THE FEAR OF HELL
‘Be not afraid of them that kill the body.… Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell.’
We cannot safely put aside motives of fear. It was the motive of fear which enabled Wesley and Whitefield to convert their hundreds of thousands. We are altogether unsafe if we do not remember the punishments of hell behind us, if we fall back, as well as the glories of heaven before us if we go forward. It is with an infinite tenderness that our Saviour speaks to us in the words of the text.
I. The Bible view.—We believe that in the Word of God God has told us all that it concerns us to know about the mysteries of our being. We are, indeed, willing to weigh the language of the Word of God carefully, and to compare one passage with another. We are willing to allow for imperfections of language in the human channels of revelation; we do not refuse to recognise the human element in the revelation. But we do not believe that the Word of God could tell us anything about God which was not true. We are not willing to take modern notions for our rule, or say that if the Word of God comes up to these modern notions we will believe it, but if it does not come up to these modern notions we will reject it. No; we believe that in all these tremendous things—Heaven and Hell, Life and Death, God and the Soul, Time and Eternity, Redemption and Faith—we have got here the very mind of God sufficiently clearly and decisively for us to understand it and act by it. Therefore, while I take every means available for finding out the full meaning and history of the language of the Word of God, I take it in its plain and literal sense. I do not trouble my mind as to whether when our Saviour spoke of eternal punishment He used words which would allow of some far-off ending in some future providence of God; I have no means of determining whether when St. Peter spoke in his sermon at Jerusalem about the heavens receiving Jesus Christ until the times of the restitution of all things, he meant that there was some utterly remote possibility of hell itself being converted; whether when St. Paul said, ‘He must reign until He hath put all things under His feet,’ he meant that even the opposition of hell itself would some day cease and be subdued, I cannot tell—God has not revealed it. But I do know that we are over and over again warned against the torments of hell as if they never came to an end. I do know that we are everywhere urged to repent on the ground that our only chance is in this life. I do know that when the word eternal is used, whatever it may mean, it must mean something of the same sort as eternity. I do know that in His parable of the sheep and the goats our Saviour describes the King as saying to them on the left hand, Depart from me ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
II. The fear of hell.—I do not see how God could govern the world if it were not for this great truth: ‘Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell.’ Yea, I say unto you, fear Him. I remember when the famous sermons were preached on this subject they were very much misunderstood. Ignorant people thought that the preacher was doing away with hell altogether. I remember one Sunday—at that time I was riding along from Fulham to preach in some distant part of Middlesex—and I heard men encouraging each other to come into the public-house. They said, ‘Oh, there’s one of ’em been showing that there ain’t no hell.’ That is what the result would be if we took away from the words of this Book. God has chosen to tell us that hell is everlasting. If we say, No, hell is not everlasting, then every kind of sin will abound. Sinners will say, ‘Oh, we shall all come right in the end.’ God’s government of the world would cease. Nothing but the strong, stern, stubborn fact of hell as it is described to us will keep them back from trifling with their souls. Think of that expression—‘Their fire is not quenched.’ This expression must correspond to some dreadful reality, some external punishment. How fearful would it be to us to endure the bodily suffering of being burnt alive, even if it only lasted ten minutes! Each moment, as the scorching flame reached some new part, there would be a fresh accumulation of agony as the scalded blood hissed and the nerves cracked and smarted. Or if you had only to let your hand or your foot be burnt off with fire! Our hearts turn sick at the very thought. But what comparison is there between the fires of this world, which are but for a moment, and those which are described as everlasting? And the torments of hell our Saviour can paint in no other way than by saying, ‘Where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched.’
Oh, if God would draw aside for one moment the veil which hides the eternal world from our view; what amazement, what terror, what fear and trembling would fill our souls! Never again could we be the same as we were before. Never would the shrieks and yells of the damned be out of our ears. Never would the fierceness of those flames cease to flare before our eyes.
III. Each man’s resolve.—There was once a rich man who was afraid to die, and on the last day of his life he rose from his bed and rushed out into courtyard, and shouted aloud, ‘I will not die! I will not die!’ His friends caught him, carried him back. His strength was exhausted, and in a few hours more he breathed his last. There was nothing that could be done to prevent it. But there is a far more important resolve which you can make this morning. O, dear friends, make up your minds this very day, once more, that you will not go to hell! O, fall down before the Cross of Jesus, the Son of God, your Saviour, reigning in glory, but present here in this church, and let your cries be heard by Him from the depth of your heart, ‘Mercy, Jesu, mercy!’ again and again. Look back into your life! uncover your sins; know that the devouring flames of hell are behind you; and whilst it is called to-day ‘Flee from the wrath to come.’ For, as yet, the glories of God’s eternal heavens are before you. What an easy way to escape hell fire and to reach the blessed pastures and still waters by repenting of my sins! Or even if at any time repentance seems a hard up-hill road, and the battle against sin seems to rage all day long and weary, yet let me remember that hell is a much harder word, and that the struggle here, however long, is as nothing to the endless burnings of that dreadful lake of fire. O, let the fire of hell ever scare me from my sins!
Archdeacon W. M. Sinclair.
‘Faint and weary Thou hast sought me,
On the cross of suffering brought me:
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Righteous Judge, for sin’s pollution
Grant Thy gift of absolution,
Ere that day of retribution.
Guilty now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning:
Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning.
Thou the sinful woman savedst;
Thou the dying thief forgavedst;
And to me a hope vouchsafest.
Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying!’
‘Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God.’
We must not be ashamed to let all men see that we believe in Christ, and serve Christ, and love Christ, and care more for the praise of Christ than for the praise of men.
I. The duty of confessing Christ is incumbent on all Christians in every age of the Church. Let us never forget that. It is not for martyrs only, but for all believers, in every rank of life. It is not for great occasions only, but for our daily walk through an evil world.
II. The difficulty of confessing Christ is undoubtedly very great. It never was easy at any period. It never will be easy as long as the world stands. It is sure to entail on us laughter, ridicule, contempt, mockery, enmity, and persecution. The world which hated Christ will always hate true Christians.
III. The grand motive to stir us up to bold confession is forcibly brought before us. Our Lord declares, that if we do not confess Him before men, He will ‘not confess us before the angels of God’ at the last day. He will refuse to acknowledge us as His people. He will disown us as cowards, faithless, and deserters. He will not plead for us. He will not be our Advocate. He will not deliver us from the wrath to come. He will leave us to reap the consequences of our cowardice, and to stand before the bar of God helpless, defenceless, and unforgiven. What an awful prospect is this!
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN
‘And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not he forgiven.’
It is impossible to deny that there is such a thing as an unpardonable sin.
I. What is it?—It would seem to be from our Lord’s words the sin of deliberately rejecting God’s truth with the heart, while the truth is clearly known with the head. It is—
(a) The sin of combining light in the understanding with determined wickedness in the will.
(b) The sin into which many fell after Pentecost when they rejected the Holy Spirit and refused to listen to the apostles.
(c) The sin into which many hearers of the Gospel nowadays fall by determined clinging to the world.
(d) The sin which is commonly accompanied by utter deadness, hardness, and insensibility of heart.
II. Let us pray that we may be delivered from a cold, speculative, unsanctified head-knowledge of Christianity. It is a rock on which thousands make shipwreck to all eternity. No heart becomes so hard as that on which the light shines, but finds no admission. The same fire which melts the wax hardens the clay. Whatever light we have, let us use it.
(1) ‘The distinction drawn between “speaking against the Son of Man,” and “blaspheming against the Holy Ghost,” ought not to be overlooked. The explanation is probably something of this kind. The sin against the Son of Man was committed by those who did not know Christ to be the Messiah in the days of His humiliation, and did not receive Him, believe Him, or obey Him, but ignorantly rejected Him, and crucified Him. Many of those who so sinned were pardoned, we cannot doubt; as, for example, on the day of Pentecost, after Peter’s preaching. The sin against the Holy Ghost was committed by those, who, after the day of Pentecost, and the outpouring of the Spirit, and the full publication of the Gospel, persisted in unbelief and obstinate impenitence, and were given over to a reprobate mind. These especially grieved the Spirit, and resisted the ministration of the Holy Ghost. That this was the state of many of the Jews appears from several places in the Acts, and especially Acts 28:25-28. See also 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16.’
(2) ‘That those who are troubled with fear that they have committed the unpardonable sin, are just the persons who have not committed it, is the judgment of all the soundest divines. Utter hardness, callousness, and insensibility of conscience, are probably leading characteristics of the man who has sinned the unpardonable sin. He is “let alone,” and given over to a reprobate mind.’
A MAN’S LIFE
‘A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.’
A man’s life! What a marvellous gift! Wherefore should a living man complain, though he be stripped of everything else, if there is left to him that wonderful thing called life?
I. In itself.—A man’s life, capable of almost infinite happiness, and capable of almost infinite misery—to what heights may it not climb, and to what depths descend, and to what in the great future may not your life here open! and all that future, coloured for better or worse in the way that you spend your man’s life.
II. In its effect upon others.—And if your life may mean so much to you, how much may it not mean also to other men, to those with whom you daily work, to the circle of your home, to the circle of your neighbourhood, and to the wider circle of the State? A man’s life, if he be a Napoleon, may blast the lives of myriads; a man’s life, if he be a Luther, or a St. Francis, or a Gordon, or a Shaftesbury, may bless the lives of uncounted thousands.
III. Once to live.—And this wonderful thing which is capable of so much usefulness, or of injuring and blasting the lives of others, is in your disposal, and you have but one chance. It is appointed unto man once to die, and it is appointed unto each man once to live. You have but one die to cast, and upon your casting it will depend the epitaph that will be written upon your existence here and hereafter.
(1) ‘Whatever crazy sorrow saith,
No life that breathes with human breath
Has ever truly longed for death.
’Tis life whereof our nerves are scant,
Oh, life, not death, for which we pant,
More life and fuller that I want.’
(2) ‘Must we not confess each to ourselves that we are apt to live at random? We are swayed by the circumstances which we ought to control. We find it a relief when we are spared (as we think) the necessity for reflection or decision: a book lightly taken up, a friend’s visit, a fixed engagement, fill up the day with fragments; and day follows day as a mere addition. There is no living idea to unite and harmonise the whole. Of course we cannot make, or to any great extent modify, the conditions under which we have to act; but we can consciously render them tributary to one high purpose. We can regard them habitually in the light of our supreme end. This is, as it seems to me, the first result of zeal, and it is in spiritual matters as elsewhere, that great results are most surely gained by the accumulation of small things. If we strive continuously towards a certain goal, the whole movement of our life, however slow, will be towards it, and as we move, the gathered force will make our progress more steady and more sure.’
WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH YOUR LIFE?
A man’s life! Young man, with your one life, what will you do with it? Take care of your object, take care of your ideal, take care of the true power for living it.
I. Take care of your object.—What is your object? Is it to get on? Let it be to get up. Choose for what you will live.
(a) The lowest grade of man is the man whose object is to get and scrape together gold, silver, precious stones, bank shares, stocks, always watching the money markets.
(b) There are the men who do—politicians, legislators, and the men who like to be called practical men—they are useful men; their object is to do.
(c) The third grade are the men whose object is to know. It seems sometimes to me as if they have got such a pile of information upon their brains, that they have lost the power of real knowledge. Information is not knowledge. But there are men who seek to know. It is a lofty and a great object to seek to know.
(d) But there is a fourth grade beyond. The men whose object is to be. These are the saints of all the ages, who are always seeking to build up strong and, beautiful, and holy character. These are the men of the cloister; these are the men of the Church
(e) But there is a loftier grade than this; for the man who lives to build a noble character may be a selfish man. It is much to be a saint, but the highest and noblest grade is to be a saviour, to live for others, to be unconscious when your face shines, because you are seeking to win the world, by your death, if it must be so, for Christ.
What is the object of your life? To get, to do, to know, to be, or to give up your lives to save other men? For if this last be your object, a man who lives for others is a man who is, and the man who knows, and the man who does, and the man who has. Be the last, and you include the other four.
II. As to your ideal, read biography if you will. Some of us have learned our noblest lessons from good biography. But make no man your ideal. Let your ideal be the great Brother Man Who has trodden our world, and Who always goes before us, giving us an example that we should follow His steps. Never rest until you have made the life of Jesus not only your study but your ideal. And as for the power of your life, let it be gotten from yielding your life to Him.
III. Lay your man’s life at His feet.—I ask that you should lay that life at His feet, and whilst I speak, ask Him to wash away the stain which your young manhood may have contracted, to put your sins beneath His most precious blood, that it may sweep them away for ever. Then present your object to Him, your mind, that He may think through it; your eyes, that He may weep through them; your voice and lips, that He may speak by them; your hands and feet that He may work through them; your whole body, that it may be used by Him for His own higher purposes; your manhood for Jesus, your young life for Jesus. In the name of Jesus I beseech, I entreat, I implore you, young man, to give yourself to Him, for he that loses his life at the feet of Jesus finds it for always; whilst a man who keeps his life for himself loses it utterly, utterly and for ever. ‘A man’s life.’ ‘I knew a Man in Christ’—that completes, and only completes, a man’s life.
THE RICH FOOL
‘And he said, This will I do … But God said unto him, Thou fool.’
How busy are the streets of a great city! How anxious and eager are some of the faces we meet! Look at this man—poor a few years ago, well off now. He has been successful in his business. This is what all these business people are striving to be. Our Lord’s parable is a solemn warning about success in life. The rich man had good land, good harvests, and no doubt looked well after his farms. See the result (Luke 12:16-17). He became richer and richer.
I. What the rich man said to himself.—He was pleased with his success; congratulated himself, looked proudly on his wealth (Daniel 4:28-30). The man hardly knew where to stow all his wealth. Yet there were plenty of poor to feed, many a heart he might have made glad. But no. All his thoughts were centred on himself; his increase of wealth only made him more selfish. This is just the danger the Psalmist saw in wealth (Psalms 62:10). So the rich man became more selfish. He will build more barns and get richer and richer. But does he think of the future? Yes. See what he has in his mind (Luke 12:19). He will enjoy himself, be merry; his soul shall be happy for years!
II. What God said to him.—God had a startling message for him. What was that? (Luke 12:20). He had been priding himself on his cleverness in getting so rich—yet see what God calls him.—A ‘fool’! Let us see where his folly lay.
(a) He had been speaking of ‘my’ barns, ‘my’ fruits, ‘my’ goods. Were they really his? (see Psalms 50:10-12). They were God’s, and only lent to him.
(b) He had forgotten how uncertain his riches were. He had seen others fall from wealth to poverty. Might not he fall too? Riches often have wings and fly away (Proverbs 23:5). He was not a very wise man to have forgotten this.
(c) What folly to count on ‘many years’! He could not count on ‘to-morrow’ (Proverbs 27:1). All his wealth could not purchase one minute’s life when God called for it!
(d) And could he be sure of being happy with all his wealth? Many a miserable life is passed in grand mansions and palaces.
He knew this too. He wanted something more than wealth to make his ‘soul’ happy and at ‘ease.’ He would have found out his folly if he had lived.
III. God’s call.—God’s decree had gone forth. His soul was ‘required’ that very night! Could he not refuse? No. God ‘demanded’ it. It was His, and must be yielded. What good was all his wealth to him then? Was he willing to go? No. He would have refused if he could. No wonder, for he was losing his all! How different with God’s true servant! He commits his soul to God (Psalms 31:5; Acts 7:59). He is not quitting, but going to his riches.
—Rev. Canon Watson.
‘It is an awful thought that the character which Jesus brings before us in this parable is far from being uncommon. Thousands in every age of the world have lived continually doing the very things which are here condemned. Thousands are doing them at this very day. They are laying up treasure upon earth, and thinking of nothing but how to increase it. They are continually adding to their hoards, as if they were to enjoy them for ever, and as if there was no death, no judgment, and no world to come. And yet these are the men who are called, clever, and prudent, and wise!’
THE RICH MAN’S FOLLY
What was the folly of this rich man’s life?
I. He mistook the true gauge of the worth of life.—He valued his days by the money he could make in them. He reckoned up his years by the increment to his little stock of gold. Ask him how much so-and-so might be worth; he would answer you at once by estimating the amount of money that he had amassed.
II. He mistook the true use of his superfluity.—He had more than he wanted. His fields brought forth in plenty. He began to wonder what to do with the superfluous wealth, and he thought that there was no other use for it except to reserve it for himself, and so he proposed to pull down the barns and to build greater, and to store the abundance, the overplus, the superfluity of his life for other and coming days.
III. He mistook the true way of being merry.—Men sometimes talk to themselves, sitting in a reverie when the house is quiet, and by their fireside they talk to their souls. And this man talked in the strangest way to his. ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.’
IV. He mistook the tenure of his life.—He thought he had many years before him, and he had not a single day, for that night his soul was to be called back to the God that made it, and went up to God leaving everything behind it. It went up a meagre, starved soul. He never missed a business appointment, but he was not prepared for the appointment of death. He had taken infinite pains not to be bankrupt, but he ended by being a bankrupt for eternity. He had a good title for earth, he had no title for heaven. He had taken care of this life, but not of the other.
WHAT THE RICH MAN FORGOT
What is the fault of the man that we might call prudent, but that God calls a fool? Just these two things: first, that he did not at all recognise even, as it were, the existence of a higher life than that which we live here; and secondly, that he did not in the least recognise that sacrifice is the basis of all life. These were the two negations that made this man, with his accumulated wealth, and with his prudential resolves, and with his negative morality, a fool in the eyes of God. Just one word, as it were, about each of them.
I. He did not recognise the higher life.—‘He said within himself,’ that is where we hear the truth; not the explanations we give to others, but what we say within ourselves in the still moments of thought and communion, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years.’ He thought those things, the bursting granaries and accumulating gains, were things that could feed all the life of a man; he did not recognise that man cannot live by bread alone—whether that bread be the mere material resources that are to support your animal life, or the higher intellectual sources that are to support your intellectual life, but that man must live by every word of God; and he thought there was food for his immortal nature in the things of this life. Oh, there is a hunger and a thirst that nothing on earth can satisfy! There is a hunger and a thirst that only God can satisfy, and there is a life that can only live in God.
II. He did not recognise that sacrifice is the basis of all life.—He had no idea that sacrifice lies at the root of life; that as the cypress is o’er the tomb, so the roots of life are in the grave; he did not read the lesson that was written for him, that ‘Except a grain of seed fall into the earth and die, it abideth alone; but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit;’ and his whole idea was not that what was given him was to be dispersed, to bring forth other and greater harvests amongst the perishing children of men, but that it was all to be accumulated. ‘Thou hast much goods laid up, eat, drink, and be merry, and let the world take care of itself’; that was the man’s philosophy, and that is the philosophy of many a man like that man to-day; neglectful of that great principle, that sacrifice, the giving forth of what we have, the giving up even, if need be, of what we are for others, is the art of all life, national life, Church life, individual life. In every case selfish isolation is death, and self-sacrifice is life; not only life for others, but life for ourselves. Let a nation shut itself up in isolation, and it hears the first whispers of its coming doom. Let a church shut itself up, and forget the lessons taught it in the parables of the salt, and of the light, and of the leaven, and that Church is hastening to decay. Let individuals shut themselves up, men or women, and say, ‘Let my country, my Church, take care of themselves; let my neighbours take care of themselves; soul, thou hast much goods laid up, eat, drink, and be merry,’ and such a person is denounced by God as a fool; and in the darkness of the night of that soul’s self-satisfaction its very life shall be required of it.
—Rev. Canon Teignmouth Shore.
THE MINISTRY AND THE KINGDOM
‘Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’
I ask you to dwell with me for a little while on some thoughts about the Christian ministry, its ennobling hopes, its inevitable perils. I have taken as a text our Lord’s own words to His disciples.
I. Sureness of victory.—The phrase rings out high encouragement and cheer. And the hearers needed such cheer. They were just then, it would seem, beginning to realise, however dimly, that their position was not going to be quite what they had been picturing to themselves a little while before. Yes, the triumphs they had looked for and talked about were going to be quite different from what they had first supposed. The work set them to do would not be in the least like what in the enthusiasm of the first days they had imagined, and so the Master is encouraging them. You are not going to have, He says, the applause of men; you are not going to have sympathy. Things will seem to be all going against you, but you are to conquer all the same. The Father loves His little flock, and bids them remember that they are part of His army, that army which is marching along with Him at its head. It would be disloyal to look upon it except as certain to triumph. The men who feel (and which of our clergy has not felt it hundreds of times, quite as often as our critics can?) the men who feel their own littleness in power, in experience, in moral courage, in stern resolve, sometimes even in earnestness of purpose, are allowed to remember with confidence that they in their office are but a little portion of that great thing, His Kingdom, which has advanced and is advancing to victory. If the man, weak as he is, be but faithful to what we rightly call his ‘high calling,’ he will be carried along in the unresting, irresistible march of Christ’s army. He will co-operate in his Captain’s work and share in His triumph.
II. The history of the Kingdom.—Look back to what that living force of His has done in the world, not by the clergy, but by the Church, clergy and people both. Look forth upon what wants doing now. Look upward and onward to Him Who is at our head, and to the promise He has given. Then, indeed, thank God and take courage. What is it, one wonders, that makes good men so often seem to forget the history of the Kingdom of Christ, which makes them speak as though the Church were engaged simply in holding a beleaguered fortress, or were joining in what might be called a forlorn hope against a resistless foe, instead of expecting and proclaiming all along the line the victory of our Master. It has not been when the Church of Christ was meekly bowing its head to a coming storm that the Church has been most blest. It has been when, with head erect and with larger expectancy, men and women were going forth in quietness and confidence against cruelty and impurity and selfishness and greed, against dishonesty in word or act; inspired, glowing with a desire to let people know and understand the revelation of their Father’s love, and the story of Bethlehem and Nazareth and Calvary, the spoken word, miracle, and parable, the uplifted Cross and the opened tomb. We are proud of, and we are reliant upon, His promise to be with us all the days. But do we always remember that that promise is linked indissolubly to the command, ‘Go forth, bear My message of pardoning love. Do your part. Then, because you are fulfilling My trust and My command, Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.’ Well, we say all that, and then there arises unbidden in the minds of not a few of us, and I am sure it is rising now, the disquieting question, But is this advance so sure a thing after all? Is it so certain that the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus is making way amongst us? We hear such voices raised sometimes, we are reminded of what is called a flood of infidelity surging around us, or of active anti-Christian influence now at work in our midst from the University common room to the workshop, influencing our legislature, permeating the newspapers, and making its voice heard in our streets. Is this a time for us to be speaking in tones of assurance about the victorious progress of the Master’s Kingdom in our midst? I firmly believe it is. So far as our own national Christianity is concerned, the thoughtful observer can surely find no reason for hesitation or doubt. We are bound as well as privileged to thank God and take courage. The walls of our old cathedrals and parish churches have looked down, some of them for hundreds and hundreds of years, upon a variety of scenes connected with our Church’s history. They have echoed as the centuries have passed to voices of very different men, face to face with needs constantly changing, constantly new as well as old. But never in the long and varied series of men and things have our altars and our pulpits been the centre of a greater earnestness, of more practical efforts and aims, more widespread care, a deeper personal devotion, above all, harder and more genuine work for Christ, than in the last twenty or twenty-five years of English history. Shortcomings and blunders have left their mark upon every page of our Church’s story, and very certainly they are leaving it not least upon the page only half-written now. We need penitence and humiliation, even shame, as we contrast what we might have been and ought to be with what we are. And so remembering, we bring the past with all its failures, and the present with all its weaknesses, all its cares and all its sin, unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and made us a kingdom of priests unto God our Father. And we ask Him for faith to give substance to our hope, and make our prayers come true. We know only too well the mass of sin and wrong, and the dead weight of sheer indifference which lies across our path, but we should be false to Him Who has called us if we did not still, in face of our weaknesses and failures, note that on the whole the onward march of our Church’s life in these later days is steady and persistent.
III. From generation to generation.—We have all heard of the classic contest of the burning torch. The account of it takes many forms, but the most significant was this: A band of youths of one tribe contended against a band of youths of another tribe. The contestants of each tribe were stationed at intervals along the course, and a lighted torch was handed to the first runner of each tribe. He was to run at his topmost speed and hand it on to the youth stationed next to him, who was to run and hand it on to the next, and so on until the goal was reached. The tribe was winner whose last runner first reached the goal with the torch still burning. It is from such a picture that one gathers the true meaning of the word tradition—handing on. One generation of workers, one generation of hearers and worshippers, handing on the torch of inspiration and work to another. ‘One generation shall praise Thy work unto another and declare Thy power.’ ‘Thy power,’ that which helped ministers and people in the past, that self-same power will be given to you according to your need, given to you in answer to and in proportion to your daily prayers, given to you in the blessed Sacrament of the Lord’s love, given to you for crisis-times of joy and sorrow, and for the ordinary common, prosaic, humdrum days, given it will be, and when given it must be borne and handed on. ‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the Kingdom.’
Archbishop Randall Davidson.
‘Infidelity, we are told, is rife amongst us, and wickedness abounds on every hand. Yes, it is absolutely true, but when was it not true? Is it a peculiarity of our time? Take a century or two ago and compare, with as much care in regard to detail as you can bring to the work, its literature, its popular creed, its moral standard, with ours to-day. Do we always realise what the faith and morals of educated England were a century ago, in the days of the Prince Regent and his friends? Or to take a more favourable period, two hundred years ago—the reign of Queen Anne—a time, that is, when the Church was supposed to be especially awake and powerful, when the characteristic torpor, the somnolence of the coming eighteenth century, had not yet begun. Turn to the sparkling pages of the journals and magazines, the Tatler and the Spectator of that day, and see how men like Steele and Addison, clear thinkers, draw a picture of moral turpitude and intellectual creedlessness blacker, surely, by far than anything we are familiar with to-day. Take Addison’s scathing essay on the supposed visit of an Indian king to St. Paul’s Cathedral, or Swift’s satirical “Argument against abolishing Christianity.” It is necessary to understand this aright, to realise a prevalence of godlessness among educated people to which the twentieth century offers, I think, no parallel at all. Pass on half a century to 1751, and we find a most careful and most learned public man, Bishop Butler, opening his famous charge to the clergy of Durham with a complaint that “the influence of religion is wearing out of the minds of men”; and again, “it is come, I know not how, to be taken for granted by many persons that Christianity is not so much an object for inquiry, but is now discovered to be fictitious, nothing remains but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule.” He proceeds to answer all that, but that was the thought about religion in men’s minds at that time. It would be easy to multiply such statements from the pages of friends and foes. Archbishop Secker, in 1776, speaking of the country squires of his time, says: “If they sometimes vouchsafed their attendance at Divine service in the country, they seldom or never would do so in town.” Bishop Newton, a hundred and twenty years ago, quotes as a signal and unusual instance of attention to religious duty, that a particular man, whom he named, regularly attended the service of the Church every Sunday morning even when he held political office. Sunday, a great historian tells us, was in those days the usual day for Cabinet Councils. Montesquieu, writing a little earlier, in a tone of bitterest hostility to England, said he could not see evidence of any religion whatever in the country. The subject excited nothing but ridicule, so far as he could learn. Not more than four or five members of the House of Commons, he affirmed, were regular attenders at Church. No doubt he exaggerated, but he was a great writer and thinker, and he described what he believed to be true. Fifty years later another French writer said there “was only just enough religion left in England to distinguish Tories, who had little, from Whigs, who had none.” The whole literature of three generations tells the same tale. The picture is, no doubt, overdrawn, but it is important for us to remember when we hear constant talk of the evils in the world to-day and the impossibility of our standing up against them, that there have always been these evils, and that there is no use being faint-hearted. It is only by such comparisons as the foregoing that we are to recognise the Church’s onward march. It seems to us slow, but it is progress after all, and the sentence I have quoted would be ludicrously inappropriate as statements of existing facts to-day.’
IDEALS LOST AND RECOVERED
‘Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning: And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.’
It is not for correction only, but for our great encouragement, that our Lord gives us this image of a Christian life.
I. The worldliness of individuals is more pressingly important for us than the danger of a worldly development in the society in which we live. In this matter, we very roughly distinguish three stages of opinion, three states of mind.
(a) There is the man who thinks rightly of the whole development of society as being not for itself, but all for God; as having no kind of worth within itself, or its justification in its own growth, but as being altogether a growth prepared for the service and glory of God. That is the true imperialism.
(b) There is a second stage in which a man, without thinking of himself or caring what his place may be in the social organism, longs for the development of that organism and for its enrichment and strength, as if it were an end in itself. That is the state, I imagine, of a good Japanese who has no self-seeking. He does not desire to stop at home and grow rich; all he cares for is the strength, the enrichment, and triumph of the body to which he belongs. This is patriotism.
(c) The third state is the state of the man who, while he is well content that his country should grow rich, is particularly anxious that he should grow rich in it.
II. High ideals disappearing.—It is not in one class alone that high ideals are disappearing. It is not among the rich only. The rich love comfort and display. But there are others, not rich, who are also eagerly pressing upward in the world’s scale, who desire to rise ‘from kitchen table to mahogany desk.’ This is natural enough. New classes with fresh energy, and unsatiated appetites for the world’s good things, are coming into their inheritance. They have to be warned with the greater earnestness against the terrible danger of becoming slaves of a Babylonian—a worse than Egyptian—bondage. It is a poor thing to be delivered from hard and ill-rewarded tasks, from brickmaking under compulsion, only to fall into the grip of a spirit of selfish gain, and soulless, godless advance! And once again, It is not only that the motives are mixed as they have always been mixed. But that the narrow, evil, senseless ideal is proclaimed with outspoken frankness. I must speak with the greatest sympathy with those who have not enough, or who have formed various ties which bring responsibilities and financial problems. I will never speak lightly or with contempt of their longing for money. Such money is often peace, honour, and sleep at nights, and baby’s health and the wife’s. When the young man in the office asks for a rise, that is not worldliness. Worldliness comes when the rise closes his view and he does not see what it is for; does not translate it into peace, and honour, and baby’s health. Or, again, on the very first day he does one thing against honesty or kindness to promote in the smallest degree his own prosperity. Selfishness, unkindness, trampling on the right and interest of another, or sinning against oneself by the smallest concession to the temptations of dishonesty—in these is worldliness and the worship of mammon.
III. Now what do these things gain their new strength from?—Why is it that men are more subject to them now than formerly?
(a) Partly because of the rumours of unbelief; the shaking, or the rumours of the shaking, of the foundations of religion. Numbers of men who do not give up religion have a vague idea that its foundations have really been shaken, and might be known to be ruined if only one had time to inquire. They have not had the day free to go and look at the debris where it has fallen in, but they have heard that the roof has fallen and are content to take it for granted from the newspapers. Do not be shaken out of your unworldliness, your discipline, and your joy, by any notion at all that the genuine foundations of religion have been in the smallest degree affected by all that has been said and done in the last two hundred years.
(b) And to this influence of rumour must be added the example of so many thousands all running after perishing things.
IV. What must we do against these two evils?
(a) We must live more in the companionship of those who know God. We must live more with the holy saints. We must escape from the stupid literature, the foolish, narrow writing of our time, the prejudiced and often crippled theology of our time, with its short breadth and its small outlook, and its half-hearted statements of the truth, to the language, the society, and the temper of the followers of Christ in all ages. We must try to make actual our share in the communion of saints. We can all read the greatest saints, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Epistles of the holy Apostles, St. Peter, and St. Paul. We may live with St. Jude and St. James, and hear the great Revelation made to John the Divine. In these we may have an abundance of holy companionship with blessed spirits, who, while they walked on the earth, were living with God and loved Him, and who now intercede for us and look down upon us, and wait for us, and long for our perfection in fidelity to Him Whom—as the great St. Peter, as if in pity, says of us—‘having not seen we love.’ It is a great gain, a great rescue from worldliness, to move freely in the broad fields of Holy Scripture, so that in the companionship of the elect we may be kept in the power of the Divine Spirit.
(b) Another great help against worldliness is in the ‘gathering of ourselves together’ in solemn worship. Cherish and love and make more and more of the opportunities of public worship. Go on as you have in the past in this holy practice. Besides all their other beautiful effects, the holy services of the Church have a wonderful value and virtue if only because they interrupt our life. Our life needs such interruption. Apart from our selfishness there is our absorption. We are swimming in one stream of things, and unless we are lifted from it, we cannot see beyond its waters.
(c) Pray Him earnestly to make us ready, to bring us to the expectant fidelity which He loves. Let none be overcome by base and hopeless regret that he has been so far from this happy, this ‘blessed’ attitude. Let helpless regret give place to hopeful repentance. Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, be watchful, and hope to the end. If we are sorry and anxious about our failure, is He not infinitely desirous of our success, of our salvation? If we have feebly marked our own failings, does not He with infinite love and wisdom regard them, Who ‘watching over Israel, slumbers not nor sleeps.’ The very grief with which we acknowledge our conformity to the world is a movement of the Eternal Spirit, Who will transform us by the renewing of our minds, and make us Christ’s true servants by the love of God shed abroad in our hearts.
—Rev. P. N. Waggett.
In that wondrous Eastern land servants may be seen watching on the great stone benches inside the heavy doors, waiting for their master’s return from the wedding or the feast. All the Eastern pleasure is taken at night time, then the air is cool, then every one goes forth to lantern-lit places of amusement, the torches gleam, lamps glitter, and one realises how true the Scriptures are in comparing joy and gladness to light, and God’s blessing to the lamp, and prosperity to the candles of the Lord.
The Lord asks each one of you to be His lamp-bearers. He urges upon you to be sincerely Christian and to walk in love and to serve Him.
I. What are the lamps which each good doorkeeper of the Lord, each well-doer for Jesus Christ, must needs, have burning?—They are ten. We are variously gifted, and all good gifts are from above, and come down from the Father of Lights. One will be conspicuous for one virtue, one will need this lamp or that. God’s Spirit will supply the oil, and the flame the spirit of prayer; but we must yield these earthen vessels which are our hearts, to be the receivers of that precious gift, and “Let our light so shine before men that they see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.’
Now the lamps of life are these—the old Church Catechism in its statement of our duty towards our neighbour shall be my witness.
(a) The lamp of love for father and mother; (b) Loyalty; (c) Learning; (d) Obedience; (e) Kindness; (f) Truth; (g) Temperance; (h) Soberness; (i) Chastity; and (j) Contentment.
II. Let us be ready.—Our loins girded, and these our lamps burning, and be as those who watch for the coming of the Lord. Behold, we know not when or how He will enter our souls, and make our hearts glad with the light of His countenance; but we know that every good word, and deed, and thought, is a surety of His presence, and we know that ever at the gates of our hearts, though they be barred against Him, He stands and knocks.
Rev. Canon R. D. Rawnsley.
‘Hearts good and true
Have wishes few,
In narrow circles bounded;
And hope that lives
On what God gives,
Is Christian hope well-founded.
Small things are best;
Grief and unrest
To rank and wealth are given,
But little things
On little wings,
Bear little souls to heaven.’
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF OPPORTUNITY
‘Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.’
Our Lord is speaking of His second coming. Learn
I. The importance of doing in our Christian life.—We hear a great deal about people’s intentions, and hopes, and wishes, and feelings, and professions. It would be well if we could hear more about people’s practice. It is not the servant who is found wishing and professing, but the servant who is found ‘doing’ whom Jesus calls ‘blessed.’
II. The danger of those who neglect the duties of their calling.—Of such our Lord declares that they ‘shall be cut in sunder, and their portion appointed with the unbelievers.’
III. The greater a man’s religious light is, the greater is his guilt if he act not up to it.—The servant which ‘knew his lord’s will, but did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.’ ‘Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.’
CHRISTS BAPTISM OF SUFFERING
‘I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished.’
I. The whole structure of this sentence is in exact keeping with the common notion of baptism, seeing that a condition of greater freedom is evidently looked forward to by Christ as certain to result from those waves of fire through which He had to pass. He laboured under a species of bondage prior to His agony and death; and the consequence of the agony and death would, he knew, be deliverance from this bondage. There is, therefore, peculiar fitness in His describing that agony and death as a baptism with which He should be baptized.
II. ‘How am I straitened till it be accomplished!’
(a) It was one consequence of our Saviour’s sufferings and death that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured forth on His disciples. Until, therefore, the baptism was accomplished, there could be little or none of that preparation of heart on the part of His followers which was indispensable to the reception of the spiritual magnificence and majesty of the Gospel.
(b) Although the Spirit was given without measure to the Saviour, He was nevertheless hemmed round by spiritual adversaries, and He had continually before Him a task overwhelming in its difficulties. Is not the contrast of the state which preceded, aed that which succeeded, the baptism of agony sufficient in itself to account for expressions even more sternly descriptive of bondage than that of our text?
(c) Christ had not yet won the headship over all things, and, therefore, He was straitened by being circumscribed in Himself, in place of expanding into myriads.
These, with like reason, serve to explain, in a degree, the expression of our text; though we frankly confess that so awful and inscrutable is everything connected with the anguish of the Mediator, that we can only be said to catch glimmerings of a fullness which would overwhelm us, we may suppose, with amazement and dread.
—Rev. Canon Melvill.
‘This baptism is plainly not that of water, nor that of the Holy Ghost, but the baptism of suffering. It is the same baptism of which our Lord said to James and John, “Ye shall be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.” The expression is one of those which shows the wisdom of our translators of the Bible in adhering to the word “baptism,” and not rendering it either “immersion” or “sprinkling.” The effect of either of these words in the present verse, instead of “baptism,” needs only to be tried. Few would like to substitute for our present translation, “I have an immersion to be immersed with”; or, “I have a sprinkling to be sprinkled with.”
‘The Greek word translated “straitened,” is the same that is rendered in Acts 18:5, “pressed”; and in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “constrains.” It is supposed by some that the feeling our Lord meant to express, was that of pain and distress in the prospect of His coming sufferings and crucifixion. This is the opinion of Stier. It seems, however, highly improbable. It is supposed by others that the expression is like John 12:27 and Luke 22:42, and is meant to imply the conflict between our Lord’s human will, which naturally shrank from suffering, and His Divine will, which was set on accomplishing the work He came to do. This opinion is supported by many. Yet it does not seem quite to harmonise with the context, and is not altogether satisfactory. The most probable view appears to be that the expression, “I am straitened,” was intended to show us the burning desire by which our Lord was constrained to accomplish the work of our redemption. It is like the saying, “With desire I have desired to eat the passover with you.” Theophylact and Euthymius both support this view.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Luke 12". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany