Last Updated on : Saturday, October 11, 2014
SUNDAY MORNING No. 45.
THIS morning it is our privilege again to call Christ to remembrance. He is our hope. Apart from him all is darkness and despair. There is nothing in Nature and nothing in the thousand devices that go to make up human society, that can, emancipate us from the dominion of weakness, imperfection, and death. There is nothing apart from Christ that can deliver the world from the mass of abortive and worthless human life that now oppresses it; nothing that can extricate it from the fatal entanglements of its own institutions; nothing that can realize the pleasing picture of human brotherhood which poets delight to sing, and every cultivated mind contemplates with pleasure. In Christ, the highest desires will at last be realized; by him, the highest good will at last be accomplished for all the world -- even glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and goodwill to men.
In view of this, the determination of Paul was nothing more than a sensible one - - to know nothing but Christ, and him crucified. It was but a logical result, of the truth in his mind that made him "count all things but dung that he might win Christ," and what was logical with him will not be illogical with us if we go to the same extreme. It is a reasonable exhortation from him to us that we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. We are here this morning in the endeavour to obey that exhortation. The word of Christ requires continual putting in. It will never dwell richly in our leaky minds except by perseverance in this process. There are so many other things constantly competing for a place in our affections, and so great a natural tendency to "let slip" the things of God, that unless we deliberately and diligently give the truth the first place in the reading of the word and prayer, it will have a poor chance, and we shall run great danger of being in that class who ate at last sentenced to be deprived of "even that which they have."
The "word of Christ" and "the truth" are synonymous terms. The truth is all about Christ; and the truth covers the whole extent of the holy oracles. Christ is the great subject-matter of the law and the prophets, as well as of the apostolic writings. The law and the prophets are unintelligible apart from him. He is the key and the foundation. Acquaintance with the Scriptures in their breadth and fulness -- namely, the kind of acquaintance to be got from daily and untiring intimacy with them -- will, therefore, result in the rich indwelling of the word of Christ, and in all the effects which that indwelling is calculated to produce on every well-balanced mind. Christ "dwelling in the heart by faith" will engrave the picture of Christ on a man's outer life.
In this matter there are, of course, degrees of attainment. John speaks of children, young men, and fathers in Christ. The matter is one admitting, in the same discipleship, of great variety of mental relation to it -- the utmost profundity of understanding on the one hand, and the simple exercise of child- like and uncomprehending faith on the other. Yet these varying conditions in believers have a common basis -- faith and obedience. They all believe the testimony of God, and are all distinguished by "the doing of His commandments." This is the family likeness. This is the one feature we ought to aim at cultivating. It is one that will grow under a right process of treatment.
There is a wrong process of treatment possible in this as in everything. It is possible to yield to fits of intense application, to be followed by intervals of lassitude and spiritual aversion. Some let weeks roll on without reading their daily portion of Scripture, thinking to make it up by reading a great deal more on some particular day. Both these are mistakes. We cannot feed healthily either in body or mind, by the plan of gorging. A steady supply, day by day, in quantity suited to our needs and capacities, is the method that leads to strength. A pertinacious adherence to the plan of daily reading an allotted portion (as by the Bible Companion) -- a practice now happily common -- will be found the best way to spiritual health.
Wisdom is also needed with regard to the treatment of the topics brought under our notice in the reading of the Scriptures. Some things are more important than others. Jesus spoke of "the WEIGHTIER MATTERS of the law, judgment, mercy and faith," in contrast with the subject of tithes, which was also scriptural in its place. A similar distinction will be found to exist in other cases. The nature of Paul's thorn, for instance, is an admissible subject of occasional speculation, but is not for a moment to be placed side by side with Paul's "doctrine, manner of life., purpose, faith, long- suffering, charity, patience." So the question of what became of the saints who came out of their graves after their resurrection (Matt. 27:52) is not to be mentioned in importance with the fact of Christ's resurrection. Who was the devil that disputed about the body of Moses is of little consequence compared with the question, Who was the devil Christ destroyed in his death? (Heb. 2:14). So whether Christ was tall or short, comely or forbidding, auburn or dark, are points which, though involved in the Scripture narrative, are without any value as compared with the fact of Christ's appearance in the flesh, and his invitation by Paul to the Gentiles to become partakers of the covenanted goodness of God.
There are many other such things, which, even if true, being without practical value, become "crotchets" when exalted out of their place. They are matters of barren definition. Why "barre"? Because unproductive of fruitfulness to God. Some things induce spiritual fruitfulness and some have not effect one way or other. It is testified that "the goodness of God leadeth to repentance." Repentance is, in this case, a fruit springing from the goodness of God perceived and believed. It is a result produced in the mind by a hearty belief that God is, and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. The fact of God's goodness is not "barren"; it is fruit-producing. It leads a man to be and to do what he otherwise would not. It is, therefore, most important to be known and maintained; and for any man to interfere with it -- for any man to teach that God is not a rewarder of men at all, would be to interfere with the vital fruit- producing element of the testimony of God; and true men would oppose him and contend earnestly for the thing denied; and the thing so contended for by true men would not be a crotchet, but a matter of the utmost moment as affecting the well-being of God and man.
But suppose, for the sake of example, a man were to affirm that the cross on which Christ was crucified was a tree in the shape of a cross, and not the piece of carpentry usually represented in pictures, he would be contending for something perfectly unimportant, and, therefore, not to be particularly opposed by earnest men. The subject would be a scriptural subject, but of no vital moment; because it is a matter of perfect indifference what the particular configuration of the "accursed tree" was on which God condemned sin in the flesh, in the crucifixion of His Son. A man pertinacious on the point would be a crotchetarian, hurtful alike to himself and all who should be troubled by his profitless strife of words.
Such a case will, of course, be considered a very unlikely one to arise; but the principle it illustrates is most important to recognize, and may, in fact, be necessary of application in unsuspected directions. Many "questions" may be scriptural questions in the sense of relating to matters spoken of in the Scriptures, and may yet be entirely unprofitable or vain, as matters of discourse or contention. Which questions are of this character and which are not, may be settled by the test of fruitfulness: are they or are they not of a character to incline the mind to obedience and the love of God? Do they or do they not affect comfort, hope, faith, mercy, and righteousness? Have they or have they not any tendency to influence our attitude towards the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ? As a rule, it will not be difficult to answer these questions, and by the answer a wise man's action will abide. There were some things that Paul was anxious that Titus should "constantly affirm," and there were others which he called "foolish and unlearned questions- strivings about the law, etc. -- which he advised both Timothy and Titus, and, therefore, all brethren everywhere, to "avoid," as having no profit in them, but calculated rather to "subvert the hearers."
There are not lacking such questions today. They are principally questions of ways and means in relation to the work of God in Christ, alike beyond the comprehension of all who discuss them. What should we think of a man who, not content with the shining of the sun, neglects the cultivation of his fields to enforce upon his neighbours some theory of how God makes it to shine? Surely it is sufficient to be able to see the sun, and to believe that it is the work of God to whom we give thanks. The crop does not depend upon the farmer's comprehension of how it grows. If it did, there would be no crop: for no man can comprehend the mode of vegetable generation any more than he does the shining of the sun. It is the same as to the Sun of Righteousness. We see him shine; we believe him to be the work of God; we thank God for him. But as for comprehending the "how," we can only pity those who ask us to waste our time in the discussion of the question.
It is sufficient to believe the testimony concerning Christ -- that he was the Word made flesh -- that according to the flesh he was the seed of David -- that he came down from heaven -- that he learned obedience by the things that he suffered, and that because of his obedience he was highly exalted, and that he will come the second time unto the salvation of all that obey him. These are the fruit-producing facts of the case. They are all of them mentally-inducive elements of reverence, love, obedience, hope, and comfort. But when we are asked to sanction some definition of "how" as a matter of literal, scientific, metaphysical process this dayspring from on high hath visited us, we are at once in the region of the incomprehensible and impracticable; for not only can we not know, but even if we could, it would be of no practical value. It is not the comprehension of divine modes, but the doing of His will that commends us to God. We cannot know the divine modes. When He works, it is sufficient to believe that He works. It is bootless to trouble ourselves as to the "how." This is true in things natural; how much more in things spiritual. We believe He made heaven and earth; we know not how. By His Spirit truly, but this does not define the process, which is incomprehensible to man. We believe He will raise the dead; we know not how; and it is useless to trouble ourselves with the question. We see, we feel, we live, we know not how, though some think they know.
It is sufficient to take the facts and be thankful. We believe Jesus was God manifest in the flesh; we know not how; by the Spirit truly; but this tells us no more metaphysically than the similar answer as to heaven and earth. It merely tells us that God was the worker: it cannot communicate to us a knowledge of the mode. We need not know; the fact is sufficient. It is the denial of the fact that is serious. Some think to simplify the fact by saying it was through the presence of "divine substance" in the body of Christ attributable to his begettal. This is objectionable on every ground. It ignores the fact that everything is based on divine substance (understanding the Spirit to be meant by that phrase), and that the nature of a thing is not determinable by the presence of the Spirit, which is everywhere, but by the will of the Creator, of which the Spirit is the medium and means. It would logically divorce God and His works. It would exclude the Spirit from all His works we see. It would degrade the Spirit and its great Source to a level with fixed elements having helpless mechanical properties and chemical affinities, instead of recognizing the absolute prerogative of the Spirit in all its works. And, finally, it would negative the testimony that Jesus was a son of Abraham, of our own nature, made in all things like to us.
Inculcating such a narrow view of the matter is mischievous enough, but the insistence upon others consenting to the definition is worse. It becomes crotchetarianism of a very hurtful description. The remedy lies in believing the testimonies on both sides of the subject, and meddling not with a phase of the question which belongs to God and to God only. God knows how the glorious marvel was achieved; He does not ask us to understand this, but believe. We can easily believe that Jesus was God manifest in the flesh, while yet believing the testimony that He was physically what we are. It is in the power of God to blend the two facts. We have simply to receive them both. It is certainly impossible to do this while holding a view that renders one of them nugatory, by teaching that Jesus was not our flesh and our bones, but a mixed nature unknown to human experience.
So also on another, yet kindred subject, embarrassment is created by insistence on a view derived from one phase of the subject only, to the exclusion of another equally important in its place, and with which it is not inconsistent, though apparently so. The fact that God was in Christ is made to yield the hurtful conclusion that Christ had no will of his own, and was not put to the proof, and did not, by the power of faith, overcome the temptations of the flesh to which we are subject. The mistake lies in not allowing due force to all the testimony in the case. It is a glorious fact that the Father was in Jesus by the measureless and abiding presence of the Spirit; but it is also true that Jesus had a separate individuality of his own, which he voluntarily subordinated to the will of the Father who sent him. Both facts are testified, yea, both are evident in the whole life of the Lord Jesus; and both are to be received. It is a presumptuous use of reason to deduce a "sequence" from one of the facts that is destructive of the other fact. It comes of trying to explain the "how." The reasoner says, "If Christ was the Word made flesh I cannot see how he had a will of his own. If Christ, by his own will, rendered the perfect obedience of his life, I cannot see how it was the work of God: and if it was not the work God, I cannot see how the flesh is excluded from glorying." The argument is altogether a mistake. Instead of simply accepting the testimony of God as to the facts of the case (that is, all the testimony), it assumes our ability to judge of the operations of the Deity in a metaphysical sense, and, on this presumption, pronounces against a truth as much declared as the one which is made the basis of the adverse verdict. And further, the alleged difficulties are only imaginary, and result from inaccurate reasoning. The individualization of the Eternal Word in a man, instead of excluding the notion of a personal and independent volition, rather seems to involve it, for the result was the appearance of a new personage on the scene -- the Son of God who, "though he were a Son, learnt obedience by the things that he suffered" (Heb. 5:8). The rendering of perfect obedience by such a man was surely the work of God, since the man who could render such obedience had to be expressly produced by God; and seeing "the flesh," viewed historically and racially, could never have brought such a Deliverer to the birth, surely the flesh has no share in the glory of the deliverance. It remains absolutely true that "of God, he (Christ) is made unto us righteousness."
There ought to be no difficulty in receiving and rejoicing in the whole truth of the matter. There would be none if men were content to receive the testimony in its entirety and simplicity. The absence of this disposition always has led to the agitation of "untaught" and hurtful "questions," ever since the day that the sublime mystery of godliness was placed in the world by the ministry of the apostles; and probably the same effect will be visible to the very end of the present miserable chapter. On the other hand, there are always those who receive the kingdom of God and its righteousness as little children, and who rejoice before God in thanksgiving for the blessed hope it brings them. For their sakes it is profitable, in the midst of so much carnal carping and strife, to "preach the Word, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect; not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth; being instant in season, out of season, reproving, rebuking, exhorting, with all long-suffering and doctrine," affirming constantly that they who have believed in God ought to be careful to maintain good works, which are good and profitable unto men.
The time is short. The scene will suddenly be changed in a short time; and all these matters will appear in their true light to every one. Many will discover that they have been wasting their time and hurting their brethren by bootless and embittering controversy, instead of redeeming the evil days by the consolations of the truth. They will see too late that instead of imbibing the sincere milk of the word, they have been feeding on ashes; that instead of dispensing a portion of meat to the household in due season, they have been giving them gall and vinegar; that instead of strengthening the hands of fellow- labourers, they have been casting stumbling-blocks in the paths of the weak, and discouraging the hearts of the strong; that instead of rejoicing in the Lord, they have been fretting their souls with barren contentions; that instead of filling up a good account with works of humility and mercy and faith, they have been sowing a harvest of envy and strife and every evil fruit; that instead of helping to purify a peculiar people, zealous of good works, their influence has been only mischievous, and that continually -- obstructing the work of the Lord, pulling down the work already done, and throwing clouds and darkness over the beacon intended to guide the feet of the stranger to life eternal. Let us aim to be out of the ranks of this number, that the Lord, at his coming, may approve our faithfulness in small things and give us higher work to do.