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It appears that at Ephesus there were some who taught another doctrine than Paul had expounded in the name of Christ. Paul, on that account, besought Timothy to abide at Ephesus, to do his utmost to check the progress of error, to "charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith." The Apostle teaches that there is no edification, or building up, in fables and questions and fancies and controversies, however clever they may be, or fascinating; he says that the true edification is in faith alone, that is, in a positive and unquestioning act of the mind; not in speculation, but in trust; not in doubt, but in belief; not in hesitation, but in certainty and assurance. The Apostle's aim was to build up character, not to distract the mind; and his teaching is that, if character is to be built up and the soul to be made strong, it must be by faith simple, earnest, hearty trust and not by the pranks and antics of a curious fancy.
First of all then, the Apostle's object was obviously good; it was neither more nor less than the building up of man's highest nature. The word to be strictly kept in view is the word "building," edification, structure, uprearing; anything and everything that meant solid masonry with a view to completeness and accommodation. The Apostle did not want to make men clever at asking questions, but to make them strong and valiant in all the highest and purest elements of the soul. Paul called men to strength; his motto was "Quit you like men, be strong." He wishes his followers and colleagues to "endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ." There was nothing artificial or merely decorative about this man. He wanted solid foundations and strong masonry up to the very top and finish of the building. He was particular about the quality of every stone, and about the exact position which it filled in the moral structure. He would have nothing done in confusion; however ample the materials might be, and however valuable in themselves, they must be set in regular mechanical order, and brought to the completion of a purpose by the hand of master-builders. He pitied those who were driven about by every wind of doctrine, and repeatedly called upon them to be rooted and grounded in the truth and in the love of God. The figure changes, but the purpose remains the same. If Paul uses the figure of a building, he will have deep and immovable foundations; if he uses the figure of a tree, he will have a deep and broad root, assured that in the root alone was the security of vitality and growth on the part of the tree itself.
A man is not necessarily a genius because he can put hard questions and suggest very serious doubts. A kind of grim respectability is now in some quarters attached to unbelief or scepticism. A man who says he knows nothing especially if he describe himself by the term agnostic is supposed at once to be an advanced thinker and room is made for him in respectable circles. A man who does not go to church is supposed to be spending his time in lofty contemplations, and to be threading his dim and perilous way through firmaments of undiscovered stars. It would be a curious study to find out the philosophy of this estimate of character. Let a man announce himself to be orthodox or sound, that is, to be satisfied with great doctrines and well-tested propositions and he is instantly regarded as in some way and degree behind the age: but let him begin to doubt, to deny, to cross-examine, and to hint at unbelief, and instantly he is supposed to be a man of might and of mark, and to be deserving of a high seat in the synagogue of progress. If it be a mark of genius to doubt, then why should we not all become geniuses at once by each man doubting his own existence? That would give a man an air of sublimity; he might. say, How do I know that I exist? I have never seen myself; I may have seen parts of what I have called myself, but my whole self I have never seen. If it be asked in amazement by those who hear the statement, What! have you not seen yourself in a looking-glass? the answer would be No; that is not myself; it is at best but a reflection of my bodily presence: and why should I be a disciple of the looking-glass? The looking-glass itself was made, and I must know who made it before I will believe it: perhaps a better reflective medium may be discovered some day, and therefore I will wait and not trust myself to this imperfect instrument which you call a mirror: what business had any man to discover the art of making mirrors? Shame upon him, I say, to try to improve upon nature: nature evidently did not intend that we should see ourselves, and any man who has discovered a medium through which he proposes to show himself, part of himself, is guilty of an act of impertinence. The foolish man might continue his speech thus: It will be time enough to take a house to live in when I am perfectly assured of my own existence: so also it would be time enough to buy myself a suit of clothes when I am sure that I really do live, but until that matter is proved beyond all dispute I intend to remain without clothing and without habitation.
In the most ordinary affairs of life the very thing that is accounted grand in spiritual matters would be not only impracticable but ridiculous and insane; in other words, men dare not apply their religious negativism or agnosticism to commercial matters or to the affairs of general social life, because instantly they would break down under the pressure of practical requirements. What merchant, for example, dare write a letter to Australia: he might very well reason with himself that the man to whom he is writing may be dead; the distance is many thousands of miles; life is very uncertain and at the best is of short duration: long before the letter reaches him the man may be dead and gone and forgotten. Or who would venture upon going any considerable journey: the engine may break down, a hundred accidents are always possible: the man for whom the journey is undertaken may be travelling in the other direction at the very moment that he is being sought for: in short, the whole arrangement is so full of possibilities, dangers, difficulties, that no man in his senses would venture to undertake any considerable journey in quest either of business or of pleasure. Or who dare venture to act upon a written order for goods? Who wrote the order? May not the man who wrote the order have repented of having done so? May not some circumstance have occurred entirely to alter his mind? Here again the element of uncertainty is so distinct as to render any acceptance of the written order altogether out of the range of reason. These illustrations show that the ordinary business of life could not be transacted if doubts, fears, questionings, suspicions, and distrusts were not kept within certain limits. In other words, there must be faith in business whether there is faith in religion or not. It is idle for men to speak contemptuously of religious faith when their whole life is built upon a structure of trust and is inspired by the very sentiment of confidence. It is faith that builds up fortunes as certainly as it is faith that builds up character. Yet when it is thought of in connection with fortune it is supposed to be indicative of sagacity, farsightedness, great shrewdness and enterprise; but the moment this very selfsame faith is applied to religious matters, it is thought to savour of intellectual vanity at the best, and possibly of intellectual imbecility.
In the great matter of human salvation we are called, in the first place, to believe in Jesus Christ. That is the beginning. The mistake often made is that the inquirer meddles with things that do not belong to him. I offer a piece of bread to a hungry child, but the hungry child, instantly assuming the rights of a rational creature, demands to know the processes of germination through which the seed passed before it became bread: who sowed the seed? what right had he to sow it? how did he know the world would live long enough to need the fruitage of such sowing? was it not highly impertinent on his part to presume that there would be a future? The child who could ask such questions as these would prove that he was not in real hunger, or he certainly would have first eaten the bread, and then have undertaken the unprofitable business of philosophic speculation regarding the mechanics and chemistry of nature. So when we present the bread of life to a hearer of the gospel he says, Answer my doubts, and then I shall believe what you say; but so long as my doubts exist it is impossible for me to lend my whole attention to your appeals. How do we treat the case of the hungering child? Our answer is distinct and experimental I have been hungering myself, I have eaten part of the very same bread which I offer to you, and the result of my eating has been the recovery of strength and energy, and therefore, because I have had experience of the goodness of this food, I offer it to you, and I even venture to press it upon your acceptance. The answer is good, and would be accounted good in every other sphere of life. Whenever a man can speak from his personal experience he has a right to be heard and to be believed, unless there be some flaw in his character which may be considered as destructive of his credibility. The fact that there are enemies, assailants, controversialists, and sceptics, or the fact that there are some things unknown and others doubtful, ought not to interfere with our diligent attention to things of practical and unquestionable importance. Suppose a farmer going down to the seashore should look at the lighthouse, the coastguards, the telescopes, the cannon, the fortresses, which he will find there, might he not reason within himself concerning these things, and draw very serious conclusions regarding them? Might he not say I am an agriculturist in the Midland counties, and I have been carrying on my occupation these many years, without ever so much as knowing that the coastline of the country required all these defences: I see now what a very doubtful and hazardous position I have been occupying: all these things betoken enemies, dangers, possibilities of invasion; and how can I tell but that tomorrow, or the day after, there may be such an invasion of England as shall result in the destruction of all property? I awake to find myself in the interior of a land whose edge is protected by cannon and by fortress, by soldier and by sailor: knowing what I now do of the dangers which beset the country, I shall certainly give up all processes connected with the tillage of the land. Now this would be no more irrational than the reasoning which is often indulged in respecting the preaching of the gospel, and the propagation of Christianity by all usual means. A man goes down to the coastline of theological speculation, and he finds there doctors, critics, learned men of every name and degree; apologists, controversialists, men who are gifted in the use of words, and he says, How can there be truth in religion so long as all these coastguards are needed along the line of the sea? If theology were true, it would need no such defences as these; the very fact that there are theological soldiers and sailors and coastguards shows to me that the whole land of religion is in a most unsafe condition. So long as those coastguards are there, says the farmer, I will never till a field, because I may never reap the fruit; and so long as these coastguards are there, says the theological inquirer, I will never believe in Christianity, because they may be overpowered by the enemy and I myself may be brought to spiritual ruin.
The fear is that we may encourage doubts, questionings and vain fancies of the mind, only that we may have more liberty to commit sin. Here is the infinite danger. Sometimes we are apt to dismiss our conscience under the plea of having a difficulty with our intellect. Every man must examine himself in this department, for it is impossible for any public teacher to conduct the scrutiny. All who know human nature will be ready to admit that the moral difficulty is the supreme obstacle in the way of progress. A man becomes wrong in his heart, and then he attempts to suit his intellectual conditions and convictions to his new feeling. A man disputes the possibility of the commandments having been given at Sinai in order that he may indulge unlimited moral licence. There is an awful block in the way of the man who wants to sin, and yet to do it with some measure of respectability, and that great block is the Bible. That Book will never allow a man to sin without criticism and condemnation. Whatever difficulties may gather around the intellectual side of the Bible, there remains its sublime moral aspect, its continual appeal concerning righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Paul will therefore have us fix our attention upon things that are solid and substantial, upon the things which are well understood and thoroughly established amongst us: he preaches temperance, meekness, charity, godliness, all the moral virtues and graces, and he would have us cultivate these, and incorporate these into our character, and through our love of these he would have us approach the intellectual difficulties which seem to gather around the altar of Christ. Too often we reverse the process, and we hinder ourselves from moral blessings by asking unanswerable questions in theology. We ought to begin at the other point, accepting the great moral teaching of the Book, believing devoutly in the character of our Lord Jesus Christ, assured of the wisdom and beneficence of his motive and purpose, and then we should proceed gradually, very slowly indeed, but very surely, to the contemplation of those awful mysteries which seem to lie at the very heart of truth. The question which we have to put to ourselves is are we being built up? is our character larger? is our manhood assuming shapeliness and proportion? and is there in it a spirit of hospitality, welcoming those who are outside to partake of such spiritual riches as we ourselves may have gathered? Do not let us seek to be built up in cleverness, in great mental agility, in a kind of exercise which ends in beating the air; but rather let us seek to be built up in truth, in love, in confidence towards one another, and especially in that trust in prayer which enables us to increase the volume of our petitions and to press them upon the attention of heaven with all the intensity of complete and unchangeable love.
What Christ Came for
There need then be no mystery as to why Christ came. When a man has only one purpose it ought to be ascertainable. How many men are able to realise a double purpose? "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." He is now here, now there; we know not where he is or what he is at. Unity of purpose is the secret of strength, and the key of success. Ask Jesus Christ when you may, where you may, what he came for, he never changes the substance of his answer: ask him what he goes away for, and he says, "For your sake." Yet there are those who profess not to understand why Christ came, or what he sought to do in coming. This must arise from a false tone of mind; its motive must be found in a divided and mischievous heart. We can understand the foundation facts of the gospel sufficiently to begin their happy experience. That is a terrible statement to make. It is nothing in words, but when you apply it to the whole line of your life it makes the disbeliever a liar at every point. Christ will not have collateral questions raised as if they were essential or central. There are men who are making cloudy theologies all round about the line of his motive. He disowns them. He will have it stated in every language and in every tone of the human voice that in coming he came to be the Saviour, and to be the Saviour of sinners.
The text is associated with a very curious commentary. The introduction is this: "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation." The commentary is this: "of whom [sinners] I am chief." Let us throw aside the introduction and the conclusion, both of great consequence, for one little moment, that we may fix our mind upon the central "saying" "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." No other man ever did that. He is always unique; his purpose has no divided fellowship. Other men think they were sent into the world to do divers good works, and so they were initial, reformative, ameliorative but this Man says he came into the world to work fundamentally, to get at the core of things, to "save sinners." Who is the author of this "saying?" We cannot tell. It is not Paul's. Paul quotes it, refers to it, cites it. So much the better. There ought to be certain great outstanding, all-inclusive truths that are anonymous; if they have a signature, it must be divine. Paul seems to be here in the attitude of one who is quoting the common substance of the faith: as who should say, This is not my saying, or Peter's saying, or the saying of John; it is the spiritual, ghostly, ineffable, ever-present thought and truth of this Christly kingdom; without it the kingdom has no existence. A very wonderful thing it is to trace a great many of these anonymous sayings. "It is more blessed to give than to receive"; "Then remembered they the words of the Lord Jesus." They had been forgotten, but they came up again in connection with certain infinite developments and possibilities; they recognised the Name in the vastness and beneficence of the issue. There are great truths that need no signing. Blessed be God, we cannot say, This is the ink of the prince, the bishop, the primate, the council. Let these talk about things; the things themselves are let down from heaven. We are authors of commentaries; we are not authors of revelation.
What is the relation of the Apostle to this so-called "saying"? It is a two-fold relationship. First, he accepts it as a fact; secondly, he illustrates it as an experience. Sometimes we can only get at certain truths through certain personalities. For the time being the personalities are the truth to us. The truth is larger than we can fully comprehend, but we see it in some degree incarnated, personified in great saint, in holy father, in pure, gentle, much-enduring mother; and we say, Though we cannot build a firmament, we can build a tent, a house; we can put up a visible and measurable sanctuary, within which we may see many forms and expressions of ineffable and incomprehensible truth. Paul pre-eminently represented certain of these great truths. Here he represents the greatest of them all. He has met a saving Man; he has been overmatched by the strength of gentleness; he has seen One whom he can never unsee. There are some lives we can never forget. We forget a thousand men in a day, but there comes up a Personality the sight of which we can never obscure or obliterate. Hence on, Paul will talk about nothing else. He will say, Have you seen him? have you heard him? do you know him? will you come to him? Of whom speakest thou, madman? I am not mad, I speak my life's love; I have seen a Man, who has taken me into his heart and cleansed me in the fountain of his blood; and hence on I see no other sight; for that glory I live for ever. How can the pulpit succeed if it have a thousand topics! The pulpit must have one theme, and that one theme must include all others that are its kindred in range, in nobleness, in beauty, in spiritual usefulness, and as meeting all the daily necessities of life: for is not life one long cry, the utterance of one sharp poignant pain? There is but a step between any text in the Bible and the Cross on which the Saviour died.
Paul accepted this statement as a fact. He said, it is to me true; I have no misgiving about it; this fact covers my whole life; this fact is an answer to my felt but unuttered prayer; this fact unites, centralises, and glorifies human history: this fact is a key; with it I unlock the mystery of human evolution and progress: this fact is a promise: I see in it morning and summer and growth and harvest: I accept it as true. If true, it is characteristically true. By that I mean that without it Christianity has no existence. It is the note of Christianity; it is the very pulse of the Divine thought. It is not a fact amongst a thousand other facts, it is the fact that centralises all other realities, and glorifies them, and shapes them into a highway to the heaven. If true, it is unreservedly true. There are some lamps that want all heaven to shine in. Sometimes we almost feel as if the sun were complaining because the firmament were not large enough, and some great summer day when he revels in his strength, when he rejoices as a strong man to run a race, it seems as if he could light ten thousand firmaments. So with certain "sayings," doctrines, revelations; they do not belong to one country; no one country could hold them all. Nor can they be condensed into any one language; they say, Express me in all western tongues, in all eastern dialects, in all ancient speech, in all modern statement and eloquence; I want all your instruments and mediums of communication, and I want ten thousandfold more than you can give me: I come, say these truths one by one, from eternity, from God.
It is "worthy of all acceptation." That is, of the acceptation of all; or, worthy of all acceptation undoubting, centralised, intense, indivisible acceptation. Christ occupies the whole man. Reason accepts him; imagination welcomes him; conscience hails him King of Righteousness; the broken heart says, Come to me, O thou Physician of eternity! The whole nature keeps open house for this one Saviour. Take it either in the one way or in the other, the acceptation is "all." Have you who profess this great Christian thought received Christ with "all acceptation?" or do you keep him out of some chambers of your life? Does he own the whole course of your being? Let the question press itself; let no man, preacher or teacher, urge it, lest it fail by some subtle influence which involves the condemnation of himself. If true, it is pregnantly true; that is, it includes and involves other truths. See how many we have here. "Came into the world" where was he before? With the Father in eternal places, in the heavenlies in the hidden nameless sanctuaries. He "came" the gates flew open to allow his progress; he "came" then it must have been voluntary, spontaneous, an action with his own consent. He was not murdered; he was the priest as well as the victim. "To save sinners": what a view of human nature, what an estimate of the general human condition! "Sinners" lawbreakers. If the Apostle were to go into detail, he would say, Unholy, profane, murderers of fathers, murderers of mothers, manslayers, whoremongers, man-stealers, liars, perjured persons; that would be the detailed catalogue, the bill of infamous particulars. But he takes up the word "sinners," and says, that is the most pregnant word in human language. And Jesus Christ came not to save in detail, but to save in principle, in the spirit, in the innermost reality of things.
If true, it is beneficently true. "To save." Sweet word! a child's little word, a word that a minor may touch, a word that God may use. "To save" not to save from consequences only, but to save the soul in every thought, element, motive, capability, and issue. "To save" that is what the physician is trying to do. "To save" that is what the mother is trying to do when she sits up at midnight rocking the poor little fading, dying infant in her warm lap. "Save" he must be more woman than man; he must be all heart; he must be God. How grand the word is when unqualified! Not the worst of sinners, partial sinners, ignorant sinners, unwilling sinners. We befool ourselves by the use of epithets; often we linger on the qualifying word, and forget the substantive. That substantive is "sinners"; it wants no side word to light it up: it is simply "sinners." If that word, therefore, shall include us, any of us, the text is ours. Should it not include us all? It does include us all, but I am referring to man's own consent and view. Christ himself did this, for he said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." If any man suppose himself not to be lost, the Cross has no message for him. The gospel can only find entrance where there is conscious, self-condemning sin.
The Apostle illustrates this fact as an experience "of whom I am chief." What was he before? He gives his character here: "Blasphemer, persecutor, injurious": and Christ saved me. Did he do it easily, off-handedly, as if with a wave of his hand? No, "The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus": I seemed to be so bad as to require the whole Cross to myself. "Chief" can there be more than one chief? Yes: in this judgment each man is chief of sinners. The more we grow in holiness, the more we grow in conscious unworthiness. Things that before were crimes have now become sins; offences that were merely in the letter have become criminalities of the soul. Increase of sensitiveness is increase of self-condemnation. "Of whom I" Timothy, now teaching thee, writing this fond love-letter to thee, wanting thee to be a minister of Jesus "I am chief": the publican had not half the need to say, God be merciful to me, that I have; the penitent thief was not so near loss and ruin as I feel myself to be; but, Timothy, let my very remembrance of shame add to the pathos of my appeal: "This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy" hold thy faith, hold it with a good conscience; love thy Saviour, do thy work in the spirit of the Cross. The gospel reveals man to himself. Paul did not know how bad a man he was until he became a good one. We do not know how much we have neglected prayer until we begin to pray. There are times when we see ourselves as we really are: oh, how we hate the sight and abhor ourselves in dust and ashes!
The gospel addresses itself to our supreme experiences: "Of whom I am chief": the worst man that ever lived, the sinner that taxes the very energy of omnipotence, the proud rebellious heart that can hardly be melted by the tears of God. The gospel does not deal with our little offences, our shortcomings, our infirmities; it does not say, Let these be forgotten, and let us henceforth remember to do somewhat better. The gospel addresses the world in its incarnate sin; for the devil is certainly as incarnate as ever Christ was. They meet each other in face-to-lace, tremendous conflict. Sin is embodied, sin darkens the earth; sin throws its shadow upon the shining of the sun. The gospel is not afraid of this; the gospel in the person of the Son of God meets Satan, Satan bruises the Son's heel, but the Son treads upon the serpent's head, the greater victory, the one a bruise, the other a destruction. Go forth, thou Son of God, thou Son of man, and win the glorious victory! Christianity has always had its facts at hand as its most patent and conclusive vindication. Said evil-minded men upon one occasion, What is to be done in this case? what is to be done? shall we frown upon these men? shall we sentence them to prison? shall we lay them under a succession of penalties? We can do that, but there is the healed man; that is the difficulty we cannot overcome: Peter and John we could deal with, iron and darkness, hunger and pain, might overcome them: but there is the healed man! Always testify on behalf of your healer. If the men to whom Christ has revealed himself would speak about him we should need no higher argument, no subtler, nobler eloquence. What sayest thou of him? He is a sinner. Whether he be a sinner or no, my lords, I know not: one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see. That is the testimony we want. We want a testifying Church; not blatantly, aggressively, offensively, but quietly, constantly, and livingly. The examples are the best arguments.
We have been dealing with a saying pronounced to be true, full of faith, worthy of all acceptation, but there are men who are making it their business to deny this gospel. What have I to do with them? Here is a man who has a positive statement to make, who has experienced this love and devoted his whole life to its revelation and its attestation. What am I to do? Why believe the denier when the confessor is at hand? Why believe the layman when the expert testifies? How do I do in business? How do I do in all the ordinary routine of life? This is my course: believe the man who has had experience, who testifies upon the basis of that experience, whose life is a daily confirmation of that experience, who dies in the triumphant power and glory of that experience, who longs to be with the Lord he has served with so much ability and zeal. That would be in consonance with what I do in the commonest and simplest things in life. I bring the builder to put up my house, and the larger his experience the deeper is my confidence. Why should I bring the man who never built a house and who does not believe in house-building? I cannot waste my money so. If a child wants educating, do I take him to a person who cannot read or write, or to a person who is skilled in letters? Certainly to the latter. With whom would I entrust my life on the open sea to a man who never saw a ship, or a man who has made it the one business of his life to understand the law and practice of navigation? There I should have no difficulty. So will I be reasonable here. When a man like Paul for his whole life is before us, and we can judge him by all its lines says that Jesus Christ can save the chief of sinners, I will believe him in preference to any witness who first of all denies his own sin and rejects the notion that he needs a Saviour. On this reasoning I would base my life. This reasoning I would turn into an altar before which I would fall down in attitude of prayer, and there day by day would say with all my heart's desire and deepest love, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Almighty God, how can we thank thee for this sweet light of the Sabbath day? We would accept it as thy benediction, and as a call to ourselves to arise and shine, for our light is come. From the glory of thine own eternity thou dost clothe the morning with brightness, and the evening with the lustre of stars. Thou art light, and in thee is no darkness at all; and where thou art, there is no night. Thou art the glory of the heavens. We would remember that thou callest thy children to be children of the light and of the day; we would hear in the voice of the day a call to our own moral lustre and peace. May we remember that as Christ is the Light of the world, so hath he made us also to be lights of our generation! may we not put our light under a bushel, but so set it before men, that they may see it and be blest! Teach us the responsibility of having light; teach us that they that walk in the day should not stumble; and enable us to be sober, abandoning the darkness of the night, and walking as those upon whom a great light has risen. O Sun of righteousness, mystery of fire, and light, and beauty, may we dwell under thy wings, and shed forth in holy reflection thine own brightness! We find it easy to thank thee for light in the summer morning; our mouth is filled with laughter; in the time of unshaded glory, we find it easy to sing; thy light makes us tuneful; the fulness of thy blessing stirs our praises, and it is easy to say, in the noontide of honour and prosperity, "It is the Lord." Thou knowest how we shrink from the shadows which are gathered oftentimes in the firmament of thy providence. When thou dost gather the thunder-cloud around thee, then do we tremble, as if thou hadst forgotten to be gracious; and if thou causest a storm to arise upon the sea, then we fear as those who have no Father. Lord, help us to show a Christian, filial love, triumphant in the time of shadow and darkness, and trouble and loss, and in the night of our suffering do thou give us songs of hope. Thus shall the light and the darkness be full of God, and the morning and the evening shall be as day; and whether we are praising thee for thy goodness, or bending with trustful submission under the chastisement of thy rod, thy glory shall be revealed in us, and men shall know us as the sons of God. We have occasion to bless thee for every shadow which thou hast sent us. If we had always lived in the heat of summer, we should have become full of plague and full of death; but thou didst attemper the light and the air, thou didst constitute thyself the minister of our souls, and even when thy winds have been cold and bitter, and thy presence has been far removed from us, thou wert teaching us lessons which could not be learned in summer, and which no joy could ever teach us. We remember the hardness of the discipline by which we have been trained; we remember our disappointments, our sufferings under the strife of tongues, our hidden sorrows in the chamber of affliction and in the sanctuary of death; we remember the blighting of our hopes, and the unexpected hushing of our songs; we remember when the staff broke in our hand, and when our poor strength gave way, as we lay down under the juniper-tree, desiring rather to die than to live. We said in such dark hours that our days were vanity and our nights a torment; we said, the Lord hath forgotten to be gracious, and there is no song in our mouth. Yet now we bless thee for the stormy day and the starless night; we thank thee that many a staff has broken in our hand and pierced us; we thank thee that thou hast occasionally barked our fig-tree; we bless thee for the darkness thou hast sent, for we have heard thy voice in the cloud. So are we to-day stronger and nobler and truer, by reason of thy providences alike of judgment and of mercy, and we have come as a trained band, smitten and bruised, and yet blest with innumerable benedictions, to make a joyful noise unto the Rock of our salvation. We should have lifted towards thy throne faces unstained with sorrow, unmarked by traces of weariness, but for our great sin. God be merciful unto us sinners. O mighty Prince and Saviour, Son of God, Lamb of God, only Begotten of the Father, thou lovest sinners, thou receivest sinners still; thou wilt not drive us away from thy mercy-seat when we cry, "Lord, forgive our sins!" Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 1". The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent