O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?…
I. MAN'S NEED.
1. While man is, in special organs, inferior to one and another of the animals, he is collectively by far the superior of everyone. And yet, large as he is, man is not happy in any proportion to his nature, and to the hints and fore gleams which that nature gives. He has, in being clothed with flesh, all the points of contact with the physical world that the ox or the falcon has. He is born; he grows up with all the instincts and passions of animal life, and without them he could not maintain his foothold upon the earth. But man is also a creature of affections, which, in variety, compass and force, leave the lower creation in a vivid contrast. He is endowed with reason, moral sentiment and spiritual life; but he has learned but very imperfectly how to carry himself so that every part of his nature shall have fair play. The animal propensities are predominant. Here, then, begins the conflict between man's physical life and his moral life — the strife of gentleness, purity, joy, peace, and faith, against selfishness, pride, and appetites of various kinds.
2. To all souls that have been raised to their true life the struggle has been always severe. To have the power over our whole organisation without a despotism of our animal and selfish nature is the problem of practical life. How can I maintain the fulness of every part, and yet have harmony and relative subordination, so that the appetites shall serve the body, and the affections not be dragged down by the appetites; so that the moral sentiments and the reason shall shine clear and beautiful?
II. WHAT REMEDIES HAVE PROPOSED!
1. To give way to that which is strongest, has been one special method of settling the conflict. Kill the higher feelings and then let the lower ones romp and riot like animals in a field — this gives a brilliant opening to life; but it gives a dismal close to it. For what is more hideous than a sullen old man burnt out with evil? When I see men suppressing all qualms, and going into the full enjoyment of sensuous life, I think of a party entering the Mammoth Cave with candles enough to bring them back, but setting them all on fire at once. The world is a cave. They that burn out all their powers and passions in the beginning of life at last wander in great darkness, and lie down to mourn and die.
2. Another remedy has been in superstition. Men have sought to cover this conflict, rather than to heal it.
3. Others have compromised by morality. But this, which is an average of man's conduct with the customs and laws of the time in which he lives, comes nowhere near touching that radical conflict which there is between the flesh and the spirit.
4. Then comes philosophy, and deals with it in two ways. It propounds to men maxims and wise rules. It expounds the benefit of good, and the evils of bad conduct. And then it proposes certain rules of doing what we cannot help, and of suffering what we cannot throw off. And it is all very well. So is rosewater where a man is wounded unto death. It is not less fragrant because it is not remedial; but if regarded as a remedy, how poor it is!
5. Then comes scientific empiricism, and prescribes the observance of natural laws; but how many men in life know these laws? How many men are so placed that if they did know them, they would be able to use them? You might as well take a babe of days, and place a medicine chest before it, and say, "Rise, and select the right medicine, and you shall live."
III. What, then, is the final remedy? WHAT DOES CHRISTIANITY OFFER IN THIS CASE?
1. It undertakes to so bring God within the reach of every being in the world, that He shall exert a controlling power on the spiritual realms of man's nature, and, by giving power to it, overbalance and overbear the despotism of the radical passions and appetites. There is a story of a missionary who was sent out to preach the gospel to the slaves; but he found that they went forth so early, and came back so late, and were so spent, that they could not hear. There was nobody to preach to them unless he should accompany them in their labour. So he went and sold himself to their master, who put him in the gang with them. For the privilege of going out with these slaves, and making them feel that he loved them, and would benefit them, he worked with them, and suffered with them; and while they worked, he taught; and as they came back he taught; and he won their ear; and the grace of God sprang up in many of these darkened hearts. That is the story over again of God manifest in the flesh.
2. Many things can be done under personal influence that you cannot in any other way. My father said to me, when I was a little boy, "Henry, take these letters to the post office." I was a brave boy; yet I had imagination. I saw behind every thicket some shadowy form; and I heard trees say strange and weird things; and in the dark concave above I could hear flitting spirits. As I stepped out of the door, Charles Smith, a great thick-lipped black man, who was always doing kind things, said, "I will go with you." Oh! sweeter music never came out of any instrument than that. The heaven was just as full, and the earth was just as full as before; but now I had somebody to go with me. It was not that I thought he was going to fight for me. But I had somebody to succour me. Let anything be done by direction and how different it is from its being done by personal inspiration. "Ah! are the Zebedees, then, so poor? John, take a quarter of beef and carry it down, with my compliments. No, stop; fill up that chest, put in those cordials, lay them on the cart, and bring it round, and I will drive down myself." Down I go; and on entering the house I hold out both hands, and say, "Why, my old friend, I am glad I found you out. I understand the world has gone hard with you. I came down to say that you have one friend, at any rate. Now do not be discouraged; keep up a good heart." And when I am gone, the man wipes his eyes, and says, "God knows that that man's shaking my hands gave me more joy than all that he brought. It was himself that I wanted." The old prophet, when he went into the house where the widow's son lay dead, put his hands on the child's hands, and stretched himself across the child's body, and the spirit of life came back. Oh, if, when men are in trouble, there were some man to measure his whole stature against them, and give them the warmth of his sympathy, how many would be saved! That is the philosophy of salvation through Christ — a great soul come down to take care of little souls; a great heart beating its warm blood into our little pinched hearts, that do not know how to get blood enough for themselves. It is this that gives my upper nature strength, and hope, and elasticity, and victory.Conclusion: We learn —
1. What is a man's depravity. When you say that an army is destroyed, you do not mean that everybody is killed; but that, as an army, its complex organisation is broken up. To spoil a watch you do not need to grind it to powder. Take out the mainspring. "Well, the pointers are not useless." Perhaps not for another watch. "There are a great many wheels inside that are not injured." Yes, but what are wheels worth in a watch that has no mainspring? What spoils a compass? Anything which unfits it for doing what it was intended to do. Now, here is this complex organisation of man. The royalties of the soul are all mixed up. Where conscience ought to be is pride. Where love ought to be is selfishness. Its sympathy and harmony are gone. It is not necessary that a man should be all bad to be ruined. Man has lost that harmony which belongs to a perfect organisation. And so he lives to struggle. And the struggle through which he is passing is the cause of human woe.
2. Why it is that the divinity of Christ becomes so important in the development of a truly Christian life. As a living man, having had the experiences of my own soul, and having been conversant with the experiences of others, what I want is power. And that is what they lack who deny the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. God can cleanse the heart. Man cannot. And that God whom we can understand is the God that walked in Jerusalem, that suffered upon Calvary, and that lives again, having lifted Himself up into eternal spheres of power, that He might bring many sons and daughters home to Zion.
(H. Ward Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?