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The Sublimest Gift of God
No matter where they were born, they may call Abraham "father." They were born Gentiles or pagans or savages, but by faith they may be made members of a noble and majestic lineage. This is what God is always doing; making the first last, and the last first, and showing men, that whatever point they may start from, they may by certain processes become associated with the most royal and exalted of human history. That you were born in obscurity is nothing; you can come out of it, you can sit down with Abraham as the son of the father of the faithful. We may be nothing according to the flesh, yet we may be kings and priests according to the spirit. Even a despised Gentile may become a son of Abraham. This is part of a still larger economy. Every man has an upward way set before him, if he has eyes to see it. You may have been born in a nameless pit; out of it there is a shining road to royalty, to heaven. If we could so elucidate this as to make the exposition in any degree worthy of the theme, we should turn upside down all the social standards and conventional usages and charters of so-called society.
What is the name of that shall we call it magical or supernatural? force of power whereby nothing is made into something, obscurity elevated into renown, humbleness of birth and faculty lifted up into illustriousness of ancestry and genius? The name of it is Faith. Know ye not that they which are of faith, the same, though they may have been born ten thousand years after Abraham and ten thousand constellations away from Abraham's native place, are still the children of that second and that greater Adam. The race begins in Abraham. Adam is dead; Abraham lives for ever: the child of disobedience has passed away; the child of faith can never lose his fame or his power. Faith is all the senses, with an addition. Faith has been called the sixth sense; I would amend the expression and say it is all the senses in one, with an accent and an addition peculiarly its own. Faith is life. Faith is not an attribute, an element, an incident, something separable; faith is the life, that which touches God, communicates with heaven, receives the treasures of eternity, develops them, perfects them, returns them in proof of industry and honourableness. Faith has been degraded by being made into a kind of intellectual hack, a miserable servile power in the life by which men are made to assent to things they do not understand. That is not faith at all. Faith is not a piece of church furniture. Faith is manhood at its best, life at its supremest, divinest point. Faith understands nothing; faith despises understanding after a certain point. Faith is winged power, flying away to the tabernacle of the sun and worshipping in the temple of the unveiled presence of the Godhead. Faith must be redefined, if it is to be delivered from the mean uses to which sectaries have doomed it. When you are at your best, when you can all but hear the angels sing, when it becomes quite easy to you to believe that heaven is the next thing to be realised, the next point to be attained, the next joy to be experienced, then you are in a state of faith. There is no relation whatever between faith and doubt; not even a contrastive relation. They are often put in contrast, as who should say, This man believes, and that man doubts. They have nothing to do with one another. This faith is the sublimest gift of God to man. By this faith we have new kinships; by this faith we are established in new family relations; by this faith we are cut adrift from the past and go on to light, which is the true freedom, boundless and eternal summer.
We may know something of the power, subtle and mighty, of Faith, by looking for a moment at what industry can do. Industry is a kind of lower faith. Industry has a certain degree of creative power; industry can make two blades of grass grow where only one blade grew. Industry is a multiplying, expanding energy. It is so intellectually. A man toils at his book until he sees what the author means; then the book is his as much as the author's; it is his by right, and it is his for ever. We toil intellectually, not knowing what the issue may be; we are in search of our birth certificate. A man says to himself, I do not know to what father, in the higher realm of things, I belong; I will go in quest of my credentials, I will work until I find the certificate; perhaps this very day I may find out who is my father. He toils, and it begins to dawn upon him that he is a mathematician, and through industry he has come to claim his place in the lineage of mathematical genius. Or he investigates, using his one talent or his five as best he may; and, lo, while he writes, the bush burns and is not consumed; and at eventide he sees that he has written a poem: then he knows to what family he belongs. Again, a man toils and wonders, thinks and exercises himself in many ways; the spirit of restlessness is in him. No one town can hold him, no one country is big enough for his expanding energy; the explorer awakens within him, and he says, I belong to the household of travellers, discoverers: and he betakes himself to his natural relationships. Born in the obscurest street of his native town, he rises to prove that in the purpose of God he was meant to be a citizen of the world. We gradually find out whose children we are. There is a starting-point by which one man is the child of another. That is for a little time. Evolution may distinctly prove that we have nothing to do with our own fathers. In a very initial degree we may have touched here and there certain lines of history, but by faith or industry or inspiration, or by some special vision from God or visit from the angels, we may be newly related and put into eternal continuities. How difficult it is for some men to realise this! They are very watchful about marriage certificates and ecclesiastical entries, and they pay so much under the name of "search fees" to find out where they were born and whose children they are. That matters nothing. An inquiry of that kind may enable you to claim a field here and a wailful of bricks yonder, but it ends in nothing. There is a higher lineage, and every one of us may get into it. Here is the great Gospel proclamation; this is the great hope, and this the unfading glory of the Christian revelation. The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost; the Son of Man has lighted a candle and is searching the house diligently that he may find the piece which has fallen away. Cheer thee, O aching, weary heart! tomorrow thou mayest discover that Aristotle is thy father. Poor fools are they who read their lineage on gravestones. Your lineage is in your soul. You are what you are, first by the call of God, and secondly by the exercise of those talents, one, two, or five, with which he entrusted you. "Know ye, therefore, that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham." Born in the most desolate and forsaken islands of the sea, they yet, by faith, sit down in the household of the good, and partake of the hospitality of God. This opens a new way to every soul; this smites out of the fool's hand the little yellow piece of paper, by which he sought to prove the respectability of other people.
Thus we come into the larger kinship. Thus we discover our true family relationships. Thus the unity of humanity is established. There is an intellectual as well as a physical lineage. If your father were the greatest scholar that ever lived, he could not leave you even the alphabet; you would have to learn it as if you were the child of the poorest peasant that ever ploughed a field. You must in this way by the faith of labour find out to what family you belong. Here is a man who belongs to the family of Aristotle; another belongs to the family of Shakespeare; another belongs to the family of Angelo, having craft and genius in the hammering and chiselling of marble. You come from God. Why do you stop at your birth certificate? as if that had anything but a merely parochial meaning. Know ye not that ye are the children of God; the religion that thus elevates men and sends them on great quests, giving them sublime assurances that their quests shall be answered with great and generous replies, is a true religion. A religion that would say to a man, "Keep where you are," is a bad religion, even though it be written in a catechism. The true catechism, as soon as it is published, will say, Find out who you are; and as for the station into which you were born, get rid of it by all honest, legitimate, and commendable means. Never go down; always go up. If you started with one talent, you were meant to double it. The Lord is always saying Rise, follow, and I will give thee a land flowing with milk and honey. So we put on our sandals and grasp our staff, and take the first day's journey: we belong to Abraham, to the household of faith. There must be no forcing. There is an industry that is patient and can wait; there is a possibility of clutching too soon and missing the prize. We really have nothing whatever to do with the mere handling of the prize; our business is to deserve it; men cannot keep it away from us. Therein you see what is meant by the sovereignty and the election of God. The whole universe is founded upon the great idea of sovereignty and election and Divine nomination, and if you will work, young man, patiently, steadily, and never think about results at all, you will find yourself in the harvestfield ere you imagined the seedtime itself had quite gone. The righteous cannot be hindered. The wicked cannot be kept from hell. All envy is on its way to the everlasting fire. All jealousy is doomed to the hell of hells. Medicine cannot cure it, surgery cannot cut out of it the poison that makes it what it is. This is the election of God. Are you, then, to be discouraged because you did not start as well as the man whom you know so well to have an armful of certificates and credentials? Nothing should discourage you but sin. Nothing but sin can permanently stand in your way. Be ashamed of nothing but iniquity. Do not be ashamed of environment, but seek to improve it. The one thing that will overwhelm you, unless you yourself by the grace of God in the fulness of your strength can resist it, is sin. Sin can pull a sovereign off the throne; sin can quench the brightest lamp in the temple; sin can spoil all our heraldic images and blazonry. Sin means death.
What then is the great speech of Christianity to the human race? It is that we may all become somebody. The last may be first, the first may be last. It lies in the power of every soul according to the gift and calling of God to be in God's house. That house is all beautiful. The basement is as beautiful in its own way as the upper chambers. It is better to be the humblest little servant of God than to reign in hell. He is somebody who is faithful. He is somebody of consequence who is building up a noble, massive beneficent character. Of course it is hard for you to start where other men have started, because you had not their advantages; but therein is your power to be shown. It is not to their credit that they started where they did, nor is it to your discredit; neither of you had anything to do with it; but know ye not that there is a force called Faith by which a man is awakened up in every faculty of his soul, and made to burn through and through and all over with the very fire of God? Seize that heavenly heritage. As for the fields and mansions of time and space, they are held but for a limited number of days. The heavenly inheritance fadeth not away. You may not be rich in money, but you can be rich in thoughts. You may be rich in service. To the man who is in real, honest, useful service there is no time. He does not know anything about the clock; he is never oppressed by a sense of weariness. It is not his business to find out how many half-holidays he can have in the week. Presently the great social problem will be whether we can have on the whole one half-day's work in the week, or whether on the whole we had better not. We have shaved it down to a fine point now; we have whittled it into its last half-hour. To the man who is in real work, and who loves work, there is no time, there is no work; it is all holiday. This is the very joy and delight of perfect service, that it ends in play, in mirthfulness, in music. See the apprentice trying his hand for the first time upon some handicraft. There is no music in him; watch his face, look at the contortions of his mouth and tongue; see how his eyes are strained; observe how, though but in his teens, he is almost made an old man of by his anxiety. He is a little better the month following; in six months he is much more at his ease; in twelve months he is doing the work and whistling over it. Thus, as it has been often shown, all true service leads up to music, to play, to holiday! And so we touch the larger economy by which men enter into nobler relations, become possessed of larger charters, and begin to enjoy the liberty of completer enfranchisement. Why should you struggle so as to make a hundred pounds into a hundred guineas? It is not worth the swelter. Why this anxiety to put another pane into your window? It is not worth doing. The thing worth doing is to have another thought, to ascend another round on the ladder of prayer; the thing worth doing is to love more, serve better, help a larger number of clients; and in doing all that, the other things are added unto you. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things, mere trifles, little specks of dust called estates and inheritances, shall be added unto you.
Almighty God, the desire of our souls is toward thy name, and toward the remembrance of all thy works. Thy name is love; thy works are framed in wisdom, and are shaped so as to do good to mankind. All things are for our sake: we know this in Christ Jesus the Lord. There is nothing kept back from them that trust thee with all their love; yea, thou dost confide unto them the secret of the Lord, so that they know things that are not, and things that are invisible, and whilst yet upon the earth their citizenship is in heaven. They have this mystery of the double life, this feeling that things are larger than they look, and this assurance that every shadow has some substance behind it, the full mystery of which is not to be revealed to-day, or tomorrow, but on the third day when death is perfected in resurrection. Great are the gifts confided to those who love thee; they are stewards in a great household; their responsibilities are a thousand and more: behold, thou hast charged them with prophecies and teachings, encouragements and expostulations. Sometimes thou hast armed them with rebukes and judgments, so that their way in life has been the way of men whose lot is hard. Yet thou art bringing things together, touching one another for a moment and flying off again, and then bringing them back; now thou art haughty and unapproachable, anon thou art gentle and condescending and very pitiful and dwelling in broken hearts as in chosen temples; now thou wilt separate men one from another, and they shall never see one another again, and lo! tomorrow they are brought back in deeper, tenderer brotherhood than ever: and so thou art working, working wondrously, working constantly, and none may say unto thee, What doest thou? for thy way is a great deep, and thy judgment is higher than heaven. We would rest therefore in the Lord until the harvest time, and when the angels have cut down the ripened fields we will see what bread God has been growing for the universe. Meanwhile, keep us humble, simple, true, sincere and honourable; may we be found industrious between the rising of the sun and the going down of the same; making of this world as if it were much, and then shaking it out of our hand as if it were the least trifle we had ever known. May we be assured that here we have no continuing city; may we never be ashamed of the pilgrim's staff or the traveller's sandals; may we set the one down and put off the other and take them to us again, and hasten away as men who should be so many miles farther on ere the lengthening of the shadows. Keep us quiet in the confidence of thy sovereignty; enable us to accept the whole providence of life as a scheme we can neither measure nor control, but in relation to which we may show ourselves either obedient or perverse. Help us to say, The end is not yet: we will judge nothing before the time; even the grave shall be part of the garden, and the loss shall be part of the wealth, and the pain which the flesh has felt shall add to the refinement of the spirit. Thus may we live in the Lord and in the Cross of his Son, and thus may we find on Calvary the centre, the unity, the mystery, the music, and the purpose of all things. Blessed, eternal Cross, soon to become a tree in which the Cross shall be forgotten, so far as its pain and shame and ignominy are concerned, and the tree shall be vast as infinity, and every leaf a leaf of healing. The Lord accept our song of praise for all the goodness of the way; sometimes thou hast caused us to sit down awhile that we might get our breath again; sometimes thou hast taken us into an unknown hostelry, and there refreshed us with bread when we thought there was none; and sometimes thou hast made thy flock lie down at noon in the cool shadow. Thou leadest thy flock like a shepherd, thou art gentle to those who are in weariness, and as for the lambs there is no place but thine arms warm enough for their preservation and nurture. Good is the Lord; his loving-kindness and his tender mercy are beyond all our thought: we will therefore praise him loudly, sweetly, with our whole heart, with the buoyancy of ecstatic love, with the assurance of men who have already gotten the victory. Let our home be sacred to thee; let our business be earnestly done; let our lowest life have about it the sacredness of sacrament, and may our whole life be an oath to serve the spirit of the Cross. The Lord hear us for others as well as for ourselves: for the sick and the weary, for the prodigal who never prays, and who thinks he can find what heaven he wants in the bare wilderness; hear us for those in peril on the sea; be with men whose lives are quickly losing all light, all music, all hope; send upon the nations the spirit of true judgment, awaken the conscience of the world; convince the world of sin, then lead the world to Calvary. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Galatians 3". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16