believe
in the Incarnation; that is, they were beset with unbelief about it.
Their fathers could not believe in their angel guide. A glorious
triumphant King, coming to the world in splendour, scattering the hosts
of His foes by His thunders, and leading His armies to rapid and easy
victory, they could comprehend well enough. But the cross was their
stumbling-block. Can the living God suffer shame, anguish, and death,
for such beings as we are, for such a kingdom as this Crucified One
maybe able to win? "_That be far from thee, Lord_;" it is blasphemy to
dream of it. They were like a man in poverty and straits, who is always
expecting that a splendid fortune will fall to him suddenly, will enable
him to make a magnificent figure, and to be a model of dignity,
generosity, and manly grace. But the MAN is he who wins his fortune by
bearing the strain of toil through long years of patience, and who
trains himself by discipline to rule it as a realm when gained. And we
are, most of us, of this foolish temper. What wonderful people we should
be, we think, if our platform were higher, and a stronger light were
thrown upon our lives! If God would but mend our surroundings, our
virtue and dignity would appear! Believe that it seemed good to God,
that it became God, to reveal to us the truth of this relation between
surroundings and life, by sending His Son, in the likeness of sinful
flesh, to live the life of God in poverty, sorrow, and shame, and
manifest in that depth of humiliation the mystery of the life eternal.
"_For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all
things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their
salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and
they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not
ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my
brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And
again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children
which God hath given me. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of
flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that
through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is,
the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their
lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of
angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things
it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a
merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make
reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath
suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted._"
(Heb. ii. 10-18.)

It was a hard, an incredible saying to many among the Hebrew Christians.
In all its deep meaning it is a hard, an incredible saying to us. Do we
believe in our heart of hearts that the life of daily denial,
cross-bearing, and Divine ministry, missing all earthly honour, golden
treasure, and worldly joy, is the life which the Lord God of heaven
lived on earth, and glorified earth by living it? Have we an eye for
that inner glory? Is that tear-stained path He trod, beautiful,
transcendently beautiful, in our sight, as it is to the angels and the
white-robed choir on high? Shame on our lives then, if this is the
belief of our hearts about it. If we believe that He who was in the
form of God, and "_thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made
himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant and
was made in the likeness of men_" (Phil. ii. 6-8), left us an ensample
that we should follow in His steps, what are our lives like before Him
and before the angels, filled as they are with selfish aims and
passions, strivings after things that perish, that crumble to dust as we
grasp them; contemptuous as they are of celestial things and powers, of
all that made His life luminous to the eye of spirits, of all that He
came through shame and anguish to set palpably before the vision of our
souls. "_Lay aside the sin that doth so easily beset you_"--this sin of
light thoughts of Christ, of the intense reality of His human life, and
all the high meanings and inspirations with which it is charged for you,
for me, for all mankind. Open wide the gates of your spirit, and let
this King of Glory in. "_Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift
up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in._" Who is
this King of Glory? The Man of Sorrows, He is the King of Glory.
Believe, faint heart, and live.

III. Unbelief in the future.

We cannot believe that this is purely a seed-time. Like children, we are
for reaping where we have not sown, and gathering where we have not
strawed. Or, if by chance we drop a seed into the earth and leave it for
a moment, next morning we are digging about it to see if it is growing,
and are sick at heart if it promises no immediate fruit. The Hebrew
Church demanded the instant fruitage of the death of Christ. "_And Jesus
answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be
glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall
into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth
forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that
hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal._" (John
xii. 23-25.) Lord, we have seen the seed corn cast into the ground, we
have seen it lie there, we have seen it rise, and where is the harvest?
Where is the kingdom? Where are the throngs? Where is the throne? The
offence of the cross still lies in the way of triumph. Tribulations are
the only gifts of the kingdom still! The writer of this epistle does not
care to argue about the moment. Be it so. Be it as bad as you say:
tribulations, persecutions, contempt, spoiling of your goods, and bonds.
Be it so. "_Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin._"
You have not faced the last extremity, and the last extremity may be in
store. But what matters? Sons of God, brethren of Christ, citizens of
the heavenly state, heirs of everlasting joys and glory, what matters
it? "_Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the
earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and
latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of
the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye
be contemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. Take, my
brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an
example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them
happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen
the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender
mercy._" (Jas. v. 7-11.) Is patience no longer beautiful, divine, when
it is heaven which has to be waited for, a royal sceptre, an everlasting
crown? For shame! moaning over the moment's pains, which are the seeds
of everlasting joys; over the dust of the husks and shells of the
temporal things, when, as they waste and perish, the glorious forms of
the things not seen and eternal, which they veiled, appear. I say not,
Compare the one with the other, weigh them well, and make your
selection. There is no comparison possible. "_I reckon that the
sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared with the
glory that shall be revealed._" "_For our light affliction, which is but
for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of
glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things
which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the
things which are not seen are eternal._" (2 Cor. iv. 17, 18.) It is
blank unbelief to talk about comparison. The one is infinitely small and
pitiful; the other is infinitely great, beautiful, and glorious. "_What
things were gain to me_," when the visible things of earth and time
filled my sight, "those I have counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless,
and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of
Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things,
and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ." (Phil. iii. 7, 8.)
This is the Christian estimate. This is the true entrenchment of the
human spirit against all the floods of calamity which may beat around
the rock on which it builds its hopes. Be my lot what it may, my God, my
Father ordains it; and He has the power, the will to make every pain,
every wound, every heartache, every cross, every shock, the seed of a
harvest whose glorious wealth I cannot measure even in my dreams. The
power and the will, said I? His strongest promises, His profoundest
purposes, are engaged in the fulfilment of the hope which He kindles in
my breast, and which makes me master of the world. Nay, He has staked
His life, the very existence of His throne, upon it. He has subjected
you and me and the vast creation to vanity, "_in hope, the hope that the
creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption
into the glorious liberty of the sons of God_." We have no true measure
of these sad scenes and experiences of earth--and they are sad enough,
nothing is to be gained by painting them as lighter than they are; but
we can measure them fairly when we get up into the higher region, strong
in faith, and share the thought and hope of God. _We are saved by hope._
Let us bless God for it, for the blessed and boundless future in which
the far-off interest of tears will be our eternal portion, and the
harvest of brave endurance and patient pain. "_Behold we count them
patient which endure._" And who are they? The world's weaklings and
fools. Listen to the bead-roll, and hush your moans for very shame.
Abel, Enoch, Noah head the line; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. "_These all died
in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar
off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that
they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such
things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had
been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have
had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country,
that is an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their
God: for he hath prepared for them a city._" (Heb. xi. 13-16.) "_And
what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and
of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and
of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought
righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched
the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness
were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of
the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others
were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a
better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and
scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned,
they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they
wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted,
tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts,
and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth._" (Heb. xi.
32-38.) "_And these all_"--the world's chief heroes, whose names are
dear and honoured through the ages on earth, as they shine resplendent
as the stars in heaven's firmament on high--"_These all, having obtained
a good report through faith, received not the promise; God having
provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be
made perfect._" (Heb. xi. 39, 40.) "Wherefore seeing ye are compassed
about with so great a crowd of witnesses"--these grand and glorious
forms, who watch your battles from their thrones, and prepare to hail
your triumphant entrance to the kingdom which the victory of faith shall
win--"_lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset
you, and run with patience the race that is set before you, looking unto
Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set
before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at
the right hand of the throne of God_." (Heb. xii. 1, 2.)



IX.

THE LAW OF ABSTINENCE.

    "Wherefore, if meat (food) make my brother to offend, I will eat
    no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to
    offend."--1 COR. viii. 13.


Of all the great writers of the world, the apostle Paul perhaps most
needs to be read with the eye of the heart, as well as with the eye of
the understanding. Moral sympathy is an essential condition of the full
understanding of the apostle's words. Most especially is it needed in
such passages as the present, in which he gives vehement and even
passionate utterance to his vivid sympathies with the weaker brethren
who were still struggling with the difficulties and perplexities from
which his powerful genius had already emancipated him, or who were
tormented by doubts which he had laid happily at rest for ever. There is
no great writer who is less careful to guard himself from even grave
misconstructions, or whose eager, impetuous sentences, when matters
which touch his sympathies and affections are in question, are more
likely, if formulated into maxims and rules of action, to lead weak
minds astray. Indeed, there is a sense in which the Bible is the most
unguarded of all books. Meant more than any other book to be a guide of
action, it is less careful about misunderstandings of its meaning, and
lays itself open to more complete misapprehensions, than any other book
in the world. And this precisely because it will be read with the spirit
as well as with the understanding. It needs no worldly scholarship; but
it will not make its meanings plain to those who do not care to bring to
bear on it, not the attention of their heads only, but that of their
hearts. How many startling sentences are there which, in the first
flash of their meaning, seem to strike at the root of institutions or
principles which we learn from other passages the Bible is most
earnestly solicitous to maintain and secure. Take some utterances of the
mind of the apostle Paul about women for instance, as isolated dicta;
treat them as complete authoritative utterances, giving the law to us;
the result would be the utter confusion of all man's most sacred
relations, and the overthrow of human society. There are words too,
uttered by yet more sacred lips, which it needs no little spiritual
experience and insight to avoid misunderstanding, and applying to uses
which the whole tenour of the Saviour's life and teaching would sternly
condemn. Paul, a man vividly sympathetic and tender, easily touched by
suffering, easily drawn by love, intense, passionate, and impetuous,
suffers himself ever and anon to express in one short, startling
sentence some vivid impression which for the moment occupied his whole
soul. But we must pause--as he would have paused, nay, did manifestly
pause--before we treat it as a mould in which we are to cast our rules
of action or habits of life. The sentence expresses the desire and
purpose of the apostle's heart, that which would animate and give aim to
all its action; but the action itself would be wisely modulated by a
hundred secondary considerations, and by other co-ordinate principles,
so as to secure, as far as might be possible, the end at which he aimed,
without imperilling other and it might be yet higher things. It would be
a grand mistake then to formulate such a sentence as this into a rigid
rule of action. Treated thus, the first thing which would fall under
condemnation would probably be the apostle's life.

These words are very constantly employed as though they laid down a rule
of action concerning things indifferent which might lead easily to sin,
and set before us a way of helping men against vicious habits at the
cost of some personal self-sacrifice. That may be a very important
subject, and it has plenty of passages bearing on it in the word of
God. But it is not the difficulty here. This passage has quite a
different bearing. It is a case, not of a weak will, but of a weak
judgment, a weak conscience, in which there is danger of false beliefs
or of a lowering of the tone of the conscientious principle of action.
It is this, and not any question of vicious habits, which draws from the
apostle, who had fought his way through the whole jungle of doubts and
difficulties and perplexities in which the weaker brethren were
struggling painfully still, these ardent and decisive words.

I. At the root of this declaration lies the conviction that there is no
consideration which may compete in a man's motives with the desire to
promote the spiritual welfare and progress of mankind. It is the object
dearest to God. It was the object dearest to the apostle's heart. It
seemed so great to God, so essentially glorious, that God came forth in
the form of a man to die for it. This is the true form of the
Calvinistic tenet that to God His own glory is His highest end. And Paul
was prepared to die for it too. "_And as we tarried there many days,
there came down from Judæa a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he
was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and
feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at
Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him
into the hands of the Gentiles. And when we heard these things, both we,
and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then
Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am
ready not to be bound, only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name
of the Lord Jesus._" (Acts xxi. 10-13.) When a man has settled that, and
has taken his life in his hand to fulfil a ministry to mankind, he has
but one supreme consideration; his own interests vanish; man's
interests, the estate of the poorest and most wretched of mankind, fill
the sphere of his aims and hopes. (1 Cor. iv. 9-13.) No wonder that
nothing could move him from this ministry, and that life was valueless
save as it might be a "_finishing his course with joy, and the ministry
which he had received of the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the
grace of God_." Of course, if life was freely laid on that altar, "_as
the life is more than meat, and the body than raiment_," meats would be
freely offered as a sacrifice too. The man who was ready to die for man
was not likely to suffer a morsel of meat, any worldly possession, any
physical or mental pleasure, to stand for an instant in the way of any
help or guidance which he might offer to the weakest of mankind. "_For
though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all,
that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I
might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law,
that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without
law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to
Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became
I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men,
that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's
sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you._" (1 Cor. ix. 19-23.)
We must take this sentence then, as explaining the full readiness of the
apostle, as far as his own tastes, habits, and appetites were concerned,
to eat no meat to his dying day, if he saw that such a course of action
would remove effectually an offence, a stone of stumbling, from the path
of the weakest of his fellow-men.

But all are not apostles. How far is the conduct of this great Christian
teacher to be regarded as giving the rule to us? This is but another
form of a yet graver question--How far do we feel ourselves bound to be
followers of the Son of man in the regeneration, in the reconstruction
of man's nature and of human society, in the working out of His benign
plans and purposes for mankind? "_Be ye followers of me_," said Paul,
"_as I am of Christ_." The apostle's life was simply the most Christlike
life, and those who care to follow Christ must drink of the same
springs, and aim at the same ends, while they pursue the various
callings by which society is sustained and developed. To be Christian is
to have in us the same mind which was likewise in Christ Jesus. The
measure of our Christian vitality is the measure in which that mind is
in us, and in which we are able thereby to enter into this language of
the apostle Paul. Those that can enter into it perfectly, and can live
it, following Paul as Paul followed Christ, are the heaven-sent leaders
and ministers of mankind. It is a sacred line which God keeps unbroken
through all the ages, the men of apostolic spirit and self-devotion to
the good of their fellows. But those who follow can only follow through
sympathy. They must be able to believe in this spirit, to make it the
aim of their lives to work it out in their limited spheres, with feebler
it may be, but with honest and manly effort; or Christianity becomes
simply the efflorescence of civilization, and the sad world has to seek
its helper, teacher, and saviour still. Clearly then Paul was ready for
this, and far more than this, if thereby he might effectually help a
weak brother on his way.

II. Actually, as far as we have the means--and we have some means--of
knowing, Paul continued to eat meat to his dying day, while the
difficulty still remained a pressing one, and the stone of stumbling
still continued to block many a weak Christian's path.

What was the difficulty? How did the offence arise? The meat spoken of
here is meat which had been offered in an idolatrous temple, and which
might be supposed by those who had not the lofty intelligence of the
apostle to have contracted some moral contamination thereby. Under all
systems the meat offered in sacrifice was in some measure the perquisite
of the priest. (Lev. vii. 7-19.) The abuse of the custom is thus
described:--"_Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the
Lord. And the priest's custom with the people was, that, when any man
offered sacrifice, the priest's servant came, while the flesh was in
seething, with a flesh-hook of three teeth in his hand; and he struck it
into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot: all that the flesh-hook
brought up, the priest took for himself. So they did in Shiloh unto all
the Israelites that came thither. Also before they burnt the fat, the
priest's servant came, and said to the man that sacrificed, Give flesh
to roast for the priest; for he will not have sodden flesh of thee, but
raw. And if any man said unto him, Let them not fail to burn the fat
presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth; then he would
answer him, Nay; but thou shalt give it me now; and if not I will take
it by force. Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before
the Lord: for men abhorred the offering of the Lord._" (1 Sam. ii.
12-17.) There is a very interesting question behind this, into which I
must not enter here; how far all animal sacrifice is to be regarded as
the consecration of food; the recognition of God as the giver, as the
lord of the animal slain, and of man's right to slay as a right which
had been delegated by the Lord. That there is some deeper idea in animal
sacrifice no thoughtful reader of the Bible, I imagine, can well
question; but that this is a very important part of the meaning I feel
well assured. It casts a flood of light on the immense slaughter of
victims at the consecration of the temple and other high occasions;
while it is itself illustrated by the customs of orientals with
reference to the slaughter of animals to this day. But the priest's
portion was a recognised thing. Portions of this, not needed by the
priest's household, would be sold in the shambles. Portions belonging to
those who offered the sacrifice might be similarly exposed. Sometimes a
feast would be made in the temple, the animal which furnished the flesh
being sacrificed there (ver. 10); sometimes in a private house (x. 27),
where Christians, following the liberal law, the law of liberty laid
down by the apostle (1 Cor. v. 9, 10), would be constantly brought into
contact with it, and through it, it might seem to them, with the idol by
whose name it had been consecrated. A serious difficulty would thus
arise. I beg you to mark carefully where the real heart of the
difficulty lay. It was not at all a question of meat in itself, noxious
in quality or becoming noxious by quantity. If it had been a question of
a man eating unwholesome food, or eating good food to excess, damaging
health of body and mind thereby, I cannot imagine that Paul would have
treated it as a difficult question at all. You have a sinful habit he
would say, you are injuring and destroying your system; you must break
it, absolutely, decisively, or perish: what help I can give you as man
to man, by the influence of my words or works, is at your service; but
it is no question of what I do or do not: it is a simple point, it is
between you and God; fly to Him for grace and strength, and master your
lust.

But here the case is quite different. It is a case not of a vicious
habit, but of a puzzled conscience; a feeble apprehension of truth, a
doubt as to what is right or wrong, in which the conduct of the wise and
enlightened would be a most wholesome and valuable guide. This weak soul
trying to see its way needed guidance. What a glutton or a sot needs is
power. For the one use, example is most precious; the other need can
only be supplied from a yet deeper spring. How far am I in contact with
idolatry in this eating of meat offered to idols? might easily be a very
fair question; and not only with the weakest of the young Gentile
Church. Some would eat it with conscience of the idol. They would be
pained and distressed, and a constant tolerance of such pain and
distress is demoralizing. Doing great acts of life with a half heart,
with a troubled faith, paralyses conscience, and in the end opens the
way to tremendous sins. The constant converse with idolatry which
attending these feasts with a "conscience of the idol" would generate,
might easily end in apostasy, shipwreck of faith and hope for ever.

How beautiful is the mingled wisdom and charity with which the apostle
handles the difficulty! It was absolutely none to him. The idol to him
was not anything at all. It was a vain imagination of man's vain heart.
There could be no conscience of an idol in his mind in dealing with
anything created by God, however the idol might have been connected with
it by others. Who would recognise an usurper because he occupies the
palace and assumes the signet of the rightful king? "_The earth is the
Lord's, and the fulness thereof._" The creature is the Lord's, every
limb, every particle. If I can but use it for the end for which the Lord
created it and put it under my hand, I will rejoice and give thanks that
so far the usurper is despoiled. Thus the instructed Jew would look at
the matter: "_the idol is not anything at all_." But the Corinthians
were converted Gentiles. The idol was a reality, and a very terrible
reality to them; in memory and association at any rate, if not in
conviction. Relapse into idolatry, which was all round them, many dear
to them being devoted to it, was a very pressing peril; and association
with idolaters, with conscience of the idol in the act of association,
might easily bring the danger near.

There was but one thing which could deliver them; a thoroughly Christian
conviction that the idol is not anything at all: that "_every creature
of God is good and is to be received with thanksgiving, being sanctified
by the word of God and by prayer_." But these noble and lofty beliefs
are not born in a moment. God had been for ages educating the Jews to
the belief of which the Christian Paul, the Hebrew of the Hebrews, in
this as in other things was reaping the fruit. And education is a slow
and delicate process, and needs to be managed by a nursing hand. While
these Gentile converts are being trained to this loftier view, beware
lest, puffed up by your superior knowledge, your conduct tempts them to
a course which will deaden that fine tact of conscience, by which alone,
when it has fastened on the higher truth, the emancipation can be
gained. Act on your higher knowledge as your rule of living. The fools
and the weaklings are not to be the lords of life and the masters of the
world. But if you see any attempt made to draw you into visible contact
with the idol, that those weaker than you, led by your example, may be
drawn into a contact which to them would be detrimental and degrading,
bend the higher law for the moment, or rather lift it higher still--lose
it in the lovelier law of charity, and practise a forbearance the motive
of which is a brother's good. "_All things are lawful for me, but all
things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things
edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth.
Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for
conscience sake; for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof.
If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed
to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for
conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, This is offered in
sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for
conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof:
conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my
liberty judged of another man's conscience? For if I by grace be a
partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?
Whether ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of
God._" (1 Cor. x. 23-31.)

Free use of all God's good gifts with bold conscience is to be the law
of Christian living, the daily practice and habit of the life. Voluntary
abstinence, forbearance in the use of the freedom, is demanded of us by
a yet higher law, the law of Christian charity, the charity which has
Christ for its model and inspiration; but only when we find that it will
be helpful to a weak brother in our personal intercourse with and
influence over his soul. That Paul did not adopt this as his rule of
living seems quite indisputable. He could not have omitted to refer to
it and explain it in such a passage as 1 Tim. iv. 1-5, if his own rule
had been abstinence. "_Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the
latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing
spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having
their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and
commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received
with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every
creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received
with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer._"
At the same time we cannot question that he frequently acted on it when
brought into personal contact with brethren of weak faith and tender
conscience, whom he sought, by sympathy with their doubts and
difficulties, to educate to a more vigorous and healthy life. In order
to understand what we have every reason to believe was the habit of the
apostle's life, the free and temperate use of all the good gifts of God,
we must consider--

III. That the adoption of a rule of abstinence, in permanent deference
to weak consciences, would simply transfer to the weak the regulation of
the order of human life and the progress of the world. The pace of
progress would thus be permanently adjusted to the strength of the
weakest, instead of being so regulated as to stimulate and help the
weaker to press on into the front line. The result would be a grievous
impoverishment of moral and mental power; and Christianity, instead of
being the power of God unto salvation, would be the instrument of
decline and a ministry of death. Surely it is a fundamental principle
that the framework of a man's life, his daily habits, should be set in
the measure of his own personal stature and power. What suits his
character and life, and ministers to his development, he is to embody in
his habits, as the best service which he can render to God and to his
fellow-men. To be strong, wise, self-controlled, is the best beginning,
the only true beginning of real service to mankind. The best work which
a man can work at, for the service of his fellows, is his life. To
regulate permanent habits on the wants and the weaknesses of others is
to deny this principle, and to exalt the influence of spasmodic effort
above the broad, grand ministry of life. Paul was far from such
illusions. Freedom was with him the fundamental condition of vital
progress; and if his sympathy with the weak and perplexed led him again
and again to veil his freedom for the moment, it was that he might help
the weak to strength, the perplexed to clearness of vision, the bondsmen
to liberty--strength, clearness, and freedom of which he offered
conspicuous examples in his own constant habits of life. "Be ye as I
am," was his appeal: free and strong; able to see the Lord's mark on all
things and creatures, and not the idol's. To live habitually as if he
saw the idol's mark would have seemed to him a base act of treason, a
shameful forsaking of that liberty which he had in Christ, and which he
was resolved to hold for himself and his brethren even unto death.

To generalize and formalize into laws of action the impulses and
purposes which inspire the spirit in its personal contact with the will,
the consciences, and the affections of its fellows, is in most cases to
rob charity of its life and grace of its power. It is to substitute law
for grace in our personal relations and dealings with mankind. Had Paul
laid down the rule,--There are weak consciences, which cannot get rid of
the savour of the idol; they shall rule our conduct; I will never eat
meat offered to idols, and I ordain the same to the Church,--the
development of mankind by Christianity would have been killed at the
very root. Scruples would have become the consecrated thing instead of
liberty, and Christianity would have made manifest the weakness of man,
instead of the power of God, to the world. No! his supreme concern was
that they might master their weakness, break their bonds, and grow from
babes to men. If this abstaining from flesh while the world stood would
have helped them to that progress, he loved them well enough to do it
without a pang of regret. But he evidently was eager to see them rise
out of the lower region which is haunted and tormented by such scruples.
He ignored them as far as possible, though he dealt with them in tender
charity, when, as in chap. x. 28, they were forced on his sight.

Something very parallel to this difficulty of the meat offered to idols
was the question about the theatre which was a sore perplexity to pious
but intelligent spirits a few years ago. There was something, which had
in it essentially no element of evil. But it was closely connected with
a world and a worldly life which those nurtured in the Church or brought
under its influence were sedulously taught to shun. Many who felt
themselves strong abstained. They saw no harm, and would get no harm,
but rather a positive good. But they denied themselves, that others of
weaker faith might not be in the way of harm, and that no sin or ruin of
a brother might by any chance be laid at their door. Whether the rule of
abstinence was wise I am not called here to consider. It was complicated
by moral considerations--which too were not absent in the case which the
apostle treats of here--which make it less easy to pronounce judgment in
a word. But it must always be remembered that a rule or law of
abstinence in such cases on the part of the strong consecrates the
scruple, associates evil permanently with that which has no essential
evil in it, and multiplies thereby the stumbling-blocks of mankind.

The case of actual vice, like drinking to excess, seems to me to fall
under quite another category; though it is constantly regarded as
settled by the text, as though it had been written, "Wherefore, if drink
make my brother to offend I will drink no wine while the world standeth,
lest I make my brother to offend." We have no call here to discuss and
pass judgment on a movement by which men of most unquestioned goodness,
and self-devotion to the best interests of others, think that they see a
means of largely helping the morally weak by removing a fatal temptation
from their path. We only say that it is a question well worthy of the
most careful consideration, how far in the long run and on a large scale
a permanent confession of weakness can be helpful to human development;
how far a habit of life confessedly built on the weakness of others can
offer a noble and inspiring example to those who it is hoped would
profit by it; and how far an unnatural condition can have in it the
elements of a true and vital reformation. But these considerations are
really beside the true scope of the text, though they are naturally
suggested by it. And in closing this discussion of a perplexed and
difficult subject I would say in brief:--(1) That isolated acts of
abstinence, which may have their special reason and justification, when
moulded into habits fall in the way of the withering denunciation which
the passage I have quoted from 1 Tim. iv. 1-4 expresses; (2) That the
moulding of our personal habits on the follies, weaknesses, or vices of
others, is a betrayal of trust, for that which we have chiefly in trust
is life--to live a life free, strong, and fearless, shining as a light,
not of rebuke or of caution, but of guidance to mankind; and (3) That
every concession to doubt and weakness to which Divine charity moves us
is futile and vicious, unless in the very act we are putting forth a
hand to lift a weak brother to a standing ground where he will be above
these fogs of fear and infirmity for ever.


Butler & Tanner, The Selwood Printing Works, Frome, and London.



_BY THE SAME AUTHOR._

_In crown 8vo, 5s., cloth._

IDOLATRIES, OLD AND NEW:

THEIR CAUSE AND CURE.


Opinions of the Press.

"The present volume we should think is by far the best which the author
has sent forth. This, indeed, is the most fundamental and comprehensive
argument on the principles involved in the ritualistic controversy which
we have yet seen."--_London Quarterly Review._

"We heartily recommend to our readers this eloquent, vigorous, and
well-reasoned book. It puts things familiar to only a few strong
thinkers in fresh and forcible lights; it is a noble vindication of the
spirituality and freedom of the Christian life; it is written in a manly
chastened style, and is inspired by a high-toned and earnest spiritual
feeling,"--_English Independent._

"His style is as forcible and eloquent as his thinking is clear and
vigorous. Of the genuine power of the book--a power derived from its
high-toned principle, its manly freedom, its intense earnestness--there
can be no question."--_Nonconformist._

"A thoughtful, earnest, and intelligent protest against the idolatry of
the priest, of the sacrament, and of the word, written with manly vigour
and much beauty."--_Freeman._


LONDON: HODDER & STOUGHTON, 27, PATERNOSTER ROW.



Transcriber's Note:

Punctuation has been standardised. Paragraph enumeration and
hyphenation have been retained as they appear in the original
publication. A table of contents has been added above the
beginning of the book. Changes have made been as follows:

    Page 40
    nature of things befal a free spirit _changed to_
    nature of things befall a free spirit

    Page 77
    bring forth judgmedt unto truth _changed to_
    bring forth judgment unto truth





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