Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.On the Heights
What are the things that are above? Does the Apostle mean the things that belong to the future life? Well, they do belong to the future life, and it is well for us to think of that life, and to think that we shall live in it, and that these things are the things that are current coin there. But he means the present life, for he exhorts us to seek these things, and to have them now, the things that abide, of which death cannot rob us, the things which belong to the spirit and character of men. They are too many to enumerate. Some of them are mentioned in the latter part of this chapter, but there is one in Whom they are all embodied. Seek the things that are above 'where Christ is'. Seek character, the Christlike character, purity, truth, love to God and men, reached through faith and fellowship. These are the highest things a man can seek.
Now, what about them? This: you must seek them—they do not come without seeking—and seek them with resolute and set purpose. Set your mind or your heart on them, they may be yours, though it be only by almost desperate endeavour, and they are worth more than all the glory and honour and wealth of all the world. The greatest achievement on earth is the achievement of character in yourself and in others.
I. Now, nothing is more certain than that it is one of the easiest things in the world to be called off from this quest, and that people often give it up as life goes on and as cares and possessions accumulate. There is a tremendous downward pull which is constantly exerted, and which increases as life goes on. There is an awful glamour cast over physical pleasure and material gain, and there are seasons in the life of the best of us when it seems as if character were nothing in comparison with money or pleasure.
Life, the high life in a man, the life that links him to God, is wrought upon and worn away by so many influences, that it requires a vast amount of attention to keep it in repair.
II. Where shall we begin? Begin with the Church. It is possible for a Church to lose its tone, to be carrying on things on the lower level.
The message of the text comes to us all with great force. 'Seek, set your mind on the things that are above where Christ sitteth.' Lift up your eyes to Him. Take your directions from Him. Ask what He would do and what He would have you do. Be content with nothing short of the highest.
There is the region into which St. Paul brings our motto. There may it be steadfastly adopted. It would mean a new beginning for some of us, a return to forsaken ways for others. Our inheritance is in the things that are above. He who seeks them shall have them. They are within our reach, and he who has them shall be fitted for the everlasting fellowship of the saints in light. For that we were made. To bring us to that Christ both lived and died and rose again.
—Charles Brown, God and Man, p. 106.
Risen with Christ
This exhortation is based on a fact and a principle. The fact is, that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and is now at the right hand of God; the principle is, that faith in that fact ought to affect the estimate which we form of the relative value of things on earth and things in heaven. Accepting it as a fact that Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead, what ought to be the practical outcome of our belief in it on our present earthly life?
I. Now, in answer to this inquiry, I remark that an intelligent belief in the Resurrection of Christ ought to give us a new ambition in life. If the Resurrection revealed only the fact of future existence, without showing us that there is any intimate relation between the life that now is and that which is to come, it is conceivable that a belief in it might not operate much in changing or moulding our present character. But when we view it in connection with the ascension of Christ into heaven and with the statements which He and His Apostles have made upon the subject, we become convinced that the position which we are to occupy hereafter will be fixed, not in any arbitrary and capricious manner, but by the character which we have formed and the work which we have done here. The cross was the precursor of the crown; and just in so far as we approach to the likeness of our Lord Jesus here, we shall attain to the measure of His glory hereafter. Here, then, is an ambition worthy of immortal beings.
II. An intelligent belief in the fact that Christ has risen from the dead ought to give us a new support through life. One writes of these 'dead but sceptred sovrans whose spirits rule us from their urns'; and it is to be feared that multitudes place Jesus simply at the head of these. But to think of Him thus is not to believe in and realise His Resurrection. He does not rule us from an urn. He rules us from a throne, whereon He sits endowed with 'the power of an endless life'. Ah! if we but dwelt on this aspect of the matter, what a power would come from the risen Lord to vitalise and ennoble all our conduct, and to sustain us under all difficulty and trial!
III. An intelligent belief in the fact of the Resurrection of Christ ought to give us comfort when we are bereaved of Christian friends, and to give us calmness in the contemplation of our own departure from the world. That victory over death achieved by Christ has changed the relation of death to all Christ's people.
Raised with Christ
You see where the 'if' comes in. It is not 'if Christ be risen from the dead'. That is certain fact St. Paul was sure of it. The evidence was so widespread. It is not if Christ be raised, but if ye then were raised with Christ And yet, so far as these Christians at Colossae were concerned, St. Paul did not wish to express any doubt. It is the argumentative 'if'. It might be rendered 'since'. Since ye then were raised together with Christ. Assuming that your conversion is as real, your faith as genuine as that of these Colossians, this tremendous fact is true of you: 'ye were raised with Christ'. What does it mean? The New Testament teaching concerning the Resurrection of Christ passes through three stages. In the first the dominant thought is the bearing of the fact of the Resurrection on the Person of Christ, that it is the seal of all His teaching, the Divine endorsement of His claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God. The second stage is the bearing of the fact of the Resurrection upon our view of a future life, that it is the pledge to us of our resurrection, the assurance of the certainty and reality of the life of the world to come. The third stage is in the bearing of the fact of the Resurrection upon the present spiritual and moral condition of the believer. Mark, then, these points of correspondence between Christ's Resurrection and our spiritual and moral quickening.
I. Both are the result of the working of a Divine and supernatural power. Every true conversion, all real conquest of self and sin, is as much the outcome of the power of God as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. All true holiness is supernatural.
II. Again, both imply the passing through real death. So we have it in Romans VI: 'If we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His Resurrection'. Christ died for our sins that we might not have to die for them. If you died with Christ you have passed through a real death; you are dead to things to which formerly you were alive, you are alive to things to which formerly you were dead.
III. Once more, both imply the entering into a new life. In a real sense you live unto God. You begin to know the power of Christ's Resurrection. The world-conquering, self-crucifying, sin-subduing power of the risen Christ enters your life.
—F. S. Webster, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 438.
I have often applied to idiots in my own mind, that sublime expression of Scripture that their life is hidden with God.
—Wordsworth to Prof. Wilson.
References.—III. 1.—W. Pierce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 222. C. Brown, God and Man, p. 16. B. J. Snell, Sermons on Immortality, p. 56. H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Reading, pp. 185, 194. S. A. Tipple, The Admiring Guest, p. 30. H. P. Liddon, University Sermons, p. 250. J. R. Illingworth, University and Cathedral Sermons, p. 208. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 297; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 152.
The Upward Look
I. The Nature of this Higher Life.—'Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God.' Everywhere in nature is found a certain upward gaze and striving. Apart from all revelation, we find in ourselves instincts seeking upward aspirations towards things higher than those of time and sense; we look beyond the physical life, we conceive ideas and hopes touching the unseen and the eternal. Now what has the faith of Christ to say to this inner striving, to these glances, longings, dreams, aspirations after the spiritual and abiding? (1) Most frankly and emphatically does Christianity accept the upward-seeking instinct. (2) Christianity stimulates the upward-seeking instinct. It not only sanctions otherworldliness, it sets itself steadily to develop to the utmost the spiritual instinct. (8) Christianity defines the upward-seeking impulse There is confessedly deep mystery about the nature and design of this instinct; the profoundest philosophers have been perplexed by it, wondering as to its precise signification. But in Christ the mystery is practically solved, the vague splendour after which we blindly grope becomes definite. 'Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God.' That is, contemplate all the higher truths in the light of the risen Christ, and in the strength that He gives work up to those truths.
II. Why we should Live this Higher Life.—(1) It is only thus that we attain personal perfection. A star cannot be imprisoned in a shed, it demands a sky; and to attain perfection and fully display its glory the soul demands a sky. There is no supreme character except through a supernatural creed. (2) We should live this higher life because if we do not we shall not get this world. The astronomer is a ready example of the fact that very frequently the condition of getting a thing is that you look away from it. What perhaps strikes us most when inspecting a telescope is that it shuts out so much. The astronomer shuts the earth from his sight, not because he does not care for it but that he may better understand it and realise its possibilities. The Apostle withdraws our eyes from earth and fixes them on the eternal world, not that he is indifferent to human circumstance and happiness, but because he knows that only thus are we fitted to inherit all things.
It is in the power of Christ alone that we can live this higher life. The Death and Resurrection of Christ have not only a moral signification, they have also an inspiring and transforming power. All is impracticable without the grace of God in Christ Jesus; all is possible with it.
—W. L. Watkinson, The Bane and the Antidote, p. 95.
References.—III. 1, 2.—H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 294. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 130.
The Risen Life
I. You must have remarked, in studying the Epistles of St. Paul, how he identifies the Christian with his Lord, in His Crucifixion, His Death, and His Resurrection. He sees in these great events figures of that moral and spiritual revolution which has taken place in the heart and soul of every believer, of every one born of God.
(a) He identifies the Christian with the Crucifixion of Christ. Referring to his old self-life, he says, 'I am crucified with Christ'; he also uses the peculiar phrase 'the old man' in reference to his former self, and speaks of it as being crucified. This 'old man,' meaning the old corrupt sinful self, is to be crucified, so that it can no longer dominate the 'new man'. The believer must so identify himself with his Lord's Crucifixion that he is to reckon the old corrupt body of sin, the old evil life, as crucified with Christ.
(b) He identifies the true man of God with the Death of Christ. 'Ye died' (Col. III, 3); 'Planted together in the likeness of His Death'; 'Reckon yourselves dead indeed unto sin' (Romans 6:5; Romans 6:11). In Colossians 3:5 you have the word 'mortify,' showing continuity of teaching on this point. This is the Apostolic doctrine as regards the believer's attitude to sin: he is dead to it.
(c) He identifies the Christian with the Resurrection of Christ: he is risen with Christ. Buried with Christ, and raised with Him too—this is the teaching of the text. The life which we now live in the power of the Son of God is equivalent to a resurrection from the dead—it is a 'risen' life.
Alive unto God—that is to be our position. Pray that you may indeed 'know Him, and the power of His Resurrection,' as He ought to be known by all His saints. But—
II. The 'power of His Resurrection' suggests further wholesome doctrine.
(a) If we are 'risen with Christ' we have left our graveclothes behind us, as Jesus left His in the tomb. He did not go about during His risen life with the garments of death clinging to Him. Christ calls upon us to show forth to the world that we have done with the grave, that we are walking 'in newness of life,' in the power of His Resurrection.
(b) During our Lord's forty days post-resurrection sojourn He appeared ten times only to His followers. The inference is that the 'risen life' of Christ was spent chiefly in communion with God. And the spiritual life of His people will suffer because of the stress of earthly things, unless they get more into contact with heaven and God, unless they, like Him, anticipate the Ascension, and 'in heart and mind thither ascend'. In this busy age, especially, we have need to restore our souls by communion with God.
(c) This 'risen life' ought to be practically manifest in its blessed activities. 'Seek those things which are above.' In that one word 'Seek' we have expressed the outward life of Christian effort; we have expressed also the true aim of a consecrated life—'those things which are above'. But this risen life is not only seen in the outward life of earnest service, but also in—
(d) The inward life of strenuous thought. 'Set your mind on the things that are above.' The mind, the affection, must be centred upon God. You are called to be heavenly-minded. Brethren, 'as a man thinketh in his heart' so will he become. Our thoughts, if they are heavenly thoughts are weaving for us a robe of purity, of charity, of holiness unto the Lord. As a man thinketh now so is he, and so shall he be hereafter. See that your mind is set upon things above, not on things on the earth.
But, in speaking of these things pertaining unto the higher life of the soul, some may say: 'This is all very beautiful, but it is not very practical; I do not see how I can live this "resurrection life"'. Yet surely it is a very practical thing for you and for me to seek and pray that the whole bent of our being, until the end of our days, be God ward. The bent of our life decides our eternal destiny. The tree not only lies as it falls, but it falls as it leans. Set your mind—i.e. the whole bent of your mind—upon things above.
If this 'resurrection life' is worth anything it will influence life in the home, in business, in society. The heavenly minded man is not a saint on a pedestal to be gazed at, nor a man altogether separate from earthly affairs. He will interest himself in all that makes for righteousness and peace and joy; he will 'act the citizen,' and do good unto all men. And all this he will do in the power of the 'new life' which has made him alive unto God and unto men.
References.—III. 1-3.—T. J. Madden, Tombs or Temples? p. 69. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 75. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 431. III. 1-4.—H. S. Seekings, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 270. III. 1, 10.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 254.
National Repentance: Materialism
The idea of the present, the material, the visible, the tangible, the sensuous, has taken possession of the minds and hearts of a great many men and women of all ranks and classes, to the exclusion of the future, the spiritual, the invisible, the ideal; and the change in the conduct of people who put aside all thoughts of things higher than the things of earth is very great indeed.
I. Materialism is the attempt to account for every development of the creation as we see it, even the mind of man, without God. Even thought itself, even the consciousness of thought, is supposed to be merely the movement of material atoms in the brain. It is an old and clumsy theory, and really accounts for nothing. It is briefly that matter existed originally in countless minute particles or atoms all over space; that these touched each other; that then there grew a wider and wider movement among the whole mass; and that consequently all the complexities of the universe began to grow. Such a theory needs only to be stated in order to see that it bristles with difficulties for which it offers no apology.
II. Once more: and this difficulty is most serious. Materialism does away with the immortality of the soul, as well as denying the existence of God. But if there is no God, and if your soul utterly perishes at death, where do you get any sanction for morality? The vast majority of mankind believe in the great truths of the Being of God and the immortality of the soul in some sort of way and in varying degrees; and the standard of moral conduct is raised in accordance with such deep and far-reaching truths; once take them away, and there would be no difference between right and wrong, except merely what was held to be useful, nothing to protect the honour of your wives and daughters, no check on universal selfishness.
III. The result of this unthinking complaisance, so largely prevalent in the world of today, is this: The great mass of men and women who are not religious treat material prosperity as the great thing to be aimed at. I need hardly remind you that this is a most enervating and degrading pursuit. It is well symbolised in The Pilgrim's Progress as the occupation of the man with the muck rake. It tends to obscure and finally to exclude all the ideas that make life noble and truly enjoyable.
—W. M. Sinclair, Difficulties of Our Day, p. 83.
The things above are not precisely those of another world, but of another sphere than the habitual one of our thoughts. They are not the things above our heads, but those which are above our natural sentiments. To set our affections on things above is to set our affections on God Himself; it is to subordinate our life to Him; it is to seek and find God in everything.
It is not we that set the lights before us at which we aim; they gleam upon us from beyond us; if but by the immediate gift of God; and our part is complete if we keep our eye intent to see them, and our foot resolute to climb whither they show us the way. The beacon aloft is given, the path to reach it alone is found.
The Higher Preferences
The affections have been defined as the faculty or power which regulates or determines all our likes or dislikes for persons or things, our tastes, our friendships, our loves. This faculty or power ought to be brought under control by every reasonable man and every reasonable woman. People sometimes say that there is no accounting for tastes, and to a certain extent that is quite true. We cannot always account for our own tastes, our own likes or dislikes, much less can we for those of other people. Sometimes they are instinctive, we cannot always give a reason for them; and here there is a danger. For instinct surely may be inspired by the devil just as it may be by God. You may allow your instincts to become debased, you may allow your tastes to became vitiated and mean; you may spoil your judgment so that you prefer what is ignoble and small and petty to what is great and good and noble. Now here comes in the use of a little discipline. You ought to check your preference, you must guard your instinct by choosing only what is really worthy of esteem. You must refuse to grow attached to what is unworthy of your affections, what is unworthy of your consideration.
I. Choose the Best Things.—First of all, to deal with things and subjects, you can cultivate good taste, whether it be in the matter of literature or art or conversation, or any other such thing. It is a duty to choose always the best that is within our reach. It seems obvious, it seems easy in theory; in practice it is really very difficult Self-culture always means a good deal of effort. It is such a temptation to read always the least serious books, for instance, or the books that appeal to the lighter side of cur nature, even the books that appeal to our lower side. It is so tempting in the matter of conversation to indulge in the flippant, thoughtless, and even harmful talk; it is very easy to grow very fond of it It is so easy in behaviour to allow the passions or the temper to regulate our actions, instead of our calmer and much truer judgment. You must choose the beautiful, choose the pure, choose the refined.
II. Choose the Best Friends.—Then, in the matter of persons, how is one to choose one's friends? This is somewhat an important point. A bad friend very often means one's ruin. Again you must choose what is noble and what is true. Fix your eyes upon such qualities as honour, courage, duty, unselfishness, purity. Do not allow your preference to rest upon the mean, the cowardly, the selfish, the dishonest, the impure; and then slowly and surely your affections will fix themselves upon the better traits of character. You will become naturally disposed to make good friends instead of bad ones. And still further we must be ourselves pure, ourselves unselfish. We must not choose friends simply with a view to position, or wealth, or personal advantage; choose them unselfishly, bravely, honourably, choose them for their goodness and holiness. Often that means the sacrifice of pride, position, or wealth. Do not let affection run wild, or it may choose the bad, and that bad choice may mean your ruin.
III. The Control of the Affections.—And, lastly, our affections must be controlled as regards those that we love most Remember that there is a selfish, inconsiderate kind of love. There is a love that proceeds from passion and impurity, there is a love not founded upon sympathy and upon self-sacrifice: there is also an uncurbed, unrestrained love, which regards its object as belonging absolutely to itself rather than as a trust from God. People very often, under the cover of love, will allow those they love all kinds of indulgence, all kinds of laxity. They seem to think that love is an excuse for many things that would be otherwise inadmissible. Whether in regard to things or persons, our affections need strict discipline; you may easily grow fond of what is ignoble, unworthy of respect. Let us in our prayers ask God to send His Holy Spirit into our hearts that we may follow the advice of the great Apostle to the Gentiles: 'Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth'.
References.—III. 2.—J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 66. W. L. Alexander, Sermons, p. 309. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 64. E. A. Bray, Sermons, vol. i. p. 240.
Life Hid with Christ(Before Communion)
Words like these, it is obvious, are not addressed indiscriminately to the world at large. They describe a class of people, and demand an audience, which, if fit, is also few. Not that the text is in any sense obscure, although it belongs to an age far from our own. Not that it raises needless barriers. Only, it takes for granted that we have undergone a great peculiar experience, which has brought us into a new world. In short, as very few sayings even in the New Testament do, it touches the centre and focus of personal Christianity. It tells the open secret of discipleship.
Three aspects of truth are here, I think, which may help us as we approach the Table of Christ.
I. First, note the old life left behind. 'Ye are dead,' St Paul writes, or even, as in stricter accuracy we may render, 'ye died'. He is indicating a definite occasion in the past. Sometimes the passage of a soul into God's kingdom is a very sudden thing. It may even be as the flight of a bird for swiftness. We lie down one night our old selves, and ere we sleep again the revolution has occurred. In this text, however, suddenness of that kind is not necessarily implied. Men may die swiftly, or they may die slowly; it matters nothing, once they have wakened on the immortal side of death. At the equator no visible line is stretched round the world for all to see; nevertheless, the line is actually crossed; at some definite point the ship leaves one hemisphere and enters on the other. Just so, when God's eye reads our past, many circumstances may take on a bold prominence and fixity of outline that were concealed, or only half-displayed, to our feebler gaze. Where we saw nothing but an unbroken, imperceptible advance, He, it is possible, may discern a cleavage, sharp as though effected by a scimitar-stroke, between the old existence and the new. And the fittest metaphor to illustrate the transition that St. Paul can think of is that passage from one world to another which we call death.
II. Note, secondly, the hidden life now possessed. 'Your life is hid with Christ.' In other words, there is something about each genuine believer, however simple, which will more than tax the keenest intelligence to explain. Christian character is not to be accounted for by mere surface phenomena. To unveil the secret, you must go down into the buried regions beneath ordinary thoughts and avocations, down into the unseen depths of personality. As you cross a highland moor you may come upon a curious bright streak of green, winding in and out among the heather, its pure and shining verdure clearly marked against the dull brown of its immediate surroundings. What is it, and how came it there? Whence rises the sap to feed this soft elastic ribband of turf? There is a tiny stream below, a runnel of sweet water flowing down there out of sight, only hinting its presence by the green beauty above. So the springs of Christian life are hid, hid with Christ in God.
III. Note, lastly, the life yet to be revealed. In the New Testament men's eyes and thoughts are ever bent forward, as they wait for the voice and footfall of a returning Lord, when that which is hid now will be so no longer. It is hidden now, just because we are here and Christ is yonder. But like the bud sleeping within its swelling sheath, the Christian's present lot is big with promise. One day the secret will be out. 'When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory.'
Our life is hid now, because Christ also is hid, not in darkness unsearchable, but in the light undimmed and excelling where God dwells.
—H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God's Plan, p. 143.
The Resurrection (for Easter Day)
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ has always been in the Church of God its chiefest note of glory. If the Church of God were to meet every single one of its doctrines without alluding to the subject, it would be the same, for it is not only written on parchment, but on the fleshly tablets of the heart. The Church of God is older than any one of these books, and from heart to heart, throughout Christendom, from the Day of Resurrection to this Easter Sunday, has passed the truth 'The Lord is risen,' and the answer to the truth, 'He is risen indeed'.
We are told by St. Paul that Twelve Apostles were chosen for this purpose: to witness to the Resurrection, and we know for certain that the Twelve Apostles were protected from being destroyed, when Christ suffered His Passion, because they were kept alive by God to witness the Resurrection. The first sermon the first Ministers of Christ preached was the Resurrection. We know from Holy Scripture they went out and preached this sermon, Jesus and the Resurrection. They were stoned, beaten, and imprisoned, and killed for preaching it Today, we are not stoned, or killed, or imprisoned, but we are laughed at. Of the Apostles we read, the more they were maltreated, the more they preached it; and the more we are laughed at, the more we assert it, and preach it.
I. 'Christ is risen—He is risen indeed.' The Greek Church asserts the fact popularly, not only in the Church but in the street. The Czar of all the Russias comes out of his palace, and, seeing the sentinel, kisses him and says, 'The Lord is risen,' and the soldier says, 'He is risen indeed'. One cabman in the street gets off his stand, and another gets off his sleigh, they embrace, and the one says to the other, 'Christ is risen,' and the other answers, 'He is risen indeed'. There the man in the street has only one thing to say that Easter morning, that Christ is risen. Now we Westerns are not so minded, but I hope this Easter morning you sing up the old song in your hearts. It is not only assertion, it is something more, it is a hymn of joy, and I hope that every one of you will sing up in your heart this morning the old song of the Church, 'Christ is risen—He is risen indeed'.
II. And this was the motive principle of the early martyrs. And when they were persecuted, the martyrs were simply splendid. They all of them went into the amphitheatre with this light in their souls, immortality in Christ. Perpetua—matron, mother, martyr—entered into the amphitheatre, and they were astonished at her look. They tell us that there was a light in her eyes, supernal, before which her persecutors quailed, and the beasts that were to tear her to pieces drew back. It was the light of immortality. She knew Christ had said, 'Because I live, ye shall live also'. So too it has been with all the martyrs all down the ages. It has been said that, after the bit of Latin which was put on the Cross, the first bit of Latin which stole into the Church was 'Deo gratias,' 'Thanks to God,' which the martyrs said when they were condemned to death, for they knew that through the grave and gate of death they should pass to a joyful resurrection.
III. Revive your poor faith on the altar of Easter. The Christian's hope is, has been, and ever shall be immortality in Christ. Now is that lamp burning in your sanctuary? Ask yourselves, could you die happy in Christ? Have you overcome death in yourselves? See to it then, men, that you die like men, and see to it, women, that you die like Christ, that the light of immortality burns steady within your souls. Relight the light at the altar.
References.—III. 3.—Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 129. J. W. Houchin, The Vision of God, p. 149. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 39. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 344. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 263. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 379; ibid. vol. vii. p. 265.
Christ Our Life
'Christ, who is our life;' name all-sacred and all-beautiful, 'Holiest of holies, Jesus Christ our Lord'; tenderly and intimately near to us, transcendently above us, higher than the heavens.
To rest awhile before the revelation of His greatness and His fulness, His unsearchable riches, His love passing knowledge, will only the better prepare the believer for the simpler and larger reception of His gift of life. To apprehend the glory of the Fountain will make credible the freedom and the virtues of the stream. The earthen vessel may be as rough and poor as possible. But let it be opened to receive that water, and what may not be the bliss of purity and power within it?
He then, this same Lord Jesus Christ, is here affirmed to be our life. The phrase, we remember, is strictly Scriptural. To the recent converts at Colossae (Colossians 3:4) St. Paul uses it, as about a fact already confessed and familiar: 'When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory'. This is the precise authority for our phrase. But it is only the central point, as we well know, of a large mass of New Testament language which sets out the same idea. Close at hand, in the same Colossian passage (ver. 3), we have a specimen: 'Your life is hid with Christ in God'. We have it in a form yet more vivid in the Galatian Epistle (II. 20): 'I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me'. And in that to the Ephesians the thought is carried to the inmost recess of expression, when we read (III. 17) of 'Christ dwelling in the heart,' as a fact of experience intended to be the portion not of a select few but of every true disciple. St. John is as emphatic as St. Paul (I. 11, 12): 'God hath given us eternal life; this life is in His Son; he that hath the Son hath the life'.
We need not recall at length how amply the Lord's own words (John 14:6; John 14:19) seal the language of His Apostles: 'I am the life'; 'Because I live ye shall live also'.
I. What does it mean? In vain shall we try to answer the question to its depths, to analyse its whole secret, to explore its perfect issues. We may indeed say with reverent confidence what it does not mean. It implies no absorption of our personality into His, no identity of our self with His, such that it should ever be true to say, as has been said, and by pious teachers, that 'our deepest self is God'. For my own part, I cannot too earnestly deprecate such words, which I take to express conceptions alien to the whole spirit of Biblical theology, words which betray an unbalanced insistence on that great truth of Divine immanence, which needs, like all great truths, its counterpoise if it is not to sink into an error proportionally great. 'Christ is our life' is a statement wholly, remotely, other than 'Christ is our self'. He is the Indweller, but He is not the shrine. It is written, 'Christ liveth in me'. But this is not to displace me but to occupy me; to be near to me with a nearness deeper and tenderer than can be thought, but all the while to be eternally and transcendently distinct and above. He is Maker, Redeemer, sovereign Lord. I am the being enabled, freely, in my personality, to respond in worshipping love to Him.
But now, within the humble limits of our perception, what does the phrase mean? It means, let us be perfectly sure, no mere figure of speech, however warm and vivid. It means no mere potency of His influence upon us, by way of precept or even of supreme example, as when the believer, pondering the Passion, feels himself 'inspired,' in the words of the hymn, 'to suffer and to die'. It means an unspeakably spiritual, and therefore unspeakably genuine, union and presence. It means the living Son of God so dwelling and moving in the inner world of the man who is united to Him by the Holy Ghost, in the bond of faith, that nothing less can be said than that the Christ of God is there. In the will He is personally and presently working. In the affections He is breathing the Divine love into the human faculty. In thoughts and purposes His presence and His motions are a living power to prompt and to guide. The man is so charged, may we dare to say, with Him that the familiar prayer, whose wonder so easily escapes us as we sing, receives an ever-developing fulfilment:—
Guard my first springs of thought and will
And with Thyself my spirit fill.
'He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit,' says the Apostle in a passage (1 Corinthians 6:17) of surprising depth and power, and as practical as possible all the while. For the context there, what is it? It is the case of a recent Corinthian convert, tempted to return to the foulest sins of the wicked city. And the Divine antidote for him, not for a cloistered and contemplative devotee, but for him, what is it to be? Just when vice smiles in his face and whispers its deadly sweetness to his soul, he is to recollect that he is 'joined to the Lord, one spirit': 'Christ is his life'.
II. That allusion brings us already to the question, What will be the issues and results of a believing recollection that Christ to the believer is nothing less than life? Issues practical indeed will come to him who recalls the spiritual fact and, using it, turns it into power. It was his by covenant in his baptism. It became his in fruition when, by living faith in Christ his Head, he responded to his baptism and actualised its blessings. But now, the more he uses his possession, the more he possesses it. And in that possession what can it not do for him, what can he not do in it? Bather let us say, what can he not do, not in it but in Him who is his life, in whom he lives, who lives in him?
'Christ my life' will be the talisman of power on the one hand to detach him from the bondage of the world over his will, and on the other to attach him to the world in sympathetic service. He who is his life, alike and at once overcame the world and gave Himself for it So did the Head. And the limb, surrendered to the Head, will in his measure do the same, because that life is in him, and in power.
Sin and sickness are facts lying upon wholly different planes. But I for one cannot doubt that normally the soul's health is at least friendly to that of the body which, glorified at last, is to be its inseparable partner and vehicle for ever. It is most creditable that, in untold instances, the maladies and the fatigues of this tabernacle, however truly we do often 'groan in it, being burdened,' are mysteriously affected for relief by the remembrance that Christ is our life. And what will it not be to recite that password of immortality, true for our whole being, when we commit ourselves to Him in the act of death? It assures to the spirit an unbroken life and a present bliss with Him. It assures equally to the body the radiant wonder of resurrection after a little while.
III. Come, then, and let us 'possess our possession'. Let us take our Redeemer at His word, and be quite sure that for us, so doing, He is life. To live out that wonderful fact shall be our ambition, always new and supremely innocent; to 'run with it, and not be weary; to walk with it, and not faint'.
That great Christian, Henry Venn the elder, Simeon's early friend and guide, writes thus in a letter to his father-in-law, Charles Elliott, April, 1787:—
'I had in past days a family very dear to me, and not enough for their maintenance from year to year; and in case of my death they were to be destitute. I was, however, wonderfully free and cheerful in my heart And my preservative was wholly this, "He that hath the Son hath life".'
A long century later lived and died my late dear friend in God, George H. C. Macgregor, son of a parish minister in the north of Scotland. He once told me how came to him his first strong grasp on this same secret, Christ our life. One summer night (he was then a young probationer for the ministry) he had addressed a cottage congregation on Colossians 3:4. As he walked home in the twilight over the heather his text still sounded in his mind, and suddenly (such things do happen) its doctrine flashed and burned into a Divine reality for himself. 'What, is Christ indeed my life?' And within five steps on the moorland, so he said to me with solemn emphasis, the young man passed into a new life—a life that shone unwavering with holy light and fire till, some twelve years later, still in his splendid youth, he passed upwards, only to live more perfectly and for ever by Christ who is our life.
—H. C. G. Moule (Bishop of Durham), Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXXVIII. p. 231.
References.—III. 4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 617. J. Bunting, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 484. III. 5.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 108; ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 276; ibid. vol. xii. p. 191. III. 6.—Ibid. (4th Series), vol. i. p. 23; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 36. III. 9.—S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints' Days, p. 161. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 69. III. 9, 10.—Ibid. (4th Series), vol. iii. pp. 138, 141. III. 10.—Ibid. vol. ii. p. 285.
The Divine Glory of Christ
These sublime words no more fit man than Saul's armour fitted the stripling David. Of Christ alone can we say that 'He is all things in all things'.
I. Christ's pre-existence proves His Divinity. It cannot be said of any man that he lived for thirty centuries before his birth; but as for Jesus, He was high before He became so low, He was rich before He became so poor, He was God before He became Man. As Irving well puts it: 'Tell me now, ye wise men, who deprive Him of His Divinity, how was Christ rich before He became poor if He were not God before He became man?'
II. His Divine titles teach His Divinity. In the Old Testament He is often styled 'Lord' in the same sense as Jehovah. The Father styles Him His Son—not a Son, but the Son, the only begotten—His unique Son, because of the same essence as Himself. These sublime titles convince us that the brow of the Son of Mary was radiant with the Godhead's diadem.
III. The Divine attributes given to Christ teach His Divinity. All through the Bible He is spoken of as Eternal, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Unchangeable.
IV. Homage was rendered unto Him which by right belonged only to the Divine. Gabriel styled Him the 'Son of the Highest'. A centurion said of Him: 'Truly this was the Son of God'. Even the Devil styled Him 'the Holy One of God,' and no truer Gospel was ever preached by an archangel!
V. The sublimity of His character, and teachings, and works prove His Divinity. (1) He passed through the world as unpolluted as a sunbeam passes through a foul atmosphere. (2) Never was there anything more pure than His teaching except it was His example. As a teacher He was unrivalled, 'Never man spake like this Man'. He spoke of heaven as if from its very throne, and He spoke of God as if from His very heart. (3) His miracles were marvels of power. When Jesus slept, the Galilean storm awoke; but when Jesus awoke, the storm slept in peace.
—J. Ossian Davies, The Dayspring from on High, p. 201.
Some of the greatest leaders of the Church have been slow to accept St. Paul's teaching as to the equality of bond and free in Christ. St. Leo the Great, as Bishop Gore reminds us, held that the condition of a slave was a bar to orders. 'He bases his refusal to allow the ordination of slaves on the ground that their condition does not leave them the liberty and leisure requisite for a priest; but it is couched in language which breathes the spirit of a Roman patrician much more than the feeling that in "Christ Jesus there is neither bond nor free". He talks of the "dignity of birth" being wanting to them, and he speaks scornfully of the "mean estate (vilitas) of a slave polluting the Christian ministry".'
—Bishop Gore, Leo the Great, p. 142.
Dr. Eugene Stock, in his history of the C.M.S., tells us that when Bishop Wilson went out to India, he was at once confronted with the caste question in the native Church. 'He took a strong line at once. Basing his decision on the grand New Testament principle that in Christianity "there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all, and in all," he directed that as regards Church usages, "caste must be abandoned, decidedly, immediately, finally".... 'In 1835 Bishop Wilson visited the South and dealt earnestly and lovingly with the disaffected Christians, pleading with them the example of the Good Samaritan, who did not stop to ask who the "certain man" was, nor dreamed of being defiled by touching him. "And what," exclaimed the Bishop, rising from his seat in the crowded church, "did our blessed Master say to this? Go and do thou likewise." A long pause,' says his biographer,' of motionless and breath-less silence followed, broken only when he besought every one present to offer up this prayer, "Lord give me a broken heart to receive the love of Christ and obey His commands". Whilst the whole congregation were repeating this in Tamil, he bowed upon the cushion, doubtless entreating help from God, and then dismissed them with his blessing.'
Christ Is All, and in All
How little can we see of Christ but a bare and faint outline! Why, it will take all eternity to exhaust that subject; it will take all eternity to learn how good, how wise, how great, how holy, how merciful is Christ. And you observe that the Apostle seems to have got that idea here in the words of our text, for he gives us a description of Christ; but it is a remarkable description. He does not say, 'You see Christ is good, Christ is loving, Christ is patient with us, Christ is tender'. He does not go on to His other attributes and say, 'Christ is wise, and Christ is great,' but he gathers them all up into one cluster, and in six monosyllables he tells us 'Christ is all, and in all'.
I. Christ is all, and in all in the Bible. Wherever you open it I care not, you will come to Christ in the Bible. You will find as you read that Book that everywhere, if we look for Him, everywhere we shall find the Christ. We go back, for instance, to the Old Testament, and there in the heart of the Jewish administration we see the Lamb, the offering appointed by God and by Moses through God, smoking upon the altar, the Lamb of sacrifice for sin offered to God, and we say, 'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world'. We go on, and turn over any page, and we are sure to encounter Christ. We come on to Isaiah, the Evangelical prophet, and we find him declaring, 'For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace'. I go back to the first book in the Bible, and there I find in Genesis that Jacob with his last breath tells us, 'Unto Him shall the gathering of the people be'. I come to the last chapter of the Old Testament in Malachi, and find it declared, 'Unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings'. I come into the New Testament, and there of course I expect to find Him. Christ in the Gospels; every miracle, Christ in the miracle; every parable, Christ in the parable; and afterwards in the Acts of the Apostles, the early story of Christianity—Christ in them all. I go on and find Christ in all the Epistles. I am just going to close the Book, and I find Christ in the Apocalypse, and the last word which He speaks to us after, shall I say, His Ascension, through His inspired and loving Apostle John, is 'Behold, I come quickly'. Christ is everything, then, in the Bible, all and in all.
But there are some people who read the Bible as historians. Well, read it as a history. It is the most wonderful history in the world. But if a man only looks at it as a historian he may be absorbed in the history, yet he will not read the story or find the history of Christ for his own salvation.
The fact is that no one will find Christ in this Book without looking for Him; but the soul that comes to this Book and opens it to find Christ will not be disappointed. Christ will step out from behind the pages of this Book, and He will reveal His love, and mercy, and His friendship to your heart and to your soul, and Christ will reveal Himself more and more to those who seek Him. But I do not believe that any others are likely to find Christ. I believe that if a man stands outside the Truth until something has satisfied him, he will remain there. But it is the man who comes to this Bible and says, 'Sir, I would see Jesus,' it is that man to whom the gate is opened. He finds Christ, and in finding Christ he finds peace, and pardon, and comfort, and life, and salvation, and heaven, for Christ is all and in all in the Bible.
II. Secondly, and briefly, Christ is all and in all in redemption. We were under condemnation through sin. It was Christ Who came down from heaven to earth and said, 'Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom'. We are slaves through sin. It was Christ Who came and gave deliverance to the captives and opened the prison doors. We were in darkness: it is Christ Who says, 'I am the Light of the World'. And when we come to Him He gives us of the Bread of Life. But more than this, we want to know as sinners how we can be justified before God. Well, here we have it, through redemption, 'being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus'. But we want to know more than this. We want to know that we shall never be overtaken by the consequences of this sin. How do I know that I shall never come into condemnation? 'There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.' Wherever you look for redemption you will find an answer to your fears, and a clearing of all your sins through Christ, if you just look up to Him Who achieved this great redemption for us. Is there a tear that He did not shed? Is there a burden that He did not bear? Is there a sorrow that He did not share? Is there a battle that He did not fight? Is there a victory that He did not win? The hand of sorrow may push you down, the hand of disappointment may fling you back; but that hand which is so patient, and so gentle, and so tender will at last wipe away all tears from our eyes. For in the story of redemption Christ is all, and in all.
References.—III. 11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 1006. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 280. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2601. Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 468. J. Keble, Sermons for Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 249. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. 1. No. 2888. Dinsdale T. Young, The Gospel of the Left Hand, p. 85. Alfred Rowland, The Exchanged Crowns, p. 151. Expositor (6th Series, vol. vi. p. 266; ibid. vol. vii. pp. 20, 277.
Compare Mrs. Carlyle's description of Father Mathew administering the pledge in London to a crowd of unfortunate and dissipated paupers. 'In the face of Father Mathew, when one looked from them to him, the mercy of heaven seemed to be laid bare.'
Humility is the altar on which God wishes us to offer our sacrifices to Him.
References.—III. 12.—J. M. Whiton, Summer Sermons, p. 193. III. 12, 13.—S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 136. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 283.
In the last hour of that last day, when the silent morning light has glimmered through the window for the very last time before our failing eyes, and we feel the burden of our many sins pressing heavily upon us, there will be nothing that can give the trembling mind of the strongest man of us any comfort unless he can say with truth: 'And now, Lord, what is my hope? Truly my hope is even in Thee.' Nothing, unless he can receive back through the familiar voice of the Spirit of God, speaking by a pure conscience, the same message which the Lord gave to the man sick of the palsy, 'Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee'.
And surely it will be well, while as yet we are in the full vigour of both mind and body, 'and the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when we shall say, We have no pleasure in them,' that we consider what grounds we can have for this assurance.
I. There is a temper from which no improvement could ever come. If at any time we were so inflamed with conceit that we thought God was unjust in not giving us more good things than we had already received; if we supposed that we owed nothing to Him, and He everything to us; if we pretended that He had no law which we ought to obey, but was only an indulgent benefactor, to spoil us with the favours of His omnipotence—then should we not say 'farewell to our consciences'? Following the rule of our own ruinous impulses without check, we should feel no restraint upon even the most disastrous of our passions. Owing no duty to God or man, we should be hideous monsters of selfishness; with no inspiring thoughts to purify our affections, and no ideas of right, wrong, and responsibility to guide us, we should be greedily given to everything evil.
II. To save us from setting out on our career in a spirit so mistaken and fatal, our Lord has mercifully put into our daily prayer a reminder of how the case really stands. There is no happiness apart from God. God is that essence of goodness and perfection apart from Whom there is no life; Who keeps everything in safety; Whose perfect Will is the law of the universe. To Him we owe everything. To the goodness of His Being belong the ideals of our homes, friendships, and affections. To His pervading lovingkindness we attribute our enjoyments in the present, our hopes for the future, our knowledge of Him, our understanding of His revelation, our salvation in Jesus Christ, our instruction in the way of peace and happiness.
III. We owe all this to God; but we owe Him much more. These are the things He has done for us, and given us, or which He can do and give. Is there no duty we owe Him in return? More than that, can we have these things without owing Him any duty at all? Some come to us by nature, and we can spoil them by neglecting our duty to God; some we cannot have at all without recognising this duty and acting upon it. We owe God love, gratitude, reverence, trust, obedience. We find His laws for us in our consciences, in His Word, in the revelation of His Son. We must resign our wills into His hands, our lives, thoughts, principles, affections—all to be guided and ruled by Him. When a heart is so willingly given up to Him, He sends His Spirit, His grace, His power, and does so guide and rule it. He makes the sacrifice easy. He alone can govern the unruly wills and affections of sinful men. That is what we owe to God in order to be what we are intended to be; we have to yield up to Him all that we have and are.
Therefore it is with the precious promises of God's Word before us, and with all the bitter remembrance of our shortcomings behind us, our Lord bids us bend daily before our gracious Father, and say, in penitence and humility, in love, trust, and hope, 'Forgive us our debts'.
—W. M. Sinclair.
The Virtue of Forbearance
If a man is to live with any joy and fulness, and to find what a noble abode this world may prove, there are three virtues which he must steadily pursue. The first is faith in God, for without faith existence will always be a tangled skein: the second is courage, for every life has its hills, and we breast them but poorly if our heart is faint; and the third is forbearance—forbearing one another.
I. Some of the evils of the unforbearing spirit. (1) One of the first of them to arrest me is that it makes life a constant disappointment. There is only one highway to the world's true comradeship—it is the road of forbearing one another. (2) Another evil of the unforbearing spirit is this, that it presses hardest on life's tenderest relationships. There are some worms that are content to gnaw green leaves, and to spend their lives on the branches of the tree. But there are others that are never satisfied with leaves, they must eat their way into the red heart of the rose. That is the curse of the unforbearing spirit—it gnaws at the very heart of the rose of life. (3) But there is another evil of the unforbearing temper—it reacts with certainty upon the man himself. For with what judgment we judge we shall be judged, and with what measure we mete it shall be measured unto us.
II. I wish to indicate the character of true forbearance. (1) True forbearance begins in a man's thought. It is a good thing to be forbearing in our acts, a great thing to be so in our speech, yet I question if we have begun to practise rightly this pre-eminently Christian virtue, till we are habitually forbearing in our thought (2) Again true forbearance is independent of our moods. It is a mock forbearance that comes and goes with every variation in the day. (3) There is one other mark on which I would insist, and it is this, that true forbearance helps to better things. It is like the sunshine which brings the summer nearer; it is part of that gentleness which makes men great.
III. Let me suggest some thoughts that may help to make us more forbearing. (1) Think how little we know of one another. We know far too little to be censorious or harsh. (2) Think how greatly we ourselves need forbearance. Even if we do not give it, we all want it. (3) Think how God has forborne us. The forbearance of God is a perpetual wonder. It is a great example: shall we not copy it? Days will be golden, and silenced birds will sing, when we revive the grace of forbearing one another.
—G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 170.
Reference.—III. 13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1841.
The Perfecting Power of Love
A word or two will explain to us the figure which the Apostle uses to convey his meaning: 'Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness'. The picture in the Apostle's mind is that of one who is putting on his raiment. He sees a man throwing around his body the loose and flowing garments of antiquity. And then it occurs to him that these loose garments, no matter how fine or beautiful they be, can never be worn with comfort or with grace unless they are clasped together with a girdle. Without that girdle, drawing all together, they hamper and hinder a man at every turn. It is the perfect bond of robe and tunic, the final touch that makes them serviceable. And so, says Paul, is it with love; it is the girdle of every other grace; it is the final touch that beautifies the whole, and makes every garment of the spirit perfect Under the figure, then, there lies one thought—it is the thought of the perfecting of love.
I. In the first place, let us consider how love is needed for the perfecting of gifts.
(1) How true this is of spiritual gifts we learn from the first Epistle to the Corinthians. That Church at Corinth was very rich in gifts; so rich, that there was trouble over them. What was the counsel which the Apostle gave? First, he said, Covet earnestly the best gifts. Remember, he means, that though all gifts are of God, yet all are not equal in spiritual value. But then immediately he turns from that, as though it were too hard for these Corinthians, and he says 'but yet I show you a more excellent way'—and that more excellent way is love. It is thus that Paul introduces that great chapter in which he glorifies the powers of love.
(2) Not only is this true of spiritual gifts; it is true of artistic and intellectual gifts. Over them all a man must put on love, for love is the final touch that perfects them. Whatever be your gift, over that gift put on the belt of love.
II. Once more, I ask you to observe that love is needed for the perfecting of service.
Something is wanting to make service perfect; to make it a thing of beauty and a joy for ever; and what it lacks to crown it with delight is the final touch of love. It is love that makes every service perfect. It is love that turns the task into delight. Love never asks how little can I do. Love always asks how much. And that is why in all the range of service there is no service like that inspired by love, whether the love of a mother for her children, or that of Jesus Christ for all mankind.
III. Once more, I want you to observe that love is needed for the perfecting of relationships.
Now when you come to think of it, you find there are three great enemies of sweet relationship. The first is selfishness, the second pride, and the third destroyer of life's ties is fear.
Love is the sworn enemy of selfishness, for it sets a crown upon the other-self. Love is the sworn enemy of pride, for love is ever warm and ever humble. And as for fear, there is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear, for fear hath torment. It is thus that love is imperatively needed for the perfecting of every human tie. Like a girdle you must clasp it on if you would wear the garment of relationship. It and it only is the bond of perfectness between one life and every other life. Without it we may eat and drink and sleep. But with it, in our common life, we live.
IV. Love is needed for the perfecting of religion.
—G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, p. 130.
Peace the Umpire
To receive this peace and to keep it is to abide in blessedness. It is the peace behind which the heart of man entrenched can be at rest 'when all without tumultuous seems'; the deep peace of the deep sea, though the surface of life be storm-tossed and tempest-driven.
I. It is this peace, this heavenly dove, which murmurs joy, that is to rule, to arbitrate, to he referee, to be umpire in our hearts. Men need such an umpire. The important matter, however, is to see this Divine arbitrator at work. Our judgments oftentimes hesitate in their verdicts, for life is a tangled skein, and the path of duty often winds through a labyrinth of the false and true, of good and evil, and the apparently neutral. God's peace is our greatest treasure, the preservation of it our first duty. Its decision must be final, and whatever other men may do, however right a certain course may be or them, any thing that robs us of God's peace is wrong for us.
II. But there are other and very important applications of this great truth. Let peace be the umpire not only of the heart but also of the home. The preservation of home's peace ought to be the first concern of all who belong to it. Let us make peace the ruling goddess of the home life, the umpire from whose verdict there can be no appeal. It is necessary to the growth of all that is beautiful, fragrant, and holy in human relationships.
III. Peace, God's peace, must also be made the umpire in the Church. Where strife is Christ is not. How powerfully that truth has been portrayed by the Belgian artist, Wiertz, in his great pictures, in which he always represents Jesus as turning away in pain and horror from scenes of hatred and strife. The only conflict in which the Church can engage is its holy war against the world. In the Church all must lay aside self-will, and live seeking and enjoying the peace of the household of God.
IV. Has the time not come when all good men must pray and strive to make peace the umpire between nations, and hasten the day when men will lay aside 'reeking tube and iron shard,' and learn to study war no more. Certainly peace must be the attitude, and the preservation of it the endeavour of all Christians, for the kingdom of God which they seek is righteousness and peace.
—D. L. Ritchie, Peace the Umpire and other Sermons, p. 9.
This is an abrupt appeal. Dr. Maclaren calls it 'a jet of praise'. When Paul's heart was fullest his speech was abruptest. The adjective 'thankful' is only used this once in the New Testament. But thankfulness is a duty and delight greatly prominent in the holy pages. To be unthankful is to be unscriptural. May we so reflect upon this jet of praise that our speech and our lives shall plash with melodious fountains of thanksgiving.
I. Thankfulness is a spiritual possibility. 'Be ye thankful' is not uttered to mock us. Nothing is commanded which is not possible to man through grace. (1) Note that this grace of thankfulness is a climacteric grace: 'And be ye thankful'. Thankfulness is the crown of the graces. Your conquering brow lacks its garland if you are wanting this celestial quality. (2) Thankfulness is recognised as in some degree already existing. Paul said literally 'Become ye thankful'. It is as if he said, 'Become more thankful'. (3) As Paul uttered this word it was a great endeavour after a grand ideal. The idea which hides in that 'become' is a constant striving after an unreached standard. But this becoming thankful is no easy task. Constant prayer and ceaseless vigilance are needed if we are to attain this grace. What a noble ideal of thankfulness Paul always sets before us! In 2:7 of this Epistle he presents an aspect of this ideal, 'abounding in thanksgiving' (R.V.). Sing far more eloquent and far louder songs. In Ephesians 5:20 we have another illustration of the standard of gratitude, 'Giving thanks always for all things'. Is there 'always' some cause for thanksgiving? Yes. Praise must be perennial. (4) This grand ideal has a sure secret of attainment. After the lapse of but one verse Paul says: 'Giving thanks to God the Father through Him'. Gratitude is evangelically achieved. All ethics are evangelically realised.
II. Thankfulness is a spiritual blessedness. How rich they are who are thankful! Ingratitude is impoverishment Thankfulness glorifies God. Thankfulness is a great spiritualising force. What a check upon gloom is gratitude! Thankfulness as it destroys the base elements of our nature develops all the higher. Thankfulness is not least a blessedness because it brings us into fellowship with the hosts of heaven.
—Dinsdale T. Young, The Enthusiasm of God, p. 161.
References.—III. 15.—Hugh Black, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 139. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. i. p. 19. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1693. G. Body, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 184. W. H. Evans, Short Sermons for the Seasons, p. 151. Bishop Alexander, Verbum Crucis, p. 177. A. Connell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxi. p. 386. III. 16.—W. T. Davison, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 218. C. J. Ridgeway, The King and His Kingdom, p. 101. T. Sadler, Sermons for Children, p. 113. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2679. T. Binney, King's Weigh-House Chapel Sermons, p. 231. J. Bolton, Selected Sermons (2nd Series), p. 108. W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, pp. 251, 259. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 27. III. 17.—F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 34. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 913. Bishop Westcott, The Incarnation and Common Life, p. 125. W. H. Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 56. T. Arnold, The Interpretation of Scripture, p. 236. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i. p. 67. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 302. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Beading (2nd Series), p. 24. S. Pearson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv. p. 289.
I obeyed word, or lifted finger, of father or mother, simply as a ship her helm; not only without idea of resistance, but receiving the direction as a part of my own life and force, a helpful law, as necessary to me in every moral action as the law of gravity in my leaping.
—Ruskin, Praeterita, § 49.
Reference.—III. 20, 21.—C. S. Home, Relationships of Life, p. 13.
His father's severity was such, that once the boy cried out, 'Kill me, father, kill me at once'; and in his indignation at parental injustice, he made a will in these laconic terms, 'omne matri, nihil patri.'—Prof. Knight's memoir of Dr. John Duncan (Colloquia Peripatetica, p. xxxvi).
'To my deep mortification,' says Darwin, 'my father once said to me, "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family". But my father, who was the kindest man I ever knew, and whose memory I love with all my heart, must have been angry and somewhat unjust when he used such words.'
Bismarck attributed the Germans' victories over the French to the fact that 'I know that there is Some One who sees me when the lieutenant does not see me'. 'Do you believe, your Excellency, that they really reflect on this?' asked Fürstenstein. 'Reflect, no; it is an instinct, a feeling, a tone, I believe.'
To the Half-Hearted
Note how our text is introduced: it has a very suggestive and illuminative context. 'Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh,' that is verse twenty-two; and then, 'Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord,' that is verse twenty-three. Now the servants of whom Paul speaks are not domestic servants in our sense. They were slaves, bought for a little money: the property and the chattels of their master. Yet even to slaves, who got no wages and who had no rights, clear and imperious comes the command of God, 'Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily'. I want you to note, too, that this text was never better illustrated than in the life of the man who was inspired to pen it. It is, then, of this wholehearted ness, of this fine concentration or enthusiasm, that I want to speak.
I. True enthusiasm is not a noisy thing. Whenever we think of an enthusiastic crowd, we think of uproar, tumult, wild excitement. And I grant you that in the life of congregated thousands, touched into unity by some great emotion, there seems to be some call for loud expression. But just as there is a sorrow that lies too deep for tears, there is an enthusiasm far too deep for words; and the intense purpose of the wholehearted man is never noisy. There is a certain silence, as of an under-purpose, wherever a man is working heartily.
II. But if whole-heartedness be not noisy, this at least is true of it; it is one condition of the best success. Could we trace the history of failure—that long, sad story of the world—I think we should find that for one who went to the wall through want of intellect, there were a score who reached that pass through want of heart.
III. But the virtue of whole-heartedness is more than that. It is one of the conditions of the truest happiness. When we are halfhearted, the hours have leaden feet But when, subduing feeling, we turn with our whole energy of soul to grapple with our duty or with our cross, it is wonderful how under the long shadows we hear unexpectedly a sound of music.
IV. And there can be little question that the more heartily we do our humble duty, the more we feel we are doing it for God. To be wholehearted is to be facing heavenward. And the great loss of all halfhearted men and women is this, that above the dust, and the stress and strain of life, above the fret and weariness of things, they catch no glimpse of the eternal purpose, nor of the love, nor of the joy of God. Indeed, if that old saying 'like to like' be true, the men who are halfhearted must be blind. For if there is one demonstrable fact, I think it is this: we are the creatures of a wholehearted God. It is the pity of all halfhearted men that they are out of harmony with God.
V. Note how the writer lays his hand on the real secret of all the large enthusiasms. He centres his appeal upon a person.
—G. H. Morrison, Sunrise: Addresses from a City Pulpit, p. 230.
In his sixteenth year he [Bismarck] was confirmed by Schleiermacher in the little Trinity Church at Berlin, and one interesting reminder of this event remains. The text then placed in his hands by the great theologian was from the Epistle to the Colossians, 'whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as unto the Lord and not unto men'. There are various evidences that this mandate impressed him. It survived the roystering, the doubts, the cynicism, which at various times eclipsed it, and it is now written in golden letters above his tomb at Friedrichsruh.
—A. D. White, Seven Great Statesmen (1910), p. 403.
References.—III. 23.—R. G. Soans, Sermons for the Young, p. 63. J. Clifford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 324. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 398. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 190. III. 23, 24.—H. P. Liddon, Sermons Preached on Special Occasions, p. 193. III. 24.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1205. W. H. Evans, Sermons far the Church's Year, p. 126. IV. 2.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 354. John Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, p. 266. IV. 3.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 398; ibid. vol. x. p. 344.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:
In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.
But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.
Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:
And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.
But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.