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On Modernising Christianity
While in a very real sense Christianity was a new religion in the days of St Paul, in another, following his suggestion, it was a corrective, a revision and a modernisation of the old. The centuries have moved onward and our faith is no longer young. There are those among us who think that Christianity is now over-antiquated, that she is too old-fashioned, and that possibly there ought to be done for her what she in her youth did for the Jewish religion and for the cults of the pagan world. How far, then, and in what particulars is the Church bound to respect the time-spirit? Or, to phrase it differently, in what ways and within what restrictions is the modernising process allowable?
I. What are the changes needed? (1) Christianity should modernise her speech. Now, as on the day of Pentecost, every man has the right to hear the Gospel in the current language of the day, and the folly of talking in an unknown tongue is as pronounced now as when St Paul condemned it. (2) Christianity, likewise, should modernise her thought I do not say that she should abandon it, corrupt it, hide it, or in any way betray it. She can preserve it practically intact, and yet by rendering it less antiquated commend it to the time-spirit of the twentieth century. (3) Christianity ought further to modernise her activities. 'New occasions teach new duties,' and she, with open eyes for the vision, should not hesitate to employ whatever legitimate weapons are within her reach.
II. Let me point out some restrictions, some limitations, which may guard us from the excesses and from the extravagances that scandalise and vitiate the movement we are commending. (1) Christianity must be careful not so to modernise herself as to obscure her distinctive character. She is of the heavens, heavenly, and has no business to become earthy. It is no more necessary to be untrue to herself than it is for a man to be false to his deepest convictions. (2) Christianity, while preserving her character, must be mindful not so to modernise herself as to conceal her essential message. St. Paul gloried in the cross; and it will be a bitter day for humanity when the Church shall hide it, apologise for it, and explain away its only possible meaning as though it were her shame. (3) Christianity, finally, must be heedful not so to modernise herself as to becloud her supreme object That the Church should strive for social amelioration, that she should do her utmost to improve temporal conditions, and that she should antagonise each specific evil and wrong of the time is cheerfully conceded. But she has a programme of her own. Her theory is: Cleanse the sources and the river will be pure; maintain the power in the power-house and traffic will keep on the move; supply and fill the reservoir and the homes of the citizens will not lack for water. This is her supreme object.
G. C. Lorimer, The Modern Crisis in Religion, p. 13.
References. IX. 10. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 46; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 398. IX. 11. H. Alford, Sermons on Christian Doctrine, p. 193.
Our Lord's Sacrifice
I. The idea of sacrifice is almost co-extensive with the idea of God. The universality of the sacrificial idea can only be accounted for either by some primeval revelation from God, or by the fact that God, who endowed man with the religious instinct, implanted in him the notion of sacrifice.
Before the Fall, when man's conscience was unclouded by sin, sacrifice was the expression of love alone. Now that man's heart is stained by sin, sacrifice is the expression of penitence, and yet still of love; for all true penitence is the utterance of love, telling God of sorrow, not for what the penitent has lost, not for the punishment incurred, but of that sorrow which is the expression of love in the presence of sin.
Sacrifice consists of an inward and an outward part, of which, while the inward may be the more important, the outward is absolutely necessary to perfect the sacrifice. True sacrifices are those inward feelings of love and obedience which form the very foundation of religion; but those feelings are not in themselves proper sacrifices: in order that they may become so, they must find some external means of expression. A true sacrifice is one in which the religion of the heart is expressed by some outward symbol or rite acceptable to God.
In our Lord Jesus Christ the inward part was present from the first moment of His incarnate life (Hebrews 10:9 ). It was the life of perfect love and unwavering obedience, which, as the inward part, found its outward expression in the death upon the cross, and made our Lord's a proper sacrifice 'a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world'.
II. In the Epistle to the Hebrews our Lord's sacrifice upon the cross is compared with the sacrifices under the Jewish law. Let us observe how perfectly our Lord fulfilled the sacrificial types, and where His sacrifice differs both from the Jewish sacrifices and the ritual of the Day of Atonement.
(a) There was the presentation of the victim by the offerer (Leviticus 1:3 ). Two points here demand attention: the offering was to be without blemish, and it was to be a voluntary offering (Hebrews 9:14 ). It was, then, a voluntary offering; and the act of presentation may be referred either to our Lord's high-priestly prayer (John XVII.), or to that prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:26 ); or we may consider both these actions to belong to the presentation of the victim.
(b) The second stage in the offering of the Jewish sacrifice was the identification of the victim with the offerer (Leviticus 1:4 ). By this action the offerer expressed his desire that the offering should be accepted in his place. The victim, however, was only a symbolic substitute for the offerer; but our Lord was, in the truest sense, representative of the human race. The sacrificial offering offered by Christ is a real and equivalent substitute for all mankind, on whose behalf it is sacrificed.
(c) Then came the effusion of the blood. The offerer himself slew the victim. The priest took the blood and sprinkled it (Leviticus 4:5-7 ). The blood of each sin-offering was sprinkled against the veil, and symbolised the separation which sin had caused between God and man that there was no free access to God. The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin, and so the blood was sprinkled, but the veil remained unmoved. The precious blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin, so when it was sprinkled the veil of the Temple was rent in twain, signifying that the barrier between God and man was removed, and access to God secured through the precious Blood of Christ.
(d) There was the burning upon the altar of certain parts of the victim, which thus went up as a sweet savour to God. And so our Lord (Ephesians 5:2 ).
(e) There was a feast upon the sacrifice, and this is fulfilled by our Lord's gift of His Holy Body and Blood to be our food in the Eucharist. There we feast upon the Christian sacrifice.
III. Holy Scripture teaches to associate the idea of life with the blood, and therefore forbade the Jews ever to eat blood (Leviticus 17:10-11 ). So that, as all sacrifice pointed to our Lord's sacrifice, this injunction pointed to the fact that it was the precious Blood which was to make atonement for sin, which was to redeem the world.
By this inauguration of the new dispensation, a new and living way is opened to the Throne of God, opened by the precious Blood. From that Blood each baptism gains its efficacy, from it each absolution derives its power; the precious Blood of Christ the means of redemption, applied to our souls through the Sacraments of the Church.
A. G. Mortimer, Lenten Preaching.
The Priesthood of Christ
The priestly work of the Lord Jesus is the glorious theme of our text, but more especially the superiority of His Priesthood over that of Aaron. Four points of superiority are alluded to in the text Superiority of the Person, the Place, the Plea, the Privileges.
I. The Superiority of the Person. The allusion in the text is to the high priest and to his work, especially on the Great Day of Atonement The Levitical law made high priests of those who had infirmities, moral defects. Hence the high priest had to observe manifold and solemn rites of purification before he entered on the duties of the Great Day of Atonement All these rites indicated his natural unfitness for the duties of his holy office. But Christ our High Priest had no need of ceremonial cleansing: He was clean already.
II. The Superiority of the Place where our High Priest Officiates. 'A greater and more perfect tabernacle." (1) 'Greater.' The figures of our arithmetic fail to describe its vastness. There will be as much room for the inhabitants to roam without colliding as there is in space for the stars to wander. (2) Not only greater but also a 'more perfect' tabernacle. No human art helped to build the tabernacle where our High Priest sits enthroned: no angel hand ever put a stone into it. The Builder and Maker is God.
III. The Plea of our High Priest is Superior to that of the Aaronic Priesthood. 'Not the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood.' One man is of more value than all animals, but this was the blood of the God-man.
IV. Under Christ we have Superior Privileges. He is 'the High Priest of good things to come'. (1) The things under the law were only shadows: the good things under the Gospel are substantial and enduring. (2) Immediate access to God is one of the good things brought to us by Christ. (3) Christ hath obtained eternal redemption eternal freedom. Freedom from what? (a) Freedom from the ceremonial law with all its burdensome and costly rites. (b) Christ hath obtained for us eternal freedom from sin.
Richard Roberts, My Closing Ministry, p. 224.
References. IX. 11, 12. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 280; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 225. IX. 11-14. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. i. p. 148. G. Body, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 185, and vol. lix. p. 192. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 72. IX. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2076. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 444; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 390. IX. 13, 14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1481, and vol. xxxi. No. 1846.
We know not the truth of humanity we know only its perversions while we are living the life of self and enmity and are as gods to ourselves. What it is to be a man, what we possess in humanity, we never know until we see humanity in Him who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God.
McLeod Campbell, The Nature of the Atonement (pp. 147, 148).
'We know,' says Faber, 'that the service of God is the grand thing, or rather that it is the only thing about us which is great at all.'
References. IX. 14. Bishop Alexander, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 134. W. M. Clow, The Cross in Christian Experience, p. 206. Walter Lock, The Guardian, 27th January, 1911. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. pp. 34, 442; ibid. vol. ii. pp. 138-142; ibid. (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 405. IX. 16. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. i. p. 34. IX. 15-28. Ibid. p. 351. IX. 16. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 373. IX. 20. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1567.
Gethsemane, the Rose Garden of God
I do not use the complete sentence. It is true even upon the lowest plane that without shedding of blood there is nothing, no mighty result, no achievement, no triumph. Every worthy deed costs something; no high thing can be done easily. No great thing can be accomplished without the shedding of blood. Life is just our chance of making this great and strange discovery. Many of us never make it. We begin by trifling, by working with a fraction of our strength. We soon see that nothing comes of that. At last, if we are wise, we see that all the strength is needed. What have we besides this? We must disrobe ourselves. We do it; yet our object remains ungained. What more have we to give? We have our blood. So at last the blood is shed, the life is parted with, and the goal is reached. We are happy if we know that everything noble and enduring in this world is accomplished by the shedding of blood, not merely the concentration of the heart and soul and mind on one object, but the pruning and even the maiming of life. Young men are being taught this lesson now, and unless all signs are false they will be taught it more sternly in the future.
I. Blessing comes from blood-shedding; that is, our power to bless in the highest sense comes from our shedding, as it were, great drops of blood. We need not shed them literally, though the Church has justly placed the martyrs first. The Church of Rome never prays for the martyrs, but makes request for their prayers. The martyrs it sees before Christ in robes of crimson, and the saints in white. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. We cannot atone, but we can bless. We cannot have a share in the one perfect Oblation, the Evening Sacrifice of the world, but we fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ. Of every great servant of Christ it is true that the Lord says, 'I will show him how great things he must suffer for My Name's sake'. It would not be right to say that it is the suffering that counts, and not the labour. What is true is that the labour without the suffering does not count, that the two in a fruitful life are indissolubly joined. We are familiar with the great passages in which the Apostle is driven to use the awful language of the Passion, where he says, 'I am crucified with Christ, I die daily'. And it is true that all along the way there are sacrifice and blood-shedding. But I believe it is equally true that there is but one great Gethsemane in the lives of Christ's blessed servants. Many have none, and their work comes to little, but the elect have one that stands above all, one shedding of blood, one death, after which the rest seems easy. The Gethsemane may be, and often is, the rooting out of some cherished ambition that has filled the heart and occupied every thought. It may be the shattering of some song, the breaking of some dream. It may be, and often is, the great rending of the affections, the cutting of the soul free from some detaining human tenderness. Anyhow, the full agony cannot last more than a little, though the heartache may persist through a lifetime. 'Could ye not watch with Me one hour? ' I sometimes think that blood-sheddings are far more common than we are apt to imagine, and that they take place in the most unlikely lives. In the memoir of Dr. Raleigh, a prosperous suburban minister with every earthly ambition realised, there is a significant passage. When he was at the zenith of his fame he said that ministers came and looked round at his crowded church, and envied his position. 'They do not know what it cost me to come to this.' So, in James Hamilton's life, we are permitted to see how he parted, for Christ's sake, with his great ambition. He wished to write a life of Erasmus, and devoted many years to preparation, but other claims came and baulked him of his long desire. He says: 'So this day, with a certain touch of tenderness, I restored the eleven tall folios to the shelf, and tied up my memoranda, and took leave of a project which has sometimes cheered the hours of exhaustion, and the mere thought of which has always been enough to overcome my natural indolence. It is well. It was a chance, the only one I ever had, of attaining a small measure of literary distinction, and where there is so much pride and haughtiness of heart it is better to remain unknown.' I think we may easily see where the Gethsemane was in Henry Martvn's life, and I think one may also see it in John Wesley's life, though I should not care to indicate it. But the heart knoweth its own bitterness. What we know is that the Gethsemanes in the Christian life come in the course of duty, and in obedience to God's will as it is revealed from day to day.
II. The bloom and perfection of life to the missionary come from the shedding of blood. Observe that I am not speaking here of the blessing to others, but of the blessing that is meant to come to ourselves in the great enrichment of the spiritual life that should follow, and abundantly make up for, the impoverishment and expenditure of the natural life. What comes after the parting with the natural life, after the shedding of blood, after the death to the world? Various things come, but what ought to come is the resurrection life, which the shedding of blood has made room for.
It does not always come even to the servants of God whose lives are faithful. Their work is fruitful, never without result, but they themselves have not the full blessing of the resurrection life.
(1) Often the Gethsemane of the soul means a brief tarrying in this world. It seems as if too much had gone, as if the spirit could not recover its energies. There are a few books peculiarly dear to the heart of the Church which I may call Gethsemane books. The chief are the lives of Brainerd, Martyn, and McCheyne. All of these died young, not without signs of the Divine blessing, but prematurely rich and fervid natures exhausted and burnt out I do not overlook physical causes and reasons, but in each case there was a Gethsemane.
(2) Sometimes the earthly life parted with is not fully replaced by the resurrection life, and a long drawn melancholy ensues. It is so, I venture to think, in the life of Charles Wesley. It will be granted by the most ardent admirers of that great saint and supreme Christian poet that the last thirty years of his life will not compare with those of his mighty, strenuous, ardent youth. They were sad years in the main, spent in comparative inaction, and with many weary, listless, discontented days. The text of Charles Wesley's later years, the text that must ever be associated with his name, was, 'I will bring the third part through the fire'. He thought that one third part of Methodists would endure to the end. He never sought an abundant entrance for himself into the heavenly kingdom, never asked more than that 'I may escape safe to land on a broken piece of the ship. This is my daily and hourly prayer, that I may escape safe to land.' Our Gethsemanes are not meant to end in gloom and melancholy. They are meant to give us, by the grace of God, a richer, even an eternal life in the place of that which we have lost. Our sufferings must be well used, for 'in this mortal journey wasted shade is worse than wasted sunshine'.
(3) No, the bloom of life should come out of death. The resurrection life should pour into the depleted veins, and fill them with strength and peace. That was eminently the experience of John Wesley. Branch after branch was withered, but every time the new life rushed through all the arid fibres, and they bloomed again. There is no book, I humbly think, in all the world like John Wesley's Journal. It is pre-eminently the book of the resurrection life lived in this world. It has very few companions. Indeed, it stands out solitary in all Christian literature, clear, detached, columnar. It is a tree that is ever green before the Lord.
When the world has become one great Gethsemane, we shall see over it all the flowers that grow, and grow only, in the garden where Christ's brow dropped blood. The Church of Christ must be in an agony, praying more earnestly, sweating, as it were, great drops of blood, before the world can be brought to Christ. We give nothing, until we give what it costs us to give, life. There is no life without death. Gethsemane is the rose garden of God.
W. Robertson Nicoll, The Lamp of Sacrifice, p. 55.
References. IX. 22. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 134. M. Biggs, Practical Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 43. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 118, and vol. li. No. 2951. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 462. IX. 23. Bishop Bickersteth, Sermons, p. 182. IX. 24. J. B. Mozley, University Sermons, p. 277.
No fact in man's moral history is more certain than this, that the simple statement of Scripture, 'Christ has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself,' has been found efficacious to reach down to the lowest depths of men's souls beyond any other truth ever uttered on this earth.
J. C. Shairp, Studies in Poetry and Philosophy, pp. 419, 420.
References. IX. 26. S. Bentley, Pariah Sermons, p. 100. E. A. Stuart, The One Mediator and other Sermons, vol. xi. p. 201. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 759, vol. xvi. Nos. 911, 962, and vol. xxxviii. No. 2283. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 139; ibid. (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 277. ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 458; ibid. vol. x. p. 319; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 428. IX. 26-28. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvii. No. 2194.
Speaking of Plato's three great myths, Jowett, in his introduction to the Gorgias, observes that they 'are a substitute for poetry and mythology; and they are also a reform of mythology. The moral of them may be summed up in a word or two: After death the Judgment; and There is some better thing remaining for the good than for the evil'.
We must die and give an account of our life; here in all its simplicity is the teaching of sickness!
I looked then, and saw a man named Evangelist, coming to him, and asked, Wherefore dost thou cry? He answered, Sir, I perceive by the Book in my hand, that I am condemned to die, and after that to come to Judgment, and I find that I am not willing to do the first, nor able to do the second.'
Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (pt 1).
'The hope of a future life,' says Sir John Seeley in Natural Religion (pt 2 Chronicles 3:0 ), 'is still strong in men's minds, and has, perhaps, been expressed with more ardour in this age than in any other. But the legal and penal ideas which used to be connected with it have almost disappeared. "In Memoriam" speaks in every line of a future state, but of a future judgment it is absolutely silent.'
References. IX. 27. Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 102. J. Keble, Sermons for Advent to Christmas Eve, p. 68. R. Scott, Oxford Lent Sermons, 1868, p. 113. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons, p. 15. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. i. p. 104. IX. 27, 28. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 430. IX. 28. H. Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, p. 352. X. 1. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 53. X. 1-3. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 338; X. 1-18. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. i. p. 436. X. 2. H. Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, p. 260. X. 3. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 348.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Hebrews 9". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
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