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Agnosticism, Positivism and Materialism
John outstrips Genesis. He begins the record of the world anew, but starts from a deeper starting-point. In Genesis the history of the world arises out of the God of Creation. In John there is a deeper starting-point: history commences with the God of redemption.
I. This, then, is the first assertion we have to consider Redemption is older than Creation. God the Saviour is a more fundamental fact than God the Creator. Redemption was not an incidental sequel of creation, but creation was the means to work out the eternal idea of redemption. Creation was the means of carrying out the eternal idea of redeeming love. John says in his wonderful Revelation that there stood before him the Lamb slain. Slain when? 'Slain from the foundation of the world.' This world was established on sacrifice.
II. The infinite reach and astounding sweep of this assertion draws our attention all the more forcibly to the uncompromising positiveness and stark dogmatism of it. There is certainly something wrong either with John or with this present generation, for the present age prides itself on being sure of as little as possible. It is typical of the age that its most pretentious system of knowledge calls itself Agnosticism, that is, 'Know-nothingism'. Another system that competes with this 'Know-nothingism,' and calls itself 'Positivism,' is first-cousin to it. These are the two systems that pretend to teach us the ways of wisdom. One glories in knowing nothing; the other boasts in knowing very little. And unfortunately the same spirit of Agnosticism has found its way, has ramified itself throughout the whole field of religious thought. It is the men that know that shake the world. How could John come to the knowledge of such a stupendous fact as this? John had only one way of obtaining this knowledge, namely, by revelation. Heaven revealed its message straight to the heart of this man.
III. No less noticeable than the dogmatism and positiveness of John's assertion are the grandeur and reasonableness of it. 'In the beginning was the Word.' That is John's explanation. Can you conceive a better? The difficulties of the Christian religion are as nothing compared with the difficulties of materialism, when you begin to examine it. This fountain is inexhaustible, limitless, and worlds after worlds without end may stream forth from such a source and fount as this.
IV. There is yet another marvel in John's conception of the manifestation of this Word. Is there any further revelation of this eternal Word of which John speaks? There is ample evidence that the Old Testament prophets regarded that Word as a living personality that touched their lives. Then there came One in a form like our own, a Son of man, One who was born, lived, suffered, and died on our earth. And man came into contact with Him, and said: 'The eternal has come down to men'. If that be true, and nothing is more certain in the life of man or in the history of the world, we are face to face with an astounding fact, a fact infinitely important for each one of us individually, and infinitely important for societies and nations. For this Jesus must triumph.
John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 305.
References. I. 1. W. Alexander, Primary Convictions, p. 203. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 248; ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 303. I. 1-5. T. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 126. I. 1-13. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 100. I. 1-14. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 1. I. 1-15. Ibid. vol. x. p. 61. I. 3. Bishop Galloway, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 168. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 75.
Life and Light
If we were asked suddenly what we thought of life, what we thought of the world in which we lived, a good many of us would answer that we do not think much about it, and possibly that would be the truest answer that many of us could give. A little work, a little recreation, a little sleep for some more, for others less, of each that seems to be for us life. And yet we are not quite satisfied. There is a lurking suspicion that life means more; perhaps a self-consciousness that, many years ago, it did mean more to us. Is there not something wrong with such a conception of life? Has the best which we can conceive of in life no other meaning than the gaining of prizes such as we worked for at school, such as the few who are more fortunate can still gain? Surely the revelation of Jesus Christ throws a light across our conception of life; it makes such an idle view of it seem dwarfed and incomplete.
I. Think of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, coming to earth in the form of man, as a servant of God. Surely there is a strange reversal of all that we have regarded as chiefly desirable in life. We raise ourselves to obtain a position which shall separate us from the common run of mankind, so that they shall look up to us and admire us. But here is One Who is really the Son of God and has all the honour and glory of God, descending to earth in the likeness, and subject to all the limitations, of humanity. Nor is even that all. He adopted the trade of a carpenter a humble profession while on this earth, and was obedient unto death, and that death the death of Christ was the death of a malefactor. Can we still say that life has lost its wonder? What, then, can life and the world in which we live mean to us in this new light? Life means the development of our capacities, and the world is the sphere in which they are developed. There has come into the sphere of our activity One Who proclaims Himself to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He says: 'I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.' And He goes further still, for He declares that if a man keep His word he shall never see death. Is there any limit to such a possibility of development as that?
II. What must this Higher Life mean to you and to me? It gives a new reality, a new meaning to everything we have and do and say, to all that we are.
(a) You have physical powers. Develop them not simply as a means for your own amusement, but as a means of serving God better than you have ever done before.
(b) You have intellectual powers. Develop them to that same end. Do not be content to get into a groove, so to speak, as many of us are, and stop in it. Find some other interest apart from your own daily work. It may be literature, the study of economics, or it may be music; but whatever it is, as you have opportunity, develop it to the best of your power, and you will find that it will give you an insight into the wonders of the world in which you live. It will give you comfort and support which will lead you through much drudgery and enable you to support worry and even suffering. It will open out to you countless opportunities for service to God which would otherwise be closed.
(c) There is spiritual development, the development of the capacity for a knowledge of God. All our energies and powers come from Him. Our lives are surely not without incident and interest since we commenced them in the Church of Christ. Is life so full for any one of us that we can spare no time for preparation, that we can spare no time to come to receive that gift of life which God offers us, a gift that will make our day's work worth doing, that will make our daily prayers real and sustaining and give them a meaning which they can have in no other way, a gift that will make our sojourn here on earth the best preparation, the best training for better service, for a fuller and better life hereafter?
References. I. 4. Brooke Herford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 147. Bishop Walters, ibid. vol. lx. p. 164. Newman Smyth, The Reality of Faith, p. 17. J. Huntley Skrine, Sermons to Pastors and Masters, p. 27.
Life and Light
I. A Great Conception of Jesus Christ. 'In Him was life.' John is not dealing with a theory, but with a fact John had pressed very closely to Him, had leaned upon His bosom and beheld His glory. There, with a clearness which forced itself upon him, was a Divine humanity. Those who assert that the incarnation of God is impossible, are bound also to assert that such a life as that of Jesus was impossible. 'In Him was life.' (1) The words point to 'life' as the ultimate fact in the world, the basis of all things else. John saw the secret of the world when he saw Jesus Christ The invisible God stood revealed revealed as a throbbing life. Thus the truth came. All things were made by Him, and without Him there was not anything made that was made. (2) Then there is the other truth, that the infinite life is in intimate contact with finite life. (3) And there is yet another truth, that the whole world is governed by a moral purpose. Since Christ is its life, it must find its unity and meaning in that life.
II. The Great Purpose of the Work of Jesus Christ. 'And the life was the light of men.' It might seem at first sight as if there were a sudden descent, a weakening of the expression, in the transition from 'life' to 'light'. This feeling arises partly from failing to realise what a large thought the idea of 'light' is in the mind of the Apostle John. (1) In his writings it alternates with 'love' as an adequate designation of the rich complexity and immaculate purity of God's moral nature. When applied to man it denotes participation in the moral nature of God. (2) Then again, light takes it natural place with John as the product of life. Christ came to save men from their sins, to reconstruct the ruined nature of man, to seek and to save that which was lost; and His mightiest miracles were but fringes on the border of His real work. The life was the light of men.
III. The Great Opposition to the Work of Jesus Christ. 'And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.' A strong claim is put forward in favour of the translation, 'And the darkness overcame it not'. The best English word that I can think of to express this comprehensive meaning is the verb 'To master'. The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness mastered it not The Church may have to pass through many a Gethsemane and many a Calvary yet before the purging hosts of darkness disappear. But all is well. They know not the secret place of our power, they cannot touch the Divinity which is the life of our life.
John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 85.
Reference. I. 4-18. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 229.
Judging from the main portion of the history of the world, so far, justice is always in jeopardy, peace walks amid hourly pitfalls, and of slavery, misery, meanness, the craft of tyrants, and the credulity of the populace in some of their protean forms, no voice can at any time say, They are not. The clouds break a little, and the sun shines out but soon and certain the lowering darkness falls again, as if to last for ever. Yet is there an immortal courage and prophecy in every sane soul that cannot, must not, under any circumstances, capitulate.
Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas.
References. I. 5. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 1. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 322.
The Lord has given to every man something which distinguishes him from every other man; find out that something; that is your business. You are not one of a mob, you have a soul, an identity, a personality of your own; you can do what nobody else can do just in the same way and in the same measure; find out what that is, and do it. That is life. You are afraid of yourself. You are very self-specialising when you are perfectly sure that nobody is within a mile of you, but the moment the next man comes near you so easily drop into cowardice, and further still drop into practical nothingness.
I. There was a man sent from God, and his name was Sympathy. It is almost a woman's name; but the true man is male and female, man and woman, brother and sister, and the more woman there is in him the better for everybody. There was a man sent from God whose radiant, gentle, womanly name was Sympathy. He said as he approached our sorrow and our solitude, The Lord hath given me the tongue of the learned that I might speak a word in season to him that is weary. Cannot everybody speak a word to that man? No; sympathy is a gift; sympathy is a music carved out of a special gamut and set to vital strain and expression by the king's son.
II. There was a man sent from God whose name was Encouragement, Comfort. This man has a double name, and yet both the names mean the same thing. We mistake the etymology and the religious application of the word comfort. Hardly a man in a thousand can tell us what comfort really means. He is a comforting preacher who says, Arise, shine, for thy light is come; awake, awake! get thee up into the high mountains! and who, making these grand trumpet announcements, says, For the Lord is thy strength, and the Holy One of Israel the unfailing river on whose waters of grace thou mayest evermore rely. It is a very disastrous thing to take away these passages from people who have been over-fondling them for half a century, without having the faintest idea of their real meaning. It is very sad when everybody begins to interpret without having been told to do so by Him who wrought the Word mystery, the Logos of redeeming passion.
III. There was a man sent from God whose name was Insight. The difference between one man and another is that one man can do it and the other cannot. That is all. I would to God that were realised in the Church, in statesmanship, in literature, in the whole range of civilisation. The man who cannot do it may be most industrious and most painstaking and most conscientious, but he always sets the thing that he is setting upside down. It has to be set the other way, but all the philosophers since philosophy was born can never drive it into his head that his way is the wrong way. Yet he is most conscientious, and he is known in his own neighbourhood as a good man, and so amiable. Some men can see and other men cannot see.
Now when a man feels that he is sent of God he is fearless. A man who is sent from God has no anxiety about resources. The true preacher never wonders what he will preach about this day month; we have nothing to do even with tomorrow. How will the work be done? By the living God. How do you know that all the world shall be covered with the knowledge of the Lord? Because the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. There is an oath at stake, and it is God's oath.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. i. p. 248.
A Man Called John
'What's in a name? 'says Shakespeare, 'a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.' It is no disadvantage to have a common name. You may have a common name and not be a common man. The term 'common man' needs definition. By the term 'common man' is sometimes meant a vulgar, or an uncultivated or a low-born man I mean an obscure man, an ordinary man, a man with nothing to distinguish him from a million others. Now it may be remarked that the John to whom the words refer was not a common man. He was a very uncommon man, in some respects a unique man. The principles on which John lived, and which gave him his imperishable name, are precisely those which will redeem and glorify the man called John who is here today.
I. A Man called John. The word reminds us of the familiar fact that the overwhelming majority of the human race live and die in obscurity. How ought we to look at this fact that you and I are destined to live and die with unknown names, and lie in unknown graves? Well, it need not quench our ambitions, if they be worthy ambitions. (1) Obscurity does not rob any life of value and usefulness. Every crank in a machine is necessary to its work. The whole system of the universe is so perfectly balanced that every grain of dust counts. The social order is equally dependent on its feebler members. (2) Obscurity robs no life of happiness. The spirit that chafes at it does. The gnawing hunger, the restless ambition for what God has not given, will embitter and impoverish any life.
II. There was a man sent from God. For the special work that he did, he was specially endowed. But yet it is absolutely true that what fitted John for his ministry will make any man called John a witness to the light and an ambassador of Christ. Let us dwell on one or two points. This John was sent from God. But so is every John. Every human spirit is the creation of God. That is the Christian doctrine of man. This truth, once realised, has a redemptive and inspiring power. If I am sent by God, my life is of some value. For He must have sent me for something. And if I am made for a purpose, then not only is it my first duty to fulfil that purpose, but the way to fulfil it is to be myself. When we realize all that this means, and all that is involved in it, it is really a transfigurement of life.
III. There is, finally, the suggestion of the purpose for which the man called John is sent. It is to bear witness to the light. It is for this test that all men are sent When their souls awake they are illumined, they know themselves; the end, the possibilities, the true glory of their life. 'Hitch your wagon to a star,' said Emerson. This will glorify the commonplace by consecrating it. Keep up connection with the unseen by prayer and aspiration; you will feel heaven tugging at your heart
R. Baldwin Brindley, The Darkness where God is, p. 107.
References. I. 6. F. B. Meyer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 1. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 126. I. 7, 8, 20. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 147.
Wesley, in his journal for 1764, tells of a woman at Walsall who wished to come and hear him, but dared not, as she had heard a great deal of evil about him. 'This morning,' however, she told a neighbour, 'I dreamed I was praying earnestly, and I heard a voice saying, "See the eighth verse of the first chapter of St. John". I waked and got my Bible and read, He was not that Light but was sent to bear witness of that Light. I got up and came away with all my heart.'
References. I. 8. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 6. I. 8, 9. J. M. Neale, Readings for the Aged (3rd Series), p. 208. I. 9. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 396. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 63. I. 10. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 166. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 154. I. 10-11. Ibid. vol. ix. p. 239.
As to our spiritual wants, though they exist in all, they are so feeble in themselves, and so trodden under foot, and crushed by our carnal appetites and worldly practices, you might as well expect that a field of corn, over which a regiment of cavalry has been galloping to and fro, will rise up and meet the sun, as that of ourselves we shall seek food for our spiritual wants. Even when the Bread of life came down from heaven, we turned away from it and rejected it. Even when He came to His own, His own received Him not.
A. J. C. Hare, Guesses at Truth.
References. I. 11. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1055. H. A. Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 20. C. Bradley, Faithful Teaching, p. 127. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Reading (2nd Series), p. 66. E. A. Bray, Sermons, vol. i. p. 22. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 376; ibid. vol. x. p. 356; ibid. vol. xii. p. 424. I. 11-13. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1212; vol. xxxviii. No. 2259.
I cannot go back to search for the shadow of the mystery under its types and figures, because the substance itself is come; and I find more enjoyment of it by simply giving myself up to that which is to be had from a Christ, not as human under Jewish prophecies, but as come in the flesh, and made man in every one who receives Him.
William Law ( Letter xxvii).
References. I. 12. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 9. R. Allen, The Words of Christ, p. 173. H. D. Rawnsley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 165. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 669 and vol. xxx. No. 1757. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 46; ibid. vol. vii. pp. 36, 272. I. 12, 13. G. P. McKay, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 195. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 293. I. 13. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. pp. 183, 360; ibid. vol. iv. p. 412; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 209.
The Word Made Flesh (For Christmas Day)
The birth of Jesus Christ has two aspects: The Nativity itself, the most stupendous fact in history; the Incarnation, a Revelation of Eternity, the great doctrine of our religion.
The birth of that little Babe in the stable of the humble inn at Bethlehem there is the event. 'The Word became flesh' there is the doctrine, and the mystery. God became Man. He took not on Him the nature of angels, yet the angels thrilled with tumults of joy at the thought of millions of sinners who would be saved. Is not that cause enough for Christmas gladness for a joy as that of the angels? The mystery itself we cannot fathom; of that we say: 'I will seek to believe rather than to reason; to adore rather than to explain; to give thanks rather than to penetrate; to love rather than to know; to humble myself rather than to speak'. And, believing it out of the thousand lessons it involves let us take this one to our hearts: the Incarnation the basis of all noble conceptions of human life; the grandeur of that human nature which God has given us; the sacredness, the majesty, the lofty privileges, the immeasurable possibilities of man.
I. Look at man in the light of nature. We look upwards at the myriads of planets, and a sense of our own nothingness tempts us to think of ourselves as the creatures of a passing moment, the prey of blind forces in the blinding whirl of chance. We look downwards at the earth, wrinkled with innumerable graves the very dust composed of the decay of unnumbered organisms; and we are tempted to believe that nothing remains for us but 'dust to dust'. We look around, and, seeing the vanity and vileness of mankind, not savage tribes alone, but communities nominally Christian tainted by greed, by dishonesty besotted by drink, the bondslaves of base and brutal passions, we are tempted to despise our race our own selves. It is such thoughts that drive men into the devil's gospel of despair, and lead so many to cry wearily 'that life is not worth living'. But II. Turn from the shadows face the sun! Turn your eyes from the phenomena of evil and ruin, and behold the manger cradle of Bethlehem! Look at man in the light of the Incarnation, and see how all is changed! Jesus, Who is Christ the Lord, was the Perfect Man, the Representative Man; God as a Man with men; God, not merely revealing Himself to man, not merely uniting Himself to man, but God becoming Man. And so we take our estimate of man, not from the churl and villain, the liar and scoundrel, the selfish miser and staggering drunkard, not from the harlot and the felon, and those yet more guilty who made them what they are, but from the pure, the good, the spiritually minded. These alone are true men and women. In the light of Bethlehem's candle we see man not as he often is, but as he may be, as we trust he yet will be.
III. Do not regard this lesson of the Incarnation as a mere vague trust, a mere abstract speculation. It is a belief which affects our estimate of ourselves our conduct to others. There is not one degradation of our being which does not spring from lack of self-reverence, of reverence for beings whom Christ hath redeemed, to whom He has given a right to be children of God. The Incarnation teaches us that our part is in Christ, our bodies His temple, our nature His image, our hearts His shrine. He who regards himself as akin to the beasts that perish will live as they do. He who regards himself as an immortal being, partaker of the nature which Christ wore and Christ redeemed, will aim at a noble and godly life.
F. W. Farrar, Everyday Christian Life.
Great is our Lord, and great is His power, Jesus the Son of God and Son of man. Ten thousand times more dazzling bright than the highest Archangel is our Lord and Christ. By birth the Only-begotten and Express Image of God; and in taking our flesh, not sullied thereby, but raising human nature with Him, as He rose from the lowly manger to the right hand of power, raising human nature, for Man has redeemed us, Man is set above all creatures, as one with the Creator, Man shall judge man at the last day. So honoured is this earth, that no stranger shall judge us, but He who is our fellow, who will sustain our interests, and has full sympathy in all our imperfections. He who loved us, even to die for us, is graciously appointed to assign the final measurement and price upon His own work. He who best knows by infirmity to take the part of the infirm, He who would fain reap the full fruit of His passion, He will separate the wheat from the chaff, so that not a grain shall fall to the ground. He who has given us to share His own spiritual nature, He from whom we have drawn the life's blood of our souls, He our brother will decide about His brethren. In that His second coming, may He in His grace and loving pity remember us, who is our only hope, our only salvation!
J. H. Newman.
St. Thomas Aquinas, for all his learning and holiness, feared thunder and lightning with an excessive shrinking. On all occasions, when assailed by this terror, he used to comfort himself with the sacred words: 'The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us '.
St. Francis de Sales.
The soul's the way. Not even Christ Himself
Can save man else than as he holds man's soul;
And, therefore, did He come into our flesh,
As some wise hunter, creeping on his knees,
With a torch, into the blackness of the cave,
To face and quell the beast there take the soul,
And so possess the whole man, body and soul.
Mrs. Browning, Aurora Leigh.
Christmas approaches, a charmed time to me. I hear its music afar off the song of the angels, the breathing of the bells, but most the Divine song from out the central glory. It has begun, it is descending in the sloping line from the Infinite a wave ebbing from the other side of the ocean to break ere long on the high shore of the world, faint with distance..... And on Christmas morn I know that they who sleep, but their hearts wake, will hear one full carol and feel the shining of the glory; but it will not stay, only the music will linger in them all day, and the glory will brood over their heart, and some Divine sentence from the lips of the King will come up every hour to make them wonder at its depth and meaning. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
From James Smetham's Journal.
References. I. 14. H. H. Scullard, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix." p. 54. J. S. Bartlett, Sermons, p. 130. H. Storey, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 371. A. Whyte, The Scottish Review, vol. iii. p. 525. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 24. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 572. H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Reading, p. 1. F. Lynch, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 236. W. C. Wheeler, Sermons and Addresses, p. 35. S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 138. F. G. Lee, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 301. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 414, and vol. xxxi. No. 1862. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 20. Bishop Magee, The Gospel and the Age, p. 311. J. R. Illingworth, University and Cathedral Sermons, p. 181. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, pt. i. p. 48. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 400. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life, p. 116. R. J. Campbell, A Faith for To-day, p. 197. M. G. Glazebrook, Prospice, p. 107. Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 33. F. W. Farrar, Everyday Christian Life, p. 298. Archbishop Alexander, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 500. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 187; ibid. vol. iv. p. 165; ibid. vol. ix. p. 86; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 68; ibid. vol. vii. p. 71; ibid. vol. ix. p. 365; ibid. vol. x. p. 172. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 14. I. 14-18. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 42. I. 15. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 133. I. 15-18. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 73.
We read of Dr. Andrew Bonar:
'On Sabbath, the 17th of October, 1830, while quietly sitting in a room which he shared with his brothers, reading Guthrie's Trial of a Saving Interest in Christ, he began to have a "secret joyful hope," that he really believed on the Lord Jesus. The fullness and freeness of Divine grace filled his heart. " I did nothing but receive," he says. No doubt of his acceptance in Christ ever again dimmed the clearness of his faith.'
Reminiscences, p. vi.
References. I. 16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 858, vol. vii. No. 415, and vol. xx. No. 1169. A. Whyte, The Scottish Review, vol. iii. p. 525. C. S. Macfarland, The Spirit Christlike, p. 41. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 23.
'When people read, the law came by Moses, but grace and truth by Christ, do they suppose it means that the law was ungracious and untrue? The law was given for a foundation; the grace (or mercy) and truth for fulfilment; the whole forming one glorious trinity of judgment, mercy, and truth.' In a note, appended to this paragraph from Frondes Agrestes (§ 76), Ruskin declares that all his 'later writings, without exception, have been directed to maintain and illustrate the great truth expressed in this passage.'
References. I.17. M. Biggs, Practical Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1862. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 168. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 31.
The Manifestation of the Invisible God
Two truths are brought before us in this passage: first, that God, essential or absolute Deity, is to us, in our present state of being, invisible: secondly, that Jesus Christ is the declaration of God to men.
I. God is invisible. Why is this? (1) It is naturally impossible for what is spiritual to be perceived by sense. There are powers in nature whose influence we perceive, yet themselves we never discern such as electricity and gravitation. Much more are we unable to discern the spiritual. (2) Yet an immediate mental or spiritual vision of God is both conceivable, and expressly revealed in Scripture. (3) But the invisibility of God seems necessary in our present life viewed as a state of trial. (4) The invisibility of God seems to be connected with the aspect of the present life as a state of training or discipline.
II. Of the invisible God, Jesus Christ is the image or manifestation. How does Jesus manifest the Father? (1) By the constitution of His person. (2) By the moral beauty of His character and life. (3) By His sufferings and death. The noblest expression of love is that in which it assumes the form of suffering or selfsacrifice.
J. Caird, The Preachers Magazine, vol. x. p. 321.
The Revelation of God to Man ( For Trinity Sunday )
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the revelation to men of God.
I. What is meant by Revelation. Etymologically the term means the drawing aside of a veil. Now, Christians believe that all knowledge is revelation, or the drawing back of the veil. The worldling speaks of invention and discovery, but the God-fearing man calls it revelation. The worldly man would speak of radium as a discovery, but we speak of it as revelation, seeing it has been hid in the secrets of the mountains all the ages and is no secret, and never has been to God, and that God has revealed it to crown the efforts of man's research. So when I speak to you of Divine revelation I speak of the revelation of God, and not of His essential Being which only God knows; I speak of His relationship to us men for our salvation. You might say, 'Is it possible that God could reveal Himself to man?' If it were not possible that God could do it, it must either be that God could not do so, or that men could not perceive the revelation. But God can do it because He is Almighty, and man can receive it because God has created him with capacities of preception, for God is Life and Truth and Power, and man is created to receive life and truth and power. It is possible. But is it necessary? Yes: it is necessary, because, as St. Augustine says, God has created all men for Himself. Our beginning comes from God, and our end is God.
II. Without Revelation. But suppose you will not have the revelation and reject it altogether, what then? There remains but one thing open to thinking man for it is only the fool that says in his heart, There is no God the speculative. And the gods of speculation are many. There are the gods of the hills and of the valleys, of the trees and of the rivers, and of the storms the gods of the clever men. The difficulty of this is, of course, that the gods of speculation are all mutually destructive, and, like the soldiers in the hosts of Sennacherib, fall upon one another and slay each other. The God we worship today is the God of revelation. No man by thought hath found out God lest any flesh should 'glory in His presence'. God, then, has discovered Himself to us.
III. God's Revelation in Nature. In Nature we see, if we believe in God, God's power, His might, His wisdom, ah! and to a great extent His mind. But it is quite obvious that Nature by itself is too limited. Why, the poor poet cannot express what his soul suggests! Nature is too limited, and although we may learn from Nature God's wisdom, His power, and to an extent His mind, we could not learn from Nature His gentleness which makes us great or His tender mercy whereby we have found salvation, or His loving kindness with which He has bound our hearts. So God has revealed Himself to us in human nature, that we may learn of Him of the very nature which He gave us.
The Holy Spirit, Whose work is in Nature and in man, shows you the Saviour, and the Saviour, the Son, shows you the Father, so it is written in God's Word that we have access to the Father through the Son by the Spirit. And so it is that what I started with is true, the doctrine of the Trinity is the revelation of God to man.
References. I. 18. R. W. Church, Village Sermons, (2nd Series), p. 212. A. R. Ashwell, God in His Work and Nature, p. 110. F. T. Bassett, Christ in Eternity and Time, p. 29. J. Caird, Sermons, pp. 101, 121. J. D. Sinclair, The Scottish Review, vol. iii. p. 610. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 375; ibid. vol. vi. pp. 16, 260; ibid. vol. vii. p. 408. I. 19. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 424. I. 19-37. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 1.
Holly, Yew, and Laurel ( For Christmas Eve )
In J. M. Neale's sermon for Christmas Eve, published under the title, 'Confessing and not Denying,' there is this seasonable passage: 'We confess at this time in another way. There are three things which we principally put up to show our joy, as it is written, "O all ye green things upon the earth, bless ye the Lord, praise Him and magnify Him for ever". These three things are, holly, yew, and laurel. By the holly we confess what our Lord was; by the yew we confess what we ought to be; by the laurel we confess what our Lord now is, and what we hope to be also.
'I. Holly, as we know, has sharp prickles and red berries. There is an old Christmas carol which says:
The holly has a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And it was for to be crucified
That Jesus Christ was born.
The holly has a berry
As red as any blood;
And Jesus Christ did shed forth His
To do poor sinners good.
'By the prickles, then, we confess His bitter life on earth, His tears, His watchings, His fastings, His weariness, His revilings; we confess that He wore a crown of thorns for our sakes; that He was fastened to the cross with nails for our sakes; that He was pierced with a spear for our sakes. By the berries we confess that He shed forth every drop of His most precious blood for us miserable sinners, and for our salvation.
'II. Then about the yew; a good man of old said: "This yew-tree may be accounted a fit emblem of a Christian. You see it hath little outside bark, only a small rind, to teach us not to make a great outside show of religion. Then it is a very lasting timber, much harder than oak, to show the soundness and sincerity of a Christian. It hath many branches, large and fair, to remind us to be plentiful in good works. It is always green and prospering, to declare unto us that a Christian should always grow and thrive in grace. Yea, green in winter and the hardest weather, to show that a Christian is best in affliction; yea, then it hath berries on it, to teach us, as then we are the best Christians, so then to bring forth most fruits of righteousness. It is a long-living and lasting tree, to be unto us a type of immortality and lasting life.
'III. And what of the laurel? In putting up that, we confess that Jesus Christ came into the world to win the victory over hell, death, and Satan; to loose the bands of sin; to ascend up gloriously into heaven leading captivity captive; and we confess that what the Captain of our salvation has done, we hope, as His good soldiers, to do also.'
Sermons in Sackville College Chapel, vol. I. p. 32.
References. I. 20. J. M. Neale, Readings for the Aged (3rd Series), p. 17. I. 20-22. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 223; ibid. (4th Series), vol. v. p. 294. I. 21. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 81; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 17. I. 21, 25. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. i. pp. 84, 85. I. 22. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, pt. i. p. 39. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 17. I. 23. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. ii. p. 263. C. S. Robinson, Simon Peter, p. 101. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 365. I. 26. D. Davies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 194. J. Keble, Sermons for Advent to Christmas Eve, p. 373. C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 87. H. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 398. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 25. I. 26, 27. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 17. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Reading, p. 148.
The Gospel According to John the Baptist
These words of the Baptist are a strong assertion of the doctrine that the Lord Jesus Christ offered Himself as a true and proper sacrifice for the sins of the world. Let us use the text for three practical purposes: I. It may serve to direct the sinner to the source of salvation. 'Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.' Mark the sin. That is the sharpest sting wherewith your conscience pierces you, and your most earnest anxiety is to have that removed. Here, then, is one who taketh just that away. Mark, again, 'The sin of the world' ; not merely that of the Jew, or that of the generation which was alive when He was crucified, or that of any small section of humanity, but that of the world. So you may be sure that yours is included. Mark, again, 'He taketh away the sin of the world'. It is a present thing. He was bearing sin in sacrifice even as John spoke the words; and He is bearing it now in intercession before the mercy-seat on high.
II. But the text may serve to stimulate the Christian to earnest gratitude. How much do we owe our Divine Redeemer? He has taken away our sin. He has given us peace with God, and imparted to us peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Ghost. And He has done all at the sacrifice of Himself. Surely, then, it becomes each of us to ask: 'What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits?'
III. Finally, this text may serve as a pattern to the preacher of the Gospel. Indeed, the whole ministry of the Baptist is full of richest suggestiveness in this regard. Always he pointed away from himself to the Christ. If he preached repentance, it was because Christ was at hand. If he urged baptism, it was but as a symbol of that Divine ordinance which only Christ could administer. If he besought men to flee from the wrath to come, it was because that wrath was the wrath of the Lamb, and as such all the more terrible. Thus Christ was the background of all his utterances, and his great ambition was to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Now, in all this he was an example to every preacher of the Gospel whose aim ought ever to be to proclaim faithfully and earnestly the truth as it is in Jesus.
References. I. 29. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. iii. p. 125. R. Flint, Sermons and Addresses, p. 196. J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 48. R. M. Benson, Redemption, p. 121. E. A. Bray, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 258. J. B. Brown, The Divine Mystery of Peace, p. 42. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2646, and vol. xxxiii. No. 1987. A. Berry, The Doctrine of the Cross, p. 51. W. B. Selbie, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxviii. p. 241. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. pp. 116, 189; ibid. vol. vi. p. 29; ibid. (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 277; ibid. vol. viii. p. 283; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 320. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 40. I. 29-34. Ibid . vol. ix. p. 92. I. 31. Ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 417. I. 33. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 59. I. 35. Ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 100. I. 35, 36. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2329. I. 35, 37, 40. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 185. I. 36. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1060. I. 37. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. i. p. 146. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 702. I. 37-39. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 50. I. 37-51. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 570. I. 38. E. A. Stuart, The New Commandment and other Sermons, vol. vii. p. 9. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy-tide Teaching, p. 1. Basil Wilberforce, Sanctification by the Truth, p. 108. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 325; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 60; ibid. vol. vii. p. 83. I. 39. J. W. Veevers, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 371. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 633. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 406.
The Character of St. Andrew
What do you know about Andrew? Some of you know everything that can be known, but taking the average Christian sleeper, what does he know about Andrew? Perhaps he did not know that Andrew was an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Very few people can name the Apostles in the order in which the names occur in the New Testament; I have never met a man who could do so. That is remarkable and painfully instructive. 'One of the two who heard John speak, and followed the Saviour, was Andrew.' Observe, he was a disciple of John the Baptist, he belonged to an earlier dispensation, but he was an open-minded man, and was prepared to accept life whencever it came. In a sense, therefore, he left John and said: 'This is the new dispensation, this the grander and broader light; many thanks to you, stern, austere Baptist; we have had some thrilling days with you, but good-bye, we follow the Messias, we follow the Lamb of God'.
That was an excellent characteristic in the character of Andrew; this was a feature, prominent, gracious, and imitable; let us imitate it.
I. Did Andrew do any work in the Church or in the world? Yes, he did; you know, because you have read the story. What did he do? You will be surprised to hear that he first found his own brother, and told him the Gospel. Why, your brother does not know that you go to church; your partner in business would be almost stupefied with fright if you told him that you took the Lord's Supper. We keep these things secret, and why do we never speak about them? The answer is a lie: 'Because they are so sacred we never mention them; our love to Christ is so deep, so sensitive, that not a soul in the world suspects its existence'. That is curious. 'Come all ye that fear God, and I will declare unto you what He hath done for my soul.' That is better, that is making a right use of precious things. There is a way of preaching; there is a blatant way, and there is a way self-reserved, and sweetly, musically eloquent. Andrew 'first findeth his own brother'; he said: 'We have found the Messias; come with us; let us follow up this clue, let us attach ourselves to this gracious personality'. 'He brought him to Jesus.' We bring people to catechisms, to creeds, to dogmas, to ceremonies; but Andrew could not rest until he had brought his own brother to Jesus. The two personalities touched the two hearts, entered into one another by a sacred spiritual masonry. Have we done any work of this kind?
II. What more did Andrew do? That would be enough for most men to do. Yes, but he did more, and you will find the account in John vi. 8, 9: 'One of His disciples, Andrew' that is the second time his name occurs; it is; that is good 'saith unto Him' spoke unto the Lord? Yes. What did he say? The Lord had commanded that the great company should be fed; He said to Philip, 'Whence shall we buy bread, that all these people may have a crust apiece?' This He said to prove poor Philip, who was on the whole a wobbling little creature, who always had another question to ask; 'for He Himself knew what He would do'. So Christ often asks us what we think of this or that, not needing our opinions, for we cannot teach Omniscience. Well, Andrew came to the rescue in a feeble way, but it was the very best way he could do; he said: 'There is a lad here who hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes; I have been with him now, I have counted the loaves, and I have turned the fishes over with my finger, but oh, how small they are; what are they amongst so many?' Jesus said: 'They will do for a beginning, they will do to start with; make the men sit down'. And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had multiplied them by giving thanks, He distributed until all were satisfied. Now there are some men let us call them typically the Andrews of the Church who count up. what the Church appears to have; they make truthful statements, they are somewhat distinguished for statistics; they know exactly that the loaves were five and the fishes were two; on that they could take an oath. They also see the limitations of things. Well, they say, the thing is simply absurd! you are going to build a church there; they say themselves it will cost £7000, and when I ask them how much they have got in hand, they reply that they have already secured £200 towards the £7000. What a preposterous disproportion. But Jesus says when the men are operating in the right spirit and going in the right direction, Make the men sit down; that will do; the £200 means two million; there is another Church in the two hundred. Get to work, and in the multiplication of the two hundred into seven thousand, see the out-working of a gracious and most Divine miracle. That is the way most of us began our ministry.
III. What more did Andrew do? That would have been a good day's work, to bring his own brother, and to point out the five loaves and the two fishes. What more do we hear about him? Well, I will tell you. 'There were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast;' they came first to Philip, and desired that he would introduce them, but Philip came and told Andrew. He said: 'You had better take up this thing; I don't know about these strangers, I am rather shy, and they are Greeks; if they had been people that come from our village I would not have minded introducing them, but they are of another nationality'. And Andrew said to Philip: 'Be a man, I will go with you, and together we will tell Jesus'. So Andrew and Philip went together, and they told Him that the Greeks had come, and they gladdened His heart. Jesus was never so surprised as He was by faith and unexpected love. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. And when He heard that strangers were at the door, Greeks, He said, 'The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified'. How He multiplied the occasion, how He greatened it! This is what we should do. Who are these that fly as doves to their windows? who are these strange people that darken the sky like a flock of birds? They are the nations of the earth, pagans, unexpected and uncalculated assets of the Son of God. 'He shall have the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession'; the islands shall wait for Him, and not a caravan shall tramp the wilderness without having His presence and His altar and His blessing.
The Modesty of True Greatness
The Lord Jesus Christ drew to Himself men of various types and of different gifts. The leading types of human character are presented in these men who formed the nucleus of the Christian Church reminding us that there is a place for every man in the Lord's service, whatever his bent and gifts. Andrew was the first, or possibly the second, disciple Jesus ever had; and it was a proof of his strength of character that before any one else had acknowledged Jesus to be Messiah, or had even suspected that He could be, he left his master, John the Baptist, and went with John, the son of Zebedee, to follow Jesus. From that day till the hour of his death he was faithful to the Lord he loved. There are two great truths worthy of prayerful consideration which appear to be exemplified by the slight records given us of Andrew's life and character. In the first place it throws light: I. On the duty of being content when others outshine us. Andrew never appears to have disgraced his position, as Peter did, and he was never deposed from it, for after the ascension of the Lord he held the same dignified place. Yet you must have noticed that he was not always, perhaps we may say he was not usually, among the most privileged. We know too little of him to say certainly why this was so. Probably there was something lacking in his nature, which made him less fit for the highest revelations and, judging from his intimacy with Philip, the head of the second group, it may well have been that there was a tendency to doubt and hesitation, which prevented his following the Lord to the loftiest summits of faith. Still, the position was a trying one. It is not easy to be content with such things as you have. Popularity and prominence are no good tests of worth. He who is the true and final judge recognises the real worth of every one, and appreciates at its fullest quiet, unostentatious service. Now let us deal with the second truth illustrated by Andrew's life: II. On quiet work in bringing others to Jesus. There is no evidence that Andrew was a great preacher, but he was one of the most successful winners of souls the world ever had. He began work directly he found the Messiah. 'He first goeth and findeth his own brother Simon.' It would be well if that example had been generally followed. But too often it is in the home we are most silent. But before we can lead others to Him we must ourselves come to Him with the promptitude and self-surrender Andrew showed, who directly John said, 'Behold the Lamb of God,' arose and followed Jesus.
A. Rowland, The Burdens of Life, p. 35.
The World's Benefactors
J. H. Newman writes: 'Andrew is scarcely known except by name; while Peter has ever held the place of honour all over the Church; yet Andrew brought Peter to Christ. And are not the blessed angels unknown to the world? and is not God Himself, the Author of all good, hid from mankind at large, partially manifested and poorly glorified, in a few scattered servants here and there? and His Spirit, do we know whence It cometh, and whither It goeth? and though He has taught men whatever there has been of wisdom among them from the beginning, yet when He came on earth in visible form, even then it was said of Him, 'The world knew Him not'. His marvellous providence works beneath a veil, which speaks but an untrue language; and to see Him who is the Truth and the Life, we must stoop underneath it, and so in our turn hide ourselves from the world. They who present themselves at kings' courts, pass on to the inner chambers, where the gaze of the rude multitude cannot pierce; and we, if we would see the King of kings in His glory, must be content to disappear from the things that are seen. Hid are the saints of God; if they are known to men, it is accidentally, in their temporal offices, as holding some high earthly station, or effecting some mere civil work, not as saints. St. Peter has a place in history, far more as a chief instrument of a strange revolution in human affairs, than in his true character, as a self-denying follower of his Lord, to whom truths were revealed which flesh and blood could not discern.'
References. I. 40. J. Keble, Sermons far the Saints' Days, p. 11. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 230; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 125.
The Missionary Spirit (For St. Andrew's Day)
I. A Brother's Testimony. The fact before us is most striking and instructive. Out of the three first members of the Christian Church, one at least was brought to Jesus by the private, quiet word of a relative. He seems to have heard no public preaching. He saw no mighty miracle wrought. He was not convinced by any powerful reasoning. He only heard his brother telling him that he had found a Saviour himself, and at once the work began in his soul. The simple testimony of a warm-hearted brother was the first link in the chain by which St. Peter was drawn out of the world, and joined to Christ. The first blow in that mighty work by which St. Peter was made a pillar of the Church was struck by St. Andrew's words, 'We have found the Christ'. II. The Missionary Spirit. Well would it be for the Church of Christ, if all its members were more like St. Andrew! Well would it be for souls if all men and women who have been converted themselves would speak to their friends and relatives on spiritual subjects, and tell them what they have found! How much good might be done! How many might be led to Jesus, who now live and die in unbelief! The work of testifying the Gospel of the grace of God ought not to be left to clergy alone. Thousands, humanly speaking, would listen to a word from a friend, who will not listen to a sermon. Every Christian ought to be a home-missionary, a missionary to his family, children, servants, neighbours, and friends.
III. Following Christ. Let us take heed that we are among those who really follow Christ, and abide with Him. It is not enough to hear Him preached from the pulpit, and to read of Him as described in books. We must actually follow Him, pour out our hearts before Him, and hold personal communion with Him. Then, and not till then, we shall feel constrained to speak of Him to others.
References. I. 40, 41. C. Bickersteth, The Gospel of Incarnate Love, p. 3. T. T. Carter, Oxford Lent Sermons for 1868, p. 97. I. 40-42. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 62.
'Mystical, more than magical,' says Carlyle in Sartor (Book iii. chap. ii.), 'is that Communing of Soul with Soul, both looking heavenward: here properly Soul first speaks with Soul; for only in looking heavenward, take it in what sense you may, not in looking earthward, does what we can call Union, mutual Love, Society begin to be possible. How true is that of Novalis: "It is certain, my Belief gains quite infinitely the moment I can conceive another mind thereof!"'
References. I. 41. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 281. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 1. C. S. Home, Relationships of Life, p. 31. A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 283. C. S. Robinson, Simon Peter, p. 114. I. 41, 46, 49. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 277; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 288; ibid. (4th Series), vol. i. p. 83.
Our Business and How to Do It
I. Here is our business To bring men to Jesus. (1) It is the business of the preacher. Without that what is the good of it all? Our business is a failure and no failure is so complete and dreary unless we do bring men really to Christ, seeking Him as their very life, and finding in Him their joy, and their strength, and their all A new creature in Christ Jesus is the only thing worth preaching for. (2) Here is the business of the Church to bring men to Christ. Let us thank God most devoutly for all the social work that has been undertaken; and that the Churches and Society generally are being stirred to face the great social problems which press upon us. But first and foremost, our business is to bring men to Christ. (3) And because this is our business it is your business. Ask yourself today this question, 'Why am I a Christian?' It is that through you some other may find the Saviour. Nothing can keep our souls in health but seeking to bring others to the Saviour.
II. The incident teaches us how to do it (1) In Andrew we have a man who has found Jesus for himself. That is his authority. Our strength for service is in our having found Jesus for ourselves. (2) Then this messenger comes fresh from communion with Jesus. He is full of it can think or talk of nothing else. His eye flashes, his face shines, his voice rings with the music of it 'Simon, we have found Christ' The best elocution is communion with Jesus Christ Get full of it, and then the message will find its way out, in tongue, and look, and attitude. (3) Look at the man himself. He was a young convert, and had no learning. He could not argue about it, and he could not preach about it all of which was a great mercy. Because he could do nothing else he had to stick to the point 'We have found Jesus'. Then again he was a man of no great ability. (4) Andrew did not wait until he could talk to a crowd. He took the message to one. The world wants something more than preaching. It wants this holy buttonholing. (5) Neither did Andrew go forth vaguely thinking that he would like to do some good and wishing that an opportunity would present itself. The hardest thing in the world to find is an opportunity for anything if you want it, the best way is to make it. 'There's Simon,' said he. I will go and find him.' In this business be business-like. Think of some one soul. Begin with the one that is next to you.
M. G. Pearse, The Preacher's Magazine, vol. xi. p. 549.
Nature Transformed By Grace
St. John gives us in this verse the first sketch, as it were, of a saintly character, in which nature was transformed by grace. He sets before us a prophecy which was made to a Galilean fisherman by One who spoke with His eye on the man, his past and present, and told him what he was going to be. He was known now among men as Simon the son of Jona; hereafter in the future he shall win the name of Cephas, or the stone.
I. Simon, there he stands, a man known among his fellows for certain peculiarities, noted for certain powers and defects; men knew his appearance, his voice, his powers; he was Simon and no one else. Here we have the mystery of personality. Like as we are to one another, as leaves on the same tree, we all of us have our separate personality. 'We were born originals; don't let us die copies.' God wants that particular individuality which He gave us. And He wants us to be conservative with ourselves. Simon would remain Simon, even when he became Cephas.
II. But our Lord sees in this bit of humanity before Him something more than a person. (1) He sees a person with a history; he stands there with fragments of home clinging to him; he is not only Simon, but he is Simon, the son of Jona his father's son. We are face to face with the great mystery of heredity, which I will try to explain. You have inherited certain outward characteristics from your parents. But do you realise that it is equally true that we inherit moral qualities as well? It is a tremendous truth, and we cannot deny it (2) We have more than one pair of ancestors; what we inherit goes back a long way. There are all sorts of tendencies striving within us, some stronger than others, some starting from our parents, some much farther back. There is nothing fated or fixed; good and bad are striving within us; some impulses are stronger than others, but the will has to choose between them and decide. (3) But there is another power still standing behind Simon to influence and form him. We read how Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. We are face to face with what is called environment, our surroundings. School, college, the counting-house, the business life they all reappear in the mystery of the power of environment, and exercise a powerful influence in the shaping and directing of conduct which acts upon and is reacted upon by character. (4) But the determining force with St. Peter, after all, was the call and the prophecy of Christ. 'Thou shalt be called Cephas.' He found himself suddenly the possessor of an ideal for his life, pronounced over him by an authoritative voice.
W. C. E. Newbolt, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 278.
References. I. 42. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 855. W. C. Wheeler, Sermons and Addresses, p. 1. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 276. E. Bersier, Sermons in Paris, p. 63. C. S. Robinson, Simon Peter, p. 126. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. pp. 18, 19; ibid. vol. iii. p. 11; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 279. I. 43. H. M. Butler, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 361. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 174. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 73. I. 43-45. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xl. No. 2375. I. 43-46. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 92.
St. Philip and St. James's Day
John 1:44 ; Galatians 1:19
'In the earlier ages of the Church,' says an eminent writer, 'the generality of the Apostles enjoyed only a general commemoration, which was celebrated on 1st May, and called the Feast of the Apostles.' But changes were made before the close of the first Christian century, and a special day was appointed for doing honour to the memory of most of the members of the Apostolic College, while others of them were associated together for some reason or other in one celebration, such, for example, as St. Simon and St. Jude, and St. Philip and St James. It is said that when Christians began to collect and treasure up the relics of celebrated martyrs and saints, about the middle of the fourth century, the remains of Philip were conveyed from Hierapolis to Rome, and there placed in the same grave with those of St. James. In the sixth century, Pelagius, Bishop of Rome, built a church, which he dedicated to the two Apostles; and the alliance thus established has been continued until now.
In the absence of authentic history it is impossible to fix the time when the Festival of St. Philip and St. James was first celebrated, but it was probably in the sixth or seventh century.
I. The histories of St. Philip and St. James are full of interest. St Philip, according to St. John, 'was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter,' located in Galilee. Very likely he was a fisherman too, for fishing was the general trade of that place. He is generally reckoned among the married Apostles of our Lord, and it is said that he had three daughters who devoted themselves to a holy life. His sphere of apostolic labour was in Upper Asia, where he remained for many years making many converts by the preaching of the Gospel, and almost effecting the spiritual reformation of the whole of the Scythian people. At length he visited Hierapolis, in Phrygia, to preach the same Gospel in this rich and prosperous but idolatrous city; and here it is affirmed that in his eighty-seventh year the Apostle was martyred while exhorting the assembled brethren to hold fast the doctrine he had taught them, and while praying that the Lord Jesus would preserve the Church as He had said. St. James is styled in the Epistle to the Galatians, 'the Lord's brother,' because the ancient Fathers believed he was Joseph's son by a former wife. The first three Evangelists speak of him as 'the son of Alphæus'. He was surnamed James the Less, or rather 'the Little,' according to St. Mark, to distinguish him from the other St. James, 'the son of Zebedee,' who was killed by Herod. He, however, acquired a more honourable appellation from the virtue and holiness of his life, namely, 'St. James the Just'. After the ascension of Christ he was elected Bishop of Jerusalem, 'the mother of all other Churches,' which position he sustained to the glory of his Lord. He was, it is said, of a meek and humble disposition, exceedingly temperate. Prayer was his constant practice, and the business of the Church his one employment. At length, in the ninety-sixth year of his age, he, too, was martyred for the truth.
II. But let us glance now at their spiritual characteristics. St. Philip was honoured in being first called to be a disciple of our Lord. He had held some conversation with Andrew and Peter before, but they returned afterward to their fishing trade. When the Lord saw Philip in Galilee the day following, He said unto him, 'Follow Me,' and, like Matthew, he instantly and cordially obeyed. And having found Christ for himself, he would have Nathanael do the same, and he brought him to Jesus. After this, we find him, as a practical man, associated with St. Andrew at the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:5-14 ) and the introduction of certain Greeks to Jesus (John 12:20-21 ). But that which especially characterises St. Philip in the Gospels is his one great desire for the true knowledge of God. 'Lord, show us the Father,' said Philip to Jesus, 'and it sufficeth us.' Such was Philip's supreme desire; and in the person of Christ Himself this desire had been met. 'The revelation of the Gospel,' says Dr. Stier, 'is not God and Christ, but God in Christ.' St. James figures conspicuously in the Acts of the Apostles and in contemporary history, but nothing is distinctively recorded of him in the Gospels during the time that he. attended with the other disciples upon our Lord; immediately after His Resurrection, however, the Lord specially manifested Himself to James (1 Corinthians 15:7 ). The Epistle of James is more than enough to show his character and to distinguish him among the Apostles of Jesus; for, though Christian doctrine is rather implied than distinctly brought out, it is a storehouse of Godly morality, and proves how holily and righteously he must have lived who wrote it. In the highest sense, he was indeed 'the servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ'.
References. I. 45. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 448; ibid. vol. x. p. 407. I. 45, 46. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches (2nd Series), p. 303. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1493, p. 81. I. 45-49. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 85. I. 45-51. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 921.
How Nathanael Came to Christ
One of the most striking characteristics of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ when on earth was the intense care and patience with which He dealt with individuals, and His ministry in this respect is in entire contrast to all the prior dealings of God with men in the previous dispensation. It has been truly said that there are many ways to Christ, but only one way to God. Men come to Christ by many diverse pathways, but once come into His presence, they find that He and He alone is the way to God and the way to the home of God's eternal love.
I want to speak of one who came to Jesus Christ at the commencement of Christ's ministry, and of whom Jesus Christ uttered words of commendation which were applied to no other one, I mean the case of Nathanael.
I. A State of Unrest. This man was 'an Israelite indeed,' 'a man versed in all the teachings of the old Mosaic Law, a man doubtless devoted to the ordinances of that primary revelation of God to man, the Levitical system, one who had sounded the depths of God's revealing grace and love of old, but one who was dissatisfied evidently in his heart with what he had learned in the Law and by the Prophets. Whatever Nathanael's doubt may have been and he expressed it when he heard that Christ came from Nazareth whatever may have been the foundation of his doubt, he was at least an honest man, and when this was presented to him as a possible solution to his difficulties he came and saw.
II. The Remedy for Doubt. There is much modern doubt about Jesus Christ which is mixed with pride, there is much modern doubt which does not seek a solution, much modern doubt which is far from being, as was the doubt of this man, willing to be enlightened, willing to be shown the fullness of truth, willing to act upon it when shown. There is an essential difference between a man struggling for the light and being satisfied with the darkness, trying to find out God for himself and that, with a view to regulating and readjusting his life in regard to God, and a mere specious holding of cheaply made and easily found doubts which we hug to ourselves. Nathanael was not such an one. When this, the greatest of all Christian evidences and apologetics, was brought to him, 'Come and see,' he showed his candour, his sincerity, his honesty, by going to Christ and interviewing Him, and finding out at first hand what and who was this mysterious One announced as 'the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world'.
III. Omniscience Reveals Divinity. Then when Philip and Jesus and Nathanael met, Christ said, 'Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile' That does not mean 'In whom is no sin,' but 'In whom is no insincerity, an honest man, a man who is willing to obey the truth when he knows it, a man willing to do the will of God, if it can be found out, and hence a man to whom the doctrine shall be fully known'. Then with one revealing flash Jesus said to him, 'I saw thee when thou wast under the fig-tree'. Jesus proclaims His divinity by an exhibition of His omniscience.
IV. An Enlargement of Man's Horizon. Christ enlarges a man's daily life, removes the horizon of life and pushes it farther distant than it could ever be by nature. Life is a bigger thing, a broader thing, a higher ideal and harder task to a man who has come into the presence of Christ, as did this man, than to any man who has not so experienced Him.
V. Unbroken Communion with God. One thing more. 'He saith unto Him, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.' Proclaiming Himself, with a reference which Nathanael well knew as an Israelite to be that ladder by Jacob seen at Bethel, Jesus proclaims Himself as the only means of communication between earth and heaven, and as One Who communicates man's needs in the ascent to God and God's grace to man in the descent. No man comes to Jesus Christ and departs unsatisfied. No man comes to Christ but he goes out into the world to the old life in a new power, for to him henceforth who has made Him the Saviour, the King also of his life, heaven is opened, and he sees the greater things added, grace sufficient to his needs, strength proportioned to his toil, and love beyond compare and expression.
Our rank in the scale of being is determined entirely by the objects in which we are interested.
References. I. 46. W. M. Sinclair, Words from St. Paul (2nd Series), p. 161. M. Brokenshire, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 394. C. Bickersteth, The Gospel of Incarnate Love, p. 12. T. L. Cuyler, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 30. H. P. Liddon, University Sermons (2nd Series), p. 1. A Scotch Preacher, The Strait Gate, p. 108. Phillips Brooks, The Mystery of Iniquity, p. 129.
Nathanael, as a genuine ( ἀληθῶς ) Israelite, free from prejudice, is contrasted with the majority of the Jews who were stubborn, suspicious, and distrustful of Jesus their Messiah (cf. 8:39-40). Nathanael's nature, it is implied, was unwarped. When Philip said, Come and see, he put aside his inherited prejudice and went with his friend to inquire. The absence of δόλος has been usually taken to suggest a contrast between him and Jacob or Israel, who caught at God's blessing by guile. ' Ισραηλείτης at any rate, seems to convey some implicit allusion to the patriarch. But may it not be to his vision of God at Bethel (Genesis 28:12 f.) to which there is an evident allusion in verse 51 ( Ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man)? Dr. Abbott, in his Johannine Grammar (pp. 595-596), prefers indeed to connect the phrase with the vision at Penuel (Genesis 32:30-31 ). 'It was there that Jacob said, I have seen God face to face ; and from this fact Philo, though erroneously, explains the name of "Israel," there given to Jacob, as seeing God.' Probably both visions of God to 'Israel' are blended in the thought of this passage. Nathanael, this ideal, straightforward, sincere disciple, is a better Jacob, and he has a better vision of God. To the writer's mind, he is evidently the type of all genuine disciples, for the address in verse 51 passes into the plural, indicating that a wider circle is in view. If the guile, from which he is declared to be free (cf. Psalms 32:2 ), were extended to cover man's relations to his fellow-men as well as to God, an apt illustration might be found in John Wesley's remark: 'I am this day thirty years old, and till this day I know not that I have met with one person of that age, except in my father's house, who did not use guile, more or less'.
References. I. 47. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2068. H. C. Beeching, Seven Sermons to Schoolboys, p. 24. John Watson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 401. H. Rix, Sermons, Addresses, and Essays, p. 40. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 191.
Outside Friends of Jesus
Jesus Christ was always surprising His disciples by saying to this or that man whom the disciples did not know, Let him come in. The disciples sometimes gave the Master sour looks, yea, looks of distrust and utter unbelief regarding His judgment of these people. They would have turned them away; they turned the children away, and when you turn the children away you turn the mothers away, and when you turn the mothers away you turn the fathers away. They were great at turning away people. Jesus Christ said, Let him come. Lord, what! this man? Yes, this man; let him come. But we know something about him. I know more than you know. Before any Philip amongst you saw this man I saw him, the shadow of the fig-tree could not conceal him; let him come. If this be done, who knows how many people may be included in the love of Christ that we never thought of in that connection? Who can count the flock of God? See how they pour down the hills, and rise up out of the valleys, an exceeding great host, elect, chosen, foreordained, children of eternity. Yet there are some persons who think they know who are fit to come to the Lord's table and who are not. They are the persons who know exactly how Many persons the Church of God can hold. Their temple floor is only so many hundred yards long and so many hundred yards wide, and beyond that accommodation all is outside. Outside what? Even some of us may be inside and may hardly know it. There is a word of cheer for you this hot noontide in the city of London. We may hardly venture to claim to be inside, yet we may be there; His mercy whom we adore as God endureth for ever. The Lord of the feast will find room for all His guests, and the guests shall be thousands of thousands, squared and cubed up to the ever enlarging numbers, persons who have never entered into the imagination of sectarian or bigoted minds to conceive as being elect of God.
I. Take this very man Nathanael: How do I come to be known, and known by name, by Thee, Thou new Man? how is it? Jesus knew him before he was born; Jesus knew us all before we were knowable. He never pleaded being an agnostic in relation to us. It suits our little tiny vehement vanity to be agnostics in relation to God, but God has never been an agnostic in relation to us. Consider that as a conception in poetry, and magnify it beyond all other poetry ever known amongst men. Take it as idealism, transcendentalism, apply to it what flashy name you please, there remains the central fact; in the conception of the Bible we have never been absent a moment from the consciousness and the love of God. Thus Jesus Christ surprises every one who comes to Him. He mentions the name, refers to family circumstances, quotes some instance of domestic history, recalls to the mind some tender providence. The Lord Jesus works wonderful miracles in reminiscence, so that memory is His first resurrection ground; He blows the trumpet, the dead memory gives up all that it had forgotten even of the love of God and the tender mercy of the Most High, and we see new lights flashing upon the dead past. Nathanael was recognised as 'an Israelite indeed'. It was Jesus Christ's way: He made much of encouragement. Wondrous things occur at the supper table of the Lord; when Jesus is your guest He may knight you on the spot; when you entertain such Royalty you acquire ineffable honours, new names, uppermost crowns. What is this man, your Master, whom ye call Christ, ought to have known, and what manner of man is this? he is chief among the publicans, he is rich, he tyrannises over the people; your master if he were a good man would not have dined with Zaccheus. And the Lord stood up and knighted him with the sword of heaven, and said, Forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. Dead memories revived, old associations quickened, forfeited privileges restored, man awakened. Zaccheus, thou also art a son of Abraham. Who shall count the flock of God? Give me back that list you wrote. Is the name of Nathanael on it? No. The name of Zaccheus? No. Take it back and count better.
II. And once Jesus treated men in clumps and groups; He enlarged the unit from individuality to family. Once He put up, so to say, a whole family, and said, This is the larger unit; we are advancing from personality or individuality to the family, and by-and-by we shall go to the country, and by-and-by to another country, and on, and on, till all flesh shall see the glory of the Lord. It was His way. And Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. Have you got these people down on your list? No. Take it back and write it better. We are talking about the outside and unrecognised friends of Jesus Christ Shall this man enter into our sanctuary? Yes, he is a member, and his name has been on the communion roll for some years. Is that the reason why he should enter? Yes. It is a poor reason. And there was a ruler that came to Jesus by night Perhaps he had more time then; came to Jesus is the point; by night is the accident. Come by day, or by night, and welcome all. We do not expect everybody to come in the broad noontide and to be of the proportions of a giant or the dignity of a hero; we expect every poor heart to come just as it can according to its own pain and conviction of sin and weariness and sense of self-helplessness. There is only one way to God: there are a thousand ways to Christ.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. in. p. 252.
'Depend upon it,' says James Smetham, 'in many of those old illuminated books, done by pious monks, ages ago, in retired abbeys standing silent among the corn-seas, there are wrought into the border of the Gospels and other books the whole life and soul and history of the men who did them; but tenderly veiled. I trust that under the fig leaves of the margin God saw many a Nathanael at his orisons.'
Am I to go plowthering and sniffling for years in the immeasurable mass of 'evidences'? Then God help me and help nineteen-twentieths of the race! But my full heart, it replies with the distinctness of a golden bell, Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God. Thou art the King of Israel.
References. I. 49. Archbishop Basil, Addresses and Sermons, pp. 100 and 112. I. 60. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2021. I. 60, 61. W. T. Davison, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 69. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1478. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 98. I. 61. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 329. H. Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, p. 391. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 477.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany