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Reasons for Doubt
That is a new apologetic; that is a Strategic move of the first order. This is new to me; that is a masterstroke. What a sagacious statesman was the Apostle Paul! Hitherto we had been thinking that it was the place of faith to give reasons; the Apostle pushes the war to the other side, and says, You must give reasons for your doubt. Why, that opens a wide field of criticism and observation and profitable comment. It is the Apostle who says, Stand up, and defend yourself; you are a doubter why do you doubt? give a reason for the doubt and the fear or the unbelief within you.
I. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that all these outward and sensuous things were created? Tell me, be downright frank with me, why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should have created the universe? I think it is about the most believable statement that can be made; it seems to me, compared with any other theory, the simplest of all philosophies. If I want rest on all these subjects I read Genesis first chapter and first verse: 'In the beginning'. When was that? The dateless date. ' God.' I like that word; it is a kind of sanctuary word, temple word, there is something in it. ' created.' That word is the best I have yet heard upon this subject All material forces, magnitudes, splendours, utilities were created, set agoing, shaped, vitalised by a Personality equal to the occasion. I like that explanation best. Sirs, it is the most rational explanation. I must have mystery on the one side or the other; I will either have the mystery of light or the mystery of darkness, and I prefer, let me repeat, the mystery of light. Whoever shaped all these things must have been greater than the things he shaped; if so, how great!
II. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that all these things are ruled by a gracious and tender and most minute Providence? If you tell me they are so, you give me rest, and you give me peace, and that peace rises into singing joy.
III. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that we are going on through Christ Jesus, Man of the cross, Man of the redeeming blood, to a blessed and ever-growing destiny or future? Let me say that it would be more difficult for me to believe that the grave ends everything than to believe that angels will come for me and whisper to me and promise me a great future of service in the world unseen.
IV. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should create, sustain, redeem everything?
I believe it is easier to defend the faith than to defend doubt or to defend unbelief. I believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God, God the Son, the redeeming, universal, eternal Saviour of the world. More than that: I will not listen to any man who comes to preach about his doubts. He ought to be in the congregation, and not in the pulpit; and if any of you, my brother ministers, want to tell your doubts, I would advise you to tell them in the open air a well-ventilated place, and an opportunity which any earnest-minded man might covet.
References. XXVI. 8. A. Ainger, Sermons Preached in the Temple Church, p. 196. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 168. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1067. XXVI. 10. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 438. XXVI. 11. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 212; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 202. XXVI. 14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 202. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 197; ibid. vol. vii. p. 126.
Is It Worth While? (A Missionary Sermon)
These words must ever form one of the great charters of missionary work; they are wonderfully comprehensive. They were, indeed, originally the charter with which the Divine Head of the Church delivered to the great Apostle his commission to preach the Gospel first to his own kinsmen, and then to the Gentile world; but they contain, as we should expect, the germs of the commission which will be needed by the Gospel messenger till the times of the Gentiles have been fulfilled, and Israel has been grafted in again, and the number of the elect completed until the militant kingdom is over.
One of the greatest temptations by which the devil hinders the spreading of the Gospel in the present day is the apparently simple but fatal suggestion, 'Is it worth while?'
It is indeed no new trial. The dull reception of the missionary of our own day is the same in kind with that which awaited the Divinely commissioned Apostle on his arrival at the great centre of the heathen world. 'We neither received letters out of Judaea concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came showed or spake any harm of thee.' Could any reception be less inspiring or fall more flat? Indeed, we might rise far higher and say that this is but following the example of Him who 'came to His own, and His own received Him not'.
But this temptation under the simple form of the question, 'Is it any good?' is, I believe, specially a temptation of the missionary of the present day. The reaction from our former state of ignorance regarding the religions of the heathen world has led to an undue valuation of the fragments of the truth which they undoubtedly contain: the high spiritual aspirations of the Vedas, the theism of the Koran, the practical maxims of Confucius, the careful asceticism of the Buddhists all this and more with which you are all acquainted, has left a tendency on some minds to minimise unduly the difference between the Christian and non-Christian state. The same tendency also follows from the separation in our day of Christianity from education; the immediate advantages to the uncivilised world even of secular education are so manifestly great that there is a tendency to ask 'What more is needed?' We have been civilising the world this century more diligently than Christianising it, and we are in danger now of being dazzled by sparks of our own kindling.
In striking contrast with this danger stands the great mission charter which I have chosen for my text.
I. The charter begins and ends with the personal Jesus. 'I am Jesus,' are the opening words, 'Faith in Me,' is the close. This is the beginning and end of the missionary's power and message: Jesus, His Birth, His Death, His Resurrection, His Ascension, the living, reigning Jesus. Whatever agencies are used, whatever secondary methods may be necessary war, conquest, civilisation this is the Α and Ω of it all, from Him, and in Him, and to Him all must be, or all will fail.
II. Next, the great heathen world, as seen by Him who is the Light of the World, who lighteneth every man that cometh into the world, is nevertheless declared to be in a state of darkness they are blind, they do not see the real abiding objects of sight; the Apostle was to go and open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light; οὐδὲὺ φαινόμενον καλόν nothing visible is good was the saying of one of the earliest of Christian martyrs, and it is true relatively to the invisible. The soul, the mind, the heart, the inner powers of the heathen man were known to Him who made them, and have unused capacities like rudimentary sight-powers which have never been developed by their true use in the light.
III. But further, in the eyes of Him with whom we have to do, all things are naked and open. Both systems of creation lie plain before Him. He is the Maker of all things, invisible as well as visible. We cannot see these things as He sees them, but He sees the hosts of evil spirits, the principalities and powers which, under the power of their chief, make up the army of the evil one; and the heathen world He tells us is in an especial way under their sway. Therefore another object of the charter is declared to be 'to turn them from the power of Satan unto God,' 'to deliver them,' as the Apostle afterwards himself expresses it, 'from the power of darkness, and translate them into the kingdom of the Son of His love'.
The great heathen world, as Christ sees it, is living in an especial way under the organised power of Satan.
IV. A fourth condition of the heathen world, as it lies beneath the eye of God, is also given in this great charter of missionary work a condition which we might have expected from what has been already said, the condition, namely, of sin. The heathen world needs forgiveness and sanctification, and this is not accomplished by the varnish of modern civilisation, even though it be laid on by Christian hands. The charter tells us how, and how only, it is to be done 'by faith that is in Me' 'that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me'.
It was to take the light, the light which was 'to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of the people Israel,' that the great Apostle was commissioned and went. It seemed to him worth while. If χωρὶς Χριστοῦ implied the life of vanity and uncertainty, a life of alienation from God the life ἐν Χριστῳ he knew most certainly implied a real belief in God; an access laid open to the presence of God; a conscious nearness to God; restoration back again to God. 'O God, Thou art my God.' Unity, reunion between man and God, and man and his fellow-men, peace on earth, man indwelt by God.
References. XXVI. 16. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 268. XXVI. 16-18. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. p. 91. XXVI. 16-20. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1774. XXVI. 18. J. D. Thompson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 131.
St. Paul's Vision of Christ's Body
I. The Pauline Message. This was no sudden revelation to St. Paul in its final form. It was the outcome of a life of discipleship. He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, and so it grew and expanded before his spiritual eyes until it left nothing outside its range, until it offered to him that unity after which all thinkers are consciously or unconsciously striving, and in the end he was able to conceive it as a whole, to express it, however inadequately, in terms of human language, and to propose it for all time to come as the profoundest and the most ennobling philosophy of the life of mankind.
II. The Heavenly Vision. We must consider the heavenly vision as it first smote on St. Paul's astonished eyes. For what he then saw and heard held in germ all that he was to learn hereafter. The Lord's first words to him contained implicitly the whole mystery of the Father. It was not merely that the Lord appeared and spoke to him. It proved that He was still alive in spite of death. That indeed was much. It was enough to make him feel that he was found fighting against God, as his master Gamaliel had once feared might be the case. But the Lord's words here, as elsewhere, are instinct with love. They go out beyond the first suggestion of their meaning, and they find their full significance only in the light of the truth which St Paul was himself destined to proclaim. When once we have grasped the corporate relation of Christ and His disciples, the words are discovered to be profoundly significant. If we were to inquire what made the truth implicit we should have to study his whole life for the answer; we should have to consider the three elements of his manhood which fitted him for his peculiar vision. Paul the Hebrew, Paul the Greek, Paul the Roman all these went to the making of Paul the Apostle. This was the man whose many-sided being found satisfaction in the Christ, when it pleased God to reveal His Son to him.
III. The Pauline Mission. This was the man who was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. Plainly such a man as this was a man to be claimed for a great cause, was a chosen vessel to bear the name of Christ to the Gentiles. Not only had he the large mind which could carry everywhere Stephen's liberal designs, but he knew what he was doing in accepting a mission to those who were beyond the frontiers of Judaism, and he intended absolute unity between Jew and Gentile from the very first, and could never surrender it, no, not for an hour. He could never allow the possibility of a broken Christianity, which should admit of two Churches, Jewish and Gentile. The Gentile was co-heir and concorporate with the Jew or he was nothing at all. In one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same function. The individual must know his place in that body, and fill it with deference and self-restraint. He must recognise that others are as necessary to the body, though they do not serve it with a gift like his. The life of the body is one, though its manifestations are various. It takes all members to make a body, and no member is living at all apart from the whole body. The body is Christ.
Thought and Action
St. Paul is now looking back from near the end of his career to the day of his great change. From that day to this his life had been summed up in the two words, vision and obedience.
I. The first apparent view of any life is presented by its output of deeds. The Christian life is not that of visionaries, it is a life of action. The first thought of those who live it day by day is of something immediately to be done. It is this practical quality of the Christian life which keeps it both healthy and honourable. For the soul as for the nation, service is the highest honour. A right man's view of his profession can never be merely that it is a means of gain, but that it is a chance for service; and the same thing is true of even our most intimate and private actions.
Yet this cannot be all. Every one remembers Langland's immortal figure of Haukyn the active man, who has not time to clean his coat Mephistopheles is Goethe's great incarnation of fierce and clever action wholly without contemplation. And these are but extreme forms of what is seen around us every day.
St. Paul had no magic secret that kept labour sweet to him; he had only vision and obedience. But he had them in that order vision first, and obedience following from it. It is not mere action that is the secret of a healthy life, but action performed in loyalty to something we have seen.
II. In a still wider application the same principle is true, for the inward thought invariably affects the outward life and expresses itself sooner or later there. Not that one necessarily carries out into deeds all one's cherished thoughts. Dr. Bain affirms the 'possibility of leading a life of imagination wholly distinct from the life of action'; and Mr. Lecky says that 'a course may be continually pursued in imagination without leading to corresponding actions'. This is undoubtedly true, but it is a thoroughly dangerous fact. On the one hand, it produces dreamers whose dreams are so far apart from their conduct as to rank them among the hypocrites. On the other hand, if the dreaming be bad, the danger is very great that in times of temptation the man will fall. For the most part, in temptation, little depends upon the will at the moment; we stand or fall according to our habitual thoughts, which either hold us back or predispose us then. And apart from that, there can be no doubt that there goes out from every life upon those around it, a constant and subtle influence which is determined almost wholly by the inner life of vision the life of imagination and thought. Thoreau has wisely said: 'If ever I did a man good... it was something exceptional and insignificant compared with the good or evil I am constantly doing by being what I am'. A man's atmosphere and spirit are always more powerful influences than his deeds and words.
Thus it is not surprising that the matter on which Christianity lays most stress is vision. The thoughts and imaginations of the heart; a taste for fine and clean things, and an instinctive shrinking from their opposites; above all a clear conception of Jesus Christ and a definitely accepted relation between the soul and Him these are the Christian fundamentals.
John Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, p. 34.
Loyalty to Vision
St. Paul's career as a Christian began in two supreme events a vision and a commission. To the end he goes back to them, and traces their effect upon his future, telling and retelling the story of his conversion. Yet no reader of his writings can fail to see that vision blends and alternates with action throughout his course. The Epistles are constantly turning from marvellous lights of revelation to most practical directions for living. Thus from him we learn loyalty both to past and present light.
I. Loyalty to past vision. The management of thoughts and swift imaginations is proverbially difficult, and there is much disloyalty to the visions of the past.
Apart from anything for which we are responsible, we are so constituted as to live in a constant change and flux both of moods and of intellectual and spiritual powers. Such changes depend on bodily health, surrounding circumstances, and countless other causes which we cannot wholly command. Accordingly it will often happen that we have to remember what we have once seen, and to carry out the resolutions which then we formed.
In such an hour idleness is fatal. If we cannot see to do the highest things, let us at least do something. 'If the energy, the clearness, the power of intuition, is flagging in us, if we cannot do our best work, still let us do what we can for we can always do something... if not vivid and spiritual work, then the plain needful drudgery.' But besides that there is often the necessity for dogged perseverance in a course whose value we can no longer see.
II. Loyalty to present vision. The grim and cheerless course we have just described is not, however, the normal way of Christian living. There is a snare in trusting to the past too much, and striving to be faithful to brilliant spiritual experiences which are no longer any more than memories. The Christian ideal is loyalty to a vision constantly seen at the time of action. It may be necessary sometimes to fight today's battle by the light of other days, but as a rule of life that is unsatisfactory and insufficient. It is good to remember God's grace in the past, and to recall His promises for the future, but it is better to have some clear vision at the hour. As Constantine saw the cross on the field of battle, so we should see our spiritual help and backing at the time of our practical need.
John Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, p. 39.
References. XXVI. 19. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. iii. p. 165. A. H. Bradford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 81. Church Times, vol. lx. p. 58. J. A. Robertson, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 612. M. G. Glazebrook, Prospice, p. 123. J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 241. XXVI. 19, 20. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. i. p. 157. XXVI. 22. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 244. XXVI. 22, 23. Ibid. vol. xii. p. 170. XXVI. 23. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 373. XXVI. 24. M. G. Glazebrook, Prospice, p. 173. XXVI. 25. Expository Sermons on the New Testament, p. 134. XXVI. 28. G. Bellett, Parochial Sermons, p. 43. R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 11. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 175. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 871. J. Tolefree Parr, The White Life, p. 216. XXVI. 28, 29. C. Bradley, The Christian Life, p. 305. J. M. Lang, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 264.
The Christian Life Worth More Than All Things Else
There are only two scenes in the New Testament which are finer than this, and they are in some respects similar scenes; Christ before Herod, and again before Pontius Pilate. With that exception there is nothing more admirable in history than the Apostle's attitude and language here. He had to plead his cause before an august audience. They were a wholly unsympathetic audience. But Paul was one who feared God and feared no one else, and who, when he got on his favourite theme of Christ, lost himself in it. There he stood, with his rough, much-worn garments, his thin, scarred face, with all the marks upon him of privation and ill-usage, and chains on his hands and feet. And Paul, lifting up his manacled arms in face of all their splendour, said: 'Would to God that you could be as I am'. He had taken the proper measurement of those men and women. He knew that his life was as much greater, fuller, and happier than theirs as the power of a Cæsar was more and wider than that of the meanest slave in his empire.
I. It is in the spirit of these words that every real Christian speaks today and makes his appeal to his fellow-men and women. In the spirit of these words he measures and judges all things. In his deepest heart he does not believe that any man or woman is to be envied, no matter how greatly favoured by fortune, or that any condition of life is to be desired, however splendid and attractive its advantages, if there is no Christian faith and Christian hope as its centre and foundation. We who are Christians do not always put the true estimate upon our privileges. We envy the wise, the distinguished, and even the easeful and luxurious who seem to have no crosses and no cares. But suppose some magician were to come and say: I will give you all that, and take away all your crosses; I will make your house a palace of wealth and your names illustrious, if you will just sell me your bit of faith and your hope in God, if you will let go the heavenly light by which you walk. Not for all the world would you consent to that awful sacrifice. No, you would turn from the tempter to look up in the face of Christ and say: Take from me anything Thou wilt, but go not Thou away.
II. We know beyond all question that the Christian life has far more in it than any other. It has more of the things which make for real joy. It has more true friendships. It has far larger objects to strive for. It has greater hopes to stimulate it. And hence you can understand the fervour and the very passion with which we appeal to others to be reconciled to God and to make the Christian life their own.
J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 201.
References. XXVI. 29. J. Aspinall, Parish Sermons (2nd Series), p. 163. XXVI. 30. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 293. XXVI. 31. Ibid. vol. vii. p. 117. XXVII. 1. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 124. XXVII. 6-14 H. Smith, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 417. XXVII. 9. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 350. XXVII. 12. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 131. XXVII. 13, 14. J. Aspinall, Parish Sermons (1st Series), p. 90. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. ii. p. 485. XXVII. 18. J. Aspinall, Parish Sermons (1st Series), p. 109. XXVII. 20. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1070.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Acts 26". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany