Click to donate today!
Christianity a Revelation
I. First of all, let us notice what is implied in this, when we say that Christianity is a revelation.
For one thing, there is implied a contrast. When we say that Christianity is a revelation, we mean that it is not an induction or an invention.
Every religion purports to be a revelation. Ay and more, every religion in so far as it is true and there is an element of truth in every religion is what it purports to be, a revelation. We need not be surprised at the statement that there is an element of true self-revelation by God Himself to the hearts of men in even the crudest religions. Not only are the ideas of religion and revelation, as Sabatier says, 'correlative and religiously inseparable,' but it is in line with Scripture. 'God left not Himself without a witness.' The Old and New Testaments are both full of this thought. The sun in the heavens is His herald. The recurring seasons, the gifts of harvest-tide, are His messengers. Conscience and the sense of right and wrong are His witness within. And when the Parsee worships the sun he has caught one ray, and reflected it, from the light Divine. The Greek worshipping Demeter, the great Earth-Mother, has caught and reflected another. Confucius heard a voice Divine in the call of duty. And the Furies with their lash for the transgressor were held in holy reverence because to their worshippers they seemed the vindicators of a law which, men discerned, had come into their hearts from God. It is where and when God shows Himself that men fall down and worship. Till then they are seekers with a void in their hearts which nothing earth-born can satisfy. But God appears; God reveals Himself; and they recognise Him and reverence and adore. A revelation alone can satisfy the religious instinct which is an essential element in our human nature.
II. Being satisfied that our religion is and must be a revelation if it is a religion at all, the second point for us to consider is the way in which the revelation has been made. How has God shown Himself?
(a) For one thing, God has revealed Himself progressively. He has come like the 'sun shining more and more unto the perfect day'. The history of Christianity is the history of a steadily enlarging understanding of the wealth of the revelation which there is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
(b) For a second thing, God's revelation of Himself is not intellectual only, but personal.
(c) A third point to be noted about God's method of revealing Himself is that He has revealed Himself first to individuals, and then through them to their fellows.
R. J. Drummond, Faith's Certainties, p. 3.
References. III. 6. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 19. III. 7. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 375.
Wealth That Never Pails
'The unsearchable riches.' The inexorable wealth, ranging vein beyond vein, mine beyond mine, in land beyond land, in continent beyond continent! And, then, side by side with this immeasurable glory, the Apostle puts himself. 'Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given!' What an arresting and daring conjunction! Let us turn our contemplation to one or two aspects of this 'unsearchable' wealth.
I. The Lord Jesus Christ has created so exacting a conception of Himself in the minds of men that no ministry of man can satisfy it. No human ministry can express it. In all our best representations of the Lord there is always a missing something, an 'unsearchable' something, which the most masterly figures cannot span.
II. But it is not only that our Saviour has created an exacting conception of Himself, He has also, by His 'unsearchable riches,' created an exacting ideal of human possibility. Every summit brings a new revelation, the reward of every attainment is a vision of further glory.
III. We cannot exhaust their powers of application to the ever-changing conditions in human life and destiny. In the Christian life new conditions never find us resourceless. Our wealth is inexhaustible, and always manifests itself as current coin.
IV. But it is not only that 'the unsearchable riches of Christ adapt themselves, and reveal the wealth, to the changing condition of our years, it is, that in our personal crises, when life suddenly leaps into fierce emergency, their resources are all available, and never leave us in the lurch. There are three great crises in human life the crisis of sin, the crisis of sorrow, and the crisis of death and by its ability to cope with these crises every philosophy and every ministry must be finally determined and tried. We can never get to the end of 'the unsearchable riches of Christ. They are our glory in time, they will be our endless surprise in eternity.
J. H. Jowett, The British Congregationalist, 24th January 1907, p. 84.
Christ gives us to possess not God only, but men also as our riches, the unsearchable riches which we have in Him.
References. III. 8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 745, and vol. xx. No. 1209. Bishop Westcott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 360. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. i. p. 60. J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxi. p. 398. III. 8-11. J. Clifford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 209. III. 9. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 32. III. 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 448, and vol. xvi. No. 933. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. pp. 138, 153; ibid. vol. vi. p. 77. III. 11. Ibid. vol. i. p. 32. III. 11, 20. Llewelyn Davies, The Purpose of God, p. 28. III. 12. W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p. 143.
Patriotism and Intercession
All great missionary pioneers, founders, and leaders seem to come to a time in their lives when God's purposes and plans become unveiled to their vision, and, as in a moment, the future unfolds itself to their spiritual gaze. So it was with Noah after that great crisis in the world's history at the Flood. By faith, in the spirit of simple obedience and holy, farseeing awe, he had prepared the Ark and entered it with his family. He had passed reverently through the discipline of his strange retreat, and was ready, after his sacrifice of thanksgiving, for the vision of God's providential government and the future expansion of the race of man. So with Abraham, strong in the faith that boldly faces the unknown and 'waits on the Lord to renew its strength'. Step by step he approaches the crucial and unexpected trial of his belief. But the discipline of faith had prepared him. He offers his son in sacrifice, but stays his hand immediately at the Divine call. Then it is that the whole vision of the purpose of God in the family and tribal and national life of Israel opens before his mind. Think, too, of Moses and his training, all preparatory to that magnificent vision of God on Mount Sinai as a Moral Being having personal moral relations with mankind.
I. And St. Paul, the greatest of missionary pioneers, steeped in all the visions and hopes of Judaism, burning with zeal for its glorious revelation, its secure privileges, and its inspired claims when the eyes of his soul were opened on the Damascus road to see the glimmerings of a world-wide significance in the religion and history of his people, and see it all focussed in the incarnate personality of Jesus, immediately he 'confers not with flesh and blood,' but bursts through all conventional bonds and cautions and expediencies. He takes the yoke of Christ, becomes the Lord's slave, submits his whole being, is led by the hand of Ananias, is healed, taught, and baptised. Then he goes into his retreat in the wilderness, hears unspeakable words, sees the meaning of the call to 'go far hence unto the Gentiles,' and simply goes. He founds Church after Church, leaving with each the Divine gifts of the Faith, the Ministry, and the Sacraments, with powers of self-government, self-support, and self-expansion. And he does this work, too, if in all simple joy of soul, yet in 'much trembling,' in much depression, in bodily infirmity, amidst the scorn of philosophers, the hatred of his own people, 'fightings within and fears without,' in 'prisons frequent and deaths oft'. He sees the incarnate life of Jesus becoming incarnate in all humanity. For God's purposes there is one race, the human race; but one Saviour, His Son; one family, the Church; 'one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism,' as there is and can be but 'one God and father of us all'. And within sound and sight of Caesar's Palace, where was focussed, in the person of the Emperor, Rome's Imperial and imperious world-wide sway, St. Paul sees and feels in it all a parable of the universal Kingship of Jesus, the universal brotherhood of mankind, in the one universal family of His Holy Catholic Church; and as the glorious vision lays hold of and enthrals his soul he 'bows his knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant unto the world to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that it might be filled with all the fulness of God.'
II. In the second chapter of this Epistle to the Ephesian and other Churches of Asia St. Paul passes quite naturally from the fact and idea of the Fatherhood of all humanity to the idea of the family and then to the home, the house itself, the temple of the Triune God. 'Through Christ we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father, and are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief Corner-stone, in Whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord.' Then suddenly his prison-chamber expands and becomes to his soul like some vast cathedral temple, and, as though ministering at its high altar, he lifts his hands and bows his knees unto the Father in heaven and raises the great intercession as the Imperial vision of Christ's universal sovereignty holds him and claims and proclaims the Real Presence of God in, to, and for humanity in the Sacramental efficacy of the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of the Son of God and Son of Man, 'in Whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit'. No wonder that it has been said of this Epistle that 'in it St. Paul has given to his teaching a new centre, that of the Church of God'. It is eucharistic in its visions and ideals and practical exhortations. It begins with thanksgiving and ends in a benediction, and its core and centre in the text is like a consecration prayer. There is the unity of all Creation, and the restored unity of humanity in Christ the Head of the Body the Church. Christ, the Great High Priest of humanity, ministers the great salvation in and through His own Body, prepared from all eternity in and within the mystical Body which He was forming out of universal humanity, and wherein, as far as salvation or 'saving health' was concerned, there was to be no individual privilege or preference, neither Jew nor Gentile, and yet wherein all differences of race, language, or circumstance, all varieties of genius, talent, or experience would find themselves unified, strengthened, perfected, and glorified in the manifold (many-coloured) 'unity of the Spirit, which is the bond of peace'.
Am I wrong in thinking of this Epistle to the Asian Churches as the account of a great Sacramental vision which had germinated and grown in the soul of the Apostle, and became incarnated in his life as the years went on? Again and again you can feel the heart of the great missionary pulsating to bursting-point as the thrill and throb of the infinite movement and purpose of the Blessed Trinity in Creation, Providence, and Grace, like some great drama set to music, possesses him, lightens and brightens his spiritual vision, enthrals and compels his will, inspires and inflames his soul, so that he could even 'wish himself accursed from God' if only the Israel of Abraham could but see the vision and accept its destiny as the Israel of God, and if only Rome and the nations in their worship of force, and Greece in its worship of beauty and wisdom, could and would but see revealed as in a Sacrament, in the Incarnate Word, 'Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God'. 'For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye might be filled with the fulness of God.'
He sees in Jesus Christ, the God-man, the one and only principle of a universal brotherhood, a universal citizenship, and a universal Empire, demanding faith in the eternal justice of God, hope in His eternal mercy, and an all-embracing love shown in mutual service
Each for his brethren, all for God.
Bishop W. T. Gaul, The Guardian, 16th September, 1910.
References. III. 14. Bishop Westcott, The Incarnation and Common Life, p. 161. III. 14, 15. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life (2nd Series), p. 95. III. 14-16. J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. ii. p. 148.
The Love of God
I. The fact that God feels a deep love for men is one hard to contemplate, still harder to realise. Yet it is the starting-point of Christianity. It is the very core of the revelation of Jesus. The inspired declaration that 'God is Love' (1 John 4:8 ; 1 John 4:16 ) has changed the temper and life of every man and every community which has come to believe that the statement is true. It has been a thousand times more potent to produce right living than had been the previous belief that God is power. Therefore love is more potent than law, and love is the essence of the Gospel. It is true that in the case of an earthly ruler affection may be thrown away upon unworthy subjects, and that legal compulsion alone will produce results. Nevertheless, Jesus insists that God Himself is so constituted that He can never rest content until He has won for Himself the love of all His creatures. Jesus uncovers the love of God for men, and allows it to work. It may work by sharp methods, for love can be 'cruel to be kind'. But, we are taught, the object which God sets before Himself is not to break a recalcitrant will, or compel a sullen obedience to His laws, but to draw all men to Himself. But the fact that God loves men, though it may gain a certain amount of assent in the abstract, becomes difficult to realise, and raises grave doubts in the human mind, when men reflect on what the statement involves.
(1) The sense of one's own individual insignificance in the universe of Existence this thought presents one difficulty. That God should entertain affection towards humanity as a whole does not seem unreasonable, but we cannot realise the fact that God has a distinct and separate love for each single human soul which has ever lived. Yet, if this be not the truth, then His love for men becomes a mere phrase not worth contending about.
(2) Another difficulty is the fact of human unloveliness. Men, taking them as a whole, are not very lovable. Comparatively few inspire real affection. Alas! it is but too true that those who come personally into contact with multitudes, and have to deal with them officially or commercially, come to have a sort of contempt for humanity; they see too much of the foibles and petty faults of character to feel any general sentiment of affection; they have discovered the unloveliness of men.
(3) There is one other difficulty, and that the most formidable the fact of human suffering.
If it be true that God loves His children, why does He leave them to suffer so? This has been the dark mystery of the ages; it is the difficulty with many still. It has led men to atheism. It has led them to attribute to God the qualities of the devil. It has driven them, in frantic despair, to curse God and die. It has led others to grovel before God as abject slaves before an Oriental despot. It has led others, again, to throw their children into the flames and the waters as propitiatory sacrifices to angry deities. It has led many among us to think of a Law, instead of a Person, as the Centre of things has this apparent Divine indifference to the cries of human agony.
II. Now St. Paul looks these facts squarely in the face, and yet bursts out in praise of the goodness and lovingkindness of God. Why does he do so? What new light has he upon the 'painful riddle of life'? He is not hazarding a mere opinion; it is not a conclusion thought out or discovered by any method common among men. Jesus had said not long before that any one who saw Him would see the Father. Now many beheld Him, but comparatively few recognised Him for what He was. In this minority was St Paul. (The Apostle Paul claimed for Himself an equal authority with the other Apostles, because he had seen the Lord, not in a mere vision, but 'objectively' after His Ascension in glory). This sight of God in the Person of Jesus Christ changed his estimate of his fellowmen by changing his notion about God. It set all the facts of life with which he was familiar in a new light. They remained the same, but they no longer meant the same. As he learned from the Master what is the real disposition of God towards men that all men are the sons of God, and that God has a personal interest in each individual soul, because of this relationship this kindled in him that 'enthusiasm of humanity' which is the great mark of Christianity. Real love for men is only possible in the Presence of God. So absolute is the Christian conviction of God's lovingkindness that from it he educes an explanation of human pain, and he does it clearly: 'My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord; for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth... ( et seq. )' (Hebrews 12:5-11 ). The Apostle's assertion amounts to this that the ills which assault men, and sometimes take the zest out of living, are no meaningless accidents, nor purposeless agonies caused by the crampings of a soulless 'law,' but that they are the smartings from the stripes of a rod laid on reluctantly, but intentionally by a Father. It is true that we see many an ill which we find it hard to account for on this theory; that we see sufferings which teach no lesson to the victim, because they do not leave the victim alive to learn, so terrible and swift are they. Nevertheless, while the theory of suffering must remain in some cases partly shrouded in mystery, as a trial of our faith, no other theories of life bring the same intellectual relief and moral uplifting as does the great Christian doctrine that God is love, and that He is slowly bringing His children by this mysterious discipline, among other things, into a recognition of their relationship to Him.
S. D. M'Connell.
References. III. 14-19. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 216. A. M. Fairbairn, ibid. vol. lviii. p. 19.
There are many illustrations used in Holy Scripture to set forth the relationship in which the people of God stand to each other and to Him, but the most expressive of these is taken from domestic life. It is the one presented in our text, and under its familiar imagery the Church of God is described as one great family, the members of which are bound to each other by the possession of one common life, the distinction of one common name, and the union with the same parental head. It is a family, the members of which, though sundered by time and space, and divided into two great sections, the one in heaven and the other here on earth, are all bound together in one blessed bond, and linked to each other by special sympathies, and are looking forward to dwell together in one happy and eternal home.
I. Relationship with God. It is only through that relationship that they can have communion with each other. To be united to each other they must first be united to Him. Just as in a family it is the possession of a common life, derived from the same parental source, which constitutes the bond of union, so in the family of God it is the spiritual life, derived from Him, which forms the basis of communion. St. John puts this beyond question when he says, 'That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ' (1 St. John 1:3 ). In another place he testifies that this fellowship of Christians with God as their common Father is through faith in His dear Son; for 'as many as received Him to them gave He power to become the Sons of God, even to them that believe in His name' (St. John 1:12 ). Elsewhere we are clearly taught that the impartation of this Divine life is wrought through the Holy Spirit, 'for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God,' and the contrast is very solemn 'If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His' (Romans 8:9 ; Romans 8:14 ). All true believers, then, are members of this family, and in that respect are designated 'saints' not only on account of their separation from the rest of the world, and the holy service to which they are called, but on account of the Divine life of which they are partakers.
II. The Ideal of the Christian Church. To us who are not gifted with omniscience or discerning of spirits, the visible Church is the body of those who profess His truth, are baptised into His name, and observe His ordinances; but all who belong to it do not necessarily belong to that spiritual communion to which properly the name of Saints belongs. A visible Church with its external ordinances and terms of communion is, from the very nature of the case, indispensable in our present state; and the commands concerning our union with the visible Church and our observance of its appointed ordinances are clearly laid down in Scripture; but still we must not forget that this is not enough for our salvation. In order to that there must be vital union with Christ Himself; there must be forgiveness of sin through faith in His precious blood; there must be renewal of heart by His Holy Spirit; there must be willing and faithful service, which springs from love to Him. The judicious Hooker, who is so distinct and copious in speaking of the Church as a visible body, is equally clear in speaking of the Church as the mystical body of Christ. He says: 'That Church of Christ, which we properly term His Body Mystical, can be but one; neither can that one be sensibly discerned by any man, inasmuch as parts thereof are some in heaven already with Christ, and the rest that are on earth (albeit their natural persons are visible) we do not discern under this property, whether they are truly and infallibly of that body.... They who are of this society have such marks and notes of distinction from all others, as are not objects of our sense: only unto God, who seeth their hearts, and understandeth all their secret cogitations, unto Him they are clear and manifest.... If we profess, as Peter did, that we love the Lord, and profess it in the hearing of men, charity is prone to believe all things, and therefore charitable men are likely to think we do so, as long as they see no proof to the contrary. But that our love is sound and sincere, that it cometh from 'a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a faith unfeigned,' who can pronounce saving alone the Searcher of all men's hearts, who alone intuitively knows in this kind who are His?' So that while there is, and must be, a visible Church on earth, and in it a visible communion of saints, there is within that Church a still more sacred shrine, and a still more holy fellowship. There is a Church as seen of men; there is a Church as seen of God. We cannot ignore the one without a breach of duty and of charity. We cannot overlook the other without a forgetfulness of truth, and of our own salvation. We must beware, on the one hand, of that easy and fashionable but deceptive religion which contents itself with the profession of orthodox doctrines, or the observance of appointed ordinances; we must beware, on the other, of that arrogant and selfish spirit which, relying on its own strength or spirituality, considers itself independent of those visible means of grace which have been appointed by God for the personal and mutual benefit of ail His children.
III. This twofold view of the Church of God, if it seem on the one hand to narrow our view as to its extent, will help to widen and deepen our ideas as to 'the communion of saints,' for it will show us how manifold and how real that communion is. But does it really narrow our views as to the extent of the Church of God? Does it not rather expand them? Are we not too prone to ask, with the querulous disciples, 'Lord, are there few that shall be saved?' Are we not too apt to exclude from our ideal of the Church those who do not belong to our own communion, or to include in it only those who agree with us in certain views concerning the doctrines or ordinances of religion? And do not our ideas enlarge when we come to think of all the saints of God who lived in all the ages before Christ's birth, and of all who have lived in all the centuries ever since? Do they not take a wider range when we remember the great multitude which 'no man can number, of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues,' who shall stand at the last before the throne of God, having 'washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb'? It is when we dwell on thoughts like these that we begin to realise that outside our own communions there are and have been saints of God, with whom perhaps we cannot sympathise in respect of all their views, but with whom we can and ought to sympathise in the best of bonds as members of the one great family of God. We come to recognise the family likeness even where we cannot trace the ecclesiastical genealogy, and gladly admit the spiritual relationship even where we cannot verify the mode of admission to it. And we can do all this without prejudice to our convictions or surrender of our principles.
The Church a Family
The name of the Church in the text I have selected is 'the family'. There are many names for the Church in the Bible; the family represents perhaps the sweetest.
I. What is the Church? When the Church began, it was a family, with the love of a family, the cohesion of a family, the economy of a family, and very soon there came the quarrels that so often happen in a family. Yet a family that sometimes has moments of discord still is full of love. St. Paul calls the Church a brotherhood; it is the development of the idea of the family, for the Church, increasing in ever-widening circles, has names corresponding to that increase. The brotherhood is a wider term than family, it is a uniting of certain people from many families. And, as the Church grows, you find another name for the family in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is now more than a family, more than a brotherhood; it has become a city, with all the complications of a city, all the varied interest of a city, with its business, its pleasure, and sometimes its vices. But the Church is more than a family, more than a brotherhood, more than a city; it is a commonwealth, and that is the name I like the best The commonwealth. Every member of it is bound to kill selfishness, to work for the good of the community. 'What is best for the people?' is the question of the Church, and the individual must always make his own interest subservient to the good of the whole community. But the Church is more than a family, more than a brotherhood, more than a city, more than a commonwealth; it becomes in the Bible a nation, a collection of nations, until the idea of the Catholic Church is the world converted.
II. The Foundation of the Church. What is the Church founded on? What have we got? Now notice. We have a Person Jesus Christ; we have a Book this Bible; we have an Institution the Church of God. A Person, a Book, an Institution the world killed the Person, Jesus Christ, yet today He is alive and more at work than ever; the world tries to kill the Book, yet here it is in your pulpit today as strong as ever; the world has tried to kill the Church, yet, after two thousand years, it is getting larger than ever. Why do they not kill the Book, Why do they not kill the Church? Because they cannot Institutions that are not wanted, die. The Church lives because it is wanted. You want it, you know that Your home wants it That boy of yours in business wants it; that girl of yours, who is just getting married, she wants it The poor children in the slums, they want it The institution is wanted. The Church lives because it is wanted. The immortal part of man wants the Church, and so the Divine foundation fits the Divine need in man, lays hold of your soul, and that is the reason that it lives. You cannot kill it. Churches have died, or in the language of the Book of the Revelation, their candlestick has been removed out of its place churches, but not the Church. The Church lives.
References. III. 15. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1249. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi. p. 75. C. H. Grundy, Luncheon Lectures at St. Paul's Cathedral, p. 45. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 100. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 128.
The Inner Life of a Nation
Who would not desire to possess a strength as invincible as that which was the secret of St. Paul's faith and hope and life? There is an inner and there is an outer man in every one of us. There is an inner and there is an outer life in the nation, in the family, and in the individual. In the nation the inner life is not always recognised, even by its own people, until some grave necessity sets the heart of the nation beating and throbbing, and the people are roused by a common feeling hitherto unsuspected.
I wish to point out four of the great characteristics that ought to mark the inner life of our nation.
I. No One ought to Forget that in whatever Position he has to Live he ought to be dominated by such a sense of responsibility that he never forgets that the people around him will judge not only his religion but will judge his nationality by the example and evidence which they have in him.
II. The Love of Duty must ever characterise every individual among us. It is well known that when Napoleon wrote his despatches he never forgot to mention the glory that he said attached to the achievements of his troops; it is equally well known that when the Duke of Wellington wrote his despatches he never mentioned the word glory, but he never failed to call attention to the duty which his men performed.
III. There must be Sympathy with those over whom we have any Authority and those among whom our lot is cast. If India is maintained for long as our great trust and the sphere of our beneficent rule, it will be due not only to the excellence of the rule but to the exhibition of the spirit of sympathy. And that which is true of that nation you may depend upon it is characteristic and true of all those over whom England has any rule.
IV. There must be Self-sacrifice. We may thank God for the noble examples given of self-sacrifice by our troops, by our blue-jackets, by men who have done signal and noble service to the Empire. Whether standing, like Lord Cromer, almost alone in Egypt; whether standing like those great Viceroys of India who have maintained our rule and been loyal for our crown; whether it be the lonely hearts or whether it be in the most active spheres of operation; it has been by self-sacrifice, by not seeking their own but by seeking the good of others, that the name and the fame have been obtained.
It is the inner life of the family which begets the inner life of the nation.
References. III. 16. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 132. III. 16-19. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 707.
The Indwelling Christ
There is no religion in the whole world, except the religion of the Gospel, that hints even at such an idea as this God, Christ, in my own self. It is the most wonderful and unexpected thought in the whole inspiration of God. The question that starts in our minds is this 'is this promise to be accepted, to be fulfilled, in anything like its literal meaning'? The answer is this It is a personal and real fact. Jesus Christ dwells in our hearts and rules them, if we are children of God by faith. In proportion as simple faith takes hold of the living Christ, He becomes a real Person and a real Life. If we approach Jesus Christ critically, He will look another way; if we approach Jesus Christ doubtfully, He will look the other way, too; if we approach Jesus Christ sympathetically, the Holy Spirit will help us to know, and to see, and to feel that He is the Friend of our life.
I. The thought of Christ dwelling in our heart ought not to be a very difficult one for people like ourselves to grasp its conception. Let us think of an analogy. A widowed mother, with no child but one single boy. This boy, as he grows up, becomes increasingly dear to her heart. As he grows up, to her great sorrow he is overwhelmed with a passionate love of the sea. For years and years that poor lonely widowed soul never hears of him, and wonders whether he is living or dead. She never will leave his name out of her prayers. Is it very difficult for you to understand what is meant when it is said of such a person, 'Her boy dwells in her heart?' Is it more difficult to think of Jesus Christ as the object of religious love dwelling in our hearts also?
II. But then Jesus dwells in our hearts in a much more real way than this. Jesus Christ in the believer's heart not only as the object of his affection, but as the very life of his soul. You know, perhaps, the process of grafting, by which a little twig, with no root, is grafted into a tree till it becomes part of the tree, and the life of the tree flows into the twig, and the life of the tree becomes that of the twig. Is it difficult for you, with that analogy, to realise the conception of one person dwelling in another person's heart as the power of that person's soul and life? So the believer appropriates the life of Jesus, and the conception of Christ dwelling in your heart as the life of your soul is not a very difficult one for you to understand.
III. Another question arises to one to ask and to answer, which is this, How does Jesus Christ get admission into our hearts in such a way that He may be said to dwell in them? Is that a very difficult question to answer? Is it necessary even to ask the question? How does anybody get admission into our houses so as to dwell in them or to stay in them? By our consent, not otherwise, by no other way. How does Jesus Christ get admission into men's hearts so as to rule and dwell in them? The answer is the same, by men's consent, not otherwise, and in no other way possible or conceivable.
Jesus Christ gains admission to our hearts by our own consent, but how does He enter? What is the opening through which, when you have invited your friends to your house, or given them permission to come, they enter? It is the door, and there must be some similar opening through which Jesus Christ enters the heart. What is the opening? What is the means? The opening, the means is this: it is our faith, our simple acceptance of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as the sinner's substitute and the believer's Light.
It is the beginning of everything that is good to let Jesus into the heart. You cannot go far wrong when you do that. It only requires a little faith just to open the door. He will bring the Light with Him, pardon, strength for service, and hope, and glory.
The way to keep Christ is the way in which we get Him to come. He keeps in our hearts by continual acts of faith on the part of believers. That is the sum and substance of Christianity, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Christ in the soul of the child of God.
References. III. 17. C. Brown, God and Man, p. 54. H. S. Holland, God's City, p. 86. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. i. p. 138. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 120. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 142.
The Church's Conception of Christ
Ephesians 3:17-19 (R.V.)
The true man desires to know, to understand, to apprehend. Paul was a man who wanted to know to know the highest things. He made it his business in life, next to knowing for himself, to make others know, to be their teacher. At the same time, he was willing to know from others. Paul's desire for these Ephesians was that they might be strong to apprehend with all saints the love of Christ in its breadth, and length, and height, and depth: that is, in its wholeness and fulness.
I. It has been said that Paul's thought was something like this. From that old captivity of his in Rome, his mind went away, carried him to the Ægean Sea, whose blue waters lay in beauty about the yellow sand of the Ephesian shore; and, looking in thought upon the land, he seemed to see a mighty castle, a splendid fortress. There it was, beautiful, strong, capacious, majestic. But would all men look at it alike? Paul thought that every one looking upon it would not give the same judgment about it; not that they would disagree about any part of it, but each would be so struck by one part of it as almost to neglect the rest.
II. To Paul there was in history one Form, one Existence, one Personality, upon whom many men had been lavishing their thought after His appearance. That Form, that Person was Jesus Christ. He was Love. (1) Some saw the breadth of that love; they thought of 'the nations lying beside each other on the earth, over all of whom the love of Christ would extend itself. (2) Others saw the length of it; they could not forget 'the successive ages during which it will reach'. (3) Others thought of the height of it, of 'the glory at God's throne and near His heart to which it could elevate all'. (4) But others thought of the depth of it; they thought of 'the misery and corruption of sin, into which it will descend'.
III. And today in considering Christ, His character and work, men in various ways grasp special aspects of it. Now, it is well for us that we should, therefore, consider the belief of the saints as a whole. As a body, they preserve the symmetry of truth.
IV. What was Paul's desire for these Ephesians, and for himself also? It was this that they might be able to apprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth of the love of Christ. He did not desire them to see aspects only of that love, but the whole of it.
V. The conception of Christ by the Church is larger than that of any specific Church. He is in each, but is fuller and finer than any one of them represents Him to be.
J. Alford Davies, Seven Words of Love, p. 134.
References. III. 17-19. R. W. Church, Village Sermons, (2nd Series), p. 287. F. de W. Lushington, Sermons to Young Boys, p. 94. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 95.
The Depth of Love
The love of Christ is the love of God. What we find in the heart of Christ, in His character, in His words and actions, is to be regarded as a revelation of the Invisible God. That indeed is the whole significance of Christ's manifestation 'He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father'. This manifestation was made, we may believe, because apart from it we were incapable of gazing into the heart of God. The aspect of things speaks with sufficient clearness of Law, of Intelligence, of Power working to an end; but it can hardly be said to bear on it the legend of love. Apart from Christ it is open to any man to maintain that God is an unknown Force, inexorable, indifferent to human suffering, regardless of human life, a concatenation of awful uniformities which move like a car of juggernaut over prostrate human beings to some unknown goal. Remembering, then, this incontestable fact, we shall examine with eager interest the evidences of the Love of Christ, and seek to know it, though it passes knowledge.
I. First of all there is the human life of Jesus, as it is recorded in the Gospels. However fragmentary the reports, however difficult the attempt may be to harmonise them into a consistent record of facts, or a harmonious combination of features, there can be no question that the records give us an unexampled impression of a heart of love. Not only is the love of Christ indisputable, in the Gospel narrative; but it stands out as a passion of a new type. Compare it with the love of which Plato's Symposium treats, that love, not wholly free from sensual passion, and when free from sensual passion, losing itself in a cold intellectual atmosphere.
II. But the impression of His love, made by the course of His earthly life, is wrought to an extraordinary fulness and intensity by the cross. Whenever the cross is allowed to give its own witness, undisturbed by imperfect theories and dogmas, whenever Christ is evidently crucified before the eyes of men, a great appeal proceeds from the unique spectacle.
III. And yet, when we have made all allowance for the portrait of love, unexampled and affecting in the story of Christ's life and death, can we say that these historic facts fully explain the language of the text? Surely not. This passion which echoes in the language of Paul and re-echoes with undiminished force in the hymns of Bernard, and again, with even increased fulness and feeling in the letters of Samuel Rutherford; this passion, which is known at the present time, and rises beyond the power of language in millions of Christian hearts, is only to be explained by the interior movements of the Spirit
R. F. Horton, The Trinity, p. 133.
References. III. 18, 19. C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 146. Archbishop Benson, Living Theology, p. 3. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 161.
The Fulness of God
These words form the conclusion of St. Paul's prayer on behalf of the Ephesian Church. It is a very wonderful, one might almost say a very awful prayer. And what St. Paul prayed for on behalf of his Ephesian converts, that we too ought to seek for ourselves.
I. St. Paul takes for granted that a Real Christian is a Man who has been Made Over Again, and not merely a man of this world who is a little more moral, or a little more decent, or a little more outwardly attentive to his religious duties than other men of the world. Quite the contrary. According to this mighty prayer, the Christian is one upon whom all the powers of the Godhead have been brought to bear, so as to make him what may be termed a Divine man, not a worldly man. See the orderly progression of the Divine work as thus prayed for by St. Paul. First of all St. Paul prays that God the Holy Ghost will give him strength; then that God the Son may dwell in him, giving him first the grace of love, and then the grace of knowledge of Divine things that knowledge which passes or exceeds the comprehension of other men. And then, when the man has been thus prepared by the strengthening which the Spirit brings, and by the Divine love and the Divine knowledge which Christ brings then St. Paul prays for the final grace of all namely, that he may be filled with all the fulness of God the Father. None of us can fully enter into all that these words convey. Perhaps even those who come nearest to being filled with that fulness would be least able to speak about it or to explain it. But still we may try to set forth a little of what it must mean.
II. For a Person to be filled with anything, it is Plain that, first of all, he must be emptied of all Else. Hence it is absurd for any of us to think of being filled with God's fulness so long as he is under the dominion of any purely earthly or temporal wishes, or desires, or ambitions, or passions, or tastes. The words imply a totality of self-surrender to God. In praying to be filled with God the Father's fulness, we pray that all our powers and faculties and desires and energies and likes and dislikes may be just what they would be if all our merely earthly desires were taken out of us, all that is selfish and mean and bad were emptied out of us, and the vacant space filled up by a pouring in of the character of God our Father. It is the same as praying that we may be just what God would be if we could imagine God to be put in our place.
III. This, then, is what St. Paul Prays for:
(1) That each Christian man upon earth may be, each in his own way and in his own sphere, an 'Image of God'; and (2) that each of us may have God's approbation and God's service as his chief end and aim, as an ever-present motive, as a thought never absent from our minds. After all, Christianity consists not so much in what we do as what we are, or rather what we become. Faith in God and Christ; faith in Christ and in the Holy Ghost raises us to a good hope that, if we will but empty ourselves of all that is earthly and selfish, and cling to Him in whatever walk of life He points out to us, God will take care of the growth of our Christian character; He will fill us with His own fulness.
References. III. 19. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 455, and vol. xxix. No. 1755. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 256. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 171.
Luther said: 'No one believes how great is the force and efficacy of prayer, unless he has learned it from experience. It is a great thing when anyone feels a mighty need and then can lay hold on prayer. I know this, that as often as I have prayed with earnestness with real earnestness I have without doubt been abundantly answered, and have obtained more than I asked. Our Lord God may sometimes have delayed, but yet He heard me.'
E. Kroker, Luther's Tischreden (1903), p. 338, No. 646.
References. III. 20. W. F. Shaw, Sermon-Sketches for the Christian Year, p. 87. III. 20, 21. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 273. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1266. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 180. III. 21. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 278.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Ephesians 3". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter