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The Incarnation of God
We are invited to turn our thoughts with special devotion to that great truth upon which the Gospel, as St. Paul here says, is founded, the awful and overwhelming mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God the truth expressed in the beginning of St. John's Gospel 'the Word was made Flesh'. It must be, indeed, to Christians, their continual thought.
I. Such an event as that can have nothing like it, or parallel to it, while this world lasts. The Gospel of Christ, which, as announced by His Church from the first, has made the Incarnation of the Eternal Son what St. Paul made it, the centre and heart of all teaching, worship, and obedience, the fulfilment and end of all that was old, the starting-point of all that was new the Gospel of Christ refuses, and must ever refuse, to compromise with any view of religion which puts this tremendous truth in any less than its paramount and sovereign place.
II. The Incarnation was the turning-point in the history of this world; and as a matter of fact, we have before our eyes the consequences which have followed from it. In the good and in the evil, in what the world seems and what it is, in its tendencies, its motives, its efforts, in what is visibly on its surface and in its secret forces, in the depths of men's hearts and their strongest purposes, that awful Presence which was once visible in the world has made things different in it from what they ever were before. But I turn to another aspect of the subject. We have each of us, one by one, our concern with this great truth. To know and master what it means, to realise, as we say, what it is, and what it is to us, is the turning-point of each man's belief.
R. W. Church, Pascal and other Sermons, p. 175.
References. I. 1-7. Bishop Gore, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 46. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 136. I. 2. C. Leach, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 68. I. 3. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 450; ibid. vol. vi. p. 96; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 410; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. pp. 170, 532. I. 3, 4. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on some Words of St. Paul, p. 1. W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p. 31. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 468. I. 3-5. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 123. I. 4. E. A. Stuart, The New Commandment and other Sermons, vol. vii. p. 185. R. J. Campbell, New Theology Sermons, p. 31. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. pp. 174, 254; ibid. vol. vii. p. 25; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 277; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 39; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 424. I. 5. R. Glover, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 404. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 81; ibid. vol. viii. p. 235. I. 5-13. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 29.
All Saints' Day
I. 'All' Saints. The festival of All Saints is one which ought to touch the hearts of all of us. We celebrate all those who have by the help of God lived holy lives and died in the faith of Christ, all who, like ourselves, have been tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil, but by the strength of God have overcome, no matter whether they be rich or poor, old or young, powerful or weak No matter what their sect or calling, all are included in the great, broad love of Christ, if only they have done their best to live a saintly life. We look back on the past, and perhaps, with our small knowledge, our eyes only light on some few names conspicuous on the page of history. These were, we know, witnesses of Christ in the world; but were there none besides them? As you read the history of past wars, you come across well-known names, great generals, great admirals, men whose names were in their day household names in every mouth as heroes who had fought or won, but did you ever think, you that read their names, how weak and powerless they would have been of themselves without the common sailors and soldiers to back them up? Could a few generals, however well versed in the arts of strategy, win a campaign by themselves? No; it is the common soldiers and sailors who do their work simply because it is their duty. Their names die, they perish as if they had never been, but have they died in vain? It seems to me almost more heroic to be content to die unknown, simply for the sake of duty, than to struggle to the front and win a noble name. Both classes have done their duty, but the one seems to have some reward; the other none. Such are the men we commemorate today, common soldiers in the great army of God who have for centuries been doing battle against the armies of evil in the battlefield of the world.
II. Our Calling. 'Called to be saints.' Let that be our lesson today. St. Paul is not writing to great, well-known people. The Church of Christ in Rome did not number many of the high and mighty in the world. Most of its members were of the low and despised class, many even slaves, but whether high or low, slave or free, St. Paul addresses them all alike as 'beloved of God, called to be saints'. And surely so are we. We are not called to be great; we are called to be saints. And what do we mean by saints? The word in the original Greek means 'holy ones'. We are called to holiness. 'How can I lead the holy life? With such temptations to evil, with so much wickedness all round me in the world?' Are you saying that? Well, then, All Saints' Day supplies the answer. You can, because others have done so. In fighting the battle against evil in your own hearts and in the outside world, you will not be alone. Some have done their work and have gone to their rest. Others, though perhaps unknown to you, are carrying on the work still. This is the communion of saints; the saints whose rest is won, and the saints who are working still are linked together in one common brotherhood and form one army, and their General is ordering the work, even Christ the Lord.
III. The Tie which Binds All in One. What is wanted to make ourselves good soldiers in this army? Faith. That is what joins all in one. A belief in the goodness of their cause, a sure trust in the wisdom and goodness of their Leader. Faith is that power which enables a man to live and work in the sight of Christ, although to bodily sight his Leader is invisible. Every one who lives a holy life now, however poor and unknown, is really preaching faith, showing he believes there is something higher and nobler and more worth living for than this world or his own self.
IV. A Plea for Holiness. And, lastly, reverence holiness in all. We are ready enough to honour it when accompanied by greatness, but do we not sometimes ridicule it and speak of it as a weakness? Perhaps it may be but a weak, a very weak, trial to rise, only a feeble effort to seek after God and holiness; yet holiness and goodness, like all other things, must have a beginning, and our ridicule and disdain may check it in the bud. We are all called to be God's saints. Shall we be ashamed of the name ourselves or speak slightingly of anyone who is trying, however feebly, to live according to his high calling? We are called to be saints, but do we belong to them? Year by year we join in the festival of All Saints, but some day or other a saints' festival will come when we shall not be here. Others will be joining in the hymn of thanksgiving, but our voice will not be heard. Will they then be giving thanks for us? Shall we be among that great multitude who, together with the saints on earth, make up the mighty Church of God? We ought to be there. It will be our own fault if we are not there, for we are all each one of us called to be saints.
References. I. 7. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2320. J. C. Story, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. p. 308. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 65; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 332; ibid. vol. xi. p. 439. I. 7-15. Ibid. vol. iii. p. 4. I. 8. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 247. I. 8-17. Bishop Gore, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 53. I. 9. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 147.
A Bible Reading
'I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you.' What have we to do with the Apostle's purposes? They were the events of the day, they were of no importance, they were lost in the political ambitions and strifes of the hour. No, they were not; we have a great deal to do with the Apostle's purposes. Here he is on common ground with ourselves a neighbour, a brother, a friend. He introduces us into the secrets of his love and his desire and his holy ambition. He talks small things to us; he enters into personal plans; he shows us his kind thoughts to the Roman Christians and other Gentiles.
I. The expression occurs a second time in Romans 11:25 . What does he say there? He says, 'I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery'. What a different tone! The one neighbourly, the other profound, mysterious, muffled music. 'I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery' get into the deeper things; get away from the surface and the frivolity of your piety, and sink deep and live among the rock-truths of God.
II. The next time it occurs is in 1 Corinthians 10:1 'Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant'. The same formula, it must mean something. I would not that ye should be ignorant of history, especially, 'how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea... and did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ' What an interpreter, what a seer, what a man for piercing the thick covering of things and getting at the centre and the real and final meanings of the most obscure prophecies. 'I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers' then we have fathers, have we? Yes, fathers, and they all did something that we have to do. Oh, I see, then there is an essential as well as an accidental unity in the development of the human race? Precisely. But how does it come, that we have lived so long and have not known about it until now? That is the mystery and the beauty, the music and the eloquence of the Bible. Paul rises to interpret what was done in the wilderness and the sea Paul would have us keep a gallery of historic examples. He would have us keep up point by point the organic nerve of history, the continuity of experience and the unity of testimony, till we all come blessed be God, the human family will not be complete until we arrive. Heaven will have vacant places until we come, and all the history of the world will receive explanation and illumination through our poor vanishing individuality.
III. Where does it occur again? Some men never knew it occurred so often; they will then be surprised when 1 tell them that it occurs for the fourth time in 1 Corinthians 12:1 'Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant'. I like to hear about these spiritual gifts, the gift of gifts. Can I have those spiritual gifts? Yes, and all the Church can have them. God has the remainder of the Spirit, the residue is His, and He will pour it forth as He sheds the rain. Well, I would not have you ignorant about spiritual gifts: there is a spiritual world, a world of the white ones, children of the dream, presences that flash upon us in visions, and we knew it not until we heard the beating of departing wings. I want to tell you about these, said Paul; there is great diversity of gifts, and some men can read the spiritual world more clearly than others can; let that be understood; there are differences, yet there is a common unity.
IV. Where does it occur again? It occurs again in 2 Corinthians 1:8 : 'We would not, brethren, have you ignorant' How the formula recurs! What of? 'We would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble.' We should like to hear about your trouble, and if we can assuage it we will. There are tears we cannot touch, but if we can touch yours there shall not be a tear in your eyes. 'Our trouble which came to us in Asia' and every where, 'that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.'
Now the feeling that I have after reading all these passages is that Paul was not the man to keep anything from us that he could give to the Church. 'Brethren, I would not have you ignorant I would not have you ignorant I would not have you ignorant. I am here in all my frankness to tell you about Christ and His Cross and the way heavenly.' Well, he came very near to that in his Epistle to the Corinthians when he used a formula not quite identical, but with identical meaning. He said, 'Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall hot all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eve, the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.'
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vi. p. 251.
References. 1.13. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 149; ibid. (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 307. I. 14. W. J. Knox-Little, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 10. J. Bunting, Sermons, vol. i. p. 329. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 116; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 91. I. 14, 16. A. M. Fairbairn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 273. I. 15. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxviii. No. 2286.
The Glory and Power of the Gospel
It was wonderful, indeed, that St. Paul could speak with such absolute confidence about this Gospel, calling it the great power of God, anticipating the time when the despised name of Jesus would be incomparably mightier than Caesar's, and when the truths which had their centre in the cross would have prevailed over all the magnificent pride and intellectual glory of that ancient world. Yes, it required a great prophetic vision to speak these words then: 'I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth'.
I. It requires no prophetic vision now. We can hardly imagine any man, with his eyes half open, talking about being ashamed of the Gospel now. There are, perhaps, a few fierce and malignant unbelievers who think that the world of the future would get on better without it, and who would be glad, if they could, to sweep it away. But these are hardly sane men. An unnatural hatred has disordered their vision, or the love of evil has darkened their hearts. The vast multitude of men who live in Christian lands, even though the Gospel has little hold of them, think with a sort of pride of Christianity, and all who have yielded to its power never think about it save with a sense of glorying and exultancy. For the triumphs of the Gospel confront us everywhere.
And everywhere the works of the Gospel are in evidence. You are not ashamed of Christianity. No. The grandeur of its works, the magnitude of its triumphs, the immensity of its power in the world, forbid that.
II. But bring the thought of the text a little nearer home. Men may have nothing but respectful and reverent, and even proud, thoughts of Christianity, and yet have little hold upon the Gospel as regards themselves. St. Paul meant two things here first, that he gloried in the Gospel for himself, gloried in confessing it; and, secondly, that he had unlimited confidence in its power over others.
First, he gloried in the thought that he himself was a Christian, that the Gospel had laid hold of him, and held him fast in chains of love; that its truths and promises and hopes had taken entire possession of him and formed the strength and joy of his life. They were nine-tenths of life to him, and the other tenth also.
Secondly, St. Paul meant by these words, as he tells us, that, as a Christian worker, he had unlimited confidence in the Gospel, and in the Divine forces which are represented by the Gospel. He believed that they were the power of God unto salvation to every one that believed.
The Gospel of Christ's love had won victories and would still win them. And, believing this, his ministry never failed to secure subdued and renewed souls for the Master's service.
J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 97.
The Power of the Gospel
So wrote St. Paul to the little band of Christians crouching under the threatening shadow of the haughtiest despotism which the world has ever seen, where Imperial Home affected religious tolerance with a limitation which then, as now, tended to exclude any possible rival or anything which happened to be unpopular at the moment. Do we trace in his words a kind of challenge to his own courage, the accusation of an excuse, as in one who felt that a message so apparently hopeless, claims so tremendous as those of the Gospel, might reasonably be charged with folly in those who put them forward in such an atmosphere?
He is assuring himself while he is encouraging his hearers, that his claims were not the dream of an enthusiast, or the folly of a fanatic. He knew what was meant by power, and the world had not yet seen the highest possible demonstration of it He could point to it, he could proclaim it, and lead to it And in a few centuries the Roman Empire itself would bow to it in the despairing cry of expiring Paganism, O Galilœe vicisti .
I. As we have traced the suspicion of a sinking heart in the bold challenge flung by St Paul into the midst of Roman despotism, so we should do well in no way to minimise the strength of the evil which is arrayed against us, with which as Christians we have to contend, and to meet which Christ invests us with His power.
In times full of anxiety such as these, when we are face to face with an organised conspiracy of evil seeking to engulph all that is most tender and beautiful in Christian life, we do well to remember that we can always count on the heart, which is naturally Christian, and the deep consciousness of humanity, which has never really given in its adherence to the sophistries which for the moment seemed to condone its weakness, and to deify its lusts. The testimony of mankind is too uniform, too solemn, too serious, to be lightly swayed from its real estimate of sin. There comes a time when the poor sufferer curses the platitudes which were destined to deceive him, and out of the intolerable burden of his pleasures and the utter degradation of his so-called nature turns with an intensity of longing to the Gospel and the stern comfort of its healing smart.
Do not let us flinch, do not let us be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ when facing the modern estimate of sin. Deep down in his heart man is with us. He knows that the Gospel is right. He knows that sin is slavery, and that the Gospel is the good news of freedom. He knows that nature is a term which has been perverted to apply only to the uncontrolled appetites which wander outside the grasp of reason. And he bends his ear to listen to the gracious message which tells of One Who gives him power to live up to the fulness of his being, in that which alone can be called nature; where passion and desire exist under the perfect control of reason, and reason listens to the higher dictates of the Spirit. The Gospel brings a message of power to bear upon the godless opportunism of a luxurious age, and tells us that man was made to be a kind of firstfruits of God's creatures in the power of His might, Who was the great son of Man, Whom to know is to live, and Whom to serve is to reign.
II. It is the power of God unto salvation. The words come home to us with a personal and intimate appeal. And many of us must add here also 'I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ'; for the old methods seem to be called in question, the old means of grace, as they are called, pushed on one side for appeals which are of power to men of culture, of recognised worth to men of strong will; which at least cannot be accused of credulity and which will pass muster in times of intellectual progress and general amelioration of the conditions of life.
'The power of God unto salvation.' Let us exhibit this in greater fulness and in greater strength. For a good Christian is in himself a gospel. 'They that fear Thee will be glad when they see me, because I have put my trust in Thy word.'
The power of recovery is one of the most glorious blessings of the Gospel. History is full of its conversions; experience is again and again staggered to see Saul the persecutor now become Paul the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. But even more than this, there is the grace which is given to us of using the past, even that from which we most shrink, so that it can better help us to attain to the great virtue of humility: 'I am not meet to be called an Apostle because I persecuted the Church of God' or it can give us something of the tenderness of the Good Shepherd, 'considering ourselves lest we also should be tempted'.
It may be there is some soul going heavily, groaning beneath the burden of repeated failure; and he knows as yet nothing of the grace of salvation which is extended to him in the power of the Gospel. Christ came as the Second Adam, not to preach deliverance merely, but to give the power of recovery to a fallen world. He offers to you still the hand to extricate you, the power which will lift you, the power which will put you firmly on your feet There is a power and a virtue in His absolving Grace, which not only wipes out the guilt of the past, but gives us the power of recovery as a counterpoise to the dead weight which presses a man down, the weight of recurring falls, and of failure. 'O set me up upon the rock that is higher than I; for Thou hast been my hope, and a strong tower for me against the enemy.'
W. C. E. Newbolt, Church Times, 18th December, 1908.
I met but one human being that forenoon, a dark military-looking wayfarer, who carried a game-bag on a baldric; but he made a remark which seems worthy of record. For when I asked him if he were Protestant or Catholic 'Oh,' said he, 'I make no shame of my religion. I am a Catholic.'
He made no shame of it! The phrase is a piece of natural statistics; for it is the language of one in a minority.... You may change creeds and dogmas by authority, or proclaim a new religion with the sound of trumpets, if you will; but here is a man who has his own thoughts, and will stubbornly adhere to them in good and evil.'
R. L. Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey.
It is an immense blessing to be perfectly callous to ridicule; or, which comes to the same thing, to be conscious thoroughly that what we have in us of noble and delicate, is not ridiculous to any but fools, and that, if fools will laugh, wise men will do well to let them.'
From Dr. Arnold's Letters.
References. I. 16. R. Barclay, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 59. J. B. Brown, The Divine Life in Man, p. 92. W. Pierce, Sermons by Welshmen, p. 247. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. ii. p. 176. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. iv. p. 349. H. P. Liddon, University Sermons (2nd Series), p. 242. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 326. A. Maclaren, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 232. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons, p. 428. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 73. C. M. Betts, Eight Sermons, p. 14. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 54. E. M. Geldart, Faith and Freedom, p. 40. Bishop Arnett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 166. J. E. Watts-Ditchfield, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 1122. C. Ensor Walters, The Deserted Christ, p. 35. J. G. Greenhough; The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 97. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 286. I. 16, 17. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live by, p. 334. W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p. 45. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 365; ibid. vol. ix. p. 194. I. 16-25. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 257.
The Righteousness of God
The two statements of the previous verse that the Gospel is the power of God to salvation, and that it proves itself to be so to every one who believes are further explained and confirmed by these words.
I. What, then, is the righteousness of God? The phrase is capable of misconstruction, and, in fact, often has been misunderstood. The ostensible meaning might seem to be the righteousness which is a characteristic or attribute of God. But it cannot be said that this in any special sense is a revelation of the Gospel. It may more truly be described as the great theme of Old Testament teaching, the prophets never wearying of vindicating its claims, and of showing how certainly it will finally prevail. Moreover, it is impossible to see how the revelation of righteousness in such a sense could constitute the saving power of the Gospel. The righteousness of God, as is evident from the passage which St. Paul quotes from Habakkuk, as well as from other parallel expressions, is the righteousness of which God is the Author, which He provides and bestows, so that the man who acquires it becomes thereby a just or righteous man. Now, this is precisely what we need, and it supplies the essential condition of all fellowship with God, and therefore of holiness or victory over sin.
II. The remainder of my text confirms the second statement of the previous verse, that the Gospel is the saving power of God to every one that believes. It is so because it is from faith to faith, a difficult expression if you take it word by word, but sufficiently plain in its general sense, which is that on our side everything but faith is excluded. This righteousness of which the Apostle has spoken is not due to our own works, which do not contribute to it anything whatever. When it becomes ours it is due entirely to faith faith which appropriates Christ, and by resting upon Him enters into it and invests us with all its prerogatives. And just as it is due to faith, so also it is designed to produce faith. Consider how the revelation of this righteousness, and its being offered to faith, opens an immediate entrance into a state of salvation. The radical error into which we all run in reference to our acceptance with God is that we must do something in order to secure it. So far from being an act or something to be done, it consists essentially in giving up the attempt to do anything whatever towards righting ourselves with God, and resting satisfied with what Christ has done.
C. Moinet, The Great Alternative and other Sermons, p. 71.
References. I. 17. H. Alford, Sermons on Christian Doctrine, p. 281. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlviii. No. 2809. J. B. Brown, The Divine Life in Man, p. 122. A Scotch Preacher, The Strait Gate, p. 77. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. pp. 353, 416; ibid. vol. viii. pp. 81, 195; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 278; ibid. vol. ix. p. 189; ibid. vol. x. pp. 63, 328. I. 18. H. Howard, The Raiment of the Soul, p. 225. W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p. 57. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 226. I. 18-32. Bishop Gore, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 66. I. 18- 3. 20. Bishop Gore, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 63. I. 19-32. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 276.
The Power of God
To apprehend the power of God we need not look at these coincidences, interferences, miracles, judgments, visitations, on which the ignorant and superstitious are prone to insist; not the violations of law, but the law itself, is the witness to the Divine power. To heal a disease, to restore a maniac, fills a crowd with surprise. But to preserve the delicate organisms of millions from succumbing to disease; to keep the fine tissues of the brain in order, so that sanity is the rule and insanity the exception; this is what should fill us with daily wonder and gratitude. The simple truth is, that the Force, which Agnostics are bound to assume, a vast Unknown, as the real explanation of all the known, is the God whom Christ revealed to us. But, since the everlasting power and divinity of God are so manifest, so overwhelmingly convincing, directly we come to reflect, whence has sprung the delusion that God's power is limited? It is essentially due to a diseased vision. Man is no impartial observer of God and His ways. His judgment is warped by shattering and useless resistance to the omnipotence of God. But remember, this perturbed judgment is the organ by which we are attempting to estimate God. Let us gather the threads of our argument into these two propositions.
I. There is no evil in this universe except the perverted wills (probably confined entirely to this system), which in the exercise of their freedom have resisted the power of God. Resistance to Him produces unrest, discontent, paralysis. The sins which result from it involve us in perpetual suffering.
II. When the will is reclaimed by Jesus Christ and brought into harmony with God, evil disappears, except so far as the eye has to contemplate the disorder of the wills which still resist. When the will is converted, restored, and in harmony with God, it beholds with unspeakable joy the infinite ocean of Light and Love; nor can it for a moment suppose that this dim shadow of human corruption will maintain itself for long in that victorious ocean.
R. F. Horton, The Trinity, p. 113.
Revelation of the Invisible
Underlying the whole teaching of the New Testament is that deep and mysterious revelation as to the threefeld personality of the one God which is called the doctrine of the Trinity. It is hard to grasp, but unless we do believe and accept it in faith we must give up the doctrine of the Incarnation, the doctrine of the Atonement, the doctrine of the mission of the Comforter in fact, everything which makes Christianity precious to us, and that invests the sacrifice from the Cross with such unspeakable blessing and power.
The eye, the ear, the tongue, these are organs that we all of us possess. With the ear we associate harmony; with the eye, beauty; with the tongue, speech. I propose, then, to take these three, harmony, beauty, speech, and to inquire: What do we understand by these terms; what is their meaning, their history, and significance?
I. Harmony. Now harmony is revealed to us in the works of great musical composers as executed through the agency of skilled performers. Harmony in its essence existed long before there was a human composer or performer to give it body and expression, and it is impossible to conceive a time when harmony was not there, capable at any moment of manifestation. In the book of Job we read how that when God laid the foundations of the earth the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.
a. This conception of music as surrounding the Throne of God is, perhaps, the one of all others that has most impressed itself upon the minds of men. This is but another way of saying music is from everlasting; and therefore man, who was made in the likeness of God, came into being with music in his soul, but without power to give it adequate expression.
b. This power has manifested itself slowly throughout the ages. It pleased Him who ordereth the course of human progress to delay until these latter days productions of the great musicians. But in the nature of things there is no reason for this. They were always in existence; they have been there waiting for men with high-strung souls to give them shape and make them henceforth a possession of joy to all their fellows so long as man shall walk the earth.
c. Music may exist with all its possibility, but unless there be within a man the power to hear and appreciate melody, what advantageth it? What would be the use of singing men and women to a deaf man? The waves of rhythmic sound would be nonexistent.
So, then, we have here three things harmony in its eternal essence, the source from which all music springs; harmony as it finds outward expression; harmony as it appeals inwardly to the hearer. And yet who can say that these three things, though quite distinct and different, are not at the same time one? And so, by an almost exactly parallel sequence of thought, we have:
a. God the eternal source of all being, the author and origin of all things.
b. God as manifested in time, in visible nature and in recorded history.
c. God as revealed by His indwelling in the human heart. And we feel, do we not, that the Trinity in unity of theology, the Three and yet but One, has ceased to be altogether unthinkable.
II. Beauty. Let us, then, pass to our second analogy. We are all of us conscious in our hearts of a something we call beauty. It is a something we cannot define. The sense of beauty which is felt but not seen we acknowledge to be an eternal reality; its prototype is not of the earth earthy, but cometh from heaven. But whenever we gaze upon a beautiful landscape, or beautiful sunset, a beautiful face, a beautiful work of art, we behold with our bodily eyes, and our spirits are thrilled by the actual presence of beauty realised by our sense at a particular time and a particular place. Observe, once again, that this beauty, however perfect, would be to us blank and void unless there were that within us which could comprehend it. The faculties must be cultured, sensitive, sympathetic, so that when we say that such and such a work is beautiful the assertion involves and predicates three things:
a. The idea of beauty apart from all objects.
b. The idea of beauty of objects that we actually see.
c. The power in ourselves of perception.
Yet may we not say that these three are one, not to be confounded yet not to be divided.
III. Speech. Speech is the crowning gift of man that which gives him supremacy over the brute creation, that which marks him with the seal Divine. What magic is there not in a spoken word! And yet what is there to distinguish it from a mere unmeaning sound? It is impossible to say, for that which to one race is a mere sound becomes to another a symbol pregnant with signification. Nay, to him who is a student of language, in reality every word of every cultured human being is a living entity clothed upon with countless associations from the past. To the ordinary speaker, however, the word is nothing less than an implement for conveying thought at the particular instant that it is uttered. It is the direct product, the outward embodiment and expression under physical conditions of antecedent thought. And not only so. It serves a further purpose. It transmits the thought of the speaker and it transmutes it into the thought of the hearer. The thought is one, but its phases are threefold:
a. We have the parent thought of the speaker.
b. We have the same thought for a moment objectively expressed in concrete form through the medium of sound.
c. We have the communicated thought that proceeds from both which passes through the air into the mind of the hearer.
If we but grasp this, may we not, too, look on to read as with eyes opened to the richness of its spiritual meaning that wonderful declaration of the fourth Evangelist, 'The Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us,' and to perceive that the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and from, or rather through, the agency of the Son is no longer entirely inscrutable or remote; but that, as a spoken word enters into the ear and finds within the soul an intelligent response to the message that it brings from the speaker, so is it with the quickening impulse of the Holy Spirit upon our consciousness.
Aspects of nature in different ages have changed before the eye of man; at times fruitful of many thoughts; at other times either unheeded or fading into insignificance in comparison of the inner world. When the Apostle spoke of the visible things which 'witness of the Divine power and glory,' it was not the beauty of particular spots which he recalled; his eye was not satisfied with seeing the fairness of the country any more than the majesty of cities. He did not study the flittings of shadows on the hills, or even the movements of the stars in their courses. The plainest passages of the book of Nature were, equally with the sublimest, the writing of a Divine hand.... The Apostle, in the abundance of his revelations, has an eye turned inward on another world. It is not that he is dead to Nature, but that it is out of his way; not, as in the Old Testament, the veil or frame of the Divine presence, but only the background of human nature and revelation. When speaking of the heathen, it comes readily into his thoughts; it never seems to occur to him in connection with the work of Christ He does not read mysteries in the leaves of the forest, or see the image of the cross in the form of the tree, or find miracles of design in the complex structures of animal life. His thoughts respecting the works of God are simpler and also deeper. The child and the philosopher alike hear a witness in the first chapter of Romans, or in the discourse of the Apostle on Mars' Hill, or at Lystra, which the mystic fancies of Neo-platonism and the modern evidences of natural theology fail to convey to them.'
From Jowett's Essay on Natural Religion.
The Sidonians agreed amongst themselves to choose him to be their king who that morning should first see the sun. Whilst all others were gazing on the east, one alone looked on the west But he first of all discovered the light of the sun shining on the tops of houses. God is seen sooner, easier, clearer in His operations than in His essence. Best beheld by reflection in His creatures. For the invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.
References. I. 20. E. White, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 86. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 361. I. 20, 21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1763, and vol. xxxviii. No. 2257. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 312. I. 21. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 184. R. W. Church, Village Sermons, p. 223.
Romans 1:21-45.1.22 (with 2:19)
A self-contented man is the hardened swelling on the breast of society. He is my sworn enemy. He fills himself with cheap truths, with gnawed morsels of musty wisdom, and he exists like a storeroom where a stingy housewife keeps all sorts of rubbish which is absolutely unnecessary to her, and worthless.... These unfortunate people call themselves men of firm character, men of principles and convictions, and no one cares to see that convictions are to them but the clothes with which they cover the beggarly nakedness of their souls. On the narrow brows of such people there always shines the inscription so familiar to all: 'Calmness and confidence'. What a false inscription! Just rub their foreheads with firm hand and then you will see the real signboard, which reads: 'Narrow-mindedness and weakness of soul'.
Reference. I. 21-25. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 240.
The Divine Blessedness
I. It is much easier for us to realise the blessedness of God when we think of His derivative rather than of His essential and eternal blessedness. Let us approach this mysterious and profoundly interesting subject from the easiest standpoint, that of the future. We project our vision through dim ages yet to come. The curse has gone from the universe, like an old dream of terror that troubled a long-forgotten night of childhood. No trace of it is left. All nations have been blessed in Him, and they stand before the throne of this solitary Potentate of love, and call Him blessed in their songs. But I may be reminded that if we look at God's infinite and unfathomable blessedness, from the standpoint of the far future, the subject is not without its difficulties. Is there no reservation in that blessedness? On the far-off confines of all this blessedness, is there not the smoke of a torment that ascendeth up for ever and ever? Well, in God's ripe summer-time evil will be insignificant beyond degree in comparison with good. 'But was not God the Father of these lost ones?' God could not be perfectly happy if He had left a single thing undone to save men. In respect of the damned even He has the blessedness of knowing that He has done for them all that infinite love and patience and resource could.
II. Let us see if we can realise God's blessedness from the standpoint of the present. How can He be infinitely blessed whilst His watching Spirit is present in this world of unresting anguish? It may be asked, 'Is not God's present relation to pain a qualification of His blessedness?' (1) He lives in the presence of perpetual pain, it is true, but then He is ever exercising a ministry of pity and healing to pain, and there is no pause in the unseen work of that ministry: and the satisfactions it yields more than transcend the touch of possible grief that may be the germ of His sympathy. (2) And then God's blessedness can suffer no eclipse from contact with pain, because it is His will to make pain the vehicle for the manifestation of conspicuous tenderness. (3) And then God's blessedness is not overshadowed by human pain, even when rescue and healing from His presence tarry for awhile, because by pain God is teaching us sympathy with each other, and conformity to His own pattern of helpfulness and high beneficence. (4) And yet again, God looks upon pain from the standpoint of that wider epoch when sorrow and sighing shall have fled away; and pain so viewed cannot darken His ineffable gladness. But is not the present existence and activity of sin a qualification of the Divine blessedness? He looks into the future, and He sees the coming members of the race transformed into the holy image of His first-born son.
III. Let us try and realise God's infinite and absolute blessedness in relation to the past We go back to the mysterious epochs when the worlds had not issued upon their courses. How can we reconcile the Divine blessedness with solitude? (1) Well, the beneficence of character that was the spring of all after triumph and achievement was there. (2) More still: the Son, who was to be the instrument for the accomplishment of all the Father's purposes, was already a willing instrument in the Father's bosom. And thus before all worlds God has been indescribably gladdened by the anticipation of a triumphant future of redeemed and regenerated life. He is blessed from all ages.
References. I. 25. J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 61. I. 28. W. G. Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 363. H. Parnaby, British Congregationalist, 18th October, 1906, p. 273. I. 29. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 114. II. 1. W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p. 57. II. 1-29. Bishop Gore, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 87. II. 2. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 69. II. 4. P. McAdam Muir, Modern Substitutes for Christianity, p. 3. J. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 157. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 97. J. H. Bell, Persuasions, p. 97. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1714, and vol. xlix. No. 2857. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 422; ibid. vol. ii. pp. 64, 65. II. 4, 5. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 141. II. 6. Ibid, pp. 23, 209; ibid. vol. x. p. 107.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany