Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,A Besetting Sin (a Lenten Sermon)
Sin is a very difficult thing to define; it is so complex, so subtle. The Greek word—which we translate for 'sin'—means 'missing the mark'. What a true name that is for any sin which any of us commit! How sure it is, sooner or later, to 'miss the mark' for which we meant it. We do it with the idea that in some way or other it will give us pleasure. But does any sin, in the long run, give pleasure?
Sins are very various, and of an infinite number of degrees.
I. But there is One Sin that is Predominant, it rules and characterises the whole man. It would be difficult to say how that particular sin began, and how it has attained its great power. No doubt it has a good deal to do with our physical temperament, even with our bodily state, our outward circumstances. And if you would trace its rise and its early course, you must go back to your early days. Since then, it has almost daily grown through a daily indulgence, if not in the act, the thought. And so it is that now—whether others know it or not, you know and God knows—that this sin has attained a very strong hold upon you. It meets you everywhere; everything seems to play into it; and though you have often fought against it, and often prayed about it, and been determined and in earnest to conquer it, still it is dominant, it meets you everywhere. It is your besetting sin!
II. Satan's Mode of Warfare with us is to Concentrate his Attack on one Spot in our character. He finds a weak point, and he plays upon it. Hence first, perhaps, by natural consequences, and afterwards by Satan taking advantage, the weak point turns into a positive sin. The sin recurs at intervals which become shorter and shorter, till it becomes 'the besetting sin' of our character. It grows stronger and stronger, until, as it ever must do, it turns into a habit; and when that sin is once dominant, Satan will even leave us alone in other things. He will let us be ever so good, that thereby he may give us a false estimate of ourselves, and make us careless of the one point where he is carrying on his deep wiles to ruin us for ever.
III. In Lent let each Ask Himself—'What is my besetting sin?' and to deal with the question very practically. Not to be satisfied with an indefinite, vague answer. 'What is my besetting sin?' Do you know what your besetting sin is? If you do not, ask God to show it to you, for it is the office of the Holy Spirit to 'convince of sin'. And if you have any friend or relation faithful enough, and wise enough, to help you, ask him to help you. It is a question, a solemn, religious matter to be dealt with before God, in your own room, in church, in your most sacred hours, with the great judgment day and eternity before you. Satan will try to confuse you, to complicate the question; but do not be satisfied till you have an answer which approves itself to your own conscience, which tallies with facts, which you can bring confidently to God, confidently to God.
(a) When you know the occasions, and the opportunities, and the persons, and the times, and the circumstances which have been specially dangerous to you in your past life, avoid them, if you can; if you cannot, put on a double guard at those times and seasons. Make a greater effort when you come to those points, and never venture into one of them before you put on your armour. Crush the first thought that may arise.
(b) But do not be simply negative. A vacuum is a very dangerous thing. Occupy the place in your heart where that sin was, with something, something very definite; something that will interest you; something that will employ you; something that will satisfy you; something very great and very good. If the house is empty the enemy will come back sevenfold, and take his old place, and you will find yourself worse off than before! Cultivate the opposite grace. Set about it in real earnestness, and be characterised by the virtues which you have hitherto failed to possess.
The Christian Society
When St. Paul spoke of Christians as being all members one of another, and as therefore bound to the duties of brotherly help and consolation, he was expressing a thought which lies at the very centre of Christianity. And I desire to draw your attention to this side of the revelation which we have received in Christ, as to the conception of Christianity as a social system, in which no man dare live to himself, in which no man can live to himself even if he would.
I. This conception of a mysterious bond uniting all men in one great fellowship is itself contained in the fact of the Incarnation. The brotherhood of all men is revealed in the Person of Him who calls all men His brethren. It may perhaps seem a trite thing to say, an obvious inference, hardly necessary to indicate to intelligent or Christian people. Nay, have we really learned the lesson yet? has the world, has the Church, really accepted this inference, and given it practical expression? No; we have not learnt yet the significance of the teaching of the Incarnation in relation to human society.
II. And so it appears that the lesson is not altogether easy to apply. And God, who is always better to us than we are to ourselves, has not left us to work it out for ourselves. For when Christ revealed His truth to men, He did not leave it there for them to appropriate, here a fragment, there a fragment, as they best could; but He left behind a Society which was to be at once its keeper and its symbol. The Church was to teach the truth; more than that, it was itself the expression of the great fundamental truth of the Incarnation, that all men are brethren in the sight of God, for they all have but one Redeemer who is the Brother of each.
III. The Church is, then, the Society through whose life we best realise at once our own relation to God and our own duties to our fellows. Let me suggest three lines of responsibility which we must face, if we be true to our inheritance. (1) We must face the social message of the Incarnation, which it is the Church's duty, our duty as members of the Church, to interpret to the world. (2) We must face the doctrinal message of the Incarnation in reference to our own intellectual attitude to our religion. We need to remind ourselves from time to time that, whatever side issues may be raised, the fact that God became man is the really important matter, the one answer to the puzzles of life here, the one hope for a future of holiness and service hereafter. (3) We need to face the message of the Incarnation in relation to our own spiritual life in a more personal fashion still. Called to be saints; all of us are so called. Social, intellectual, spiritual responsibilities—with what encouragements shall we face them? Let the Apostle answer, 'Compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses' is our watchword.
—J. H. Bernard, Via Domini: Sermons for Christian Seasons, p. 285.
The Cloud of Witnesses
We are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses—not merely the faithful of long past ages, but the saints of God in every period of the Church's history.
I. How clearly it reminds us that goodness is possible, and is within the reach of all. You and I have a life to live, a race to run, which is beset with many difficulties, many temptations, many sorrows. It is not, it cannot be, easy. But when we remember that this life has been lived, this race been run, by countless others, who have not lived and run in vain, is there no encouragement for us to press forward with fresh zeal and hope? They are God's true witnesses; they show us what He intended all men to be, and what by His all-prevailing grace we ourselves may yet be.
II. Their very presence with us is a continual call to lift up our hearts, and not to allow ourselves to become wholly engrossed in the things of this world. We know what a real danger that is. John Bunyan has drawn the character for us in one of his immortal pictures—the man that could look no way but downwards, with a muck-rake in his hand, and, standing over his head, an angelic being with a celestial crown in his hand and proffering him that crown for the muck-rake; 'but the man did neither look up nor regard, but raked to himself the straws, the small sticks, and dust of the floor'. How ready we are to fall into the same error! If nothing else will rouse us, may not the thought of our unseen witnesses do so? They supply us with the standard, not of earth, but of heaven, by which all our actions should be measured.
III. Be assured of their never-failing sympathy and love. We believe—do we not?—that our dead are now with Christ, and therefore that they are entering ever more fully into His mind and spirit. But if so, and if, as we are taught, Christ can still be 'touched with the feeling of our infirmities' (Hebrews 4:15), and is still pleading for us with an all-prevailing intercession before God (compare Hebrews 7:25), what more certain than that His people are engaged in the same great ministry of love? They have not, they cannot have, forgotten us.
IV. We rise up through His people to our Lord Himself; we look beyond them to Him who is 'the author and finisher of our faith'. One of the grandest of old Greek myths tells us how on stated days human souls follow in the train of the gods, and, rising above the world, gaze on the eternal and the absolute. It is only by strenuous effort that they can gain for a brief space this vision, and then they fall to earth again, and their life on earth corresponds with the range and clearness of the heavenly impressions they retain. 'For us,' says Bishop Westcott who recalls the story, 'the revelation of Christ has made this dream a truth.'
—G. Milligan, The Divine Artist, p. 97.
'Consider,' says Ruskin in the third volume of Modern Painters (ch. IV.), 'what are the legitimate uses of the imagination, that is to say, of the power of perceiving, or conceiving with the mind, things which cannot be perceived by the senses. Its first and noblest use is, to enable us to bring sensibly to our sight the things which are recorded as belonging to our future state, or as invisibly surrounding us in this. It is given us, that we may imagine the cloud of witnesses in heaven and earth, and see, as if they were now present, the souls of the righteous waiting for us; that we may conceive the great army of the inhabitants of heaven, and discover among those whom we most desire to be with for ever.'
Let us therefore turn our youthful imaginations into great picture-galleries and Walhallas of the heroic souls of all times and all places; and we shall be incited to follow after good, and be ashamed to commit any sort of baseness in the direct view of such 'a cloud of witnesses'. Would you know what faith means, leave Calvinists and Arminians to split straws about points of doctrine; but do you read and digest that splendid eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, and you will escape for ever from the netted snares of theological logomachy.
—Prof. Blackie, in Self-Culture, p. 82.
The blessing is ours of their love for great and noble things. We may not all be gifted with the divinest fires of their nobler insight and wider imagination, but we may learn to live as they did, and to seek a deeper grasp of life, a more generous sympathy. Overwhelmed we may be with self-tortures, and wants, and remorses, swayed by many winds, sometimes utterly indifferent from very weariness, but we may still return thanks for the steadfast power of the noble dead. It reigns unmoved through the raving of the storm; it speaks of a bond beyond death and beyond life.
—Miss Thackeray, in Old Kensington.
'My heart,' says Augustine (Confessions, ch. 1. of book seven), 'cried out vehemently against all my phantasms, and with this one blow I tried to beat off from my mind's eye the unclean troop which buzzed around it. And lo, being scarcely driven away, in the twinkling of an eye they again gathered thick around me, flew against my face, and beclouded it.'
References.—XII. 1.—J. Parker, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 117. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 325. Christianity in Daily Conduct, p. 309. Marcus Dods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 166. J. W. Houchin, The Vision of God, p. 92. E. E. Jenkins, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 92. J. Watson, Scottish Review, vol. iii. p. 331. B. J. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 1. R. F. Horton, ibid. p. 193. Archbishop Temple, ibid. vol. liii. p. 321. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Hebrews, p. 177; ibid. p. 186.
Many Mansions (for All Saints' Day)
Hebrews 12:1-2; John 14:2
Lord Beaconsfield, in his 'Venetia,' describes the aged tutor of the son and heir of a noble house as leading his pupil into the picture gallery of the castle. As he pointed out one portrait after another he reminds the youth that no single one of his ancestors had brought dishonour to the family name. He did this in order to stimulate and encourage him to walk in the steps of those who had gone before. The author of this Epistle, writing to Hebrew Christians tempted to apostatise from the faith, leads them to the portrait gallery of the heroes of faith. He compares them in number to the 'cloud' of spectators at the Isthmian games, looking down on the arena and watching with keenest interest the runners in a race. Bishop Lightfoot has told us that the Greek word for 'witnesses' is never used simply of spectators. Here they are those who bear testimony to a certain truth. They are not the Light, but they reflect the Light. 'Jesus Christ is to me,' said Tennyson one day, 'as is the sun to yonder flower.' 'So must it be to us,' said Canon Ainger, who authenticates the story, 'for power comes from the source, not from the colour, beauty, charm of the reflection.' 'And the Light was the life of men.'
I. Condition of the Glorified Saints.—'In My Father's house are many mansions;... I go to prepare a place for you.' Christ, in these words, is clearly speaking of the intermediate state. 'My Father's house' was the name which He gave to the Temple. He draws an analogy between the earthly and the heavenly sanctuary. The Temple had 'many mansions,' which were used for a threefold purpose.
(a) I need not say that the Temple was a place of worship. St. John, in the Apocalypse, sneaks especially of this aspect of heaven. On the background of the Temple services he depicts the joyous praises of the glorified saints. In the Benedicite we chant: 'O ye spirits and souls of the righteous, bless ye the Lord: praise Him and magnify Him for ever'.
(b) Just as the Mosque of St Sophia, in Constantinople, is not only a place of worship, but also a Mohammedan college, so the Temple was a great school of instruction. In its 'mansions,' its chambers and corridors, were the celebrated schools of Simeon and Hillel, and other Doctors of the Law. It was in the Temple that St. Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel. It was in one of the 'mansions' of the Temple courts Joseph and Mary found the boy Jesus 'in the midst of the doctors, both hearing and asking them questions'. The dying Moses exclaimed, 'All the saints are in Thy hands, and they sat down at Thy feet'—the Eastern attitude of the scholar—'every one shall receive of Thy words'. The mightiest intellects have sat at the feet of Christ the Teacher, but the genius of a Pascal, the logic of a Butler, the splendid scholarship of a Lightfoot, or the spiritual insight of a Liddon have never learned on earth the truth of God as it is learned by the saints who are sitting at the feet of Jesus in the heavenly school.
(c) The Temple, like the Vatican, which with its many chambers is the dwelling of the Pontifical household, was the home of a priesthood. When a priest left his Levitical city, in the order of his course, and entered the gates of Jerusalem, he had not, like a stranger, to seek for lodgings. His 'mansion' or chamber was prepared for him within the precincts of the Temple. Our Lord specially refers to this fact I ask you to notice that Christ used a technical term for 'mansion'. What the bungalow or rest-house is in India today the mone (the word used by Christ) was on the great roads of the Greek Empire—a place of rest and refreshment for the passing traveller. On the Roman roads these bungalows were called mansiones, and hence through the Latin Vulgate the word 'mansion' is found in our English version. Our Lord, by the use of this term, distinctly taught that the 'intermediate state' is not the final goal of human existence. The word mone implies both rest and progress. The saints in heaven are a stage nearer the final home, where in glorified bodies they shall stand in the presence of Him who is 'the Resurrection and the Life'. We cannot understand a disembodied spirit, and hence the universal instinct, when we think of reunion with loved ones whom we have lost, is to think of reunion in a resurrection state. The words of an old Scotch song often pass through my own mind, especially at this season of the Church's year:—
Sweet the lav'rock's note and lang
Lilting wildly up the glen:
Will ye no' come back again?
Will ye no' come back again?
Better loved ye canna be.
Will ye no' come back again?
We cannot bring our loved ones back again, but God can and will.
II. An Argument from Nature.—I must at once call your attention to a simple argument from nature founded on the words, 'I go to prepare a place for you'. Everywhere in the natural world we see a wonderful adaptation, even in the lowest forms of organic life, to their surroundings. When a little bird breaks its shell, its skin is one of the tenderest things in nature. The quill feathers of the parent bird, with which it flies, are hard, and would hurt and bruise the wee fledgeling if they touched it. So beneath these feathers there are others which are very soft—we call them down. They form a coverlet which comes between the hard feathers and the tender skin. 'Are ye not much better than they?' I ask parents who have lost little ones, if God thus provides for the little birds, can you doubt that in the nursery of heaven He will make the tenderest provision for these undeveloped intelligences? A Huguenot officer, seeing Admiral Coligny lying sorely wounded on the battlefield of Moncontour, whispered in his ear, 'Yet, God is very gentle'. Bereaved parents, do not forget the gentleness of God.
III. I must at once apply the chief thought which my first text suggests. The author of this Epistle bids us beware of the sin of unbelief, the entangling robe which most impedes our course. At this festival of All Saints, with all its hallowed memories, we are reminded of our own mortality. This faith of which I speak is a simple trust in One who alone can give peace in a dying hour. Let us once more, in the study of the Word, and in the use of the Ordinances which our beloved Church so richly supplies, rekindle the flickering embers of our faith at the altar-fires of heaven.
—J. W. Bardsley, Many Mansions, p. 11.
All Saints' Day
'Seeing that we are compassed about'—whether we see it or not it is a truth. There are so many people who seem to live quite unconscious of environment. And what is true of ordinary things is also true of the kingdom of God. Some Christians are so very unsympathetic to environment, and there are some whose eyes are open and they see Jesus at the right hand of God. It is like that beautiful Old Testament story of Elisha's servant.
But what are we compassed about with? The writer of this Epistle has before him the circus of Rome and the tiers, row upon row, filled with spectators. Those who strive, who are they? We can supply the answer ourselves. Who are the angels? They are spectators, they are observers. They take an interest in the contest, and their faces behold the face of our Father which is in heaven. And yet these are not the spectators St Paul alludes to. He does not say that we are compassed about with a great cloud—mark the word 'cloud'—of spectators, observers; no, he says witnesses. And the word 'witness' means not a spectator, an observer, but one who testifies, a martyr. We might render it, 'We are compassed about with so great a cloud of martyrs'. They are not cold, critical observers of the struggle; no, they are those who themselves have struggled and fought, and run, and have won the victory.
Now mark the word 'wherefore'. The eleventh chapter, which precedes this, is the great chapter of the saints of old, who waxed valiant in the fight, who were stoned, tempted, sawn asunder, and who confessed that they were only strangers and pilgrims who sought a better country, and that a heavenly, who were destitute, tormented, afflicted, of whom the world was not worthy, of whom it is said, 'Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God'. The martyrs are the saints, the Church triumphant, witnessing the Church militant. Now you can understand the expression, 'Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses'.
Then just let me follow the text out in the simplest way. What are we to do?
I. First of all we are to 'lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us'. The word 'us' is not in the original. It does not mean sin within us at all. We are to lay aside every weight and the sin which is always at us. That is the first thing to do. We are not to give in to the circumstances that are round about us, however evil they may be. Lay them all aside, strip yourself of them, and run free. It is the circumstances that are round about us that would prevent us gaining the crown. Now the circumstances of sin round about us steal away our faith. Who is there here who does not know in running the race the difficulty we have to maintain our faith clear to the end? The saints and martyrs are there all round, and of them it is written, 'These all died in faith'. The coldness, the atmosphere round about us, the indifference in high places, the criticism of the Word of God itself—lay them aside. You cannot run unless your faith is true.
II. And then the second point is this—run with patience the appointed course. There is where the happiness comes in. You yourself are placed on the course by God—it is all His choice. He made you, and He has made the conditions in which you have got to run. It is the appointed course. He has chosen the race for you. It is all His doing. You were born at the moment He chose, and you die the moment He chooses. Your times are in His hands. You are His from the beginning to the end of the course, entirely His, wholly His, completely His, wherever the circumstances of your life may be. And is not that a help? It is His course, His race, you are His runner.
III. And, then, last of all, 'Looking unto Jesus'. Keep your eye in the right direction. How strong here is the preposition! It is not looking unto exactly. There is a little word which in the Greek means looking into Jesus, right into Him, not looking only at His words, His works, His miracles, and His beautiful Life; something more than that, looking right into Him and reading His heart. When Peter fell cursing and swearing in the hall of the Judgment Seat, Christ looked at him. Peter saw it How did Peter know that Christ was looking at him? Because Peter was looking at Christ. And when Christ looked at him and Peter looked at Christ, Peter looked right into His Heart and went out and wept bitterly. That is an example of looking into the Saviour.
Then comes the last beautiful expression of the text, 'the Author and Finisher of our faith'. Now, is not that a complete text? See how complete it is, coming after chapter XI. The Lord Jesus is the author of faith, and the end of faith, too. If we have faith in Jesus, He put it there. He is the Author of it It is His faith in us. He is the Author of your faith, and He is the Finisher of your faith. He Who has begun the good work in you will continue it unto the day of His coming.
'Spinoza,' says Professor Royce in his Spirit of Modern Philosophy (pp. 54, 55), 'is not a man of action; his heroism, such as it is, is the heroism of contemplation.... Unswervingly he turns from the world of finite hopes and joys; patiently he renounces every sort of worldly comfort; even the virtue that he seeks is not the virtue of the active man. There is one good thing, and that is the Infinite; there is one wisdom, and that is to know God; there is one sort of true love, and that is the submissive love of the saintly onlooker, who in the solitude of reflection sees everywhere an all-pervading law, an all-conquering truth, a supreme and irresistible perfection.'
References.—XII. 1, 2.—Marcus Dods, Christ and Man, p. 61. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 346. R. Glover, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 211. G. A. Bennetts, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 398. C. Gutch, Sermons, p. 280. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. i. p. 197. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. i. p. 63. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2037. A. B. Davidson, Waiting upon God, p. 305. Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 960. XII. 1-29. —Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 194.
Author and Finisher
Let the Apostle, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, read the Old Testament to us. We do not want a new Bible, we want a new reader. Who has this gift of vocal light and heart music who will read to us the Old Testament? That man is the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is the sublimest commentary on the Pentateuch ever written, the only true commentary on the Pentateuch. A man of such piercing insight and such long intellectual foresight, with such a gift of music, he comes into the house without opening the door. That is always true pastoral visitation—to enter the sickroom without a noise, to approach without a creak. Will the Apostle read to us the Old Testament? He will. 'By faith Abel.' I thought faith never occurred in the Old Testament. Yes, faith occurred, but not the word. Yet some persons only know things by the word. They only think a sermon is evangelical if it mentions the name of Jesus Christ five and twenty times; that they call Gospel preaching. It may be; it may not be. Oh, the fools that block our way to heaven! 'By faith Enoch... By faith Noah... By faith Abraham... By faith Rahab... By faith Isaac... By faith Jacob... By faith Joseph... By faith Moses...' Why, it was all faith, and we were told that faith was not so much as mentioned in the Old Testament; it now appears that there is nothing else mentioned. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
I. No one man can hold all the faith. That is the lesson of the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. By a certain aspect of faith Abel...; by a certain phase of faith Enoch...; by a certain degree of faith Isaac...; by another degree of faith Moses humbled the pride of Egypt, scorned its offers, went away to sup with the people of God. Now let us read the text, and take out of it the word 'our,' that word you so much prized, let it go; it is not in the original language of the text. 'The Author and Finisher of faith'; not 'our' faith, which is but an aspect of the true faith, and in so far as it is a true aspect of the true faith is justly referred to the miracle-working power of the Holy Ghost But the great text is Faith, not our faith, not His faith, but all the faith you can gather together multiplied by infinity; and Jesus is the Author and Finisher of faith—the new life, the life that refreshes itself in the life of God, the new mode of life. We have all read, speaking in the language of charity, the great work of Prof. Tyndall on Heat as a Mode of Motion. Who will write a kindred book relating to a higher science—faith a mode of motion, a mode of life, a mode of suffering, a mode of conquest? As the great Doctor found motion in heat, so we find the soul's motion in faith. We are saved by faith; faith is the gift of God.
II. You must distinguish between faith and the quantity of faith. Faith may be a quality rather than a magnitude. 'Great is thy faith' may be an expression which means, true and grand is the quality of thy faith. How much there is in quality! and how foolish, viewed in this light, is the absurd doctrine that all men are equal even in the sight of God! They are not. We are not equally whole men. Some man will touch me with his loving hand, and make a new creature of me in relation to passing circumstances. Another man will look at me, and add ten years to my life, my age, and the burden of my misery. 'Great is thy faith,' therefore, may be a reference quite as much to quality as to magnitude. Do not let us contemn men for want of faith, for in some aspects and directions they may have more faith than we. I have envied some people the way in which they can carry the burdens of life. I cannot do so; I go from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fall among temptations and assaults and hindrances, and I am left naked and half dead on the inhospitable roadside. But Jesus comes and recognises what is in me, knows me to be a man, a man saved, a man with the crimson upon him which flowed from one fount alone. We show our faith in different ways and in different degrees; but it may be the real saving faith after all.
III. Suppose we say that the subject is light rather than faith; how then would the illustration run? This little candle is not light, but a light; I can see that. This dim oil-lamp is not light, it is a light; this electric jet is not light, it is a light, an aspect of light, a part-light, it belongs to the great family called light. But you must understand the distinction and the difference between these. Now there is beyond all these aspects and phases of light the true light itself, God's light, not a twinkling star or a dying sun, but Light, the thing itself, the essential glory. That is the meaning of the text. By faith Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and all the rest of the grand heroes did this and that conquest; these were lights, each was a light, but God is Light, and all light comes from God. Do not mistake the little twinkling candle for light in the true sense of that term. It is just the same with yourself, and with Christians generally. I am but a little sparklet, hardly worthy to be called a sparklet; if you want to see light see Jesus, listen to Him, what saith He? 'I am the light of the world.' So we must make these broad and vital distinctions. Let each shine with his own lustre, let no lamp envy any other lamp, let no light depreciate any other light, let no preacher depreciate any other preacher. All the preachers are necessary; all the voices are not in the one voice; all the gamuts run up into one ineffable music.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. IV. p. 146.
Looking and Looking Off (for the New Year)
Life is not given to us all at once as a full cup, to be slowly drained as the years pass, to become less palatable, less delightful, more flat, more weary. It is, on the contrary, given to us, and to all creation as it is needed, fresh from the hand of God. And, further, it is not meant to be dully continuous or gradually to sink away. It is to be new every morning, with fresh stalls, fresh enrichments, and fresh hopes. It is one of the blessings of a new year that the break compels us to think of this. We cannot help dreaming between the end and the beginning, between the shining and the shading. Perhaps at first the thought of change, and loss, and disappointment is what suggests itself most powerfully. We say to ourselves that the past has taught the unwisdom of expecting, of darting thought and hope into the unknown future.
We keep our hold, and may make it faster on all that is really precious if we look up. We may run the race with patience, looking unto Jesus. The phrase in the original means not only looking but looking off'. We have to look away from many things that draw the eyes, and look up to the Author and Finisher of our faith. So looking the cloud is lifted off our spirits, and we spring back to the old energy, and our youth is renewed like the eagle's.
I. This new year, however, it may find us, may, if we will, leave us richer, wiser, stronger, and calmer. Over much that will happen to us we have no control. But there is a great region which our own wills may possess and command, drive the winds as they list. If we seek more wisdom, it will be given to us. How few of us seek to press steadily towards a full possession of Christian truth! Many of our chief teachers, in their desire to reach these outside, have gone to the very circumference of Christianity. No doubt they may be nearer thus to those whom they are seeking to call. No doubt they do much, and very much, if they bring some of those who hear them even within the border. But why should they remain there as if there were nothing to be found further within? There is no truth of Christianity, however elementary, that does not show itself more mysterious, more beautiful, and more powerful in proportion as it is brooded over. There is no revelation that is not worth summering and wintering with. In order to know what we think we know, there must be concentration. There must be the looking off from many things, from many studies, from many labours, perhaps even from many Christian labours, before the final loveliness unveils itself. And besides, there are new truths in Christianity which we have not yet come to know, which we have perhaps regarded for years with doubt or suspicion, or even with dread, but which, mayhap, are to be the light and glory of our last years. To win possession of Christian truth there must be intellectual labour, though intellectual labour is not enough. The new discoveries about the Bible do not mean that we are to discard it, but that we are to study it more deeply and wisely until we understand, as we may now understand better, the true order and content of God's gracious converse with His people. Only it is ever to be remembered that the intellect can only guide us to spiritual truth. It is the Holy Ghost who must lead us into truth, lead us where the intellect leaves us, where human teachers cease to instruct us, where all light fails but His. We may master the lover's lexicon, but only love will teach us what love is, and sorrow what sorrow is, and death what death is. Even so, the Holy Ghost puts us in possession of the things of Christ by making them matter of our own experience. And the lessons we learn from Him are lessons never to be unlearned.
II. The new year may, if we will, bring with it a growth of strength. What are we to say about our moral progress? Do the wheat and the tares still twist and twine together in the garden of our souls? True, the wheat and the tares grow together unto the harvest. But it is the law of the life in Christ that as the wheat ripens, the tares gradually die out. Our business is to uproot them, to extirpate them, to make no treaty with them, to aim at no line of modified goodness, but to strive for perfection. We have learned to think soberly of what we can do, but looking off from our own weakness and up to Jesus we learn that we are not fighting alone.
We must look off from ourselves, cease that diseased introspection that so confuses and dims the Christian life. We must look away from the old desires that affrighted us, from the old matters on which we must speak to the Lord no more. We must cherish the great ambitions that are granted to all who seek, that may be found whatever our worldly circumstances may be. We must look upward and forward to that future so much larger and greater than our past has been, that future in which we shall attain more than the heights of our dreams, that future in which all the sins, and sorrows, and struggles of mortality shall vanish like a thing of nought. 'Oh, the winds of repentance, and reconciliation, and atonement that will blow from garden to garden of God in the tender twilights of His kingdom!'
—W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 83.
Our Lord, going down into the chill passages that ended in the cross, and speaking with the full determination of eternal love, said: 'If any man will come after Me, let Him deny himself, and take up bis cross, and follow Me'. We know, in part, the meaning of His words. We know that it is not our business to seek crosses or to make them. The cross lies in our path, and our duty is to lift it The Christian has to deny self, and take up his cross cheerfully. 'Dragged crosses are very heavy, but carried crosses are very light.' Crosses lifted bravely and in the strength of Christ can be carried, even although it is true that every day brings its cross, not the same cross necessarily, but a cross always that has to be borne with gentle firmness through evil report and through good report up to the very end.
I. There are various ingredients in the cross. There is labour, there is pain, and there is shame. The cross of labour is the easiest to carry, if the labour is accomplished with some measure of recognition, of stimulus, of success. Many men need these. General Grant, writing of his great antagonist in the Civil War, said: 'Lee was a good man, a fair commander, who had everything in his favour. He was a man who needed sunshine.' He could go on with his task as long as he was treated like a demigod. It is small merit to work so long as work is delightful, so long as the air rings with plaudits. The exercise of power is very dear to certain natures, and may be no part at all of the Christian burden. So in the kingdom of God men have to sow in tears, and oftentimes wait through frustrated and broken years for the day when they shall reap in joy.
Another element in the Christian cross is pain. The cross may mean physical suffering. It may mean bereavement. It may mean great sacrifice of things prized and dear. But it is wonderful what even unassisted human nature can do in bearing pain. Stoicism was by no means a complete failure. All through the history of the world there have been palmary instances of men who with an end in view did not shrink from suffering, did not rebel or flinch, went steadily through great exactions and bitter agonies in order to reach their end.
But we venture to think that there is in the Christian cross something more than labour and pain, something far harder to encounter than any of these, something that tests finally, something that divides between the sheep and the goats. There is shame. In every cross there is something humiliating, something that lingers, something that stings like a whiplash, what is called in Scripture 'the shame,' the reproach of Christ. There are multitudes who cannot bear that. They cannot endure contempt; they are strong enough for labour, strong enough, it may be, for pain, and yet not strong enough for shame.
II. Our Lord and His Apostles were fully aware of this, but even as the Lord Himself took the weight of shame, so His followers must. It was the shame of the cross that was our Lord's extreme trial. The deeper we go into the mystery of the Saviour's life, the more we shall understand this. It was the actual essential part of His discipline. He made acquaintance during His ministry with contempt and hatred and calumny, and after so many leagues of weary road He came in full sight of the tree. He was betrayed by His Apostle, sold for a slave's price, scourged, crowned with thorns, reckoned amongst the transgressors, made a spectacle to the world, and to angels and to men. Who shall declare His humiliation, tell what it all meant to Him as He hung naked there? Even though from His cross He looked far and wide through time and eternity, over all kindreds and nations, even though He saw the sure fulfilment of His lifelong dream as He prayed that God would remember all His offering and accept His burnt sacrifice, nevertheless it was true that reproach broke His heart He knew that it was shame that would most divide His followers from Him in the days to come, and in the cross that has struck its print so deep there is still nothing so terrible to flesh and blood. His Apostles encountered it and triumphed over it St. Paul himself often employs the word. He speaks of crucifying the Son of God afresh and putting Him to an open shame. He knew that the followers of Christ could endure shame just in so far as they were His followers. Because He had borne shame for them, they were to bear shame for Him. Because He had not been ashamed of them, they were never to be ashamed of Him. Yet so hard was the battle that St. Paul speaks very soberly, very quietly, the words of his utmost triumph—'Nevertheless I am not ashamed'. He had said, 'I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ,' he had said, 'Hope maketh not ashamed,' he had blessed a brother who was not ashamed of the Apostle's chain. 'Let us go forth, therefore, unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.' Unto Him is the central word. What matters it though it be without the camp? What matters it if it is unto Him? What matters the reproach if He bore it? As He did, for He endured the cross, despising the shame. The life of Jesus is to be made manifest in our mortal flesh. And the writer to the Hebrews uses the word Jesus, the name of Christ in His humiliation, the name so often used in scorn.'
—W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 111.
I mean by happiness, man's true well-being—that of his higher, not his lower nature—that of his nature, not for a moment, but for ever. With such happiness, duty, however stern, must always ultimately coincide. I say, man was formed to desire such a realisation of the possibilities of his nature, that to bid him cease or slacken in this desire is a cruelty and folly, and that the will of God ought never for an instant to be conceived as hostile to such well-being. If He were, why hear we of Redemption? And I may point with reverence to the Incarnate Perfectness, 'who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross'; He would die to know the blessedness of restoring to us our life. Only the most sublime self-sacrifice could account for such a result or recompense; and that recompense he did not refuse to keep constantly in view.'
—Vaughan, Hours with the Mystics, vol. II. p. 284.
It is not alone the amount of suffering implied in the treatment to which our Lord was subjected that we must fail to estimate aright, unless we see that suffering in the light of the life that was in Him. It is still more as to the nature of that suffering that we shall err. This we feel the moment we turn from contemplating it as physical suffering on the part of men and physical endurance on the part of Christ, to contemplate it in its spiritual aspect as the form of the response of enmity to love. There is surely very special instruction for us here in the fact that shame—indignity—is so marked a character of the injuries inflicted on Christ... Indignity and contumely, that is to say, all that would most touch that life which man has in the favour of man, and which strikes more deeply than physical infliction, because it goes deeper than the body, wounding the spirit—is the most distinguishing feature of the evil use made by sinful men of the power that they received over the Son of God when he was betrayed into the hands of sinners. All along, the relation of the cross to shame was ever present to the Lord's mind.
—M'Leod Campbell, The Nature of the Atonement, pp. 229 f.
The Outward Look
One of the main sources of strength of what we are accustomed to call the evangelical view of Christianity is its consistent emphasis of the outward look. To my thinking, Thomas Carlyle was never a wiser and stronger teacher than when he dealt with the endless and useless torments which mankind has suffered in its efforts to fulfil the Socratic precept 'know thyself. 'Long enough has that poor self of thine tormented thee. Thou wilt never get to know it, I believe. Know what thou canst work at, and work at it like a Hercules; that will be the better plan.' It is nothing less than the honest truth that the self cannot be known by self-analysis and self-examination.
I. If I had time to make the review, I think I should be able to show you how strong and wise and healthy is the objective note all through the Old Testament—heard like a clarion in its greatest passages. The call of the Psalmist is for an outgoing of the soul in praise and prayer. They are the noblest vehicles of public and private worship, because committed to these Psalms the spirit of the worshipper is lifted out of its broodings and disquietudes, and self-pityings, and carried away in imagination and faith towards its Maker and Redeemer. The message of the Psalmist and Prophet is one everywhere; it is the great cry that utters itself still from the pages of Isaiah. 'There is no God but Me; a just God and a Saviour; look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.'
II. When we turn to the New Testament we find that this Gospel of the Outward Look is more and more proclaimed. John the Baptist deals searchingly, mercilessly with the sins of his day, but he concludes by pointing his hearers—not only away from himself, but away from themselves: 'Behold the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sin of the world'. Christ directed the gaze of the world from sin and its consequences to sin and its salvation.
III. Equally striking and consistent is the Gospel of the Outward Look in the Apostle's preaching. I think we cannot but be impressed with how little the Apostles seemed to trouble about their own souls. There is no counsel on which it is more necessary to insist than to rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him. Look out steadily, believingly, obediently to the Christ of God; for in that look is self-forgetful-ness, life, and peace.
IV. Nothing grows clearer to my mind than that, in the religious life, to be self-centred is to fail. Introspection breeds pessimism and every morbid phantasm of fear and folly. There is no safety for any of us but in following Christ and in going about doing good.
—C. S. Horne, The Soul's Awakening, p.l.
References.—XII. 2.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 236. W. J. Knox-Little, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 184. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 330. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 300; ibid. vol. x. p. 75; ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 434. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Hebrews, p. 199. XII. 3.—G. A. Sowter, From Heart to Heart, p. 228. J. Keble, Sermons for the Holy Week, p. 67. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1073. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 137.
Compare Charles Lamb's letter, of 23rd December, 1822, to Bernard Barton the Quaker, in which he observes: 'You have no martyrs quite to the fire, I think, among you; but plenty of heroic confessors, spirit-martyrs, lamb-lions'.
What sayest thou, son? Cease to complain, when thou considerest My passion and that of other saints. Thou has not yet resisted unto blood. It is but little which thou sufferest in comparison of those who suffered so much, who were so strongly tempted, so grievously afflicted, so many ways tried and harassed. Thou oughtest therefore to call to mind the heavier woes of others, that thou mayest the easier bear thine own small troubles.
—Thomas À Kempis, Imitation of Christ (IV. 19).
And who among the saints hath ever taken that castle without stroke of sword? The chief of the house, our elder Brother, our Lord Jesus, not being excepted, who won His own house and home, due to Him by birth, with much blood and many blows.
—Samuel Rutherford, to Lady Kenmure (15th Nov. 1633).
Reference.—XII. 4.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Hebrews, p. 209.
'When there is a keeping in any measure from a despising of the Lord's chastening,' Rev. H. Davidson wrote, in 1728, to Thomas Boston of Ettrick, 'yet I find no small difficulty to bear off from the other rock, a fainting under His rebukes. Faith's views, that it is the Lord, will prove quieting. A sight of His sovereignty, wisdom, righteousness, and faithfulness, works up the soul into a holy acquiescence in, and composure under, the eternal decree now revealed in the event.'
Sometimes the fire of adversity warms a cold heart, and then the story is not all sorrowful. The saddest story is that of some ice-bound souls, whom the very fires of adversity cannot reach.
—Miss Thackeray, in Old Kensington.
Reference.—XII. 5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 48.
The Chastisement of the Christian
Retribution is necessary to salvation; chastisement and punishment must come before salvation. There are three great necessities for salvation.
I. A man must be brought into a certain state of mind and will; a certain mental attitude towards sin. So far as retribution shows that God is not Love, it is one of the most convincing proofs, if intelligently understood, that God is Love.
II. Man must be revealed to himself. And sometimes he is taught to know himself by a hard, painful process.
III. We must not be individuals. Our sympathies must be called out A man may be great, but without sympathy he cannot be good. The only way to get a contrite heart is to get a broken heart.
—Reuen Thomas, British Congregationalist, 30th August, 1906, p. 104.
We all want religion sooner or later. I am afraid there are some who have no natural turn for it, as there are persons without an ear for music, to which, if I remember right, I heard one of you comparing what you called religious genius. But sorrow and misery bring even these to know what it means, in a great many instances. May I not say to you, my friend, that I am one who has learned the secret of the inner life by the discipline of trials in the life of outward circumstance? I can remember the time when I thought more about the shade of a colour in a ribbon, whether it matched my complexion or not, than I did about my spiritual interests in this world or the next. It was needful that I should learn the meaning of the text, 'whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth'. Since I have been taught in the school of trial I have felt, as I never could before, how precious an inheritance is the smallest patrimony of faith.
—O. W. Holmes, The Poet at the Breakfast Table (ch. VII.).
Reference.—XII. 6.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 118. XII. 7.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 172.
'I am better off now than I have been for years, God be thanked!' Charles Kingsley wrote in 1857 to Thomas Hughes. 'God grant, too, that I may not require to be taken down by some terrible trouble. I often fancy I shall be. If I am, I shall deserve it, as much as any man who ever lived. I say so now—justifying God beforehand, lest I should not have faith and patience enough to justify Him when the punishment comes.'
'Small as the amount of prayer is,' says M'Leod Campbell, 'its usual character is a still sadder subject of thought than its usual amount I mean its being so much a dealing with God simply as a Sovereign Lord, a Governor, and Judge, and so little a dealing with Him as the Father of our spirits.'
Reference.—XII. 9.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 38.
The Uses of Suffering
It is a great mistake, and one which deceives many, to suppose that suffering will, of itself, be any use. Suffering is never negative. But it often hardens. And suffering turned to no account, or turned to a bad account, is the most grievous of sins!
There must be a supernatural agency working with the suffering before it will be of any use to the sufferer. The Holy Ghost must do His own work in the soul.
Therefore, at the very threshold, ask two things: one, that the God of grace will work with the God of providence to make the trial effective to spiritual ends; and the other, that whatever be the special purpose for which the trial is sent, it may not pass away till you have learnt your lesson and the purpose is fulfilled.
This done, we may look for the uses.
I. All Suffering is Intended to be to the Mind what Physical Pain is to the Body.—When you feel a pain in any part of your body, it is sent for this purpose, to say to you, 'There is mischief going on here; attend to it'. It is the same to the soul, with every suffering which our heavenly Father ever sends us. It comes to say, 'There is something which needs correction'. There is something latent. But you must probe it, and examine it, and treat it seriously. The Holy Ghost, working in your conscience, will show you what it is.
II. Sufferings are not always Intended for the same Uses.—The suffering of Manasseh was for conversion; of Jacob, for correction; of Job, for humiliation; of David, for restoration; of St. Paul, for experience; of Christ—from a human point of view—for sympathy and pattern. So sufferings, coming in their various forms, come each to train another and another grace in the human mind. Every suffering has its own particular message to each particular heart St. Paul has drawn us a chain: 'Tribulation' brings with it 'patience'; 'patience' brings with it a present 'experience' of God's love; the present 'experience' of God's love shows us the future: 'Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope'.
III. One Reason why Suffering: is so Beneficial and so Essential to a high Christian Standard is that it almost always separates us awhile, and brings us, if not into solitude, into more quietness and retirement. Suffering, in its very nature, is generally attended with isolation. This is what we want. To be more alone with ourselves and God; to be brought more face to face with our conscience and with Him; to be still enough to hear the whispers.
And it is a wonderful and most comforting thought—for every sufferer in the school of Christ—'My Master was chastened for His profit; and He, even He, "the Captain of my salvation," was "perfect through suffering".'
It is to keep a man awake, to keep him alive to his own soul and its fixed design of righteousness, that the better part of moral and religious education is directed; not only that of words and doctors, but the sharp ferule of calamity under which we are all God's scholars till we die.
—R. L. Stevenson.
Evan had just been accusing the heavens of conspiracy to disgrace him. Those patient heavens had listened, as is their wont They had viewed, and had not been disordered by his mental frenzies. It is certainly hard that they do not come down to us, and condescend to tell us what they mean, and be dumb-foundered by the perspicuity of our arguments.... Nevertheless, they to whom mortal life has ceased to be a long matter, perceive that our appeals for conviction are answered,—now and then very closely upon the call. When we have cast off the scales of hope and fancy, and surrender our claims on mad chance; when the wild particles of this universe consent to march as they are directed, it is given them to see—if they see at all—that some plan is working out: that the heavens, icy as they are to the pangs of our blow, have been throughout speaking to our souls.—George Meredith, Evan Harrington (ch. X.).
Reference.—XII. 10.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Hebrews, p. 216.
How the eternal Justice might see fit to deal with other souls, why he had been singled out for so peculiar and conspicuous a fate, Richard did not pretend to say. All that had become curiously unimportant to him. For he had ceased to call that fate a cruel one. It had changed its aspect. It had come suddenly to satisfy both his conscience and his imagination. With a movement at once of wonder and of deep-seated thankfulness, he, for the first time, held out his hands to it, accepting it as a comrade, pledging himself to use rather than to spurn it He looked at it steadfastly, and, so looking, found it no longer abhorrent but of mysterious virtue and efficacy, endued with power to open the gates of a way closed to most men, into the heart of humanity, which, in a sense, is nothing less than the heart of Almighty God Himself. And this brought to him a sense of almost awed repose. It released him from the vicious circle of self, of sharp-toothed disappointment and leaden-heavy discouragement, in which he had so long fruitlessly turned.
—Lucas Malet, in Sir Richard Calmady (bk. VI. ch. VI.).
References.—XII. 11.—J. G. Binney, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 628. XII. 13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlix. No. 2864.
Holiness of Life (for Ash Wednesday)
Our subject is holiness; personal holiness which shows itself in the daily life; that personal possession of something which leads us day by day to live according to God's laws. No subject of greater moment could engage our attention on this the first day of Lent.
I. A Life of Holiness is a Life not Ruled by the Body but by the Spirit, and if our lives are ruled by the Spirit of God then we shall be holy. But if our life be ruled by the body and by the lust of the flesh and by our own evil desires, then we shall have no holiness and righteousness. We shall be of the earth earthy, for the rule of the body is antagonistic to the rule of the Holy Spirit
II. How shall we Obtain this Holiness?—We can never lay claim to holiness until we have each one of us been cleansed of our own sins, and the right holiness of life is shown in the life of Christ We are the possessors of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we have received not only forgiveness of the past but cleansing. So the life of Christ is in our lives. We become partakers with Him, and His Spirit dwelleth in us. It is necessary for us to start from the only starting-point; we begin in Christ, we go on in Christ and end in Christ when we become partakers of the joy of eternity. It is necessary for each one to come to Jesus Christ and to be partakers of eternal life through faith in a personal Saviour.
III. Our Bounden Duty.—It is bound upon us to aim at holiness and to possess it because we are not our own. We belong to God, we must do the works of God, and we must try and live the life of Christ because He has saved us by His own most precious blood. We know that many socalled Christians are leading a sham life so far as their religion is concerned. Their religion lacks sincerity. We know how sincere we ought to be, and how we ought always to cast out by the power of the Holy Spirit the sham and the hypocrisy both in our profession and in our practice. We ought to be very circumspect in our daily lives, and to be regular attenders at the house of God and take care to observe the Holy Sacrament.
IV. Yet it is not in Externals that Holiness Lies.—There must be form, but we must never leave out the inward and spiritual grace. Jesus Christ defined His Church in these words: 'the Kingdom of God is within you'. Such is holiness. It is something within. It is set up and cultivated by the Spirit in the heart, and because it is in the heart therefore it is in the life, and you do certain things because it is in your heart to do them. Holiness is something within; it is that inward joy which shows itself in the life of Christ. Our hearts are inclined to fault, but when they are touched by the grace of God and the Holy Spirit enters and they are cleansed, then there is holiness. From the heart proceedeth good desires and right impulses, all these being the movement of the Holy Spirit.
If we wished to imagine a punishment for an unholy, reprobate soul, we perhaps could not fancy a greater than to summon it to heaven. Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man. We know how unhappy we are apt to feel at present, when alone in the midst of strangers, or of men of different tastes and habits from ourselves. How miserable, for example, would it be to have to live in a foreign land, among a people whose faces we never saw before, and whose language we could not learn. And this is but a faint illustration of the loneliness of a man of earthly dispositions and tastes, thrust into the society of saints and angels. How forlorn would he wander through the courts of heaven! He would find no one like himself; he would see in every direction the marks of God's holiness, and these would make him shudder. He would feel himself always in His presence. He could no longer turn His thoughts another way, as he does now, when conscience reproaches him. He would know that the Eternal Eye was ever upon him; and the Eye of holiness, which is a joy and life to holy creatures, would seem to him an Eye of wrath and punishment.
—J. H. Newman.
He that does a base thing in zeal for his friend, burns the golden thread that ties their hearts together.
References.—XII. 14.—G. Davidson. Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 204. J. B. Mozley, University Sermons, p. 231. C. D. Bell, The Saintly Calling, p. 79. E. J. Boyce, Parochial Sermons, p. 257. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. 1. No. 2902. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 58; ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 137. XII. 14, 15.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 940.
Describing his tour to South Africa with his wife and a cartographer, Mr. Theodore Bent, in The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (p. 5), observes that 'we three left England at the end of January, 1891, and returned to it again at the end of January, 1892, having accomplished a record rare in African travel, and of which we are justly proud—namely, that no root of bitterness sprang up amongst us'.
References.—XII. 15.—J. M. Neale, Readings for the Aged (4th Series), p. 42. Ibid. Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 152.
Esau was very far from being 'the lowest of the low'. On the contrary he possessed noble qualities, which make his ultimate fate all the more pitiful.
He is a big, generous, open-handed fellow, who forgives the brother who has done him the most deadly injuries and loads him with generosity. Does not such a man stand out in marked contrast to the scheming Jacob, who traps his brother in a moment of passion? If Jacob be the religious man, and Esau the worldling, who would not choose the world?
I have put the case as strongly as I could, just because I know the Church is often said to pander to meanness when it is respectable, and pass by the essential goodness of Bohemianism. Thackeray puts it, in his contrast between Pitt Crawley and Rawdon. Du Maurier has ridden the thing to death in his whitewash of Trilby and blackwash of all the religious and moral people in his once famous novel. Nothing is more common and more easy than to depreciate religion and morality, and to exalt the easy virtues of modern Paganism.
Yet what has Scripture to say to this? It says uncompromisingly: 'Jacob have I loved: Esau have I hated'. There may indeed be a meanness about the former at the beginning. But if so it is not because of the man's religion. If a religious man is mean, it is not because he has too much religion: it is because he has too little. There was nothing mean about the man Christ Jesus.
Still, admitting Jacob's meanness, I do believe there is something about the Esau type of character which makes the Bible judgment to be ultimately true. Let us look at that character to-night, as it unfolds itself in the history. If you study it impartially you will come, I believe, to accept God's verdict: 'Jacob have I loved: Esau have I hated'.
I. What was there defective in Esau's character? First and foremost, there was this—he had no constancy of affection or purpose.
Esau was, in fact, one of those men who keep all their goods in their shop window. When first they meet you they overwhelm you with kindness. They are what we somewhat vulgarly call 'gushing'. Soon, however, you discover that their first acquaintance is their best. They have nothing more to give you. You try to cultivate them: you find there is nothing to cultivate. There is no depth in their nature. They have no secret or solemn places in their life. There is no temple of God in their spirits. That is what the Bible means when it calls Esau profane.
II. So that brings us to the second and great element of weakness in Esau's character—his sensuality, his lack of self-control, his inability to master the baser passions of his nature.
It is on this the writer to the Hebrews concentrates when he calls him 'a sensual man, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright'. There are times when the slumbering forces in our animal nature suddenly burst forth with volcanic fury, threatening devastation to all our future. Every man has in him certain appetites which he must conquer, if he is to win his life. That is the first problem of manhood. That is the great conflict of youth—to conquer my lower self, to crush the beast in me. Now I do not deny there are other than religious motives which can do this. Ambition can do it. Avarice has done it But for a full and all-round victory only one thing avails—religion.
'No place for repentance'—we need not suppose from these words that Esau was lost eternally, that he found no pardon for his foolish act. There is only one sin that has no place for repentance—the sin of not repenting. What our text means is found in that other great scene in Esau's youth, when his blessing was stolen from him by Rebekah's craft, and he cried 'an exceeding bitter cry': 'Hast thou not also another blessing? Bless me, even me also, my father.' It would teach us that Jacob would never have been allowed to take the blessing of the firstborn had it not been justly his already. Esau had forfeited the blessing when he sold the birthright.
So still there are sins which have no repentance. We do not say that you will not be saved from them by contrition and faith. What we do say is this—and life says it every day with terrible emphasis—that there are things which no repentance will ever buy back. You cannot restore the morning dewdrop to the shaken rose. You cannot get back the purity and unspoiled enthusiasm which early sensuality inevitably robs from the youthful soul. You cannot set yourself free from the net of evil relationships, or the stain of a blemished character which such a youthful 'indiscretion' may leave upon your life.
—W. Mackintosh Mackay, Bible Types of Modern Men, p. 269.
Esaus Who Sell Their Birthright
This one act shows Esau. We know the man. He belongs to the class of men in whom passion and appetite rule, who are the slaves of every whim, and befooled by every fancy; who fling away manhood and purity, conscience and God in rushing after some fool's paradise. That is the man. Lest there be a profane person, like Esau.
I. Now, What is God's Definition of Profanity?—Our idea of profanity is irreverent speech. But God's idea of profanity goes deeper than that. Man may in his ungoverned thoughtless moments, in sudden anger, fling out words of impious daring which make us shudder; and yet that man in his ordinary conduct may be above everything that is mean, false, tricky, and contemptible. He is not the profane person. And another man may never use words which would offend the most fastidious taste, or the most religious mind, and yet every day he may be selling his conscience, his pledged word, his honour, his trusting friend, or something equally precious, for a paltry price. He is the profane person.
II. The Mad Bargains of Life.—And such things are done every day; terrible bargains with madness written on the face of them. We read of them in history, we read of them in the Bible, we find them in the lives of the men and women about us; happy are we if we never blunder into them ourselves! 'Lest there be among you a profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat'—one morsel of meat!—there is a terrible emphasis on that word. We shudder at the greatness of the cost and the contemptibleness of the gain, for whatever you may gain by these bargains it is infinitesimal compared with the loss.
III. Irrevocable Loss.—What is there that can pay you for the loss of honesty, truthfulness, and purity? It is not worth telling a lie for all the gold that passes through the mint. It is not worth breaking a pledge or betraying a trust for all the outward glory of Solomon. It is not worth sacrificing your principles and trailing your honour through the dust for all the huzzahs of the greatest crowd that have ever waved their hats in the air. You cannot buy these things back again. When these are lost the soul is lost. My last word is to Christians, Do not think that you have got beyond the danger.
—J. G. Greenhough, Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXII. p. 40.
'Psychical pain,' said Heine flippantly, 'is more easy to endure than physical pain, and, had I to choose between a bad conscience and a bad tooth, I should choose the bad conscience.'
References.—XII. 16.—F. C. Spurr, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 323. F. W. Farrar, Everyday Christian Life, p. 174.
The Tears of Remorse
Esau was a fair representative of a man of the world. Considering the cicumstances of his age, and his condition, he did nothing exceedingly wrong. He was 'more sinned against than sinning'. He was passionate; but he was not slow to forgive. He loved pleasure, and lived for it. He was a selfish man. We have no reason to say that he was a directly bad, or an immoral man. His conduct contrasts favourably with the conduct of his brother Jacob. Esau was never a deceiver. The great evil of Esau's life was that he thought little or nothing of spiritual things. He appears to have lived without any real sense of God and the Divine. God was not in all Esau's thoughts. This was Esau's sin.
'And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept.' Observe the state of Esau's mind at that moment. Esau never for a moment humbled himself before God. He never 'repented'. He never wished to 'repent'. He only wished to alter consequences.
It is necessary that this should be very clearly understood, because Esau's 'tears' have been made a handle to the thought that there may be on this earth those who wish to 'repent' and cannot. Never! Never was such a thing since the creation of the world, and never will be! One 'tear' that falls because we wish to 'repent,' and cannot 'repent,' is 'repentance'; and the forgiveness—that follows that 'tear'—is sure. But Esau's tears were not like that! They had nothing to do with 'repentance'. They were Remorse—only Remorse—impotent Remorse!
I. But what is Remorse?—Let us see—in the sad picture—some of its features.
(a) Remorse has nothing to do with sin—only with its results. The first and leading thought of real, Godly sorrow is a distressing feeling of sin—of sin as such; sin in itself—its wrongness, its blackness. The sin is the burden. But Remorse has to do with the accidents of sin.
(b) Remorse is essentially selfish. The heart is not pained because God is wronged—or because Christ is wounded—or because the Holy Spirit is grieved—or because a man is injured—but because we are hurt. It is only another form of egotism.
(c) Remorse is almost entirely fear. There is little or no love in it. The 'tear' is not the soft meltings of the affection, but the hard extortion of a dread.
(d) See, from the histories which we have of it, what Remorse is worth—what fruit it bears. A new life? Not once. Amendment? Not once A certain right action? Not once (e.g., Saul and Samuel; Ahab and Elijah; Johanan and Jeremiah; Judas). Esau, who wept so importunately, rose from his tears and his pleadings in a fury and said, 'The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob'. O fair and lovely show Remorse can wear! How it can weep, and talk of sin, and cry for mercy—while, take off the mask, and what is its true face? Saul's pride—Ahab's obstinacy—Johanan's treachery—Judas's suicide—Esau's murder!
II. But cannot Remorse lead on to Repentance?—I think not. There is a state of heart, not unlike remorse at first view, which may be, and is, an element of Repentance. I call it Conviction. Conviction is not Repentance—for Conviction is not Conversion. Repentance is Conversion. Still, Conviction is necessary to Repentance. But Conviction is as wide from Remorse as grace is from nature, or as the tinsel is from the finest gold. Remorse is sorrow for sin's penalty—without God! Remorse is the severest torture of the human mind!
III. What is the Preventative, what is the Remedy of this Dismal End?—Penitence. Remorse is not Penitence. It is not part of Penitence. But Penitence may take its place. And Penitence, and only Penitence, can drive out Remorse. Was Esau ever in after life a Penitent? Were those bitter 'Tears of Remorse' ever changed for the sweet 'tears' of a holy sorrow? I do not know. Some token that he was not quite reprobate and cast out God gave him even then. 'Thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above; and thou shalt serve thy brother,' yet one day 'thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck' Even the hard Esau may have been saved when the 'tears' of mortification were changed for the 'tears' of a contrite heart and he 'found,' in a sense he never knew when he was at Isaac's feet, a 'place of repentance'.
In a letter, quoted in his biography (ch. IX.), Dr. Arnold of Rugby remarks: 'So far from finding it hard to believe that repentance can ever be too late, my only wonder is that it should ever be otherwise than too late, so instantaneous and lasting are the consequences of an evil once committed. I find it very hard to hinder my sense of this from quite oppressing me.'
References.—XII. 17.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Hebrews, p. 227.
The Sound of a Trumpet and the Voice of Words
On 23rd February, 1791, John Wesley preached his last sermon at Leatherhead, in the dining-room of a magistrate, from the text, 'Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near'. Thus that wonderful voice fell silent—that voice which they who heard entreated that the word should be spoken to them for evermore. He was then eighty-eight, and the long course of his earthly life, with its afflictions, its homelessness, its fatigue, and its constant triumph in Christ, was nearing the end. The next day he wrote his last letter, denouncing 'the execrable villainy' of slavery. He died on 2nd March. For many years he had lived in the second rest—that rest where Christ's yoke is easy and His burden light Spiritual throes and pangs, earthly cares and tears, were far in the past, and it was with him as with his friend Fletcher of Madeley, of whom he testified that he died in an unspeakable calmness and serenity of spirit, 'a tranquillity in the Blood of Christ which keeps the souls of believers in their latest hour, even as a garrison keeps a city'. So he went home from the life which he himself had described as 'a few days in a strange land'.
I have chosen as a motto rather than a text a phrase from the passage in Hebrews where the terrors of Sinai are contrasted with the peace of Sion. At Sinai there was the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words—the tempest, the terror, the fire, and the quaking. But Sion is the home of all stable and tranquil things. We come to it now by faith, but only, as it were, in moonlight and in silence. No sound is heard but the voice of the blood of sprinkling, which speaketh better things than that of Abel. We shall come, if it please God, one day in the sunlight and the song.
For true preaching and true revival we need two things—the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words. The sound of a trumpet is in vain, if the voice of words does not follow it. The end is that false enthusiasm dying in grey ashes which no one denounced more fervently than John Wesley. There must be instruction after evangelisation, or all is in vain. It has been nobly said that 'life is spent in learning the meaning of great words, so that some idle proverb known for years and accepted perhaps as a truism comes home on a day like a blow'. But we never know the meaning of great words till the Bound of a trumpet rouses the soul from slumber. The work of John Wesley is most fitly described in this twofold aspect as the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words.
I. He set the trumpet to his mouth and sounded it at a time when religion in England seemed dying or dead. Even in secular life there was a leisurely procession, with many sober pauses of which we know little now. In the Church there was a much denser stupor, a spiritual slumber so profound that Godly men openly despaired, and to others it seemed as if Christianity had waxed old, and was ready to vanish away. The voice of words continued, but they seemed to be spoken to no purpose. One of the greatest Christian thinkers of England, Bishop Butler, sat oppressed in his castle with hardly a hope surviving. He did not know that the day of the Lord had come, and that the prayers of the hearts that broke for the Lord's appearing had been answered.
For when John Wesley began his unparalleled apostolate, he sounded a trumpet in Sion. His words to the people were such short, sharp signal-calls as St. Augustine heard in the garden when the child said, 'Take, read'. He stood on his father's tomb and cried aloud, 'By grace are ye saved through faith'. He preached on the question, 'Why will ye die, O House of Israel?' till the people trembled and were still. He enlarged on the deep words, 'Repent, and believe the Gospel'. From the text, 'The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins,' he declared the great salvation. He spoke directly to the consciousness. The important point with him was consciousness, everywhere consciousness.
The sound of a trumpet. Our newer psychology, however little we may agree with its conclusions, has at least brought out the richness of what is called our subliminal consciousness. We know now that the mind of man is peopled, like a silent city, with a sleeping company of memories, associations, impressions, loves, hates, fears, relentings that may be wakened into fierce activity by some trumpet blast. Indeed, this subliminal consciousness may be so much more thronged than the working consciousness, that when it is called forth it may submerge the personality, and elect for itself a new king to reign over it. The crowd of insurgent spirits may overthrow the old monarchy. In the people to whom Wesley spoke there were God knows what memories, though the lamp of prophecy had been burning very low. There were in the darkened souls texts, prayers, psalms, hymns, words of love and yearning spoken by lips long mute. And these were heard again at the trumpet blast The sound of the trumpet may come in some great experience, and will come again and again, even when the soul has been wakened from its sleep. Then, too, the voice of words is understood. Said a friend to me: 'I used to think the inscriptions on gravestones intensely commonplace. Since I buried my child and put a gravestone over her, there is not. an inscription which has not been full of meaning to me.'
II. The voice of words. Wesley was a great teacher as well as a great evangelist, and no man did more for the training and schooling of his converts. No man attached greater importance to the voice of words, to constant and Scriptural instruction. We put in the forefront the great saving truths which he exalted with the whole Church of Christ 'If we could once bring all our preachers, itinerant and local, uniformly and steadfastly to insist on these two points—Christ dying for us, and Christ reigning in us, we should shake the trembling gates of hell.' But his tranquillity to the very end was a tranquillity in the Blood of Christ.
He believed that the whole fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace—might be planted in the inmost soul and take deep root in the heart. But he believed that for the attainment of such perfection it was necessary to be obedient in all things to the law of Christ, and he did not shrink from the consequences.
The trumpet of revival, Wesley taught, must be the trump of God. All our fresh springs are in the Divine Spirit. Where the first life was found we must find the new supplies. The flaming, glowing heart that utters itself in words that let in the light and the life and love of God to the soul must be baptised with the Holy Ghost Only that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, and the Spirit is given in answer to prayer.
—W. Robertson Nicoll, The Lamp of Sacrifice, p. 189.
The Christian's Environment
This is a passage that makes one feel, with something akin to awe, the dignity and sublimity of the Christian calling. You read the passage, and as it lives before you there passes before the mind a stately procession of those beings with whom the Christian is in relationship, and there is also disclosed to the wondering gaze the possessions which the Christian inherits. 'Ye are come to these,' says the writer to the Hebrew Christians. He has just placed before them, by way of contrast, that from which they had passed. That was your inheritance and the inheritance of your fathers, and it was a religion of symbols or phenomena, a religion which appealed to the senses and through the senses to the soul. This is your inheritance, you are come now into spiritual affinities, heavenly relationships, eternal and unshakable possessions. 'Ye are come,' and not 'ye will come'; you already stand, if you can but realise it, at the centre of these great circles. Here is the present relationship and possession of the Christian.
I. It is intensely difficult, even today, for men to escape from bondage to the outward, to realise the unseen. This Epistle has still its work to do. What is religion to a great many people today? Church ordinances, the use of special Church buildings, the employment of and resort to a special ministry; swinging censers, chanting choirs, observance of days and functions. What is religion? Elaborate music, a preacher, the building of churches, the giving of money? No, ye are not come to these. They may be helps to religion, or the expression of religion, but they are not religion. Religion is an interior thing; a realisation of the presence of God the Father and the Judge; a surrender of the life in loving loyalty to His authority, the living only to do His will.
Have we come to this? Are we enjoying this vision, realising our inheritance, living the life of the soul?
II. Here in this passage, in majestic outline, is set forth what it is to belong to the Church of Christ. Into all this wealth you have been admitted. See how the Church is described: 'The general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven'. There is such a society in the world as the church of the firstborn, whose names God has enrolled. You joined the general assembly and church of the firstborn when you came to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling. Then your name was enrolled. Then you began to live, and your name was written in heaven. And all these privileges Jesus ushered you into. See what they are:—
(1) Brotherhood with holy souls living now.
(2) Brotherhood with all the holy dead, right back to the Apostles of the Lord. The holy dead have come into their possessions earlier than we; but the fact that they have already come is the earnest that we shall come too.
—Charles Brown, Light and Life, p. 77.
References.—XII. 22.—H. S. Holland, God's City, p. 3. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy-tide Teaching, p. 173. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 342. XII. 22, 23.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Hebrews, p. 236.
'As to the vision of the other world,' observes Foster in his essay on The Aversion of Men of Taste to Evangelical Religion (ch. VIII.), 'you will observe a great difference between the language of sublime poetry and that of revelation, in respect to the nature of the sentiments and triumphs of that world, and still more perhaps in respect to the associates with whom the departing spirit expects soon to mingle. The dying magnanimity of poetry anticipates high converse with the souls of heroes, and patriots, and perhaps philosophers; a Christian feels himself going (I may accommodate the passage) to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.'
In her reminiscences of her mother, Mrs. H. B. Stowe observes: 'There was one passage of Scripture always associated with her in our minds in childhood; it was this: "Ye are come unto Mount Sion, the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels; to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, and to the spirits of just men made perfect".
'We all knew that this was what our father repeated to her when she was dying, and we often repeated it to each other. It was to that we felt we must attain, though we scarcely knew how. In every scene of family joy or sorrow, or when father wished to make an appeal to our hearts which he knew we could not resist, he spoke of mother.
'I think it will be the testimony of all her sons that her image stood between them and the temptations of youth as a sacred shield; that the hope of meeting her in heaven has sometimes been the last strand which did not part in hours of fierce temptation; and that the remembrance of her holy life and death was a solemn witness of the truth of religion, which repelled every assault of scepticism, and drew back the soul from every wandering to the faith in which she lived and died.'
References.—XII. 22-24.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1689. C. D. Bell, Hills That Bring Peace, p. 339. XII. 23.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Hebrews, p. 247. XII. 24.—Ibid. p. 257. M. Biggs, Practical Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 31. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 211, and vol. xii. No. 708. XII. 24, 25.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. Nos. 1888 and 1889. XII. 25.—L. D. Bevan, Christ and the Age, p. 255. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Hebrews, p. 268. XII. 26.—E. M. Geldart, Faith and Freedom, p. 132. XII. 26, 27.—L. D. Bevan, Christ and the Age, p. 271. XII. 26-28.—C. Williams, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 307.
This Word 'Yet Once More'
No book of the New Testament is more 'modern' than the Epistle to the Hebrews; none lies closer to the heart of the generation, or throbs with a deeper assent to its consciousness of change and its desire for the unchangeable. To the writer and the readers of the Epistle the changes looming on the Church and the world were so vast and awful that the vicissitudes of their own lives were lessened by their side. We are more keenly conscious of the blows of circumstances as they affect ourselves. We look back with yearning on a life like Wordsworth's, of whom it has been said that his bereavements were 'thinly scattered clouds in a "great sea of blue," seasons of mourning here and there among years which never lost their hold on peace, which knew no shame and no remorse, no desolation and no fear, whose days were never long with weariness nor their nights broken at the touch of woe'. To us this word 'Yet once more' signifieth the removing, but it is the removing of our own treasure and joy that strikes us with most piercing force. And yet we know that the foundations of our society and of our Church systems have been made to tremble.
I. 'The Hebrews,' for whom the Divine words were written, knew what comes to man as time runs out. They had experienced the steady, inevitable invasion of change in themselves and round them. It had even brought them insolence and violence, which they had borne well. But they were called on to face a worse trial—the ruin and overthrow of what God had built. They had to meet the death struggle of Judaea against Rome, the sweeping away of the sacred ritual of the Temple, the burning of the holy and beautiful house with fire, the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place. In the midst of this what wonder that faith trembled with the trembling order? What wonder that despair assailed and even took possession of the soul? What wonder that men asked in terror whether God's promise was broken—whether after all He was loving unto Israel—unto such as were of a clean heart?
II. There is one healing, and one only, for all hearts hurt by change. It is that God has done it The consolation is administered here in a strange and daring fashion. Not content with proving that in the ascended Christ the Church possesses all, and more than all, that has been lost in the disappearance of the ritual of the old covenant, for
In Him the shadows of the law
Are all fulfilled and now withdraw,
the Apostle affirms that of this change God is the author. And if it seem incredible that He should thus shake His own temple, the Apostle answers the doubt by saying that He will yet shake His own heavens. The shadow that lay full on the things of time is projected on eternity. 'Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.' Once more only will He move the earth and the heaven. By a change which is not the culmination of the processes at work under our eyes, He will remove all that can pass away. Then the things that cannot be shaken—the eternal substance, be it what it may, of the temporal—will remain, and with it they who have not drawn back, and He, the Unchangeable; ruling amidst the immovable. But before that; change must crowd on change, and the Son of Man appear. For the awe-struck hearers of the Epistle forgotten words about earth and heaven perishing, waxing old, folded up, and changed were revived. It would calm them to see the way of change traced, its frontiers enlarged and yet limited, and its empire put securely in His hands who was bringing in the world over which no change can pass.
III. 'This word Yet once more' does not now overcome us. We can face 'the honors of the last'. For others the warning may be fulfilled:—
All that now delights thee from the day,
On which it should be touched shall melt and pass away.
For them disillusionment may come on disillusionment, and regret follow regret We have our place in the world that can never crumble into dust. The kingdom which cannot be moved is about us now. It glimmers through the show of things. We have been translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son, and the importunate and ever-shifting objects of sense do not blind us to its glories.
—W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 193.
References.—XII. 27.—A. Rowland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 248. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 690. J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 280. J. Watson, The Inspiration of Our Faith, p. 335. E. Griffith-Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 92.
Thought without Reverence is barren, perhaps poisonous; at best, dies like cookery, with the day that called it forth; does not live, like sowing, in successive tilths and wider-spreading harvests, bringing food and plenteous increase to all Time.
In the biography of Francois Coillard, of the Zambesi, it is told how he once asked a friend in Paris, during 1897: 'Do you ever regret having left the Church of Rome?' 'Never,' was the emphatic reply. 'In Protestantism I found an open Bible, the personal knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the forgiveness of my sins—three things I never found in Rome But,' he added, 'I must confess there is one thing in Catholicism which I miss in our Reformation Churches, and that is adoration.' 'I miss it too,' said M. Coillard.
Compare Renan's indignant repudiation of Béranger's theology, in his essay on 'The Deity of the Bourgeois'. 'No, they cannot know thee, Holy Being, whom we behold not save in the serenity of a pure heart The blasphemies of the man of genius must please thee more than the vulgar homage of complacent gaiety. The atheist is far rather he who so misjudges thee, than he that denies thee. The despair of a Lucretius or a Byron was more after thine own heart than this brazen-faced confidence of superficial optimism which insults while it adores thee.'
References.—XII. 28.—L. D. Bevan, Christ and the Age, pp. 285, 299. E. J. Lyndon, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 513. XII. 28, 29.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1639.
The wrath of God properly understood, so far from being in conflict with the love of God, is the highest expression of it. How can God love any good without hating any evil? 'Our God is a consuming fire'—but the fire of the furnace which is hatred to the dross is love to the gold. And God's wrath against sin is not only love, but the only love to the sinner.... Supposing it supposable, if God could and should remove from sin and disobedience their natural and penal consequences, would it be an act of love on His part to do so? Would goodness continue to be blessedness if badness ceased to be accursedness? 'Our God is a consuming fire,' and He is never so much 'our God' as when He is consuming us. For it is only in God's wrath to our sin that we know God's love to ourselves.
—Du Bose, Soteriology of the New Testament, p. 51.
References.—XII. 29.—R. J. Wardell, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 83. L. D. Bevan, Christ and the Age, p. 315.
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
For our God is a consuming fire.