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Only love rooted in sympathy and expressed in action to the point of a complete destruction of self-will is Christian love.
Wagner's Letters (1880), p. 339.
References. XIII. 1. T. C. Finlayson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 401. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 134.
Hebrews 13:1 ; Hebrews 13:13
People are not most conscious of brotherhood when they continue languidly together in one creed, but when, with some doubt, with some danger perhaps, and certainly not without some reluctance, they violently break with the tradition of the past, and go forth from the sanctuary of their fathers to worship under the bare heaven.
R. L. Stevenson, in Men and Books.
Unaware of Angels
In a recent novel, where great power is on the whole misdirected, there is one sentence that cannot easily be forgotten. A stern old mother has a daughter given to writing. The mother disapproves, but when the daughter dies we are told that what her mother used to speak of as verses she always afterwards called poems. That is what death does for our loved ones. It changes their verses into poems. Were we to write for ever we could not say a word more. Everything is then transfigured and stands out in a new light, a light in which we could not see it while the dear ones were yet with us.
In this dim world of clouding cares
We rarely know, till wildered eyes
See white wings lessening up the skies,
The angels with us unawares.
But we know them then.
I. The Ideal was once among us, and we beheld His glory, and did not know it for the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. While He tabernacled among men they doubted Him, questioned Him, criticised Him, scorned Him. It was not till He was taken from them that the full truth burst upon their sight. He knew that it would be so. As He neared the Great Altar where He offered up the Perfect Sacrifice, He said that He would send the Spirit to reprove the world of righteousness, 'because I go to My Father, and ye see Me no more. In a hush of love and reverence He was laid in His new tomb, and since that hour He has been the Hope, the Glory, the Ideal, and the Crown of our fallen humanity.
II. It was so, as each of us knows, with our own beloved. However much we cared for them, however deeply we understood them, however we looked up to them, we know them better now. Even here we understood their truth and pity and patient loving kindness, but now everything comes more nearly and dearly home. In a measure our eyes were holden, but they have been open long since. Now that the past is cast upon a ground of wonder it seems comprehensible, and we marvel that we were so dull. The loves that have been taken from us, the venerating regard of childhood, the passion of youth, the restful affection of mature years, the trust of lost little children, the kind, true friendships that we hoped would bridge all the changes over we know how to prize them as we sit with our yearning and sometimes remorseful thoughts. Were they faultless? Perhaps they were not, but whatever there was of frailty, imperfection, ignorance, was no true part of their redeemed being, and has all fallen from them now. Others may recall such things, but we cannot. Our forgetfulness is even as the forgetfulness of God, Who casts our sins behind His back, and neither remembers them nor, if we may dare to say it, can remember them. So much besides is clear to us that in the old time we never saw. They were dead in Christ while they were living here, and their life was hid with Christ in God. Now it seems to issue from Christ and to be part of Christ's glory.
But all this is true in Christ and in Christ only. It is in Him that the dead are living and the lost are found. It is in Him that
We give blind grief and blinder sense the lie,
And say, 'They did not live to die'.
It is in Him that the golden hope of immortality, so often clouded, springs unbaffled from its sleep. In Him the soul's prevision in its moments of intensest life is true, the very truth of truths. It is through Him we know that we cannot idealise the dead, that they are more lovely and gracious than our loveliest and most gracious dreams. In Him the promises of God are Yea, and in Him Amen. And so it is to Him, to His Cross, and His Resurrection that all our hopes are nailed.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 53.
The Larger Hospitality
Reading this verse for the first time, it almost seems as if this plea for hospitality were based upon a selfish motive. Are we to do good that we may win good? Not so. If a man be hospitable on the bare chance of entertaining angels, he is no hospitable man. But if a man be hospitable from loftiest motives, sooner or later, God will bring angels to his door. Our text tells the joy of every open home and heart and mind. It reads the doom of every closed door. Shut it and bar it! You will shut out a hundred vagabonds. One day you will shut out an angel. And it were better to be deceived a score of times than miss a heavenly messenger like that. I want to take this thought and run it out into three realms.
I. And first, the realm of home. Are all the angels dead? Have none in the garb of strangers ever appeared on your horizon? To answer that, we have to ask, What is an angel? An angel is a messenger of God. And every word that ever cheered you from a stranger's lips, and every thought that ever reached you from a stranger's heart, and every Christlike sight that ever touched you in a stranger's home, these have been angel ministries to you the messengers of God. Entertain strangers. It is the noblest hospitality. Sooner or later you shall find, by the tokens of a larger heart and fuller life, that you have been entertaining angels unawares.
II. Now, look at the realm of experience. For years life is one uneventful drudgery; we wake, we eat, we work, we tire, we sleep. But the day comes when at our doors there stands a stranger. Perhaps it is poverty. Perhaps it is sickness. Perhaps it is death. How will you treat that stranger? that is the question. Some men rebel. And some grow bitter. And some despair; but they are brave, and plod along without a prayer, without a hope, till men say, 'See how resigned they are!' They do not know it is the resignation of a broken heart. There is a nobler way. Be not forgetful to entertain the stranger: you shall be entertaining angels unawares. God's blessings come in strange disguises.
III. Lastly, I want to take our text into the realm of thought. It is amazing what cold entertainment the world has always given to great thoughts, when first they came as strangers. But do not quarrel with the world. Perhaps that same inhospitality is yours and mine if not today, tomorrow. 'Prove all things; hold fast that which is good,' that is the Christian attitude.
G. H. Morrison, Flood-Tide, p. 271.
I was a little acquainted,' says Boswell in his Tour to the Hebrides (Saturday, 21st August), 'with Mr. Forbes, the minister of the parish. I sent to inform him that a gentleman desired to see him. He returned for answer, "that he would not come to a stranger". I then gave my name, and he came. I remonstrated to him for not coming to a stranger; and, by presenting him to Dr. Johnson, proved to him what a stranger might sometimes be. His Bible inculcates, "be not forgetful to entertain strangers," and maintain the same motive. He defended himself by saying, "He had once come to a stranger, who sent for him; and he found him a little worth person!" '
References. XIII. 2. S. A. Tipple, The Admiring Guest, p. 166. H. J. Bevis, Sermons, p. 120. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 71. XIII. 3. C. O. Eldridge, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 37.
Discussing the origin of the Canons of Nicaea ( History of the Eastern Church, lect. v.), Dean Stanley relates how 'a proposition was made, enjoining that all married clergy (according to one report, including even sub-deacons) were to separate from their wives. The opposition came from a most unexpected quarter. From amongst the Egyptian bishops stepped out into their midst, looking out of his one remaining eye, and halting on his paralysed leg, the old hermit-confessor, Paphuntius or Paphunte. With a roar of indignation rather than with a speech, he broke into the debate: 'Lay not this heavy yoke upon the clergy. Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled. By exaggerated strictness you will do the Church more harm than good. All cannot bear such an ascetic rule...' His speech produced a profound sensation. His own austere life of unblemished celibacy gave force to every word that he uttered; he shared that rare excellence of appreciating difficulties which he himself did not feel, and of honouring a state of life which was not his own.
Neither Left Nor Forsaken
I. 'I will never leave thee.' The nearest and the dearest even cannot say this to us. Life is full of partings, and we come to feel at last, with Ruskin, 'That word goodbye shakes me from head to foot'. Even when the closest relationship has been reached, when two have walked side by side through life, and have shared every variety of existence, when the warmer passion has passed and is replaced by something deeper and truer, till the duality of being becomes a unity, one must die, and the other, stranded and helpless, must go on living. It is the constant experience that such partings leave behind them something more than sorrow, something of compunction, which may even be remorse. It is the universal testimony that the strength of a dear bond is never known till it is broken, till the ancient depths are stirred, till the vanished faces appear upon the background of the young spring skies. The heart reaches far back and vainly into the forgotten years, and longs to recover them, not so much to fill them more fully with love as with the signs and tokens of love. But there is a far greater tragedy than that of the death parting. There is such a thing as living together and yet drifting farther and farther apart. The heart may stray, and a river broader and deeper than Jordan may lie between those who outwardly are close together. Better to look with love and reverence and yearning and gratitude and repentance across the straits of death than to feel that in the home the cruel grave of the dead love has been dug and filled. But our Lord's promise means that no matter how we are impoverished we have left to us His presence and His heart. No matter how sorely broken we may be with the assaults of life, no matter by what separations we may be left lonely, He never leaves us, and never forsakes us. When that becomes a weight which was once no weight at all, when we have less and less to do with things around us, when, as the phrase has it, our day is over, there is One Who remains, One on whom our dying eyes may rest, one hiding place from the wind, one covert from the tempest.
II. For the promise is not only 'I will not leave thee;' it is also 'I will never forsake thee'. We change ourselves. This is at once the misery and the blessedness of life. We shall all be changed, says the Apostle, to those who had already changed much. Think how we have altered from our childhood in body and mind, in thought and in feeling. All our life has been made up of stages of one long change, and what would happen if Christ changed, too? But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. His love burns on through the storms as steadily as a lamp in a windless place. We have suffered cruelly from the loss of the living and the loss of the dead. Friend and lover have gone far from us and have found others to care for; but He never changes. He bears with our falling, with our wandering, with our forgetfulness, and His love is as ardent and forgiving and helpful at the last as it was at first. It is not only that He never leaves us; it is that He neither leaves us nor forsakes us.
So it is with trial. It is this the writer to the Hebrews is thinking of, and we can almost see the sudden light leaping into those steadfast eyes, that had faced the worst which time could do, as he spoke. He had told his fellow-Christians to imitate the faith of the martyrs whose faith imitate, considering the end of their conversation, considering how it brought them to that to the hard bed, with its pillow of sharp thorns, on which the Redeemer fell asleep. They died the death of the Righteous, and their last end was like His, and they found Him as good as His word. We vex and weary ourselves thinking what we shall do, how long we shall be able to work, what will happen when we are perforce idle, how we shall bear the pains and partings that are to be. He wants to put an end to all this by His promise that whatever befalls we shall neither be left nor forsaken. He tells us to do the duty of the moment in the moment, and for the rest to hold by him. And when the last bonds are loosened, and we are delivered from our earthly troubles, we shall be for ever with the Lord, and we shall be like Him, for we shall sec Him as He is. The blessedness of that vision, who can tell but those who stand before Him?
W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 97.
I find that the Spirit of God taught the writers of the New Testament to apply to us all in general, and to every single person in particular, some gracious words which God in the Old Testament spake to one man upon a special occasion in a single and temporal instance. Such are the words which God spake to Joshua; 'I will never fail thee, nor forsake thee,' and upon the stock of that promise St. Paul forbids covetousness and persuades contentedness, because those words were spoken by God to Joshua in another case.
Jeremy Taylor, Holy Dying (ch. v. sec. 5).
But now I began to exercise myself with new thoughts; I daily read the word of God, and applied all the comforts of it to my present state. One morning, being very sad, I opened the Bible upon these words, 'I will never, never leave thee, nor forsake thee'. Immediately it occurred that these words were to me; why else should they be directed in such a manner, just at the moment when I was mourning over my condition, as one forsaken of God and man? Well then, said I, if God does not forsake me, of what ill consequence can it be, or what matters it, though the world should all forsake me; seeing on the other hand, if I had all the world, and should lose the favour and blessing of God, there would be no comparison in the loss?
Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, pt. 1. (ch. III.).
Most people have had a period or periods in their lives when they have felt thus forsaken; when, having long hoped against hope, and still seen the day of fruition deferred, their hearts have truly sickened within them. This is a terrible hour, but it is often that darkest point which precedes the rise of day; that turn of the year when the icy January wind carries over the waste at once the dirge of departing winter, and the prophecy of coming spring. The perishing birds, however, cannot thus understand the blast before which they shiver; and as little can the suffering soul recognise, in the climax of its affliction, the dawn of its deliverance. Yet, let whoever grieves still cling fast to love and faith in God: God will never deceive, never finally desert him. 'Whom He loveth, He chasteneth.' These words are true, and should not be forgotten.
Charlotte Bronte, Shirley (chap. XX.).
References. XIII. 5. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 477; vol. xxxii. No. 1880. XIII. 5-6. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 291. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1449. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 277.
Imitation: it enters into the very fastnesses of character; and we, our souls, ourselves, are for ever imitating what we see and hear, the forms, the sounds, which haunt our memories, our imaginations.
Pater, Plato and Platonism, p. 272.
References. XIII. 7. T. Arnold, The Interpretation of Scripture, p. 310. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 98. XIII. 7, 8. G. Campbell Morgan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 3.
What do the Gospels certify to have been the character of original Christianity? The answer is on the surface. Original Christianity was a discipleship to Jesus Christ.
I. The followers of Christ are in the Gospels commonly described as His disciples. Discipleship implied the frank acceptance of Christ's personal claims, and the power which won that acceptance was the power of Christ's personal influence. But what did discipleship practically involve? Obviously, at the time to these first disciples, peril, loss, temporal ruin. Nothing could be sterner or more threatening than the prospect which He unfolded before His disciples. Discipleship goes deeper than the external circumstances of life. 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to day, yea and for ever'. The terms of His service reflect His changelessness.
II. Discipleship is the abiding aspect of Christianity. Churches and creeds, as such, have no immunity from the law of change, but if the essence of Christianity be not the membership of a church, nor yet the acceptance of a system of belief, but rather discipleship to a living Person, then it seems possible to hope that Christianity may possess an indestructible life. Discipleship, in the common experience of mankind, terminates in one of two ways. On the one hand, the disciple may outstrip his teacher, learn all he has to teach, and advance into regions where he has no message. On the other hand, the disciple may lose confidence in the teacher, shake off the spell of his personal influence, set himself free from his moral and intellectual control. Can either of these contingencies happen in the case of the Christian discipleship? Are there any signs that Christians have outgrown the teachings of the Master? Is the world growing weary of the Ideal presented in the Gospel? As far as I can see, the evidence points in the opposite direction.
III. The changes of Christianity which, at first sight, perplex and distress us, are not only intelligible, but even necessary, when Christianity is conceived as a discipleship. For discipleship must always include the notion of advance. In truth, not to advance is to cease to be a disciple.
IV. Finally, it is in realising our Christian profession as before all things a discipleship to Christ that we shall recover fraternity. The nearer we draw to our Master, the nearer we draw also to one another.
H. H. Henson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXI. p. 17.
The Unchangeable Christ
I. The Christian Conception of God Involves Immutability. Capricious divinities abound in the history of the race. They are the creatures of imagination. The idea of a changeable God is an absurdity to the Christian mind. The Divine nature suffers no variableness. The Divine purpose is unchangeable also. (1) The physical universe suggests Divine immutability. The universe is under the dominion of law which is absolutely universal, penetrating all spheres, space and time. Behind the law is the lawgiver in Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (2) This is supported by the moral law. Righteousness, justice, truth, goodness, love, these are the same everywhere in God, and in man; and every moral being everywhere. (3) The unchangeableness of God is emphasised in the Scriptures.
II. The Unchangeable Christ is the Gospel we Preach. He is the Author, Finisher, and essence thereof. The permanency of the Gospel is secured in Him who is from everlasting to everlasting the same. The unity of truth is secured in Christ The Gospel is essentially the same in all ages, and under all conditions of life. It is preached to the barbarian, and to the civilised, everywhere the same Christ the Saviour of man. This is quite consistent with variety of forms, expressions, and methods. All truth is in Christ, the garment in which it is clothed is of many colours. Unity of essence, and diversity of expression are not inconsistent. The old Gospel is always new. Divers and strange doctrines present themselves on every hand, but there is no substitute for the old Gospel. We may speak in other terms. The pronunciation of some words is not precisely the same, but the unchangeable Christ abides. The worlds revolve around Him still.
The Unchanging Christ
I. We must take account of the supreme claim which is enshrined in the declaration that, amid all the chances and changes of the world, Jesus Christ is always the same. This could not be true if He were but as the great saints and heroes of history. They assuredly change dramatically. We alter our minds about them; the reason and conscience of men goes away from them; they cease to appear worthy of homage; they come to be the symbols of delusion, and the beacons of warning. Of none of them could it be truly said that they change not as the ages pass. But when we come to the Master, whom Apostles and saints worshipped and strove as best they could to follow, we have reached fixity at last. His supremacy remains secure and unchallenged through all the revolutions of thought and sentiment. There is but one explanation of this sole and unchallenged prerogative of unchanging power. It is the core of the Christian creed, the truth on which the Church stands, by which the Christian lives. Jesus Christ is not as the rest. He is the unique, the only-begotten of the Father, God Incarnate.
II. We must observe that this supremacy, absolute and immutable, is independent of ecclesiastical systems, and of specific theologies. The emphasis placed on the various parts of the scheme of Christian doctrine is constantly changing. Yet through all the changes the one assured and unalterable factor is precisely the sole and incommunicable supremacy of Christ.
III. This unchanging and unique supremacy of Jesus Christ is not disallowed by the larger view of religion, which is now everywhere laying hold of men's minds. It is not the Church alone, but all mankind, speaking through its infinite variety of spiritual utterances, which says to Christ with St. Peter: 'Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.'
IV. Finally, if we turn from every outward sphere and enter within the sanctuary of our own minds, and there face the anxiety which rises on our thought from the knowledge of our own weakness and falsehood, it is still the same fact on which we must build our hopes. Being what I know myself to be, we ask, How dare I make the profession of Christianity at all? The only justification in reason and in religion for the venture of discipleship is found, not in ourselves, but in the unchanging Christ. 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, yea, and for ever.' Courage, then, though memories of failure hang darkly on our minds, and our hearts fail us as we listen to the Babel of conflicting voices, and are shocked by the reckless vehemence of unloving zeal, or chilled by the questionings of an age which has forgotten God!
The Ever-living Christ
In the context the author of this Epistle exhorts the Hebrew Christians not to forget their guides and leaders who had spoken unto them the Word of God. Some, like St. Stephen and St. James, had won a martyr's crown. Many had been scattered by persecution as fallen leaves before the autumn wind. But let them remember, said he, this grand and blessed truth: ministers may die or be removed, but 'Jesus Christ' the object of their faith and the subject of their preaching 'is the same yesterday, and today, yea and for ever.'
Over the vast gateway of the deserted city of Futtypore Sikri, in Northern India, is an Arabic inscription to this effect: 'This world is but a bridge; pass over, build not thy dwelling there'. The statement is true; the exhortation is wise. And yet in that sentence lurks a great sorrow. The antidote to that sorrow lies in the words of the Psalmist: 'Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations,' and in the words of my text, 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, yea and for ever'.
For a moment observe the names of our Lord which we have here. Jesus, His personal name; Christ, or the 'anointed one,' the name which speaks of His official capacity which tells that He was set apart by God for the complete and perfect salvation of His people, and which opens out to us His offices of Prophet, Priest and King.
I. Prophet. The title of Prophet was given to Christ as the great Revealer and Teacher of the will of God. Moses predicted that this Prophet was to be a man like unto himself. 'Unto Him shall ye hearken.' All the leaves of prophecy, like one great sunflower, turn to Christ the Light. Like its author, the Bible is the same 'yesterday and today'. 'Other books,' writes the Archbishop of Armagh, 'pass away; but of that the silver cord shall never be loosed, nor the golden bowl broken, nor the mourners that go about the streets proclaim that at last the great book is dead and carried to the charnel-house of dead religions.' The Prophet teaches, as I have said, not only by the written word, but by a Divinely appointed ministry. Because Christ ever lives the Gospel ministry will never die.
II. Priest. Christ is 'a Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec'. By the sacrifice of Himself upon the cross the God-Man took the 'Divine anathema against sin upon His own immaculate head'. He suffered 'the just for the unjust'. 'We have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.' The atonement proclaims an accepted world, a reconciled Father, a redeemed humanity. In these days, when an ethical revival is the great need of the Church and the world, and when by the law of reaction there is a growing danger of the divorcement of duty from dogma yes! and when the hearts of men are craving for a morality which they do not possess we must summon them afresh to the cross of Christ as the fulcrum of a moral life and the mainspring of holiness.
Earthly ministers, like the Mosaic priests, are by succession. The time comes when we must die or be removed. Our voices are hushed, and the footfall of our steps is no longer heard in the street It is my comfort to speak of one whose Priesthood is unchangeable: who, seated amid the heavenly glories, ever pities, ever intercedes, ever pardons, ever helps, ever blesses.
III. King. If the Jew in the old dispensation looked for a Messiah who was to reign as King and not for a Messiah who was to suffer as Priest, we in this dispensation continually think of Christ as Priest almost to the forgetfulness of Christ as King. Do not forget that Christ is King as well as Priest Turn your thoughts ofttimes from the pathetic beauty of the sunset on Calvary to the glorious sunrise on Olivet. Amid the clouds of night let us look for the brightness of the coming dawn.
This kingdom is yours if you will but accept its conditions.
J. W. Bardsley, Many Mansions, p. 349.
Is it conceivable that the God who made the seven stars and Orion, and who is without variableness or shadow of turning, played off caprices on the narrow seaboard of Asia Minor in the centuries before our era, which, having come to another mind, or being weary, He has ceased to enact in modern days, cowed and overfaced by steam and penny newspapers reeled off without stopping? Is the strength of Israel lying or repenting now the world has waxed older and wiser and more scientific, and is clothed in cloth, and builds magnificent clubrooms in Pall Mall, where His name goes for nothing?
James Smetham, Letters, p. 347.
References. XIII. 8. Reuen Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 107. H. H. Henson, Godly Union and Concord, Philippians 1:0 and 269. A. Coote, Twelve Sermons, p. 12. T. Rider, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 40. J. Cartwright, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 180. Bishop Nickson, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 1084. A. H. Stanton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 7. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 170; vol. xv. No. 848, and vol. xl. No. 2358. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. i. p. 36. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 290. C. Vince, The Unchanging Saviour, p. 1. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 285. XIII. 8, 9. W. Alexander, Primary Convictions, p. 3. XIII. 9. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 143. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 294. XIII. 10, 15. Ibid. p. 303. XIII. 11, 12. J. Bannerman, Sermons, p. 219. XIII. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2660. XIII. 13. Ibid. vol. x. No. 577.
In early times the graveyards and cemeteries were always outside the towns or villages, partly and here is shown our forefathers' likeness to us for the greater healthiness, partly and here is shown their romance, which we have lost in realisation that all men are strangers and pilgrims upon earth, and because of the great sacrifice 'offered without the camp'.
J. H. Shorthouse.
From this text Becket preached in the chapter-house of Canterbury Cathedral in December, 1170, on returning from France after his hollow reconciliation with Henry II. 'The cathedral,' says Dean Stanley, 'was hung with silken drapery; magnificent banquets were prepared; the churches resounded with organs and bells; the palace-halls with trumpets; and the Archbishop preached in the chapter-house on the text, "Here we have no abiding city, but we seek one to come". On Christmas Day, he preached from the words, "on earth, peace to men of goodwill". He began by speaking of the sainted fathers of the Church of Canterbury, the presence of whose bones made doubly hallowed the consecrated ground. "One martyr," he said, "they had already Alfege, murdered by the Danes, whose tomb stood on the north side of the high altar. It was possible," he added, "that they would soon have another." The people who thronged the nave were in a state of wild excitement; they wept and groaned; and an audible murmur ran through the church. "Father, why do you desert us so soon? to whom will you leave us?" But as he went on with his discourse, the plaintive strain gradually rose into a tone of fiery indignation. "You would have thought," says Hubert of Bosham, who was present, "that you were looking at the prophetic beast, which had at once the face of a man and the face of a lion."'
Stanley's Memorials of Canterbury, pp. 66, 67.
Life is not designed to minister to a man's vanity. He goes upon his long business most of the time with a hanging head, and all the time like a blind child. Full of rewards and punishments as it is so that to see the day break or the moon rise, or to meet a friend, or to hear the linnet call when he is hungry, fills him with surprising joys this world is yet for him no abiding city. Friendships fall through, health fails, weariness assails him; year after year, he must thumb the hardly varying record of his own weakness and folly. It is a friendly process of detachment
R. L. Stevenson, in A Christmas Sermon.
And so it came about that John Gladwyn Jebb left both Mexico and this land where we have 'no abiding city,' almost as naked of the world's goods as when he entered it.... He was too sanguine, too romantic, too easily deluded by others, and too mystical a curious vein of mysticism was one of his most striking characteristics for this nineteenth century. As a crusader, or as a knight-errant, doubtless, he would have been a brilliant success, but as a manager of companies and a director of business matters it must be confessed that he was a failure. Would that there existed more of such noble failures the ignoble are sufficiently abundant for then the world might be cleaner than it is. It matters little now: his day is done, and he has journeyed to that wonderful Hereafter of which during life he had so clear a vision, and that was so often the subject of his delightful and suggestive talk.
Rider Haggard, in The Life and Adventures of J. G. Jebb, pp. xxiv, xxv.
Perhaps one fact which lies at the root of all the actions of the Turks, small and great, is that they are by nature nomads. It is their custom to ornament the walls of their houses with texts instead of pictures, and, if they quoted from the Bible instead of the Koran, no words would better characterise their manner of life than 'Here have we no continuing city'.
Sir Charles Eliot, Turkey in Europe, p. 89.
References. XIII. 14. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 10. E. M. Geldart, Faith and Freedom, p. 117. E. T. J. Marriner; Sermons Preached at Lyme Regis, p. 63. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Reading (2nd Series), p. 225.
The Sacrifice of Praise
'The sacrifice of praise.' We are apt to pass over the words and miss their deep meaning. The sacrifice of praise is not the mere natural expression of joy. The word carries a red stain. Praise in a world like this, and from creatures such as we are, must often be sacrificial if it is to be continual. Continued thanksgiving carried through a life of faith is a sacrifice which may be laid upon the altar where the Perfect Oblation was offered up for the sins of the whole world.
When the father of Principal Cairns died, after protracted suffering, there was a short pause till each of the family circle had realised what had happened. Then the mother in a broken voice asked that 'the books' might be laid on the table, and gave out the verse:
The storm is changed into a calm
At His command and will;
So that the waves that raged before
Now quiet are and still.
It was her voice that raised the tune. Then she asked her eldest son to read a chapter of the Bible, and afterwards to pray. When they knelt down the son made a strong effort to steady his voice, but failed utterly, and 'the dear mother herself lifted up the voice of thanksgiving for the victory that had been won'. That was the sacrifice of praise.
I. To understand the words fully we turn back to the place where they are used, the last chapter in Hebrews. 'We have an altar,' says the Apostle. That Altar is Christ upon His Cross. It is an Altar whereof those who remain in Judaism and serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. But what is denied to them is the privilege of Christian believers. They feast upon the sacrifice. 'He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.' Christ for us becomes Christ in us. By eating of the sacrifice, the supernatural life is sustained, and the years are turned into one long thanksgiving. Our Altar stood without the gate of Jerusalem. 'The bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the High Priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own Blood, suffered without the gate.' Even as the Christian Church of those days was cast out of the Jewish Synagogue, so the Christian Church is to be separated from the world that it may be united to Him. It is detached from the visible order that it may be united with the invisible. Its true home is not here, not even without the camp, where its Altar stands. That is a stage on the way to the stable city beyond the sea of death, where the eternal order holds, which we seek,' 'for here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come'. So then, being outside the gate, and exiles by the Christian Altar, we are to offer up our sacrifices, not the sacrifice of propitiation, but the sacrifice of praise. It is a sacrifice, seeing that it has to be offered continually. It is also a sacrifice, seeing that it is the fruit of lips that make confession of His name. Confession when the Apostle wrote meant much, and it is not well with us if it means little now.
II. To offer the sacrifice of praise, is to bless the Lord at all times, to give thanks in everything, to make the mornings, noons, and midnights of life one Eucharist. How different is the sacrifice of praise from the mere exultation of youth! Youth, with its profuse illusions, demands happiness as its right, and even if it recognises God as the giver of joy, turns away from Him when the shadow falls. Youth demands victory, and cannot wait. It grows weary in a long and losing fight. But if we have learned to offer the sacrifice of praise upon the Altar, we need not covet youth. God has provided some better thing for us. We know it even when we see ourselves grey haired and wrinkled in the mirror, and feel that the battle is as much as ever we can fight, and the race as much as ever we can run. We have learned to give thanks as the tide of battle rolls this way and that. The inner life wells up as the outer sinks into the ground. There is within us something better than the light-heartedness of youth, a joy, a buoyancy, a confidence which the world cannot give and cannot take away. We have learned to drink in the sunlight when exposed to it, and give back that light in the brightness of the night. To offer the sacrifice of praise is to give thanks, as the Lord gave thanks when He took the bread and blessed it and brake it. He gave thanks for the wayfaring behind and the Cross before.
III. We learn, too, as life goes on that the Christian sacrifice of praise means much more than the acceptance of sorrow in the hope that it may pass and be succeeded by. gladness. There is less meaning for the Christian Church than there was for the Jewish in the words, 'Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning'. It is Jewish rather than Christian to watch the unbidden guest Sorrow with impatience and wretchedness, taking comfort in the thought that her presence must pass with the dreary night, that at morning she will be gone, and we shall find Joy in her room. There is an element of truth in that view. Mornings of joy, even in this life, sometimes follow nights of weeping. When the worst comes to the worst, men say things mend, and they say also that it is always darkest before dawn. But we have come to know that Sorrow does not pass even though Joy enters, and those who can offer the sacrifice of praise do not even pray that she should pass. They learn to make room for the two angels, the veiled angel and the shining. Both are welcome guests, both are sent from God, both will work for us a gracious ministry if we will only suffer it. For the veiled angel we are to praise God, though it must be the sacrifice of praise.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 867.
References. XIII. 15. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2048. J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, p. 337.
'His tenderness,' says George Eliot, of Adam Bede, 'lay very close to his reverence, so that the one could hardly be stirred without the other.'
References. XIII. 15, 16. C. S. Laird, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 79. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 323. XIII. 16. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 222 XIII. 17. E. H. Bickersteth, Thoughts in Past Years, p. 39. J. H. Holford, Memorial Sermons, p. 228. G. Matheson, The Sunday Review, vol. i. p. 105. XIII. 18. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. i. p. 36. J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima Ash Wednesday, p. 411. W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 181. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 25.
The Five Scholars of Lausanne
These words are associated with the martyrdom of the Five Scholars of Lausanne, whose names are among the most honoured in the French martyrology. They were executed at Lyons on 16th May, 1553. Earnest appeals had been made on their behalf by the Swiss Cantons, but Henry II. refused to pardon them. Their progress to the place of execution was marked by the recital of psalms, the benediction, 'The God of peace, that brought again from the dead,' etc., and the Apostles' Creed, and after mutual embraces and farewells, their last words, as their naked bodies, smeared with grease and sulphur, hung side by side over the flames, were: 'Be of good courage, brethren, be of good courage'. Dr. H. M. Baird says: 'Their mission to France had not been in vain. It is no hyperbole of the historian of the Reformed Churches, when he likens their cells to five pulpits, from which the word of God resounded through the entire city and much further. The results of their heroic fortitude, and of the wide dissemination of copies of the confession of their Christian faith, were easily traced in the conversion of many within and without the prison, while the memory of their joyful constancy on their way to the place of execution which rather resembled a triumphal than an ignominious procession and in the flames, was embalmed in the heart of many a spectator.'
This text has an association also with the great Ejection of 1662. Dr. Stoughton says: 'Pepys, who liked to see and hear everything which was going on, walked to old St. Dunstan's Church, at seven o'clock in the morning, but found the doors unopened. He took a turn in the Temple Gardens until eight, when, on coming back to the church, he saw people crowding in at a side door, and found the edifice half-filled, ere the principal entrance had been opened. Dr. Bates, minister of the church, took for his text, "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect". "He making a very good sermon," reports the Secretary, "and very little reflections in it to anything of the times." After dinner, the gossip went to St. Dunstan's again, to hear a second sermon from the same preacher upon the same text. Arriving at the church, about one o'clock, he found it thronged, and had to stand during the whole of the service. Not until the close of this second homily did the preacher make any distinct allusion to his ejectment, and then it was in terms the most concise and temperate. "I know you expect I should say something as to my nonconformity. I shall only say thus much, it is neither fancy, faction, nor humour that makes me not to comply, but merely for fear of offending God. And if after the best means used for my illumination, as prayer to God, discourse, study, I am not able to be satisfied concerning the lawfulness of what is required; if it be my unhappiness to be in error, surely men will have no reason to be angry with me in this world, and I hope God will pardon me in the next."'
References. XIII. 20. H. Alford, Easter-tide Sermons, p. 32. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 277. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 34; ibid. (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 60. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 332. XIII. 20, 21. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 239. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1186, and vol. xxiii. No. 1368. XIII. 22. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 435. XIII. 24. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 393; ibid. vol. x. p. 159. XIII. 25. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 143.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Hebrews 13". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany