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I Caught Myself Wishing
'I caught myself wishing praying that I were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.' Nothing brings us nearer the heart of St. Paul than that. His wish, it has been finely said, was a spark from the fire of Christ's substitutionary love. Moses was willing to perish with his people. 'If not I pray Thee blot me out of Thy book.' The Apostle caught himself wishing that he might die for them, if need were, the eternal death.
I. 'I caught myself wishing.' How wonderful is this arrest of the soul by the self. Most commonly the current runs on, and the regal power abdicates for the time; but now and then the master speaks to the servant. 'Why art thou cast down, oh, my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me?' 'I caught myself wishing' I discovered my ruling passion. How would it be with us if we had a sudden hand laid on us in the same way? If we compel ourselves to pause and look and see whether our life's stream is running, what would be the revelation? Would not the clasp be the clasp of justice to discover and reprove our guilt? Perhaps those who fancy that they were working from the highest motive would find they were dominated by the lowest. They would catch themselves wishing to be honoured, to be talked of, to be rich, to be popular. When we sharply pull up our thought, inhibiting it for the moment, what is it? Is it so that we should discover that the real longing and expectation of the soul are turned towards things poor and earthly, that we are possessed with a craving hunger seeking to satisfy itself with husks? But the Apostle caught himself wishing to be accursed from Christ for his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh.
II. This was not the calm deliberation of his 'I reckon,' and it must not be judged as if it were. Suppose we knew but a part of the wish, and if it ran 'I caught myself wishing that I were accursed from Christ,' none of us could believe that St. Paul ever said it, for his words mean all they can mean. They mean a devotion to perdition, a parting final and fateful from the Lord Jesus Christ. Such separation could never be. Christ would take care of that, as the Apostle well knew when he came to himself from this strange and noble madness. But he meant that he was willing to make the supreme sacrifice for his brethren. It was, of course, an impossible prayer, but he came nearer Christ than ever in the very hour when he dreamed that he was ready for estrangement; his heart was aching up to the Master all the time, and the Master knew it.
III. On what did this love, this vehement love for souls, rest itself? It rested on his love for Christ, and his knowledge of what Christ could do in and for the souls that were dying for want of Him. It is this passion of St. Paul that we need to revive in our churches today. There is very much that has weakened it. A failing sense of sin and peril and retribution, a dim understanding of what Christ was and is, make themselves but too evident in the Church of today. Indeed, for pictures of the retribution of sin it would be more profitable to turn to the trumpery novel of the moment than to many a sermon. It is from the world that some of the deepest words on sin and retribution come to us.
But St. Paul had the mind of Christ. His passion for souls meant that he knew the desolating thirst of mankind and the Fountain of living waters that would quench its thirst. The gulf was deep between man and God, but trust in Christ would bring union with Christ, and pardon to the sinner, and life to the dead. So when St. Paul saw his brethren turning away from Christ, it was with a bewildered agony of mind, with a sense of desolation so profound, that it would have prostrated the failing spirit had it not been cast at the feet of the Lord Most High, the God Most Mighty, the Holy and Most Merciful Saviour.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 67.
What did Paul mean? Accursed from Christ? What could he mean save that he was willing to be damned to save those whom he loved. Why not? Why should not a man be willing to be damned for others? The damnation of a single soul is shut up in itself, and may be the means of saving not only others but their children and a whole race. Damnation 1... 'And yet, if it is to save if it is to save Robert,' thought Michael, 'God give me strength I could endure it. Did not the Son Himself venture to risk the wrath of the Father that He might redeem man? What am I? What is my poor self? 'And Michael determined that night that neither his life in this world nor in the next, if he could rescue his child, should be of any account.... He questioned himself and his oracle further. What could Paul mean exactly? God could not curse him if he did no wrong. He could only mean that he was willing to sin and be punished provided Israel might live. It was lawful then to tell a lie or to perpetrate any evil deed in order to protect his child.
From Mark Rutherford's story of Michael Trevanion, in Miriam's Schooling and other Papers.
You may do, for reward, something that on the outside looks like doing good, but it is not doing good, because the will is selfish your heart is set on your own pleasure and comfort, and not on a substantial good for its own sake. A man who really thought of nothing but getting safe to heaven would be as bad as a man in a shipwreck who thought of nothing but getting himself safe into a boat. There are a few such people, I daresay. But, of course, most people are better than they make out. When they speak of reward and punishment, they do not mean merely pleasures and pains; they mean, in part at least, the goodness which causes the pleasure, and the badness which causes the pain. We can see that true Christians have never thought the reward the chief thing. St. Paul was ready to give up his own reward, to be accursed from Christ, if that would save the soul he loved. And to go from great things to small, there is a fine scene in a novel which I once read. A young man is afraid to go to the rescue of some people in a flood, because he has a conviction that if he is drowned there, he will go to hell. And the old man, an old Scotchman, to whom he tells this, shouts out to him in reply, 'Better be damned doing the will of God than saved doing nothing'. This is the instinct of true religion revolting against the false doctrine of rewards; and I believe that this revolt has the sympathy of all true Christians.
Prof. B. Bosanquet's Essays and Addresses, p. 111.
At the close of the eighth chapter of his Life of General Gordon, Sir William Butler sums up his nero's feelings during the last siege of Khartoum. 'That this heroic soul had now come to look upon his life as a sacrifice to be given in atonement for the sins of his fellow-countrymen in Egypt is beyond dispute. "I feel that all these wrongs can only be washed out in blood," he wrote from Jerusalem in the end of 1883. A few months later, writing on 4th March from Khartoum, he uses these words than which there are none more memorable in all his life: "May our Lord not visit us as a nation for our sins, but may His wrath fall on me, hid in Christ. This is my frequent prayer, and may He spare these people, and bring them to peace."'
In Cromwell's first speech to the Little Parliament of 1653 he uses the same passage in order to inculcate a gracious, unselfish bearing towards the various classes of people in the nation. 'I confess I have sometimes said, foolishly it may be: I had rather miscarry to a believer than an unbeliever. This may seem a paradox: but let's take heed of doing that which is evil to either! Oh, if God fill your hearts with such a spirit as Moses had, and as Paul had, which was not a spirit for believers only, but for the whole people! Moses, he could die for them; wish himself blotted out of God's Book: Paul could wish himself accursed for his countrymen after the flesh So full of affection were their spirits unto all.'
References. IX. 3. A. M. Fairbairn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 273. W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 289. IX. 4. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 37. IX. 6-9. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 418. IX. 11, 12. J. Wright, The Guarded Gate, p. 55.
'That meeting between the brothers,' says Dinah Morris in Adam, Bede, 'where Esau is so loving and generous, and Jacob so timid and distrustful, notwithstanding his sense of the Divine favour, has always touched me greatly. Truly, I have been tempted sometimes to say that Jacob was of a mean spirit. But that is our trial we must learn to see the good in the midst of much that is unlovely.'
References. IX. 13. M. Biggs, Practical Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 63. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 239. W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 289. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 158.
James Guthrie, minister of Stirling, who was hung at the Cross of Edinburgh in 1661, had this epistle read to him before his death by his man-servant, and when the reader came to this verse, he cried out in tears: 'James, James, halt there, for I have nothing but that to lippen to!'
See this verse discussed in Bunyan's Grace Abounding, secs. 58-60.
References. IX. 16. G. Jackson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 113. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 442. IX. 17. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 120. IX. 19. Ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 551. IX. 21. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 39. IX. 22. Ibid. vol. i. p. 23. IX. 23, 24. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 327. IX. 25. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2295. IX. 25, 26. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 87. IX. 28. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 121. IX. 30-33. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1961. IX. 33. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 571. X. 1. H. Arnold Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 331. X. 1-3. E. A. Stuart, His Dear Son and other Sermons, p. 121. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1899. X. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvii. No. 2214. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 186. X. 4. Bishop Creighton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 401. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1325. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 30; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 92; ibid. vol. vii. p. 241; ibid. vol. viii. p. 135. X. 5-9. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1700.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 9". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12