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Title: Sermons - Selected from the Papers of the Late Rev. Clement Bailhache
Author: Bailhache, Clement
Language: English
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            "_WORK TOO FAIR TO DIE._"

                     SERMONS

            SELECTED FROM THE PAPERS
                OF THE LATE REV.
               CLEMENT BAILHACHE.


                  EDITED BY THE
               REV. J. P. BARNETT.


  THE HOLY CAUTIONS THAT HE GAVE,
    THE PRAYERS HE BREATHED, THE TEARS HE WEPT,
  YET LINGER HERE, THOUGH IN THE GRAVE,
    THROUGH MANY A YEAR THE SAINT HAS SLEPT.


                     London:
       ELLIOT STOCK, 62, PATERNOSTER ROW.
                   MDCCCLXXX.



  [Illustration: {Portrait of Clement Bailhache}
    Photographed by S. S. Priestley, Huddersfield.]



CONTENTS.


  Introduction by the Editor                             vii

  SERMON                                                PAGE
      I. Salvation.--_Titus_ i. 11-14                      1

     II. Propitiation.--_1 John_ ii. 2                    13

    III. Faith in the Saviour.--_Acts_ xvi. 31            29

     IV. Sincerity of Heart Necessary to the
           Understanding of the Gospel.--_John_
           vii. 17                                        41

      V. The Humble Taught the Lord's Way.--_Psalm_
           xxv. 9                                         50

     VI. The Gratitude of the Pardoned.--_Luke_ vii. 47   66

    VII. Consecration.--_Romans_ xii. 1, 2                81

   VIII. Christianity in our Daily Life.--_Colossians_
           iii. 17                                       104

     IX. Unconscious Influence.--_Matthew_ xii.
           36, 37                                        117

      X. Secular Anxiety.--_Matthew_ vi. 25, 31          133

     XI. Contentment.--_Philippians_ iv. 11-14           151

    XII. Joy.--_Philippians_ iv. 4                       164

   XIII. Sickness.--_John_ xi. 4                         173

    XIV. Jesus Only.--_Matthew_ xvii. 8                  181

     XV. Prayer.--_Matthew_ vii. 7, 8                    189

    XVI. Assurance.--_2 Timothy_ i. 12                   206

   XVII. Immortality.--_Psalm_ viii. 4                   222

  XVIII. Heaven.--_Revelation_ vii. 15                   235



INTRODUCTION BY THE EDITOR.


The preparation of this volume for the press, whilst it has
necessarily entailed considerable labour, has happily been attended
with little difficulty. None of these sermons were prepared for the
pulpit with any idea of publication, and only a few of them, which
need not be specified, should be taken as finished compositions. Their
author, however, never allowed himself to think superficially or to
write carelessly. His MSS. are easily read, and are in such a state as
to leave almost nothing to be done in the way of revision.

Many other sermons equal to these in power and interest might have
been included, if space had served. I ought, perhaps, to say that the
selection has been determined by a wish to place before the reader, in
the order of a series, Mr. Bailhache's thoughts on Christian Doctrine,
Faith, Duty, Privilege, Experience, and Hope. I trust that the
collection, as it stands, will give as comprehensive an idea, as any
posthumous publication _could_ give, of the character and style of a
ministry to which, under God, many souls--some in heaven, and some
still on earth--owe their truest spiritual light and their best
spiritual strength.

It must have been a privilege of no ordinary value to listen Sabbath
after Sabbath to preaching such as this. No one could read, as I have
had to read, the whole mass of sermons entrusted to me, without
perceiving that he who wrote and spoke them was "a workman that needed
not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." He was
penetrated to the very centre of his being with a sense of the
grandeur of the Bible as a Divine Revelation, and of the glory of the
Gospel as a Divine remedy for the sin and sorrow of the world. He had
his own way of developing religious truth, and of applying it to the
mind, the conscience, and the heart. He preserved his individuality of
thought and of method in every part of every discourse. But he was no
theological speculatist. With all needful fearlessness in his thinking
and reading, his constant endeavour was to ascertain "the mind of the
Spirit," and to present _that_, in its enlightening and sanctifying
power, to his hearers in all their manifold spiritual conditions. He
was familiar with the forms of scepticism prevalent in our time, and
with the reasonings which give to them more or less of plausibility.
"The riddle of the world" had its saddening aspects for him, as it has
for all earnest souls. But the anxieties which spring from such
sources found in his mind an all-sufficient solace in the beautiful
adaptations and the splendid triumphs of the truth as it is in Jesus.
He could see clearly enough that, by the Gospel, God was filling the
world's darkness with light, and turning its curse into a blessing.
Science might advance, and in its advance might seem to set itself
against Biblical facts, and against the principles founded upon them;
but he was all along calmly and intelligently assured that Science
rightly so called, and Revelation rightly interpreted, so far from
meeting in antagonism, must meet in cordial and comely agreement, and
take their place side by side for the higher instruction of mankind.
He did not preach on these matters controversially, but contented
himself with the quiet announcement, on all appropriate occasions, of
the results of his own studies; and those results were always on the
side of an implicit faith in Evangelical Christianity. One of the
most marked characteristics of his ministry was the uninterrupted and
profound reverence he paid to what he believed, on honest and mature
investigation, to be the Divine authority of Scripture teaching. He
knew, of course, that a conscientious and enlightened criticism has
its work to do upon the Book; but his comprehensive and careful
reading only strengthened his conviction that such criticism, so far
from invalidating its authority, must render the nature of that
authority increasingly transparent, and its basis increasingly firm.
Thus he could draw forth from the Book the teaching contained in it,
and could present it to the reverent faith of his congregation,
without misgiving. His ministry was eminently evangelical, in the
broadest and best sense of the word. It was this all-pervading quality
which gave to it its special beauty and impressiveness. He wanted to
be wise, and to make his people wise, _up_ to what is written; above
that he did not attempt to soar.

Mr. Bailhache was an able Biblical Expositor. I find amongst the
papers before me, expositions of the Decalogue, the First Psalm, the
Lord's Prayer, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, the
Messages to the Seven Churches, and the Epistles to the Galatians and
the Philippians. These comprise eighty discourses, and many of them
are so good that they ought not to remain in seclusion. Possibly some
channel of publicity may yet be found for them.

The estimate in which Mr. Bailhache was held as a Christian teacher by
those best fitted to judge, is fitly expressed in the following
extract from the Address which was presented to him by the
Congregation at Islington, on his retirement from the pastorate there
in the autumn of 1870:--"During a period of six years and a half, you
have ministered to us in holy things, and, as the servant of the Lord
Jesus, you have sought our highest spiritual good. In all your
ministerial work in our midst, you have so impressed us with the
conviction of your entire devotedness to our interests, and to the
exaltation and glory of Christ, that our minds have been the more
easily constrained to give heed to your instructions, and we have the
more deeply felt the force of your influence and your example. The
thought has often occurred to us (and it has been often expressed),
that if we were not becoming better Christians--more conformed to the
image of Christ--our shame was the greater, considering how
constantly you have been the faithful and able exponent of the mind of
the Spirit, and with what freshness, variety, and power, you have been
enabled to set before us things new and old out of the treasury of the
Lord's word. Nor have you ever permitted us to feel that you occupied
a region remote from ourselves, or that the isolation of the study and
of your official character, made you self-absorbed or unsympathetic.
The very contrary of this has been our happy experience. With an
almost surprising power of appropriation, you have made our doubts and
difficulties, our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, all your own,
and, with a whole-hearted sympathy that has entered into all the
experiences of the Christian life, you have, in the pulpit and in the
class, and in the more private opportunities of the family and of
friendship, been made eminently useful in the communication of help
and strength. To not a few your ministrations have been made the
savour of life unto life, who will be your crown and rejoicing one
day, since through your word they have been reconciled to God by Jesus
Christ. We magnify the grace of God in you, and none the less when we
declare that your life and labours in our midst have placed us under
lasting obligations of gratitude and love."

I regret that I have not space for a few pages of pithy, condensed
jottings extracted from the Author's "Diary," and written by him
during hours of private devotion. They would testify, in common with
every other part of the volume, to the atmosphere of piety in which
our beloved friend habitually lived. In social life, he was playful
and jocose; and many who have thought that they knew him well, knew
him almost exclusively as he was in such moods as these. He was
however emphatically a man who "walked with God." Many others knew him
only in connection with his official work, and gave to him their
unstinted admiration for his plodding, almost pertinacious industry.
He had "a mind to work," but he sanctified and ennobled all his work
by prayer. I have often had, as, no doubt, many more have had, the
privilege of his society in the lone hours of the night, when he could
talk with the unreserved frankness of a confiding friend; and I never
left him after such hallowed times as these without feeling that I had
been drawn nearer to him, and through him, nearer to the Saviour, by
the modest, holy, Christian beauty of his spirit.

Alas, that so comely and benignant a life should have closed so
early! He died at forty-eight years of age. We have no right, nor have
we any disposition, to repine; but we cannot refrain from mourning.

He began life well, sacrificing fair interests as a member of the
legal profession in Jersey, with the Island Bar in view, and was soon
preparing for the Christian ministry at Stepney College. His preaching
was attractive, and at the termination of his academic course, he
became the pastor of the influential church at South Parade Chapel,
Leeds. Four years later, he removed to Watford, and from thence, in
1864, to Cross Street, Islington, where his ministry may be said to
have approached, if it did not actually reach, its maturity. In 1870
he relinquished the pastorate for Secretarial work at the Baptist
Mission House, into which he threw all the steady, quenchless
enthusiasm of his nature, and upon which the blessing of God
conspicuously rested. Discharging his duties with a fidelity and a
skill which were as effective as they were modest, he was equally
beloved by the Missionaries abroad, and by his colleagues and the
constituencies at home; and he had the satisfaction of knowing that,
notwithstanding many difficulties, he was contributing in various
ways to the advancement of the great enterprize. The toil and anxiety
entailed upon him were onerous in the extreme, and after a time it
became obvious to his friends that his multifarious exertions were
undermining his strength. He went to the Baptist Union meetings in
Leeds in the October of 1878, when he ought to have been taking
repose; and, though seriously ill, he there preached what proved to be
his last Sermon, in the chapel of his first pastorate--the Sermon on
"Immortality" in this volume--and read his last paper, on "Our
Missionary Principles and Motives." It is remarkable that he should
thus have finished his public course in the town of his first
ministerial settlement, and that he should have there spoken his last
public words on behalf of that great department of Christian work
which had engaged his best thoughts and his warmest sympathies for
many years, and to his holy zeal for which it may be truly said that
he sacrificed his life. At those Leeds meetings, he was "already
within the shadow of death," and returned home to sink gradually but
surely beneath the distressing malady which took him to heaven on the
13th of the following December.

To his widowed companion and helpmeet, whose faithful affection he
prized as his most precious earthly treasure--to his children and
kindred, who so fondly loved him, and so deeply revere his memory--to
the churches which he so wisely and so zealously served in the work of
the Gospel--to the Missionary Society in the sacred interests of which
he lived and died--and to the numberless personal friends to whom he was
so dear, and who will ever thank God that they were permitted to enjoy
his genial confidence and sympathy--these productions of his brain and
heart are dedicated, with the grateful assurance that, through them,
he, being dead, will yet continue to speak, and, speaking thus, will
still be the helper of many in "the way everlasting."

                                              J. P. BARNETT.
    Oxford, _August, 1880_.



I.

_SALVATION._

"The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should
live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking
for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and
our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave Himself for us, that He might
redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar
people, zealous of good works."--Titus ii. 11-14.


Briefly stated, the consequences of the Fall were these--that man
became unholy in point of character, and guilty in point of law. The
first covenant God made with man was a covenant of law, and the two
"trees" shadowed forth, the one the condition, the other the benefit,
of such a covenant. "The tree of the knowledge of good and evil"
points to obedience as the condition; and "the tree of life" points to
life, in its fullest and most spiritual sense, as the benefit. Man
disobeyed. He failed to fulfil the condition, and thus he lost the
blessing. Henceforth, if there is to be any blessing for him, it must
come on some other ground, and from some higher source. Having
forfeited all hope from law, his only possible hope must come, if it
come at all, from mercy.

We thus perceive that when the great salvation wrought by Christ is
announced to us, we have to do at the outset with what on God's part
is

1. An act of pure sovereignty. Condemnation was the righteous award of
a just law to a creature who had broken it, and who could not plead
any admissible excuse for his sin. The law might, therefore, have been
allowed to take its course, thus receiving honour before the whole
intelligent universe. Only one Will in the universe was free to
interfere; the will of the Lawgiver and Creator Himself. Interference
on His part, however, could not be under the pressure of legal
obligation, but must be in the exercise of a sovereign right. Hence,
the key-note of the gospel is "the _Grace_ of God."

2. An act of boundless love. It is obvious that salvation cannot have
proceeded from any other motive in the Divine Mind. "God _so loved_
the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The
Bible has no other solution of the origin of salvation to offer than
this.

Now, that which proceeds from sovereignty and love on the part of God
must absolutely preclude all claim or thought of merit on the part of
man. Merit leaves no room, no occasion for grace. Grace begins where
merit ends, if grace be given at all.--What, then, _is_ the "great
salvation"?

Man, being unholy and guilty, needed a salvation which would include
his justification or his forgiveness, and one which would culminate in
his sanctification by the restoration to him of his lost spiritual
power. In other words, he needed a deliverance from the curse of sin,
and also from sin itself.

This deliverance, man cannot find within his own nature. He cannot
save himself from the curse of sin; for inasmuch as the law
righteously demanded a perfect and constant obedience, he could never
blot out the guilt of former sins by acts of obedience at a later
period of life. Moreover, such later acts of a perfect obedience are
impossible to him, for holiness does not proceed from a sinful nature.
"Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" Men do not "gather
grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles." Man is as depraved and as
weak as he is guilty. Self-salvation is impossible; salvation is of
the Lord alone. The gospel is the announcement of the fact that God
saves, and of the method in which the great work of salvation is done
by Him.

I. The Word of God, both in the Old and in the New Testament,
proclaims a dispensation of Divine mercy. So unexpected and so
cheering is this proclamation that it has given the gospel the name it
bears. It is emphatically "good news"--good news from God to man. This
good news announces that the first deliverance which man requires is
provided for. God remits the penalty of sin. But how?

He does this in such a way that, so far from weakening law, or
invalidating the condemnation of sin, He shows more clearly than ever,
how holy is the law, and how just the condemnation. Hence, though this
forgiveness is an act of pure mercy, it is mercy exercised in a
righteous way through the wonderful sacrifice of Christ. This was the
meaning of the promise that accompanied the curse; and so clear was it
that it was apprehended in the first sacrifices men ever offered. The
Jewish sacrifices shadowed it forth. The Scriptures teach this method
of Divine forgiveness in the plainest terms. I quote two or three
passages in proof: Rom. iii. 23-26; John i. 29; 1 John ii. 1, 2; 1
Peter ii. 24; Isaiah liii. 4-6.

This is Scripture, and we must not dare to trifle with it. These
declarations can have but one meaning. Christ has suffered in our
stead the penalty we had all deserved, that we might receive, for His
sake, that eternal life and blessedness which _He only had deserved_.
On this point all the types and teachings of both Testaments speak
with one voice.

There are, no doubt, in this substitution of the innocent for the
guilty, some difficulties for human reason. But _we_ have to do with
the Bible. It meets conscience; and reason must bend in submission
before a grace the deeper meaning of which it does not see. Observe,
however, that according to the Scripture representation, the
substitution was divinely appointed, and the Substitute Himself was a
willing victim. We accept the doctrine, (1) Partly in virtue of human
need. Conscience points to the necessity of a satisfaction. (2) Partly
in virtue of the peace and the joy to which faith in the doctrine
gives rise.--"Scripture always lays stress upon the Saviour's
humiliation and bitter sufferings. We are not said to be redeemed by
His incarnation, by His birth, by His miracles, by His doctrine, not
even by His agony in the garden, though all these were necessary to
the ransom; but by His blood." On this ground of the Atonement, the
first part of salvation--forgiveness--is secured.

II. Man needs also to be redeemed from sin. This need, like the
former, he is unable to meet of himself, but God meets it on his
behalf. How? By putting into the heart a fertile germ of holiness.

Freedom from condemnation and regeneration are indissolubly connected
together in God's idea of salvation, and He achieves both by the work
of Christ His Son. This redemption from the love, and consequently
from the power of sin, is accomplished by Him on a principle which is
divinely simple and efficacious; a principle which lies at the root of
the theory of evangelical sanctification. This principle is the love
which He excites _in_ us by the manifestation of His own love _to_ us.
Thus the Apostle John writes: "Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not;
whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him" (1 John iii.
6). "He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love" (1 John iv.
8). To love God, and, under the constraining influence of love, to
serve Him, we have need to know and to realise how great is the love
of God to us.

Now this Divine love has been revealed to the world through the medium
of that same Saviour, who by His sacrificial death has opened up the
way for our pardon and our restoration to the Divine favour. The Son
of God came into the world to reveal the heart of the Father. What
greater gift could God have bestowed than that of His Divine Son? What
greater proof of love could He have exhibited than that which this
greatest of all possible gifts presents? "God _so_ loved." And Christ
has perfectly performed His mission. His whole ministry was a
declaration of the Divine love. Of that love His death on the cross
was the sublimest expression. We learn therefrom not only that God
manifests to us His mercy, _but also at what cost_. Our debt must be
paid; and as we are bankrupt, He pays it on our behalf. And who is our
Substitute? Not a man, not an angel, not any creature; but the Divine
Son, "by whom God made the worlds and upholds them by the word of His
power," "who is the brightness of the Father's glory and the express
image of His person"--it was _He_ who "by Himself purged our sins."
Such is the love of God. We cannot fathom it, for it is Divine; but
in proportion as we are enabled to "know" it, we say "We love Him
because He first loved us;" "We are bought with a price: we are not
our own." And we say our devout "Amen!" when the chiefest Apostle of
mercy says to us: "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."

This Divine love, however, wonderful as it is, is offered to
unsusceptible hearts. Hence the necessity--hence also the gift--of the
Holy Spirit, through whom God strives with man. The Holy Spirit is the
gift of Christ; and He convinces the world of sin, of righteousness,
and of judgment. He takes of the things of Christ, and shows them unto
us.

See, then, the completeness of the Divine plan of salvation. To
undeserving hearts God offers His love in Christ; to unsusceptible
hearts He explains and commends it by His Spirit.

III. The only remaining question is as to our own part in the great plan
of mercy. Because we are intelligent and moral creatures, God does not
save us without our own concurrence. To every one who desires to
receive this twofold gift--the gift of pardon and of sanctification--a
certain disposition is necessary. That disposition is in the Scriptures
called "faith." Faith is the divinely-appointed condition of salvation.
The terms are simple, but they are indispensable. Scripture, in every
part, recognises and imposes them. From the earliest times they have
been complied with, as in the sacrifices of Abel, Noah, and Abraham. It
was this same principle of faith that gave validity to the worship under
the Mosaic dispensation. So the Lord Jesus Christ, who healed men's
physical diseases as types of the diseases of the soul, always demanded
faith as the condition of His working. As it was with Christ, so it was
with His apostles. Thus Paul said to the Philippian jailer, "Believe on
the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." All this shows to us
that whilst, on the one hand, we are saved by grace; on the other, we
have no participation in the grace which saves, except by the exercise
of our own faith in the Saviour.

What is this faith? It may be considered in its principle, and in its
application.

In its principle, it is a general conviction that the Bible is the
Word of God, and that what He says therein should receive our assent;
or, in other words, should be accepted by us as _true_. In its
application, it is the belief of God's Word as it respects
_ourselves_. It is this which Paul commends to the Philippian jailer.
When a man, under the burden of his sin, says, "I am lost; I cannot
save myself; save me, Lord!" we have an illustration of this applied
faith--a sense of personal misery, a sense of personal helplessness, a
sense of a Saviour willing to save him personally, and a direct appeal
to that Saviour for salvation. From the moment of such a prayer, there
is not a single promise of Scripture that such a man may not make his
own. A promised pardon, a promised Spirit, a promised heaven--all are
his! The essence of the faith is in the conviction which expresses
itself thus: "Jesus Christ is not only able and willing to be the
Saviour of all men, but He is my Saviour." Such a faith brings Christ
and the soul together in precisely those relations in which He is the
Saviour, and in which the soul is saved.

But how is this faith obtained? Must not God give it? Yes. So Paul,
writing to the Philippians, tells them it was "given" to them "to
believe in Christ." Must we, then, listlessly wait until it comes to
us? No. Paul again says to these same Philippians, "Work out your own
salvation with fear and trembling." The reconciliation of these two
truths into one theory may be difficult, but in practice it is easy
enough. _We recognise them both when we ask for faith._ For to ask is
to recognise our need of that for which we ask; it is also to
recognise the fact that we do not possess it of ourselves; and it is
also to seek and to act. Ask, then, for faith, and God will say: "Wilt
thou be made whole?" Will you--not as a vague desire, but as the most
earnest determination of your heart and will? Ask for faith; God will
grant it. Ask largely; you cannot ask too much. And even if you sigh
over the weakness of desire, press the old and never-failing prayer:
"Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief."

Faith saves, and grace saves. This is scarcely a contradiction in
terms, and certainly it is no contradiction in principle. Faith is the
instrument; grace is the primary and efficacious power. Faith is the
channel; grace is the stream. Faith touches the hem of the Saviour's
garment; grace is the virtue that passes forth from Him in response to
the touch. Christ reaches down from heaven; faith reaches up from
earth; each hand grasps the other--the one in weakness, the other in
power--and salvation is in the grasp. Take--oh, take that pierced
hand! Amen.



II.

_PROPITIATION._

"He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also
for the sins of the whole world."--1 John ii. 2.


It is easier to attack than to defend. An objection may be stated in a
single sentence which shall require many pages for an adequate reply.
Those who reject Christianity generally adopt this method, but I know
not why they should be allowed to monopolise it. Why should not
believers, instead of simply proving that there is a God, and that the
Bible is His Word, insist upon positive proof from their opponents
that there is no God, and that the Bible is nothing more than a human
book? Why should we not impose upon them the more difficult task of
defending their position, by attacking it with all earnestness at
every point? For Christian defence, we have need to be both really and
consciously very strong in the truth. On the other hand, to be an
unbeliever, a man can do without either knowledge or goodness. He has
only to ply you with his eternal "_Why?_" _Why_, because the universe
exists, must it have ever been _created_? _Why_ may it not have always
existed? _Why_ are we bound to accept the teaching of the Bible? _Why_
was it necessary that Christ should suffer to expiate our sins? _Why_
did Christ come so late in the history of the world? _Why_ are there
no miracles now? _Why? Why? Why?_--

As Christians, however, we take the position open to us, whether of
attack or defence. We do so because the salvation of our adversaries
is dear to us, and because we are so sure that the course they adopt
injures, not ourselves, but them. We bring to them a priceless
treasure--salvation through, and from, the crucified Christ. If they
hinder us, the loss is theirs.

On the present occasion we deal with one of the questions often
propounded: "Why was it necessary that Christ should die for our sins,
in order that we may be saved?" or, "How can the sufferings of the
innocent atone for the sins of the guilty?"

To make our answer more clear, we begin by saying: "We do not know."
Why should we insist--why should any one insist--upon understanding
the "_why_" of this arrangement? Why should not every one be content
to know the _fact_? If the reason of the fact were obvious, we should,
of course, gladly accept it; but if it be hidden from us, whilst the
fact itself is disclosed, why should we complain? We cannot fully
understand the Divine purposes. We can only guess. Even angels study,
and wonder, and adore, but do not fully know. Let it be observed that
the real question here is not exactly as unbelievers put it. Thus: I
do not know how the rays of the sun enlighten my eyes, nor how my
enlightened eyes transmit ideas to my mind. Does it follow that the
sun does not enlighten, or that my mind does not receive impressions
through what I see? The imperative question is, not, "How is the thing
done?" but, "_Is_ it done?"--not as to the _reason_ of the fact, but
the _reality_ of it. So in the matter before us. It is surely enough
for us to show that redemption through the sacrifice of Christ, like
the sun, comes from God, and that it gives light, life, and fruit.
This being done, nothing more can be reasonably asked.

To know whether this doctrine of redemption is God's truth, it is
sufficient to know whether the Bible is God's Word. And here we ask,
What will you do with ancient prophecies and their fulfilment?--with
confirmations of Bible history which are continually accumulating?--with
the conspicuous excellence of the moral teaching and influence which the
Bible supplies?--with the sublimity of Christ's character?--with the
miracles He wrought?--with the marvellous effects of Christianity upon
the world, notwithstanding the strongest inducements, in human
prejudice, to its rejection? Settle such questions as these according to
the admitted laws of evidence, and then there will be no reason to
contend as to the "why" and the "how" of redemption.

Such, however, is not the method which the unbeliever pursues. He
turns away from the Record as a source of instruction. It is hard to
convince a man who begins by closing his ears with his own pride. To
whatever study a man addresses himself, he will never advance in it in
_spite_ of himself. His progress will be proportioned, among other
things, to the amount of honest effort he makes to learn. That is, he
must feel the fact and the disadvantage of his own ignorance. Who
could study mathematics by beginning at the outset to dispute its
axioms? Just so with Christian truth. Put aside prejudice and pride.
Do not take it for granted that you have light enough in your mind, at
starting, to pronounce upon the truth or the falsity, the
reasonableness or the unreasonableness, of the doctrine of salvation
through the cross of Christ. Listen attentively. Look for more light,
and receive it when it comes. We do not say: "Believe before you have
read;" but we do say: "Don't contradict before you have read."

I have already said that we are not obliged to _explain_ the
philosophy of the redemption which is taught in the Scriptures. Let me
now say that that redemption is itself the best solution of the great
difficulty which is felt by the believer and the unbeliever alike. It
is this: Conscience tells us that God is just; the heart tells us that
He is good;--how then can a God whose justice and goodness are equal,
_i.e._, both of them infinite, escape from the position in which
sinners have placed Him? I put the difficulty in this bold form in
order that it may be the more distinctly apprehended. We have sinned,
and a just God must punish. We sigh after happiness, and a good God--a
God who is infinitely kind--may be expected to bestow happiness upon
us. But how can God deal with us in both these ways at one and the
same time?

We know instinctively, of course, that there is no real dilemma to God
Himself; but those who reject the atonement of Christ are bound to
deal with what presents itself as an inevitable dilemma to _them_.

The unbeliever says: "God is too good to punish." What then becomes of
His justice, since conscience testifies that we are sinners, that sin
deserves punishment, that vice and virtue are not one, that God cannot
deal in the same way with both without encouraging the vice which
needs to be suppressed, and discouraging the virtue which needs to be
upheld? Take away the fear of punishment under the pretext that God is
good, and you deprive conscience of its meaning and its power.

Shall it be said, then, that God will punish every transgressor? Have
the numberless generations which have been upon the earth gone to an
inevitable doom? This conclusion is as hard to admit as the other. The
instincts of the heart are against it.

No; men do not accept either conclusion to the exclusion of the other.
They say God will adopt a mean between His justice and His mercy so
as to bring them into harmony. But how? Here is the crucial
difficulty. Is it to be solved by the principle of mutual concession?

Let me remind you, again, that the difficulty is not created by God,
but by man. In Him, justice and mercy are really one: it is only to us
that they are seen to be two; and it is our sin which disturbs and
confuses our conception of their union with each other. He might
indeed annihilate us, and so leave us no opportunity to complain. But
our whole moral and emotional nature repels with horror the thought of
such a termination to our sin, as being unworthy of the God who has to
govern us. No! when we reflect seriously upon the question, we cannot
resist the feeling that God must have some plan of rescuing us from
the doom we merit which shall give equal expression to His justice and
His mercy.

Men in general, alas! hold justice cheaply, and, lowering the Divine
standard of human character, they easily persuade themselves that they
may enter heaven through the breach they have made in the Divine
attributes. They think that God is indulgent, and will forgive,
forgetting that indulgence is weakness. God _will_ forgive, but His
forgiveness must stand on safe ground. It cannot apply indiscriminately
to all men. Men think they have said all when they have said, "God will
forgive." Such a forgiveness would aim a blow at His justice. No matter;
He will forgive! Such a forgiveness is without motive--an effect without
a cause. No matter; He will forgive! Such a forgiveness has its root in
sentiment, not in reason. It matters not; He will forgive! Such a
forgiveness imposes no obligation on the forgiver, and encourages sin.
Never mind; He will forgive!

Surely this is the spiritual blindness which comes from the perversion
of the conscience and the heart.

Some say, "God forgives; but the condition is that we turn away from
sin and live a life of holiness." There are many answers to this; but
I will only ask those who thus speak, "Are you now living in such a
way as to have in your present holiness, and on the ground of it, the
assurance of your pardon?" That is a question which conscience may be
safely left to answer.

At this point Christianity comes professing to reveal to us the Divine
plan of salvation. It tells us that God forgives for the sake of Jesus
Christ, who is Himself, in His sacrifice, the gift of the Father's
love. A debt has been contracted; the insolvent debtor presents in
payment the money which a friend has freely contributed for the
purpose; the creditor is satisfied. In this way goodness and justice
are reconciled. It is Divine love which meets the claim of the Divine
Righteousness. The redeemed soul, redeemed by the blood of Christ, is
led to obedience by a love which responds to the love which has
redeemed him. This last result none can dispute. Does it spring from
error? No; it is too pure, too blessed for that. The redemption that
produces it is a true principle founded in the nature of God--sublime
in its working--like sap, inexplicable, but justified by the beauty of
its foliage and the goodliness of its fruits.

Let us look a little more closely into this principle of Propitiation.
Suppose we were reading the gospel for the first time, free from
prejudice, and from the deadening influence of habit; we should be
struck with the prominence everywhere given in it to the death of
Christ. Ask a Christian child, or an aged saint, "What did Christ come
on earth to do?" The answer from each will be, "He came to die for
us." The child finds his answer on the very surface of Scripture; the
aged man finds it in that same Scripture when he has studied it to its
very depths. The one quickly learns that this death of Christ was
often predicted by Christ Himself, that it holds the most prominent
place in each of the four Gospels, that it is constantly referred to
in the Epistles, that it is the text of all the preaching of the
apostles, and that it is symbolised in both the sacraments, for "we
are buried by baptism into His death," and whenever in the Supper we
partake of the bread and wine, we "show forth His death till He come."
The mature Christian, in his turn, learns to look upon the death of
Christ as the centre and the soul of all the great acts of the great
work of our redemption, which seem, whether they preceded or followed,
to have been done in direct view of it, and in indissoluble connection
with it. The incarnation was designed to open up the way for it.
"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."
The resurrection was intended to attest its meaning and its value. For
Christ was "delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our
justification." The object of the ascension was to secure the
precious fruits of it. "For He entered in once into the holy place,
having obtained eternal redemption for us."

The remarkable thing in all this is that in the gospel, the aim of
which is to reveal eternal life, the Prince of Life is always offered
to us as dying upon the cross. _Death in order to life!_ What can be
the meaning and the bearing of a death which God has placed in so
exalted a position? We can only get our answer from Scripture; and we
can only get it from Scripture as we read in the simple,
unsophisticated humility of mind and heart of which Christ Himself and
His apostles give us the example.

"_Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins._" We have sinned
against God, and our sins have been so many _offences_ to Him;
offences which must be dealt with. Christ averts the penalty from us
by taking it to Himself. The Holy One consents to suffer for the sake
of the guilty. The apostle who styles Christ as the "Propitiation" has
said, in a sentence immediately preceding: "The blood of Jesus Christ
His Son cleanseth us from all sin." Almost numberless passages teach
the same doctrine. If we were engaged in an exercise of Biblical
criticism, we should have to discuss each of these passages minutely
in its turn. But the general idea we gather from them is definite and
clear. A ransom paid, our sins borne, the wrath of God appeased, an
offered sacrifice--all these contain one idea: Jesus Christ freeing us
from the desert of our sin by Himself satisfying Divine Justice on our
behalf.

Hence the two great facts of our religious history. We were under the
condemnation of a holy law. He who was "the Life," _for our sake_
endured death that we who deserved death might have life _for His
sake_. And God is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins."

To a simple-hearted Christian all this is clear. Men may be
scandalised at the exchange (as they term it) between justice and sin,
between life and death; but Paul knows how to state the matter: "God
hath made Him (Christ) to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we
might be made the righteousness of God in Him." Men may be indignant
(as they often profess to be) at the thought of the innocent suffering
for the guilty; but Peter does not hesitate to say: "Christ hath once
suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to
God."

What is it, moreover, that _connects_ the teaching of the Old
Testament with that of the New? The doctrine of sacrifice, as thus
explained, is not simply _attested_ by Scripture: it is the _soul_ of
it; its bond of unity. The death of Christ is _the_ sacrifice "once
offered in the end of the world," in which all the sacrifices of the
Old Testament find their common destination; to which they correspond,
as the figure to the reality. The cross is the end, the key, the
meaning, the value of all of them. Without this we cannot understand
them. They were types: the cross is the antitype. What they
_represented_, the cross _achieved_. The cross procured the pardon
which they proclaimed. And so the cross has always been the symbol of
the Christian Church. The Jews understood it, and were scandalised;
the Greeks understood it, and sneered.

And now what ends does this sacrifice of Propitiation serve? Mainly
two, which are inclusive of all the rest.

I. It is the fullest revelation of the Divine character. Leaving aside
all questions of abstract and technical theology, we observe that it
sets before us, in one great act, the righteousness and the mercy of
God. The cross proclaims the pardon for which infinite love solicits.
_The heart of God yields to itself._ But how can this be? It is
because the pardon solicited by love is obtained by a sacrifice which
equally exhibits God's righteousness. If we seek the universe through
for the greatest proof we can have of the love of God to the sinner,
we shall find it in the cross; for we there see not only that God
forgives, but also that He is _so resolved_ to forgive that, rather
than that the sinner shall be left to perish, the stroke of the
offended law shall fall on the willing head and heart and life of "His
only begotten and well-beloved Son." On the other hand, if we want to
know something of God's abhorrence of sin, we shall find it in the
cross; for we there see that, so impossible is it for Him to allow it
to go unpunished, that He secures for it a Divine expiation in the
willing sacrifice of His Divine Son. "Mercy and truth are met
together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Most
persons can see in the cross a demonstration of Divine love; in the
light of Bible teaching, they may also see in it a demonstration of
Divine justice more marked and telling than in a closed Eden, in the
waters of the Deluge, in the overthrow of the cities of the plain, in
the destruction of Jerusalem, or in the punishment of the wicked in
eternity.

II. If men are to be saved at all, they must be saved _to holiness_;
they must be sanctified as well as forgiven. The result cannot be
otherwise for those who truly believe in the sacrifice of Christ as
thus explained. Holiness and love, the two great elements of the
character of God; these are expressed in the cross, and they must be
reproduced in the character of those for whom the cross does its
appointed work. How can we believe, as the cross teaches us to
believe, in God's hatred to sin, without feeling that we must hate it
also, and, hating it, must forsake it? And how can we believe, as the
cross teaches us to believe, in the love which has obtained our
salvation, without giving our own love as a genuine, though feeble,
return? Let a man, struggling with the sins which he condemns, but
which he cannot shake off, learn that the Son of God came into the
world to die for him; and he will find in that revelation a strength
for conflict with sin which he never had before. Speak to him of the
beauty and dignity of the law, of the righteousness of God's claims,
of the penalties of transgression; and, though his conscience may
assent to all you say, his heart will not yield. Can he refuse when he
sees Jesus on the cross, and knows what, for him, that spectacle
means? The cross is an argument presented to his reason, his
conscience, his will, his heart, his whole being; nay, it is more than
an argument, it is an appeal; and the response must be: "We love Him
because He first loved us." "The love of Christ constraineth us;
because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:
and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth
live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again."

And now it only remains to be said that this Propitiation is needed by
all, that it is sufficient for all, and that it is free to all. Let
all receive it.



III.

_FAITH IN THE SAVIOUR._

"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."--Acts
xvi. 31.


A startling providential dispensation was one of the means by which
the spiritual nature of this jailer was roused. Only one, effectual so
far as it went, but not complete in itself. It was preparatory and
auxiliary to the action of the Holy Spirit, the instrument by which
the Spirit did His special work of convincing the man of sin. Thus it
is that outward events and circumstances are made to co-operate with
God in the conversion of a soul. The way in which the Spirit works is
a mystery, akin to that in which one human mind acts upon another. But
the _means_ of this spiritual action is no mystery. We use speech,
external appliances of various kinds; the Divine Spirit does the same.
In the case of the jailer he employed the earthquake together with the
calm faith, the perfect serenity, of the apostles at a moment which
was to himself a moment of terror, and which would also have been a
moment of terror to them had they not been the Christians they were. A
great joy; a great sorrow, commotion, loss, alarm, the apparent
nearness of death; daily mercies, the "means of grace," the Word of
God, the ministry of the gospel--through all these the Spirit works.
They are powerless in themselves; they can only become mighty as used
by Him.

It is obvious at a glance that this man's spiritual nature _was_
roused. Spiritual realities burst in upon his mind in all their awful
momentousness. His whole soul was suddenly concentrated in a sense of
his ruin. Hence the short, sharp question--the question which sprung
from an inward agony--"What must I do to be saved?" That question must
be answered, if it can be--answered on the instant! There is a
tremendous depth of meaning in it. It is as though a lightning flash
had in a moment illuminated the man's whole spiritual condition,
bringing out every feature of it into startling distinctness. All the
fears and the aspirations of his immortal being are here; his past
life with all its sin, his remorse, his dread of judgment, his terror
in the presence of God--all are here; he feels himself to be a lost
man. How can he be saved?

In his question there is no hint of self-righteousness or of
self-confidence, or even of the remotest hope in himself. He does not
ask, like "the young man in the gospel," "What good thing must I do
that I may inherit eternal life?" The question of the young man is
leisurely; the question of the jailer is hurried, under the feeling
that there is not a moment to be lost. Helpless and hopeless, he wants
but one thing, and that is to be "saved." Of course his "What must I
do?" indicates that he is willing and ready to comply with any
possible terms; yet it is not a question of conscious strength--it is
rather the question of despair.

Such a question shows that a great point--an essential point--had been
gained. The gospel is a sovereign remedy designed and constructed to
meet a desperate case. Not only do they that are whole stand in no
need of a physician, but wherever there lingers an idea of spiritual
strength, or a dream, of self-righteousness, the condition necessary
for the reception of such a salvation as that which the gospel
proclaims is entirely wanting. Christ is an exclusive Saviour, and
"looking to Him" is an exclusive hope.

"What must I do to be saved?" Clear, quick, unhesitating, comes the
answer of Paul: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be
saved." Both the question and the answer strike the point--the centre
of the soul's supreme need, and the centre of the gospel message.

This answer of Paul's is not simply his own. It is the answer of God
to every man who wants to know how he can be saved. It is the answer
of the whole Bible. It is the pre-eminently, distinctively Christian
answer. All revelation has one great object--Jesus Christ, promised,
announced, expected, seen by faith beforehand; then Jesus Christ
actually come, His life told, His mission developed, Himself presented
to the world as the one and only Name whereby men can be
saved;--always Jesus Christ. Patriarchs and prophets, Moses and David,
Christ Himself, His apostles and disciples after Him, the whole
Church--all unite to say to the awakened soul: "Believe on the Lord
Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

But this answer, though not Paul's alone, is nevertheless his in such
a sense that an immense weight belongs to it. What does Paul himself
understand by it? We know something of his experience, and that will
tell us the meaning of these words as spoken by him. He spake that
which he knew, and testified that which he had seen. He felt that he
could offer to the spiritual need of every man that which had so fully
met his own.

Read Paul's life. Read his epistles. You see at a glance what Christ
was to _him_--a Redeemer. And what to him was the very centre of
Christian truth? "Christ crucified." He had been so roused as to see
clearly the relation between himself and God. The true sense of sin
had been awakened within him. No man had made more strenuous efforts
to obtain justification by the works of the law than he had; and no
man had more deeply realised his helplessness. How does he describe
the struggle? "I had not known sin, but by the law.... When the
commandment came, sin revived, and I died.... Sin, taking occasion by
the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.... That which I do I
allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do
I.... I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) there dwelleth no good
thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which
is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil
which I would not, that I do.... O wretched man that I am! who shall
deliver me from the body of this death?"

"I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

We all know how God arrested, overcame, and subdued him, by showing
him in that same "Jesus Christ our Lord" the mystery of the Divine
love. God taught him that he must no longer expect righteousness and
eternal life to come from his own works, to be wrought by his own
strength. Eternal life is the free gift of God. Look to the cross!
Listen to the Spirit! Learn in "the folly of the cross" to adore the
wisdom and the power of God--a forgiveness that glorifies justice as
well as mercy; a forgiveness that kills sin as well as removes its
penalty; a salvation that harmonises man with God as well as forgives
him; a salvation that implies a perfect holiness, the motive being
love, and the effectual power being that of the Holy Spirit. Deep as
his want had been, it was now completely met by the revelation of the
Saviour. To that revelation his response was prompt, complete,
irrevocable. He says that it was as though scales had fallen from his
eyes, this disclosure of the Divine plan of salvation to his mind. It
was full of light, full of mercy. The manifestation of the risen
Christ was the instrumentality which enlightened him. He saw
straightway the nature and purpose of "the cross," the certainty of
justification through faith, the believer's completeness in Christ.
"Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that
is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh
intercession for us." "There is now no condemnation to them which are
in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free
from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that
it was weak through the flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the
flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who
walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." "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 be not conformed to this world: but be ye
transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is
that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." The natural
result of these convictions in the apostle's own case was his
consecration to the Saviour. Bought with a great price, he felt that
he was no longer his own, but that, in life and death, he belonged to
Him who had given Himself for him. In Christ he had found peace for
his conscience, light for his mind, love for his heart. And what was
the secret of it all? Simply "believing in the Lord Jesus Christ."

This, then, was Paul's gospel to the jailer, and there is no other
gospel to-day. We know that sin incurs condemnation--the displeasure
of God. The universal conscience gives testimony to that fact. We know
that man cannot, in his own person, satisfy the claims of the Divine
law. But there comes down to us the old truth that Christ is "the Lamb
of God that taketh away the sin of the world." He "finished the work
which His Father gave Him to do," and the whole benefit of that work
is given to faith.

It is in the name of this perfect system of truth--which, observe, is
a perfect series of facts--consecrated by the trial of ages, by the
experience of an incalculable number of souls in all times, places,
and conditions, and by the world's own verdict on Christian character
wherever it is found--that we speak to you with a confidence equal to
that with which Paul spoke to the jailer. And let me add that we so
speak because we have made the experience of it our own, and that it
is as sure in our hearts as our very existence. Yes, a perfect series
of facts as well as a perfect system of truth. Men sometimes object
that we put before them hard and abstruse systems of theology, and
that we condemn them for not believing things which they cannot
understand. There is no need to do anything of the kind, and when it
is done a grave mistake is committed. I preach no "abstractions" to
you when I urge you to faith in Christ for salvation. I deal with
facts and their deductions--deductions which are as inevitable as the
facts are real--deductions which follow the facts as the shadow
follows the substance. Deny the deductions? You must first deny the
facts. The jailer, poor man, was no theologian, and Paul did not
perplex and mystify him. He placed the person of Christ immediately
before the soul. Faith in a person; that is _first_--not faith in a
creed. A creed will follow; for there cannot be faith without thought,
and thought always strives to formulate itself. But, blessed be God,
millions have been saved with next to no "theology." Having Christ for
its object, and salvation for its aim, faith reposes in the facts of
His mission and work; but as He is a living Christ, it emphatically
reposes in _Him_. This is the commonest form of the believer's
experience. In our social life we know what faith in a person means.
We confide in known goodness; and therefore we believe words,
promises, acts, and we do so because we trust _him_ from whom they
come. This is the last and most perfect stage of the faith men place
in one another, and it includes a confidence which is not impaired by
what, in the person who is trusted, seems startling, unexpected,
mysterious, contradictory, inexplicable. Just so with the gospel. It
meets our needs by telling us what God has done for us in Christ. We
believe the record which fits our want, and we put our trust in the
Saviour. Confiding in Him, we can accept such mysteries as we may
discern in His dealings, and faith in a holy and loving Saviour is
henceforth the true rest of life, and the true foretaste of heaven.

Such being the nature of faith unto salvation, we see how it contrasts
(1) with indifference. Indifference is commonly supposed to be a
mental state, in which a man neither believes nor disbelieves; whereas
it is really a state of spiritual deadness. (2) With mere opinion,
which is nothing more than an inclination in favour of, or against, a
thing, and not an earnest practical conviction about it. (3) With
presumption, which is a prepossession with no sufficient basis of
evidence.

It may, perhaps, be said that, in this representation of faith in
Christ as the one all-comprehensive condition of salvation, we have
left no room for penitence, holiness, devotedness. But think again for
a moment. Were not all these in this man? Did not his conduct to the
apostles show, so far as the opportunity was given him, the fruits of
faith in the various ways of grateful love? Faith is the
starting-point; but when we are told to "believe in Christ" an appeal
is made to us in response to which there is a whole career to be
filled up. Faith, like everything else in life, has its beginning, and
its development is progressive. It means thought, and thought means
contrition, gratitude, and a glad and loving obedience. It requires
time, but we have eternity before us. In some, the result of years is
accomplished in a day. Simple-hearted men generally receive by a sort
of intuition what others take a long period to elaborate. The one
thing essential to all is that they be faithful to the light and the
love they have received.

"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ." We do not call you to a learned
and critical study. The life and teachings and redeeming work of the
Saviour are put before us with a simplicity that brings them within
the reach of a peasant or a child. Attention, earnestness, sincerity,
prayer, will do all that is needed. Seek the faith that will make
Christ yours. Do you not already, under the gracious influence of the
Holy Spirit, feel your need of Him? Oh, whilst mercy calls, and the
throne of grace is accessible, pray and yield!

    Ye that in these courts are found
    Listening to the joyful sound,
    Lost and helpless as you are,
    Sons of sorrow, sin, and care,
    Glorify the King of kings!
    Take the peace the gospel brings.

    Turn to Christ with longing eyes,
    View His bleeding sacrifice.
    See through Him your sins forgiven,
    Pardon, holiness, and heaven.
    Glorify the King of kings!
    Take the peace the gospel brings.



IV.

_SINCERITY OF HEART NECESSARY TO THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE GOSPEL._

"If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether
it be of God, or whether I speak of myself."--John vii. 17.


The Jews, marvelling at Christ's teaching in the temple, exclaim, "How
knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" They do not mean to
ask whether Christ is competent to teach, for they _see_ that he is so
clearly enough; but they thus express their astonishment at the
authority and the ability with which He deals with the Scriptures,
considering that He has never received the instruction of the Schools.

In His reply, Jesus fully enters into the thought of His questioners.
That thought is this: "In order to teach, one must have been taught."
He intimates to them that He meets this requirement. As though He had
said: "It is true that I have not been in the schools of your Rabbis,
but I have been taught in a better school than theirs. He who has
given me my mission, has also given me my message. So that my teaching
does not proceed originally from myself. I have only to lay hold of my
Father's thought, and then to reproduce it faithfully to you."

But how is this to be verified? The answer to this question is found
in the text: "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the
doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself."
Christ's teaching, in its highest aim, is a Divine method of
sanctification. Whoever, then, earnestly seeks to "do the will of
God"--that is, to be holy--will soon recognise the Divine adaptability
of the gospel to its end. The meaning of the verse is the same as in
chapter v. and verse 46: "For had ye believed Moses, ye would have
believed me;" and also in chapter iii. and verse 21: "He that doeth
truth cometh to the light." On the one hand, the holy sublimity of the
gospel flashes irresistibly on the soul that longs for holiness; on
the other hand, the soul, in its inability to attain its ideal, seeks
peace and strength at the hands of the Saviour. Faith, therefore, is
not the result of a logical operation; it appears to the soul as the
best means of realising the satisfaction of its deepest
want--holiness. The word "will" points to the loftiness of the
aspiration and to the earnestness of the effort.

Our Lord's words, then, mean this, that if any man be supremely
anxious to do the right, he will find in Scripture sufficient proof of
its divinity, and, as a consequence, of its adaptability to the soul's
deepest need. Christ was dealing with men who were disposed to cavil
about His authority and about the truth which He taught. These men
were acquainted with the Mosaic law, which enjoined not only purity of
life, but also purity of heart. It was a law therefore which, if
honestly studied, must lead to those convictions which would enable
them to see the necessity and the wisdom of the gospel which Christ
was preaching. And so He lays down the principle that sincerity in
regard to the _known_ law of God determines the real position of the
mind _towards_ God, and prepares it for deeper and still deeper
penetration into all necessary spiritual knowledge. On the contrary,
he who is insincere, and does not practise what he knows, but
endeavours to evade it by sophistry, blinds himself until even the
brightest light can be of no service to him. This was the case with
the majority of the Pharisees with whom Christ had to do. This
passage is therefore of the highest practical importance, since it
teaches that man's capacity for spiritual knowledge is dependent upon
his inclination. If the will be opposed to God, the understanding
becomes clouded; if it be inclined towards God, the ability to know
increases. That the inclination is the door to the intellect is a fact
universally recognised. It is expressed in the proverb: "None are so
blind as those who will not see." In every department of learning, a
man, in order to attainment, _must make up his mind to it_. For good
or ill, the will is a quickening power.

It would be interesting and instructive to discuss this question in
connection with religious error, both in and out of the professing
Christian Church. My present purpose, however, is a more simple and
elementary one--namely, to indicate the bearing of the question upon
man's reception of the gospel for his salvation. I say, then, that
honesty, sincerity, integrity of heart is the required and
indispensable condition for perceiving and feeling the divinity and
suitability of the gospel; and that even an ignorant man, if he be but
sincere, and devoutly anxious to know the will of God, that he may do
it, may discover in the Bible those traces of moral beauty and of
Divine truth which a learned but unconscientious man will almost
certainly fail to find therein. Sincerity of heart--this is the
wisest, most natural, and most comprehensive means of access to the
inner spirit of that gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.
A few remarks in proof of this.

I. Suppose the gospel to be so manifestly filled with the proofs of its
divinity that all hearts, even the most obdurate, could not refrain from
yielding to its claims. Suppose it to be _self-evidencing_, in the same
way and to the same extent, as the sun is self-evidencing by its
shining, or fire by its known power to burn. In this case, no moral or
intellectual disposition would be necessary in order to its reception.
It could no more be denied than the light of the sun, or the consuming
power of fire. But what, with such a gospel, would be man's position?
Forced to assent to an imperious obligation, he would be, in relation to
the gospel and to the salvation provided in it, nothing more than a
machine, acting under the impulse of an irresistible necessity. There
could, under these circumstances, be neither praise nor blame attached
to him. He could no longer be accounted a moral agent--could not be
regarded as free, inasmuch as it would not be possible for him to choose
error or evil without obvious and startling folly. He could no longer be
responsible, because he would have to yield to a necessity. There could
be no free thought in his creed, no free love in his heart, and
consequently no virtue in his life.

II. Since, then, some disposition is necessary in order to a man's
coming to the gospel, suppose that God had imposed an _intellectual_
qualification--such, for instance, as is required for the learning of
art or of science, or for the understanding of any difficult problem
in philosophy. Observe what in that case must follow. If, to discover
the truth necessary to salvation, a large measure of natural genius or
of accumulated knowledge be required, we must consider as excluded
from salvation the immense majority of the human race! Men cannot in
any large numbers abandon the common, legitimate, indispensable
pursuits of secular life in order to become students of theology. Such
an arrangement would shut out from heaven all who have neither time,
nor fortune, nor energy of intellect sufficient to enable them to
follow our profounder investigations. The poor man for want of means,
the sick man for want of strength, the old man for want of time--all,
being unable to explore and to make their own the prescribed science,
would be lost! The fearfulness of the consequences shows how false the
supposed principle must be.

III. Take another supposition; viz., that, in order to a man's being
convinced of the truth of the gospel, he should be required to purify
his heart from all evil, so that with a clear moral vision he should
be able to see the beauties which have been obscured by his sinful
passions. Doubtless this means of appreciating Christianity would be
efficacious, were it practicable. But it is not so; for evidently the
_knowledge_ of the truth must precede the _practice_ of the truth. A
creature without wings might as well be told that he should go to
heaven on condition that he would fly thither!

IV. See now, not what _our_ plans might be, but what _God's_ plan is.
He does not influence man so as to degrade him into a machine: He
simply and uniformly demands the worship and the service of willing
hearts. He does not require of him the genius or the learning which is
the privilege of only a few. He does not ask in advance the goodness
which is impossible as a spontaneous production of his degenerate
nature. He just requires of all that which they can give, if they
will--viz., simple, devout honesty of purpose. Christ's words are not,
"If any man _does_;" but, "If any man will do"--_desires_ to do--is
supremely _anxious_ to do--_wills_ to do--"the will of God he shall
know of the doctrine, whether it be of God." Who, then, has a right to
complain? Who cannot be sincere? Who is unable to set before himself
the purpose of living up to the light he has in order that he may be
in the surest position for receiving more? Who will say, "This
condition is too hard?"

Observe, then, how your case stands. Are you, or are you not, anxious
to please God in any way which He may appoint and reveal to you? If
you are not, His gospel must be a sealed and unmeaning book to you.
Your mind is not open to the faith which unites the soul to the
Saviour. You are altogether destitute of the motive which would lead
you to the cross. But if you are, what then? You must see at once that
you are sinners, that you are guilty, and that you are hopeless. In
the light of these convictions, look at the gospel. It tells you of
the Divine Saviour who died for you and who rose again, who paid your
debt, who took to Himself your penalty, and who has therefore done
all that was necessary to set you free. To meet your helplessness, He
only asks for your faith, and offers to you the quickening and guiding
and upholding influences of His Holy Spirit.



V.

_THE HUMBLE TAUGHT THE LORD'S WAY._

"The meek will He teach His way."--Psalm xxv. 9.


Instead of "meek" read "humble," and then connect the verse with the
preceding, so as to see who and what are the persons to whom the
Psalmist refers. The righteous Lord will teach sinners His way; but
the sinners, in order to be thus divinely taught, must be humble.

Probably this text of Scripture does not seem at first sight to be
very promising to some of you. If so, the reason probably is that one
at least of the subjects it brings to our notice is not a favourite or
inspiring one. Men are comparatively little attracted by the more
quiet and passive virtues of life, and among these the virtue of
humility is one of the least popular. The truth is that we are still
under the influence of Pagan notions about it. The philosophers of
the past never understood it. To them it was a mean and despicable
thing--the evidence of weakness and poverty of soul, the necessary
virtue of the enslaved and the helpless. This notion exists now. The
world has far more respect for the self-confident, the noisy, the
bombastic, than for the humble. Of course the world's ideas of
humility are at fault, and have need to be corrected. We cannot enter
upon that task now, except incidentally and very partially. One thing
only let me say--namely, that Christianity has transformed and
ennobled the despised word by giving us the thing itself. The life of
Christ comprises the perfection of humility as well as of every other
virtue. In Him we see that humility makes no man contemptible. He was
no less a king because He was a servant. And the virtue that was
perfect in Him is one of the essential qualities of the Christian
character--one of the essential elements of the Christian life,
whether in its high enjoyments or in its high achievements.

The words before us present this virtue of humility under one special
aspect. Man has something to learn, and God has something to teach;
and humility is _teachableness_. Christianity demands of its
disciples that disposition of heart which is the indispensable
condition of all learning whatsoever. No more objection can be urged
against Christianity for this, than against any art or science or
philosophy which men seek to acquire. All these might say to their
disciples, "Unless you give up your prejudice, your conceit, your
self-will, your presumption, you have no business here; we have
nothing to teach you." And so, "poverty of spirit," as Christ
intimates in the "Beatitudes," is the strait gate into "the kingdom of
God."

It is only as respects religion that this principle is seriously
misunderstood, and a little reflection will show why it is that
outside Christianity humility is misapprehended. Humility is the
result of self-knowledge, and this cannot be obtained until man has
learned to know himself in the light of God's wisdom and holiness. So
long as he compares himself with his fellow-creatures around him, it
may seem to him that there is no necessity for such an element of
character as this. Nor is it in this way that the virtue is commended
and enforced. Whilst the standard of excellence remains merely human,
it is quite clear that a man may say, "I am as good as my neighbours;
at least, I am no worse." But put before him a holy God and a holy
law! In this new light all becomes changed. Apart from that
revelation, many flatter themselves that they have lived respectably.
They are not conscious of any serious defection in the common,
every-day duties of life. Let the great revelation come to them, and
they must make wonderful self-discoveries. How many forgotten sins are
then brought to mind! How many secret sins are then brought to light!
How many temptations have been yielded to for convenience' sake! How
much coldness and indifference towards the right, the true, and the
good! How much selfishness! How much cowardice! How many meannesses!
How many secret and contemptible dishonesties! What culpable ignorance
of God! What rebellion against His known will! Is not all this enough
to humble a man? Where is the man amongst us who would not rather die
than have all his sins brought to light before his fellow-men? Thus,
to make us humble, God teaches us, first of all, truly to know
ourselves. This is that "conviction of sin" which is wrought by His
Holy Spirit.

God teaches us this in His law, but chiefly by the life of Christ His
Son. Who can remain proud when he compares his own life with that?
Before men we may, perhaps, hold our own; but before Him there is
nothing left for us but self-abasement.

In presence of such a conviction as this, it is vain for the world to
flatter a man, for he has learnt his own misery. He wants to know the
truth, for it is only the truth that can save. He knows too much of
himself to accept any teaching that would exalt _man_, for he could
not accept that without dishonouring God. He wants a frank, firm voice
that will trouble him, and to which his conscience will respond. The
first question for us is: Have we so learnt to know ourselves, or do
we obstinately shut our eyes against God's light? Such a knowledge of
sin brings with it a sense of deserved condemnation.

And here God comes in to teach us humility in another way. He shows us
His love in Christ. It is not possible that a sinner who has come to
the knowledge of himself should discover that he is the object of a
love on the part of God such as that which the gospel reveals without
being overwhelmed. Show to man a God who judges and condemns, and the
sinner must shrink from before Him under the sense of a deserved doom;
but show to him a God who comes to him graciously, who loves him, who
has provided redemption for him, and who is waiting to receive and to
help him, and all the pride of his heart at once breaks down. The
prodigal son was most humble when he received his father's kiss of
welcome. How can we be proud when we know that God has loved us, and
that Christ has died for us? Unbelievers sometimes call the
Christian's faith presumption; we know, on the contrary, that the
feeling produced is as unlike presumption as it can be. The very faith
which accepts the gospel has its root in lowliness of mind. Pride
would reject it. And it is at the foot of the cross that humility
grows. If not there, then nowhere.

Thus we see that all our Christian life, in one aspect of it, is a
growth in humility. This beautiful virtue affects our whole being,
rescuing for God all that has been usurped by sin.

_Our reason must be humble._ We are living in an age of criticism and
discussion; and, both in the Church and out of it, human thought is
prone to pride and self-sufficiency. There is work, of course, for
thought to do, and we must do it; for thought is God's gift. But it
can only be done aright as it is done in humility. We must never touch
religious questions with profane hands. Let us rather remember that
all our researches into truth should be conducted with a view the
better to adore and to obey. We should examine truth only with a
desire to perceive, acknowledge, and reverence it. Our Lord teaches us
that the gospel both enlightens and blinds. "For judgment I am come
into this world, that they who see not might see, and that they who
see might be made blind." The first part of this great statement is
easily understood; it is the second which startles. But why so? Is it
not like Simeon's prediction that Christ would be for the "fall" as
well as for the "rising" of many? Is it not like what Paul said of the
gospel, that it is a "savour" both of "life unto life" and of "death
unto death"? So long as the gospel is not preached in a church or a
house, all is quiet--with the quietness of death! As soon as it is
preached, some accept it, and say that they have passed from darkness
to light; others reject it, and are made angry by its teaching and its
claims. If these latter were quiet, we might suppose the gospel to be
without effect upon them; but they show that, by hardening themselves
against it, they are becoming blinder than ever. Recall other words
which point to the same result--words spoken by our Lord: "I thank
Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these
things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.
Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight." This should be a
joyful truth to us, for Jesus had joy in declaring it. Wherein is its
worth? The "things" of which He speaks are the doctrines of salvation.
"The wise and prudent" are self-satisfied men who think that they can
comprehend all religious truth by their own reason alone. The "babes"
are humble souls, who, in the consciousness of their ignorance and
weakness, look to God for wisdom. Thus Christ says that Divine
teaching is necessary for the understanding of gospel truth, and this
fact humility alone enables us to feel. Man's intelligence can do many
wonderful things, but God Himself must come to our help if we are ever
to know the things that pertain to our salvation. Our reason must bow
to Him.

_The heart must be humble._ We may profess entire mental submission to
God, and yet be under the influence of pride. There is a humility
which is spurious as well as a humility which is real. It is
possible, and not very uncommon, for a man to cherish a false
consciousness of merit even in the disbelief and denial of merit! If a
man is proud who puts confidence in his self-righteousness, so also is
he who puts confidence in his intellectual orthodoxy.

_Our conduct must be humble._ This grace of humility must not only
dwell in the inner spirit, but be manifested in our outer life. It is
vain to come to the cross with the offer of a bending reason, a
subdued will, and a broken heart, and then go out into the world
intent on the accomplishment of our own purposes. If we are truly
humble, we shall be _seen_ to be so in the way in which we accept the
teachings of events; in our reverent waiting for the signs of the
Divine will; in the faithful, unreluctant fulfilment of the humblest
duties; in our resignation to, and our acquiescence in, the trials and
afflictive dispensations which come upon us. We often see this grace
in its greatest beauty at the close of the most eminent lives. God's
most gifted men, as a rule, advance in humility as they grow in
experience. They are like boughs that bend the lower the more fruit
they bear. Like John the Baptist, they say, "He must increase, but I
must decrease."

This, then, is the _disposition_, and to it God makes a great
_promise_. He will _teach His way_ to the humble. This applies

_To our knowledge of Divine truth._ How uniformly have God's truest
witnesses upon earth consisted of men conspicuous for their lowliness
of mind. It was to such that the Saviour was first announced and that
He first came. Such were the people who listened to Him and accepted
Him, whilst the "learned" and the "great" rejected Him. His apostles
were humble men; and it has always been by the humble that the strong
and the proud have, in the end, been vanquished. Every bright page in
the history of the Church is a commentary on our text. To-day, in
spite of the progress of thought in our world, we, in regard to the
matters that belong to our spiritual life and salvation, have to sit
as disciples at the feet of the humble men who themselves sat at the
feet of the Divine Teacher who said, "Learn of me, for I am meek and
lowly of heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Our views of
the truth as it is in Jesus may be modified and corrected; yet the
pages of these same humble men are still the standard of our faith and
of our teaching. Religious opinions change, not because we have gone
beyond Paul and Peter and John, but because we understand them better.
This is no plea, no apology, for mental weakness. On the contrary,
pride is rather the characteristic of mental weakness and of ignorance
than of mental strength and enlightenment. We may search, but we must
remember that we always depend upon God for light. In religion the
condition of the heart is the condition of knowledge. Proud, haughty,
self-sufficient Saul of Tarsus had to be humbled before he could
become Paul the Believer and the Apostle.

_To the every-day dispensations of life._ In this world we are the
subjects of God's discipline, and that discipline is for the most part
mysterious. The course of events with us is often varied. We are
subjected to vicissitudes of every kind--vicissitudes of thought, of
impression, of feeling, and of experience. We are troubled in life, in
heart, in the cultivation of Christian excellence, in the maintenance
of life's relationships, in the performance of duty. Whilst we try to
bear in mind the glorious issues to which we are destined, we are
often perplexed in our endeavours to ascertain how the discipline we
are undergoing tends towards their realisation. We are puzzled by the
prevalence of wickedness, by the disappointment of hopes, the apparent
futility of many of our prayers; and we say, "I am blind, and the way
in which I am walking is unknown to me." Humility will help us to
think that God has _His own way_ among all these perplexities of ours,
though we are unable to trace it. "All things work together for good
to them that love God."

    God works not as man works, nor sees
      As man sees, though we mark
    Ofttimes the moving of His hands
      Beneath the eternal Dark.

            *   *   *   *

    And He who made both life and death,
      He knoweth which is best.
    We live to Him, we die to Him,
      And leave Him all the rest.

Thus the humble are taught trust, patience, resignation, obedience,
peace of heart, and daily advancement in sanctification.

_To our bearing towards others._ Humility will qualify us cordially to
recognise whatever worth they have, to show gentleness and charity to
those among them who are faulty and weak, and thus will take us along
a line of conduct which will lead to the strengthening of the bonds of
brotherhood. "Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.
Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with
humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the
humble." The word here rendered "Be clothed" occurs nowhere else in
Scripture. It is borrowed from a piece of dress worn by servants when
they were doing menial offices, which at once intimated their station,
and fitted them for the performance of the duties attached to it.
Remember that it is Peter who gives this advice--the Peter who in
former days so often brought himself into trouble by his want of
humility. Notice, too, the special point he now has in view. He is
pleading for harmonious action in the Church, a result which can only
be obtained by observing the law of voluntary subordination to
established authority--an observance to which the habit of humility
will most effectually contribute. Humility is one of the chief social
and ecclesiastical virtues, through the medium of which God teaches us
what is the attitude we are to maintain towards those who are around
us.

_To our Christian work._ All the heroes of the faith in past times
avowed their personal infirmities. Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah,
Peter, Paul--each, in one form or another, confessed: "When I am
weak, then am I strong; I can do all things through Christ who
strengtheneth me. I glory in mine infirmities, that the power of
Christ may rest upon me." We must lay hold of this thought, for it
alone can guard us against discouragement. As long as we depend on
ourselves, God will break down our confidence by repeated failures;
but when His wisdom has humbled us, His mercy will lift us up. Why
should it not be so? We may well be humble in our work when we
remember how far we are from being indispensable to God. He can work
either with us or without us, as He pleases. It is His own order to
achieve mighty moral results through the humblest instrumentalities;
and frequently His independence of us is taught in a very striking
way--as, for example, when He calls to Himself some great preacher, or
some man who is doing wide-spread good, in the midst of his activity
and his usefulness. Besides, we have no monopoly of any one gift of
the Christian life--either as regards the gift itself or as regards
the quality and extent of the service which it can be made to render.
Others excel us in the very thing of which we are most proud. Many of
our fellow Christians are doing the same kind of works as ourselves,
only far better. And as to our "gifts," let us not forget that they
_are_ gifts. We have "received" them; and why, then, should we boast
as if we had not received them, but were ourselves the creators of
them? Moreover, in proportion to our gifts, so is our responsibility,
and "to whom much is given, of him shall much be required." Have we
used such gifts as we have as nobly as we might? Have we fallen into
no needless errors, no selfishness, no half-heartedness? So then,
while everything calls us to duty, there is much to fill us with
contrition; and mingling fidelity and humility together, our exclusive
confidence must be in God. This is the Divine way which the Divine
Teacher teaches to the humble.

_The Lord's way._ This is a beautiful and lovable expression. It links
earth with heaven. There _is_ a way which leads to God; a way in which
God walks with us, and we with Him; a way that is peaceful here, while
it leads to the land of rest above. We begin it in humility,
confessing our sins at the cross, and accepting God's mercy there. We
end it before the throne, casting our crowns at the feet of Him who
died to save us.

    Hark! universal nature shook and groan'd,
    'Twas the last trumpet--see the Judge enthroned:
    Rouse all your courage at your utmost need,
    Now summon every virtue, stand and plead.
    What! silent? Is your boasting heard no more?
    That self-renouncing wisdom, learn'd before,
    Had shed immortal glories on your brow,
    That all your virtues cannot purchase now.
      All joy to the believer! He can speak,
    Trembling yet happy, confident yet meek.
      Since the dear hour that brought me to Thy foot,
    And cut up all my follies by the root,
    I never trusted in an arm but Thine,
    Nor hoped but in Thy righteousness divine:
    My prayers and alms, imperfect and defiled,
    Were but the feeble efforts of a child;
    Howe'er perform'd, it was their brightest part,
    That they proceeded from a grateful heart:
    Cleansed in Thine own all purifying blood,
    Forgive their evil, and accept their good:
    I cast them at Thy feet, my only plea
    Is what it was, dependence upon Thee:
    While struggling in the vale of tears below,
    That never failed, nor shall it fail me now.
    Angelic gratulations rend the skies,
    Pride falls unpitied never more to rise,
    Humility is crown'd, and Faith receives the prize.



VI.

_THE GRATITUDE OF THE PARDONED._

"Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven;
for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth
little."--Luke vii. 47.


It has been observed that the Bible records with great minuteness
events which a secular historian would deem beneath his notice,
whilst, on the other hand, matters of great secular importance are
passed over unmentioned. What ordinary historian would think of
narrating such a story as the one we have in the verses before us? The
Bible records it because it is a history of souls. To a Bible
historian, the conversion of a soul is an event of unique sublimity,
and everything that can illustrate it is felt to be a source of
deepest interest. The history of outward events will pass into
oblivion; the history of souls will be read in eternity.

The narrative before us is one of the most beautiful and touching in
the gospel record. It was a saying of Gregory the Great: "Whenever I
think of this story I am more inclined to weep over it than to preach
upon it." It is just the tale to prompt deep, quiet feeling rather
than elaborate disquisition. It contains an illustration in real life
of the old promise: "A bruised reed shall He not break, and the
smoking flax shall He not quench." It declares the Saviour's matchless
sympathy for the sinner, and the most broken-hearted sinner's hope in
Him. It teaches these lessons for all time, since in Christ and in His
system of Redemption there can be no change. Let us look at the
narrative somewhat closely, and may God help us to see in it Christ as
the refuge of the lost, and the thankfulness to Him which must possess
the soul whom He has saved. When we have said all we can, there will
yet remain much more to be felt.

Before I proceed, however, let me say that this narrative must not be
confounded with another which is in many respects like it, and which
has been told by the other evangelists. In both cases, the name of the
host is Simon, and in both a woman anoints the Lord Jesus, and wipes
His feet with her hair. But the differences are numerous. In this
case, the host is a Pharisee living in Galilee, and he looks on Christ
with mistrust; in the other case, the host is a healed leper in Judea,
bound to Christ by grateful love. In this case, the anointing proceeds
from personal and grateful love, and has no other specialty of motive;
in the other case, Jesus says: "Let her alone; against the day of my
burying hath she kept this." Here, Jesus is blamed by the Pharisee;
there, the woman is blamed by the disciples. Pride is the root of
Simon's objection; the objection of the disciples springs from
selfishness. Here a sinner is pardoned; there a disciple is honoured.
Here, in all probability, the woman was Mary Magdalene; there, the
woman was the sister of Lazarus.

We have no information as to the reason which induced this Pharisee to
invite Christ to his house. The verse I have read as a text may
obscurely hint to us, perhaps, that he himself had come under some
obligation to Jesus, and not feeling any true gratitude, he thought he
might acquit himself of his obligation by a compliment of this kind! Or
the invitation may have sprung from curiosity, or from vanity, or from
ambition. Possibly he may have wished to play the _patron_. Anyhow, we
have no sign that he was urged by spiritual considerations. Many men
come--if one might so say--_locally_ near to Christ, who have no faith
in Him, and no love for Him.

Neither have we any information as to the reason or reasons which
induced Christ to accept this invitation. Several reasons might be
imagined. He may have hoped, as the opportunity was specially
favourable, to bring a blessing to the Pharisee's heart. Men are never
more open, or more submissive, or more susceptible to the word of
love, than when they themselves are showing kindness in the form of
the hospitalities of home and of the family circle. Perhaps, too, He
may have felt that to decline the invitation would be to lay Himself
open to an accusation on the part of the Pharisees that He neglected
or spurned them, whilst He could put Himself in close communication
with "publicans and sinners." At any rate, we have here a beautiful
instance of the self-denial of His love. He knew what awaited Him, and
yet He went.

And now we have to notice that when Jesus had passed over the
threshold of the Pharisee's house the door was open to "a woman who
was a sinner." How was this? The simple and sufficient answer is that
Jesus was there. Otherwise she would not have dared to enter within
the perfumed respectability and sanctity of such a place. That would
have been a terror to such a fallen one as she. But redeeming love had
already begun its work upon her heart, so that she could come without
misgiving, could enter with a holy confidence. When Christ appears,
grace bears the sceptre, and the law loses its power to alarm.

We may take this incident, therefore, as a striking illustration of
the spirit of Christ and of His true followers, as contrasted with
Pharisaism in its suspiciousness, its blindness, its narrowness, and
its ascetic scrupulosity.

The woman, probably under the pressure of gratitude for some act of
compassionate love already received from Christ, is full of the
holiest and tenderest emotions. In a fine, sacred humility, she weeps,
and washes His feet with her tears. True tears they are, for they are
the tears of penitence--and not of penitence only, but of thankfulness
also. Confused and bewildered, perhaps, she wipes the feet on which
they have fallen with her hair, and then kisses them, and anoints them
with costly ointment! Such is the gratitude of the pardoned--deep,
strong, irrepressible. And she expresses it in touchingly significant
ways.

The woman's action was distasteful to the Pharisee. The touch of a
Gentile, or of a notoriously wicked person, was supposed to leave
pollution behind it, and therefore by the Pharisees it was scrupulously
avoided. Thus Simon had no understanding whatever of the scene before
him. He had no eyes to see, no ears to hear, how the angels were filling
heaven with the music of their joy over this poor sinner who had
repented. A weak human virtue might be contaminated by contact with such
an one as she had been; but not His who was the Christ of God. No doubt,
apart from the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit, apart from the
strength which God imparts to the soul by His grace, a man does run the
risk of polluting his morality by allowing it to be touched by the
impure streams of his fellow-creatures' vices. This has always been so
fully recognised that we have a whole system of proverbial philosophy on
the point. Christ, however, was perfect, and His purity was such that it
could not incur this danger. Outward contact with "sinners" could bring
no contamination to Him.

Simon took offence at the conduct of the woman, and began at once to
indulge in dark, though unspoken, suspicions against Christ for
permitting it. His suspicion took this form: "This man professes to be
a prophet, and is regarded as a prophet by His followers. But surely,
if He were a prophet, He would have known this woman's character, and
would have repelled her from Him, instead of permitting such
demonstrations of affection as these." Simon's notion of a "prophet"
was that he must possess at least two qualifications. (1) He must have
a knowledge of the characters of the persons with whom He has to deal.
On behalf of merely ordinary, human prophets, this was an exaggerated
claim. To what prophet could Simon point who was able to read the
heart? How did he know that Christ had ever seen this woman before?
And on the supposition that He had not, on what ground could Simon
demand that, in order to be entitled to the designation of a prophet,
He should show an insight into her character at the commencement of
the very first interview. Christ had the insight; but Simon felt
constrained to doubt it for no other reason than that He did not
instantly repel the woman from Him. (2) And so, in Simon's judgment,
the second qualification of a "prophet" consisted in such a moral
exclusiveness as would forbid contact with sinners. He thought that,
if Christ did know what manner of woman this was, His tolerance of her
conduct at this time was sufficient proof that He could not be a good
man, and was not, therefore, to be regarded as a prophet. A prophet's
sanctity would have forbidden such a scene as this. But again we ask,
Whence could such a notion have sprung? Who among the "prophets" ever
stood aloof from sinners? Was it not emphatically to sinners that they
were sent?

Simon's reasoning was full of sophistry, and the sophistry came from a
defective heart. Had he known the nature of the Saviour's mission--as
one which demanded a perfect knowledge of all hearts, combined with
grace, love, and power to save the worst--he might perhaps have felt
and reasoned differently.

His thoughts were unspoken, but Christ divined them, and proceeded to
deal with them. To the personal imputation He made no reply. It was a
little thing to Him to be judged by man. It was sufficient for Him to
aim at two points. One was to vindicate the woman on well-known
principles, and the other, to lead the Pharisee to self-examination.
With these two objects in view, He utters a parable, and applies it to
the case in hand. The parable and its application are both marked by a
mingled faithfulness and love. He makes Simon himself to be the judge
in the case He describes, and on the basis of Simon's own judgment He
brings the practical point right home to the proud heart of the man.
By a few sharp and striking contrasts, He shows that the woman, sinful
as she has been, has manifested more love to Him than Simon Himself
whose guest He is! Though a discredited stranger, she has done for Him
what Simon, His host, had failed to do.

"Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee."

"Master, say on."

"There was a certain creditor, who had two debtors: the one owed him
five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to
pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them
will love him most?"

"I suppose, he to whom he forgave most."

"Thou hast rightly judged. Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine
house; thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my
feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou
gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not
ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but
this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto
thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but
to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little."

Having said this, Christ crowns His work of love by saying to the
woman, "Thy sins are forgiven."

Now in all this we have an explanation and a vindication of the
grateful love to Christ which fills and animates the pardoned soul.
This love is shown to us--

I. _In its source._ The grace of Christ in forgiving sins. Grace! How
great! since it forgives all equally; the debtor who owes five hundred
pence as well and as completely as the one who owes fifty--greater
sinners and lesser sinners alike! For sinners of every grade there is
but one relief, and that is Divine mercy--needed by those who have
sinned least as well as by those who have sinned most, and equally
sufficing for both. Grace! How free! since it forgives where no
satisfaction can be made. "Nothing to pay;" such is the condition of
every sinner before God. "Without money and without price;" such is
God's gracious invitation.

II. _In its law._ It is in the nature of things that love should beget
love, and that the love thus originated should be measured by the
extent of the favour which has been shown. "We love Him, because He
first loved us." Hence, love does not precede pardon, but is the fruit
of it, and is proportioned to the sense of obligation. This doctrine,
clear as it is, is not apprehended by all, and is even contradicted by
some. The inveterate spirit of self-righteousness has made men say:
"See this woman. By loving much she obtains the forgiveness of many
sins." This is palpably the reverse of _Christ's_ teaching in this
case. Love to God can never be the growth of unrenewed and unforgiven
hearts. "To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." This
shows the true order: forgiveness and then love. So that love is no
plea for pardon; Christ does not say, "Thy love hath saved thee," but
"thy faith."

    I love the Lord. He lent an ear
      When I for help implored;
    He rescued me from all my fear;
      Therefore I love the Lord.

III. _In its character._ It is an all-absorbing feeling, which
prompts the offering of the best gifts to the Saviour, and which fills
such offerings with the spirit of devoutness, humility, and
self-denial.

Two closing thoughts.

1. Men may be very near to the source of salvation and eternal life,
without coming into the realisation of these blessings. In the outward
sense, Christ was very near to this Pharisee and to his friends; but
they did not perceive His spiritual power. They thought He was only a
man like unto themselves; possibly, perhaps, on a somewhat higher
plane of manhood, though many of them do not seem to have given Him
credit even for that. His forgiveness was announced to this poor
sinful, but contrite woman in their hearing; but the best effect it
had upon them was to fill them with a dubious wonder, and to set them
on questioning His authority. Near as they were to Him, they failed to
see in Him, what "the woman who was a sinner" saw. Such is the
position, practically, of multitudes to-day. Not, indeed, that their
nearness to Christ is a local nearness, as in the case of those who
were immediately around Him in the days of His flesh. They could look
upon His outward form, could literally hear His voice. Not so now.
But there is another nearness to Him which is moral and spiritual. We
have His Word--the record of His life, the Divine repository of His
teaching. We have the ordinances of His worship--ordinances by which
His Word is brought more home to our understandings and hearts. We
have the influences of His truth shed over all the scenes in which we
move. The surface influences of Christianity modify and, to some
extent, mould the whole of our social life. Moreover, Scripture takes
account of the differences in human character. This woman, who was a
sinner, and this Pharisee were not alike in their relation to Christ.
There was one to whom He said, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of
God." Not far from it, and yet not in it. Are there no such cases now?
All are sinners; but depravity is developed in much grosser forms in
some than in others; and religious influences, which fall short of
effecting a complete conversion, nevertheless often deter men from
plunging into extreme vice. It is mournfully possible to be near to
Christ, and yet not to come into the enjoyment of His salvation.

2. On the other hand, there are instances in which people obtain
salvation who seem, as to character, farthest away from it. The case
of this sinful woman is an illustration in point. We have no right to
mitigate or to extenuate her guilt. Let it be recognised in all its
dark completeness. As an actual sinner she had sunk very low. Her sin
was against nature's purest laws, and was of the kind that soon and
effectually kills shame--one of the most fatal forms of sin, and
declared to be such, not only by God's law, but by the common consent
of the universal conscience of the civilised world; a sin committed
against the strongest restraints--the restraints of sacred womanhood;
perhaps against the memory of the holy associations of childhood, a
father's tenderness, a mother's love, and all the joy of a happy home.
Such was this woman--"a bruised reed." But she was brought to tears
under a sense of Paradise lost, the tears of despair; and yet again to
tears of joy under the sense of Paradise regained. How many more--far
off as she--have been made nigh; treated by fellow sinners as the
offscouring of the earth, yet drawn to the Saviour. They are brought
to the cross; they repent, believe, are sanctified, and exult in the
consciousness of eternal life. Constrained by the mercies of God, they
yield themselves a living sacrifice to Him.

The whole scene before us is one of the boldest triumphs of
reconciliation and love, in contrast with Pharisaic suspicion and
unforgivingness; and it supplies the fullest inspiration for the
largest hope.

May we all come to Christ as this woman did, and hear, as she heard,
His gentle "Go in peace!"



VII.

_CONSECRATION._

"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 be not conformed to this world:
but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove
what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."--Romans
xii. 1, 2.


In bringing this passage before you, I have to dwell specifically on
the motives to self-consecration to God, and to what is involved
therein; and I do so with the twofold object of reconsidering the
sources of our Christian hope and strength, and the incentives to our
growth in the Divine life.

The apostle commences his appeal with the word "therefore." This is a
logical term, leading to a conclusion from premises which have been
previously stated. It does not stand alone, but in an argument resumes
in itself all that has been advanced. Take careful note of the simple
words of Scripture. There is point in them all. If, for example, the
use of the word "therefore" in this text be overlooked, we shall be
unable properly to feel the force of the apostle's appeal. What is it,
then, that the apostle has said in this epistle, and of which he
intends, by this word "therefore," to remind his readers? He has been
giving to them a large, full, grand exposition of the great truths of
redemption. He has prepared the way for this by a graphic picture of
the sinfulness and helplessness of human nature. He has shown that the
heathen world is grossly depraved--in a state of alienation from God,
which is to a certain extent wilful (chap. i. 29-32). He has proceeded
to demonstrate that, with all their advantages, the Jews are no better
_at heart_ than the heathen, and as truly sinful, condemned, and
hopeless as they (ii. 17-24). The conclusion supplied by these facts
is, that none are righteous--that all, Jews and Gentiles alike, have
sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that all stand on the
same ground of spiritual danger. This brings out the fact that
redemption is the pressing need of the whole world. The way is now
clear for the presentation of the gospel. _The basis of redemption is
Christ's work of atonement._ The foundation of the plan of salvation
is God's free grace--His boundless, sovereign love. Christ came forth
from the Father as the expression of this. He suffered, bled, died
for us, to meet the claims of the Divine law on our behalf, and to
procure our justification and peace. "Being justified freely by His
grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath
set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood" (iii. 24,
25). "Jesus Christ, who was delivered for our offences" (iv. 25). "For
when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the
ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet
peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God
commendeth His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us" (v. 6-8). Salvation, then, is founded upon the
atonement of Christ--a proper work of propitiation, providing for
pardon and justification. _The condition of this salvation on our part
is simply the acceptance of it by faith._ Faith is primarily the
repose of the soul in Christ's redeeming work--a yielding to God's
method of saving us. It operates to this end independently--yea, even
to the exclusion--of all works of self-righteousness. "By the deeds of
the law shall no flesh living be justified." It is inconsistent with
all boasting. "Where is boasting, then? It is excluded. By what law?
Of works? Nay, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a
man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." This simple
condition of salvation is the only one which can be adapted to our
need. Sinners as we are, our condition is hopeless unless redemption
be offered to us as a free gift. _This redemption is secured to all
who believe by God's unalterable purpose and promise._ It is not
vitally affected by recurring doubts and fears, nor even by our often
insufficient struggles against sin (viii. 28-39). _The result is
inconceivably glorious_; freedom from condemnation, adoption into
God's family, joy, peace, full favour with God here, and heaven with
its perfect glory, consummated in the resurrection, hereafter.

Now, it is at the close of all this that the apostle's "therefore"
comes; and these are the facts and principles which give to it its
point and force. It links all the disclosures of Divine love with the
obligations of redeemed souls. Since God has done so much as this for
you, what then? By the remembrance of the sin which left you without
hope; by the greatness of the love of God who, to save you, gave His
well-beloved Son to an atoning death on your behalf; by the greatness
of the love of Christ who, to save you, consecrated Himself to this
perfect sacrifice; by His birth and death, by His cross and passion,
by His resurrection and ascension; by the freeness and the simplicity
of the condition on which Christ's salvation becomes yours; by your
present peace; by your hope which blooms with immortality and with
eternal life; by _these_, _the mercies of God_, I beseech you, yield
yourselves to God. That surrender must be the first, the natural, the
inevitable result of any vivid and practical realisation of the Divine
goodness. "Yield your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to
God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this
world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may
prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."

The Apostle Paul was pre-eminently the teacher of what are called the
doctrines of grace. In the system of Divine truth which he gives us,
he leaves no room for the indulgence on man's part of the least
sentiment of pride. The gospel, in his view, is the Divine expedient
for what must otherwise have been a desperate and hopeless case; an
expedient, therefore, which--since, from first to last, it is the
expression of God's free and sovereign love--cannot allow of any
self-glorying to man as unregenerate, or of any self-satisfaction to
man as Christian. Hence the uniformity and consistency of his teaching
with respect to "works." In the believer and the unbeliever alike,
these "works," judged by "the law"--the standard of moral
perfection--are all defective, and therefore unavailing. The same
truth applies to them all at every stage of the Christian's progress
towards heaven. In no sense does salvation come by "works," "lest any
man should boast."

On this point, however, the apostle has always been misunderstood by
persons who have pushed his teaching to an illegitimate conclusion. If
all be of "grace," why insist upon "works"? The objection was made in
his day, and he met it. It is made in our day, and has still to be
met. It is sufficiently met by Paul's own method. Paul's doctrine of
grace could never, in his mind, lead to "licentiousness," and it is
one of the most remarkable phenomena of religious thought that it
should have ever been suspected of doing so. The Christian man, in
Paul's view, is the regenerate man; and the regenerate man is the holy
man. Without the spirit and life of holiness Paul would have deemed it
absurd to consider a man a Christian at all. The passage before us,
even if there were no others of the same kind, is sufficient to prove
how indissolubly connected are privilege and obligation in the
Christian life. As we have seen, the apostle draws the exhortations
which commence with this chapter, and which are exhaustively presented
in all their variety and comprehensiveness--exhortations to a complete
consecration to God in all the practical forms which it can
assume--from the great gospel system, the system of salvation by grace
and by grace alone; evidently taking it for granted that, by the
contemplation of the grace for man which is in Christ Jesus, the minds
of his readers would be softened, and prepared to acknowledge the
claim.

What, then, is the nature of the consecration to which we are thus
urged? "That ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, and
acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." Every word in
this description tells: and if we gather together the elements of the
service commended, we shall find that nothing is wanting, and that
under the various particulars we may range all the duties and beauties
of a consecrated Christian life.

The only point on which a question might be raised is as to the
meaning of the terms: "That ye present your _bodies_ a _living_
sacrifice." Some have supposed a contrast here between the dead
bodies of the animals offered in the old sacrifices and the living
self-consecration of the Christian. If the supposition be just, the
idea is both beautiful and suggestive. I think, however, that the
ultimate meaning of the apostle is that the believer in Christ should
devote _himself_ wholly to God, and that the term "your bodies" is
only another term for "yourselves." We cannot imagine an acceptable
bodily, or external sacrifice, without the participation in it of the
conscience, the judgment, the heart, the whole man. The apostle puts
his thought somewhat more fully in the kindred passage: "Ye are bought
with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit
which are God's." Observe, then, the elements of this consecration.

1. _Individuality._ It is to be a personal thing. "Present
yourselves." We cannot fulfil our Christian mission by transferring it
to other hands. There are no proxies in religion. Organisations,
committees, associations, the giving of money--all have their
propriety, but none of them can take the place of personal
"presentation." For convenience' sake, organisations of various kinds
may be resorted to with a view to the maintenance and spread of the
gospel in the world, and undoubtedly may be usefully employed in
spheres beyond the reach of personal endeavour; but the individual
Christian must _himself_ be engaged in the service of God. Every
believer in the Saviour has his own sphere of service, in which no
fellow creature can be substituted for Him. The Christian law is:
personal service always in so far as it is possible; vicarious service
only in so far as personal service cannot be rendered.

2. _Activity._ "A living sacrifice." No man fulfils his Christian
commission in mere retirement and contemplation. It is true that he is
not to be "of the world;" but in the nature of the case he must be
"in" it. Retirement and contemplation are, indeed, needed for the rest
and growth of the soul; but action is at least equally indispensable.
Our practical life is the chief part of our testimony for God, and the
chief weapon of our aggressive warfare upon the unbelief and
irreligion around us; and in order that it may be effective, it is
required, in its fulness and in its energy, to be pervaded,
invigorated, impelled, and directed by the Christian spirit. Every
scene, every experience, every development of life is to be hallowed.
If we "present ourselves a living sacrifice," we relinquish all
self-claim, and give ourselves up to God to be used by Him for the
purposes of His glory. As Christ's sacrifice began with the moment
when He left His Father's throne, so ours must begin with the first
consciousness of our salvation--"a living sacrifice," the consecration
of the whole life with all its powers.

3. _Holiness._ "Holy," because _to God_, with the full intention and
devotion of the soul. This scarcely needs to be insisted on. There may
be an apparent religious devotedness which is not real, because it
takes the form of ostensibly religious acts--acts, however, which have
not their origin and their impelling force in grateful love to God for
His saving mercy, but in some kind of selfishness, and which are
therefore unholy in themselves, and unacceptable to God. The
consecrated life is the life which is in sympathy with the whole
character and will of Him by whom the supreme blessing of redemption
has been bestowed.

4. _Reasonableness._ The true consecration is not the result of any
mere positive or arbitrary enactment, the ground and propriety of
which cannot be discerned. The true Christian does not spend his life
upon a certain principle, and consequently in a certain way, merely
because he is _told_ to do so. The service which he renders to God
rises out of his felt _relations_ to God. If it were not commanded at
all--if it were not even formally hinted at as an obligation--it would
still be natural, "reasonable," and therefore right. The realised
"mercies of God" would be instinctively understood to claim
it--instinctively felt to prompt it. "Your reasonable service." The
words are significant. "Service" is properly _homage_. "Reasonable" is
that which pertains to the _mind_. So that the apostle's phrase stands
opposed to all mere religious externalism. It is the homage of the
life to God with the full consent of the mind, in the consciousness of
the sacred obligation arising out of the enjoyment of the Divine mercy
in the salvation of the soul.

Such service is declared to be "acceptable to God." It is so for the
sake of Christ whose grace has infused into the soul the life out of
which it springs; it is so because the motives which determine it are
right and good; and it is so because it is the loving gift of His own
children.

But the apostle expands his thought, so as to set forth this
consecration under other aspects--as, for example, that of
_nonconformity to the world_. "Be not conformed to this world." A word
of explanation is required on the meaning of the term, "this world."
It is obvious that this term has no reference to the external frame of
things, considered in itself. In a loose way we apply the term "world"
to many things, and Nature is one of them. But full compliance with
the apostle's admonition in the text is compatible with even an
enthusiastic admiration of Nature. Nature is a mirror in which we may
see the wisdom and the goodness of God. It is full of the beautiful to
be loved--full of the sublime to be admired. Its phenomena, forms, and
laws, are worthy of the most reverential and pleasurable
investigation, not only for what they are in themselves, but because
the most spiritual Christian can say, "My Father made them all: they
are His." The term "world," again, sometimes means the aggregate of
human beings; but nonconformity to the world is at the furthest remove
from misanthropy. Human beings are proper objects of a Christian's
love, and his love for them is shown in the best efforts he can make
for their welfare. Every man is, to his mind, invested with a sacred
importance. He endeavours to estimate men as fully as possible in the
same way as God does, of whom it is said that "His mercies are over
all His works," and that "He so loved the world, that He gave His
only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish,
but have everlasting life." At the lowest, man is God's
image--mournfully defaced, it is true--but retaining in his nature
traces enough of his original dignity to compel our recognition of him
as God's handiwork; whilst also, even at the lowest, he may be brought
under the influences of a gospel which despairs of none. Neither is
there anything in the apostle's injunction to condemn the social
relationships which prevail amongst us or to weaken our appreciation
of them. The true Christian, indeed, will ever be the best husband,
the best wife, the best parent, the best child, the best friend. All
these natural relationships are capable of being ennobled by the holy,
sanctifying influences of true religion. God Himself often appeals to
them as types of the relations in which He stands to us, and as
explanations of the tenderness of the love He cherishes for us. How
prominent is the position they take in the epistles. The inspired
writers thought none of them beneath their notice. God has given to us
His will in connection with such humble things as domestic service,
slavery, and the like. Neither does the apostle here call upon us to
separate ourselves from the common business of secular life.
Scripture again and again enforces the honest doing of the work of
every day, on which the bread of every day depends. Nor is there here
any prohibition of the enjoyment of the utmost happiness which the
sinless pleasures of our outward life can afford. The Christian is
peculiarly fitted for such enjoyment, because he can receive it with a
devoutly thankful heart, and in a spirit which will keep it from being
harmful.

This term, "the world," means _the age_, or the temporal conditions
now existing, considered from a moral and spiritual point of view.
"The world," therefore, to which we are not to be "conformed" is the
order and course of life followed by those to whom the present is all
and eternity nothing. The Christian is to regard life from another, a
higher--namely, a spiritual and eternal--point of view, and to live
accordingly. It is the _wrong spirit_ of life that the apostle calls
us away from--the life which is governed by "worldly" impulses and
motives. His injunction is like unto that of another apostle: "Love
not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man
love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is
in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the
pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the
world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will
of God abideth for ever." "The lust of the flesh"--carnality--the
lowest of all the forms of self-gratification--that which makes the
drunkard, the profligate, the debauchee. "The lust of the eyes"--the
disposition to attach ourselves to what is external, showy, dazzling.
"The pride of life"--the tendency to glory in anything which ministers
to our self-importance in our worldly position--wealth, rank, station.
All these things are passing away, and are therefore unworthy of the
supreme place in our hearts. Enjoyments springing out of them, hopes
founded upon them, must perish. Only he that "doeth the will of
God"--living above the love of the world, by living to God and in the
supreme love of Him--"abideth for ever" in the higher and happier
order of being.

There is a proper "use" of the world, which is easily distinguished
from its "abuse." The worldly spirit of an unchristian man says, "Let
us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." The ascetic spirit in a
Christian man says, "All contact with the world is dangerous: we must
have nothing to do with it. Touch not, taste not, handle not." The
true spirit of Christianity says, "Use the world, but do not abuse
it." The Christian's inheritance is inclusive of "all things." All may
be made to minister to his spiritual growth, and to become the means
of blessing on his part to others. Avail yourself of all, then, but
within the limits proper to each; never allowing any, by over
indulgence, to check the development of the inner life. Use the world,
but do not let the world use you. "I pray not that Thou shouldest take
them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest _keep them from the
evil_."

In looking, then, at the idea of nonconformity to the world, it was in
the apostle's mind, we are impressed by one or two reflections.

1. The apostle takes a wide, free, and exalted view of his subject. He
is in marked dissent from the spirit of Pharisaism, whether among the
Jews, or in the Christian Church. His plan is different from the
ordinary rules and restraints which men put upon themselves, and which
attach (sometimes arbitrarily enough) merely to certain habits and
forms of life which are of no moment. Paul's "world" does not mean
certain conditions of society, certain amusements, or certain
occupations, conventionally marked off from all the rest as being
specially wrong. It is not a mere cleaning of the outside of the
platter. He goes deeply into the heart of things. What he teaches is
this: "Ye are God's redeemed, disciples of Christ, heirs of glory."
Live under the inspiration of all this--all will then follow that
ought to follow. You are no longer under law, which says, "Touch not,
taste not, handle not--stand entirely aloof;" but under grace, with
love to God as your motive, and the Spirit of Christ as your guide. He
could say, "I am not of the world;" and yet He was no prophet of the
wilderness, but a Brother and Sympathiser everywhere. The first great
social act of His public ministry was to associate Himself with the
joy of life. With its sorrow also He was equally at home. He lived His
Divine life in every scene--in His childhood under the roof of His
parents, in the toil for bread, in public, in private, in the temple,
in the family at Bethany. There is no allowable scene in which we
move, and with which we mingle, from which His sanctifying presence is
withheld. We have no need to be afraid to go where He has been before
us, if only we go in His spirit. "They are not of the world, even as I
am not of the world."

2. This law lays no hard bondage on life. Not on its duties; for
Christianity raises them all into consecration;--not on its
affections; for Christianity purifies them all;--nor on its lawful
enjoyments; for Christianity forbids nothing but sin. Worldliness is
determined by the _spirit_ of our life, not by the objects with which
we have to do. It is only "the _lust_ of the flesh, the _lust_ of the
eye, and the _pride_ of life" that are prohibited. It is not a worldly
object that makes us worldly, but the worldly spirit with which we
regard it.

3. It is easy to see that this principle of nonconformity to the world
is in constant requisition. There is abundant scope for it. The
opinions of men and the known will of God are often in competition; it
ought never to be a matter of doubt as to which we prefer. We are
often exposed to allurement into scenes which are notoriously
unfavourable to the development of the spiritual life; there ought not
to be even a momentary uncertainty as to our willingness to resist the
allurement--not merely for our own sake, but for the sake of Him whose
"mercies" we enjoy, whose we are, and whom we profess to serve. There
should never be any room for the question as to whether we are on the
side of right or wrong, holiness or sin, spirituality or carnality,
conscience or convenience, charity or harshness, faith or unbelief.

Thus we see that, whilst in one aspect of it Christianity is broad, in
another it is narrow. "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that
leadeth unto life." These are the words of the Divine Author of our
faith. This is the chief ground of dislike which men of the world have
to the practical claims of the gospel. Say with Paul that everything
we do must be done to the glory of God; say with Christ that sin is in
our secret thoughts as well as in our acts, and then the complaint of
"strictness" is instantly heard. Yet is it not evident that an inward
holiness is the only thing that can be taught, and that without inward
holiness there is no real holiness at all? The truth is that men
secretly want concessions to be made in favour of their favourite
sins--one for his ambition, another for his unlawful or questionable
attachments, another for his covetousness, another for his liberty to
be dishonest in trade or insincere in society, another--where shall we
stop? Concessions? Men may make concessions in these directions in the
name of Christianity; but Christianity itself disowns them. "What
fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what
communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with
Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what
agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of
the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in
them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore
come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the
unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you,
and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."

"Be not conformed to this world." So obviously true are the remarks
which have been made, that one reflection might well excite a
momentary surprise. It might be said, "Is not unworldliness of the
very essence of the new life? And if it be, why recommend that which
must follow in the due course of things?" It is true that
unworldliness _is_ of the essence of the new life; but we have to
remember that we receive that life, not perfectly developed, but in
its germ; and that the process of its growth is impeded by what
remains of the old life which it is destined gradually, and by-and-by
completely, to replace. This is the phenomenon which Paul describes
when he speaks of the conflict between the "old" man and the "new."
Our will is called upon at every point to decide between the impulses
of our new condition and the habits of the old.

In conclusion, how is this nonconformity to the world, in the spirit
of a grateful consecration to God, to be attained? "Be ye transformed
by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and
acceptable, and perfect will of God." This is the great
desideratum--the great necessity. The primary change must take place
in the mind--not in its nature, but in the kind and order of its
_life_. It must be "renewed" in its bias, in its inclinations, in its
aspirations, so that it may be able to understand and appreciate the
Divine will, and to address itself to the order of service which the
Father of mercies shall accept.

It may be said, "What do we know of the spiritual world? And how can
we be conformed to a world of which we know nothing?" The answer is,
that our very Christianity supposes the change which sets this
objection aside. Our love to this present world can only be subdued by
its being superseded _by_ another, or subordinated _to_ another. Our
love to Christ is the great secret of our attachment to heaven and to
heavenly things. Given a soul under the influence of love to God, and
loyalty to God must follow.

In order to this, however, there must be self-knowledge. We must see
our "differences." There must be the study of the character of Christ.
There must also be earnest prayer for, and trust in, the help of the
Holy Spirit. The work before us is more than an occasional outburst of
religious sentiment; more than spasmodic, self-denying charity under
the influence of suddenly awakened emotion; more than scrupulosity
about small matters of pleasure or pursuit. _It is a life_; and as
such it has spontaneity, freedom, and blessedness. In many an instance
it attains wonderful maturity on earth; it is perfected in heaven.

Is this life ours? Oh, accept the one and only Saviour--exclusive in
His claims, yet offering His mercy to all. You are conscious of sin,
and this makes you feel (if you reflect) your need of salvation. Take
it from Him. All He asks is that you should turn from the sin that
made Him bleed, and trust the love which for you was stronger than
death. Strait as is the gate through which you must enter into "life,"
that life is in itself one of holy freedom and holy joy. The "gate"
opens into broad fields of exhaustless treasure. Whoever may
represent the Christian life as monotonous and poor, we say it is not
so. It is quietness of heart, loftiness of feeling, sweet submission,
trust, loyalty to the highest, aspiration after the best, the
abnegation of self in blessing others and in glorifying the God and
Father of all; such is the life to which the Christian is called. We
challenge the world to produce a single case of a Christian regretting
his consecration, or confessing that he made a sorry exchange, when he
left the world's delusive hopes for pardon, peace, the Father's smile,
the way of holiness, and the assurance of heaven. The wholly
consecrated Christian is the wholly happy one.

    Fling wide the portals of your heart;
    Make it a temple set apart
    From earthly use, for heaven's employ,
    Adorn'd with prayer and love and joy:
    So shall your sovereign enter in,
    And new and nobler life begin.

    Redeemer, come! I open wide
    My heart to Thee; here, Lord, abide!
    Let me Thine inner presence feel,
    Thy grace and love in me reveal;
    Thy Holy Spirit guide me on,
    Until the glorious crown be won!



VIII.

_CHRISTIANITY IN OUR DAILY LIFE._

"Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord
Jesus."--Colossians iii. 17.


One of the most striking characteristics of the Christian religion is
what I may term its _universality_. I mean that its obligations and
privileges cover the whole ground of human life--present and to come.
This fact, which is abundantly illustrated and enforced in the New
Testament, is also clearly hinted at in the Old. It seems to have been
present to the Psalmist's mind in the parallel he draws in the
nineteenth Psalm between the sun, whose going forth is from the end of
heaven, whose circuit is unto the ends of it, and from whose heat
nothing is hid; and "the law of the Lord" which, in its perfectness,
comes into satisfying contact with all human need. It converts the
soul, turning it towards itself, the source of light. It makes wise
the simple, who unreservedly yield to its influence. It rejoices the
heart, anxious to be right, as it is itself perfect. It enlightens the
eyes with a purity of truth which has no admixture of error. It
cleanses from secret faults. It keeps back the servant of the Lord
from presumptuous sins.

This universality gives to Christianity its grand ideal character. It
teaches that, morally considered, sin is the condition of _all men_;
that condemnation is the result of sin to _all men_; and that the love
of the Father, the sacrifice of the Son, and the regenerating and
sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit have direct bearings on the
spiritual wants of _all men_. Christianity meets an absolute ruin by
an absolute restoration; so that, as there is nothing in man and in
his relations to the universe which sin has not defiled and degraded,
so there is nothing in man and in his relations to the universe which
Christianity is not designed and destined to uplift and to purify.

This element of universality comes out very strikingly in the chapter
before us. The apostle is describing the spiritual life. In its
essence, it is an abandonment of the "old"--"putting off the old man,"
as a dress thrown completely aside; and an adoption of the
new--"putting on the new man"--the prodigal's rags exchanged for the
best robe. In its range, it is universal--_within_, setting the
affections on heavenly things; _without_, renouncing the deeds of the
life of sin, and manifesting the virtues of the life of holiness. It
is universal also in its application--involving personal purity, and
giving its own tone and spirit to all the relationships, to all the
worship, and to all the work, of life. The whole is summed up in the
remarkable words of the text: "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed,
do _all_ in the name of the Lord Jesus." We are the subjects of a
Providence and a Grace inclusive of every moment and every incident.
God, on His part, demands of us a consecration that shall leave
nothing (however unimportant, relatively considered) unhallowed--not a
single affection, no domestic or social relationship, nothing in
speech, nothing in conduct. It is the same truth that the same apostle
elsewhere expresses: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or
whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

I want to offer to your attention at this time a single application of
this principle--its application to the common, secular work of life.

At first sight, it seems strange that by far the greater part of human
life should be appointed by God to be spent in worldly toil. This
strangeness is augmented in proportion as our aim is towards a life
distinctively and completely Christian. Considering the supreme
importance of the spiritual and the eternal; considering, too, the
uncertain duration of our life, notwithstanding the fact that it
involves the immeasurable interests of eternity; and considering,
still further, the manifold obstacles in the way of a man's
salvation--we might have supposed that God's providential arrangements
would have secured to us far more freedom from worldly labour and care
than we enjoy. It would not have been surprising if He had said to us:
"Retire much; rest much--that you may have much time for thought and
prayer." But it is not so. Six days for work; one day for rest and
worship! Certain exceptions apart, toil is, for most men, the hard and
unremitting condition of life; often indeed--especially in our cities,
and in "hard times" like the present--toil that demands the straining
of every nerve, the putting forth to the utmost of every energy, and
the employment of every moment. The best of us come to our Sabbaths
like wrestlers who sit and rest for a while between the conflict past
and the conflict to come. This is the experience of most of us:
business men who have to fight in the great competitions of trade;
working men to strive for a sufficiency of bread and raiment for
themselves and their families; fathers and mothers, masters and
servants who have to meet the manifold duties and worries of domestic
life. We come to our Sabbath-rest, probably with the feeling that, on
the whole, during the week, we have _lost_ rather than _gained_ in
relation to our spiritual interests. Are we right in the feeling? Must
our daily work be a hindrance to us? Is it impossible for us so to
engage in it as to find it spiritually helpful? The text before us
settles the point. It presents to us an obligation that is inclusive
of every word and deed, and which must consequently include the common
toil of every day. It is an apostolic injunction, and the injunction
presupposes its own practicability. "Whatsoever ye do in word or deed,
do all _in the name of the Lord Jesus_."

That secular work is not _necessarily_ spiritually helpful we know too
well. Idleness is always disastrous; but there is much worldly work
which is more disastrous still. Tens of thousands pursue it daily in
utter godlessness, and train themselves by it to intense selfishness
and materialism. They "mind earthly things," and "glory in their
shame." Even many professing Christians manifest an alarming craving
for mere worldly enjoyment; and their luxuries tax them a hundred-fold
more than their benevolence. But it need not be so. Secular work _can_
be made the means of spiritual education, and the sphere for the
development of piety.

The first great requisite is conversion. No obligation, indeed, rests
upon Christians which does not rest upon all men, whether they be
Christians or not. A perfect Christian is simply _man as he ought to
be_. But in the unchristian man the disposition is wanting--he lives
to himself. The Christian, on the contrary, has entered into a new
life. By the Holy Spirit's grace, he has repented of sin; he is
forgiven, accepted, justified, accepted into Divine sonship; he is
under the influence of new principles--is essentially in a new
world--acknowledges a holy law, which he now loves for its own
sake--is consciously under the eye of a good Master, who is his
Saviour as well as his Lord--and is thus moved by a living impulse of
gratitude to Him who has died for him, and whose he is in life and
death. Out of this there comes the conviction that the one object of
life should be spiritual growth. Commonly men think of life as having
two aims; or rather they try to solve the problem of living two
lives--the one present, the other future; the one worldly, the other
religious; the one affecting the body with its transitory interests,
the other affecting the soul with its eternal interests. Hence the
wide divorce between "the secular" and "the sacred," work and worship,
holy days and common days. The more enlightened Christian knows that
this is a radical mistake. The world, time, matter, the body--all have
their relations and their obligations, their spheres and their claims;
but they do not stand isolated from the spiritual and the unseen.
Separate, they are godless. They are all intended to serve as
instruments of moral discipline--to supply lessons in the school of
life;--all tending, under God, to the great result. Failures they are,
if regarded as _ends_ in themselves; blessed they are in proportion as
they are religiously used as _means_. Apart from the conviction that
this should be our one great aim, it seems impossible to hope that the
spiritual will predominate over the worldly; the six days' secular
toil must be destructive of the day's spiritual culture. The
"prosperous" will degrade life into a mere pursuit of earthly wealth
with its associated advantages, whilst the rest will simply continue
the hard struggle for daily bread--"the bread that perisheth."

The life of millions around us seems, religiously considered, to be
an absolute blank. Mix with them, observe them, and you will be
convinced of this. It is one of the sources of deepest sadness to a
Christian to note the extent to which godlessness prevails in all
ranks of society. Even amongst Christians themselves there are
terrible invasions of the spirit of worldliness. Let _us_ seek, by the
help of God, the convictions by which this evil may be checked. The
soul is greater than the body; eternity is greater than time. The
material and the temporal sink into insignificance in contrast with
the spiritual and the eternal. Let the lower interests serve the
higher.

I have already referred to the universality of the claims which
Christianity makes upon us. Its aim is not to induce us to assume a
certain character merely at certain specified times and in certain
specified places, and to be content with that. On the contrary, its
purpose is to induce us to do everything in one specified spirit,
which shall shape, give sanctity and consecration to, the whole.
Hence, it is never represented as working first on the outward habits
of men, but on their hearts. It does not cleanse the outside of the
cup or platter, leaving corruption within; but it first endeavours to
establish purity within, and to give the purity which is within a
force by which it shall work outwardly. The outward acts of the life
are but the embodiments of the heart and will. Thus, whether we be
scholars, or merchants, or preachers, or mechanics, or servants, we
are to carry a soul, sanctified and governed by Christ, into all our
occupations, even the commonest. Whether we pray or work, whether we
be in the church or the shop, we are to be under the control of the
one Christian spirit.

Undoubtedly, there are some occupations in which it is difficult for
Christians to engage, and some which they ought never to touch. But
apart from these, the work of life is not an evil. There is no need to
retire away from it into solitude as the only suitable sphere for the
development of piety. A wise Christian looks upon it as a mode of
spiritual culture. It depends upon the man himself, upon the guiding
principle of his life, as to whether work shall degrade or raise him.

Consider two or three points in illustration and proof of the truth I
am endeavouring to enforce.

I. Secular work requires and cultivates certain active forces of
character which are also required in the culture of the spiritual
life, such, for example, as _clearness and definiteness of aim_: so
that there shall be no working in the dark, or in ignorance of the
special end to be attained. "This one thing I do." _Perseverance_, so
that the end, once clearly ascertained and decided on, shall be
steadily and unflinchingly pursued, until it is accomplished.
_Prudence and foresight_, so that there shall be a wise adaptation of
means. _Energy_, so that every opportunity and every appliance shall
be used to the utmost. _Courage_, so that no difficulties shall
dismay. All these forces acquire strength in the earthly sphere, which
is a clear gain, and which may be brought to use in the spiritual. We,
as Christians, have an end to pursue which must be clearly
apprehended; we must not run uncertainly, or as one that beateth the
air; we must persevere, running with patience the race that is set
before us; our zeal must not be without knowledge; what our hands find
to do we must do with our might; and we must be in nothing terrified
by our adversaries. So far from being hindered in all this by the
discipline of our common life, experience proves that indolence in
secular business has a paralysing effect on spiritual exertion. In
spiritual exertion man uses the same power as in secular, only the
field of operation is different. But inasmuch as the same powers are
wanted for both, the one may be a true auxiliary to the other.

II. The same line of remark will apply to the _passive_ forces of
character. They are wanted equally in the secular and the spiritual,
and their cultivation in the one prepares them for use in the other.
For example: _Submission._ Many a position in life is irksome and
uncongenial; but nevertheless it should be accepted as God's
providential arrangement on our behalf. "It is not in man that walketh
to direct his steps."--_Patience._ Many a result has to be long worked
for and long waited for, often with many disappointments and
reverses.--_Contentment._ The worry of life, not its work, is that
which burdens and kills. Looking on our position as one which God has
appointed, we take it calmly as that which is best for us.--_Trust._
We have simply to rely on God for everything, remembering that our
powers, opportunities, and results are all under His wise and loving
control. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," and sufficient
also is the grace to bear it. Our hearts are wearied and worn only as
we insist on carrying heavier burdens than God assigns to us. How
clear it is that all these passive forces are needed in our secular
work, if it is to be done well! But it is equally clear that they are
needed just as much in our spiritual life. In it their growth is an
essential element; and they have their bearing specially on Christian
work--work done for the spread of religion in the world.

III. Secular work offers important opportunities for spiritual
usefulness. Our most effective preaching is often that of our
unconscious influence. And let us remember that no amount of formal
sanctity can prevail against the inconsistencies of our common days.
Moreover, our daily, secular duties bring us into contact with men in
ways which are least open to suspicion. Add to this, that they put
into our hands, in a greater or lesser degree, resources by which we
can materially help the cause of Christ, and so become, in heart, in
interest, in devotedness, more and more closely identified with that
cause. We can "honour the Lord with our substance, and with the
first-fruits of all our increase," and so find that "it is more
blessed to give than to receive."

The practical problem that God gives to every one of us to solve, is
to get perfected in our hearts the feeling that we are doing His will
in the common details of our ordinary vocation as well as in acts
more ostensibly "religious." The conclusion is irresistible; the thing
may be done--but how? It cannot be done without habitual
self-examination; it cannot be done without prayer; it cannot be done
without reliance on the help of the Holy Spirit.

Let us be thankful to God for putting within our reach the high honour
of glorifying Him, for introducing us to a life so pure in its
springs, for His kindly help in every step of its progress, and for
the hope that it will one day reach its happy consummation.



IX.

_UNCONSCIOUS INFLUENCE._

"I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall
give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt
be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."--Matthew xii.
36, 37.


This is a startling, terrifying text; one of many which tempt men to
limitations and compromises of their meaning. Some persons would not
hesitate to accuse it of extravagance, and even devout Christians
sometimes pause and ask whether it is to be taken in its absolute
literalness. "Every idle word." Is not this the kind of thing which is
least amenable to a vigorous judgment? Is not the "idle," the vain,
the worthless, at the worst, thereby negative? Christ says, No. Speech
is a gift to be put to sanctified uses; and the non-use as well as the
abuse of every gift is sinful. This utterance of our Divine Master, to
be vindicated, needs only to be understood. Underlying it are vital
moral considerations which should be devoutly studied.

There are many ways in which a man can manifest himself. By his
thought, he is always known to God and to his own heart, but not to
his fellow men. To reveal himself to them, his thought must somehow
find expression. His actions are mostly intentional and deliberate;
but they are liable to be prompted, inspired, checked, or controlled
by circumstances. So, too, may be his speech; but there is a
spontaneousness, a freedom, in _that_, which belongs to no other
manifestation of the man's inward self. Thus it is by his words that
he is best judged. The largest part of our practical life is
resolvable into speech.

Christianity itself is amenable to this law. Think of the streams of
holy speech which have been flowing through the world for ages, and of
the life they have conveyed to thirsty souls. Think of these streams
as they are flowing to-day in tens of thousands of Christian
congregations, and in innumerable Sabbath schools. Compare their
influence with that of the dark utterances of heathenism, and the
disturbing teachings of unbelief. Think of the countless rills of
Christian speech which are flowing to-day from the lips of those who
love the Saviour, and who are endeavouring to make Him known in the
home, in the sick-chamber, in the prison-house, and in their various
intercourse with those around them. Compare their influence with that
of the idle, thoughtless, impious, profane talk of the millions who
are living without God; and then say whether Christianity may or may
not be judged by its words! Lord Jesus, Thou needest no justification
from such imperfect creatures as we are; but if Thou didst, it would
be enough for us to recall the gracious words that proceeded out of
thine own mouth, and then to challenge the wisdom of the ages, saying,
"Never man spake like this man!"

The general drift of the passage before us is this, that man speaks as
he is, and is as he speaks, and that, therefore, by his words he shall
be judged. His words are signs which reveal his character. Whilst, at
the last, he will be judged by his character, single words and
unnoticed deeds will, if need be, be adduced as proofs of inner and
underlying principles. Of course it is not meant that words will be
the only tests; but our Lord's language shows that they form a far
more important element of proof than is commonly supposed. In this
light, no manifestation of character is insignificant. Everything
tells. Words, looks, even gestures, have their meaning. Often to men's
eyes, and always to God's (though He does not need them) they are as
straws on the stream, showing the course of the current.

These general reflections supply the basis of the further reflections
I have to offer. My purpose is twofold: first, to show that, for good
or ill, the life of every one of us is an incessant exercise of
influence; and secondly, to deduce from this fact some important
lessons.

I. Now, generally, when men speak of exerting influence, the thought
present to their minds is of something exceptional, attractive,
commanding, or formal. Thus, such a phrase as "a person of influence"
is understood to denote a man who stands in a position of special
advantage, either (for instance) of wealth, or of mental power, or of
social importance. Hence the notion of influence is narrowed, and
ultimately it becomes false. It does so in two ways: partly by
restricting influence to a few, and then by confining it among these
few to certain peculiarities of character or of circumstance. The
truth is that influence is always going forth from every man, and from
everything _in_ man.

There are two ways in which men act upon one another. They do so
either directly, deliberately, and intentionally, or, otherwise,
indirectly and unconsciously. Thus, if I want to make men around me
generous, I may write, preach, speak, use arguments, multiply
incentives, enforce appeals. In all this I am conscious that I have a
purpose to accomplish, and in everything I say I keep that purpose in
view. If I succeed, I do so through the intentional influence I have
put into operation. I have tried to realise a definite result, and I
have not been disappointed. But I can teach generosity in another way.
Obedient to the impulses of my own heart, I may relieve the need of
some poor blind beggar on the road, who implores the passer-by to help
him. This act may be noticed by a third person whom I did not know to
be near, and it may so impress him as to open his heart and his hand
to do the kindness he had not thought of doing. Now I had no such
design with respect to _him_; for the time, I had nothing in view
beyond meeting an appeal for help which came personally to myself. I
was unconscious of the influence I exerted upon the person who
followed my example, and yet I did for him as much as if I had set
myself to develop an argument or to enforce a claim.

Now, if at this point the question be asked: "Are we responsible for
this undesigned influence?" the answer is that we certainly _are_ so,
inasmuch as it springs from, and manifests, character. We must not be
misled by the fact that this quiet, unconscious action is not that of
which the world takes much notice. Men do not speak of it, as they do
of the striking and commanding agencies which form so large a portion
of the history of the day. Some of these are powerful on a wide scale,
as in the case of a popular preacher, or a great philanthropist. But
the influence of which we are speaking is exerted within narrower
circles. It acts, not upon the masses by wide-spread impressions, but
upon individuals by single strokes; not upon the broad platform of
public enterprise, but within the more contracted sphere of personal
life. The supposition that it is feeble on that account is a grave
mistake. Our personal relationships are more numerous and more
continuous than our public avocations, and it is in the former rather
than in the latter that we are most effectually training our fellow
creatures for good or evil. Sometimes, too, this quiet influence is
brought to light with important results, as when John Bright was
discovered reading the Scriptures in the cottage of a poor blind
woman. No public act of his--splendid as all his public acts
are--could furnish a truer indication of character than this simple
and, to most people's eyes, this unimportant incident in his history.

That the value of direct influence in promoting the well-being of
mankind is incalculable there can be no doubt. All our great
undertakings--social, political, and religious--are of this kind. The
progress which the world has made in every right direction is greatly
due to the combined efforts put forth by societies or bodies of men
who have had truth to propagate, or blessing to diffuse, and who have
steadily directed their energies to the end in view. Associations for
Political Reform, Temperance Societies, British Schools, Ragged
Schools, Sunday Schools, Tract Societies, Missionary Agencies,
Mothers' Meetings, Church, Chapel, out-door, and theatre services, are
all of this sort; and the harvest of good reaped from them only God
knows, at whose inspiration and in whose name all good is done.
Statistics tell us much, but far more remains untold. All this
well-directed action is in accordance with the Divine order. God wills
that we should use judiciously and zealously applied effort for each
other's welfare, especially in connection with the spread of His
truth. Every Christian agency is a form of obedience to the great
command: "Preach the gospel to every creature." Such action, moreover,
is in accordance with our convictions. We _must_ labour, formally and
intentionally, on behalf of any and every cause which lies near to our
hearts. Imagine all these direct agencies to be suddenly and
completely withdrawn--what would then become of our poor world? Would
it not speedily lapse into a mournful, moral waste--a training-school
for present and everlasting perdition? Multiplied and energetically
worked as these agencies are, the condition of the world is bad
enough. The appalling needs of the world demand heroic effort; and, as
I have said, the amount of good already wrought by this is beyond
calculation.

Nevertheless, the other kind of influence--the indirect and
unconscious--is invested also with an importance which is
incalculable; and it will be a blessed time both for the Church and
for the world when this truth comes to be practically remembered as it
should be. Let us consider this matter a little further, bearing in
mind, as we do so, that the application of the subject must be to the
Christian conscience of us all.

I. Notice some differences between the two kinds of influence which
have been named.

1. We have already said the influence which we consciously exert is
the result of forethought, and deliberately contemplates an end, the
attainment of which is steadily kept in view; whilst our unconscious
influence is spontaneous, and has no premeditation or calculation
about it. We need only add here, that the action of this unconscious
influence is very immediate; a fact which is explained by the
mysterious insight which enables men to look into, and to understand,
one another. We form judgments of men every day without data that we
can adduce. These judgments are instinctive, and they are more
frequently right than wrong. How is it that we conceive a sudden
repugnance to one, and at first sight fall in love with another? The
impression made needed only a word, a tone, a look, a gesture, a
smile, a tear; on so slender a basis a judgment was formed which will
last a life-time, or which years will be required to modify.

2. Our unconscious influence is a perpetual emanation from ourselves.
Direct effort need not truly express us at all. It may be imposed upon
us by circumstances which we cannot control. Often we should avoid it
if we could. Moreover, when it is voluntary and unconstrained, it is a
thing of times, seasons, places, and conditions in life, and is
therefore more or less fitful, partial, and intermittent. The other
kind of influence acts continuously--without pauses, without breaks,
without paroxysms. It is thus that every man--high or low--in spheres
extended or narrow, without intention, forethought or consciousness of
the fact, is always leading some one more or less closely after him:
it may be wife, friend, little child, or stranger; but some one most
surely.

3. This unconscious influence is necessarily simple. It makes its
appeal to all kinds of human judgment, and to all degrees of human
insight. It is quickly apprehended, by the ignorant and the young as
well as by the learned and mature. Many of our direct and most
definitely-arranged efforts are misunderstood. They tax people's
thought; they demand reflection; and they frequently excite
differences of opinion. How many instances there are in which the most
cogent and strongly-urged arguments are lost, while the quiet and
undesigned force of example succeeds.

4. Our unconscious influence is the more powerful because it excites
no suspicion. It is intuitively felt to represent our inner self in
the direction, and within the range, of its present meaning. Many of
our direct efforts put men upon their guard. If they are hostile to
our intentions, they resist our formal endeavours; if they are
indifferent, they become impatient of our zeal. But direct efforts,
moreover, are often thought to be mainly _professional_, and this
impression concerning them places them at a disadvantage. On the other
hand, our unconscious influence wins men unconsciously to
themselves--wins them when they are off their guard--and thus wins
them in spite of themselves.

II. How, then, does this fact of our unconscious influence touch the
question of our responsibility? In what sense, and on what grounds,
are we accountable for it?

1. It is conditioned by our character. It reproduces outwardly what we
are within. If our character, or, as the Divine Master terms it, our
"heart" be good, then our unconscious influence must be good likewise;
if our character--our "heart"--be evil, our unconscious influence must
also be evil. As we are responsible for the motives which actuate us,
so are we responsible for every form of conduct that proceeds
therefrom. It must, of course, be admitted that even in a
fundamentally holy character there are ever and anon exceptional
mistakes, inconsistencies, and flaws. How many of these, He only knows
who forgives all. But we are speaking of great moral tendencies; and
concerning these we are in no doubt. They reveal _character_, and they
share the responsibility, in regard to their influence, which belongs
to character.

2. It is by this unconscious influence that we act most on those who
are nearest to us. Children, members of our families, fellow-workmen,
and acquaintances--all these are much more affected by the general
tenour of our conduct, and the so-thought trivial indications of our
character, than by our more formal efforts. Alas, it often happens
that these latter are made ineffectual by the operation of the former.
A practical inconsistency in a parent's life at home will drive away
from the mind and conscience of a child the force of the best and most
frequently repeated precept. Even when direct and well-meant effort is
put forth, it is often comparatively powerless apart from the help it
derives from the unconscious influence that accompanies it. A smile, a
look, a sigh, a tear, will often put life into an argument which may
be sound enough in itself, but which, without such an auxiliary,
would be dry, uninteresting, and therefore ineffective. Is all this
influence outside the range of our responsibility?

3. Our indirect influence is our _truest_. It best represents _us_. In
formal effort, there is room for a more or less transient enthusiasm,
love of excitement, love of applause, self-seeking, hypocrisy. But our
unconscious influence belongs to us at all times--follows us, and is
as true to us as the shadow follows, and is true to, the substance. We
cannot escape from it. It proceeds from us spontaneously, without our
volition; and it mirrors externally what we are radically and in the
recesses of our real being. If we be responsible for what we really
are, we must be responsible for the influence we thus spontaneously
and inevitably exert.

4. Another ground of this responsibility is that, on reflection, we
know that it is by these unconscious exhibitions of character that the
world is constantly judging us. Often the judgment of the world is
harsh, and commonly uncharitable; but it is shrewd, and generally
there is a rough justice about it which marks its worth.

These considerations, and many more that might be adduced, show how
solemn is our responsibility with respect to the impressions we are
constantly and unconsciously producing on those around us. As in
nature, so in human life, the most unobtrusive and silent forces are
the strongest. The nightly dew effects more good than the occasional
storm-shower, and light works more wonders than lightning.

III. From all this we learn some weighty lessons. It teaches us--

1. The importance of each act in our life. The text before us is no
exaggeration. Everything tells, because there is character in
everything, and consequently _power_ for good or ill. It is impossible
for any one of us to be in the world without responsibility. There is
no escape for us. Simply to be _in_ the world, whatever we may be, is
to exert an influence, subtle, quiet, powerful--an influence compared
with which argument and expostulation and entreaty are feeble. We say
we mean well; we think that at least we are injuring nobody and doing
no harm; _but is it so?_ It cannot be so, unless our influence be
always on the side of God and of goodness. By looks, glances,
unpremeditated words and deeds, we are perpetually exerting an
influence which may turn the scale of some man's eternal destiny!

2. The necessity of conversion. If our unconscious influence is to be
of a wholesome kind, we must undergo a radical moral change, out of
which will proceed an all-pervading sanctification. Blessed be God for
the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Up to this point, the consideration
of our subject may have prompted some to ask: "Are we, then, to be
anxiously, feverishly, incessantly watching ourselves in order that we
may make no mistakes, and do no evil? Such vigilance--would it not
take all our time, and absorb all our strength? Such a life--would it
not be a terrible bondage? Is it necessary?" We reply, "Yes, and no."
That is to say, there will always be the necessity for watchfulness
and prayer; but the true secret of _doing_ good lies in _being_ good.
The path of the just is as a shining light; he shines because he is
luminous. The tree is known by its fruit; not by the fruit which is
tacked on, as in the case of a Christmas tree, but by the fruit which
is the produce of the tree's own interior life. "Out of the abundance
of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the treasure of the
heart bringeth forth good things, and an evil treasure bringeth forth
evil things." Before a man can impart the higher order of blessing to
his fellow men, he himself must receive the blessing of a new nature
from God.

The question is often asked why the triumphs of Christianity are not
more marked in the world, and why spiritual growth is not more marked
in the Church. The answer is found partly, no doubt, in the
imperfections of the direct efforts which are put forth with these
ends in view; but not in these alone. No small portion of it is to be
traced to the deleterious elements which mingle with the undesigned
influences which emanate from many of the professors of Christ's
religion. When Moses was on the Mount with God, his face became
luminous. Was he conscious of its shining? Not until the people were
"afraid to come nigh him." Then he had to cover his face with a vail!
How few are "luminous" enough to need "vailing" now!



X.

_SECULAR ANXIETY._

"Take no thought for your life."--Matthew vi. 25.

"Take no thought for the morrow."--Matthew vi. 31.


Let us survey the entire passage of which the first of these texts is
the commencement, and of which the second is the close. It brings
before us a common evil, and for this evil it proposes a sovereign
remedy.

The evil is _secular anxiety_. Perhaps we need not be greatly
surprised at its prevalence, when we consider what the life-experience
of most of us is. Think of the uncertainty of almost everything we
know--life, health, friendship, domestic relationships and affections,
riches, commerce. Life has many sad surprises and disappointments. Our
own day is especially full of care. The age is mad with
speculation--thousands making haste to be rich, and so bringing upon
themselves many temptations. For many others, the time is full of
hard necessities, and the outlook is one of possible or even probable
poverty. The admonitions given by our Lord in the verses before us are
needed now more than ever.

There are persons who, under the influence of pride and false notions
of manliness, consider careworn Christians--Christians labouring and
struggling amid the difficulties of the way--undeserving of sympathy.
"After all," they say, "what are the ills of life, that we should make
so much ado? Be men!" Sometimes we meet with superficial Christians
who profess that this life is really so insignificant, that it shows a
low state of piety to be painfully affected by common ills. As to the
first, nothing but stoicism, or the hard-heartedness which is
sometimes the result of prosperity, can make the soul unsusceptible to
the ordinary troubles of life, or independent of the antidote which
the religion of Christ supplies. As to the second, do not let them
talk in a way which implies that they are wiser than their Lord. He
knew how heavily care pressed upon the hearts He loved, and
condescended to offer them the appropriate and all-sufficient relief.

And how does the great Teacher speak to the careworn in these verses?
Is it not unspiritual to take arguments for the comfort of our
Christian life from lower things? Must we go to the irrational and
inanimate creation for gospels of blessing for our spiritual need?
Christ drew His arguments from the birds and the flowers; clearly
showing that we should accustom ourselves to see God's hand, His love,
His teaching, in all things. Let Him not be excluded from the least
part of His creation. Every part of it may subserve the purposes of
His grace. "_Consider_" the fowls of the air and the flowers of the
fields; make them objects of study. To the thoughtful they often
suggest "thoughts that lie too deep for tears;" to the Christian they
may well suggest thoughts which shall inspire thanksgiving and prayer.

Note the condescension, the simplicity, and the power of our Lord's
argument. His appeals are homely. He seeks no far-fetched reasonings
or facts from antiquity. He points to birds and flowers; an argument
for simple people, but equally effective for the learned and the
refined. We have no need to go far for lessons of comfort.

We must not overlook the necessary limitations of our Lord's teaching
in these verses. Those limitations are found in the nature of things.
Observe, then,

I. Christ does not forbid all anticipations of the future. He cannot
mean so much as this when He says, "Take no thought for the morrow."
Man is an inhabitant of two worlds--one material, the other spiritual.
This being so, two distinct sets or classes of wants press upon
him--the wants of the body, and those of the soul. The wants of the
soul point to a future state of existence, for which we must prepare.
In relation to these, carelessness--the absence of forethought--would
be fatal. According to the state of our souls, the thought of the
future gives us terror or joy. To the Christian, the future is the
scene of his perfected spiritual growth, and of his consummated
happiness. Every aspiration of his soul bounds joyfully towards it,
and he instinctively leaves the things that are behind to press
forward. In the words before us, Christ does not touch such matters as
these. It is not fore-_thought_ which is condemned, but fore-_boding_.

II. Nor does He discountenance earnest activity in the duties of the
present. Work is God's oldest law. It is only in wilful blindness or
in unaccountable delusion that men can plead this teaching as an
excuse for indolence. "If any man will not work, neither shall he
eat." Work is often spoken of as a curse; but it is a blessing. With
a Christian spirit, it may be gloriously consecrated. It links us in
our activity with God who "worketh hitherto," and with Christ who
worked His full day.

III. Christ does not even condemn a legitimate forethought in
connection with secular interests. There _is_ a legitimate forethought
such as this. Nature teaches it. We must sow in order to reap. We must
toil to-day for results which cannot come till to-morrow. "If any
provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he
hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever." The faith to
live by is that which prompts not to sitting down and doing nothing,
but to trustful and persevering enterprise. Keep in mind the
distinction between forethought and foreboding. It is forethought in a
man which leads him to sow for a future harvest; it is foreboding that
would fill his heart with fears that the harvest will be a bad one.
Forethought is the grand distinction between the civilized and the
savage; foreboding is the weakness of distrust.

What the Lord bids us guard against, then, is conjectural brooding
over the possible necessities of the future, and our possible lack of
the resources required for their supply. "Taking thought" means
giving way to anxiety--the constant occupation and worry of the heart
in looking forward, gazing into, and dreading the possibilities of the
days and years yet to come. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil
thereof." Be warned against forebodings of evil to-morrow. The lesson
is, "Do the day's work as it is appointed by God; accept the day's
mercy, bear the day's evil; and be not anxious about the evil which
to-morrow may bring."

How common a weakness--nay, rather let us say, how common a sin--this
taking anxious thought for the morrow is! We see the lines of care in
thousands of faces every day. Anxiety has marked its furrows round
lips which every morning say, "Give us this day our daily bread." It
is a calamity as well as a sin. It disturbs the heart, so that there
can be no enjoyment of present mercies. It adds to the present the
weight of an unknown but dreaded future. It paralyses religious
feeling, and checks religious activity. It defeats its end by
shortening the life it would fain prolong.

Now Christ shows that this kind of anxiety reckons falsely, because it
is founded on a false estimate of life; and He further shows that to
gauge our position aright we must reckon according to the Divine
thought respecting it. The whole of the teaching before us on this
subject is perfectly plain, consisting of a few simple and obvious
points. We cannot hope, indeed, to bring it within the understanding
of the mere worldling. The man who has no filial confidence in God has
no antidote for care. Anxiety can only be subdued in the heart of him
who can look upward, and say, "Father, I trust in Thee!"

What, then, is the first point? It is this, that God--the Author of
our life, the Creator of our bodies--will surely give that which,
however necessary, is yet less important and less valuable. In
bringing us into existence, He has done more than He can do in giving
to us any secular blessing which we can need. "Is not the life more
than meat, and the body than raiment?" We have our life from Him; our
bodies are His handiwork. Why should we suspect that He will be
indisposed to give us whatever may be needful for the existence thus
created? Will He, by neglect, frustrate His own purpose? The greater
gift can only be sustained and made valid by the lesser ones. Without
food and raiment the body must decay, and its life must perish. God
does not give imperfectly.

Another point is this, that anxious care answers no good purpose. It
is useless. If we could by means of it gain an exemption from future
evil, common prudence would dictate it as a wise expedient. But it is
not so. Christ puts this consideration very strongly. No amount of
foreboding can add a single moment to our life, for the boundaries of
our life have been fixed by God. The future is utterly unknown to us;
and foreboding will not help us in the least degree to forecast its
difficulties and its trials, though it may unfit us for the endurance
of them. Whether we are cognizant of it or not, God will take His plan
with us, and will carry it out. If we could not believe in the love
that He hath towards us, the thought of this would be a dark sorrow;
but, assured of His love as we _may_ be, we can also be assured that
He will do all things well. At any rate, no over-anxiety of ours will
facilitate the order of life we long for. "The morrow shall take
thought for the things of itself." It will have anxieties enough of
its own in spite of every effort of ours to set it free from them.
Every day, to the end, will have its own "evil," and the "evil" of
each day will require all our strength for coping with it. So that
anxiety _for_ the morrow will not remove care _from_ the morrow; it
will only take strength and joy from to-day. Trust in God, and all
that He gives you of trouble for to-day will be accompanied by the
gift of the strength necessary to enable you to bear it. But do not
expect Him to give you strength to bear unnecessary sorrows--sorrows
of your own making--the sorrows which spring from worldliness and
unbelief. "As thy day"--the day that now is--"so thy strength shall
be."

A third point is, that, reasoning from analogy, we may be sure that
God will provide for us. He feeds the birds, and He clothes the
lilies. They can do nothing for themselves; yet how well are they
provided for! "Are not ye much better than they?" A wonderfully
simple, beautiful, and effective argument this! How grand the view it
gives us of God's position in His universe! What knowledge must be
His! What power! What vastness--what variety of resource! What
minuteness of kindly, loving interest! Who would not gladly entertain
such a conception of God and of His Providence as this, in preference
to the atheism and the materialism which have intruded so grievously
into the science of our times? "Behold the fowls of the air: for they
sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your
heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?...
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not,
neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his
glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe
the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into
the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?"
Thus, God is not content with giving what is simply necessary for
life; He gives for _beauty_ also. Showing His goodness in such a
manner to objects inferior to man, why should man suspect that the
same goodness will be denied to _him_? Observe, that Christ does not
teach that birds and flowers are better than men because of their
immunity from toil. His meaning is, that creatures which do not and
cannot toil--creatures which do not and cannot forecast the
future--are clothed and fed; will God neglect the nobler creatures to
whom He has given the power of thought, and whom He has put under the
obligation to labour? Even with these higher powers, man is still as
dependent as any of the inferior creatures around him. Will his needs
be overlooked, while theirs are supplied? Such a question is all the
more pertinent when we remember, that whilst they live for a day, he
was created for eternity, and needs the special gifts which can shape
his present life into a preparation and a discipline.

An additional point is, that unholy anxiety is essentially ungodly,
irreligious, unworthy of the position and the professions of a
Christian man. "Take no thought," no anxious thought, "saying, What
shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be
clothed? _For after all these things do the Gentiles seek._" Anxious
thought, therefore, is the characteristic of heathenism, and must be
excluded from the religion which is true. It is the spirit of the
world, not the spirit which is of God. We see this clearly enough when
we compare the amount of thought and care which we bestow upon our
earthly interests with that which we devote to the interests which are
spiritual and eternal. What anxiety we give ourselves about the future
of our health, the future of our business, the future of our worldly
position, the future of our children's secular education, the future
of their rank in society! Is it not ten times as great as that which
we bestow upon our Christian consistency, our religious usefulness,
our growth in grace? If we could hold the balance steadily, which
would prove to be the preponderating scale? Our Lord puts the case in
an indirect manner, no doubt; nevertheless, it is impossible to avoid
the implied conclusion. That conclusion is this: "If you suffer
yourself to be anxiously absorbed in earthly things, you rank yourself
with 'the Gentiles,' to whom this world is all."--Besides, such
anxiety is ungodly because it is _untrustful_. Heathens, who cannot
blind themselves to the fact that their gods leave them for the most
part, if not entirely, to themselves, may be excused if they feel that
there is room, yea even necessity, for anxious foreboding. But how
different should it be with those who know the one living and true
God, and who can recognize Him as their Father! Surely He may be
trusted as knowing His children, recognizing their needs, loving them,
and tenderly caring for them. Taking anxious thought implies the
weakness, if not the extinction, of faith.--Moreover, its impiety is
seen in the fact that it is a practical subordination of the spiritual
to the secular. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His
righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Let the
most important things have the first attention. Give due scope to the
higher aspirations of the soul, and the lower ones will shrink into
their due proportions, and will take their proper place. God will give
the earthly as it is needed to those who first seek the heavenly, and
the true spirit of religion will make us rich by making us content.

To Christians this teaching, taking it as a whole, covers the entire
ground of their secular life, and much more than that. Look at two or
three samples of the cases to which it applies.

1. To personal secular positions. "What will the future be? Shall I
live to be old? When I am old, shall I be provided for? Will health
and strength be continued to me according to my years?" Leave that! Do
your work _to-day_. For this you may have the needful strength from
God. Do not trouble about anything further. Use prudently the means
which God has put into your hands for providing for the future, and
then commit their safe keeping to Him. If you have no such means,
still trust. There are many promises on which you may implicitly and
calmly rely.

2. "How about my children? Will they grow up to be manful, good,
godly; a seed to serve the Lord, and a generation to call Him
blessed; my comfort, my pride? Or will they take evil ways; prove,
like so many more, vicious, ungodly, and bring down my grey hairs in
sorrow to the grave?" Leave that! Do your duty to your children
to-day. Train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Use a
wise and godly forethought on their behalf. Pray for them. Instruct
them. Set before them a Christian example. You may trust the rest with
God, calmly and thankfully expecting the fulfilment of the words:
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will
not depart from it."

3. "What about my religious future? If I make a Christian profession,
shall I be able to live consistently with it? Shall I have strength to
resist temptation? What if I should fall? Can I so live as not to
dishonour the Church and the cause of Christ?" Leave that! Nurse your
Christian graces to-day. Lay up spiritual strength in reserve. That is
required by a wise forethought. But having done so, leave the rest.
God will take care of it all. You may stedfastly trust that He will
gloriously complete the work which He has graciously begun.

4. "My Christian work--what about that? Shall I be permitted to go on
with it for a few years longer, and thus to have some opportunity of
realizing my ambition as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ? Or shall
I be called away comparatively early? And if so, what will become of
all the plans and projects upon which I have expended so much thought
and prayer and toil?" Leave that! Do your work to-day, and be not
anxious about the rest. When to-day merges into to-morrow let the new
to-day bring its own work with it, to be done in the day. Nothing more
of solicitude than that is needful. You are not indispensable to God;
nor are you essential to the work which by His will you are doing. If
it be worth doing, and you be separated from it, He will find a
suitable successor, or as many successors as the accomplishment of the
work may require.

5. "How about the prosperity of the cause of Christ in the world? Will
it go steadily forward, or will new and fiercer foes rise up against
it?" Leave that! Do all you can for it whilst you are here, and
entrust the rest, as you entrust your own work, to God. Do not hinder
it by wasting time in forebodings which ought to be spent in service.

6. "What of death--my own death? Shall I have grace enough to support
me when the time comes?" Leave that! No doubt you will; but do not be
anxious about it. To-day you are "the living;" be "the living to
praise the Lord," and trust the needs of your dying hour to Him.

The words of Christ recorded in these verses must have startled His
hearers. They taught new truth concerning life, and, beautiful as they
were, the truth they taught was strange. It would have been so strange
as to be without weight, if He had not first taught equally new and
equally beautiful truth concerning God. How does Christ here speak of
God? "Your heavenly Father." The heathen instructors had not taught
that! Pharisees and Sadducees had not taught that! But Christ was now
in the world; He had come forth from the Father, and He could say to
men: "Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things."
Thus the whole teaching of these verses on the subject of Providence
and of Faith becomes plain and demonstrative. The great requirement is
for us to love Him filially as He loves us paternally; and then, from
that point, all is clear. We are dependent, but He will provide. There
are present difficulties, and probably there will be future trials;
but all takes the form of wise and holy discipline under His guiding
and beneficent hand.

How do we arrive at the conviction of the Fatherhood of God? Sin
stands in the way, and conscience craves something more than a mere
authoritative announcement. Sin is the forfeiture of all claim to the
Divine favour. What right have we to expect that His providence will
be to us a providence of love? There is but one answer: to trust a God
of providence, we must believe in a God of grace. Paul puts the whole
philosophy of this in a single sentence: "He that spared not His own
Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also
freely give us all things?" Our present subject, therefore, calls for
the gospel, and cannot be completed without it. "Behold the Lamb of
God that taketh away the sin of the world." "He that hath seen me hath
seen the Father." And, "If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts
unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven
give good things to them that ask Him?" But let us ever remember that
we have higher wants than those of the body. The soul needs food, and
God has supplied "the bread of life"; it needs raiment, and God has
given to us the robe of righteousness wrought by Christ; it needs a
home, and we have "a house not made with hands, eternal in the
heavens." With these provisions, then, shall we forecast the future
with fear, or with hope? Which shall it be?

    O holy trust! O endless sense of rest,
      Like the beloved John,
    To lay my head upon the Saviour's breast,
      And thus to Journey on!



XI.

_CONTENTMENT._

"Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in
whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be
abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am
instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to
suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth
me."--Philippians iv. 11-14.


My purpose is to define and to recommend the Christian virtue of
contentment. I shall endeavour to show that its acquirement is a duty,
and that its possession is a joy; but I shall also have to show that
as a duty it is not practicable, and that as a joy it is not
attainable, except on Christian grounds. I trust that all this will be
made abundantly clear by the following observations.

I. Let us glance at the character of the man whose words are now
before us. There is in the words the ring of a high moral tone which
is irresistibly attractive. Yet the effect they produce upon us must
depend very much upon the kind of man who wrote them, and the
condition or conditions of life through which he had to pass.

We should be pained by such words as these if they came from the lips
of a man whom the world would consider prosperous. When the conditions
of a man's life are easy and comfortable, to make a profession of
contentment would be an abuse both of language and of sentiment. Such
a case is not one for content, but for devout and hearty gratitude
mingled with a sense of humiliation under the thought, which ought to
be present to every such man, that he deserves no more than others,
though God gives him more than many others possess.

We should think sadly of these words if they came from a stoical man.
Contentment is not the listlessness of indifference. It is
self-conscious, and finds in itself its own joy. Indifference is
loss--deterioration. It implies the blunting of sensibility. The heart
that is callous to grief is closed against gladness also.

We should pity the man who uttered these words from mere weakness of
character, devoid of aspiration, enthusiasm, or resolve. In his case,
content would be mere good-for-nothingness. The world is full of
uncomplaining men and women who do not cry, not because they are
content, but because they are spiritless, and consequently because
they are crushed down and hopeless.

There are other circumstances which would disparage contentment. We
will not mention them now; they will be suggested as we proceed.

Now Paul was every way the kind of man to give the noblest meaning to
the words we are considering. His whole constitution, make, rendered
him susceptible of the highest earthly enjoyment. Mentally, morally,
and socially, he was prepared to accept and to appreciate the best
that this world could offer to him. He had great powers of thought,
reflection, imagination, and will. He had great tenderness and
generosity of heart. Proofs abound that his social instincts were full
of life and strength. He was pre-eminently a man to be touched by
kindness or unkindness, by gratitude or ingratitude, by love or
hatred.

And what was his experience? It was not the one-sided experience of a
man who has known only one condition in life. On the contrary, he had
been familiar with almost the highest and the lowest. On the one hand,
he had enjoyed the love, and the tender, fervent gratitude, of many of
his converts; and on the other hand, he could speak of the bad
conduct, the ingratitude, and the vexatious opposition of others. He
had the manifold sorrows of a martyr's life of bonds, imprisonments,
scourgings, and stonings, to which must be added the prospect of a
martyr's death. He was not a man of one kind of experience only, to
which habit had accustomed him. He had known the terrible alternations
of life, and had learned to be content under them all. "I know both
how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all
things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to
abound and to suffer need."

Moreover, Paul was a man of prodigious activity. Contentment is easy
to a sluggish nature, but it must have been a difficult acquirement to
one in whom brain, heart, hands, and all the powers of life were
continually on the move. Couple with this incessancy of action the
loftiness and ardour of his aspirations. He was not only capable of an
intense enthusiasm in any work which he took in hand, but his whole
impulse was an energetic straining forward and upward.

These considerations give something of _marvellousness_ to the
contentment which the apostle here avows for himself; and they suggest
that it must have rested on some underlying conviction--some
established condition of soul which it is desirable for us to discover
and identify.

The language he uses is in the utmost degree significant. There is no
haste about it, nor is there any exaggeration. It is the expression of
the result of a severe and protracted mental and moral training, under
the influence of the Spirit of God. "I have _learned_." The lesson has
been a difficult one, but I have mastered it. "_I_ have learned." The
"I" is emphatic. "Whether others have learned the lesson or not, _I_
have learned it." The apostle does not speak either hesitatingly or
slightingly of his attainment. Thus, when he says, "I know both how to
be abased, and how to abound," he goes on to use a word which means,
literally, "I have been taught the secret," "I have been initiated
into the mysteries"--both of satisfaction and of hunger, both of
plenty and of want. Such language implies that his contentment was one
which had not been easily acquired. He had not passed into it by a
single step only. I do not suppose the process was a very slow one,
but it _was_ a process. The lesson had to be spelt out, word by word,
often syllable by syllable, perhaps sometimes with tearful eyes and a
bleeding heart. And so these words are a record of attainment such as
this world cannot snatch. The man who could so speak of himself was in
possession of the best knowledge. He had graduated and taken honours
in the highest university.

II. The practical importance of this lesson of contentment must be
obvious to all. Two considerations will enable us to see its
importance clearly.

1. Our earthly life is a scene of change. No position is secured to
any of us in this world, nor is it in the power of any of us to remain
always, and safe from molestation, in a coveted state of action, or of
existence, or of enjoyment. Some men never get into a state of
positive happiness, and, in the experience of many, the transitions
from high to low positions are startling, romantic, painful,
mysterious. Events which men call accidents are constantly changing
the aspects of things, and certainly the most marked characteristic of
our life is vicissitude. This is a truth which is known and recognized
by all, and possibly it is one which is felt acutely by not a few who
are here at this time.

2. The changes to which we are exposed are temptations to disquietude
of heart, and consequently to discontent. This is true in a peculiar
sense of those who look only to the present world for satisfaction,
but it is also true to a certain extent of the Christian. And why?
Partly because he is seldom perfectly free from unworldliness of
desire and of hope; partly because he does not always read aright the
meaning of his discipline, and keep in mind the truth that because it
is Divine it must be always wise and good; and partly because he looks
too much to "second causes," not only in disappointment and sorrow,
but also in success and joy, forgetting the hand and the purpose of
God.

So that a Christian who has passed through the numerous and various
vicissitudes of life, and whose faith, like a tree in successive
storms, has gained strength from every blast--whose hopes have
brightened while the clouds of life were lowering, and whose
experience by discipline has become enlightened, rich, and mature--is
one of the noblest, though, alas! one of the rarest, sights in the
world. Such a man was Paul in a pre-eminent degree. Reverses did not
sour him. He had often to contend against the hostile hand of his
fellow man, but persecution did not embitter him. He could retain
through all his absorbing interest in the salvation of human souls and
in the glory of God. His troubles did not shut him up in himself. He
did not always talk about them, as though he wanted everybody to pity
and help him; on the contrary, he was a peculiarly brave and joyful
man. He looked upon joy not simply as a possibility, nor simply as a
privilege, but as a duty, the neglect of which by a Christian was
shameful. He knew that whatever of earthly good might slip away from
him, or be snatched away, there was something immeasurably better
which was his for ever--God, Christ, immortality, heaven. "Who shall
separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress,
or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... Nay,
in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved
us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor
principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to
separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

III. What has been said will help us to form a true idea of the state
of mind which the apostle here avows for himself, and in doing so to
avoid some mistakes. We have seen that contentment is neither
stoicism, nor want of interest in life nor sluggishness of
temperament, nor weakness of character. We further say, that Paul does
not mean that he considers all conditions in life alike desirable,
that there is nothing to choose between them, that it is altogether
immaterial whether men be well or ill, strong or weak, rich or poor,
high or low, masters or slaves. Paul was not insensible to the
advantages of outward comfort, or to the disadvantages of poverty. Nor
does he mean to teach that a Christian may not use all means which are
intrinsically legitimate and right for improving his condition, in so
far as he has those means at his command, or the possibility of
obtaining them. What he means is that his happiness is not essentially
dependent on external circumstances. An illustration of Solomon's
words, "A good man is satisfied from himself," he carries within him
everywhere the elements of his own well-being. So that being the man
he is, being the man God has made him to be, being the man whom the
Holy Spirit is fashioning by His grace, through the instrumentality of
the discipline of life, with a hope that does not make him ashamed,
because he has the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy
Ghost given unto him--he is happy enough even in the midst of
privations and difficulties. His contentment is not indifference to
his work, but industrious fidelity. It is not the narcotizing of
aspiration; for a man may ardently aspire, and yet be content until it
is time to rise. Still less is it complacency with his own moral and
spiritual condition, or with that of the world around him; for he says
that he "forgets the things that are behind, and reaches forth to the
things that are before," and he "greatly longs after men in the bowels
of Jesus Christ." But with all his appreciation of life's comforts,
with all his aspirations after personal perfection, and with all his
longings to be useful in his day, he is not disconcerted by
difficulties and disadvantages;--he has learned in whatsoever state he
is, therewith to be content.

We must guard ourselves, however, from applying this example of
contentment to troubles of our own making. God entrusts every man,
more or less, with the means of blessing himself, and of maintaining
his own honour among his fellow men. But by sin, or by mistakes of
conduct arising from a culpable carelessness, we may lose our position
of advantage; and when we do so, we are not entitled to the comfort
arising from the thought that, as all events are in God's hands, we
must just take things as they come, and be satisfied! The sin which
has brought mischief must be deplored; its consequences must be
accepted as a Divine correction, and Divine help must be sought so
that the chastisement may be sanctified. And if on the lower ground we
become less worldly, holier, and more Christ-like, God will have the
greater glory and will give the deeper peace.

IV. And now for the secret of the apostle's contentment, and the
lessons that we are to learn therefrom for ourselves. Paul says, "I
can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me." The language
is peculiar; what does it mean? It means that, in whatsoever condition
he might be, he had Christ for a Helper and a Friend; that Christ's
companionship with him was constant, full, tender; that His sympathy
was great, minute, comprehensive, cheering, exalting, all-sufficient.
So complete was his identification with Christ that he tells these
Philippians that living or dying he was Christ's. But how did this
come about? Once he persecuted the Christ whom he now glorifies. And
even now his happiness has nothing of the _miraculous_ in it. It does
not belong to him merely as an apostle, or in the same way as his
"inspiration" or other special, supernatural gifts with which he is
endowed. It is the work of God's grace--grace imparted to him through
the same channels along which it may come to us. The secret is this:
Paul was a Christian--a converted, regenerated man, a believer in
Christ, under the influence of the Holy Ghost; and the result was
accomplished by such simple means as faith and hope and prayer.

Paul had felt, as we all feel, that there is in man a soul as well as
a body, an eternal life as well as a temporal. He had also felt, as we
all feel, that he was a sinner, condemned and hopeless before that
holy law which he had broken, and the judgment of which he must one
day meet. But, in obedience to the message of the gospel, he had
accepted Christ as his Saviour, through whom he had received the
forgiveness of sins, Divine sonship, and sanctifying grace. So that he
had to regard himself as henceforth under training for heaven, the
training administered by a Divine hand. He knew that the present life,
with all its changes, was the thing that was wanted for his spiritual
education, that nothing was accidental, that no changes were chances,
and that all changes made up one great organized system of discipline,
in which "all things were working together for good." Thus he could
cherish in his heart a contentment which would cover all his
experiences. There are ills which certain men can bear patiently, but
a Christian contentment learns to bear all ills cheerfully;
unmurmuring and acquiescent when sorrows multiply, and when mercies
one by one are taken away.

This contentment under Christian conditions is a duty, not perhaps of
very easy attainment--Paul himself does not say that it is that--but
it is a duty, as being the natural fruit of faith and trust. Every
Christian should be able to say:

    I will not cloud the present with the past,
      Nor borrow shadows from a future sky:
    'Tis in the present that my lot is cast,
      And ever will be through eternity.

    "Sufficient to the day the present ill,"
      Was kindly utter'd by a heavenly Voice,
    And one inspired to tell his Master's will
      Hath bid us alway in the Lord rejoice.



XII.

_JOY._

"Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say rejoice."--Philippians
iv. 4.


Whatever may be the impression produced by these words, no one can
read them attentively, and be indifferent to the admonition they
convey. They speak to our most real life, a life of mingled sunshine
and shadow; and they speak in the name of a religion which is divinely
holy and solemn. They have a marvellous power in awakening feeling,
and if we could but know the emotion they excite in each of us, we
should find them to constitute a perfect test of our actual
experiences, as well as of our religious condition. In any religious
assembly, there must of necessity be two widely different states of
feeling. Some souls are happy, and others are depressed. To the first
class, the words before us come with sweetness, adding joy to joy; to
the second, they come with pain, the pain of contrast and of longing.
Hence the question might be asked, "To whom are they addressed? Are
they spoken to the happy alone? Must they be suppressed when we speak
to the sad or to the miserable?" They are addressed neither to the one
class alone, nor to the other alone. They were spoken to _all_ hearts
in the Philippian church, without distinction of condition; and
without distinction they are also spoken to us. If there be any
special stress in them at all, it is when they are addressed to the
sorrowing, as we shall see by-and-by. The words themselves supply a
hint as to how this may be. The joy that is recommended is "_joy in
the Lord_." It is therefore a Christian joy; and those to whom the
apostle recommends it, whatever may be the diversity of their
circumstances, are first of all, last of all, anyhow, under any
condition, Christians. Paul knows that joy is an inevitable
consequence of the possession of true Christianity in the heart, that
it is the natural outcome of Christian faith, that it ought to be a
pervading experience of the Christian soul through all the forms and
circumstances of its life. And so he offers the same exhortation to
all. Nor is it a recommendation merely: it is a command, and it
strikingly takes its place among the great Pauline precepts. For the
proof of this, turn to these precepts as we have them at the close of
his first epistle to the Thessalonians. (See chap. v. 14-22.)

No one will suppose for a moment that the exhortation to rejoice can
be applied in any sense to unbelieving men, to men of the world, to
the ungodly. Granting that they have a joy peculiarly their own, it is
of such a nature, and is so conditioned by the life of every day, that
it would be cruel to bid them "rejoice _evermore_." The worldling has
too many disappointments, struggles, and cares, for a permanent and
unbroken joy such as that. He may think himself fortunate for
rejoicings that come now and then! Besides, how could Paul recommend a
rejoicing which is not "in the Lord," which is the only rejoicing
possible to the unbeliever? Paul's joy is consistent with every duty
of the religion he preached; but to that religion the unbeliever is
opposed. His rejoicing cannot be acceptable to the Lord. It is
spurious. It has no true, substantial source. To such a man the
apostle might rather have said, "Weep!" Christian joy is an
inheritance closely fenced around; and hard as it seems to enjoy any
good things in which others cannot share, we must say, "Unbelieving
men and women, it is not for you." The way here is through the strait
gate, and along the narrow road.

No joy can be "joy in the Lord" which does not contain the following
elements--

1. _Purity._ The objects that excite it must be pure. It must be free
from all carnality and from all sin; it must spring from the soul's
sympathy with God, with His truth, with His goodness. Holy in its
objects, it becomes a sanctifying power.

2. _Calmness._ It is freedom from turmoil of heart, from disquietude
of life. It suffuses our feeling and our conduct with peace--peace
that "flows like a river." Hence, it is the condition of a quiet,
steady Christian experience.

3. _Seriousness._ It does not depend on self-forgetfulness, or on a
forced thoughtlessness. It is deepest in the most reflective, and is
strengthened in all by an honest and habitual self-examination.

4. _Humility._ There is a sort of arrogance and self-sufficiency in
worldly joy. Christianity puts man in his true place, and teaches him
to refer all his peace to God.

5. _Love._ Love to man and to God; the latter as the natural effect of
gratitude, the former from deep pity for his spiritual destitution, or
from sympathy in a common experience of happiness.

6. _Permanence._ It is not a fitful, occasional, moody thing.
Secondary sources of joy may fail, but God, the primary Source and
Giver of all joy, remains; and the relationship between the believer
and Him abides, so that the grounds of peace and of hope are
everlasting.

Now it is clear that these are not the elements of a worldly joy. We
do not care to reduce all that joy to a common level, and to say that
it is invariably and equally destitute of all these qualities of
purity, calmness, seriousness, humility, love, permanence. It is
enough to say that it is not "joy in the Lord." It does not
consciously or actually spring from Him; it is not maintained by
communion with Him; and it does not pay to Him its tribute of love,
consecration, and praise.

This exhortation to Christian joy is one of the most common in the
writings of Paul. Happy Christians may wonder why it is repeated so
often. Why urge it at all? Is it not the first, the necessary, the
constant result of faith? Why specially insist upon it as a duty? If
faith be weak, give us reasons by which faith may be strengthened;
but, once in the conscious possession of eternal life and of peace
with God, let the results naturally follow. Are they not sure to come?

One would suppose so; but, alas! Paul knew, and we have reason to
know, that we are very inconsistent! There is often a divorce between
our professed beliefs and the results that should flow from them.
Then, too, our faith is often unconsciously held. It is too merely
traditional; it lacks freshness and vitality. We may well, therefore,
be thankful that God, who has given us such motives for joy, should
still recommend it to us. Even with a very sincere faith may
circumstances arise which shall trouble our hearts. Our joy is
constantly threatened, and almost unconsciously we sometimes come to
feel that we have none. I know many Christians of whom the last thing
we could affirm would be that they are joyful Christians. Hence the
exhortation. It takes the form of a command. Why?

1. We owe it to the love and mercy of our God. Joy is the sign, the
expression, and the ornament of gratitude. A faith without joy is an
altar without perfume. God's abounding grace realised in the heart
demands this return. If we be not joyful, what does the fact mean? Do
we lightly esteem His great love? Are we afraid it may fail?

2. Joy is a means of _testifying_ our gratitude. Without joy, faith is
barren and inefficient, or else its fruits are rare and without
savour. The gospel represents good works as the fruits of faith, and
fruits grow not on the trunk, but on the branches; and joy is one of
these. A worldly joy gives vigour to the heart in the pursuit of
worldly objects. Christian joy prompts the heart to devotedness to
God.

3. The world is mightily influenced by our joy. The idea that religion
is a sad, gloomy thing is widely spread, and is a hindrance in the
way. Men know that our beliefs ought to produce joy, and, if they fail
to do so, they become themselves discredited. A true Christian is
really at the source of all true joy. The world yields him most
because he is nearest heaven. _Joy is a proselyting power._

4. True joy cannot be imitated. The world's gaiety is the effect of
temperament and circumstances, not of reflection; it repudiates and
shrinks from thought. Christian joy deepens the more thoughtful men
become. The grounds on which it rests are felt to be the surer the
more they are examined.

Let us look at one or two more of the characteristics of Christian
joy.

1. It does not avoid contact with men, but it can, if need be, live
alone. It can flourish in the heart that is alone with itself and
with God, and can find its food in meditation and prayer. It blossoms
where other joys fade.

2. It is devout. It loves the places where its Author is worshipped,
but it can sing its praises everywhere. The heart in which it resides
is a temple. It sings even in the midst of cares and tribulations,
like Paul and Silas in the midnight gloom of the prison at Philippi.

3. It is at the furthest remove from frivolity. It rejoices in serious
things, even in such serious things as sorrow and death. It looks up
and on with hope. It rests in God. It knows that Christ, its Source,
can never be separated from it. It thinks itself rich enough in the
possession of God's great love.

4. It triumphs over the hindrances by which all other joy is thwarted.
As to remembrances of the past, all that needed to be forgiven _is_
forgiven. As to actual trouble, it can take hold of God. As to
forecasts of the future, _that_, in its truest blessedness, is secure.

Who would not be a Christian? And who, being a Christian, can refuse
to be glad?

    Eternal Source of Life and Light,
      From whom my every blessing flows,
    How shall my lips extol aright
      The bounty that no measure knows?

    Sweet are the gifts Thou dost accord;
      Still best when best we love Thy ways:
    But one yet add, all bounteous Lord,
      And teach me as I would to praise.

    To praise Thee ofttimes with my tongue;
      To praise Thee ever with my heart;
    And soon, where heavenly praise is sung,
      Oh, let me take my blissful part!

    Then, Lord, not one of all the host
      That hymn Thy glory round the Throne,
    How e'er exalted there, shall boast
      A strain more fervent than mine own.



XIII.

_SICKNESS._

"Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick."--John xi. 4.


Much contact with sickness of late has set me thinking about it; about
the place it occupies in the Divine dispensations of our life, and the
lessons it may teach. The subject will find an easy entrance into our
meditations. Most of us have known what sickness is, and all of us
have in prospect that which will prove to be our last.

In all the sorrow that affects the people of God there is more or less
of mystery, which deepens in proportion as those who suffer become
mature in their Christian life, and advanced in holiness. Yet there
are some obvious truths in relation to it which are not hard to
discern, and to some of these it will be profitable to turn our
thoughts now.

I. Sickness, in common with all our ills, is a solemn witness to the
existence of sin. If we trace it back to its first cause, we shall
find it to have originated in "the transgression of the law." It
would be contrary both to the letter and to the spirit of the gospel
to see in each sickness the direct result of a particular sin. Yet
cases of this kind are not so rare as we suppose. Many men, even
professing Christians, suffer in consequence of sins known only to God
and to themselves; secret luxuries and excesses, or a trifling,
perhaps half unconscious, with some of the simplest laws of Nature.
Let not this be altogether overlooked. Moreover, whilst we are not at
liberty to suppose an immediate connection between some particular
sickness and some particular sin, there is a general connection
between sin and suffering. There would have been no sickness in the
world if there had been no sin. There was none in Eden: there will be
none in heaven. Sickness is a witness to the disorder which sin has
created. The Christian is a forgiven man, but the secondary
consequences of sin remain. In a sinful world, the sins of others
react upon him in various ways. He himself, though forgiven, is not
yet perfect. There will always be enough of the sense of sin even in
the most devout heart, to bend the sufferer in humiliation beneath the
thought that in a thousand ways he has deserved the discipline of
sorrow.

II. Sickness, however, affords equal testimony to the love of God.
The Christian has ample reason for knowing that it is a Father's hand
that smites, and that the blow is tempered with gentle mercy. We
suffer less than many have suffered before: less than many are
suffering now. The Old Testament gives us some notable examples of
suffering--Job, David, etc.; so also does the New Testament--Paul, for
instance. And what were the sufferings of these compared with those of
Christ, who wept and bled and died, not for Himself, but for us? In
all ages better men than we have suffered more. Consider what we have
deserved, and what, but for the mercy of God, we must have had to
bear. If the sufferings of life are not worthy to be compared with the
glory that is to follow, neither are they worthy to be compared with
the doom which _must_ have followed, if God had not loved us with an
infinite and everlasting love. Nor is it beneath the subject to
mention the alleviations which are granted to us, and which we must
all trace to the Divine Hand--sleep, the suspension of pain, sympathy,
and, most of all, the hopes of the gospel. These are common-place
considerations, but we must entertain them, if our gratitude and trust
are to be strong and simple.

But we must enter into particulars a little further for the sake of
evolving truth still more immediate and personal.

III. Sickness is often a special grace from God, and is a
providential answer to the secret desires of our own souls. Not,
indeed, the answer we ask, or the answer we expect; rather, indeed,
the answer we would gladly avoid: but still an answer. The cardinal
want of man is salvation. Who does not know that sickness has often
been sanctified to that end? The cardinal want of the Christian is
sanctification--preparedness for heaven; and every Christian knows
how seriously this is impeded by a crowd of difficulties, real
enough, but which we have a propensity to exaggerate; generally, the
daily occupations and cares of life--a family to be provided for, a
competency to gain, favourable opportunities to be looked for and
seized, daily mischances, and the like. Meanwhile we are conscious
of our spiritual wants, and there is a painful conflict between the
claims which are temporal, and those which are spiritual. How many
Christians are living a life of absorption in the world, yet
harassed with occasional regrets, fears, desires, connected with
better things? To these sickness is a Divine reply. It is as though
God said: "Dear child, I know thy difficulty. Thou canst not of
thine own determination leave the world; come away now. Leave thy
labour, thy anxiety, thy dreams. Shut out from the world's noise,
listen to Me, to thy soul, to heaven, to eternity. Not that thou
mayest do thy duty less faithfully do I thus check thee, but that
thou mayest learn the true subordination of things to one another;
not the spiritual to the temporal, but the temporal to the
spiritual. That is why I put this affliction upon thee." Oh, verily,
blessed is sickness when viewed from the station where we rest and
refresh in the fevered journey of life--a truce after battle, a
parenthesis in life's tale, into which God puts His own deep-meaning
and gentle word. Let us remember this for our brethren's sakes and
for our own.

IV. Sickness, as a special proof of God's love, is charged with a
mission to bring to us some special gifts and graces. It is above all
things a means of blessing when we associate with it the idea of
discipline, however stern. There is not a single Christian virtue that
may not acquire strength on a bed of sickness, and there are not a few
Christian virtues which probably must be learnt there, if they are
ever to be learnt perfectly at all. Among these note the following:

1. _Patience._ This is specially the fruit of sorrow. No soul can
know what patience is until it has learnt what suffering is. To this
effect Paul and James both teach, putting suffering before the
Christian as a veritable cause of joy because it produces patience.
How many elements in sickness would be aggravated by the absence of
this beautiful grace! How quickly we come to feel that all worry is
useless, and that we must simply wait the good pleasure of the Lord!
How commonly too, the existence of this virtue strikes the beholder.
It is not apathy, it is not stoicism; it is submission. When the
sickness is past there will still remain much in life to try us; but
if we have learnt the lesson, we shall know how to apply it.

2. _Entire dependence upon God._ This is sometimes hard to realize in
days of health and vigour, but in days of sickness we feel that the
sentiment is impressed upon us with especial weight. We know that it
is He who casteth down and lifteth up. We use means for recovery, and
this is right; but we learn that without His blessing the best and the
most skilfully applied of these are of no avail. This sense of
dependence on God should be the habit of the mind; and having
acquired it in sorrow we shall not repudiate or forget it in joy.

3. _Unworldliness._ In a sickness which is protracted, and the issue
of which is uncertain, we learn to put the proper estimate on things.
We find and we feel that we have here no true home and no true
satisfaction, and that we must look above. At such a time we perceive
that the _real_ is the _spiritual_ and the _eternal_. As we groan in
this tabernacle, we obtain our true relief in the contemplation of
things unseen.

4. _The confidence of faith._ The possible issues of our sickness are
momentous, and the question comes: "Of what quality are my hopes? Is
the religion that has given me joy and strength in health able to
support me now?" And how often the blessed answer is "Yes!" God gives
us strength equal to our day. The Father's smile, the presence of the
Saviour, simple trust in the Cross--these are realized as they never
have been before. And if health should return, it will be with the
calmly, soberly delightful feeling of a religion in the heart that has
stood the test. This is the experience of not a few whom I have known.

All this has a mighty influence on others besides the sufferers
themselves. They preach, and preach effectively, through their sorrow
and the grace by which they bear it, and get blessing out of it. Thus
their sickness becomes an occasion on which, an instrumentality by
which, God conveys the blessings of His grace to their brethren.

To all of us, whether in sickness or in health, the subject suggests
some important lessons. It suggests thankfulness for such health as we
have. Others are suffering: why not we? Multitudes are languishing in
pain to-day; most of us are well. Let us bless God, and seek His grace
that we may use this gift of health, with all His other gifts, to His
glory. It suggests sympathy for those who suffer. How dependent they
are on our kindness, our gentleness, our love. Let us give it to them
in full measure. Specially, let us give expression to our sympathy for
them by prayer on their behalf. It suggests faithfulness to the vows
made in the time of our trouble. How much holier would all of us be
to-day if none of those vows had been forgotten!



XIV.

_JESUS ONLY._

"And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus
only."--Matthew xvii. 8.


The visible glory has vanished; Moses and Elias have disappeared; the
cloud is gone; the Voice has been heard; and Jesus has assumed again
the form of His lowliness. A few moments ago Peter, in a
half-unconscious ecstasy, was saying: "Lord, it is good for us to be
here: if Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee,
one for Moses, and one for Elias." And now they are coming down from
the mountain to the turmoil at its foot, and they who wished to
tabernacle so gloriously above must descend again to their
fishing-nets below. The change seems sudden and sad. We feel inclined
to exclaim, "What a loss!" But though they come down, Jesus is with
them. Herein lies the substance of what I want now to develop. Our
life has its resting-places, exposed to startling, rude alternations;
but it has also, in the midst of all, its grand solace.

I. The first of these truths is one of such common experience, that
we have no need to do more in support of it than to point to
well-known facts. I shall try to generalize them by referring merely
to three points.

1. To our external personal circumstances. Sometimes we are
prosperous, cheerful, happy. We say, "The lines have fallen to me in
pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage." Incidents occur which
seem to transform our ordinary life. We succeed in our pursuits. We
are in health. Our domestic happiness is undisturbed. We have been
delivered from impending ill, and, instead of suffering what we have
feared, we realize more than we have hoped for. We are thankful; we
are content; and we want to build our tabernacle on the green mount of
our prosperity.

May we not indulge this feeling without any suspicion that our
prosperity may too much absorb and unspiritualise us? But the time for
disenchantment comes, and if we have grace enough in our hearts, we
find that a drawback is put in the way of our fancied happiness, the
tendency of which is proving a strong temptation to worldliness. And
then, though we do not court reverses--for they, too, have their
temptations--we begin to feel that this position of fancied happiness
is not so perfect as we thought. Besides, the novelty passes away, and
the satisfaction becomes less. We had forgotten our higher needs
whilst we were absorbed in our external well-being. And so we come to
acknowledge once more that this is not our rest. Sometimes, too, a
veritable reverse takes place; like the disciples, we have to come
down from the mount. The alternations of grief, disappointment, and
care follow our joy, and we get a further confirmation of the truth
that there is no resting-place to be found in any of the
circumstantials of life.

2. To our intercourse with men. We have reason to be thankful for all
the blessing which reaches us through this channel, and especially so
for all sanctified human relationships. To men of confiding, generous
natures, it is natural to repose in their contact with certain of
their fellow creatures. Some of our brethren wield a marvellous charm
over us. We trust their character; we are not conscious of their
defects; we are entirely at home with them.

But here, again, we find that we must come down from the mount. It
would be a sad story if we could all tell our surprises and
disappointments in this matter. How many apparently beautiful
friendships have passed away! How many defects have we discovered in
those whom we have implicitly trusted, when we have been brought into
a closer acquaintance with them? How many have others discovered in
us? Do we not see here one reason why men become cynical and
misanthropic? The greater the confidence, the greater the subsequent
distrust. The greater the joy, the deeper the grief which has followed
it. Let us thank God for the friendships that abide; but let us
remember that human love can never be a perfect resting-place for our
hearts.

3. To our Christian feeling. In the early days of our Christian life
especially, and often afterwards, all seems to be "transfigured"
before our eyes. We see a new earth and a new heaven. We breathe a
life-giving atmosphere as we ascend the hills from whence cometh our
help. Moses and Elias--the law and the prophets--have undergone the
same transformation. Desires which are earthly have given place to
desires which are spiritual. We seem to be in closest contact with the
Saviour, and we pity the small pre-occupations of the world. We say,
"Let us build here our tabernacle, and rest."

But changes await us! First the heights, then the depths! To-day, the
unutterable words from heaven; to-morrow, the thorn in the flesh and
the messenger of Satan to buffet! The one is not without the other.
Hence the lesson comes home to us: "Do not depend too much on your
heart-states." These high joys seldom last long. Jesus, so to speak,
loses His splendour, and comes down again from the mount, as a man, to
His humiliation.

II. The facts I have adverted to are such as only experience teaches.
The prosperous and the immature may suppose that I take too gloomy a
view of life. By no means. Life has brought its trials to me; and,
like many others, I have been again and again on the mount to come
down afterwards into the valley. And, were it not for one crowning
consideration, there has been enough of change to some of us to make
us sad and gloomy enough. What has prevented it? _This, that Jesus has
come down from the mount along with us._ We have learnt to prize Him
in proportion as we have learnt the deceptiveness of all beside!

As Jesus humbled Himself, so He humbles His own. He wants us to walk
by faith, not by sight, nor by sentiment. What should we become on
our Tabor, if we were allowed to build our tabernacles there?
Certainly proud; perhaps foolish; perhaps self-sufficient. Paul was in
danger of being exalted above measure by the glory of the revelations
which came to him; have we any reason to be more certain of ourselves?
The greater the height the more destructive the fall. We might also
mistake religious ecstasies for religious firmness or religious
growth. Yes, the true discipline is that which makes us come down.

All this looks like the disenchantment of our cherished illusions.
What have we to put in their place? Man does not live alone by what is
taken away from him, but by what is given to him. Have we taken away
all? Have we given nothing? We read that a Voice came out of the
cloud, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased;
hear ye Him.... And when the disciples had lifted up their eyes, they
saw no man, save Jesus only." What does that teach us?

It teaches that out of these ecstasies, which often hide the reality,
there comes a gift of God more precious than all--_Jesus Himself_.
Whatever form He may assume, He is still the same; still the same
whether He goes up the mountain with us, or comes down with us from
the mountain. Our illusions vanish, but Jesus does not disappear. It
is to Him that God directs us when the dreams of life are gone. Events
deceive us, men change, the joy of our own hearts subsides; but these
things happen that we may lift up our eyes and see Jesus only.

And so the illusions which depart give place to a permanent good. Do
not be afraid to descend from the mountain-tops into the low valleys
which lie beneath. Neither height nor depth need separate from the
love of Christ. A mighty and gracious Hand guides you, whether you see
it or not. Lay hold of it with confidence. Though your ecstacies
vanish, the great gain of your faith will be a sober, deep repose.

Do not confound this repose with a want of life or of interest. A
staid, strong, sober Christian is a man who has learnt in whatsoever
state he is therewith to be content. A staid, strong, sober Christian
is one who can do all things through Christ, who is ever near and ever
strengtheneth.

Is not such a condition a blessed one? It is that which gives to faith
its permanence and its calm. Instead of ascending to heaven and
descending to the abyss to find Christ, we find Him here, and remain
with Him in peace and assurance. Having found Him, and being united
to Him, we may, if need be, do without the rest. On the mount and in
the plain we have the same Saviour. In any case, our hearts are on a
sure foundation.

The tabernacles Peter wanted to erect on Tabor let us erect in the
valley. Let us keep near to Jesus; near to His law, near to His
promises, but emphatically near to Him. This, too, will be a
transfiguration, the transfiguration of our common life. The light of
the Divine glory will shine about us; and in the light, and out of the
cloud, the Voice will speak. We shall tabernacle with Moses and Elias
only above; but we may tabernacle with Jesus below. Let us tabernacle
with Him most at the cross; for it is there that we shall find most of
our holiness and our hope.



XV.

_PRAYER._

"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."--Matthew vii. 7, 8.


Prayer is one of the vital elements of the Christian life. It mingles
with its first impulses; it is the secret of every step in its
development, the hidden germ of the grain of mustard-seed, the sap
that nourishes the growing and the perfected tree from the furthermost
fibres of its roots to the topmost shoot of its branches. A sapless
tree is not a living one, but dead; a prayerless Christian cannot be.

As might have been expected, the New Testament is remarkably plain in
its teaching on this subject of prayer. The difficulties connected
with it which exist in our minds are not difficulties which it creates
or even sanctions. A simple reverence for its utterances is almost all
that we need for their removal. Let us inwardly pray for this while
we study the question now.

The form in which our Lord presents His exhortation in the text is
interesting and suggestive. He uses three words--"ask," "seek,"
"knock," which seem to intimate a gradation, and to lead up to a
climax. The word "ask" indicates the felt want of a good which may be
obtained; not purchased, but obtained as a free gift. The word "seek"
indicates the continuance of the asking, with the added idea, perhaps,
that our need is our fault, and that what we seek has been previously
lost. The word "knock" supposes a difficulty in obtaining, the delay
of the answer, a blessing shut up, and not immediately forthcoming.
Here, then, is a hint of possible difficulties. Nevertheless, a
promise is annexed, which is all-sufficient. "Ask, and it shall be
given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto
you." Christ's word is assurance enough for us; but He condescends to
append an argument drawn from a comparison between man and God,
between imperfect earthly parents and the infinitely perfect Father in
heaven; an argument which ought to be conclusive. "What man is there
of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he
ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know
how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your
Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?"

The facts as they lie open on the surface of the text are among the
most solemn and momentous facts of our life and thought. There is a
God, holding in the universe a position which is exclusively His own,
the great and only Giver of all good. Man's position is one of
dependence; in no sense is he self-sufficient. As it is God's
prerogative to give, so it is man's duty and interest to ask. There is
a possibility of communion between Him who gives and him who needs;
the hand of want brought into contact with the hand that supplies.
Then we have the fact that God is both able and willing to satisfy
man's want out of His own fulness. Further, we have the tender
solicitation to trust on our part--the absolute promise that such
trust can never be misplaced--and the encouraging assurance that the
God who gives is moved towards His creatures who ask by all the
sympathies of a Divine Fatherhood. Every ground of the confidence that
children have in their parents is consolidated into a rock of
immovable repose when the Heavenly Father comes in question.

These facts enter into the common substance of our Christian belief
and thought. As Christians, we never deny and never dispute them. We
hold them in a measure unconsciously till the crises of life bring
them into prominence. But they are inconceivably marvellous. As mere
conceptions they are grand; as realized grounds of hope they are
inexpressibly helpful. They are full of greatness and tenderness. Each
of us may say to himself: "My soul, with all thy manifold infirmities
and littlenesses, thou canst pray to the great God! Ay, thou canst
come to Him as to an infinite Father!" Surely that is distinction and
consolation enough.

Comparatively few Christians, however, understand prayer as they
should--either as a duty or as a privilege. With tens of thousands
amongst them it is to a great extent an unappreciated boon. Even many
devout Christians--anxious to use it to more effect--have their
difficulties. I want to offer some help to such as these. The scope of
prayer, unanswered prayer, delayed answers, etc., all are subjects of
anxious questioning.

I. Prayer, according to the teaching of Scripture and of experience,
is a simple transaction of asking and receiving. It indirectly serves
other ends, as we shall see shortly; but it is first of all, and all
through, just what I have stated. We pray because we want; we pray in
order to get what we want; and we pray with the feeling that we shall
not get it unless we pray. There is no mystery in such a view as this.
The transaction between the Christian and God, involved in prayer as
thus described, is as natural, as simple, as well defined, and as
easily understood, as the action of a child when it asks its parents
for what it needs, and when its parents give what it needs in answer
to the asking. The holy men of Scripture understood prayer in this
way. Their prayers are full of simplicity, both as to their structure
and their spirit. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, all
simply asked for such blessing as they felt they needed; asked for the
sake of receiving, and feeling that the reception of what they wanted
was dependent upon their asking. They unquestionably believed in an
invisible Hand, and felt that the Heart that guided that Hand
delighted to be trusted and appealed to in every, and for every, kind
of human need.

II. The simplicity of their view of the _nature_ of prayer is no
greater than that of the view they took of the _scope_ of prayer. A
feeling has grown up in the minds of many that we cannot ask with
confidence for temporal blessings, and that the only blessings for
which we may be sure that it is right to ask are those which are
spiritual. But that was not the idea of the praying men of the past.
There was not a blessing, material or spiritual, for which they
hesitated to pray--life, health, food, rain, fruitful seasons, success
in battle, peace of soul, forgiveness of sins, strength for holy
work--all these, and indiscriminately as to any special privilege
attached to the prayer for one or another. Just so taught Christ. "The
Lord's Prayer" asks not only for the glory of God and the forgiveness
of trespasses, but also for "daily bread."

These considerations must neither be misunderstood nor overlooked.
Prayer is a direct, specific, simple act. Men say that well-wishing,
right-living, work, and such like, are prayer. Not so. A prayerful
spirit may be, and ought to be, blended with the whole of our life;
but we must not so shade off the act into something else as to take
away its point and its reality. Prayer is the concentration of the
soul upon its present need, whatever that may be, and then bringing it
to God, naked and undisguised, for Him to meet it. The faith that
prompts and backs up such prayer hangs every circumstance of life,
the most minute and the most momentous alike, on the direct and
immediate control of God, in whose great foresight all our little
plans are lost, and in whose hands we become the instruments of our
own well-being.

III. It is demanded by such a view of prayer as that which has now
been given, that we should confidently expect the answers to our
petitions. This seems a simple, trite thing to say; but it is here
especially that we fail. The attitude of looking for answers to prayer
is not a common one. How is this? Partly because our prayers are often
so vague that we do not know precisely what to expect; partly because
the habit of prayer is largely formal--a mere piece of religious
routine; sometimes because we misapprehend the form in which the
answer may come; and sometimes because, in impatience, we lose heart
and hope. We should ever remember, however, that the promise to hear
and to answer is positive and unrestricted. This fact leaves ample
room for the truth, which we should also ever remember, that the mode
and time of the answer remain with God, and must be left to His loving
wisdom. If He should see that what we ask will strengthen our faith in
Him, bring our hearts nearer to Him, and help us to fulfil His will,
He will grant the answer directly, and in the form in which we look
for it. He has done so in numberless cases. Sometimes He does so in
special and unmistakeable instances, of which, perhaps, George Müller
and his orphanage is the most prominent in our time. On the other
hand, if He should see that an answer of this kind would encourage
worldliness, or in any way lead to evil, as it might sometimes do,
then He will delay the answer, or will change its form into one of
greater safety for us, at the same time speaking with His "still small
voice" words of peace to our hearts. One thing is certain; namely,
that if the worldly advantage be first in our view, it will be well
for our prayer to be denied, and God will deny it.

IV. One condition, then, of answered prayer is that we must be loyal
to God, and this loyalty includes submission to His will--a
willingness to receive, and a willingness to be denied. We may ask
what we will in such a spirit as this; for in such a spirit we shall
be sure that any refusal from Him will be a blessing to ourselves.

V. One difficulty in relation to prayer of which anti-christian people
make much, and which often occurs even to the most devout, is as to
how these specific answers to prayer can be made to agree with the
regularity of God's laws and the order of His Providence. This
question introduces us to a mystery which we cannot hope fully to
solve. We have no idea that prayer alters either the perceptions or
the will of God; neither do we imagine that it interferes with natural
laws, so as to prevent their due and natural operation. The operations
of nature are often affected by the human will, both directly and
indirectly; yet no one supposes that to that extent the order of
nature is disturbed. Why may not the influence of the human will upon
nature act through the medium of prayer to the great Author of nature,
as well as in any other way? No objection of this kind lies against
prayer which does not equally lie against all human enterprise; yea,
even against the daily work by which we live! It is a sufficient reply
to every objection of this kind that it is founded in a philosophy of
fatalism. Surely if man, within the limits of his power, can use
nature for himself, God, whose power is infinitely greater, can use
nature for him, if He be pleased on any terms to do so; and there is
no more interference with the order of nature in the Divine use of it
than there is in the human. Prayer may have its part to play in the
great system of causation as well as work. It may be a part of the
foreseen chain of causes and effects by which God unfolds His eternal
purposes. The good order of a family is not disturbed by the margin
given to the children's wishes and requests; and when we are wise
enough to know, we shall see how it has been even so in the greater
family of God. God is love before we pray as well as when He answers;
and yet it may be according to His will, because it is according to
His beneficent wisdom, that there shall be many blessings unreceived
by us until we ask for them.

VI. How do these thoughts bear upon the subject of importunity in
prayer? Such importunity is not discountenanced, but rather
encouraged, by the very form of our Lord's exhortation. "Ask; seek;
knock." I have said that this series of words intimates a gradation,
and constitutes a climax. Seeking is more than asking; knocking is
more than asking or seeking. "Ask and ye shall receive." Yes, but the
"asking" which is to be followed by receiving may be such as to
include both "seeking" and "knocking." God is not reluctant to hear
and to answer; but that is no reason why He should not require
sometimes to be importuned. Christ gives His special sanction to this
importunity through the medium of two parables, both of which were
spoken for the express purpose of urging it. The first of these is the
parable of the man who disturbs the repose of his friend at midnight
for the purpose of obtaining from him the means of showing hospitality
to an unexpected wayfarer; the second is the parable of the injured
widow and the unjust judge. In both these parables, the suppliants are
represented as prevailing; but the point to be noted is that the power
by which they prevail is their earnest and persistent importunity. Why
does Christ illustrate prayer to God by the pertinacity which is
needful to arouse the affections of sinful man? We may be sure that He
does not ascribe any thing of human imperfection to God. Our Father in
heaven slumbers not, and is never weary. He is love. Christ simply
puts Himself in the feeling of the man who knows by experience that
God often delays the fulfilment of prayer, and shows, by parabolic
teaching, that to pray well we must be fervent and not "faint." The
lesson is impressive. If between man and man importunate prayer
prevails, how much more will it prevail with God who is perfect, and
who will not make us wait except for the sake of our highest
well-being. The man goes to his friend with confidence because he has
faith in the friendship; how inconceivably strong may this confidence
be when we repose it in God! The plea was the stress of his need; the
same stress belongs to many of the needs which only God can supply.
Our praying-time, like that of the friend at midnight, is often that
of the deepest darkness; but we pray to God and not to man, and need
not fear that He, in His deep, heavenly repose, will fail faithfully
to hearken to our supplications--supplications which, because they
proceed from the holiest solicitudes of love and duty, are inspired by
Himself. Christ bids us reason from both bad men and good men to God,
and it is well for us that He does so. On the bad side, man's love is
weak, his judgment faulty, and his selfishness deep-rooted; God is
infinite both in His wisdom and His love. On the good side, earthly
fathers give bread, not stones, to their children; how much kinder is
He to whom we look up and say, "Our Father which art in heaven"!
"Yes," you say, "He is good and kind; but He makes us wait." It is so;
and why? We are feeble in our desires, and changeful in our purposes.
We soon give up. We want faith, patience, perseverance. The uniformly
immediate fulfilment of our petitions would leave no room for the
cultivation of these quiet, unobtrusive virtues of the Divine life
within us. God makes us wait, that we may become importunate, and that
importunity may nourish the virtues which are as yet too feeble.
Besides, delay gives purity to our motives, and intensity to our
desires. A blessing which is easily won is likely to be unappreciated.
God would not have us treat His gold as though it were stones. Delay
is not refusal; it is discipline. Moreover why speak we of delay at
all? What we so designate is not delay from the Divine point of view.
He never postpones any asked-for good for one moment beyond the fit
time for bestowing it.

    God's help is always sure,
      His methods seldom guessed;
    Delay will make our pleasure pure,
      Surprise will give it zest.

    His wisdom is sublime,
      His heart profoundly kind;
    God never is before His time,
      And never is behind.

VII. What, then, is the character of the prayer which avails? That
some prayers are "hindered"--so hindered as to be unsuccessful--we
know full well. This may be accounted for partly by mistaken notions
about the Scripture theory of prayer. For example, Jesus says, "What
things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye
shall have them." The teaching of these words is that the inspiration
to true prayer is God's pledge of the blessings sought, and that we
must be prepared to take it as such. The prayer of a man who has not
full faith in prayer falls short of its mark. Hindrance may also arise
from mistaken notions as to the primary use of prayer. Prayer is not
an end in itself, but a means to an end. It is true that the holier we
become the more shall we find ourselves accustomed to an atmosphere of
prayerfulness as the normal condition of the soul. But we shall not
pray aright, if we pray under the impression that we are holy because
we pray. We must rather pray in order to be holy. The hindrance may
also arise from the absence of a supreme anxiety and of a constant
effort to honour God in all our relations. Peter speaks of obedience
to the duties which spring from the conjugal relation as being
necessary to prevent the "hindrance"--the ineffectualness--of family
prayer. This is but a special application of a great general
principle--namely, the connection between holy conduct in society and
the efficiency of our social devotional exercises. These two act and
re-act upon each other. To secure the true, full benefit of prayer, we
must strive to live holily in all the society with which we mingle.
This point touches upon the value of intercessory prayer. Suppose that
there is a want of correspondence between the interest in the welfare
of those around us which we express in our prayers on their behalf,
and that which we show in our intercourse with them; can we rightly
expect such prayers to prevail? The deficiency is too frequently
manifest in our relations both to the Church and the world. How often
is Church brotherhood nominal rather than real! How many pray for the
salvation of souls, without caring to do anything else! There is one
thing which will always, in so far as it exists, be a barrier to the
acceptableness of prayer, and that is the wilful and persistent
violation of any of the Divine commands--the refusal to perform
Christian duties incumbent upon us, or the cherishing of some habit or
propensity known to be wrong. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the
Lord will not hear me." The success of our prayers does not depend
upon our learning, or upon the skill with which we can express our
petitions, or with which we can string them together. It depends
rather upon the state of our hearts--the vivid consciousness of need,
the deep feeling of dependence on God, the supreme desire of the heart
to be right with Him, faith in His promises, trust in His power and
His love, gratitude for His goodness, an unfainting perseverance in
appealing to His throne, and a willingness to wait His time for the
blessings thus humbly, trustfully, and earnestly sought. These are the
elements of the true spirit of prayer. "Ask" thus "and it shall be
given you;" "seek" thus, "and ye shall find;" "knock" thus, "and it
shall be opened unto you."

I alluded in the beginning to the indirect effects of prayer, and
these are too valuable to be overlooked. Prayer, pervaded by humility
and trust, is always strengthened by its own exercise. All Christian
graces are beautified by it; all Christian virtues are stimulated by
it. It is a Divine provision for rousing the slumbering affections of
the renewed heart, and keeping them awake. Prayer, too, is its own
reward, and a blessed one. How holy and how happy must they be who are
on intimate terms with God! Their faces catch His glory, and their
every tone and step the impress of the sanctity of the Divine
companionship. The Christian can tell his Father all! And because he
is so near to God and to heaven, he can put and keep the world beneath
his feet.

Even delays and seeming refusals are not without their salutary
influence. Some persons pray for specific blessings year after
year--"pray without ceasing"--and are often staggered at the fact that
their prayers remain unanswered; and yet we see them growing in
spirituality, purity, fortitude, faith, and we hear them say, "Though
He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." And so their faith--the most
precious thing they have--is tried and refined as in a furnace. Surely
such an answer to prayer is sublime!

I have been speaking to many a doubt, to many a perplexity, with which
I am familiar in my own experience and in that of others. God grant
that my words may be helpful! What we all want in regard to this great
subject is clearer views and a more unquestioning trust. God courts
our utmost confidence, and He will not fail to reward it.



XVI.

_ASSURANCE._

"I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep
that which I have committed unto Him against that day."--2 Timothy
i. 12.


These are among the last words the apostle wrote. He is now at Rome,
in prison, and within a few days of the tragic end. He is worn down by
age; still more so by a constant, toilsome, suffering ministry of some
thirty years, a ministry which has obtained for him, at the hands of
men, stones and stripes, and now a dungeon, with the immediate
prospect of a violent death. He is bound with chains, and compelled to
be silent just where and when he has so long been anxious to speak, in
the metropolis of the world! He is, moreover, forsaken by his friends,
who, though they love him, have not courage to go and visit him now!
Outwardly, no sadder condition could well be imagined. Yet Paul is
filled with a deep and holy peace. How is this? The answer is that he
feels within himself the approval of his God. He is in prison, but
that is because of his obedience to His Saviour. He has worn himself
down in a Divine service. Behind him he sees a long train of woes and
sufferings, but he also sees many churches which he has founded, and
many unknown regions open to the gospel. Before him he sees an
unrighteous judge and a painful martyrdom, but he also sees heaven,
Christ, and the unfading crown. If he says, "All have forsaken me," he
can also say, as his Master did, that he is not left alone. All this
is enough to account for the calmness and hopefulness of this his last
epistle, and especially of the words before us to-day.

I will not trouble you with the critical difficulties of the text. On
only one preliminary question I would say a word. What does Paul mean
by the expression, "that which I have committed unto Him"? Some urge
that it was the Church which he was about to leave; others, that it
was the result of his labours; and others, that it was his final
salvation. I prefer to combine all these into one general whole, and
to say: "All his Christian interests, the hopes on which his spirit
rested for his personal salvation, and every other interest that was
dear to his heart." He had "committed" to Christ himself, the church
he had loved and served, the results of his labour, and the final
reward to which he was looking forward. If, within the vast scope of
his desires, there had been one thing which he could not commit to
Christ, his rest would have been incomplete, and his joy would have
been marred. But for _everything_ he was able to say: "Saviour, I have
committed this to Thee."

Observe how Paul puts this great matter. He was the greatest
_doctrinal_ writer of the New Testament; but he does not say that he
believes in _doctrines_, but that he believes in a _Person_. "I know
_whom_ I have believed." All doctrinal belief follows, and is
comprised in, that. Faith everywhere in Scripture is confidence in
Christ. He who believes in Christ must come sooner or later to believe
in the doctrines which cluster around Him. But our experience grows
beyond these into the realisation of Him as being so actual, so near,
and so sufficient, as to be our true rest. Who among us can tell _all_
the reasons why he believes in Christ? Many of them cannot be put into
words. They belong to our most secret thoughts, to the emotions of our
happiest hours, to a hidden, silent history, which, if the world
heard, it could not understand. Yet these proofs multiply in
proportion as the Christian advances in life. How many times have we
found the words of Christ adapted to our wants! How many unexpected
deliverances has He wrought on our behalf! How many answers to prayer
have we received at His hands! How much peace has He breathed into our
hearts! "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able
to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day."

What a grand confirmation have we here of the faith Paul preached! Had
his trust been misplaced, surely he had suffered enough to disabuse
him of it, and that most completely. But his faith grows the more he
suffers. No mere party zeal could stand a test like this; no, nor any
delusion either. And so we say that such a man as Paul was, under the
circumstances in which he maintained his trust, could not be deceived.
Thus Paul's faith becomes a confirmation of our own, and, with him on
our side, we may face a world of doubt.

But I wish to use the text chiefly for the elucidation of a single
subject. Paul's words express _the assurance of his faith_. How does
this subject strike us? Does not the very mention of it give rise to
sad reflections in many hearts? "The assurance of faith." "Ah, I knew
it once," we say; "it was the experience of earlier days, and has been
the experience of some special days since then, still more so of some
specially holy moments. But it is not my normal state. Would it were!"

We are living in a period in which there seems to be a general
disinclination towards whatever is firm and precise in religious
creed, feeling, and life. This may not be an altogether unhopeful
state of things. Respect for truth may keep some minds silent
concerning their beliefs, or at least may prevent them from avowing
those beliefs too dogmatically. Anxiety and doubt may even in some
cases be a sign of spiritual earnestness. Yet the tendency we speak of
is on the whole to be deeply deplored. The truth is that the world has
invaded us. Men shrink from great precision of conviction because they
shrink from great consecration of life. How few the lives that are
pre-eminently Christian, as Paul's was! On the other hand, our day is
remarkable for its craving for mere religious excitement. In many
cases, it is not so much the desire for truth, as the desire to be
excited and pleased, that prevails. Neither of these tendencies can
build up the faith which finds its grand avowal in the words: "I know
whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that
which I have committed unto Him against that day."

The remedy for the state of things upon which I have touched cannot
now be pointed out, because it would lead me away from my purpose. But
I want to show the effect of it upon ourselves, and upon those who are
without. There are certain aims common to the Christian life of all of
us, and these cannot be reached so long as our faith lacks steadiness
and stability.

1. Our great mission is to convert souls. We are avowedly the
instruments of the Spirit of God in this momentous work. But what is
the conversion of a soul? It is a radical change in its affections and
its life. But this change never takes place apart from the influence
of deep convictions. Men will not exchange the known for the unknown:
actual life with its passions and its pleasures for the weak and cold
abstractions of a faith with no precision in its principles, or for
the worship of a God who is vague and problematical. How are we to
succeed in winning souls to the truth we profess unless we can produce
something which ought to convince them that we have the right of it?
An unstable faith will be of little use to us here. There must be no
hesitation in our avowal that our transition from the world to God is
a blessed one. In other matters, a man of strong beliefs has half won
us to his side. In religion, it is notoriously so. Paul's grand words
have been a source of strength to us. Let us make them our own--the
expression of our own faith--and they will become, through us, a
source of strength to others. Let us have this same Christianity in
its fulness and its power; and having it, let us avow it without
timidity and without reserve.

2. Our personal obligation, as Christians, is to be holy; and we want
the assurance of faith for that. We may be deceived about our
conversion. At the outset of our Christian life we may be the subjects
of many illusions. But men are not mistaken when, day by day, they are
fighting their passions, bringing the will into subjection, conquering
the flesh, and submitting the whole life to the long, slow, toilsome
discipline of obedience. This kind of work is never accomplished by a
vague and undecided religion. Men do not deny themselves without an
equivalent. You cannot persuade them to give up their illusions, their
pleasures, their passions, nor even their vices, unless you show them
something else which may, must, and ought to take their place. If you
empty the heart of one set of elements, you must fill it with another.
So it is that we want a living God, a living Christ, close to us;
loving us, forgiving us, helping us, comforting us, and opening before
us the prospect of glory and of happiness for eternity. Let us know
and feel ourselves able to say, "I know whom I have believed, and am
persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him
against that day," and the struggle with inward evil will be
simplified, and will become comparatively easy.

3. We stand in daily need of strength and consolation, and for that
nothing but a firm and settled faith will suffice. There are great
sorrows and great anxieties to which we are all exposed, in the face
of which nothing will do for us but sovereign words of life and of
hope in which we can implicitly trust. There are great wrongs under
which we cannot be comforted except by the constant conviction of a
righteousness which will one day vindicate the right, and redress the
wrong. There are great losses in which we want the promise and the
certainty of an immense and restoring love. Souls will seek this
strength, this consolation, here, there, everywhere; but they will
never find it until they can say, "I know whom I have believed, and am
persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him
against that day."

4. The assurance of faith is necessary to all earnestness of effort in
the spread of the gospel. A church or a Christian, subsiding into
uncertainty of religious belief, has no motive for zeal in the
propagation of religion. We preach because we believe. Let the idea,
that the Christianity of Christ or of Paul or of the New Testament
needs modification, become prevalent in the professing church, and the
secret of every true impulse in missionary work, whether abroad or at
home, will be gone. It is the men who share Paul's stable, grand faith
who can take their stand as the preachers of Christ. It is only they
who can rise to the sacrifices necessary for the promotion of His
truth in the world.

Have we such a faith as this? If not how can we obtain it? This latter
question will be best answered by a close adherence to the text. We
must say a few words respecting the faith itself, and also respecting
Christ, who is the object of it.

What is faith? A common answer is that faith is an act of
intellectual submission to the teachings of another--that it is in
matters of the mind what blind and unquestioning obedience is in
matters of practice. This account of faith was early imposed by the
Papal Church, and it is not repudiated even now by some evangelical
churches. The root of all doctrines of sacramental efficacy is the
renunciation of private judgment in matters of faith. No wonder that
with such a definition of faith Christianity should be held in
derision, and regarded as the special privilege of the young, the
immature, the aged, and all whose weaknesses and disappointments leave
them no other consolation and no other resource! This is not the
teaching of Scripture. Of course in faith there is submission, for
there are many things to be believed which we cannot understand.
Nevertheless, faith is much more than submission, and there is not a
case of faith in the whole Word of God which presents to us the
believing life as a thing of mere blind credulity. Was it so with
Abraham, with Job, with David, with Paul, or with any of the others?
Even in relation to the dark things, faith rests upon convictions
which make submission the only rational, the only possible attitude of
the mind. According to Scripture, faith is the soul laying hold of
the invisible God--laying hold of Christ as His Son and our Saviour.
There is no abdication of any one of the powers of the soul. In
believing, the soul is entire with its reason, its thought, its love,
and all its spiritual energies. Nor is there any weakness. When a man
is hesitating between surrender to the voice of conscience, and
surrender to the voice of passion, he performs an act of faith if he
yields to the voice of conscience, for he is ruled by the invisible;
yet the last thing we dare say of such a man would be that he is weak.
Rightly considered, every such act is a triumph of the soul. The
conscientious man is the representative of the greatest moral strength
we know. Imagine a soul with all its life under the constant thought
of God and of Christ. Surely such an order of life as his affords
scope enough for intellectual strength and for moral heroism.

Much must be taken for granted, we said. Reason has its sphere, and to
it a truly noble task is assigned. The visible world belongs to it,
and it is subjecting that world to itself more and more every day. But
how powerless it is when man asks of it a response to the aspirations
of his conscience and his heart. What can it say to a soul weighed
down by a sense of guilt? What to the heart that is torn by calamity?
What to any man when death draws nigh? Oh, no! Unless we are to
abandon ourselves to despair, there must be faith--some truth in
which, or some Being in whom, the whole soul can repose. And mark,
this was just the light in which the apostle looked at the matter. He
was near the end. Eternity was close before him. He knew that endless
issues were at stake. He was nerved to confront it all by faith. _What
faith?_ What was he trusting in?

_Paul believed in Christ._ On what grounds? Can _we_ believe in
Christ? If so, again I ask on what grounds?

1. Christ stands before us in our darkness in a position which is
exclusively His own. Of all men, He alone knew whence He came and
whither He went. Without hesitation, and with tones of sovereign
authority, He points out to us the way to God. He speaks of heaven as
one who has come from thence. Everywhere He calls Himself the Sent of
the Father, His only-begotten Son, the Lord of souls. His word was
with power; sweet with intensest human tenderness, influential with
Divine authority. What was it that gave Him this power? Not human
reasoning, not eloquence. It was the light of Truth reaching the
conscience, and penetrating the heart. We see in Him God as He is, and
we also see in Him man as he ought to be. We do not reason about this
influence. Apprehending Him, we instinctively accept it. It is thus
that millions have said: "To whom can we go but unto Thee? Thou hast
the words of eternal life."

2. This influence of Christ has been exerted on every variety of human
soul. His followers, in ever-increasing numbers, come from all
conditions on earth--rich and poor, learned and ignorant, young and
old, hardened sinners and men blushing with their first sins: all find
from Him peace and light and hope. Especially is this so with those
who suffer and weep; those who have felt the poverty of mere words,
and who are now beyond the reach of any illusion. For the first time
they have been comforted, and the comfort has satisfied them.

3. Still we want further to know by what authority He wields this
influence. We ask, "Does He come from God?" The reply is that He does
before our eyes the works of God. Not miracles merely, for though
these constitute a powerful testimony, there is yet something more.
He has revealed God in His own person, and the proof of His Divine
mission has been given in His life. In Him, holiness has been at once
realised and exhibited. Eighteen hundred years ago His enemies could
find no fault in Him. Since then humanity has progressed, but Christ
still leaves the noblest sons of men amazingly far behind Him. A
hostile criticism has been indefatigable in its attempt to discover
flaws in His character, and yet that character still stands before us
as the ideal of the good and the true. His is a holiness before which
the conscience of the world is accused and judged. Irresistibly the
answer of the heart comes: "He who is so holy must be worthy of all
our faith."

4. Moreover, there is the sense of sin and of the need of pardon and
salvation. Here after all, and more than anywhere else, is the secret
of confidence in Christ. We seek salvation in works--anywhere out of
Him--but we cannot find it. He who is holy and true tells us that He
came into the world to save us, that He is our sacrifice and our
peace, and that the love and the righteousness of God are manifest in
Him and in the redeeming work He has undertaken on our behalf. This
exactly meets our case. We say: "This is what we want, but what we
have elsewhere sought in vain. At His hands we accept it with implicit
trust and with fervent thankfulness."

Are not these reasons enough? Is not the response of every heart,
"Yes, they are." Can it be less than the utmost folly and guilt for
men to resist the voice of a conscience which tells them that it is
only in Christ that the soul can find its rest? Is all this concurrent
testimony to be set aside?

This assurance of faith, however, can only be the result of intense
earnestness. We do not forget the necessity of the agency of the
Spirit of God; let us never forget it; but let us also remember how
constantly and how fatally that agency can be contravened. Paul held
the great truths he preached with so tenacious and so unquestioning a
faith, because he had begun by consecrating his heart to them under
the intuitive perception that they were the truths which his nature as
a man and his condition as a sinner so imperatively needed, and
because all his experience of them did but confirm their sufficiency.
"If any man will do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine
whether it be of God," or whether it be of men. "I know whom I have
believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have
committed unto Him against that day."

For the unbeliever there are grounds enough for faith, both within and
without. And if, even with the desire, faith be still found to be
beset with difficulties, there is one unfailing prayer which will make
it easy--the prayer, "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief."



XVII.

_IMMORTALITY._

"What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that
Thou visitest him?"--Psalm viii. 4.


One or two remarks on the meaning of certain expressions in this Psalm
are necessary before we proceed. The second verse is pictorial, and
has a martial character. Two hosts are seen facing each other. A
beautiful world and a wonderful universe are in view of both.
Children, in their conscious or unconscious admiration of what they
see, and in the early and universal instinct by which they attribute
it to the hand of a great God, effectually rebuke the unbelief of
scoffers and all haters of God, who persistently refuse to recognise
Him in His works. So, even to-day, the simple and pious intuitions of
the race face, fight, and conquer all materialism. The beautiful and
significant application of these words found in the account of our
Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem points for all time to the duty
of giving Christian teaching to the young. In our Christian homes and
our Sunday-schools lies the great bulwark against the spread of
infidelity. Such teaching acts on the future. "Instead of the fathers
shall be the children," a generation to serve God. These will become
fathers in their turn. "Take care of the children, and the adults will
take care of themselves."

"What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that
Thou visitest him?" At first sight, it would seem as though the
Psalmist were contrasting the littleness of man with the greatness of
the universe. And, indeed, he does use a word to denote man which
points to his weakness. But this is only David's starting-point in his
aim to correct the impression. The Psalm reveals, not the littleness,
but the greatness of man. "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of
Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained; what is
man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou
visitest him?" How little he looks! Yet how great he must be! "For
Thou makest him to want little of a Divine standing; Thou crownest him
with honour and glory; Thou makest him to have dominion over the work
of Thy hands; Thou puttest all under his feet--all sheep and oxen,
and also beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the
sea--whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea."

One of the subtlest, and, to a certain degree, one of the most
plausible of the objections of unbelief has been the attempt to instil
into men's minds the idea that it is presumptuous on their part to put
confidence in the apparently sublime, but really fallacious, prospects
which Christianity offers to them with regard to their destiny beyond
this world. God is too great, it is said, and man is too little for us
to admit the thought that God takes such an interest in man, both for
this world and for the next, as the Bible affirms. The tendency of
modern thought is largely in the direction of this view.

It would be easy to overtax our attention by going into too wide a
field. I will speak only of the Christian idea of an immortal and
heavenly life hereafter. It is this which is imperilled; it is this
which is called in question. I have nothing to do now with the debated
question of future punishment. Let me re-state the form of scepticism
with which I have to deal. It is said to be presumptuous to suppose
that we, the creatures of a day, are to be hereafter lifted up to a
state of perfect blessedness, which is to last for ever, in the
presence of God; and we are recommended to leave this dream aside, and
to be content with the position we occupy here and now. "You have much
to be thankful for, even as things are. Let it not be thought a
hardship, if death should prove to be the end of man."

The lines of thought as they start from this point are numerous, and
one is tempted to follow them out. But we must forbear, for the sake
of attending simply to our one purpose. I may, however, point out to
you how partial and unreal is the view which is thus taken of man's
position and of his aspirations. Given the utmost of outward and
present satisfaction, man universally is not content with this. But
how many millions of human beings there are in the world at this
moment to whom the present life can scarcely be said to have been any
boon at all! How many more millions of such beings have lived in the
past. The very ground we tread everywhere cowers beneath human sorrow.
Is it not a cruel mockery to say to the suffering, the enslaved, the
down-trodden: "Be grateful for what you have; it is vain, foolish,
wrong for you to expect or to wish for more"? Some such advice as
this may be given if our Christian hopes are tenable; but if they are
not, we do but insult the suffering if we speak to them in this
fashion.

The kind of unbelief we are anxious to check is spreading. Among the
masses, in many directions, the desire to apprehend spiritual
realities, and to be ruled by them, is increasingly small; the battles
of life and thought are on behalf of the interests of a day; and even
among well-disposed persons the hold of fundamental truth is seriously
relaxed. Hence the necessity for our seeking to strengthen our
cherished convictions, and to discern clearly and grasp firmly "the
faith once delivered to the saints."

If the views we animadvert upon were entertained merely by the
ignorant and the uncultured, we should not so much wonder; but we
_are_ perplexed when we find them so prevalent amongst the wise of
this world, and even by not a few who are reputed to be masters of
human science. It is true that their advancing knowledge gives them
vaster conceptions of the universe which they so unweariedly explore;
but is it not strange that that vaster knowledge does not enhance
their estimate of man, since he _can_ explore so widely and _can_
comprehend so much? Why should religious faith decrease in proportion
as human knowledge is accumulated?

I take the psalm before us as furnishing a triumphant and lasting
reply to the kind of unbelief in question. In Nature, first, God shows
us His estimate of man. The ascent is easy from Nature to Grace, in
which the Divine estimate is raised to its highest point.

We are invited to look around. Can there be any doubt that this
beautiful world, with its immense treasures known and unknown, its
bountiful harvests of every order on land and sea, and its marvellous
variety of life, animate and inanimate, was formed for our sakes? Was
not everything the earth contains made for our use and enjoyment, in
measure increasing with every new discovery? The fruits of the ground,
with each returning season, are prepared for our wants, and in that
preparation, every season, with its sunshine and its shade, its
dryness and its rain, its dews and its storms, is incessantly engaged.
All nature is occupied in the successful attempt to answer the initial
question, "What shall we eat? what shall we drink? and wherewithal
shall we be clothed?" The dress we wear brings innumerable animals
under tribute. "We have dominion over all sheep and oxen, yea, and the
beast of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and
whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea." Everything tells us
that, in this world, we are kings--"a little," only a little, "lower
than the angels"--the gods. Between man and the inferior animals there
is as great a distance as between the master and his slave;--nay more,
as between the artizan and his instruments. The irrational animal is
much nearer to the inanimate creation than to man since the end and
purpose of both is to minister to man. This world, therefore, was
manifestly made for us. Who ventures to doubt it? Least of all can it
be doubted by the discoverers of earth's profounder secrets.

We are invited to look still further afield. This world, which is made
for us, is not independent or alone. It is in no sense self-sustained.
It is part of a wonderful and incomprehensible whole. Other great
creations concur in its maintenance. The sun enlightens, warms, and
fertilizes it. The moon and the stars exert manifold influences upon
it. The whole host of heaven has been brought into co-ordinate and
helpful relation to it--yes, _it_: the world which exists _for us_!
"When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and
the stars which Thou hast ordained;" when I consider the manifold
bearings of Thy universe upon man--what _is_ man! What _must_ he be!
In certain aspects, indeed, apparently small; but, by all these
tokens, how great! We do not say that we are the only moral and
spiritual beings in the midst of so many worlds. We do not know, but
we may accept the probability that God has created beings capable of
adoring and loving Him everywhere. But we do say--and science combines
with Scripture to compel us to say--that these worlds have been in
part created for us, just as our world has been in part created for
them. This is clear. The most sceptical of men cannot venture to doubt
it; nor do they. It is only needful that we should carefully observe
in order to become convinced of this marvellous fact.

So much, then, for what nature teaches. The psalmist sought to learn
the lesson, and it is right that we should seek to learn it too.

This first step being taken, another follows. Man is an object of the
manifold agencies of myriads of worlds. He is so _as man_; and the
relative position he holds, intellectually, morally, or socially, to
his fellow men, has nothing to do with the fact. Nature ministers to
the Caffre and the Hottentot as truly as to the man of most advanced
civilization; the only difference being in the use which the two
opposite classes can make of nature. Why, then, should man refuse to
believe that he is an object of solicitous love to that God who
created him, who made him what he is, and who thus crowned him with
glory and honour? Why should he refuse to believe that God loves him
enough to send His Son to die for him, and thus to save him from the
wreck of his being through sin? Especially, why should he refuse to
believe this when he is assured of it by Him who testified that He was
that Son of God--by Jesus, the man _par excellence_, the God-man? Why
should it be doubted that man is an object of interest to angels, who
are said to rejoice over every sinner that repenteth? Why should it be
doubted that God has provided for him a fairer home than this, that
immortality and heaven are the things which God has in reserve for
him? Why should it be doubted that an everlasting salvation has been
provided for him through such a sacrifice as that of Christ? If sun,
moon, and stars have been made for the service of man, why should it
be hard to believe that God, who counts the stars, and calls them all
by their names, should also heal the broken in heart, and bind up
their wounds?

The prospect of human destiny as opened up by Christianity is grand;
but not too grand to be ascribed to Him who created the universe, and
so arranged it that it should constitute one vast system of
ministration to us. When we see God thus working for man, we cannot be
surprised that angels should be glad to serve him too. Neither can we
wonder that the Son of God should come to save him. The wonder begins
with man's primary relation to the "all things," for our knowledge of
which we are not dependent upon revelation at all. Science teaches us
that; and revelation only endorses it. That is wonderful enough; but
accepting it as a fact, all that revelation teaches, but which science
could not have discovered, follows naturally enough. The facts of
revelation concerning man may be accepted the more implicitly because
they really have their basis in the facts of science. The whole is in
perfect harmony. The one and the other are both represented--and
consistently so--as concurring in the great cause of human happiness.

Try now from the greatness of the means to estimate the greatness of
the end. Is eternal life too much for a being whom the worlds combine
to sustain, to feed, and to bless? Is a heaven of holiness and of love
too much for a being whom angels are delighted to protect? No! The
wonderful thing would be if, after having combined these vast and
various forces to maintain our earthly existence, an Almighty and
All-good God should for ever quench our life after its brief day upon
the earth!

It may be objected that this is a low and selfish view to take of the
matter. It may be said that it is not the life of the individual, but
the life of the race that has to be considered; and that it is enough
for us to live, after we are gone, in the good remembrances of those
who will survive us, and to hope that what we are doing will advance
the interests of those who will follow us. An immortality such as this
is in reality no immortality at all. An unconscious immortality! A
public recognition of what we have been when we shall be no longer! A
public gratitude, which may at best be but precarious to those to whom
it is due, when they are believed to have dropped into nothingness and
thus to be no longer capable of receiving and enjoying it! A progress
merely confined to material interests! And who are sharing in it
to-day? The few who are strong enough to hold their own in the battle
of life! They, and only they! All this is supreme nonsense. The
aspirations of the heart are against it. If man's life ends here, it
was not worth while for him to be born. Millions, in that case, might
justly look up to God and say, "Remember how short my time is:
wherefore hast Thou made all men in vain?"

Nevertheless, lest we should be exalted to pride and self-importance,
let us remember that the grandeur of our destiny is not determined and
measured by our merits, but by the immensity of the Divine goodness.
What have we which we have not received? And since we have received
it, why should we boast as if it were all of our own making?

Ah, it is because Satan can compare our hopes with our rights, and can
help us to do so too, that he succeeds in injecting doubts into our
hearts. Our reply must be, that the eternal and blessed life which we
anticipate is not of _reward_, but of _grace_; not a payment, but a
gift--a gift in harmony with all God's other gifts, but still the
greatest gift of all; and that instead of inflating us with pride, it
may well place us at His feet in lowliest, devoutest thankfulness. By
sin we had forfeited all; but "where sin hath abounded, grace doth
much more abound." God loved the man whom He had created with such
power, and whom He had placed in so commanding a position; and because
He loved him, He resolved to provide a great redemption for him.

What a ground have we here for hope! And what a plea for
evangelisation!



XVIII.

_HEAVEN._

"Therefore are they before the throne of God."--Revelation vii. 15.


Let us think of Heaven this morning. The verses of which the text is a
fragment will help us to do so.

The hope of heaven is the crowning hope of the Christian. It ought at
all times to be an important element in his joy. All the pleasant
things of earth should be made brighter by the reflected light of the
world beyond the grave. It is common, however, for us to live in a
sort of unconsciousness of this. Within proper limits this is not to
be complained of. For our duties are _here_, and we are not fitted for
there by "looking too eagerly beyond." Besides, earth is the
training-school for heaven, and unless we would enter into heaven as
into "a vast abrupt," obviously our present duty is by all means to
cultivate that life which shall fit us for it.

There are, however, certain lulls in the rush of life which seem to
draw us to the contemplation of the future. We find them sometimes in
seasons of repose, but more especially in seasons of sorrow, and more
especially still in seasons of bereavement.

I am not anxious to form an argument this morning. I have little
disposition to _argue_ about heaven. But I want to express some
thoughts, disjointed perhaps, but I trust suggestive, and each one
carrying its message to our weary hearts.

What may we know? We often ask this question with hope that is
tremulous--or it may be with tremulousness that is hopeful. What may
we know? Certainly not all that we sometimes wish to know; but then we
sometimes wish to know things the knowledge of which would be useless,
or curious, or beyond our reach until we can see with tearless eyes,
and realise with sinless hearts. There are certain aspects under which
heaven seems to be altogether visionary. Where is it? We are not told.
What are the dimensions and outlines of it? We do not know. It is
described under a great variety of material figures. We read of its
gates of pearl, its walls of jasper, its streets of gold, its river of
the water of life, its tree of life; but we know that these
descriptions symbolise the spiritual. Not that they are mere riddles,
however. Some of their truth may be confidently guessed. There is one
important fact of which we cannot be in doubt. Heaven is the place in
which will be developed and perfected a certain character--certain
moral and spiritual qualifications. Heaven is where perfect goodness
is, just as on earth happiness is where godliness and Christlikeness
are. We may, therefore, put heaven where we will, and think about it
almost as we please, provided we put the right sort of character
there, and remember what sort of discipline here must prepare for it.
This is the essential point in the revelations of this book: "There
shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither
whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are
written in the Lamb's book of life." There _must_ be a heaven for the
good.

I shall not stop to point out what a wreck our common Christianity
would be if there were no future life of blessedness for the
Christian. In contemplating such a possibility, the apostle Paul
exclaims: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all
men most miserable." _We_: for we have expected heaven; the fair
vision has been put before us as a great hope, and we lose in
proportion to what we thought we had gained. _We_: for we have
prepared for it, through a life--in many instances a _long_ life--of
self discipline, of loyalty to God, of the mortification of sin, of
the cultivation of goodness. _We_: for we have suffered for it,
sometimes directly through ills endured for Christ's sake, and always
indirectly by the sacrifice of that which the world distinctively
calls its own, and on which it sets its supreme regard. Our
Christianity has promised this heaven to us; and the promise has
enhanced many an earthly joy, and charmed away many an earthly sorrow.
No heaven? Then we have been shamefully deceived--miserably
disappointed; and there is no hope for us any more! But no! The words
of the great consolation are sounding still, and we can trust them:
"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in
me. In my Father's house are many mansions: _if it were not so, I
would have told you_. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and
prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto
myself; that where I am there ye may be also."

It is one of the characteristic glories of the Bible that it meets the
renewed heart's desires in regard to the future, by revealing, not
only the fact of the future, but also some of its resplendent
mysteries; so that, after taking man through the several stages of his
progress on earth, it conducts him at last to the heaven of his hopes,
the home of the good. Perhaps no Scripture disclosure of Heaven is
more wonderful, more complete, more entrancing than the one we have in
the vision of the apostle John as recorded in the verses before us.
True, it is put before us, like the other revelations of this book, in
poetical and pictorial form. Nevertheless, the spiritual teaching is
sufficiently plain. Let us seek the help of that good Spirit by whom
John was inspired, whilst we try to learn something of that which is
revealed to us in this chapter. In the light of it we see an
innumerable multitude of persons who, having travelled this world in
trial and in sorrow, are now before the throne of God, safe in the
heaven of the redeemed.

So we see, at the very beginning, that the Heaven which is here
presented to our view is no solitary place. It is not peopled merely
by a few. John says he saw "a great multitude whom no man could
number." In the Old Testament a similar phrase is used to denote
Israel, the representative of the Church of later times. The
numberless stars of heaven, and the sands on the seashore are the
parallels of the idea we find here. The Church on earth, sometimes not
unfitly described as "a garden walled around," and as "a little
flock," is not, in this sense, the representation of the Church in
heaven. We see, further, that the heavenly territory embraces the
representatives of every earthly human condition: they gather from all
ages and all climes of the world--from all "nations and kindreds, and
peoples, and tongues." In this great fact we have the basis of the
theory of our mission work, and our hope of its ultimate success.

We see, again, that the relation of the saints to Christ in heaven is
essentially the same as that of the saints on earth. They stand before
the throne and before the Lamb, and cry with a loud voice: "Salvation
to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb."

    They sing the Lamb in hymns above,
      And we in hymns below.

Self-confidence, self-righteousness, self-exaltation have no place
_there_. All the glory of salvation, all the glory of heaven, is due
to God and to the Lamb from first to last. Every step of the way,
right on to its termination, has been arranged by His wisdom and
accomplished by His grace.

With these facts before us, there ought to be no strangeness connected
with our conception of Heaven. Its inhabitants are our friends
transferred, and the elements of its perfected life and joy are the
same as we are, in our measure, familiar with in the imperfect state
through which we are now passing. Perhaps the most comprehensive, and
most spiritually attractive and influential idea of it is that of
_entire satisfaction_. In this aspect of it, it meets the demands of
our experience, fulfils our hope, and draws us upward. Satisfaction!
How beautiful the thought! To the weary and the heavy laden it comes
as rest. To the aspiring it comes as a sphere of boundless
opportunity. To the sad and troubled, it is "a land of pure delight."
To those who groan under present spiritual short comings and
frailties, it is the home of the spirits of the just made perfect. We
are often staggered at the faults of Christians; they will be "without
fault" there. Here our faults dissociate us more or less from our
brethren; faultlessness there will make the union complete. Here
darkness, there light; here sowing, there the harvest; here a
wilderness, there the garden of the Lord. Heaven contains all our
ideals of the true, the beautiful and the good; and one day we shall
realise them! The description which we have before us warrants all
this, and much more. How much more? The redeemed in Heaven live a life
of immunity from suffering. No hunger; no thirst; no oppression from
the heat of the sun. No faintness; no pangs. John seems, from the form
of expression he uses, to have beheld them as they were "coming out of
great tribulation." Whatever may be the prophetic reference in these
words, we may understand them as having some meaning appropriate to
all the redeemed. All life, with its varied experience may be called
(and that too in no fanciful sense) a tribulation; in this sense at
least, that it is a probation, a trial, a testing-time in view of the
great awards of the future. From this all come, gradually,
successively, one by one, passing from the school of earth to the home
of heaven. Trial is the common discipline of the good, and it comes in
many forms;--sometimes in the form of bodily pain and sickness;
sometimes in the form of trouble, disappointment, loss in the
household and in the social circle; sometimes in the form of
persecution; often in the form of a struggle with temptation
springing up from within or from without; often, it may be, in the
form of conflict with doubt. Sorrow, trial, tribulation--from all this
the redeemed in heaven have emerged. But they have not only escaped
from evil; they have risen into a perfect blessedness--the blessedness
which comes from the satisfaction of every want. They not only hunger
no more, neither thirst any more; but the Lamb that is in the midst of
the throne feeds them, and leads them to living fountains of waters.
Their blessedness is all the richer because not only are all their
tears wiped away, but wiped away by the hand of infinite gentleness
and love--the hand of the Best Beloved in all the universe! Well may
they be glad! Well may they sing loud ecstatic songs of praise to
their Redeemer. Well may they serve Him day and night in His
temple--perfected powers rejoicing evermore in a perfect consecration.
They are a company living, dwelling, at the very centre of joy: no
care upon them, no labour weighing them down; their Lord in the midst
of them, their satisfaction complete.

The contrast between their condition on earth and in heaven is full of
wonder to us as we muse upon it. How was the change wrought? What
must we learn concerning this from what is here revealed?

They were prepared _here_ for the state beyond. The life of heaven is
the continuation and the result of the earthly life. "They washed
their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," and they
"came up out of great tribulation." Here we have the process of the
cleansing, "the great tribulation" being comprehensive of the whole
discipline by which God purifies human souls. Here we have also the
purifying element, "the blood of the Lamb," the atoning power to wash
out all stains, the stimulating power to inspire to all holiness. And
we also have the final result--"white raiment." So, doctrinally, the
"robes" stand for the whole character, the tribulation for the process
of purification; "the blood of the Lamb," for the cleansing element in
its justifying and sanctifying effects. Their holiness is not merely
passive. There is a righteousness which is imputed; but there is also
a righteousness which is acquired--acquired in the might of the
Saviour, and through the influences of His Spirit. Those who do not
aspire to the latter have no hope from the former, except a hope which
must make them ashamed. But inasmuch as both aspects of salvation are
to be referred to the Lamb, they give to Him the glory. It is all His
from beginning to end. "They have washed their robes and made them
white in the blood of the Lamb." Thus their salvation was effected on
earth. Heaven has introduced no new moral element into their
condition. Heaven is essentially the full realisation of what a
Christian expects and hopes this side the grave. It is the inheritance
of the man who has the kingdom of God _within_ him.

There is one part of the description which requires a little
explanation, and all the more so as it bears upon the aspects given to
us of heavenly blessedness. The redeemed are represented as standing
before the throne with palms in their hands. Many explain this by the
heathen use of the palm as the emblem of victory, and they quote the
declaration: "In all these things we are more than conquerors through
Him that loved us." I would rather, with some, refer this emblem to a
much sweeter and holier reminiscence. The figure seems to be taken
from the Feast of Tabernacles, which commemorated two things--God's
care for, and protection of, Israel during their wanderings in the
wilderness, and His continued Providence in the supply of the fruits
of the earth in their season. It was held at the close of the year's
out-door labours, and with it the season of rest began. And so with
the ransomed above, the troubles of the wilderness are ended, and the
harvest-home has come.

Such is the heaven to which God has removed our dead. May we not with
thankfulness leave them there? Must we not feel that by death, they
have made a glorious exchange? In their case, it would be wrong to
call death by hard names. It is the message which comes to the child
at school to go home. I know that we often fail to apprehend this.
Bound by time and sense, we want to build our homes here, and our
structures have one after another to be overthrown that we may the
better learn to think of "the city which hath foundations, whose
builder and maker is God." Heaven is best seen by the graves of those
we have loved; and not till earth becomes poor to us is Heaven felt to
be rich. There our loved ones are in raiment white and clean, and they
are happy. Let it be our constant endeavour to rejoin them there. The
same blood still atones; the same all-holy Spirit still purifies; the
same process of trial leads to the same issue. For ourselves, we
should ever keep in mind the connection between discipline here and
glory hereafter. Present darkness may be interpreted by future light.
Even now, the sanctified effects of trial are such as to suggest to us
what its final issues will be. It subdues us, makes us gentle, reveals
us to ourselves, reveals God to us, spiritualises us; so that we may
well be more anxious to have our troubles blessed by God than to have
them taken away. As the discipline of earth is fashioning us for
heaven, so our conceptions of heaven are continually re-acting upon
us, and moulding our life.

One thought more. The seer beholds the immense multitude of the
redeemed. The angel asks him who they are; but he does not know them.
Many of them perhaps are persons whom he had known on earth; but they
are so changed that he does not recognise them now. He used to know
them by their imperfect Christian virtues; but now they are "without
fault." And so they seem strange to him, just as sometimes even here
the transformations of virtue and of joy make us say of well-known
faces that we hardly recognise them again. A hint of this we often see
in the faces of the dead; so like, yet so unlike. Is there any doubt,
then, as to our recognising them at the last? None. We may, perhaps,
fail to identify them at once, but they will not be strangers to us
long. We shall look upon them with opened and purified eyes, and shall
know them, even as the disciples on the mount knew Moses and Elias,
notwithstanding the glory. Oh, it will be good for us to be there!
Good for us to remain there for ever!

Read: "These are they who _are coming_"--not "who came." They began to
come with Abel; and the procession is not yet closed. Among the last
are those over the loss of whom we are weeping now. Let us brush away
our tears; for at least we may say to ourselves this--

    One sweetly solemn thought
      Comes to me o'er and o'er:
    I'm nearer my home to-day
      Than I've ever been before!

    Nearer my Father's house,
      Where the many mansions be;
    Nearer the great white Throne;
      Nearer the jasper sea!

    Nearer the bound of life,
      Where I lay my burden down!
    Nearer leaving my cross!
      Nearer wearing my crown!



Transcriber's Note

Archaic and variable spelling is preserved as printed.

The following typographic errors have been fixed:

    Page xiv--repeated 'not' deleted--... if it did not actually
    reach, its maturity.

    Page 46--repeated 'in' deleted--Observe what in that case
    must follow.

    Page 62--repeated 'are' deleted--... towards those who are
    around us.

    Page 195--inmediate amended to immediate--... on the direct
    and immediate control of God, ...

    Page 227--trimphant amended to triumphant--... furnishing a
    triumphant and lasting reply ...

The frontispiece has been moved to follow the title page.

The illustration caption in {brackets} has been added by the transcriber
for the convenience of the reader.





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