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Paul was fond of the word revelation. 'When it pleased God to reveal His Son in me' I 'went up by revelation'; 'If in anything ye be otherwise minded, God will reveal this also'. It is wonderful to see how this ministry of revelation penetrates the whole area and purpose of life. Sometimes we are startled into its use; we find revelation where we did not expect to find it We are so familiar with some things that we forget them; we speak so fluently that we do not catch the emphasis of the music.
I. What could be a greater revelation according to the limitations of the case than the meaning of the alphabet? We never think of that, because we use the alphabet mechanically; it comes and goes just as we will it to come and go. But if you will take the mind right back to the beginning, and say to the little child, You have to learn all these poor curious-looking things; we call them letters, and you have to stamp them on your mind, and get them into your head, and know them every time you see them; and then you may have to put two or three of them together, perhaps six or seven; the alphabet means nothing, but it contains everything in the way of literature. Sometimes we learn by letters or by revelations made to us through the medium of letters, things that are symbolical, things that are quick with a great unrevealed and uncomprehended vitality and meaning.
II. Then again we change the ground of revelation, and we learn by experience. Through that gate God comes to man to bind up his wounds, and to take him more closely to His heart, showing him the vanity and transiency of the time-sphere and the space-world, and bathing him in the rivers of eternity. Some men can only learn by experience; they learn nothing by spiritual revelation. Some men cannot understand anything unless they have experienced it Want of sympathy often arises from want of knowledge. You have never had a headache, and therefore you cannot understand however anybody can be suffering from that complaint. You have never lost anyone, and you cannot understand the meaning of these hot rivers of tears, that awful eloquent silence, that expressive pregnant sigh of the soul. O, how poor is he who has never been desolated!
III. Then again comes the very highest phase of revelation, namely, the great spiritual communication between God the Spirit and man the spirit, the wondrous illumination, the sudden calling into light, the smiting down that there may be a great rising up. Then the whole enlightenment of the sphere of consciousness; then the ghostly feeling that we have heard it all before; then the mysterious feeling that we must have dreamed it. Then the book is put before us, the book which is called the Bible, and we feel that we have surely seen it somewhere; that psalm is quite familiar, that going in the top of the mulberry trees is something we heard in the woods near our father's house at home. All these delineations and representations of character why, we seem to know all the Bible folk; we have met them; not under their names as given on the written page, but there is not a man mentioned in the Bible or delineated with any completeness that we did not in some sort of way know. The people red-handed with murder, we know them, we have seen them, though they sell their souls for gold. Where did we see them? They are quite familiar to us; though they lie they are not strangers.
Let us get acquainted with the fact that revelation is going on round about us, and within us, and that revelation is not a church property. We should bring it into life, daily, experimental, practical life, and talk familiarly about it with tender reverence as a gift from heaven or some sheet of cloud let down fuller of stare than the sky.
IV. Sometimes a man is revealed to himself; he says in blunt frankness that he would not have believed it of himself, it was quite a revelation to him. There he does not object to the word revelation, for it has not gathered around it its brightest robes. Sometimes we are revealed to one another; hence we often use such expressions as, It was quite a revelation to me. What do you mean by revelation? You simply mean, if you will be faithful to yourself, that you have seen the inside of things, that for a moment you have been at God's standpoint, and have seen realities, not appearances; philosophies, not phenomena.
How do we know certain things? By revelation. How do we know God? Only by revelation. How do we know about the forgiveness of sins? Only by revelation. This is not something found out in the schools; this is not a clever answer to a trying enigma; it is God's answer to the enigma of our own misery. That puts a new aspect on things. Certainly it does; but it puts the right aspect on them.
V. Then, finally, revelation comes and fits in all the gaps and all the strange places of life. Then revelation comes and says, Now let us walk together; O sweet, sweet heart, come with me, and let us walk together. Thou hast a cemetery in thine estate? Yea, I have. Come with me, and we will talk it out on the spot: this grave was for thy good, as well as for the good of the loved one ascended; it was fixed that this grave should be dug on the day mentioned on the marble, at the very moment it was fixed that it should not be a moment later; this grave is a garden; see, thou canst plant upon this grave the flower of answered prayer; I will go home with thee which is the worst part of the journey related to the cemetery. There is a kind of grim joy in going to it, but there is a bitter misery only in leaving it. I will go with thee, I will take thine arm, yea, the arm of thine heart. What thou knowest about death thou knowest only by revelation. Blessed, sweet bereaved one, blessed are the dead that die in the Lord. They have got it all over. The enemy can hurt them no more.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. iv. p. 136.
References. II. 2. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 205. II. 3. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 131; ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 107. II. 4. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 9; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 457; ibid. vol. viii. p. 76.
It seems to me that in every problem of moral conduct we confront, we really hold in trust an interest of all mankind. To solve that problem bravely and faithfully is to make life just so much easier for everybody; and to fail to do so is to make it just so much harder to solve by whoever has next to face it.
G. W. Cable, in The Cavalier.
References. II. 6. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 204; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 10. II. 6-9. Ibid. vol. iv. p. 58. II. 7. C. S. Robinson, Simon Peter, p. 9. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 13. II. 7-9. Ibid. vol. viii. p. 149. II. 7-10. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 237. II. 8. Ibid. p. 59. II. 8. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 32; ibid. (6th Series), vol. v. p. 416.
Is it fanciful to imagine that a touch of quiet irony lies in Paul's account of the last injunctions given to him at Jerusalem? As if he was likely to forget the claims of poor people, amid ecclesiastical and doctrinal discussions! Surely they might have taken that for granted. The authorities, no doubt, meant well. But, says Paul gravely, I did not need any prompting in that direction; ὃ καὶ ἐσπούδασα αὐτὸ τοῦτο ποιῆσαι . This does not mean that Paul then and there began to make it his object to collect for the poor, although doubtless he did use the 'collection for the poor saints in Judea' as a means of drawing together happily the two sides of the Church. He needed no official reminder of his Christian duty to the poor. Whoever might be lacking, he at least (so the change from μνημονεύωμεν to ἐσπούδασα may suggest) was not likely to be backward in this service.
One of the highest forms in which we can show our appreciation of a man's proved character is to take for granted that he will do some duty. We should assume that he will be ready for it. To remind him nervously of its obligation is, in one aspect, to indicate that we are not quite sure of him. Perhaps he may forget it, in the press of other interests! Let us charge him! Paul relates the exhortation, as he probably received it, with perfect courtesy. But one can imagine how he felt; not irritated he was far too great a man for that but half-amused, as many a person is who has to receive gratuitous advice, by mouth or letter, from well-meaning outsiders, upon the cardinal tasks which all the while lie closest to his own heart. He listens to the counsel, and then quietly goes his way, wondering what his friends take him for, after all; wondering whether they really thought that he needed at this time of day to be prodded to his duty.
Galatians 2:14 ; Acts 17:23
At Antioch and at Athens Paul's great, though perhaps not very welcome, service was that he detected the misdirection of religious energy. He believed in the charity which thought no evil, but he did not conceive this to mean an amiable habit of shutting one's eyes to inconsistencies and aberrations in human conduct. Things were going wrong at Antioch, although the local Christians either failed to realise it or were too timid to protest. Paul's keen penetration and courage saved the situation for Christendom. When I saw... I said. It was a time for plain speech, when issues had to be disentangled and principles cleared from any deviating practices. The Christians at Antioch were, like Christian and Hopeful in Bunyan's allegory, 'at a place where they saw a way put itself into their way, and seemed withal to lie as straight as the way which they should go'. They had been persuaded to deviate along this path, but no one realised it till Paul arrived. I saw ὅτι οὐκ ὀρθοποδοῦσιν 'that they were not on the straight path'. For the sake of their own peace as well as for the sake of their followers, he spoke out, impelled by the same motive as at Athens, where among the pagans he seems to have also felt urged by a sense, half of indignation, half of pity, at the misapplication of human reverence and earnestness. I beheld... I now declare to you. The sight of religious feeling running to waste, through confused and imperfect knowledge, always stirred Paul. Inside the Church and outside the Church, he was confronted with the pathos and mischief of this problem, and to it he brought the courage of his own convictions and the impact of his own practical sagacity, exposing the error ere it was too late.
References. II. 10. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 242. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii. No. 99. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 279. II. 11. H. M'Neile, Penny Pulpit, No. 1604, p. 231. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 407; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 351. II. 12. Ibid. vol. v. p. 326; ibid. vol. vii. p. 139. II. 13. Ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 190. II. 14. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 64; ibid. (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 164. II. 14-21. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 10. II. 15. Ibid. vol. i. p. 201. II. 16. Ibid. vol. vii. p. 417; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 284. II. 17. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 64. II. 19. C. Bradley, The Christian Life, p. 128. J. H. Holford, Memorial Sermons, p. 81. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 265; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 524. II. 19, 20. C. O. Eldridge, The Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 176.
St. Paul's Love for Christ
It is a significant testimony to man's permanent need of Christ that the name of Christ is used and in a manner preached even where His unique Divinity is denied; even where the wonders of His life and death are rejected; even where his sinlessness is questioned; even where He is resolved into some ghostly ideal never numbered among the sons of men. This is a proof of the paramount importance of keeping Christ and the emotions which Christ excites alive and supreme among the race. It is felt more or less dimly that the full claim of Christ to the passionate love of man must be made room for somehow if the preaching of religion in any form is to be continued.
I. But the question is whether such a love for Christ as St. Paul experienced can be severed from the Apostle's conception of his Redeemer's person and work. If we strip the life of Christ of its supernatural element; if we deny the Virgin Birth and the bodily resurrection; if we hesitate to accept His perfection; if we deny that He proceeded forth and came from God, the Eternal Word, Who in the fulness of time became flesh that we might receive of His fulness, and therein be filled with all the fulness of God can the preaching of Christ be maintained? If we deny that He laid down His life for our sakes, having power to lay it down and to take it up; if we accept the theory that His death was no more than a murder, that He perished as the feeble victim of an enormous wrong, can we still feel for Him what St. Paul felt?
II. Why did St. Paul love Christ with such an overwhelming passion? To answer it aright would be to retrace the whole history. But first we say that St. Paul's love was the love of gratitude. 'He loved me and gave Himself for me' that is the burning centre. Christ died for the ungodly. We are justified by faith in His blood. St. Paul knew the great desolation of the Victim of Love. Christ was made a curse for him on the tree of Calvary. Christ kept knocking by the voice of interior grace at the door of his heart till his heart opened. Then the soul that had been separated from the Author of Peace was restless and weary no longer. To him the meritorious death of Christ became the beautiful gate of the temple whereby he entered into the treasure-house of God. The full, finished, and perfect sacrifice and atonement for the sins of the whole world blotted out the transgressions that were past. More than that: if any man be in Christ there is a new creation. There is the stroke that ends him and the touch that begins him afresh. The faith of St. Paul apprehended the dying of the Lord Jesus, and the Spirit that raised up Christ from the dead quickened his mortal body. Mystically he died and rose again in Christ.
III. Then St. Paul knew himself to be in union and communion constant and intimate with the heavenly Saviour. His love was no mere gratitude for the past. It was a fervour of affection new every morning till his last day came.
St Paul had no fear of light from any quarter. He was only afraid that there might be too little of it. But it was the illumination of the Spirit of Christ that he craved for and pursued. The world by wisdom knew not God. The darkness came down upon him sometimes, fell upon him sometimes as it falls on all believers. Now and again it seemed to bite into his very soul. Yet we can see now that the Lord Jesus was nearer him then than in times that seemed happier. And so it may be with us. The glory of Christ was St. Paul's first beginning and his last end.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 39.
Conversion of St. Paul
Even after all these years we have not grasped yet all that the world owes to St. Paul. Indeed, in many ways it seems as if it had been reserved for our generation and for our special problems of the age to draw out all that in the providence of God we were meant to learn from that remarkable man whose conversion we commemorate today. What are the questions which are stirring men at the present day? First of all the demand for a man of strong intellect who at the same time is a humble and believing Christian. Again, do we not hear on all sides today the demand for the spiritual man who is at the same time a practical reformer? And if these demands come from without the Church, what demands do we hear rising within the Church? Men are getting tired today of these perpetual quarrels between one body and another body. The demand within the Church is for a man who answers to the ideal of the New Testament, who is at once a fervent Evangelist and a strong Churchman. And yet, beyond even those demands most pathetic and most pressing of all from all the hundreds who find the spiritual life difficult, who sometimes find Jesus Christ very far off from them, and the old, old story like a very distant bell, there is the demand for a man who has never seen Christ with the eye of the flesh, but to whom Jesus Christ is everything.
I. And in reply to those pathetic cries which rise from humanity today St. Paul is a living answer. He is a man of gigantic intellect, and yet one of the humblest Christians that ever lived. No man can sneer at St. Paul as a mere peasant or fisherman who would believe anything. In St. Paul we have an intellect that could form and write the Epistle to the Romans, and yet a man who was the humblest and most believing of Christians. We have a man who is deeply spiritual, who can say, 'I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me'. Yet he left the most extraordinary work that ever man left behind him.
II. I put St. Paul before you as the breakwater that withstands sceptical attacks upon the faith, as the man who combines preaching with practice, as the rallying-point for all parties in the Church, and as the guide of all the wandering penitent souls into the haven where they would be.
We are growing in our Church to an understanding of the Gospel as St. Paul understood it. We believe in conversion, but we believe also in the gift that is given from heaven. We prepare our candidates for confirmation, for we read in the Bible, 'Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost'. We have our preparation classes and our services to prepare our hearts for the Holy Communion. But, above all, we understand that when we come to that Holy Communion we receive a special gift which we can receive in no other way; and therefore try and take home the third lesson of St. Paul today of toleration and understanding of those of a different school of thought from you, and the seeing how two sets of truths complement and supplement one another.
And lastly, and above all, are we taking home the fourth lesson of what the Christian life really is? If not, let us look again at this wonderful man, who never felt alone, for his Master was with him, who feared no task that might be laid upon him because he was keen for the task, who had a thorn in the flesh but was not discouraged by it 'My grace is sufficient for thee,' he was always hearing, and 'My strength is made perfect in weakness'.
What Is It to Be a Christian?
Here is Paul's answer, concise yet comprehensive, to our question, What is it to be a Christian? Mark then to be a Christian is to be living by faith in personal union with Jesus Christ. The Christian life is a life of which Christ is 'motive, pattern, and power'. This is vital, essential; all else is secondary.
I. To be a Christian does not mean simply to be what we call 'a good man'. While it may be true that a man may reject Christ and yet be possessed of many virtues be, what we call, using the word in no very exact sense, a good man nevertheless his life can never know the moral greatness, the repose, the triumph which are all possible to him whose life centres in Christ, who finds in His perfect example an ever-lifting ideal, in His Divine strength a never-changing stay.
II. To be a Christian does not mean necessarily to believe a certain creed. The holding of no number of opinions, accurate or inaccurate, biblical, theological, or what not, entitles a man to the Christian name. For here the vital point is not the relation of the intellect to a creed, but the attitude of the whole man the will, the feelings, the intellect to a person. He who thus with his whole being cleaves to Christ is a Christian, though he may be as yet in utter bewilderment as to the relation of his intellect to the various details of Christian doctrine.
III. To be a Christian is not the same thing as to have once experienced the change we call 'conversion'. Conversion is the first point in a series whose number is infinity. We are summoned not only to one supreme act of faith, but to a life of faith.
We may read our Bible and pray and worship till we are strapped hand and foot to the outward forms of religion; but the love of the heart, the trust that is the outgoing of the whole soul this is the one and only thing that can bind us to Christ Himself. Christ seeks our love, but He has first given His. He asks our trust; but to win it, He laid down His life for us. Is He not the utterly loveworthy, the utterly trustworthy?
G. Jackson, First Things First, p. 33.
The Place and Power of Individuality in Christian Life and Work
I. There is a distinct individuality in every man which knows itself as 'I' and 'me'. It is no part of my present purpose to enter into a full metaphysical inquiry how we come to the consciousness of our own existence as distinct personalities. More akin to the object which we have in view, however, is it to get at the constituent elements of the 'self that is in each of us. The germ of the whole, as it seems to me, is in the consciousness or experience of causation. Allied with this causation is freewill, which sits behind causation and directs it at its pleasure. Then, as the result of freewill, is responsibility. The 'I can' leads up to 'I ought,' and so consciousness develops into conscience. Then come in temperamental peculiarities which give their hue to all the rest, just as the stained glass in the window gives its own tint to the light which passes through it. To these must be added the influence of education, environment, experience, and the like, and the whole combine to form in a man that which we call his individuality.
II. When the Spirit of God regenerates a man, he does not destroy this individuality. Regeneration is not a change in the peculiarities by which a man is distinguished, but rather the purification and consecration of these, and of the man himself as a whole, to a new service. Thus it comes that in the Church of Christ we have not the dull monotony of uniformity, but the living beauty of variety.
III. When the Spirit of God works through a man, he uses the individuality of the man in all its features. He makes it largely determine the kind of service which the man is to render to his generation and to the Church, and it colours and qualifies that service itself. (1) For illustration of this we need not go beyond the limits of the Word of God itself. Thus take the case of inspiration, and you will see how truly each of the sacred writers might have said: 'I, yet not I, but the Spirit of God in me'. (2) But what is thus so markedly true in the matter of inspiration is equally conspicuous in the lower departments of spiritual effort.
IV. The actual result in all cases is to be traced to the operation of the Spirit of God through our individuality. The man is the instrument, but the Spirit is the hand that works with it; and the glory is due not to the instrument, but to him who uses it and gives it efficacy. To sum up, then, let us distil the essence of our discourse into these two lessons: (1) Respect your own individuality. (2) Give God all the glory for what you are and have done.
What is true of St. Paul is true of all those in whom the Christian faith has shown its highest genius in subsequent ages. These sayings of Christ as to being Himself the centre of human affections and the light of human lives, instead of repelling men, interpret their own highest experience, and seem but the voice of an interior truth and the assurance of an imperishable joy.
R. H. Hutton, Theological Essays, p. 156.
Ik the creation of art, or in the experience of religion, that which is the most perfect realisation of man's higher self abolishes this separate feeling; and so it is with moral action and its concrete products. Thus when we wish to express the freedom of such creations or experiences from our lower selves, or to contrast their absoluteness with the results of our shifting desires, we are apt to use language which takes no notice of the share our will has had in them. It is not the poet who creates, but an inspiration of which he is the mere vehicle; it is not I who act but Christ that dwelleth in me.
A. C. Bradley, in Hellenica, p. 183.
When our public service is done, then comes the time to meet ourselves alone. We have to meet ourselves in our weakness, in our ignorance, in our sin, in the awfulness and mystery of our separate existence. We hear voices speaking to us as if our personal fate were the one object of interest of the infinite compassion and the Eternal Love: 'Who loved me and gave Himself up for me'.... Let us not for any outward interest, tempted by the fascination of the widest thoughts and most absorbing aims, shrink from that contact with the inward discipline of our souls.
R. W. Church, Human Life and its Conditions, p. 61.
References. II. 20. J. Wright, The Guarded Gate, p. 105. J. Watson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 392. C. Perren, Sermon Outlines, p. 363. W. J. Knox-Little, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 227. R. F. Horton, The Hidden God, p. 51. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches, p. 262. Bishop Nickson, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 1124. H. P. Liddon, University Sermons, p. 217. T. Arnold, Christian Life: Its Hopes, p. 271. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. ii. p. 236. R. W. Dale, The Epistle of James, p. 141. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 781; vol. xxvii. No. 1599; and vol. xl. No. 2370. J. Barlow, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. p. 276. G. Campbell Morgan, Mundesley Conference Report, 1910, p. 358. J. H. Jowett, The Transfigured Church, p. 37. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 102; ibid. vol. v. p. 434; ibid. vol. vi. p. 424; ibid. vol. viii. pp. 204, 435; ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 6; ibid. vol. vi. p. 256; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 340; ibid. vol. xi. p. 447. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Galatians , p. 91. II. 21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1534.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Galatians 2". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany