Sunday, June 4th, 2023
The Church Pulpit Commentary Church Pulpit Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Revelation 3". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cpc/ revelation-3.html. 1876.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Revelation 3". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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A FALSE REPUTATION
‘I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.’
In God’s sight the Church of Sardis was like the corpse of the ancient Scythian—men reverenced her, spoke of her, treated her as a Church full of life and health, and all the while she was dead!
I. ‘Thou hast a name’!—Yes. Sardis had not denied the faith. She had not gone over to the world, she was teaching no false doctrine, she was eminently orthodox. But Sardis and the world understood each other; openly she was to resist the world, secretly she was to be at friendship with it. Her name for righteousness was what she cared for more than anything else—she cared nothing for that union with the living God which alone can give life to the soul. Hers was a ‘heartless holding of the truth’; her name for life remained, but that life was gone, or nearly gone—and Sardis was dead! It is so easy for us by our words, our writings, our exhortations, to persuade people that we are travelling along one road, when we have in reality wandered far upon another. ‘Solomon was the wisest of men, yet he sank to be what his own writings say makes a fool.’
II. A day of surprises.—Amid all its terrors—all its soul-subduing sights and sounds—the Last Great Day will be, perhaps, more than anything else, a day of many and great surprises! ‘If ever I reach heaven,’ said one, ‘there will be three things which will, I know, surprise me. First, I shall be surprised to find myself in heaven at all. Secondly, I shall be surprised to see some whom I should never have dreamed of meeting there; and thirdly, I shall be surprised not to see many who I should have thought would be perfectly certain to be there!’
III. How is it with us?—Are there any here who are content to stand well with the world, with a name for goodness; who care nothing for real holiness, nothing for the spirit that giveth life? These are dead! Are there any whose love is waning, with whom growth in grace has ceased—whose communions have become mere perfunctory duties, mechanical acts? Is growth ceasing? Then these are dying. It is the Spirit Who giveth life. Then turn to Him, for He is ready to receive the fainting and to revive the dying soul.
‘Among the Scythians of old a ghastly custom prevailed. When a man died, his nearest relatives, having dressed up the corpse, placed it in a chariot and carried it round to the houses of his friends. In each house feasting and merriment went on; the corpse was propped up at the board, the banquet spread before the glazed eyes, and slaves offered the dead man meat and drink. Honoured, feasted, driven from house to house, the dead among these ancient people were, by a horrible mimicry, made to play the part of the living.’
THE CHURCH IN PHILADELPHIA
‘And to the angel of the Church in Philadelphia write.’
The suggestive phrase ‘Thou hast a little power’ is descriptive of the men and women of humble standing, whose opportunities of service are narrowly restricted, to whom no great chance presents itself for acceptance, to whom no special call ever comes. It never can be theirs to exercise wide influence, or deal with really large issues, or bring about momentous changes.
I. And yet the complete perfection of reward is offered to the Philadelphian Church.—No comparative insignificance of mission in this world could deprive its members of the most glorious and most blessed privileges in the life to come.
II. The measure of our responsibility is for the Divine determination; but it is ours to see that we are faithful to our allotted tasks. The lamp of our witness to Christ may be set in a tiny room, but we can at least see that it burns clear and bright.
III. The rewards of victory are not limited to the few, but are for all who show themselves ‘more than conquerors.’ They may be ours. They are offered to us to encourage and uphold us, that we may quit ourselves with strength and resolution and constancy. Upon us—even upon us—may hereafter be written those wondrous names—the name of the Father, the new name of the Son, the name of the holy city. We also—we not less than any others, not less than those whose privileges have in a sense been far larger, whose responsibilities have been far wider and more extensive, whose ministry has been far more noteworthy, whose power has been far greater than ours—may be pillars in the everlasting temple. Upon us also may the recompense be bestowed of inclusion for ever and ever within the now unspeakable, now unthinkable glory and majesty of the perfect and eternal sanctuary of God.
—Rev. the Hon. W. E. Bowen.
THE CHURCH’S HISTORY
‘I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name.’
How would the angel of the Church of England have been bidden to write to us? Would he have written, as to Philadelphia, of an open door, and a little strength, the word kept, and the name confessed; or as to Sardis, ‘I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead’? All Church history is in those chapters of judgment; and how would our past and our present, how will our future bear that test?
I. The dark side of the story.—The candid and humble Churchman knows well how dark a side there would have to be in his picture if he were to tell the faithful truth about the Church of England. He would, I think, be prone to think of his Church with penitence and humility before he would dare to think of it with pride. He may not be greatly perturbed by her legislative impotence, although it is a scandal without excuse that a great national Church should be without a voice and without a means of expressing its corporate will. He may not be greatly disturbed by our parochialism, that deadly form of local paralysis, or by our diocesanism, which is only the same paralysis on a larger scale; he may be tolerant of our anomalies, our repugnance to reform, our all too normal alliance with the forces of reaction and inertia. Yet he will surely ask with shame, Where are the evidences of that prophetic insight which our Church ought to possess and use, the clear vision of social and spiritual needs, the hatred of wrong and the purifying fire of zeal?
II. A great inheritance.—And yet with all this, when the candid truth has been told about us as we are, we have a great inheritance, and that inheritance is neither dead nor impotent. When we are at work and alive, we have a gospel for the English people such as no other body can preach. Where you find a Church really living the characteristic life of our communion, knowing and loving its Bible and its Prayer Book, strong in intercession and united at the altar, there you have such a Christian power, so expressive of the best capacities of English religion, as no other body can afford. So much we may dare to say. And as we look backward to see how this inheritance has come to us, we can also see that we have been allotted a special and unique place in the Church’s story.
III. All religions bodies appeal to history.
( a) Be historical, says the Puritan; you can trace the degeneracy of the Church back to the earliest days of the second century. No sooner were the Apostles gone, and their generation passed away, than the Church began to make terms with the world. Institution after institution took shape which was not covered by the terms of the original covenant. The Church became secular, hierarchical, sacramental, mysterious; little by little corruption increased, and the mediæval Church, corrupt at the heart, is the logical outcome of that earliest Christianity which shifted from the anchorage of Apostolic custom. Be historical, therefore, and go back to the beginning. Cut away every form and institution which did not demonstrably exist in the Apostolic age; revert to the New Testament, and to that alone, and you will have a pure and a primitive Church once more.
( b) Be historical, says the Roman Catholic on the other side. The Church began with the commission to the fisherman; it has moved onward step by step, guided at all points, secured from error, guarded against vital corruption. It cannot need to look backward; whatever it adds to its creed must needs be only an explication of the original deposit, once for all committed to the saints. Trust the Church as it is, and submit, for it speaks with an infallible voice and lives with a life whose guarantees are wholly outside the order of nature.
Thus the appeal to history has issued on the one side in the subversion of the whole idea of the Church as a living society, and on the other side in that great disaster of forty years ago, the conciliar declaration of papal infallibility.
( c) But the Church of England has also its appeal to history. We do not reverence the past, neither are we its slaves. We believe in the teaching authority of the Church, but we are also conscious that in the New Testament there is a storehouse of principles by which the exercise of that authority can be and ought to be checked. We will not serve Geneva, because we are sure that our own life and order are both Catholic and Scriptural; neither will we serve Rome, for we know well that it is neither. And so to us, as to no other body, has been entrusted the treasure of such a Catholicism as can dare to protest when protest is needed, which can confront itself with the great dogmatic fathers of Christianity and know itself true to them, which can maintain and use the external beauty of worship without fearing any loss of spirituality; which can use, revere, and hold fast the sacraments without a touch of superstition. And in the ages to come, what need will there not be of such a positive, non-Roman, historical Catholicism as ours? Puritanism tends always to disintegrate; Ultramontanism is rotten at its foundations. Let us hold fast that which has been entrusted to us, for if we fail, who shall take the place that we are commissioned to fill?
IV. An open door.—We have before us a great open door; God has given us a little strength. Shall we go forward where the way is open? Shall we still hold fast the Word and confess the Name? The answer lies with you, with Churchmen one by one. Christ dawned in Britain seventeen hundred years ago; but He dawns still day by day, on each of us who know Him. Shall we let the brightness of His dawning
And fade into the light of common day?
That is our peril and the peril of our Church. If we let slip the freshness, the romance, the inspiration of the gospel, one by one; if it becomes to us an ordinary thing, a routine, a negligible commonplace, then, each by himself, we shall be doing our best to close the open door. If our Church is to fulfil her vocation she must fulfil it first in us, one by one. Therefore, as we look back on the story of that which has been, let us pray for the grace of vision, of daily inspiration.
—Rev. H. N. Bate.
THE CHURCH IN LAODICEA
‘And unto the angel of the Church of the Laodiceans write.’
The tone of the Apocalyptic letter is one of severe, and even ironical, censure. The Laodiceans were not as those who had never been touched by the heat of the Divine Spirit. It would have been better had such a communication never come to them, for then there would have been the chance of their regeneration. But their special guilt lay in this—that they had known and felt that wondrous kindling and yet had only partially responded to its power. ‘Thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.’ This spiritual lukewarmness should, if it continued, issue in their contemptuous rejection. They thought themselves rich. They prided themselves on their acquired wealth. They fancied that they were beyond all need. Ah, fatal delusion! ‘Thou art the wretched one, and miserable and poor and blind and naked.’ The Lord counsels them, who were so ready to traffic in this world’s goods, to buy of Him—even of Him Who alone could bestow upon them what they really lacked. He has ‘gold refined by fire’—such that the possessor of it is rich indeed. He has ‘white garments’ in which the guilty may hide their shame. He will give ointment by which the eye of the conscience—the spiritual eye—may recover its power of sight. But the blame—stern as it is—is not intended to excite despair. ‘As many as I love, I reprove and chasten.’ The Divine love was still their privilege. The voice of condemnation was a summons to amendment. The Saviour is knocking—the touching metaphor has suggested one of the most familiar of our modern hymns, and inspired one of the most famous pictures of our generation—at the doors of their hearts, petitioning for entrance. He will sup with any who will open to Him. To the victor He will grant a place on His own ample and broad seat of authority; even as it had been given to Him—the Victor of victors—to share in His Father’s everlasting seat.
I. Religious indifference is an evil with which we are all only too well acquainted.—Some of us will recollect the saying placed by Charles Kingsley in the mouth of one of his characters, that were the Catholic Church what she ought to be but for a single day the world would be converted ere nightfall. Who can deny that in the hyperbole there is a large element of truth? The victories of Christianity are retarded or thrown away because the soldiers of the Cross are so often slack and negligent.
II. Religious indifference has its root in worldly prosperity.—The Laodicean Christians were endangered by the abundance of the things which they possessed. Wealth! Our Redeemer spoke to His disciples so strongly and uncompromisingly about the moral and spiritual perils connected with it. ‘The mammon of unrighteousness’! It was, it would seem, responsible for the lukewarmness of this Asiatic community. Surely it is only too often responsible for ours. We are well-to-do; our lives are full of comfort, perhaps of luxury; we can give ourselves what pleasures we care for; the stress and strain of the world—so severe, so intolerable for many—are for us reduced to a minimum—and spiritual idleness, sloth, negligence, indifference are the result. Do let us be on our guard—our continuous and anxious guard—against the dangers which come with material welfare.
III. ‘He that overcometh’!—The rewards of spiritual victory! Participation in His everlasting triumph! ‘It is promised,’ says a modern preacher, ‘that the twelve thrones shall be one throne, and that one throne the throne of Christ. The glory that shall be revealed shall be a glory of union with Christ, the glory not of assessors with Christ, not of companions of Christ, but of persons incorporated and as it were merged in Christ; the glory of those who have been “found in Him,” so that what He is they are, what He does they do, “because He lives they live also,” and “where He is, there shall also His servant be.” ’ That glory to which none other can possibly compare may be ours. Such a thought ought to move and stir us and impel us forward. The battle is unspeakably worth the winning. Do not let us lose it. Do not let us be found—not amongst the conquerors—but amongst the outcast. If only we will be loyal and true, if only we will be His ‘faithful soldiers and servants,’ we may be received through Him and for His sake into that unthinkable heavenly company, into which we trust that there have been already received some whom we knew and loved and will never forget, and into which we also may be gathered before long—who can say when?
THE DIVINE MERCHANTMAN*
‘I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.’
No doubt the scene depicted in these words was suggested by the market-place or bazaar of some great Eastern city. There appears in the market-place the Divine Merchantman, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It is His own description. Not even did He leave it to an Apostle to so describe Him. Notice what His wares are.
I. The offer of gold.—The first that He offers to you and me is gold. Gold is the symbol of power. Why do men care for gold? It is simply because it gives them power, and it gives position, and it gives influence. No man, except the mere money-grubber, the mere miser, cares for gold simply to finger it. So Christ says, ‘You want power. I am prepared to give you power. I am prepared to give you a power greater and mightier in its influence than the gold of Ophir.’ ‘As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.’ Christ is made unto us not only wisdom and righteousness, but He is made unto us power; and so we read of the Christ being the power of God, and the Apostle Paul, who was face to face with the greatest world-power of the age, the Roman world-power—St. Paul preached to the Roman people and to the people subject to them that the power of the Christ is the power of God, and the gospel is the mightiest power that the world has ever seen.
II. The offer of purity.—But the second thing He offers to us is purity. ‘White raiment, that the shame of thy nakedness [thy moral nakedness] be not manifest.’ Men want what God knows all men have lost—purity. You remember how Sir Galahad, the knight of purity of Arthur’s Round Table, how Tennyson sings of him that his strength was as the strength of ten because his heart was pure. Power and purity linked together. Christ offers you not only pardon for sin but what we want besides, and that is innate purity; the cleansing of the very centres of our moral life. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ Ah! the strength of purity, and the strength that comes to a man when he feels that God has put away the sin and created in him a clean heart. The joy of it, instead of having to fight with this evil beast, this wild passion, to be able to stand and feel that God has actually purified the heart.
III. The offer of penetration.—And then He offers us penetration. ‘Eyesalve that our eyes may be opened.’ What a strange thing for sharp, keen-witted men to be wanting their eyes opened! You are very keen and shrewd and clear-sighted as regards business, and yet blind as regards the most important business transaction of life—your eternal salvation. ‘What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’ Think of that kind of profit and loss. Where is your keenness? You need eye-salve that your eyes may be opened; the anointing of the Holy Ghost that you may see straight and clear. The one great important thing in life is to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Yes, and we are putting God second, if we are putting Him anywhere at all. Self first, business first; God nowhere at all. Oh, that your eyes might be opened!
IV. ‘Buy of Me.’—‘Buy of Me.’ What does it mean? A business transaction, a definite transaction. Have you been to Christ for a definite business transaction with Him about your soul? ‘Buy of Me.’ It means an exchange. That was the old custom of buying: an exchange of property for property. So is this buying. I give myself to Christ; He gives Himself to me. Wondrous exchange! A poor sinner, blind, miserable, naked, impure, with powers weakened and sinful, I give myself to Him. He wants me, just as I am. ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy Cross I cling.’ And He gives me Himself. ‘I will come in to him,’ we read in the twentieth verse of this very chapter, ‘and you shall have My power, My purity, My own anointing’ that shall open our eyes that we may see what God has for us as men redeemed in Christ.
‘As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be Zealous, therefore, and repent.’
Let us think of sickness and suffering in what is undoubtedly one of its most important aspects, as chastisement for sin. However it comes upon us, and whether it comes as the direct result of sin or not, it is always well for poor, erring human beings to remember this aspect of it, and to try to make a real use of it in this capacity.
I. Pain is a great gift of God to a world in dire need.—We know something of the necessary part it plays in saving us from physical danger. It very soon teaches the child not to put its fingers into the fire. Reflect for a moment that if it were not for this a mother might return after a few minutes’ absence from the room to find her infant contentedly watching its hands and arms being rapidly burnt away. But pain so surely teaches the child to regard danger as hateful that it is necessary to cultivate carefully the quality of courage in order that prudence may be balanced and not become cowardice. And in much the same way pain helps us to hate sin. This may not seem the highest way of looking at the matter, but it is a true one, and we must remember that in our imperfection we need appealing to by other motives as well as the highest. Pain does help us to look upon the sin which brings it as an enemy, and that is certainly a step in the right direction, even if it is only an early and elementary step.
II. And, just as care is required in our view of the pain which threatens us, so too there is danger of missing the benefit of that which has actually come upon us.—We may take it in such a way that it drives us from God rather than draws us to Him. You remember the words in the Book of the Revelation ( Revelation 16:11): ‘And they blasphemed the God of Heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they repented not.’ The more truly penitent we are, the less anxious shall we be to escape our punishment. We shall welcome the opportunity of bearing it in such a manner as to prove our repentance both to ourselves and to God. Most of us have known what it is to long for some such opportunity when we have done some grievous wrong either to God or to man. And it greatly helps us in this right view if we remember that, as a human parent often punishes much against natural inclination, so our Heavenly Father does not chasten us for His pleasure or from lack of love, but for ‘our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.’ The remembrance of the wrong we do to God, in obliging Him to punish us when His desire is to shower only blessings and happiness upon us, should certainly assist us to see our punishment in such a light as will bind us more closely to Him.
III. Remember, then, just as it was not the death of Christ, but His obedience, which pleased God (as St. Bernard said, Ep. cxc., Contra Abælardum), so He only chastens us in order to correct in us what He sees to be wrong, and to improve in us those things in which He sees us to be weak. Just think well over these words: ‘He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities’ ( Micah 7:19). It is by subduing and not overlooking our iniquities that He shows His compassion.
—Rev. R. L. Bellamy.
‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with Me.’
These are the words of the Risen Christ, the Resurrection Lord, Who still stands in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
Let us look at the passage as affording a striking picture of the characteristics, cause, and cure of an unsatisfactory Christian experience.
I. The Characteristics.
( a) Self-satisfaction.
( b) Self-deception.
( c) Lukewarmness.
II. The cause of this lamentable condition. It is not always noticed that it is found in the position Christ occupies with reference to the Church. He is external to it. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock’ ( Revelation 3:20). ‘But how,’ you ask, ‘can Christ be external to a true Church? Surely a Church is not a Church at all if Christ be still waiting for admittance.’ We have only to turn to the Song of Solomon 5:2 to see that a Church may be a true Church, and yet through drowsiness and slothfulness of spirit may keep her Master waiting at the door. For be it remembered the heart is a house of many chambers. There is the sunny chamber of the affections, and the throne chamber of the will. Are we quite sure that Christ has full possession of them all?
III. The Cure. How can Laodicea be changed? The answer is found in the next verse. Admit Christ, and He will do the rest. See, He stands and knocks. He is the ‘Heavenly Merchantman’ crying His wares, ‘Buy, buy, who’ll buy?’ He has gold tried in the fire to make you rich—gold that will never tarnish, the very currency of heaven. He has white raiment that you may be clothed—snow-white vestures in which to array your soul; those defiled and filthy garments, He can make them pass away. He can cleanse the very thoughts of your heart and habits of your soul by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit. He has eye-salve, sacred, costly ointment—holy ointment—Holy Ghost ointment, wherewith to anoint your eyes that you may see. Will you not admit Him? He brings these treasures with Him. Will you buy?
Rev. E. W. Moore.
THE CHRISTIAN CONQUEROR
‘He that overcometh I will give to him to sit down with Me in My throne.’
Revelation 3:21 (R.V.)
This is the last of seven honours set before the Christian conquerors in the epistles to the seven Churches, and the throne of which this blessing speaks is itself described in St. John’s next vision. What are the plain realities which underlie the imagery? But we see at once that this throne means the centre of Creation, that the glory of it is as of One invisible, and except by His own will unknowable, and that in that heart and centre of all things lives One who has suffered, One who has died, One who is and who ever has remained sinless: the Lamb that has been slain and dieth no more is in the midst of the throne. Perfect sympathy with pain, perfect deliverance from evil, are there in absolute life and light, and the Lamb, the Victor-victim, speaks and says, ‘He that overcometh I will give to him to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame and sat down with My Father in His throne.’
I. He that overcometh.—When St. John wrote, people like that faithful martyr, Antipas, were overcoming by their own blood, and the whole apocalypse shows a world about to be red with martyrdoms. Yet even then the word overcoming is used in these seven brief letters in connection with trials and difficulties which were not necessarily to end with them. That was only the supreme method of solving such problems of life as were otherwise insoluble. There were final conflicts in those days in which the forces of God and of the world were grappled together in the lives of men: the spirits of light and darkness incarnated themselves in men’s daily action in forms so violent that he who meant to give God the victory in His own life could often do it only by giving his own life over to the death. But if the extremity of the struggle is not now commonly suffered to work itself out to the same bitter end—with the knowledge of the onlooking world it never could be suffered now—yet similar and sometimes the same problems have to be solved in men’s lives still, and still the Christian is called to overcome, and still he can often be victor only by being first a victim as the Lamb was, and if he overcomes, his place is still henceforth the centre of all things. He sits with Him on the throne in true sympathy with the pain of this world, and also having himself a share in this world’s deliverance from pain and from all evil.
II. The word used here for conqueror does not imply one who has conquered. It is not in the flush of triumph that Christ assures to us His throne: it is literally, ‘He that is conquering, I will give to him to sit with Me.’ While the battle is raging he shall have My peace; while he is but starting he shall be at the goal—as the boy has his prizes and his scholarships, not because he is a finished scholar, but because he is longing and learning to be one. And as this continues all through life to be the law of life, so in the kingdom that is coming effort is victory, and victory is only encouragement.
III. What, then, are these problems, which once could only be solved by readiness to die for the right solution, and which still present themselves for solution—for solutions, on the rightness and wrongness of which, almost all, if not all, about us depends? There are the problems seemingly outside of our own lives; there are the expenses of civilisation to be met—the expenses of civilisation, about which it is so hard to say how far they are necessary and likely to continue; while it is essential that we should make the very utmost efforts, and yet none but holy efforts, to reduce them. Such problems when St. John wrote were all the awful wickedness of the age, the conventional false worships, which were then the cementing of the State and of all society, slavery, gladiator shows, one vast licentiousness of life. Men and women died freely in combating such things, for there was that within them which was a perpetual war with the spirit of these things. Among the problems outside us are such expenses of civilisation still: licentiousness of life, the classes that are sacrificed to it, the tender age of corruption. Again, the miserable, unclean, indecent abodes which are all that civilised towns and villages offer and grudge to their myriads or their hundreds. Again, our submissiveness to wealth, and our submissiveness to numbers, and our extreme difficulty in the way of simplicity of life or of speech; and now, even now, the ancient difficulty seeming to begin again, of how to live and talk and think Christianly among unbelievers. The duty and the necessity of taking some steps in solution of these problems has never ceased to be, and is not ceasing to be, most pressing. The circumstances which envelop some of them are as full of horror as ever they were in the old world; and yet some such horror seems to be the youngest offspring of progress. And so great is the obscurity on others of them that we cannot see whether they are accidental or essential to that progress. There are among us those whose earnestness to solve these problems at any cost to themselves, is not less than the eagerness which embraced death rather than not bear witness to the truth. And if it seems that Christian society with us is not with sufficient activity and pronouncedly enough scattering the remnants of heathenism and their freshest recombinations, that can only be because individual Christians are not active enough in combination and decided enough in their tone. It is the individual which rules the social after all. One who does his own honest part in healing the world’s sorrow and lightening the world’s burdens, and is not ashamed to say he does it for Christ, he is the overcoming one who helps to solve the world’s greatest problems. That is the part which must be greater in the world to come than it can be now. For we shall not find ourselves able to do these things except in the spirit of Christ.