PREACHED AT BRIGHTON.
BY THE LATE
REV. FREDERICK W. ROBERTSON,
THE INCUMBENT OF TRINITY CHAPEL.
LONDON: KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH. & CO., 1 PATERNOSTER SQUARE. 1884.
(The rights of translation and of reproduction are reserved)
TRINITY CHAPEL, BRIGHTON,
FROM AUGUST 15, 1847, TO AUGUST 15, 1853,
RECOLLECTIONS OF SERMONS
PREACHED BY THEIR LATE PASTOR,
Preached April 28, 1850.
ST. JAMES iii. 5, 6.—"Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell." Page 1
Preached May 5, 1850.
THE VICTORY OF FAITH.
1 JOHN v. 4, 5.—"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" 15
Preached Whitsunday, May 19, 1850.
THE DISPENSATION OF THE SPIRIT.
1 CORINTHIANS xii. 4.—"Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit." 29
Preached May 26, 1850.
1 THESS. v. 23.—"And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." 43
Preached June 2, 1850.
LUKE v. 21.—"And the Scribes and the Pharisees began to reason saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?" 61
Preached June 9, 1850.
THE ILLUSIVENESS OF LIFE.
HEBREWS xi. 8-10.—"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." 77
Preached June 23, 1850.
THE SACRIFICE OF CHRIST.
2 COR. v. 14, 15.—"For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again." 90
Preached June 30, 1850.
THE POWER OF SORROW.
2 COR. vii. 9, 10.—"Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death." 104
Preached August 4, 1850.
SENSUAL AND SPIRITUAL EXCITEMENT.
EPHESIANS v. 17, 18.—"Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit." 112
Preached August 11, 1850.
TITUS i. 15.—"Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled." 122
Preached February 9, 1851.
UNITY AND PEACE.
COL. iii. 15.—"And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful." 130
Preached January 4, 1852.
THE CHRISTIAN AIM AND MOTIVE.
MATT. v. 48.—"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." 143
Preached January 4, 1852.
1 COR. vii. 18-24.—"Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman; likewise also he that is called being free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man wherein he is called therein abide with God." 156
Preached January 11, 1852.
MARRIAGE AND CELIBACY.
1 COR. vii. 29-31.—"But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep as though they wept not; and they that rejoice as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away." 169
Preached January 11, 1852.
THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH A FAMILY.
EPH. iii. 14, 15.—"Our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in Heaven and earth is named." 181
Preached January 25, 1852.
THE LAW OF CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE.
1 COR. viii. 7-13.—"Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some, with conscience of the idol, unto this hour, eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither if we eat are we the better; neither if we eat not are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling-block to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge, sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren and wound their weak conscience ye sin against Christ. Wherefore if meat make my brother to offend I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." 196
Preached May 16, 1852.
VICTORY OVER DEATH.
1 COR. xv. 56, 57.—"The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 212
Preached June 20, 1852.
MAN'S GREATNESS AND GOD'S GREATNESS.
ISAIAH lvii. 15.—"For thus saith the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth Eternity, whose Name is Holy. I dwell in the high and holy place—with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit." 230
Preached June 27, 1852.
THE LAWFUL AND UNLAWFUL USE OF LAW. (A FRAGMENT.)
1 TIM. i. 8.—"But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully." 246
Preached February 21, 1853.
THE PRODIGAL AND HIS BROTHER.
LUKE xv. 31, 32.—"And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; was lost, and is found." 253
Preached May 15, 1853.
JOHN'S REBUKE OF HEROD.
LUKE iii. 19, 20.—"But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison." 270
Preached April 28, 1850.
"Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell."—St. James iii. 5-6.
In the development of Christian Truth a peculiar office was assigned to the Apostle James.
It was given to St. Paul to proclaim Christianity as the spiritual law of liberty, and to exhibit Faith as the most active principle within the breast of man. It was St. John's to say that the deepest quality in the bosom of Deity is Love; and to assert that the life of God in Man is Love. It was the office of St. James to assert the necessity of Moral Rectitude; his very name marked him out peculiarly for this office: he was emphatically called, "the Just:" integrity was his peculiar characteristic. A man singularly honest, earnest, real. Accordingly, if you read through his whole epistle, you will find it is, from first to last, one continued vindication of the first principles of morality against the semblances of religion.
He protested against the censoriousness which was found connected with peculiar claims of religious feelings. "If any man among you seem to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain." He protested against that spirit which had crept into the Christian Brotherhood, truckling to the rich, and despising the poor. "If ye have respect of persons ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors." He protested against that sentimental fatalism which induced men to throw the blame of their own passions upon God. "Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot tempt to evil; neither tempteth He any man." He protested against that unreal religion of excitement which diluted the earnestness of real religion in the enjoyment of listening. "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only; deceiving your own souls." He protested against that trust in the correctness of theological doctrine which neglected the cultivation of character. "What doth it profit, if a man say that he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?"
Read St. James's epistle through, this is the mind breathing through it all:—all this talk about religion, and spirituality—words, words, words—nay, let us have realities.
It is well known that Luther complained of this epistle, that it did not contain the Gospel; for men who are hampered by a system will say—even of an inspired Apostle—that he does not teach the Gospel if their own favourite doctrine be not the central subject of his discourse; but St. James's reply seems spontaneously to suggest itself to us. The Gospel! how can we speak of the Gospel, when the first principles of morality are forgotten? when Christians are excusing themselves, and slandering one another? How can the superstructure of Love and Faith be built, when the very foundations of human character—Justice, Mercy, Truth—have not been laid?
1st. The license of the tongue. 2nd. The guilt of that license.
The first license given to the tongue is slander. I am not of course, speaking now of that species of slander against which the law of libel provides a remedy, but of that of which the Gospel alone takes cognisance; for the worst injuries which man can do to man, are precisely those which are too delicate for law to deal with. We consider therefore not the calumny which is reckoned such by the moralities of an earthly court, but that which is found guilty by the spiritualities of the courts of heaven—that is, the mind of God.
Now observe, this slander is compared in the text to poison—"the tongue is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." The deadliest poisons are those for which no test is known: there are poisons so destructive that a single drop insinuated into the veins produces death in three seconds, and yet no chemical science can separate that virus from the contaminated blood, and show the metallic particles of poison glittering palpably, and say, "Behold, it is there!"
In the drop of venom which distils from the sting of the smallest insect, or the spikes of the nettle-leaf, there is concentrated the quintessence of a poison so subtle that the microscope cannot distinguish it, and yet so virulent that it can inflame the blood, irritate the whole constitution, and convert day and night into restless misery.
In St. James's day, as now, it would appear that there were idle men and idle women, who went about from house to house, dropping slander as they went, and yet you could not take up that slander and detect the falsehood there. You could not evaporate the truth in the slow process of the crucible, and then show the residuum of falsehood glittering and visible. You could not fasten upon any word or sentence, and say that it was calumny; for in order to constitute slander it is not necessary that the word spoken should be false—half truths are often more calumnious than whole falsehoods. It is not even necessary that a word should be distinctly uttered; a dropped lip, an arched eyebrow, a shrugged shoulder, a significant look, an incredulous expression of countenance, nay, even an emphatic silence, may do the work: and when the light and trifling thing which has done the mischief has fluttered off, the venom is left behind, to work and rankle, to inflame hearts, to fever human existence, and to poison human society at the fountain springs of life. Very emphatically was it said by one whose whole being had smarted under such affliction, "Adder's poison is under their lips."
The second license given to the tongue is in the way of persecution: "therewith curse we men which are made after the similitude of God." "We!"—men who bear the name of Christ—curse our brethren! Christians persecuted Christians. Thus even in St. James's age that spirit had begun, the monstrous fact of Christian persecution; from that day it has continued, through long centuries, up to the present time. The Church of Christ assumed the office of denunciation, and except in the first council, whose object was not to strain, but to relax the bonds of brotherhood, not a council has met for eighteen centuries which has not guarded each profession of belief by the too customary formula, "If any man maintain otherwise than this, let him be accursed."
Myriad, countless curses have echoed through those long ages; the Church has forgotten her Master's spirit and called down fire from heaven. A fearful thought to consider this as the spectacle on which the eye of God has rested. He looks down upon the creatures He has made, and hears everywhere the language of religious imprecations:—and after all, who is proved right by curses?
The Church of Rome hurls her thunders against Protestants of every denomination: the Calvinist scarcely recognises the Arminian as a Christian: he who considers himself as the true Anglican, excludes from the Church of Christ all but the adherents of his own orthodoxy; every minister and congregation has its small circle, beyond which all are heretics: nay even among that sect which is most lax as to the dogmatic forms of truth, we find the Unitarian of the old school denouncing the spiritualism of the new and rising school.
This is the state of things to which we are arrived. Sisters of Charity refuse to permit an act of charity to be done by a Samaritan; ministers of the Gospel fling the thunderbolts of the Lord; ignorant hearers catch and exaggerate the spirit,—boys, girls, and women shudder as one goes by, perhaps more holy than themselves, who adores the same God, believes in the same Redeemer, struggles in the same life-battle, and all this because they have been taught to look upon him as an enemy of God.
There is a class of religious persons against whom this vehemence has been especially directed. No one who can read the signs of the times can help perceiving that we are on the eve of great changes, perhaps a disruption of the Church of England. Unquestionably there has been a large secession to the Church of Rome.
Now what has been the position of those who are about to take this step? They have been taunted with dishonest reception of the wages of the Church; a watch has been set over them: not a word they uttered in private, or in public, but was given to the world by some religious busy-body; there was not a visit which they paid, not a foolish dress which they adopted, but became the subject of bitter scrutiny and malevolent gossip. For years the religious press has denounced them with a vehemence as virulent, but happily more impotent than that of the Inquisition. There has been an anguish and an inward struggle little suspected, endured by men who felt themselves outcasts in their own society, and naturally looked for a home elsewhere.
We congratulate ourselves that the days of persecution are gone by; but persecution is that which affixes penalties upon views held, instead of upon life led. Is persecution only fire and sword? But suppose a man of sensitive feeling says, The sword is less sharp to me than the slander: fire is less intolerable than the refusal of sympathy!
Now let us bring this home; you rejoice that the faggot and the stake are given up;—you never persecuted—you leave that to the wicked Church of Rome. Yes, you never burned a human being alive—you never clapped your hands as the death-shriek proclaimed that the lion's fang had gone home into the most vital part of the victim's frame; but did you never rob him of his friends?—gravely shake your head and oracularly insinuate that he was leading souls to hell?—chill the affections of his family?—take from him his good name? Did you never with delight see his Church placarded as the Man of Sin, and hear the platform denunciations which branded it with the spiritual abominations of the Apocalypse? Did you never find a malicious pleasure in repeating all the miserable gossip with which religious slander fastened upon his daily acts, his words, and even his uncommunicated thoughts? Did you never forget that for a man to "work out his own salvation with fear and trembling" is a matter difficult enough to be laid upon a human spirit, without intruding into the most sacred department of another's life—that namely, which lies between himself and God? Did you never say that "it was to be wished he should go to Rome," until at last life became intolerable,—until he was thrown more and more in upon himself; found himself, like his Redeemer, in this world alone, but unable like his Redeemer, calmly to repose upon the thought that his Father was with him? Then a stern defiant spirit took possession of his soul, and there burst from his lips, or heart, the wish for rest—rest at any cost,—peace anywhere, if even it is to be found only in the bosom of the Church of Rome!
II. The guilt of this license.
The first evil consequence is the harm that a man does himself: "so is the tongue among the members, that it defiles the whole body." It is not very obvious, in what way a man does himself harm by calumny. I will take the simplest form in which this injury is done; it effects a dissipation of spiritual energy. There are two ways in which the steam of machinery may find an outlet for its force: it may work, and if so it works silently; or it may escape, and that takes place loudly, in air and noise. There are two ways in which the spiritual energy of a man's soul may find its vent: it may express itself in action, silently; or in words, noisily: but just so much of force as is thrown into the one mode of expression, is taken from the other.
Few men suspect how much mere talk fritters away spiritual energy,—that which should be spent in action, spends itself in words. The fluent boaster is not the man who is steadiest before the enemy; it is well said to him that his courage is better kept till it is wanted. Loud utterance of virtuous indignation against evil from the platform, or in the drawing-room, do not characterize the spiritual giant: so much indignation as is expressed, has found vent, is wasted, is taken away from the work of coping with evil; the man has so much less left. And hence he who restrains that love of talk, lays up a fund of spiritual strength.
With large significance, St. James declares, "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body." He is entire, powerful, because he has not spent his strength. In these days of loud profession, and bitter, fluent condemnation, it is well for us to learn the divine force of silence. Remember Christ in the Judgment Hall, the very Symbol and Incarnation of spiritual strength; and yet when revilings were loud around Him and charges multiplied, "He held His peace."
2. The next feature in the guilt of calumny is its uncontrollable character: "the tongue can no man tame." You cannot arrest a calumnious tongue, you cannot arrest the calumny itself; you may refute a slanderer, you may trace home a slander to its source, you may expose the author of it, you may by that exposure give a lesson so severe as to make the repetition of the offence appear impossible; but the fatal habit is incorrigible: to-morrow the tongue is at work again.
Neither can you stop the consequences of a slander; you may publicly prove its falsehood, you may sift every atom, explain and annihilate it, and yet, years after you had thought that all had been disposed of for ever, the mention of a name wakes up associations in the mind of some one who heard the calumny, but never heard or never attended to the refutation, or who has only a vague and confused recollection of the whole, and he asks the question doubtfully, "But were there not some suspicious circumstances connected with him?"
It is like the Greek fire used in ancient warfare, which burnt unquenched beneath the water, or like the weeds which when you have extirpated them in one place are sprouting forth vigorously in another spot, at the distance of many hundred yards; or, to use the metaphor of St. James himself, it is like the wheel which catches fire as it goes, and burns with a fiercer conflagration as its own speed increases; "it sets on fire the whole course of nature" (literally, the wheel of nature). You may tame the wild beast, the conflagration of the American forest will cease when all the timber and the dry underwood is consumed; but you cannot arrest the progress of that cruel word which you uttered carelessly yesterday or this morning,—which you will utter perhaps, before you have passed from this church one hundred yards: that will go on slaying, poisoning, burning beyond your own control, now and for ever.
3. The third element of guilt lies in the unnaturalness of calumny. "My brethren, these things ought not so to be;" ought not—that is, they are unnatural. That this is St. James's meaning is evident from the second illustration which follows: "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place, sweet water and bitter?" "Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries, or a vine, figs?"
There is apparently in these metaphors little that affords an argument against slander; the motive which they suggest would appear to many far-fetched and of small cogency; but to one who looks on this world as a vast whole, and who has recognised the moral law as only a part of the great law of the universe, harmoniously blending with the whole, illustrations such as these are the most powerful of all arguments. The truest definition of evil is that which represents it as something contrary to nature: evil is evil, because it is unnatural; a vine which should bear olive berries, an eye to which blue seems yellow, would be diseased: an unnatural mother, an unnatural son, an unnatural act, are the strongest terms of condemnation. It is this view which Christianity gives of moral evil: the teaching of Christ was the recall of man to nature, not an infusion of something new into Humanity. Christ came to call out all the principles and powers of human nature, to restore the natural equilibrium of all our faculties; not to call us back to our own individual selfish nature, but to human nature as it is in God's ideal—the perfect type which is to be realised in us. Christianity is the regeneration of our whole nature, not the destruction of one atom of it.
Now the nature of man is to adore God and to love what is god-like in man. The office of the tongue is to bless. Slander is guilty because it contradicts this; yet even in slander itself, perversion as it is, the interest of man in man is still distinguishable. What is it but perverted interest which makes the acts, and words, and thoughts of his brethren, even in their evil, a matter of such strange delight? Remember therefore, this contradicts your nature and your destiny; to speak ill of others makes you a monster in God's world: get the habit of slander, and then there is not a stream which bubbles fresh from the heart of nature,—there is not a tree that silently brings forth its genial fruit in its appointed season,—which does not rebuke and proclaim you to be a monstrous anomaly in God's world.
4. The fourth point of guilt is the diabolical character of slander; the tongue "is set on fire of hell." Now, this is no mere strong expression—no mere indignant vituperation—it contains deep and emphatic meaning.
The apostle means literally what he says, slander is diabolical. The first illustration we give of this is contained in the very meaning of the word devil. "Devil," in the original, means traducer or slanderer. The first introduction of a demon spirit is found connected with a slanderous insinuation against the Almighty, implying that His command had been given in envy of His creature: "for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."
In the magnificent imagery of the book of Job, the accuser is introduced with a demoniacal and malignant sneer, attributing the excellence of a good man to interested motives; "Doth Job serve God for naught?" There is another mode in which the fearful accuracy of St. James's charge may be demonstrated. There is one state only from which there is said to be no recovery—there is but one sin that is called unpardonable. The Pharisees beheld the works of Jesus. They could not deny that they were good works, they could not deny that they were miracles of beneficence, but rather than acknowledge that they were done by a good man through the co-operation of a Divine spirit, they preferred to account for them by the wildest and most incredible hypothesis; they said they were done by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. It was upon this occasion that our Redeemer said with solemn meaning, "For every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account in the day of judgment." It was then that He said, for a word spoken against the Holy Ghost there is no forgiveness in this world, or in the world to come.
Our own hearts respond to the truth of this—to call evil, good, and good, evil—to see the Divinest good, and call it Satanic evil—below this lowest deep there is not a lower still. There is no cure for mortification of the flesh—there is no remedy for ossification of the heart. Oh! that miserable state, when to the jaundiced eye all good transforms itself into evil, and the very instruments of health become the poison of disease. Beware of every approach of this!—Beware of that spirit which controversy fosters, of watching only for the evil in the character of an antagonist!—Beware of that habit which becomes the slanderer's life, of magnifying every speck of evil and closing the eye to goodness!—till at last men arrive at the state in which generous, universal love (which is heaven) becomes impossible, and a suspicious, universal hate takes possession of the heart, and that is hell!
There is one peculiar manifestation of this spirit to which I desire specially to direct your attention.
The politics of the community are guided by the political press. The religious views of a vast number are formed by that portion of the press which is called religious; it becomes, therefore, a matter of deepest interest to inquire what is the spirit of that "religious press." I am not asking you what are the views maintained—whether Evangelical, Anglican, or Romish—but what is the spirit of that fountain from which the religious life of so many is nourished?
Let any man cast his eye over the pages of this portion of the press—it matters little to which party the newspaper or the journal may belong—he will be startled to find the characters of those whom he has most deeply reverenced, whose hearts he knows, whose integrity and life are above suspicion, held up to scorn and hatred: the organ of one party is established against the organ of another, and it is the recognised office of each to point out with microscopic care the names of those whose views are to be shunned; and in order that these may be the more shrunk from, the characters of those who hold such opinions are traduced and vilified. There is no personality too mean—there is no insinuation too audacious or too false for the recklessness of these daring slanderers. I do not like to use the expression, lest it should appear to be merely one of theatrical vehemence; but I say it in all seriousness, adopting the inspired language of the Bible, and using it advisedly and with accurate meaning, the spirit which guides the "religious press" of this country, which dictates those personalities, which prevents controversialists from seeing what is good in their opponents, which attributes low motives to account for excellent lives, and teaches men whom to suspect, and shun, rather than point out where it is possible to admire and love—is a spirit "set on fire of hell."
Before we conclude, let us get at the root of the matter. "Man," says the Apostle James, "was made in the image of God:" to slander man is to slander God: to love what is good in man is to love it in God. Love is the only remedy for slander: no set of rules or restrictions can stop it; we may denounce, but we shall denounce in vain. The radical cure of it is Charity—"out of a pure heart and faith unfeigned," to feel what is great in the human character; to recognise with delight all high, and generous, and beautiful actions; to find a joy even in seeing the good qualities of your bitterest opponents, and to admire those qualities even in those with whom you have least sympathy—be it either the Romanist or the Unitarian—this is the only spirit which can heal the love of slander and of calumny. If we would bless God, we must first learn to bless man, who is made in the image of God.
Preached May 5, 1850.
THE VICTORY OF FAITH.
"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?"—1 John v. 4-5.
There are two words in the system of Christianity which have received a meaning so new, and so emphatic, as to be in a way peculiar to it, and to distinguish it from all other systems of morality and religion; these two words are—the World, and Faith. We find it written in Scripture that to have the friendship of the world is to be the enemy of God—- whereupon the question arises—The world?—did not God make the world? Did He not place us in the world? Are we not to love what God has made? And yet meeting this distinctly we have the inspired record, "Love not the World."
The object of the Statesman is, or ought to be, to produce as much worldly prosperity as possible—but Christianity, that is Christ, speaks little of this world's prosperity, underrates it—nay, speaks of it at times as infinitely dangerous.
The legislator prohibits crime—the moralist transgression—the religionist sin. To these Christianity superadds a new enemy—the world and the things of the world. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
The other word used in a peculiar sense is Faith. It is impossible for any one to have read his Bible ever so negligently, and not to be aware that the word Faith, or the grace of Faith, forms a large element in the Christian system. It is said to work miracles, remove mountains, justify the soul, trample upon impossibilities. Every apostle, in his way, assigns to faith a primary importance. Jude tells us to "build up ourselves in our most holy faith." John tells us that—"he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is the born of God;" and Paul tells us that, not by merit nor by works, but by trust or reliance only, can be formed that state of soul by which man is reckoned just before God. In these expressions, the apostles only develope their Master's meaning, when He uses such words as these, "All things are possible to him that believeth:" "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"
These two words are brought into diametrical opposition in the text, so that it branches into a two-fold line of thought
I. The Christian's enemy, the World. II. The victory of Faith.
In endeavouring to understand first what is meant by the world, we shall feel that the mass of evil which is comprehended under this expression, cannot be told out in any one sermon; it is an expression used in various ways, sometimes meaning one thing, sometimes meaning another;-but we will endeavour to explain its general principles—and these we will divide into three heads; first, the tyranny of the present; secondly, the tyranny of the sensual; and lastly, the spirit of society.
1. The tyranny of the present.
"Christ," says the Apostle Paul, "hath redeemed us from this present evil world;" and again, "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this, present world."
Let a stress be laid on the word present. Worldliness is the attractive power of something present, in opposition to something to come. It is this rule and tyranny of the present that constitutes Demas a worldly man.
In this respect, worldliness is the spirit of childhood carried on into manhood. The child lives in the present hour—to-day to him is everything. The holiday promised at a distant interval is no holiday at all—it must be either now or never. Natural in the child, and therefore pardonable, this spirit, when carried on into manhood, is coarse—is worldliness. The most distinct illustration given us of this, is the case of Esau. Esau came from the hunting-field worn and hungry; the only means of procuring the tempting mess of his brother's pottage was the sacrifice of his father's blessing, which in those ages carried with it a substantial advantage; but that birthright could be enjoyed only after years—the pottage was present, near, and certain; therefore he sacrificed a future and higher blessing, for a present and lower pleasure. For this reason Esau is the Bible type of worldliness: he is called in Scripture a profane, that is, not a distinctly vicious, but a secular or worldly person—an overgrown child; impetuous, inconsistent, not without gleams of generosity and kindliness, but ever accustomed to immediate gratification.
In this worldliness, moreover, is to be remarked the gamester's desperate play. There is a gambling spirit in human nature. Esau distinctly expresses this: "Behold I am at the point to die, and what shall my birthright profit me?" He might never live to enjoy his birthright; but the pottage was before him, present, certain, there.
Now, observe the utter powerlessness of mere preaching to cope with this tyrannical power of the present. Forty thousand pulpits throughout the land this day, will declaim against the vanity of riches, the uncertainty of life, the sin of worldliness—against the gambling spirit of human nature; I ask what impression will be produced by those forty thousand harangues? In every congregation it is reducible to a certainty that, before a year has passed, some will be numbered with the dead. Every man knows this, but he thinks the chances are that it will not be himself; he feels it a solemn thing for Humanity generally—but for himself there is more than a chance. Upon this chance he plays away life.
It is so with the child: you tell him of the consequences of to-day's idleness—but the sun is shining brightly, and he cannot sacrifice to-day's pleasure, although he knows the disgrace it will bring to-morrow. So it is with the intemperate man: he says—"Sufficient unto the day is the evil, and the good thereof; let me have my portion now." So that one great secret of the world's victory lies in the mighty power of saying "Now."
2. The tyranny of the sensual.
I call it tyranny, because the evidences of the senses are all powerful, in spite of the protestations of the reason. In vain you try to persuade the child that he is moving, and not the trees which seem to flit past the carriage—in vain we remind ourselves that this apparently solid earth on which we stand, and which seems so immoveable, is in reality flying through the regions of space with an inconceivable rapidity—in vain philosophers would persuade us that the colour which the eye beholds, resides not in the object itself, but in our own perception; we are victims of the apparent, and the verdict of the senses is taken instead of the verdict of the reason.
Precisely so is it with the enjoyments of the world. The man who died yesterday, and whom the world called a successful man—for what did he live?—He lived for this world—he gained this world. Houses, lands, name, position in society—all that earth could give of enjoyments—he had: he was the man of whom the Redeemer said that his thoughts were occupied in planning how to pull down his barns and build greater. We hear men complain of the sordid love of gold, but gold is merely a medium of exchange for other things: gold is land, titles, name, comfort—all that the world can give. If the world be all, it is wise to live for gold. There may be some little difference in the degree of degradation in different forms of worldliness; it is possible that the ambitious man who lives for power is somewhat higher than he who merely lives for applause, and he again may be a trifle higher than the mere seeker after gold—but after all, looking closely at the matter, you will find that, in respect of the objects of their idolatry, they agree in this, that all belong to the present. Therefore, says the Apostle, all that is in the world—"the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but of the world," and are only various forms of one great tyranny. And then when such a man is at the brink of death, the words said to the man in our Lord's parable must be said to him. "Thou fool, the houses thou hast built, the enjoyments thou hast prepared; and all those things which have formed thy life for years—when thy soul is taken from them, what shall they profit thee?"
3. The spirit of society.
The World has various meanings in Scripture; it does not always mean the Visible, as opposed to the Invisible; nor the Present, as opposed to the Future: it sometimes stands for the secular spirit of the day—the Voice of Society.
Our Saviour says, "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own." The apostle says, "Be not conformed to this world;" and to the Gentiles he writes, "In time past ye walked according to the course of this world, the spirit which now worketh in the children of disobedience." In these verses, a tone, a temper, a spirit is spoken of. There are two things—the Church and the World—two spirits pervading different bodies of men, brought before us in these verses—those called the Spirit-born, and those called the World, which is to be overcome by the Spirit-born, as in the text, "Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world."
Let us understand what is meant by the Church of God. When we speak of the Church we generally mean a society to aid men in their progress God-wards; but the Church of God is by no means co-extensive in any age with that organized institution which we call the Church; sometimes it is nearly co-extensive—that is, nearly all on earth who are born of God are found within its pale, nearly all who are of the world are extraneous to it—but sometimes the born of God have been found distinct from the Institution called the Church, opposed to it—persecuted by it. The Institution of the Church is a blessed ordinance of God, organized on earth for the purpose of representing the Eternal Church and of extending its limits, but still ever subordinate to it.
The Eternal Church is "the general assembly and church of the first-born which are written in heaven;" the selected spirits of the most High, who are struggling with the evil of their day; sometimes alone, like Elijah, and like him, longing that their work was done; sometimes conscious of their union with each other. God is for ever raising up a succession of these—His brave, His true, His good. Apostolical succession, as taught sometimes, means simply this—a succession of miraculous powers flowing in a certain line. The true apostolic succession is—not a succession in an hereditary line, or line marked by visible signs which men can always identify, but a succession emphatically spiritual.
The Jews looked for an hereditary succession; they thought that because they were Abraham's seed, the spiritual succession was preserved; the Redeemer told them that "God was able of those stones to raise up children unto Abraham." Therefore is this ever a spiritual succession—in the hands of God alone; and they are here called the God-born, coming into the world variously qualified; sometimes baptized with the spirit which makes them, like James and John, the "Sons of Thunder," sometimes with a milder spirit, as Barnabas, which makes them "Sons of Consolation," sometimes having their souls indurated into an adamantine hardness, which makes them living stones—rocks like Peter, against which the billows of this world dash themselves in vain, and against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. But whether as apostles, or visitors of the poor, or parents of a family, born to do a work on earth, to speak a word, to discharge a mission which they themselves perhaps do not know till it is accomplished—these are the Church of God—the children of the Most High—the noble army of the Spirit-born! Opposed to this stands the mighty confederacy called the World. But beware of fixing on individual men in order to stigmatize them as the world. You may not draw a line and say—"We are the sons of God, ye are of the world." The world is not so much individual as it is a certain spirit; the course of this world is "the spirit which now worketh in the children of disobedience." The world and the Church are annexed as inseparably as the elements which compose the atmosphere. Take the smallest portion of this that you will, in a cubic inch the same proportions are found as in a temple. In the ark there was a Ham; in the small band of the twelve apostles there was a Judas.
The spirit of the world is for ever altering—impalpable; for ever eluding, in fresh forms, your attempts to seize it. In the days of Noah, the spirit of the world was violence. In Elijah's day it was idolatry. In the day of Christ it was power concentrated and condensed in the government of Rome. In ours, perhaps, it is the love of money. It enters in different proportions into different bosoms; it is found in a different form in contiguous towns; in the fashionable watering place, and in the commercial city: it is this thing at Athens, and another in Corinth. This is the spirit of the world—a thing in my heart and yours: to be struggled against, not so much in the case of others, as in the silent battle to be done within our own souls. Pass we on now to consider—
II. The victory of faith.
Faith is a theological expression; we are apt to forget that it has any other than a theological import; yet it is the commonest principle of man's daily life, called in that region prudence, enterprise, or some such name. It is in effect the principle on which alone any human superiority can be gained. Faith, in religion, is the same principle as faith in worldly matters, differing only in its object: it rises through successive stages. When, in reliance upon your promise, your child gives up the half-hour's idleness of to-day for the holiday of to-morrow, he lives by faith; a future supersedes the present pleasure. When he abstains from over-indulgence of the appetite, in reliance upon your word that the result will be pain and sickness, sacrificing the present pleasure for fear of future punishment, he acts on faith: I do not say that this is a high exercise of faith—it is a very low one—but it is faith.
Once more: the same motive of action may be carried on into manhood; in our own times two religious principles have been exemplified in the subjugation of a vice. The habit of intoxication has been broken by an appeal to the principle of combination, and the principle of belief. Men were taught to feel that they were not solitary stragglers against the vice; they were enrolled in a mighty army, identified in principles and interests. Here was the principle of the Church—association for reciprocated strength; they were thus taught the inevitable result of the indulgence of the vice. The missionaries of temperance went through the country contrasting the wretchedness and the degradation and the filth of drunkenness with the domestic comfort, and the health, and the regular employment of those who were masters of themselves. So far as men believed this, and gave up the tyranny of the present for the hope of the future—so far they lived by faith.
Brethren, I do not say that this was a high triumph for the principle of faith; it was in fact, little more than selfishness; it was a high future balanced against a low present; only the preference of a future and higher physical enjoyment to a mean and lower one. Yet still to be ruled by this influence raises a man in the scale of being: it is a low virtue, prudence, a form of selfishness; yet prudence is a virtue. The merchant, who forecasts, saves, denies himself systematically through years, to amass a fortune, is not a very lofty being, yet he is higher, as a man, than he who is sunk in mere bodily gratifications. You would not say that the intemperate man—who has become temperate in order, merely to gain by that temperance honour and happiness—is a great man, but you would say he was a higher and a better man than he who is enslaved by his passions, or than the gambler who improvidently stakes all upon a moment's throw. The worldly mother who plans for the advancement of a family, and sacrifices solid enjoyments for a splendid alliance, is only worldly wise, yet in that manoeuvring and worldly prudence there is the exercise of a self-control which raises her above the mere giddy pleasure-hunter of the hour; for want of self-control is the weakness of our nature—to restrain, to wait, to control present feeling with a large foresight, is human strength.
Once more, instead of a faith like that of the child, which over-leaps a few hours, or that of the worldly man, which over-passes years, there may be a faith which transcends the whole span of life, and, instead of looking for temporal enjoyments, looks for rewards in a future beyond the grave, instead of a future limited to time.
This is again a step. The child has sacrificed a day; the man has sacrificed a little more. Faith has now reached a stage which deserves to be called religious; not that this however, is very grand; it does but prefer a happiness hereafter to a happiness enjoyed here—an eternal well-being instead of a temporal well-being; it is but prudence on a grand scale—another form of selfishness—an anticipation of infinite rewards instead of finite, and not the more noble because of the infinitude of the gain: and yet this is what is often taught as religion in books and sermons. We are told that sin is wrong, because it will make us miserable hereafter. Guilt is represented as the short-sightedness which barters for a home on earth—a home in heaven.
In the text-book of ethics studied in one of our universities, virtue is defined as that which is done at the command of God for the sake of an eternal reward. So then, religion is nothing more than a calculation of infinite and finite quantities; vice is nothing more than a grand imprudence; and heaven is nothing more than selfishness rewarded with eternal well-being!
Yet this you will observe, is a necessary step in the development of faith. Faith is the conviction that God is a rewarder of them who diligently seek Him; and there is a moment in human progress when the anticipated rewards and punishments must be of a Mahometan character—the happiness of the senses. It was thus that the Jews were disciplined; out of a coarse, rude, infantine state, they were educated by rewards and punishments to abstain from present sinful gratification: at first, the promise of the life which now is, afterwards the promise of that which is to come; but even then the rewards and punishments of a future state were spoken of, by inspiration itself, as of an arbitrary character; and some of the best of the Israelites, in looking to the recompense of reward, seemed to have anticipated, coarsely, recompense in exchange for duties performed.
The last step is that which alone deserves to be called Christian Faith—"Who is he that overcometh but he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ?" The difference between the faith of the Christian and that of the man of the world, or the mere ordinary religionist, is not a difference in mental operation, but in the object of the faith—to believe that Jesus is the Christ is the peculiarity of Christian faith.
The anticipated heaven of the Christian differs from the anticipated heaven of any other man, not in the distinctness with which its imagery is perceived, but in the kind of objects which are hoped for. The apostle has told us the character of heaven. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him"—which glorious words are sometimes strangely misinterpreted, as if the apostle merely meant rhetorically to exalt the conception of the heavenly world, as of something beyond all power to imagine or to paint. The apostle meant something infinitely deeper: the heaven of God is not only that which "eye hath not seen," but that which eye can never see; its glories are not of that kind at all which can ever stream in forms of beauty on the eye, or pour in melody upon the enraptured ear—not such joys as genius in its most gifted hour (here called "the heart of man") can invent or imagine: it is something which these sensuous organs of ours never can appreciate—bliss of another kind altogether, revealed to the spirit of man by the Spirit of God—joys such as spirit alone can receive.
Do you ask what these are? "The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." That is heaven, and therefore the Apostle tells us that he alone who "believeth that Jesus is the Christ," and only he, feels that. What is it to believe that Jesus is the Christ?—That He is the Anointed One, that His life is the anointed life, the only blessed life, the blessed life divine for thirty years?—Yes, but if so, the blessed Life still, continued throughout all eternity: unless you believe that, you do not believe that Jesus is the Christ.
What is the blessedness that you expect?—to have the joys of earth with the addition of the element of eternity? Men think that heaven is to be a compensation for earthly loss: the saints are earthly-wretched here, the children of this world are earthly-happy; but that, they think, shall be all reversed—Lazarus, beyond the grave, shall have the purple and the fine linen, and the splendour, and the houses, and the lands which Dives had on earth: the one had them for time, the other shall have them for eternity. That is the heaven that men expect—this earth sacrificed now, in order that it may be re-granted for ever.
Nor will this expectation be reversed except by a reversal of the nature. None can anticipate such a heaven as God has revealed, except they that are born of the Spirit; therefore to believe that Jesus is the Christ, a man must be born of God. You will observe that no other victory overcomes the world: for this is what St. John means by saying, "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ?" For then it comes to pass that a man begins to feel, that to do wrong is hell; and that to love God, to be like God, to have the mind of Christ, is the only heaven. Until this victory is gained, the world retains its stronghold in the heart.
Do you think that the temperate man has overcome the world, who, instead of the short-lived rapture of intoxication, chooses regular employment, health, and prosperity? Is it not the world in another form, which has his homage? Or do you suppose that the so-called religious man is really the world's conqueror by being content to give up seventy years of enjoyment in order to win innumerable ages of the very same species of enjoyment? Has he not only made earth a hell, in order that earthly things may be his heaven for ever?
Thus the victory of Faith proceeds from stage to stage: the first victory is, when the Present is conquered by the Future; the last, when the Visible and Sensual is despised in comparison of the Invisible and Eternal. Then earth has lost its power for ever; for if all that it has to give be lost eternally, the gain of faith is still infinite.
Preached Whitsunday, May 19, 1850.
THE DISPENSATION OF THE SPIRIT.
"Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit."—1 Corinthians xii, 4.
According to a view which contains in it a profound truth, the ages of the world are divisible into three dispensations, presided over by the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
In the dispensation of the Father, God was known as a Creator; creation manifested His eternal power and Godhead, and the religion of mankind was the religion of Nature.
In the dispensation of the Son, God manifested Himself to Humanity through man; the Eternal Word spoke, through the inspired and gifted of the human race, to those that were uninspired and ungifted. This was the dispensation of the prophets—its climax was the advent of the Redeemer; it was completed when perfect Humanity manifested God to man. The characteristic of this dispensation was, that God revealed Himself by an authoritative Voice, speaking from without, and the highest manifestation of God whereof man was capable, was a Divine Humanity.
The age in which we at present live is the dispensation of the Spirit, in which God has communicated Himself by the highest revelation, and in the most intimate communion, of which man is capable; no longer through Creation, no more as an authoritative Voice from without, but as a Law within—as a Spirit mingling with a spirit. This is the dispensation of which the prophet said of old, that the time should come when they should no longer teach every man his brother and every man his neighbour, saying, "Know the Lord"—that is, by a will revealed by external authority from other human minds—"for they shall all know him, from the least of them to the greatest." This is the dispensation, too, of whose close the Apostle Paul speaks thus: "Then shall the Son also be subject to Him that hath put all things under Him, that God may be all in all."
The outward humanity is to disappear, that the inward union may be complete. To the same effect, he speaks in another place, "Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet henceforth know we Him no more." For this reason, the Ascension was necessary before Pentecost could come: the Spirit was not given, we are told, because Jesus was not yet glorified. It was necessary for the Son to disappear as an outward authority, in order that he might re-appear as an inward principle of life. Our salvation is no longer God manifested in a Christ without us, but as a Christ within us, the hope of glory. To-day is the selected anniversary of that memorable day when the first proof was given to the senses, in the gift of Pentecost, that that spiritual dispensation had begun.
There is a twofold way in which the operations of the Spirit on mankind may be considered—His influence on the Church as a whole, and His influence on individuals; both of these are brought together in the text. It branches, therefore, into a twofold division.
I. Spiritual gifts conferred on individuals. II. Spiritual union of the Church.
Let us distinguish between the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit: by the Spirit, the apostle meant the vital principle of new life from God, common to all believers—the animating Spirit of the Church of God; by the gifts of the Spirit, he meant the diversities of form in which He operates on individuals; its influence varied according to their respective peculiarities and characteristics. In the twenty-eighth verse of this chapter a full catalogue of gifts is found; looking at them generally, we discover two classes into which they may be divided—the first are natural, the second are supernatural: the first are those capacities which are originally found in human nature—personal endowments of mind, a character elevated and enlarged by the gift of the Spirit; the second are those which were created and called into existence by the sudden approach of the same influence.
Just as if the temperature of this Northern hemisphere were raised suddenly, and a mighty tropical river were to pour its fertilizing inundation over the country, the result would be the impartation of a vigorous and gigantic growth to the vegetation already in existence, and at the same time the development of life in seeds and germs which had long lain latent in the soil, incapable of vegetation in the unkindly climate of their birth. Exactly in the same way, the flood of a Divine life, poured suddenly into the souls of men, enlarged and ennobled qualities which had been used already, and at the same time developed powers which never could have become apparent in the cold, low temperature of natural life.
Among the natural gifts, we may instance these: teaching—healing—the power of government. Teaching is a gift, natural or acquired. To know, is one thing; to have the capacity of imparting knowledge, is another.
The physician's art again is no supernatural mystery; long and careful study of physical laws capacitate him for his task. To govern, again, is a natural faculty: it may be acquired by habit, but there are some who never could acquire it. Some men seem born to command: place them in what sphere you will, others acknowledge their secret influence, and subordinate themselves to their will. The faculty of organization, the secret of rule, need no supernatural power. They exist among the uninspired. Now the doctrine of the apostle was, that all these are transformed and renovated by the spirit of a new life in such a way as to become almost new powers, or, as he calls them, gifts of the Spirit. A remarkable illustration of this is his view of the human body. If there be anything common to us by nature, it is the members of our corporeal frame; yet the apostle taught that these, guided by the Spirit as its instruments and obeying a holy will, became transfigured; so that, in his language, the body becomes a temple of the Holy Ghost, and the meanest faculties, the lowest appetites, the humblest organs, are ennobled by the Spirit mind which guides them. Thus he bids the Romans yield themselves "unto God as those that are alive from the dead, and their members as instruments of righteousness unto God."
The second class of gifts are supernatural: of these we find two pre-eminent—the gift of tongues, and the gift of prophecy.
It does not appear that the gift of tongues was merely the imparted faculty of speaking foreign languages—it could not be that the highest gift of God to His Church merely made them rivals of the linguist; it would rather seem that the Spirit of God, mingling with the soul of man, supernaturally elevated its aspirations and glorified its conceptions, so that an entranced state of ecstasy was produced, and feelings called into energy, for the expression of which the ordinary forms of speech were found inadequate. Even in a far lower department, when a man becomes possessed of ideas for which his ordinary vocabulary supplies no sufficient expression, his language becomes broken, incoherent, struggling, and almost unnaturally elevated; much more was it to be expected that when divine and new feelings rushed like a flood upon the soul, the language of men would have become strange and extraordinary; but in that supposed case, wild as the expressions might appear to one coldly looking on and not participating in the feelings of the speaker, they would be quite sufficient to convey intelligible meaning to any one affected by the same emotions.
Where perfect sympathy exists, incoherent utterance—a word—a syllable—is quite as efficient as elaborate sentences. Now this is precisely the account given of the phenomenon which attended the gift of tongues. On the day of Pentecost, all who were in the same state of spiritual emotion as those who spoke, understood the speakers; each was as intelligible to all as if he spoke in their several tongues: to those who were coolly and sceptically watching, the effects appeared like those of intoxication. A similar account is given by the Apostle Paul: the voice appeared to unsympathetic ears as that of a barbarian; the uninitiated and unbelieving coming in, heard nothing that was articulate to them, but only what seemed to them the ravings of insanity.
The next was the gift of prophecy. Prophecy has several meanings in Scripture; sometimes it means the power of predicting future events, sometimes an entranced state accompanied with ravings, sometimes it appears to mean only exposition; but prophecy, as the miraculous spiritual gift granted to the early Church, seems to have been a state of communion with the mind of God lower than that which was called the gift of tongues, at least less ecstatic, less rapt into the world to come, more under the guidance of the reason, more within the control of calm consciousness—as we might say, less supernatural.
Upon these gifts we make two observations:
1. Even the highest were not accompanied with spiritual faultlessness. Inspiration was one thing, infallibility another. The gifts of the Spirit were, like the gifts of Nature, subordinated to the will—capable of being used for good or evil, sometimes pure, sometimes mixed with human infirmity. The supernaturally gifted man was no mere machine, no automaton ruled in spite of himself by a superior spirit. Disorder, vanity, over-weening self-estimation, might accompany these gifts, and the prophetic utterance itself might be degraded to a mere brawling in the Church; therefore St. Paul established laws of control, declared the need of subjection and rule over spiritual gifts: the spirits of the prophets were to be subject to the prophets; if those in the ecstatic state were tempted to break out into utterance and unable to interpret what it meant, those so gifted were to hold their peace.
The prophet poured out the truths supernaturally imparted to his highest spirit, in an inspired and impassioned eloquence which was intelligible even to the unspiritual, and was one of the appointed means of convincing the unconverted. The lesson derivable from this is not obsolete even in the present day. There is nothing perhaps precisely identical in our own day with those gifts of the early Church; but genius and talent are uncommon gifts, which stand in a somewhat analogous relation—in a closer one certainly—than more ordinary endowments. The flights of genius, we know, appear like maniac ravings to minds not elevated to the same spiritual level. Now these are perfectly compatible with mis-use, abuse, and moral disorder. The most gifted of our countrymen has left this behind him as his epitaph, "The greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind." The most glorious gift of poetic insight—itself in a way divine—having something akin to Deity—is too often associated with degraded life and vicious character. Those gifts which elevate us above the rest of our species, whereby we stand aloof and separate from the crowd, convey no moral—nor even mental—infallibility: nay, they have in themselves a peculiar danger, whereas that gift which is common to us all as brethren, the animating spirit of a divine life, in whose soil the spiritual being of all is rooted, cannot make us vain; we cannot pride ourselves on that, for it is common to us all.
2. Again, the gifts which were higher in one sense were lower in another; as supernatural gifts they would rank thus—the gift of tongues before prophecy, and prophecy before teaching; but as blessings to be desired, this order is reversed: rather than the gift of tongues St. Paul bids the Corinthians desire that they might prophecy. Inferior again to prophecy was the quite simple, and as we should say, lower faculty of explaining truth. Now the principle upon which that was tried was that of utility—not utility in the low sense of the utilitarian, who measures the value of a thing by its susceptibility of application to the purpose of this present life, but a utility whose measure was love, charity. The apostle considered that gift most desirable by which men might most edify one another. And hence that noble declaration of one of the most gifted of mankind—"I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."
Our estimate is almost the reverse of this: we value a gift in proportion to its rarity, its distinctive character, separating its possessor from the rest of his fellow-men; whereas, in truth, those gifts which leave us in lonely majesty apart from our species, useless to them, benefiting ourselves alone, are not the most godlike, but the least so; because they are dissevered from that beneficent charity which is the very being of God. Your lofty incommunicable thoughts, your ecstasies, and aspirations, and contemplative raptures—in virtue of which you have estimated yourself as the porcelain of the earth, of another nature altogether than the clay of common spirits—tried by the test of Charity, what is there grand in these if they cannot be applied as blessings to those that are beneath you? One of our countrymen has achieved for himself extraordinary scientific renown; he pierced the mysteries of nature, he analysed her processes, he gave new elements to the world. The same man applied his rare intellect to the construction of a simple and very common instrument—that well-known lamp which has been the guardian of the miner's life from the explosion of fire. His discoveries are his nobility in this world, his trifling invention gives him rank in the world to come. By the former he shines as one of the brightest luminaries in the firmament of science, by the latter evincing a spirit animated and directed by Christian love, he takes his place as one of the Church of God.
And such is ever the true order of rank which graces occupy in reference to gifts. The most trifling act which is marked by usefulness to others is nobler in God's sight, than the most brilliant accomplishment of genius. To teach a few Sunday-school children, week after week, commonplace simple truths—persevering in spite of dullness and mean capacities—is a more glorious occupation than the highest meditations or creations of genius which edify or instruct only our own solitary soul.
II. The spiritual unity of the Church—"the same Spirit."
Men have formed to themselves two ideas of unity: the first is a sameness of form—of expression; the second an identity of spirit. Some of the best of mankind have fondly hoped to realize an unity for the Church of Christ which should be manifested by uniform expressions in everything: their imaginations have loved to paint, as the ideal of a Christian Church, a state in which the same liturgy should be used throughout the world, the same ecclesiastical government, even the same vestments, the same canonical hours, the same form of architecture. They could conceive nothing more entirely one than a Church so constituted that the same prayers, in the very same expressions, at the very same moment, should be ascending to the Eternal Ear.
There are others who have thrown aside entirely this idea as chimerical; who have not only ceased to hope it, but even to wish it; who if it could be realized, would consider it a matter of regret; who feel that the minds of men are various—their modes and habits of thought, their original capacities and acquired associations, infinitely diverse; and who, perceiving that the law of the universal system is manifoldness in unity, have ceased to expect any other oneness for the Church of Christ than that of a sameness of spirit, showing itself through diversities of gifts. Among these last was the Apostle Paul: his large and glorious mind rejoiced in the contemplation of the countless manifestations of spiritual nature beneath which he detected one and the same pervading Mind. Now let us look at this matter somewhat more closely.
1. All real unity is manifold. Feelings in themselves identical find countless forms of expression: for instance, sorrow is the same feeling throughout the human race; but the Oriental prostrates himself upon the ground, throws dust upon his head, tears his garments, is not ashamed to break out into the most violent lamentations. In the north, we rule our grief in public; suffer not even a quiver to be seen upon the lip or brow, and consider calmness as the appropriate expression of manly grief. Nay, two sisters of different temperament will show their grief diversely; one will love to dwell upon the theme of the qualities of the departed, the other feels it a sacred sorrow, on which the lips are sealed for ever; yet would it not be idle to ask which of them has the truest affection? Are they not both in their own way true? In the same East, men take off their sandals in devotion; we exactly reverse the procedure, and uncover the head. The Oriental prostrates himself in the dust before his sovereign; even before his God the Briton only kneels; yet would it not again be idle to ask which is the essential and proper form of reverence? Is not true reverence in all cases modified by the individualities of temperament and education? Should we not say, in all these forms worketh one and the same spirit of reverence?
Again in the world as God has made it, one law shows itself under diverse, even opposite manifestations; lead sinks in water, wood floats upon the surface. In former times men assigned these different results to different forces, laws, and gods. A knowledge of Nature has demonstrated that they are expressions of one and the same law; and the great difference between the educated and the uneducated man is this—the uneducated sees in this world nothing but an infinite collection of unconnected facts—a broken, distorted, and fragmentary system, which his mind can by no means reduce to order. The educated man, in proportion to his education, sees the number of laws diminished—beholds in the manifold appearances of Nature the expression of a few laws, by degrees fewer, till at last it becomes possible to his conception that they are all reducible to one, and that that which lies beneath the innumerable phenomena of Nature is the One Spirit—God.
2. All living unity is spiritual, not formal; not sameness, but manifoldness. You may have a unity shown in identity of form; but it is a lifeless unity. There is a sameness on the sea-beach—that unity which the ocean waves have produced by curling and forcibly destroying the angularities of individual form, so that every stone presents the same monotony of aspect, and you must fracture each again in order to distinguish whether you hold in your hand a mass of flint or fragment of basalt. There is no life in unity such as this.
But as soon as you arrive at a unity that is living, the form becomes more complex, and you search in vain for uniformity. In the parts, it must be found, if found at all, in the sameness of the pervading life. The illustration given by the apostle is that of the human body—a higher unity, he says, by being composed of many members, than if every member were but a repetition of a single type. It is conceivable that God might have moulded such a form for human life; it is conceivable that every cause, instead of producing in different nerves a variety of sensations, should have affected every one in a mode precisely similar; that instead of producing a sensation of sound—a sensation of colour—a sensation of taste—the outward causes of nature, be they what they may, should have given but one unvaried feeling to every sense, and that the whole universe should have been light or sound.
That would have been unity, if sameness be unity; but, says the apostle, "if the whole body were seeing, where were the hearing?" That uniformity would have been irreparable loss—the loss of every part that was merged into the one. What is the body's unity? Is it not this? The unity of a living consciousness which marvellously animates every separate atom of the frame, and reduces each to the performance of a function fitted to the welfare of the whole—its own, not another's: so that the inner spirit can say of the remotest, and in form most unlike, member, "That too, is myself."
3. None but a spiritual unity can preserve the rights both of the individual and the Church. All other systems of unity, except the apostolic, either sacrifice the Church to the individual, or the individual to the Church.
Some have claimed the right of private judgment in such a way that every individual opinion becomes truth, and every utterance of private conscience right: thus the Church is sacrificed to the individual; and the universal conscience, the common faith, becomes as nothing; the spirits of the prophets are not subject to the prophets. Again, there are others, who, like the Church of Rome, would surrender the conscience of each man to the conscience of the Church, and coerce the particulars of faith into exact coincidence with a formal creed. Spiritual unity saves the right of both in God's system. The Church exists for the individual, just as truly as the individual for the Church. The Church is then most perfect when all its powers converge, and are concentrated on the formation and protection of individual character; and the individual is then most complete—that is, most a Christian—when he has practically learned that his life is not his own, but owed to others—"that no man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself."
Now, spiritual unity respects the sanctity of the individual conscience. How reverently the Apostle Paul considered its claims, and how tenderly! When once it became a matter of conscience, this was his principle laid down in matters of dispute: "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." The belief of the whole world cannot make that thing true to me which to me seems false. The conscience of the whole world cannot make a thing right to me, if I in my heart believe it wrong. You may coerce the conscience, you may control men's belief, and you may produce a unity by so doing; but it is the unity of pebbles on the sea-shore—a lifeless identity of outward form with no cohesion between the parts—a dead sea-beach on which nothing grows, and where the very seaweed dies.
Lastly, it respected the sanctity of individual character. Out of eight hundred millions of the human race, a few features diversify themselves into so many forms of countenance, that scarcely two could be mistaken for each other. There are no two leaves on the same tree alike; nor two sides of the same leaf, unless you cut and kill it There is a sacredness in individuality of character; each one born into this world is a fresh new soul intended by his Maker to develope himself in a new fresh way; we are what we are; we cannot be truly other than ourselves. We reach perfection not by copying, much less by aiming at originality; but by consistently and steadily working out the life which is common to us all, according to the character which God has given us.
And thus will the Church of God be one at last—will present an unity like that of heaven. There is one universe in which each separate star differs from another in glory; one Church in which a single Spirit, the Life of God, pervades each separate soul; and just in proportion as that Life becomes exalted does it enable every one to shine forth in the distinctness of his own separate individuality, like the stars of heaven.
Preached May 26, 1850.
"And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."—1 Thess. v. 23.
The knowledge of God is the blessedness of man. To know God, and to be known by Him—to love God, and to be loved by Him—is the most precious treasure which this life has to give; properly speaking the only treasure; properly speaking the only knowledge; for all knowledge is valuable only so far as it converges towards and ends in the knowledge of God, and enables us to acquaint ourselves with God, and be at peace with Him. The doctrine of the Trinity is the sum of all that knowledge which has as yet been gained by man. I say gained as yet. For we presume not to maintain that in the ages which are to come hereafter, our knowledge shall not be superseded by a higher knowledge; we presume not to say that in a state of existence future—yea even here upon this earth, at that period which is mysteriously referred to in Scripture as "the coming of the Son of Man"—there shall not be given to the soul an intellectual conception of the Almighty, a vision of the Eternal, in comparison with whose brightness and clearness our present knowledge of the Trinity shall be as rudimentary and as childlike as the knowledge of the Jew was in comparison with the knowledge of the Christian.
Now the passage which I have undertaken to expound to-day, is one in which the doctrine of the Trinity is brought into connection practically with the doctrine of our Humanity. Before entering into it brethren, let us lay down these two observations and duties for ourselves. In the first place, let us examine the doctrine of the Trinity ever in the spirit of charity.
A clear statement of the deepest doctrine that man can know, and the intellectual conception of that doctrine, are by no means easy. We are puzzled and perplexed by words; we fight respecting words. Quarrels are nearly always verbal quarrels. Words lose their meaning in the course of time; nay, the very words of the Athanasian creed which we read to-day mean not in this age, the same thing which they meant in ages past. Therefore it is possible that men, externally Trinitarians, may differ from each other though using the same words, as greatly as a Unitarian differs from a Trinitarian. There may be found in the same Church and in the same congregation, men holding all possible shades of opinion, though agreeing externally, and in words.
I speak within the limit of my own experience when I say that persons have been known and heard to express the language of bitter condemnation respecting Unitarianism, who when examined and calmly required to draw out verbally the meaning of their own conceptions, have been proved to be holding all the time—unconsciously—the very doctrine of Sabellianism. And this doctrine is condemned by the Church as distinctly as that of Unitarianism. Therefore let us learn from all this a large and catholic charity. There are in almost every congregation, themselves not knowing it, Trinitarians who are practically Tri-theists, worshipping three Gods; and Sabellians, or worshippers of one person under three different manifestations. To know God so that we may be said intellectually, to appreciate Him, is blessed: to be unable to do so is a misfortune. Be content with your own blessedness, in comparison with others' misfortunes. Do not give to that misfortune the additional sting of illiberal and unchristian vituperation.
The next observation we have to lay down for ourselves is, that we should examine this doctrine in the spirit of modesty. There are those who are inclined to sneer at the Trinitarian; those to whom the doctrine appears merely a contradiction—a puzzle—an entangled, labyrinthine enigma, in which there is no meaning whatever. But let all such remember, that though the doctrine may appear to them absurd, because they have not the proper conception of it, some of the profoundest thinkers, and some of the holiest spirits among mankind, have believed in this doctrine—have clung to it as a matter of life or death. Let them be assured of this, that whether the doctrine be true or false, it is not necessarily a doctrine self-contradictory. Let them be assured of this, in all modesty, that such men never could have held it unless there was latent in the doctrine a deep truth,—perchance the truth of God.
We pass on now to the consideration of this verse under the following divisions. In the first place, we shall view it as a triad in discord: "I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless;" in the second place, as a Trinity in Unity: "the God of peace sanctify you wholly." We take then first of all for our consideration the triad in discord: "I pray God your whole body and soul and spirit be preserved blameless."
The apostle here divides human nature into a three-fold division; and here we have to observe again the difficulty often experienced in understanding words. Thus words in the Athanasian creed have become obsolete, or lost their meaning: so that in the present day the words "person," "substance," "procession," "generation," to an ordinary person, mean almost nothing. So this language of the apostle, when rendered into English, shows no difference whatever between "soul" and "spirit." We say, for instance, that the soul of a man has departed from him. We also say that the spirit of a man has departed from him. There is no distinct difference between the two; but in the original two very different kinds of thoughts—two very different modes of conception—are represented by the two English words "soul" and "spirit."
It is our business, therefore, in the first place, to understand what is meant by this threefold division. When the apostle speaks of the body, what he means is the animal life—that which we share in common with beasts, birds, and reptiles; for our life my Christian brethren—our sensational existence—differs but little from that of the lower animals. There is the same external form, the same material in the blood-vessels, in the nerves, and in the muscular system. Nay, more than that, our appetites and instincts are alike, our lower pleasures like their lower pleasures, our lower pain like their lower pain, our life is supported by the same means, and our animal functions are almost indistinguishably the same.
But, once more, the apostle speaks of what he calls the "soul." What the apostle meant by what is translated "soul," is the immortal part of man—the immaterial as distinguished from the material: those powers, in fact, which man has by nature—powers natural, which are yet to survive the grave. There is a distinction made in scripture by our Lord between these two things. "Fear not," says He, "them who can kill the body; but rather fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell."
We have again, to observe respecting this, that what the apostle called the "soul," is not simply distinguishable from the body, but also from the spirit; and on that distinction I have already touched. By the soul the apostle means our powers natural—the powers which we have by nature. Herein is the soul distinguishable from the spirit. In the Epistle to the Corinthians we read—"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things." Observe, there is a distinction drawn between the natural man and the spiritual. What is there translated "natural" is derived from precisely the same word as that which is here translated "soul." So that we may read just as correctly: "The man under the dominion of the soul receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things." And again, the apostle, in the same Epistle to the Corinthians, writes: "That is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural:" that is, the endowments of the soul precede the endowments of the spirit. You have the same truth in other places. The powers that belong to the Spirit were not the first developed; but the powers which belong to the soul, that is the powers of nature. Again in the same chapter, reference is made to the natural and spiritual body. "There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body." Literally, there is a body governed by the soul—that is, powers natural: and there is a body governed by the Spirit—that is, higher nature.
Let then this be borne in mind, that what the apostle calls "soul" is the same as that which he calls, in another place, the "natural man." These powers are divisible into two branches—the intellectual powers and the moral sense. The intellectual powers man has by nature. Man need not be regenerated in order to possess the power of reasoning, or in order to invent. The intellectual powers belong to what the apostle calls the "soul." The moral sense distinguishes between right and wrong. The apostle tells us, in the Epistle to the Romans, that the heathen—manifestly natural men—had the "work of the law written in their hearts; their conscience also bearing witness."
The third division of which the apostle speaks, he calls the "spirit;" and by the spirit he means that life in man which, in his natural state, is in such an embryo condition, that it can scarcely be said to exist at all—that which is called out into power and vitality by regeneration—the perfection of the powers of human nature. And you will observe, that it is not merely the instinctive life, nor the intellectual life, nor the moral life, but it is principally our nobler affections—that existence, that state of being, which we call love. That is the department of human nature which the apostle calls the spirit; and accordingly, when the Spirit of God was given on the day of Pentecost, you will, remember that another power of man was called out, differing from what he had before. That Spirit granted on the day of Pentecost did subordinate to Himself, and was, intended to subordinate to Himself, the will, the understanding, and the affection of man; but you often find these spiritual powers were distinguished from the natural powers, and existed without them.
So in the highest state of religious life, we are told, men prayed in the spirit. Till the spirit has subordinated the understanding, the gift of God is not complete—has not done its work. It is abundantly evident that a new life was called out. It was not merely the sharpening of the intellectual powers; it was calling out powers of aspiration and love to God; those affections which have in them something boundless, that are not limited to this earth, but seek their completion in the mind of God Himself.
Now, what we have to say respecting this threefold state of man is, it is a state of discord. Let us take up a very simple, popular, every-day illustration. We hear it remarked frequently in conversation of a man, that if only his will were commensurate with his knowledge, he would be a great man. His knowledge is great—his powers are almost unbounded; he has gained knowledge from nearly every department of science; but somehow or other—you cannot tell why—there is such an indecision, such a vacillation about the man, that he scarcely knows what to do, and, perhaps does nothing in this world. You find it remarked, respecting another class of men, that their will is strong, almost unbounded in its strength—they have iron wills, yet there is something so narrow in their conceptions, something so bounded in their views, so much of stagnation in their thoughts, so much of prejudice in all their opinions, that their will is prevented from being directed to anything in a proper manner. Here is the discord in human nature. There is a distinction between the will and the understanding. And sometimes a feeble will goes with a strong understanding, or a powerful will is found in connection with great feebleness or ignorance of the understanding.
Let us however, go into this more specially. The first cause of discord in this threefold state of man is the state in which the body is the ruler; and this, my Christian brethren, you find most visibly developed in the uneducated and irreligious poor. I say uneducated and irreligious, because it is by no means education alone which can subordinate the flesh to the higher man. The religious uneducated poor man may be master of his lower passions; but in the uneducated and irreligious poor man, these show themselves in full force; this discord—this want of unity—appears, as it were, in a magnified form. There is a strong man—health bursting, as it were, at every pore, with an athletic body; but coarse, and rude, and intellectually weak—almost an animal. When you are regarding the upper classes of society, you see less distinctly the absence of the spirit, unless, you look with a spiritual eye. The coarseness has passed away—the rudeness is no longer seen: there is a refinement in the pleasures. But if you take the life led by the young men of our country—strong, athletic, healthy men—it is still the life of the flesh: the unthinking, and the unprincipled life in which there is as yet no higher life developed. It is a life which, in spite of its refinement, the Bible condemns as the life of the sensualist.
We pass on now, to another state of discord—a state in which the soul is ruined. Brethren, this is a natural result—this is what might have been expected. The natural man gradually subordinates the flesh, the body, to the soul. It is natural in the development of individuals, it is natural in the development of society: in the development of individuals, because that childlike, infantine life which exists at first, and is almost entirely a life of appetites, gradually subsides. Higher wants, higher desires, loftier inclinations arise; the passions of the young man gradually subside, and by degrees the more rational life comes: the life is changed—the pleasures of the senses are forsaken for those of the intellect.
It appears natural, again, in the development of society. Civilization will subordinate the flesh to the soul. In the savage state, you find the life of the animal. Civilization is teaching a man, on the principle of this world, to subordinate his appetites; to rule himself; and there comes a refinement, and a gentleness, and a polish, and an enjoyment of intellectual pleasures; so that the man is no longer what the apostle calls a sensual man, but he becomes now what the apostle calls a natural man. We can see this character delineated in the Epistle to the Ephesians. "Then we were," says the apostle, "in our Gentile state, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind." Man naturally fulfils not merely the desires of the flesh, but the desires of the mind. "And were," says the apostle, "children of wrath."
One of the saddest spectacles is the decay of the natural man before the work of the Spirit has been accomplished in him. When the savage dies—when a mere infant dies—when an animal dies—there is nothing that is appalling or depressing there; but when the high, the developed intellect—when the cultivated man comes to the last hours of life, and the memory becomes less powerful, and the judgment fails, and all that belongs to nature and to earth visibly perishes, and the higher life has not been yet developed, though it is destined to survive the grave for ever—even the life of God—there is here ample cause for grief; and it is no wonder that the man of genius merely should shed tears at he idea of decaying life.
We pass on to consider the Trinity in unity. All this is contained in that simple expression, "The God of peace." God is a God of unity. He makes one where before there were two. He is the God of peace, and therefore can make peace. Now this peace, according to the Trinitarian doctrine, consists in a threefold unity. Brethren, as we remarked respecting this first of all, the distinction in this Trinity is not a physical distinction, but a metaphysical one. The illustrations which are often given are illustrations drawn from material sources: if we take only those, we get into contradiction: for example, when we talk of personality, our idea is of a being bounded by space; and then to say in this sense that three persons are one, and one is three, is simply contradictory and absurd. Remember that the doctrine of the Trinity is a metaphysical doctrine. It is a trinity—a division in the mind of God. It is not three materials; it is three persons in a sense we shall explain by and by.
In the next place I will endeavour to explain the doctrine—not to prove it, but to show its rationality, and to explain what it is.
The first illustration we endeavour to give in this is taken from the world of matter. We will take any material substance: we find in that substance qualities; we will say three qualities—colour, shape, and size. Colour is not shape, shape is not size, size is not colour. They are three distinct essences, three distinct qualities, and yet they all form one unity, one single conception, one idea—the idea for example, of a tree.
Now we will ascend from that into the immaterial world; and here to be something more distinct still. Hitherto we have had but three qualities; we now come to the mind of man, where we find something more than qualities. We will take three—the will, the affections, and the thoughts of man. His will is not his affections, neither are his affections his thoughts; and it would be imperfect and incomplete to say that these are mere qualities in the man. They are separate consciousnesses, living consciousnesses—as distinct, and as really sundered as it is possible for three things to be, yet bound together by one unity of consciousness. Now we have distincter proof than even this that these things are three. The anatomist can tell you that the localities of these powers are different. He can point out the seat of the nerve of sensation; he can localize the feeling of affection; he can point to a nerve and say, "There resides the locality of thought."
There are three distinct localities for three distinct qualities, personalities, consciousnesses; yet all these three are one.
Once more, we will give proof even beyond all that. The act that a man does is done by one particular part of that man. You may say it was a work of his genius, or of his fancy; it may have been a manifestation of his love, or an exhibition of his courage; yet that work was the work of the whole man: his courage, his intellect, his habits of perseverance, all helped towards the completion of that single work. Just in this way certain special works are attributed to certain personalities of the Deity; the work of Redemption being attributed to one, the work of Sanctification to another. And yet just as the whole man was engaged in doing that work, so does the whole Deity perform that work which is attributed to one essential.
Once more, let us remember that principle which we expounded last Sunday, that it is the law of Being that in proportion as you rise from lower to higher life, the parts are more distinctly developed, while yet the unity becomes more entire. You find for example, in the lowest forms of animal life one organ performs several functions, one organ being at the same time heart and brain and blood-vessels. But when you come to man, you find all these various functions existing in different organs, and every organ more distinctly developed; and yet the unity of a man is a higher unity than that of a limpet. When you come from the material world to the world immaterial, you find that the more society is cultivated—the more man is cultivated—the more marvellous is the power of developing distinct powers. In the savage life it is almost all one feeling; but in proportion as the higher education advances and the higher life appears, every power and faculty developes and distinguishes itself, and becomes distinct and separate. And yet just in proportion as in a nation every part is distinct, the unity is greater, and just in proportion as in an individual every power is most complete, and stands out most distinct, just in that proportion has the man reached the entireness of his Humanity.