Great Texts of the Bible
The Body for God
Know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Ghost … glorify God therefore in your body.—1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
St. Paul’s words declare the basis on which all the fabric of specifically Christian civilization stands—the doctrine of the intrinsic sanctity of the body, bought by Christ on the cross, indwelt by the Spirit of God, commissioned to be the instrument of God’s glory.
The Apostle is denouncing sins of the flesh. In his eyes these sins are something more than sins. They are flagrant anomalies; they are monstrous wrongs. There is a direct contradiction in terms, a flat denial of the first principles of justice, in the commission of them. God has set His stamp upon us. He impressed us with His image in our first creation. He re-stamped the same image upon us when He formed us anew in Christ. Thus we are doubly His. Here is God enthroned in the sanctuary of your bodies. But you—you ignore the august Presence, you profane the Eternal Majesty; you pollute, you dishonour, you defy, with shameless sacrilege, the ineffable glory, the Lord seated on His throne, high and lifted up, His train filling the whole temple of your being, as if He were some vile and worthless thing.
There is a deep and luminous suggestiveness about St. Paul’s characteristic formula, “know ye not?” Some have thought that the Apostle is thus recalling to the memory of his converts specific teachings of his own; but this seems unlikely. Rather he is addressing himself to their elementary Christian instincts, and bringing these into the field against the shallow and demoralizing sophistries, which had for them an attractiveness so strange and so perilous. He would thus cut his way through the thickets of futile argumentation, and bring the whole question at issue into the open, where it could be clearly seen and justly appraised. The Christian conscience would settle with prompt and peremptory decision matters which would long perplex and mislead the Christian intellect. Know ye not, he says, “that your body is a temple of the Holy Ghost?… glorify God, therefore, in your body.”1 [Note: H. Hensley Henson.]
Of all the visible and tangible wonders of the universe, the human body ranks the first. It is the centre and home of all the sciences. All things, by ministering to it, unanimously consent that it is “head over all.” It is the throne of all laws; and comprehends every form. Only let it be added that, for the exquisiteness of its lines, it excels all forms, and surpasses everything that exists, whether in the vegetable or in the animal world. Hence one may pass for a good artist in the representation of mountains, clouds, streams, trees, and cattle; and yet have very little capacity to represent the subtle and delicate lines of the human face. The human face is the triumph of beauty. It is visible, but it expresses the wisdom, love, and grace of the invisible world. It is on the sky-line between the two worlds, where matter and spirit exquisitely blend.
1. Consider the honour of the human body.
(1) It is a bit of the handiwork of God.—Men of science, whose study is in the forms of life, tell us that in these there is visible a struggle upwards through innumerable forms, but the goal of the struggle is man, the human form Divine. Contrivances which are only experiments lower down in the scale are complete in the human body, and its hundreds of different parts are compacted together into a machine so perfect that it may go sometimes for a hundred years without going wrong. But just as the flowers and plants of Eden were made originally all very good, but required the cultivating hand of Adam, and as plants and many other works of God require human culture in order to bring them to the most complete perfection, so does the body. The body requires cultivation; but is it not a splendid reason for giving it this, to remember that we are fellow-workers with God in so doing, that we are carrying out His ideals and bringing His handiwork to perfection?
In the interests of his intelligence man’s mind has been sheathed in a sensitive body. Through the things that he has felt and suffered in his body he has come into the mastery of the things that made him feel and suffer, so that now they do him service. So it is with character. In the interests of his spirit man’s soul has been sheathed in his body. It is given him for moral discovery, for the shaping of character. All moral greatness and moral power come first in the form of control of the body. To eat, to drink, to rest, are all of them good, but because each of them may be abused into selfishness and sin, there is moral danger in each of them. We are shaping our moral character, and are determining our moral possibilities, by our use of the body. It is the earliest arena and instrument of the spirit’s training. Through the body also men learn to suffer and to be strong, and through suffering to find a farther and a finer moral and spiritual beauty. It is our business to be at our physical best for God’s sake—our religious business, for the functions of life are only perfectly performed in health. But it is very easy for us to overrate the physical; and, lest we be betrayed into folly, we may remember that some of the greatest and the noblest men and women have been physical weaklings. To read their story is to understand that through their sufferings and bodily disability, they came into their nobleness, learned to consecrate suffering, and compel it to the holy ministries of spiritual culture. Through the pain and the patience of disabled years they worked out their own salvation.1 [Note: T. Yates, Sculptors of Life, 106.]
(2) The body is the indispensable instrument of the mind.—The body is not a part of the mind, nor a function of the mind, as some teach in our day. The mind is not inevitably bound up with the body, as we can see by the fact that the most splendid minds have often lodged in the plainest and even the most deformed bodies. The mind is not going to go down in the dissolution of the body, but to survive “the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds,” and yet in many respects the mind is dependent on the body. It is through the body that it receives all its knowledge, and it is only through the members of the body that it can act on the outer world. The mind is dependent on the body for its share in all that is done beneath the circuit of the sun. Neglect of the body or ill-treatment of it may shorten life, or it may debilitate life and make it a burden to its possessor.
We have probably yet to learn how much we owe to those humble, obscure, and too often slighted friends, the senses, whether they be five or seven. Are they indeed only doors and windows, gateways of knowledge, messengers conveying intelligence to some inner, directing power, or are they in themselves as noble, as important, as any other part of man, as necessary to the soul as it is to them? Of one thing I am intimately convinced, that it is to the agency of the senses that man owes many of his sweetest feelings of affection, his loftiest aspirations after excellence. It cannot be doubted that the purest affections of the heart are closely linked with our physical nature, and fed by what ministers to its delight. Those whom we really love are as dear to us in their bodies as they are in their souls; it is to sight, hearing, contact, we greatly owe that irresistible charm which makes the presence of a person we love to be desired by the heart, above all else that life can give it. The sovereign attraction lies in what an old writer calls “the continual comfort of a face,” in the sound of a voice, the touch of a hand, so that we may truly say that it is presence, not absence, which is the real test of love, and that affection is better gauged by our feelings about people when we are with them, than by our thoughts about them when we are separated.1 [Note: Dora Greenwell, Liber Humanitatis, 8.]
(3) The body is the medium of expression of the soul.—There are many faces about this world in which prayer and patience and humility have, by God’s grace, wrought a beauty which may be the nearest approach that can be seen in this life to the glory of the Resurrection—the glory that is to be revealed in those who shall then be wholly penetrated and transfigured by the Spirit of the Lord. So intimate is the bond between soul and body that it has naturally come to be employed as the very type of immediate union or alliance; and the poet has illustrated that, in a well-known line, when he writes that God is very near to us: “Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.” Indeed every day we see new instances in which, owing to this indissociable connection, the soul has written its own character on the body. We are usually right in judging a man by his facial expression. His nature peeps out in the glance of his eye, the touch of his hand, the tone and inflection of his voice, his unstudied and unconscious gestures and attitudes, even the peculiarities of his gait.
“Olalla,” I said, “the soul and the body are one, and mostly so in love. What the body chooses, the soul loves; where the body clings, the soul cleaves; body for body, soul to soul, they come together at God’s signal; and the lower part (if we can call aught low) is only the footstool and foundation of the highest.”1 [Note: R. L. Stevenson, Olalla.]
There are times when, all unconsciously to itself, the soul declares what it really is, what is its true nature—its love or hate, esteem or scorn. Perhaps it is some articulate utterance that is the medium of revelation, as when Browning says:—
The first word I heard ever from his lips,
All himself in it—an eternity
Of speech, to match the immeasurable depth
O’ the soul that then broke silence—“I am yours.”
Or, perhaps, the silence remains unbroken, but the disclosure is made, nevertheless, with
Each soul a-strain
Some one way through the flesh—the face, an evidence
O’ the soul at work inside.
When a man has “base ends and speaks falsely, the eye is muddy, and sometimes a-squint.” But when his soul is true and pure, “his eye is as clear as the heavens,” and his face grows “one luminosity”;—though, in the former case, he may never suspect that the question will be put to him, “Why is thy countenance fallen?” And in the latter also it might truthfully be said, He “wist not that the skin of his face shone.”2 [Note: J. Flew, Studies in Browning, 94.]
New burnisht Joys!
Which finest Gold and Pearl excell!
Such sacred Treasures are the Limbs of Boys
In which a Soul doth dwell:
Their organized Joints and azure Veins
More Wealth include than the dead World contains.3 [Note: Traherne, Poems of Felicity, 2.]
(4) The body is a medium of Divine service.—A large part of our usefulness and influence is due to passing bodily changes, of which we may be unconscious, but which others feel. Our eyes brighten with the good news we have to tell; our face beams with a smile; “there’s music in our very foot” when we are on an errand of love. When one “lifts” on us “the light of his countenance” we learn the sacred service of the body. Love and joy, hope and fear, pleading earnestness, remonstrant indignation—all the deep emotions of spiritual life lay the body under tribute. Think of the power of the orator in glance and gesture as well as in word; think of the dear faces and the musical voices of a happy household; think of beauty of expression, lovely when it animates fair features, but infinitely more touching when it glorifies a plain face. These are but casual illustrations of the various ways in which the body lends itself to the divinest ministries of life.
Charles Kingsley once said, “There has always seemed to me something impious in the neglect of personal health. I could not do half the good I do, if it were not for the strength and activity some consider coarse and degrading.”
One personal characteristic of Bishop Wilkinson stands out very strongly all through his life—the exquisite sensitiveness and delicacy of his bodily frame. He was not a man who could rough it; he was singularly dependent upon rest, upon the refined appointments of life; his house, his dress, his apparatus were always those of a wealthy and almost aristocratic fine gentleman. I think he showed his greatness and his simplicity by not troubling about this, and accepting these as the conditions under which he could do his work best; he did not plan for them or set any affected value upon them—he was simply unconscious of them, while they somehow enhanced his mysterious grace, and showed how the arts of courtly living and the pomps and vanities of the world may be consecrated to the service of God.1 [Note: A. C. Benson, The Leaves of the Tree, 129.]
(5) Remember also the prospects of the body. The body has its own real share in the hopes and promises that cluster round the name of Jesus. The heathen said—our modern heathen say still—the body will perish like the animals; what matters it how we treat it? Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. Nay, replies Christian faith, there is a second and nobler chapter in the story even of this frail tenement we here inhabit, which sheds back its light upon the chapter we are living in now. God, who raised up Jesus, shall in due time also quicken your mortal bodies.
2. Consider the dishonour of the body.
(1) It has an inevitable tendency to usurp the place of the soul.—The body is always trying to slip this domination of the powers that are above it, and become uppermost, and if this is allowed to take place the whole life is turned upside down, and man is degraded.
(2) The body has propensities which, if unduly indulged, waste and ruin life.—Where lies the gravity and guilt of sins like gluttony, intemperance, or lust in any form? In this, for one thing, that they give the body the upper hand. The only right and safe thing is that the body shall always serve. Any attempt to reverse the Divine law of our nature, that that part of us which is akin to God must rule, means a loss of true manhood and inevitable suffering. The drunkard reeling down the street is, in too many cases, a man whose body has already become the grave of a lost spirit.
The sovereignty of the conscience, and the control of reason, and the force of will exist in us to control appetite. The horse, when it is held in with a firm hand in a tight rein, is a noble sight, but if the rider or driver lets the rein slip from his fingers, the very mettle and force of the brute are what lead to destruction. And so the very frailty of the body becomes the means of greater destruction unless it is held in by the superior faculties of our nature.1 [Note: J. Stalker.]
The Temple of the Body
Under the Old Dispensation of Law, God had a temple for His people, but under the New Dispensation of Grace, He has His people for a temple.
1. The Temple was the one place in all the land of Israel which was entirely dedicated to God’s use. It existed solely for His service, and from all secular purposes and work it was completely separated. God’s ownership was recognized in every detail of its construction and service—it was truly the House of God. So is it with all those who are called now to be His temples.
I remember once learning, as I was standing in the magnificent Cathedral at Cologne, that Napoleon had stabled his cavalry horses in its chapel, and the very thought seemed to darken and profane the whole place. Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and if any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy.1 [Note: J. Stalker.]
2. The Temple thus dedicated to God was handed over to His possession in that wonderful prayer of Solomon. The body of a Christian believer holds another tenant than his human spirit; a Divine presence is within him, at once his glory and his power. And that Divine presence confers an unutterable sacredness upon his body. Just as he who commits sacrilege not only desecrates the material fabric, but also dishonours the God whose shrine it is; as he who performs unseemly acts in a temple not only defiles the stones and buildings, and wounds the spirits of the worshippers, but also profanes the worship of the Deity: so he who injures his body offends the Holy Ghost; he who sins against his body, not only degrades himself, but is a transgressor against the indwelling God.
They who sin against the body defile their temple, and dishonour Him who dwells in them. Some do so from an excessive devotion to the cares of this life, which, however necessary they may be to give practical directness and homely reality to spiritual character, are sure to exhaust him who lives wholly or even mainly in and for them. Some do it by an undue addiction to social excitements, which are to the intellect and imagination what stimulants are to the appetites. How many strong men, men of practical genius and large common sense; how many genial-spirited men, with rare gifts of sympathy and social qualities, are lost to the labours of our churches from these causes!2 [Note: A. Mackennal.]
3. The Temple offered to God became His indeed by His acceptance of the offering.—This was sealed by fire from heaven and by the glory of the Lord filling the house (2 Chronicles 7:1). Henceforth, in a peculiar sense, that place became God’s dwelling-place, and a type for all time of the spiritual temples which He purposes that all His people should be. No mere emotion, no strength of resolution, no strenuous striving to live aright, can ever take the place of God Himself in His people. This is the secret which alone transforms, “We will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).
4. The Temple thus possessed and indwelt by God became the sphere of His manifestation to man, and from thence they learned His law and received His blessing through ordinance and sacrifice. And thus it is with “the Temples of the Spirit” even now. They are the media through whom He chooses to manifest Himself to the world, and their lives in the power of His indwelling are set for the life and light of men. Holiness is in itself not an end, but a means to an end, the end being the blessing of others through our lives and labour. Any conception less than this degrades holiness to the level of refined selfishness, and dishonours Him whose name we bear. The “Temples of God” are not self-contained but Christ-communicating, and each by virtue of its existence as such is a centre of unmeasured blessing to the world.
Not in the world of light alone,
Where God has built His blazing throne,
Nor yet alone in earth below,
With belted seas that come and go,
And endless isles of sunlit green,
Is all thy Maker’s glory seen:
Look in upon thy wondrous frame—
Eternal wisdom still the same!
The smooth, soft air with pulse-like waves
Flows murmuring through its hidden caves,
Whose streams of brightening purple rush,
Fired with a new and livelier blush,
While all their burden of decay
The ebbing current steals away,
And red with Nature’s flame they start
From the warm fountains of the heart.
No rest that throbbing slave may ask,
For ever quivering o’er his task,
While far and wide a crimson jet
Leaps forth to fill the woven net
Which in unnumbered crossing tides
The flood of burning life divides,
Then, kindling each decaying part,
Creeps back to find the throbbing heart.
But warmed with that unchanging flame
Behold the outward moving frame,
Its living marbles jointed strong
With glistening band and silvery thong,
And linked to reason’s guiding reins
By myriad rings in trembling chains,
Each graven with the threaded zone
Which claims it as the master’s own.
See how yon beam of seeming white
Is braided out of seven-hued light,
Yet in those lucid globes no ray
By any chance shall break astray.
Hark how the rolling surge of sound,
Arches and spirals circling round,
Wakes the hushed spirit through thine ear
With music it is heaven to hear.
Then mark the cloven sphere that holds
All thought in its mysterious folds,
That feels sensation’s faintest thrill,
And flashes forth the sovereign will;
Think on the stormy world that dwells
Locked in its dim and clustering cells!
The lightning gleams of power it sheds
Along its hollow glassy threads!
O Father! grant Thy love divine
To make these mystic temples Thine!
When wasting age and wearying strife
Have sapped the leaning walls of life,
When darkness gathers over all,
And the last tottering pillars fall,
Take the poor dust Thy mercy warms,
And mould it into heavenly forms!1 [Note: Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Living Temple.]
The Glory of God in the Body
1. “Glorify God, therefore, in your body.” Do not let us mar the directness of this appeal by imitating the timidity of those later interpreters who read, “Glorify God in your body and in your spirit.” There is but one problem in human life, and that is the problem of the body, the organ through which alone life manifests itself, the home of our activities, the seat of our desires. “Glorify God in your body” was the straight appeal of one who knew what it was to stand fast in the liberty with which Christ had made him free.
“Ye are not your own,” that is the premise; “therefore glorify God in your body,” that is the conclusion. Between premise and conclusion is builded Calvary. Before God’s “therefore” stands a blood-stained cross and on it hangs the Son of God. If we are God’s, all that we own is His. If He owns us, He owns our property. He allows us to own it, that He may control it. If one owns a piece of ground, he owns the grass that grows on it. If God owns us, we are to glorify Him with all that we own. What we are to give Him is to depend, not on our whims and moods, not on what we think we can spare, but on what it takes to glorify Him. He is to have not what we like, but what He likes. This is the kind of ownership of property society needs to have recognized; not the public, collective ownership of land and capital for which socialism is shrieking; but the Divine ownership of property whose right rests on the claims of creation and redemption.1 [Note: J. I. Vance, Tendency, 88.]
We do not want to have our life divided up into body and spirit, secular and sacred, week-day and Sunday. The devil likes to keep us talking about what we ought not to do on Sunday morning, because none knows better than he that our destinies are really determined by what we do on Saturday night. A few reserves which are labelled “sacred” are the best guarantee that Beelzebub can have for undisturbed possession of the character. “Give me the body” is the cry of every claimant for the citadel of Mansoul, “and let who will have the spirit.”2 [Note: Canon J. G. Simpson.]
2. “To glorify” God is to do Him honour, to exalt, to magnify, to praise Him. How can we glorify God in our bodies?
(1) We glorify God in our bodies by a clear, direct recognition that the body is His shrine, His temple. “Now the body,” says St. Paul, “is not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” This implies a strenuous mental rally back to elemental principles whenever the body presumes to make its imperious demands. It implies certain times of soul-quietude when we affirm, with strong conviction, “I am a manifestation of God. My body is His shrine, His temple, the theatre of His operation. If my body beguiles me into lust, anger, selfishness, unkindness to others, I am not merely making myself an objectionable nuisance, but I am guilty of sacrilege, of something akin to blasphemy against the God who dwells within me.”
(2) We glorify God in our bodies by disciplining the body so that we gain the victory of self-possession. By far the best, the surest, the happiest, verification of St. Paul’s great claim must be made by each man for himself in the effort of obedience; in the hidden discipline of life; through pain and toil and fear, it may be, yet, by the grace of God, not without some earnest of a victory whose faintest, briefest forecast is better than all the pleasures of compromise—the victory of self-possession for the glory of God. It is pitiful to imagine how much of strength and liberty and joy is being missed or marred day after day by the mistakes men make in dealing with their bodies. Quite apart from the misery and havoc wrought by sheer misuse—by gluttony and drunkenness and lust—there are misunderstandings of the body’s meaning, and one-sided ways of treating it, which, with little or no blame perhaps, still hinder grievously the worth and happiness that life might have, and that the love of God intended for it.
(a) The body is not to be neglected or despised.—In former times it was the belief of men that they honoured God by punishing the flesh. If one man were more saintly than another he would wear a hair shirt next his skin, or put round his body a belt with spikes in it. Long and rigorous fasts, great and serious privations, were thought to be special marks of religious sanctity. Are we quite free from this error? Have not we cared more for souls than bodies? We have sometimes been so busy “saving souls” that we have cared next to nothing for bodies.
It seems to me that the spurious and unspiritual feeling of the day is directed to spiritual even more frequently than to material objects; and above all, that to divorce from each other a care for men’s bodies and for their spirits, or under any pretence whatever to cast a slight upon the former, or even upon those who exclusively (at least as they fancy) devote themselves to the former, is to set at naught the first and last lessons of the Gospels. It would be utterly shocking to me to doubt that the plainest and most literal meaning of such passages as Matthew 15:32, Mark 8:2-3 is also the most important, whatever other meanings may likewise be contained within them.1 [Note: Hort, Life and Letters, i. 405.]
The great German tenor, Herr Heinrich Knote, once showed me his mirrors for examining the vocal chords. The first thing he does after waking is to see whether the vocal chords have the fine pink hue that indicates perfect health. And a red and inflamed vein means that something is wrong. His whole art is so to carry on the functions of digestion, exercise, sleep, work and play as to keep his body at the point of absolute perfection. The time was when men talked about despising the body. People wanted the moral teacher to have the student’s pallor and to show those signs of exhaustion that betoken the midnight oil. We have finally discovered that sickliness is not saintliness. Holiness is wholeness, or healthiness—to use the Hebrew expression. God made the body to be a fearful and wonderful instrument, and a man who injures his body and by carelessness and sin appears on the street with a bad cold or indigestion, or shows signs of gluttony, ought to be as humiliated as if he had been caught stealing chickens, forging a note, or telling lies. Sickness that comes from disobedience to the laws of God represents a form of personal degradation.1 [Note: N. D. Hillis, Contagion of Influence, 205.]
Behold: eating, drinking, clothing, and other necessaries pertaining to the support of the body are burdensome to a fervent spirit.
Grant me to use such comforts with moderation, and not to be entangled with an excessive longing for them. It is not allowed us to cast them all away, for nature must be supported; but Thy holy law forbids to require superfluities and such things as are for mere delight; for otherwise the flesh would grow insolent against the spirit.
Between these, I beseech Thee, let Thy hand govern and direct me, that nothing be done in excess.2 [Note: À Kempis.]
(b) The body is not to be indulged.—Modern civilization addresses an ever more powerful and persuasive appeal to the lower appetites of man. The cravings of the senses are stimulated in many ways, and a wonderful organization of sensual service has been developed to satisfy them. The body is an instrument for making money, and the patient servitor of sensual pleasure, and for many nothing more.
(3) We glorify God in our bodies by trusting the love and power and resources of the Father-Soul who dwells within us. Our want of faith limits God. They who are able to concentrate upon the central fountain of life, and affirm that all that is God’s is theirs, do find the lower conditions controlled; the moral conditions of the psychical nature, and the physical conditions of the animal nature, are practically dead because they are “hid with Christ in God.”
One of the finest organs in Europe is in the Cathedral of Fribourg, a town in Switzerland. A good many years ago a young man came to that Cathedral and asked to be allowed to examine the organ. The attendant, not knowing who he was, at first refused to permit him to do so. After considerable persuasion he suffered him to look through it, and then in response to further persistent entreaty he allowed him to sit down and attempt to play. Forthwith there burst from the great instrument such strains of heavenly music that the attendant stood spellbound. “Who are you?” at last he ventured to ask. “My name is Mendelssohn,” was the reply. “Mendelssohn!” cried the attendant, lifting up his hands in amazement, “and to think that I refused to let you play on the organ!” There is One who wishes to bring music to the glory of God out of our lives, if we will only allow Him. Let Christ touch us, and we will be able to glorify God.1 [Note: J. Aitchison.]
(4) To glorify God in the body is manifestly self-identification with the brethren of humanity. “If you would glorify God in your body, know that the humility that loves to serve, the self-subordination that induces you to leave your heaven of personal comfort to be identified with your brethren’s sorrows, will propitiate the only element in the nature of the Absolute that requires propitiating, which is His yearning, hungering love.” God’s human children need us all, bitterly need us.
King’s children are these all; though want and sin
Have marred their beauty glorious within,
We may not pass them but with reverent eye:
As when we see some goodly temple graced
To be Thy dwelling, ruined and defaced,
The haunt of sad and doleful creatures, lie
Bare to the sky, and open to the gust,
It grieveth us to see this House laid waste,
It pitieth us to see it in the dust!2 [Note: Dora Greenwell.]
The Body for God
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Arnold (T.), Sermons, v. 147.
Baillie (D.), The Love of God, 80.
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Church Times, May 19, 1911 (Simpson).
Preacher’s Magazine, v. (1894) 130 (Hill).