SOME PROPER NAMES
‘Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes.’
The chapter which contains these names, and a great number more just as lifeless and unsuggestive as these, is in our Bible. It is sometimes read to us as the second lesson in church. When you hear these names read out, what thought do they suggest to you? Do you even take the trouble to ask, Why are we called upon to listen to these names which are only noises, and tell us no more than an auctioneer’s old catalogue might tell? Or do you fail even to care what is read, even to miss from your lesson its usual teaching or inspiration? Is it much the same to you whether the clergyman reads out, ‘The God of all comforts comfort you,’ or ‘Philologos, Julias, Nereus and his sister.’
If so, this is a lesson which the catalogue teaches; a serious and alarming lesson: a warning and exposure. But if you have noticed this apparent waste of force, you may have gone on to observe that what it suggests is part of a much greater question, Why is the Bible written as it is?
I. The Bible does not aim chiefly at making sound theologians, but holy men and women.—Theology it does teach; but only because theology helps life; and only so far as it helps life, including in life emotion as well as behaviour.
II. Therefore your Bible gives you, not theories, doctrines stated so as learned books define them, but the active, working, practical side of truth, truth actually applied to the errors of ancient Rome and Corinth, not because these very errors would be constant (though it is wonderful how small the variety in human error really is), not for this, but in order to exhibit the truth at work as it ought to be at work in us. And again, it shows us truth grappling with the very failings and vices which assail us, and shall assail men to the end of time—idleness and indulgence, pride and intellectual scorn.
III. St. Paul’s love for Christ kept his heart fresh for all honest love.—Some good old woman, of whom we know nothing, not even her name, was kind to him, nursed him perhaps in illness, or soothed him when his heart was breaking; and he remembers, and writes, ‘Salute Rufus, the chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.’ ‘And mine’! After so many centuries one reads all that he ever wrote with more hearty real human interest for the sake of that most exquisite touch.
IV. These names also remind us what his work was like, for what cause he endured so much. ‘He founded churches,’ we say. Yes, truly; but his churches consisted of living men and women whom he loved. They were builded, according to the Russian proverb, not of beams but of ribs. And what this chapter tells us, most of all, is the value of obscure lives, of tradespeople, perhaps of runaway slaves, like Onesimus, for whose sake St. Paul wrote a canonical epistle. Asyncritus and Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, and Hermes—it is a mere guess whether there survive one intellectual effort, and that not very intellectual, of one of them. Only their names are left, and this, that they loved the great Apostle, and he loved them: that they lived holy lives, though silent, obscure, uncultivated, save with the rich culture of souls which are taught of Christ.
—Bishop G. A. Chadwick.
THE SCRIPTURES OF THE PROPHETS
‘The mystery which … now is made manifest, and, by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations, for the obedience of faith.’
I am always more and more impressed by the internal witness to its own capacity for supernatural results which emerges from a renewed reflection upon the structure of the Bible. Contemplate it as it lies before you.
I. It is at once many books and one.—It is the product of many generations, yet immortally adjusted to all times. It is the literature of an Oriental nation, of a provincial Oriental nation, yet it is the Book of universal man; it proves itself to be so, more and yet more. Yes, reflect upon this profound paradox, which yet is solid fact.
II. How did this literature of a thousand years sum itself up at last into a Book?—What magic has made such a Library sublimely one work in moral character and bearing, one in its presentation of God, of man, of sin, of righteousness, of redemption? How did its vastly various types of literary form, its histories, poems, allegories, sermons, biographies, predictions, from one aspect of a hundred minds, so coalesce as to impress nevertheless the reader, the reader touched by a sympathy with the Bible, genuine, however imperfect, as being all the while the work of One Mind? Does not reason answer, as loudly at least as faith, that this is so because here is ‘the finger of God’?
III. The Book is abundantly human.—But it absolutely refuses to be rightly understood as merely human. It casts off from itself, by its own essential phenomena, the poor and shallow naturalism—shallow, however brilliantly presented—shallow, however surrounded with a mass of learning—which denies to it the profound presence of an element properly miraculous. The Book asserts the miraculous in it by its vast and coherent structure. So it prepares us to credit, to embrace, to adore the miraculous, not only in its story and in its prophecy, but also in its results of moral miracle upon the soul of man.
IV. There is no tenet on which the scattered writers of the first Christian ages are more emphatically united, semper, ubique, omnes, than on the Divine character, the supreme authority, the glorious worth for our whole spiritual need, of the Holy Scriptures. St. Chrysostom speaks for all his coevals and all his predecessors when he calls upon all men who can to buy the Scriptures, and to read them. He speaks as a voice of the Church when he says, in his preamble to the Romans, that all the tumults and errors of religious thought, all the epidemic of heresies, all the weary, miserable conflicts within the Church, our disorders of life, ‘our unfruitfulness of toil,’ arise from ignorance of the Scriptures. It is he, if I mistake not, the great expository preacher, never weary of his Bible, who says (or if the treatise is not his, it is from his school) that in the last and most trying days of Christendom all else shall fail; the institutions of the Church shall totter; but the Scriptures shall be the stay of the Church, and her portion for ever, yea, even in that dark hour.
V. To those Scriptures let us return, with the reverential study which understands them because, in the fear of God, it sympathises with them. In company with them let us live, and let us die. And meanwhile let us take our part with thankfulness and with hope in any work which seeks, ‘through the Scriptures of the prophets’ and the apostles, to ‘make known the mystery’ of redeeming love ‘to all the nations, for the obedience of faith,’ and for the hope of glory.
—Bishop H. C. G. Moule.
‘Within Christendom, and beyond it, are amply, magnificently, visible to-day its promised effects. “The entrance of the Word giveth light”; it “converteth the soul”; it “testifies of Christ”; it “prepares His way.” That “way” the Bible, read altogether apart from the missionary’s teaching, is preparing in innumerable hearts in India, Mahometan and Hindoo. And one mysterious story has reached me, on evidence which I think indubitable, of a community of Jews in Central Arabia, so isolated that they had never heard even a rumour of the name Jesus of Nazareth and who then, when their Rabbi received, from Cairo, sent by loving stealth, a copy of the New Testament in Hebrew, welcomed its witness at once, and owned Jesus as their true Messiah, and worshipped in His Name.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Romans 16". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Easter