Instead, we have renounced secret and shameful ways. We do not practice deceit, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by open proclamation of the truth, we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
I. THE INSTRUMENT WHICH IS ENTRUSTED TO THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER TO WIELD.
1. In itself it is the truth. All truth is precious and powerful. But the truth, as it is in Jesus, is supreme in moral, spiritual power. The truth of God's righteousness and love, as they are united and harmonious in the gospel of Christ, is the greatest moral force which has entered and wrought in our humanity. It has rower to convince the judgment, to convert the heart, to control the will, to constrain the life.
2. This truth exercises its power by simple manifestation. It does not need our apologies or defence, our ornaments or recommendations. It does its work best when it is simply allowed to shine by its own light, to take its own course.
II. THE MATERIAL UPON WHICH THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER HAS TO WORK; i.e. "every man's conscience." Some religious teachers appeal to men's interests, others to their fears, some to their superstition, others to their vanity. But the true appeal is to the conscience. "Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?" "I speak as unto wise men, judge ye what I say." Other principles of action address themselves to inferior parts of human nature, and produce proportionate results. But Christian truth aims high, calls forth into action the noblest faculties of the soul. Literally translated, the phrase is, "to every conscience of men," which seems to suggest that, whether the conscience be enlightened or crude, sluggish or active, it is evermore, when aroused, a witness to God's Word, The truth and the conscience are alike of Divine origin, and they are adapted the one to the other. What the truth utters the conscience echoes. The preacher of righteousness may be assured that to his words there is always a response in human hearts.
III. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER USES THE DIVINELY FASHIONED IMPLEMENT WHICH OPERATES UPON THE DIVINELY FASHIONED NATURE. It is "in the sight of God." He who works thus will work honestly, faithfully, earnestly. And his work will be profitable to men and acceptable to God. - T.
But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty.
I. PURITY OF MOTIVE. "We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty." By this he implies that these false teachers used such means to promote their schemes as would need only to be known in order to ruin the cause they were intended to promote. For men see at once that the cause cannot be a good one which requires to promote it such crafty schemes as cannot bear the light of day.
II. PURITY OF CONDUCT. "Nor walking in craftiness." The whole life of these false teachers was a crafty attempt to appear what they were not — to appear as if their actions were guided by a changed heart, whereas they really continued to live as they had formerly done, without any change of life or conversation. And what is he now but an impostor who pretends to teach others the road to heaven without himself leading the way?
III. PURITY OF DOCTRINE "Nor handling the Word of God deceitfully." There can, of course, only be two reasons for this deceitful handling: either —
1. To arrive at false doctrine, or —
2. To further some selfish end. Men do the first when they try, as some of these early teachers did, to fit Scripture into some system of human philosophy, and to teach as Divine truth the views which they brought to the sacred book. And men do the latter when, instead of preaching Christ, they preach themselves.
(J. Clarkson.)1. The common forms of opposition to the Christian ministry.
2. The mode and spirit in which such opposition should be met.
3. What the Christian ministry must be if it is to overcome all the opposition that may be brought against it.
I. THE CONDITIONS OF A TRUE MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST. These are contained in the first three clauses of the verse.
1. "We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty." The word rendered "dishonesty" occurs six times in the New Testament. In every other instance it is translated "shame," and this is its proper meaning. The expression, "hidden things of shame," will have a twofold application. It may refer to things "hidden" as opposed to "manifestation" — that is, concealed from men through a feeling of shame; and in that case it would concern the gospel which the apostle had to declare. Or it may refer to things shameful in themselves, carefully hidden from the eyes of men; and in that case it would concern the apostle himself. Taking both applications, the force of the apostle's statement seems to be this: "There is nothing in the gospel which I am ashamed to tell men." "There is nothing in myself which I am ashamed for men to know." The Christian ministry demands the utmost honesty on the part of those who are found in it. The truths men are most indisposed to hear, and which are most likely to offend, are often the truths which men need most to know. The moment men begin to suspect that there are things in a man's life which will not bear examination — "hidden things of shame" — his work is over. The first condition of a true ministry is that these shall be renounced.
2. The utter absence of selfish and subtle designs. "Not walking in craftiness." The word literally means "unscrupulousness." The idea is that of one who will resort to any artifice to secure his own ends. We are to learn that craftiness is utterly out of place in the ministry of the gospel. Though the end desired may be laudable, we are never justified in adopting crafty measures for attaining it. This has been the error into which, throughout a great portion of her history, the Church of Christ has fallen, and from which, according to some, she is not yet wholly free. The employment of craftiness has not only been wrong and sinful, but a mistake — a failure. It has been so in other domains of life. It has been well Shown by one writer that the policy which thought to govern India by sending out shrewd and unscrupulous men to meet and watch the keen, subtle, treacherous Hindoos, has altogether failed.
3. "Nor handling the Word of God deceitfully." We are not to tamper with it, as one who defaces, injures, impairs the value of the coin of the realm, We are not to adulterate it, as one who introduces another and inferior element into that which originally was pure and good.
II. THE CHARACTER OF A TRUE MINISTRY. "By manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." This is opposed to all reserve and concealment, all that is personal and selfish, all that is crafty and deceitful.
1. All that is obscure, and mystical, and unintelligible in Christian teaching is excluded. "We use great plainness of speech." To place the truth within the apprehension of all must be the one aim and desire. Not to envelope it in a mysterious symbolism, not to wrap it up in strange and difficult terms, but to hold up the truth, like a torch uncovered, so that no human device shall lessen its brightness.
2. Such a ministry requires the utmost sincerity in those who sustain it. To manifest the truth must be the one object, and nothing in the man himself must be allowed to obscure its manifestation. He must sink himself in the truth he declares. The truth is often obscured by the person who proclaims it. The truth, not himself — the manifestation of the truth, not the presentation of himself — must be the grand object.
3. The evidences of such a ministry will appear in the response it awakens in the consciences of man. "Commending ourselves to every man's conscience." There is truth in every man corresponding with the truth in the book. "In the original structure of the soul there is an unwritten revelation which accords with the external revelation of Scripture. Within the depths of the heart there is a silent oracle which needs only to be rightly questioned to elicit from it a response in accordance with that voice which issues from the lively oracles of God." A Christian minister is the living link between the truth in the Book and the truth in man. His work is so to manifest the truth contained in the Book that the consciences of men shall recognise it and answer to it. This constitutes the great hope and confidence of his ministry. The truth he has to manifest is not something requiring a new sense or a new faculty in man for its reception.
4. The solemnity of the ministry. "In the sight of God." Self will obtrude itself — pride and vanity will appear — unless a man remembers that all is done "in the sight of God."
But by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience
(H. Melvill, B. D.)Romans 12:1, he appeals to reason: "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies... which is your reasonable service." If there is not something even in a bad man which can be trusted, it is useless to present to him truth. If he cannot recognise it he is not blamable for rejecting it. If a man knocks at your door, and you have no means of telling whether he is a thief or a friend, you are not culpable if you turn him away. If in the heathen, or those wrecks of humanity which we see in all great cities, there is not something essentially Divine, they can never discover the Divine when it is manifested. There is that in all men which knows the good, feels the force of duty, and recognises the truth when it is presented. Exceptions to this statement are apparent, but not real. The Hindu mother believes that she ought to throw her child to the River God. In her ignorance she obeys. In the world's history there is not a more superb example of loyalty to conviction. What does that example show? That the woman is ignorant and needs instruction, not that her heart is wrong. This inner light may be obscured. The light in a lantern may be hidden by filth on the glass; the singing of a bird may be lost in the noise of a great city; the voice of a mother may be drowned by songs of dissipation. But the light in the lantern is waiting only for the filth to be removed. This inner light is an elemental fact. Elemental facts are those which inhere in the nature of things. Hunger is a fact. Love is a fact. The correspondence between the eye and the light is a fact; and these facts are not affected by theories concerning their origin. It is safe to appeal to this moral sense. If that cannot be trusted, nothing can be. If that deceives, there is no way by which a revelation about God, duty, or what lies beyond the grave could be received. If that cannot be trusted we may as well burn our Bibles, for it is precisely because of the appeal which the Scriptures make to it that they get their authority. Coleridge said, "I believe in the Bible because the Bible finds me." I put emphasis on this fact because it leaves unbelief without excuse. That which satisfies and completes our moral nature carries with it the evidence of its own truthfulness. I do not tell you to accept Christ because the Bible says He is Divine, but I do tell you that He will satisfy and complete your nature if you will only once bring Him where your inmost eye can clearly see Him. To this something in the natural man the Christian doctrine of God is presented. Does it commend itself as true, or is it repelled as false? What is the Christian doctrine of God? It begins and ends in Fatherhood. The apostle of culture says that God is that power outside ourselves which makes for righteousness, and that definition is clear and beautiful as a marble statue or a dome of ice. There is nothing in it which appeals to struggling humanity. Fatherhood touches all hearts. The New Testament says that God is Father. That does not mean that He is weak, the slave of His affections, but that all His relations towards humanity can be best indicated by the relation of parent and child. Then it is said, God is love; God is light; He makes all things work together for good; and, It is His nature to seek the salvation of those who are lost. What a splendid ideal comes from those old Hebrew writings! Love must be severe when severity is necessary. It must cut out the cancer that the whole body may be saved. It will punish the child to-day that he may be a man to-morrow. It will seek good at any cost. There is no conflict between love and justice. Nay, rather, justice is only the shadow of love. The Christian idea of God is so glorious that I wonder that any ever turn from it. Not a sparrow falls without His notice. He clothes even the lilies. Then what man is ever forgotten? The heart of the gospel is the proclamation of forgiveness, or the doctrine of salvation. The experience of guilt is the most universal and terrible. Those who laugh at the idea of a spiritual nature cannot get away from this fact. In all nations and ages the conviction of guilt has been a reality. Nothing has been sought more eagerly than an answer to the question, How can one who is in wrong relations with himself and the universe be made right? The doctrine of sacrifice is old as human history. The inquiry had been, What can we do? How can we get rid of these burdens? What can we pay? We will give of our flocks and our fields, of the fruit of our body for the sin of our souls. But the world's guilt grew heavier. The Master came with His message: "You cannot save yourselves. You cannot get away from the past. What you seek in vain by costly oblations and wearisome labours, I offer as a gift. Believe Me. You are not in the hands of a tyrant anxious that all his debts shall be paid; you are in the hands of a Father who is seeking for you as a shepherd for a sheep that is lost. Believe Me; if you will stop where you are and turn from the evil of your life, and follow Me, you will be forgiven." What a wonderful message! How simple! How strangely it has been misinterpreted! What shall I do to be saved? Turn from evil; follow Him who is the truth and the right. But how about that past? Leave that with God. That is the message of salvation. Have faith in Christ when He tells us that, if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Is not that reasonable? Has not difficulty about this subject of forgiveness arisen from the simple fact that we have imagined that God was a tyrant who demanded something which could not be paid, and we have said, "We cannot believe in such a God"? But when we get to the Divine revelation, when we read the story of the prodigal, and see that the son came back and found the father waiting for him, with a kiss and a new robe, and all that was necessary for him to do was simply to come home and enter into a new life, do we not find that which satisfies our consciousness of right? Now, you who are fighting this or that theory of the atonement, who are saying, "I cannot accept Christianity, because it shocks my moral sense," simply take the parables in the fifteenth chapter of Luke, which are the revelation of God's dealing with the repentant sinner, the first two showing how He seeks for the lost, and the third how He receives the penitent, and answer your own heart. Is there anything in that which does not attract? And again I say, Can that which satisfies the profoundest longings of your soul, which gives peace in the midst of the struggle of life, be only a dream and a falsehood? If now we turn to the teaching of Christianity concerning duty, do we not find the same correspondence? There have been as many theories of ethics as there have been thinkers to devise them. The old problem concerning obligation has had a million answers. How simple and beautiful is the teaching of Christi Make clean the inside of the cup. Pharisaism is hateful. External righteousness may be a garment hiding a corrupt spirit. The devil may masquerade in a cloak of light. Make the fountain pure, and the stream will be pure. Make the tree good, and the fruit will be good. Think right thoughts, and there will be no trouble about right acts. That is where the teaching of Christ begins. The next point concerns the value which should be placed upon self. Old theories of ethics had exalted the individual. Christ says it is the privilege of the individual to efface himself for the welfare of the many. The world says, "Exalt yourselves"; Christ says, "Humble yourselves." The culmination of Christ's ethical teaching was in the new commandment wherein He says, "A new commandment give I unto you, that ye should love one another as I have loved you." Nothing indefinite! nothing mystical! clear as the light! Do not ask who wrote the first books of the Bible. Do not care whether Jonah is history or fiction. Simply bring yourself face to face with these questions: Does Christ's teaching concerning God satisfy my conscience? Can I leave myself and all men in the hands of such a Being, assured that no harm can come from Him to any one? Is there anything but comfort in Christ's doctrine of salvation -- that He has come to give power to all those who will repent of their sin and turn towards Him to cease from sinning and live the Divine life? Is there anything that is either unreasonable or in violation of the moral sense when He asks us to believe Him that, us we forgive our children when they repent and begin to mend their ways, so the heavenly Father forgives us? And is there anything which does not carry with it the evidence of its own truthfulness in these high and searching principles which our Master emphasised? Make the tree right in order that the fruit may be right. Use all powers for the good of humanity, and remember that those who have injured you most are those whom you should serve most. "Love one another as I have loved you." You ask, "What am I to believe as the truth of God?" Here is a statement in the Bible. It can be explained in two ways. One way my moral nature commends; the other, I am told by those who profess to know, is the true interpretation. Which one am I to accept? I reply, always choose that which commends itself to your moral nature. If the Apostle Paul could appeal to conscience to certify truth, you cannot be wrong if you do the same.
(A. H. Bradford, D. D.)1. Truth may either derive its authority from the teacher, or reflect on him its authority. As the receiver of money may argue either that the money is good because it is an honest man who pays it, or that the man is honest because he pays good money, so in the communication and reception of truth. It is the latter mode of inference which is employed in the text. The message Paul had spoken was so completely in accordance with reason and conscience that he needed no other credentials in proclaiming it.
2. That there is an order of truth such us that to which the apostle refers, every thoughtful mind must be aware. At the root of all knowledge there are first principles which are independent of proof, which to state is to prove to every mind that apprehends them — they commend themselves at once to my consciousness in the sight of God. Now to this class belong many of the truths of revelation. As it needs no outward attestation to prove to the tasteful eye the beauty of fair scenes, as sweet sounds need no authentication of their harmony to the sensitive ear, so, between the spirit of man and that infinite world of moral beauty and harmony which revelation discloses, there is a correspondence so deep and real that the inner eye and ear, if undiseased, discern at once in Divine things their own best witness and authority. By the statement that the truths of revelation commend themselves to the conscience or consciousness of man —
I. IT IS NOT IMPLIED —
1. That man, by the unaided exercise of his consciousness, could have discovered them. If there be an internal revelation already imprinted on the human spirit, what need, it might be asked, for any other? In asserting that Divine revelation is self-evidencing, do we not virtually assert that it is superfluous?(1) The answer is that the power to recognise truth does not imply the power to original it. We may apprehend what we could not invent. To discover some great law of nature, to evolve some grand principle of science, implies in the discoverer the possession of mental powers of the very rarest order; but when that law or principle has once been pointed out, multitudes who could never have discovered it for themselves may be quite able to verify it. All abstract science or philosophy, in fact, is but the bringing to light of those truths which implicitly are possessed by all; but these truths would never become really ours but for the aid which the discoveries of high and philosophic minds afford them. So, again, to what is it that the great poet owes the power to charm the minds of men but this — that he gives expression to thoughts and feelings which, though none but men of rarest genius could articulate them, the common heart and soul of humanity recognises as its own?(2) Apply this principle to the case before us. There are inscribed on the mind and conscience of man the characters of an unknown language, to which revelation alone supplies the key, and which, read by its aid, become the truest verification of that which interprets them. In that world of invisible realities to which, as spiritual beings, we belong, there are mysteries too profound for fallen humanity, of itself, to penetrate. But though by no unaided "searching" could we "find out God"; though, again, the conception of a pure and holy moral law, or the vision of a glorious immortality, be unattainable by any spontaneous effort of human reason, yet there is wrought into the very structure of man's nature so much of a Divine element, there is a moral standard so ineffaceably inscribed on the conscience, there slumbers in the universal heart a desire and yearning after immortality so deep and strong, that that Bible which contains in it the revelation of God and holiness and heaven finds in the awakened soul an instant response and authentication of its teachings.
2. That the consciousness in its unrenewed and imperfect state is qualified fully to recognise and verify these truths when discovered to it.(1) It might be admitted that the mind of man, in its perfect state, is so in harmony with the mind of God as at once to echo and respond to the utterance of that mind in His revealed Word. But the moral reason has become dimmed and distorted. How, then, any longer can the soul be regarded as the criterion of truth? How can it be asserted that the truth commends itself to every man's consciousness? Is not such a statement at variance with 1 Corinthians 2:14? How can light be perceived by blind eyes, harmony by dull or deaf ears?(2) The solution of this difficulty will perhaps be found in the consideration that Divine truth exerts on the mind of man at once a restorative and a self-manifesting power. It creates in the mind the capacity by which it is discerned. As light opens the close-shut flower-bud to receive light, or as the sunbeam, playing on a sleeper's eyes, by its gentle irritation opens them to see its own brightness, so the truth of God, shining on the soul, quickens and stirs into activity the faculty by which that very truth is perceived. It is in this case as in secular studies — each advance in knowledge disciplines the knowing faculty. With each new problem mastered, each difficult step in science or philosophy overcome, the mental habits are strengthened, and thus a wider range of knowledge, a larger, clearer, more comprehensive view of truth, becomes possible to the mind.
II. IN WHAT WAY MAY WE CONCEIVE OF DIVINE TRUTH AS COMMENDING ITSELF TO THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF MAN?
1. By revealing to man the lost ideal of his nature.(1) Whilst man, fallen and degraded, could never have found out that ideal for himself, yet, when it is presented to him in Scripture, there is that within him which is capable of recognising it as his own. You cannot blot out from his mind the latent reminiscence of a nobler and better self which he might have been, and which to have lost is guilt and wretchedness. Confront the fallen moral intelligence with its own perfect type, and in the instinctive shame and humiliation arising therefrom there is elicited an involuntary recognition of the truthfulness of the portraiture.(2) Now, such is the response which the spirit of man, in the hour of contrition, renders to the perfect type of moral excellence which the gospel brings before it. For the sorrow and self-abasement which the "manifestation of the truth" calls forth derive their peculiar poignancy from the fact that it is a sorrow not so much of discovery as of reminiscence. In the contemplation of God's holy law, and especially of that perfect reflection of it which is presented in Jesus, the attitude of the penitent mind is that not simply of observation, but of painful and humiliating recollection. The mental process is analogous to that in which the mind goes in search of some word, or name, or thought which we cannot at once recall, yet of which we have the certainty that once we knew it. Or it is still more closely parallel to the feeling of one who revisits, in reverse of fortune, and after long years of absence, a spot with which, in other and happier days, he was familiar. At first such an one might move for a while amidst old scenes and objects unconscious of any past and personal connection with them, until at last something occurs to touch the spring of association, when instantly, with a rush of recollection, old sights, impressions, incidents, come thick and crowding on the spirit, and the outward scene becomes clothed with a new vividness, and is perceived with a new sense of identity. Now, if the life of Christ were an ideal of excellence altogether foreign to us, the shame of the convicted conscience would lose half its bitterness. But the latent element that lends sharpness to the stings of self-accusation in the mind aroused by the manifestation of the truth is the involuntary recognition in Christ of a dignity we have lost, an inheritance we have wasted, a perfection for which the spirit of man was formed, but which it has basely disowned. Repentance is the recognition by the fallen self of its true self in Christ.
2. By discovering to man the mode of regaining it. The Scriptures claim from the conscience, not only a response to their description of the disease, but also a recognition of the suitability and sufficiency of the remedy they prescribe. No state of mind can be conceived more distressing than that of a man who, voluntarily or involuntarily, is falling below his own ideal. For a man's own comfort, he must either forget his ideal or strive to realise it. The great obstacles to the soul's recovery of its lost ideal are the sense of guilt and the consciousness of moral weakness.(1) The soul aspiring after holiness craves deliverance from guilt; and to that deep-felt want the gospel responds in the revelation of God in Christ Jesus.(a) In some respects the analogous case of the debtor's embarrassments may help us to conceive of the needs of the guilty soul. Debt acts as a dead-weight on a man's energies. What this man wants in order to rouse him to effort is to cut off his connection with the past, to sweep away its obligations, and let him have a fair start in life again. Or reflect, again, on the depressing influence often produced by loss of character and reputation in the world. A man who has lost caste in society has lost with it one of the most powerful incentives to effort. If he could begin life anew it might be different with him.(b) But all such analogies are but partial and inadequate representations of the moral hindrance of guilt. An insolvent man may, by redoubled exertions, or by the intervention of a friend, be freed from the depressing responsibility for the past. But in sin the aroused conscience feels that there is a strange indelibleness. The man, again, who has compromised himself with human society may, by lapse of time or removal from the scene, escape from the depressing influence of social suspicion and mistrust. But from the ban of Omniscience there is no such escape. Infinite justice is independent of space and time. Nay, even if God, by a simple act of oblivion, could pass over the awakened sinner's guilt, his own conscience would not suffer him to forget it. He would be "the wrath of God unto himself." The aroused conscience does not want a mere act of amnesty. Nothing will satisfy it, unless the sin be branded with the mark of the law's offended majesty — unless the culprit sin be, as it were, led out to execution and slain before it.(c) Now, it is this deep necessity of the awakened spirit which the gospel meets — a revelation in the person, life, and death of Jesus, which includes at once the most complete condemnation of sin and the most ample forgiveness of the sinner. Surely the trembling heart may cease to despair of itself, or regard the past with hopeless despondency, when that very Being in whom all law and right are centred condescends to wed the nature of guilty man into closest affinity with Himself. But more than this, the gospel brings relief to the self-condemned spirit by exhibiting infinite purity passing through a history which brings it into ceaseless contact with sin in all its undisguised hatefulness and hostility to God. And, finally, the gospel permits us to think of Christ as one who, in conveying pardon to guilt, instead of relaxing the strictness or bringing slight on the unbending rectitude of God's law, offers up the grandest possible tribute to its majesty and the most awful atonement for the sins that infringed it.(2) The other great obstacle is the conscious inertness and impotence of the soul in its endeavours after holiness.(a) It is in the attempt to reach its lost ideal that the soul becomes aware of its own moral weakness. It is not when the sick man lies prostrated by disease that he feels most his own feebleness, but when he begins to rally, and attempts to rise and walk. When despotism has so quelled a nation's spirit that it cares not to put forth the feeblest resistance to its thraldom, it is not then that it is in a condition to discover the hopelessness of its bondage; but when, the spirit of insurrection roused, the attempt has been made to throw off the hateful yoke, and made in vain — it is then that it learns the terribleness of that power which keeps it down. So it is not when sin holds undisturbed dominion in the soul, but when the new ideal of holiness dawns upon its vision, that, in the feebleness of its resolutions and the miserable ineffectiveness of its attempts to be good, there is forced upon it the painful conviction of its own moral weakness. And then, too, rises the intense longing for spiritual help.(b) Now, the gospel commends itself to the consciousness by responding to this. For it reveals to the soul Christ as not only outwardly the ideal, but inwardly the hope and strength of humanity. It would go no little way towards meeting our needs if, in our loneliness and weakness, there should be granted the perpetual presence and guardianship of some lofty angelic nature. Or, better, let any contrite soul, longing for the goodness it cannot reach, perturbed by the evil from which it cannot escape, think what it would be to have Jesus of Nazareth dwelling for a single year with it as a familiar companion and friend. But how much more are the soul's needs met in that which is the great crowning blessing of the gospel — the dispensation of the Spirit. A Spirit, would we but realise His presence, is ever with us to prompt each holy thought and nerve each pure resolve. If Christ, as an outward visitant, would be eagerly welcomed in the dispensation of His grace, we are told of a blessing greater still — of a presence of Jesus within the heart. To every soul that will receive Him, that very Jesus who departed as a visible presence from this earth comes back as an inward and invisible comforter — "Christ in you the hope of glory."
(J. Caird, D. D.)I. A MISSION OF THE TRUTH. In this aspect it is scarcely possible to exaggerate its importance. At home sensuality, worldliness, and scepticism, and abroad the corruption of apostate Churches, the fanaticism and immorality of heathenism, suffice to show that this mission is urgently needed. Truth in general is the agreement of a symbol with the thing symbolised. Science is truth when it is a correct interpretation of the phenomena of nature, history when it is a faithful record of facts, worship when it is a reflection of a consecrated soul, and doctrine when it is according to godliness. It is in the last conception that the apostle is treating of it in the text. The Word of God is the fountain and standard of truth. The truth is embodied in Christ, who is "the Truth." To manifest this truth is the mission of the pulpit. The truth must be presented —
1. Clearly. This is indicated both by the force of the word "manifestation," and by the contrast between Paul and the false teachers. They traffic with the hidden things of dishonesty; we manifest the truth. The truth as revealed in the Word of God embraces the most profound problems, such as God, the creation, the origin of evil, the Incarnation, etc. And that these should contain things hard to be understood is not surprising. "The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed belong unto us and unto our children for ever." They are expressed in simple language. Who can understand, "God is love, All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," "In My Father's house are many mansions"? These are some of the primary principles of that truth; and why should it not be presented with that unsophisticated simplicity in which it appears in the Word of God? On the contrary, it is sometimes encumbered with a pompous rhetoric and beclouded by the jargon of a vain philosophy. This is to hide the truth rather than manifest it. The pulpit is a lighthouse; and if the light shine dimly, or be permitted to go out, or if false lights be exhibited, struggling and storm-tossed souls will be wrecked.
2. Fully. The false teachers handled the Word of God deceitfully; they mutilated, perverted, corrupted, and impaired it. It would, of course, be impossible to embody the details of the truth in the longest sermon; but it is quite possible to convey the essentials of the truth in the shortest sermon. We are in constant danger of shaping the truth to our creeds, instead of conforming our creeds to the truth. The Socinian, the Romanist, and the Antinomian profess to find their religion in the Bible; but they break the harmony of the truth — they embrace it in part, and not as a whole. Again, the preferences of hearers are sometimes a temptation to present it with studied reserve. The spirituality of God's law is an offence to the sensual, the Cross of Christ to the self-righteous, the new birth to the formalist, the judgment to come to the worldling. What then? We must ever be ready to maintain those impugned doctrines, to enforce those neglected duties, to denounce fashionable sins.
3. Authoritatively. The truth authenticates itself no less by its internal nature than by its external attestations. It is not more certain that the sun is the workmanship of God's hand than that Christianity is the embodiment of His love. Every true preacher has settled this question in his own mind once for all. "We have not followed cunningly devised fables." We cannot, therefore, regard the gospel as a debateable topic. When Christ gave His last commission to His disciples there was an air of stupendous majesty in His address which should remind His ministers that they are sent, not to prove the gospel, but to preach it.
II. A MISSION TO THE CONSCIENCE. Conscience is that simple and original faculty of our nature which points us to the great laws of duty, pronounces judgment on our actions as good or bad, produces painful or pleasurable emotions in us, according to our conduct, and by its combined energy prompts us to do that which is right. It may be resisted, but it cannot be dethroned; it may be seared, but it cannot be destroyed. The worm that dieth not is the avenging power of an infuriated conscience. This mission has —
1. Its advantages. The man who appeals to the conscience by the force of truth sways a sceptre of irresistible might, if we appeal to the imagination, we shall be perpetually chasing clouds and shadows; if we appeal to the reason, we shall encounter a network of sophistry and scepticism; if we appeal to the passions, we Shall create floods of sentimental sorrow and troops of fictitious saints; but, if we appeal to the conscience by the truth, there is not a law, precept, prohibition, or warning of the Word of God to which the conscience will not instantly respond. Conscience is the preacher's best ally. He may be regarded as a fanatic, or as a fool; but conscience will always recognise in the faithful preacher the chosen servant of God.
2. Its difficulties. Although conscience is always on the side of truth, yet its decisions are against man, who is a sinner. Now, there is in guilt an instinctive shrinking from exposure. Just as a culprit, who, when pursued for a crime, will lurk in secret to escape pursuers, so will a sinner when confronted by his conscience. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." They try to create peace by bribing the conscience. The atheist would persuade himself that he is the offspring of chance, and hopes to sleep for ever in the grave; the pagan tortures himself; the Romanist takes asylum in the confessional; the Pharisee thanks God that he is not as other men; the worldling rushes to the counting-house, to the tavern, or to the theatre; and all these refuges of lies must be stormed and scattered before we can present the truth to the conscience.
3. Its responsibilities. Conscience is the great judgment-day in anticipation. A faculty so wonderful is a talent of overwhelming magnitude, and one for which we must render an account at the bar of God. If conscience were to be banished, the earth would become a scene of universal lawlessness. And yet every man who conspires to undermine the sovereignty of conscience is responsible for contributing to this frightful result. It is probable that no impression once made on the conscience is ever wholly lost. How often has the memory of a person whom you injured in days gone by called up your guilt! The preacher would faint under the fearful pressure of his responsibilities, but he knows that the conscience of those who have slighted his counsels will acquit him in the last great day.
III. A MISSION FOR GOD. "In the sight of God." Such solemn inspection as that which is connected with the mission of the pulpit is —
1. A powerful motive to diligence in study. There is no department of Christian service which demands more careful preparation. Those who have had the longest experience in this arduous work know that the result of the pulpit is in proportion to the power which they have husbanded in the study. But mark well what that power is, and whence it comes — it is obtained "in the sight of God" — it is the effect of close communion with God. The preacher's manual is God's Book; the preacher's study is God's presence. The great preachers, whose memory is an everlasting heritage, got their strength from the skies, not by ballooning, but by praying. A praying ministry is often the result of a praying Church. "Brethren, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may have free course," etc.
2. A powerful motive to fidelity in preaching. It will effectually check all levity, self-confidence, and fear of man. This solemn inspection extends to the pew as well as the pulpit. You are listening, while we are speaking, in the sight of God. Do not shun His face; do not despise the riches of His love; do not quench His Holy Spirit.
3. A powerful motive to patience in trial. Adversities may darken around us, difficulties may menace us, men may frown, and devils rage; but with the eye of God upon us, with the life of God within us, and with the heaven of God before us, we shall be able to breast the storm and to seize the crown.
4. An assurance of ultimate success. Amid difficulties and discouragements, the promise that the Word shall not return void, that we shall reap if we faint not, fills us with an unwavering confidence and an unfaltering hope. The precious seed possesses an indestructible vitality, and will not be all wasted on a barren soil. Conclusion: If our preaching is to be effective we must preach the law and the gospel the law in order to probe the conscience, the gospel in order to heal it. The preaching of the law alone will lead to Pharisaism; the preaching of the gospel alone will lead to Antinomianism; the preaching of both will, by God's blessing, issue in a pure and living Christianity.
(G. T. Perks, M. A.)I. THE PULPIT HAS CHIEFLY TO DEAL WITH THE COMMON CONSCIENCE OF HUMANITY.
1. Conscience is not so much a faculty of being as the very stamina and substance of being — the "inner man" — the man of the man — that without which we should be sensuous organisms or thinking animals, but not men. This gives a felt connection with the spiritual universe. As without the physical senses I could never feel my connection with this material system, so without this conscience I could have no idea either of moral government or God.
2. Now, to this primary part of your nature the religious teacher has to appeal. There is a ministry which mainly aims at —(1) The passions. If the emotions are stirred the discourse is considered powerful and effective. But I am bound to say that to aim at this as an end is to obstruct the true progress of virtue.(2) The imagination. Poetic pictures and sonorous periods are forms into which all the ideas are thrown. But truth does not require your painting; it is itself beauty. Take your brush to set off the rainbow, or give a new tinge of splendour to the setting sun, but keep it away from the "rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley."(3) The intellect. Verbal criticisms, philosophic discussions, subtle distinctions, are the staple elements of its discourses.(4) Now, I am far from supposing that religious teaching ought not to wake the passions, etc.; but I do feel that to aim at these as ends is to pervert religious teaching. The true teacher has to do with conscience — that which underlies and penetrates every other spiritual faculty and power in man.
3. But, whilst all men have consciences, their consciences are found existing in very different conditions. There is —(1) The torpid class — those that have never been awakened, and those which, having been aroused, have relapsed into insensibility again. The former comprehends the copsciences of children and uneducated barbarians; the latter involves those which were once awakened by conviction, but which have sunk into apathy again. It is a solemn fact that a state of torpor is the general state in which the conscience is found.(2) The alarmed class.(3) The peaceful class — those consciences from which the sense of guilt has been removed. Now, in one of these general classes every man's conscience is to be found. Indeed, the true Christian man has passed through the first two, and is settled down in the last. In Romans 7. Paul gives this moral history of the "inner man."
II. The pulpit has to deal with the common conscience of humanity THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF THE TRUTH.
1. "The truth" Paul here calls the "Word of God," and "our gospel." To him, therefore, the special revelation of God developed in the teaching, embodied in the life and illustrated in the death of Jesus, was the truth — the truth humanity wanted to raise it from its fallen state.
2. Now, this truth Paul sought to manifest, so as to commend himself to "every man's conscience," and this his history shows him to have accomplished. He manifested the truth, not as it appeared in the traditions of the fathers, or in the formulae of sapless systems, but as it appeared "in Jesus" — which exactly suited each of the three classes of conscience.(1) The element of truth in Jesus required to rouse the dormant conscience is the ethical. The conscience is the organ of moral vision; but, unless the light of moral law fall on it, it will be dead and useless. It is when the commandment comes that the conscience sees itself in the light of God, and exclaims, "The law is spiritual, but I am carnal — sold under sin."(2) The element of truth in Jesus required to pacify the alarmed conscience is the redemptive mercy of God.(3) The element required to strengthen and to urge on to nobler efforts and higher attainments the pacified conscience is the alimental — the universal and ever-suggesting principles of Divine truth.
3. The pulpit, then, if it would do its work, must manifest the truth as in Jesus. It must cease to be the organ of party polemics, human formalities, abstract speculations. It must become the mouth of Christ. Truth in Him is not a dogma, but a life; not a mere letter, but a spirit. It is a thing of beauty and power. It meets the moral soul of humanity as light meets the eye, as water the parched tongue, as bread the hungry soul.
III. That the pulpit has chiefly to deal with the common conscience of humanity through the medium of the truth UNDER THE FELT INSPECTION OF ALMIGHTY GOD. The apostle set the Lord always before him: he toiled and suffered as "seeing Him who is invisible."
1. There are three causes of pulpit inefficiency which this would remove.
(1) (2) (3) 2. How are these causes to be removed? Let the preacher feel that God is one of his auditors, and —(1) Man-fear will depart. His spirit will rise superior to all ideas about the smiles or favours of man.(2) All affectation will end. His simple nature will show itself in every gesture, look, and tone.(3) All dulness will pass away. The deepest sympathies of the soul will heave under the eye of God, as the forest and field under the breath of spring, throwing out new forms of life and beauty every hour. Conclusion: Note — 1. The worth of the true pulpit. 2. The qualification for the true pulpit. Ministers must be pre-eminently men of conscience. The moral in them must transcend the intellectual, as the intellectual transcends the animal. (D. Thomas, D. D.) II. THE MINISTER'S WEAPON. "The manifestation of the truth." To the apostle all truth is ensphered in the gospel of Christ. When we seek light we go to the sun, though we do not deny that the waters of the Mediterranean may sparkle with light when ploughed by the keel of the vessel. Ancient religions have elements of truth, and so have modern systems, but for truth in complete symmetry, and in perfect, full-orbed beauty, we must go to Jesus Christ. You remember the story of how, when King Richard was imprisoned in a castle of the Austrian Tyrol, his faithful minstrel went from castle to castle, playing under their steep fastnesses the songs that King Richard knew, until from the heart of an old fortress there came back answering notes. So the Christian minister has to come to the grim fortress of many a life, and it is not till he hears the answering notes of conscience that he knows that his message is received. I should not dare to stand in this pulpit, nor to undertake the great responsibilities of this place, were it not that my message has a double corroboration — a witness — 1. From the Holy Ghost, who spake the word, and — 2. From the heart of every man who hears it. Sir Walter Scott tells us how Old Mortality spent his days in removing the lichened incrustations from the tombstones of the martyrs, till the inscriptions could be read fair and clear. Something like that must be the work of my ministry among you. III. THE MINISTER'S ENCOURAGEMENTS. 1. He himself has received mercy. 2. He has the commendation of conscience. 3. His work is wrought in the sight of God. In His sight we are standing now. His eye searches us as the sun searches all the recesses of the landscape. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
(2) (3) 2. How are these causes to be removed? Let the preacher feel that God is one of his auditors, and —(1) Man-fear will depart. His spirit will rise superior to all ideas about the smiles or favours of man.(2) All affectation will end. His simple nature will show itself in every gesture, look, and tone.(3) All dulness will pass away. The deepest sympathies of the soul will heave under the eye of God, as the forest and field under the breath of spring, throwing out new forms of life and beauty every hour. Conclusion: Note — 1. The worth of the true pulpit. 2. The qualification for the true pulpit. Ministers must be pre-eminently men of conscience. The moral in them must transcend the intellectual, as the intellectual transcends the animal. (D. Thomas, D. D.) II. THE MINISTER'S WEAPON. "The manifestation of the truth." To the apostle all truth is ensphered in the gospel of Christ. When we seek light we go to the sun, though we do not deny that the waters of the Mediterranean may sparkle with light when ploughed by the keel of the vessel. Ancient religions have elements of truth, and so have modern systems, but for truth in complete symmetry, and in perfect, full-orbed beauty, we must go to Jesus Christ. You remember the story of how, when King Richard was imprisoned in a castle of the Austrian Tyrol, his faithful minstrel went from castle to castle, playing under their steep fastnesses the songs that King Richard knew, until from the heart of an old fortress there came back answering notes. So the Christian minister has to come to the grim fortress of many a life, and it is not till he hears the answering notes of conscience that he knows that his message is received. I should not dare to stand in this pulpit, nor to undertake the great responsibilities of this place, were it not that my message has a double corroboration — a witness — 1. From the Holy Ghost, who spake the word, and — 2. From the heart of every man who hears it. Sir Walter Scott tells us how Old Mortality spent his days in removing the lichened incrustations from the tombstones of the martyrs, till the inscriptions could be read fair and clear. Something like that must be the work of my ministry among you. III. THE MINISTER'S ENCOURAGEMENTS. 1. He himself has received mercy. 2. He has the commendation of conscience. 3. His work is wrought in the sight of God. In His sight we are standing now. His eye searches us as the sun searches all the recesses of the landscape. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
(3) 2. How are these causes to be removed? Let the preacher feel that God is one of his auditors, and —(1) Man-fear will depart. His spirit will rise superior to all ideas about the smiles or favours of man.(2) All affectation will end. His simple nature will show itself in every gesture, look, and tone.(3) All dulness will pass away. The deepest sympathies of the soul will heave under the eye of God, as the forest and field under the breath of spring, throwing out new forms of life and beauty every hour. Conclusion: Note — 1. The worth of the true pulpit. 2. The qualification for the true pulpit. Ministers must be pre-eminently men of conscience. The moral in them must transcend the intellectual, as the intellectual transcends the animal. (D. Thomas, D. D.) II. THE MINISTER'S WEAPON. "The manifestation of the truth." To the apostle all truth is ensphered in the gospel of Christ. When we seek light we go to the sun, though we do not deny that the waters of the Mediterranean may sparkle with light when ploughed by the keel of the vessel. Ancient religions have elements of truth, and so have modern systems, but for truth in complete symmetry, and in perfect, full-orbed beauty, we must go to Jesus Christ. You remember the story of how, when King Richard was imprisoned in a castle of the Austrian Tyrol, his faithful minstrel went from castle to castle, playing under their steep fastnesses the songs that King Richard knew, until from the heart of an old fortress there came back answering notes. So the Christian minister has to come to the grim fortress of many a life, and it is not till he hears the answering notes of conscience that he knows that his message is received. I should not dare to stand in this pulpit, nor to undertake the great responsibilities of this place, were it not that my message has a double corroboration — a witness — 1. From the Holy Ghost, who spake the word, and — 2. From the heart of every man who hears it. Sir Walter Scott tells us how Old Mortality spent his days in removing the lichened incrustations from the tombstones of the martyrs, till the inscriptions could be read fair and clear. Something like that must be the work of my ministry among you. III. THE MINISTER'S ENCOURAGEMENTS. 1. He himself has received mercy. 2. He has the commendation of conscience. 3. His work is wrought in the sight of God. In His sight we are standing now. His eye searches us as the sun searches all the recesses of the landscape. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
1. The worth of the true pulpit.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)I. THE MINISTER'S AIM — the conscience. As in the breast-plate of the high priest, amid the glittering stones, there was one of peculiar beauty and lustre, the Urim and Thummim, which glistened at God's "Yes," and dimmed at God's "No," so in the heart of man there is the regal faculty of conscience. We need not ask how it came there. Enough to say that it is part of the constitution of human nature. In every man there is a conscience. It is to this faculty that the minister appeals.
1. From the Holy Ghost, who spake the word, and —
III. THE MINISTER'S ENCOURAGEMENTS.
1. He himself has received mercy.
2. He has the commendation of conscience.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)