And saying, Sirs, why do you these things? We also are men of like passions with you…
It has been perhaps too much the fashion to leave out this topic from our teaching. The Christian minister's one business is to preach Christ. But is he therefore bound to narrow his teaching to some one or two of Christ's doctrines? I do not find our Lord Himself, nor His apostles, refusing the topics of what is called the religion of nature. These things are the avenues of the gospel.
I. GOD'S WITNESSES.
1. Paul says distinctly that nature is God's witness (Romans 1:20). Men may argue themselves out of anything: and so they may argue themselves out of the belief that this fair world, with its bright lights and its fruitful seasons, its ordinances of day and night, of life given and life replenished, is a proof of a personal Creator. But we can heartily echo the wise saying, "Nature could no more have made me, than fashion could have made the coat I wear."
2. And Providence too is God's witness. We can say with perfect confidence to any young man whose course in life is still undecided for good or evil, there is no doubt that that power, whatever it be, which presides over the course of the world is a power which loves righteousness and hates iniquity. If you live morally and religiously you will live, on the whole, happily. Act as if there were no God, and you will live to curse the day when you first gave way to temptation. Somehow or other human life is so ordered that in the long run it is well with the righteous and ill with the wicked.
3. And who shall deny that God has a witness also in the human conscience? What is this strange thing within me which presumes to sit in judgment upon myself? this thing which certainly I did not place there, and which however I may disregard and disobey I cannot wholly dethrone, but something through which God still communicates with me still threatens, punishes? These elementary evidences are too much left out or slurred over in our modern teaching. And they lie under all that is more distinctively Christian. It is only a man with a conscience to whom Christ can call. It is only a man whom Nature has instructed and Providence has disciplined who can feel the mercy of a gospel or see any beauty in a Saviour that he should desire Him. My brethren, have we all learned these elementary lessons? For these also, like the gospel, may be first disregarded and at last denied. And then, with them, goes all else; all living sense of responsibility, all godly fear, all quickening and sustaining hope.
4. Nor has God left Himself without a witness to you. You did not bring yourselves into being, nor can you preserve for one day, by any choice or any providence of your own, the very spark and seed of life. And as the gift, and the continuance, of being, so also the things which have befallen you; sickness and health, sorrow and joy, failure and success, danger and deliverance, neglect and love have been rather ordered for you than chosen by you. And not only so; but something within tells you how tenderly and how forbearingly you have been dealt with; that you have not been forgotten in trouble, nor let alone ill sin, nor rewarded entirely according to your wickedness: the lot assigned you has been even more medicinal than penal, and yet more evidently considerate and personal than either. These things your better self confesses to you; and the experience of life has been to you God's witness.
II. TO WHAT? To His own being and character. To the fact that there is a God, and that He is this and not that; a God of truth, not of falsehood; a God of holiness, not of evil; a God of love, not of hatred. You remember how often these words close a paragraph of the Old Testament prophecies; "And ye shall know that I am the Lord." Even so it is with those evidences of which we have spoken. They are to make God known to man. And for what purpose? As a point of theory or of doctrine? As a display of Divine greatness to end with itself? Not so: but for this end which is worthy of God; "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee." "That by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature," etc. This knowledge can be communicated only through Jesus Christ; only by the Holy Spirit of God working in man's heart as the Spirit of the Eternal Father and of the Eternal Son.
Parallel VersesKJV: And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:
WEB: "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the sky and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them;