The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?The Gospel According to Paul (Continued)
This weary but necessary "if" meets us once more. "If we be dead with Christ'—but is any man dead with the Saviour? Perhaps not. He is not dead because he has retired from the world. Monasticism is not self-extinction. But does any man wish to die with the Saviour? That is enough, in the meantime. Not "if we be dead"—we are all dead in trespasses and sins; that is not the death referred to; the qualifying words are—"with Christ." Were we crucified upon his Cross? Have we known the fellowship of his sufferings? We may be dead to the world, and yet not dead with Christ; we may have retired from the world in mere sullenness and misanthropy, stung by a thousand disappointments; such withdrawment from the world is not death, in the sense in which Paul uses that term. We must consent to our own death; we must wish to die; we must feel that in going with Christ to the Cross we are fulfilling, not a momentary election of our own, but the very purpose of God before the world began.
This is a great mystery. Vulgarity has no status here; this lore can only be learned in the inner and upper school where the Holy Ghost alone is teacher. Paul's joy breaks out upon every possible occasion. He is bound to recognise the darker facts of life, but he no sooner recognises them than he finds in them only the shadow of some great joy. That principle of interpretation is realised in this verse. "Now if we be dead with Christ"—there all is gloomy, solemn, tragical, awful—"we believe" is that a word of hesitancy, or a word of confidence? Sometimes we say, "We believe so," when we are not certain about it; we do not affirm it, we simply attach a certain amount of credence to it—"We believe so." When the word is thus used, it is a word of little consequence in Christian education. Paul uses it as a word of confidence, triumph. "We believe"—we are sure, we live in the assurance—"that we shall also live with him." What is Paul's idea? It is that Christ and the Christian have the same fate. If Christ is dead, we should be dead too; if Christ lives, we shall live with him; if Christ has gone out into eternal extinction, we shall follow him into that infinite nothingness: but if Christ has a throne he will find on it a seat for every one who has trusted his Cross and followed his law. This was Christ's own method of teaching; he said, "Where I am, there ye may be also." How wondrously Paul works upon that connective word "also"! We cannot read the chapters immediately connected with this text without finding Paul always erecting that bridge. As with Christ, so also with the Christian. If, then, we would discover our own fate or destiny, we have simply to inquire into the fate or destiny of Christ. If we are one with him he will find us, we shall find him, and we shall spend eternity together. This is the Christian's confidence. Hence the Christian's joy. Christianity never carries out its argument without carrying out its music also.
Take the Gospel according to Paul at another point:—"Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (Romans 6:18). This is more than a play upon words. In the first instance we have emancipation:—Being made free from sin—free from the law, which is the creator of sin—ye became the slaves of righteousness. Grace does not mean liberation from service. Roughly interpreting the Christian life and temper of the day, one would suppose that a man has only to unite himself in Christian fellowship in order to escape all Christian responsibility. Whilst he was an anxious inquirer, he spent days and nights in assiduously asking questions concerning the way to the kingdom of light and liberty, but no sooner was he persuaded that he had found that kingdom than he sat down, took his ease, lived upon the empty past, and fed himself upon the wind. Let every man examine himself herein. To unite with a Church is only to begin the Christian life. When we say we believe the Son of God, we simply put our hands upon the plough, we do not take them off; we begin the war, we do not cease it. Addiction to sin is bondage; so also is the service of righteousness: only we must never forget that there are two kinds of bondage—one servile, humiliating, degrading; the other consenting, joyous, unanimous. Love is slavery. There is no one so much in bondage as the one who is most deeply influenced by love: there is no night there, there is no more sea, there is no need of the candle, call it moon or sun. Love is its own light; love thinks nothing a hardship by which it can promote its own deepest and sublimest purposes. This is the slavery of Christ. To be Christ's slave is to be God's free man.
Take another instance of the Gospel according to Paul:—"What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life" (vi. 21-22). The picture is that of two harvests. Paul will judge everything by the end. What does it come to when it is all told? is Paul's searching and unfailing inquiry. Not, How does it go in the process, what are its occasional excitements and exhilarations? but, When all comes to all, what is the end of conduct? He first looks at the field of sin and says, This harvest is death: then he looks at the field of grace, and he says, Behold the abundance of the fruit; and this fruit is unto holiness, the end of this harvest is everlasting life. Paul was practical; Paul would judge religions by their results. He would not say a religion was false simply because he did not understand it. Paganism was not false to Paul because he had not been trained in it. Paganism was part of a great education. Christianity takes up poor blind Paganism and leads it into the light. Thus Paul treated the men of Athens; he said, Ye have come to the point of the Unknown; it is here that Christianity begins. From that point of ignorance he led his hearers on to points of religious consciousness and realisation. What does your life come to? is then the solemn inquiry. Judged by this standard, Christianity has nothing to fear. It turns out the grandest men in the world. Every Christian ought to be a sublime character, a monument of honour and of nobleness. Not every professing Christian. Some of the meanest souls in the world have professed Christianity hypocritically. Yet I care not how humble the lot and how poor the circumstances of a real Christian, you will find in him the point of nobility, the seal of royalty, somewhere. He will wear well. The electro will wear off; the silver is good to the last thread.
Take another instance without changing the line of thought:—"But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter" (Romans 7:6). Still serving; never given over to mere wantonness or licence of life; but still under the discipline of the grace of God. This is larger serving. It is impossible for a man to do as well for you as he would do for himself. The most honest man cannot serve his employer as he would serve himself. He thinks he does: but he cannot. Have you searched into that point of necessity? It is not want of will, it is not want of honesty, it is not want of faithfulness and vigilance, not one word do we say to the detriment of the man's character; but a man cannot work so well or so long for another as he can do for himself. Yet this is not selfishness; it is the larger realisation of a man's own nature. I do not speak of the hireling, for he is the meanest of all reptiles. Never speak a good word of any hireling. By "hireling" I mean the man who renders only eye-service; the man who does not consider his work, but the wages; the man who is all the morning long asking what time it is. Have no faith in him; do not trust him; watch him at every point: he is a thief even when he is honest. I am speaking of the man who does not really know himself until he is cast fully upon his own resources. When you were receiving wages you were not doing probably one half the work you are doing now that you are paying them. You never did for your employer what you are doing for yourself; and you know it. Working for yourself, you never look at the clock, you see another opportunity and seize it; you take your business even into your dreams. You have come into a larger service, without subjecting yourself to one tittle of just accusation for neglect, even when you were under other circumstances. You cannot do so much for a stranger as you can do for your own child; you cannot sit up so long at night, you cannot revive your energy so continuously. Here we touch the very divinest element in man, the eternal love that lives to invent new opportunities for its own exercise. We have come into service, larger service, and if we have escaped literal discipline it is that we might be brought into obedience to spiritual sympathy, which is immeasurably larger than any mere discipline can be. It is right that we should bear the yoke in our youth, it is right that we should have difficulty with our alphabets and primers. As we have said before, there is no reading in all the world so hard as the alphabet, and yet we have come to speak of this and that as being "as easy as A B C." We thus indicate our own growth, we have passed from discipline into sympathy; we have passed from the parsing of words into the grasp of thoughts. We are no longer the victims of a merely mechanical orthography, syntax, or prosody; we know the writer's meaning, we enter into the writer's spirit, we know the writer's signature. He can no longer be kept away from us, and no substitute can be palmed upon us; we live in him, we breathe his breath, we are in sympathy with his soul. Something like this the Apostle means when he says we serve "in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." The letter measures duty; the letter is a clock; and by that clock it prescribes routine, as who should say, This shall be done at one, that shall be done at two, and at twelve such and such processes shall be inaugurated or completed. Love has no time, no clock, no sense of succession. The man who is in love with his work is surprised and annoyed to find that he must finish it. He accosts the time-teller with that vacant look of obstinate unwilling which signifies to the speaker that he has made a fool of himself; it is impossible, saith that look, that it can now be twelve o'clock by the sun, because I have hardly begun my work. It was twelve o'clock many hours ago according to the hireling: according to the lover, the devotee, the clock has hardly ticked—his soul is in his work.
This also is the meaning of the great outburst (Romans 8:1):—"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." "Condemnation" means judgment, criticism; the little court is shut up, and love is tried only in the court of heaven. No other court could hold it; before no other judgment seat could the arbitration of love be determined. We have in our own jurisprudence the first court, and the second court, and the court of Appeal, and the House of Lords. There are some cases that could not be tried before the magistrate; he can only hear an outline of the evidence, and say, there is a first-face view; this ought to go farther. He himself is not equal to the occasion, and he knows it, and therefore he sends the case on; and the second court cannot grapple with it, and it knows it, without confessing it, and has to get the case put a little higher, it is so complicated and entangled, and needs such a wonderful knowledge of precedents; and then the case is finally sent to the highest point recognised in the law of the constitution of the land, and there it is at least muddled into a momentary adjustment. But there is the succession of courts; and the Apostle Paul says, It is just so with us; once we could be tried by the law, and the Judge would say, What saith the law? Now there is no condemnation, no initial magistrate, no little trumpery court by which the spiritual man can be judged; he can be judged only by his Saviour; the carnal cannot judge the spiritual, but he that is spiritual judgeth all things. He has the Divine insight, the eternal sagacity; he knows without learning. The books have not made him a scholar, but long intercourse with the Spirit of Wisdom.
The Apostle would have all believers to enter into this joy. He would have every man who loves Christ say to all earthly criticism, You do not know me; you do not understand me; you are too little, altogether too feeble, to comprehend the case; I am working from motives you never heard of. Therefore, when the Christian is to be judged he must be taken to the highest court of all. Are we, then, new in outward relations? The Apostle says, No.—"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." Here is a new family. We are in the new family; we sustain all the larger relations of the new household. And being children, we are more. What more? Is there aught possible in addition to child-ship? Yes—"if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." That is how the process runs, from the lower to the higher, from the law to grace, from the letter to the spirit, from drudgery to sympathy. He who has touched the point of sympathy is in the family; he calls God, Father, with a familiarity that never descends to frivolity, with a reverence which is never debased by servility, with a love that scorns all language, and asks to express itself in the music of heaven.
Almighty God, we bless thee for all ministries that raise us from earth to heaven. Thou hast so made us as to desire the heavenly city. We hunger when we are away from home. There is no Father but in heaven. We have hewn out to ourselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. Once we were as sheep going astray; now we have returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. This we have done by thy grace; by grace are we saved; in grace we stand: the grace of the Lord is infinite. Help each of us to realise individual responsibility; may the cry of each heart be, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? May thy servants be industrious, faithful, waiting for the coming of the Lord with patience and constant hopefulness. Save us from trusting to each other that the work will be done; may every soul feel that the work is his, and that he must do it, and thus by great individuality of consecration may we constitute a great unity of effort. Thou dost save man one by one; thou dost take us to the unseen state one by one; thou wilt judge every man according to his own doings in the body, whether they be good or whether they be bad. Give us to feel that this is the law within which we stand, and may we answer it with all faithfulness and gratitude. We come ever in the name of Jesus, the name that fills heaven and earth with its music; we come ever by way of the Christ, higher than all the stars, deeper than all the graves of men; conquering all death, and filling the universe with life. We come to confess our sins, to mourn them with penitence and brokenheartedness, to look to the fountain opened in the house of David for sin and for uncleanness: Lamb of God, have mercy upon us; Jesu, Saviour of the world, help us and save us, we humbly beseech thee. Amen.