Tuesday, May 30th, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Parker's The People's Bible Parker's The People's Bible
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Hebrews 12". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ jpb/ hebrews-12.html. 1885-95.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Hebrews 12". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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This text has often been used for the purpose of cheering discouraged and faint-hearted saints, by the doctrine that we are all watched by the living dead; so to say, they are gathered in infinite circles around our earth, and are watching our conduct in the race of life: and the very fact that we are being looked upon by such a cloud of observers should stir our energy, illumine our hope, confirm our purposes, and turn our very weakness into strength. That animated exhortation is full of truth and wisdom: but it is not the truth or the wisdom of the text
What are we to understand by "a cloud of witnesses"? certainly not a cloud of observers. Men say they witnessed such and such an event: that is to say, they looked upon it, they beheld it, they took note of it: but that is not the sense in which the word is used in this verse. The verse has no reference whatever to observance, inspection, or criticism of what other people are doing. The word "witnesses" is a right word, but it must be understood in its right and definite meaning as here employed. The right word would be "martyrs": "wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of martyrs" that indeed is the literal word: μάρτυρ is the word which designates the witness as in the Epistle it was originally written. The witness therefore, in this case, is one who bears witness, who testifies, who (so to say) stands forward and declares that he is prepared to make declaration concerning certain doctrines, truths, practices, claims, and demands. So the witness is not an observer, but a testifier, and a man so earnest in his testimony that he would die for it rather than contradict it. Time would fail me, saith the Apostle, to tell of all the martyrs, of all the witnesses; nothing could silence them; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented: they could have changed the whole situation by a word, but they were steadfast in their testimony: wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of firm men, who made oath and said, and kept to their word with inflexible fidelity. Or we may vary the criticism, and still retain the same point. It would be right to read the text thus: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of Protestants." When you are asked to define the word "Protestants" you instantly think of popery. Protestant, originally, has nothing whatever to do with popery. Men say, We are Protestants, and by that they define a sectarian position. But that is not the original, rich, large meaning of the term Protestant. The word Protestant occurs in the Book of Chronicles, long before pope or popery was ever thought of: and the word is so rendered in the Vulgate translation of the Scriptures, which is acknowledged by the Vatican to be a valid and authoritative translation. There we read of Protestants quos protestantes who being Protestants took such and such a course. The word Protestant comes from a word which signifies to bear witness, to protest and say. The word Protestant has an incidental, may be an accidental, but certainly not an essential, relation to popery; in that connection it was invented about the early part of the sixteenth century, when certain men protested against acts that had been done; they were sneeringly called "Protestants." That name has clung to all liberal thinking, to all expressions of mental enlargement, and to all persons who throw off trammels and chains, and claim liberty, and right of private judgment, and right of personal conscience. But though the word was applied in derision it has been turned into an honour. The word "Christian" was so used. The disciples were first called "Christians" at Antioch. The word was pronounced derisively, contemptuously; the people to whom it was applied were designated "Christ's-ones," "Christ-ones," "Christians." The name has been taken up and is now the brightest of all designations. The Church would not part with it. It accepts the contempt of the enemy, and transmutes it into the gold of the sanctuary. Thus the text might read: "Wherefore seeing we also are pressed about with so great a cloud of martyrs, Protestants, men who had conviction, principle, and stood by it: they were men of backbone, they were not gelatinous men; they were vertebrate, upright, massive, powerful men, of whom the world was not worthy; they wandered about in deserts, and in dens and caves of the earth, and found the cold rocks warm, because their hearts were true; they sang in the fissures of the rocks and in temples not made with hands, they feared nothing nor king, nor priest, nor law because they had the commendation of God. Wherefore seeing we also at the latter end of history are pressed upon by a great cloud of Protestants, let us------" That is the argument. It is not an abstract appeal, it is not a fine essay in words. Christianity comes down to us in Christians, and Christian argument is a Christian army. Men are called upon to be firm; and the proofs and the confirmations of the appeal are to be found, not in the inventiveness of metaphysical or poetical genius, but in the realities and the conquests of men who were sons of God.
"Let us lay aside every weight." The idea was that the racers were enfolded in long, flowing, highly-coloured robes, which attracted much attention, but were liable to interfere with the ease and agility of the racer. Wherefore let us, in order to be worthy of our historic relations, lay aside every weight; strip, that we may run; throw off all coloured things, all decorations, all entanglements, that we may properly execute the race. "And the sin which doth so easily beset us." This has been interpreted as referring to peccadilloes, or small offences. We say of a man that his besetting sin is avarice, censoriousness, selfishness, indolence, the love of physical satisfaction, and we guard men against the sin that seems to have the greatest hold upon them. All that is right; all that is true to spiritual experience, and to actual conduct: but it is not the right criticism of this particular text. In order to represent the word we should have to coin an almost grotesque expression. This is the translation of a word which occurs nowhere else in all Greek literature. Not only does it not occur in the New Testament, a little book you can handle within finger and thumb; but it does not occur in any department of Greek literature. In its negative form it occurs only once, so far as scholars are able to inform us; but in the form in which we find it here it stands alone in this verse. In order to represent it we should have to make some such word as this the well-stood-arounded sin; the sin that is backed by a million backers, the sin that men delight to own and to proclaim, the popular sin that commands the suffrages of a world. No need to exhort men to keep away from the sins that bite, and that sting instantaneously, and that we are ashamed to mention or name; all these sins may be taken as amongst the drawbacks and offences and inequalities which men would never own. But there are other sins, which, as we have said, are well-stood-arounded, first the circle of admirers, then a concentric circle, then the circle multiplied by three, by thirty, by three hundred, by thirty thousand; sins that men are proud of, proverbs that they quote when they sit by the fireside, and are in jovial mood; maxims which they write at the head of their letters, and with which they adorn their crests; shallow philosophies that cheat the heavens, and mock the God of eternity, and fritter away all human life. Let us lay aside the well-stood-arounded sin, the popular damning sophism.
This being the reading of the text, the light which comes from it falls back on that historical chapter which immediately precedes the text, wherein we read of Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and the illustrious dead: they laid aside the well-stood-arounded sin, the sin that has fame, and the sin that is supposed to bring popularity to the sinner. Thus the whole chapter is lighted up with a new illumination; old meanings are shed off, and the right idea burns and glows before the reverent imagination.
Take instances. Is there a better-supported sin than the sophism, "one world is enough for me"? A man would say that in company, and think he was uttering a profoundly wise saying. He would not speak it under his breath, as if he were taking a great liberty with truth and history; but he would boldly utter it, and punctuate it with a laugh that meant defiance to theologues and churches, and altars. That sin will kill him; it will deprive his soul of fresh air, of liberty, of the expanse which is needed for truest, largest culture. It looks harmless enough; it does not look as if it were a poisonous reptile; but it is, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary. No life can thrive upon it. First of all, it is false, and being false it eats the soul like a canker. Abel stands up, and says, I forsook that at the beginning of history; I laid aside that idea; I offered a sacrifice which meant larger things, a mysterious sacrifice of blood: I studied the colours of things, and I found them stained through and through with living vermilion; I sent up a sacrifice to God, and as I was doing so the earth dwindled into nothing; I had barely a foothold, hardly an altar, so small the world seemed when I got hold of the reality of things. Yet this is a popular and well-stood-arounded sophism. "One world is enough for me." Let us say, So it is: but first of all find the one world. There is your difficulty; there is your impossibility. There is no one world. Where your laugh, where your jibe, where your foolish jest, now? You cannot find the world to play with, to trifle with, to spoil: God's universe is a well-compacted house: world speaks masonically to world; star unto star speaks light; world unto world repeats the password of the universe. Who is entitled so to mutilate the worlds, the continuity of God's building? By what authority do we detach a star, a planet, a little world called Earth, and say, This is enough? First get the world's consent to be detached and mutilated. Where is the one world? You call it the earth. There you are wrong. The earth is a member of a household; it has family relations; it has a place which it could only hold because other worlds are holding places in relation to it. Find the one world, and it will be enough for me, too. Produce it! Where does the one world get its light from? where does the one world get its rain from? where does the one world borrow its summer? How is the one world kept in motion? not a vibration, but a motion that melts into infinities. There is, believe me, no one world. We may have opportunities in one world with a view to our relation and action in another, but the solitariness of the opportunity is within it, and in no wise involves the relation of the rest, which must of necessity be a relation of continuity and consolidation. Once get rid of this sophism; then you ask what worlds there are; you take some measure of things, you have an idea of the locality where you stand, of the dimensions of the things that are above you and around you; and he who does not proceed upon these fundamental principles will bring his life to a miserable issue. When you study any great question get hold of its boundaries, it you can, its great main lines; do not fret and vex the mind with the immediate detail, but ask for the principal line, for what may be termed the geometric figure: what is it square, triangular, circular? then begin to come down into detail; but always hold the thing in its entirety, so far as you can secure possession of it So with the worlds: consider that there is no one world, that each world is related to some other world, that all the worlds are strung upon an invisible thread, and so strung they constitute the wealth of God. Another man says he has made this his creed "A short life and a merry one." Let us lay aside this well-stood-arounded sin. Here Moses stands up and says, I forsook that; I had the temptation offered to me, but I said, No. So Moses is amongst those who laid aside every weight and the well-stood-arounded sin, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. The very sin has been complimented "the pleasures of sin for a season." The pleasures perish in the use; when we are about to seize the prize we grasp a bubble. There are pleasures that taste well in the mouth, but when they mix with the life they give it torture, they inflict agony upon it. "The pleasures of sin for a season." Do not be led away by those foolish teachers who would ask you to have a short life and a merry one. That is impossible. There is no short life. He who talks about a short life does not know what he is talking about: for every life is related to all other life; time impinges on eternity; the frailest pulse of man speaks in some whispered tone of the thunders of immortality. "A short life" to what ignorance are we indebted for the false expression, to what blasphemy? Because God lives we live; and who has taught us that he cuts life into fragments, and lets the fragments drop as if they were of no account to him? Life is his jewel; life constitutes the uniqueness of God: "I AM" the eternal verb; the verb out of which all other grammar grows; without which all other conjugation would be impossible.
Then there are those who say they have determined their creed in the light of the philosophy that "seeing is believing." Moses says, I got away from that early in life, and I began to see that it were better to endure as seeing the invisible or him who is invisible I kept my eye upon the eternal. But let us say that seeing is believing; then we should have to ask, What is seeing? Who sees? Nobody. Seeing is impossible! There is the error of that well-stood-arounded sin. What can the eyes of the body see? If they look up to the sky at night-time they see nothing but spots of amber; they have to assist the eye to catch sight of the largest world that flames in the empyrean. We do not trust the naked eye in things of a comparatively trivial nature; we have our microscope, or our telescope, or our magnifying glass, or assistance of some kind, and we regulate the lights in order that we may see this or that more perfectly. Who is he, then, who with brutal ignorance wishes to drag young minds down to the base and devastating creed that seeing is believing? "Lord, open his eyes, that he may see," said the young prophet. The young man might have said Open my eyes! My eyes are as open as yours: there should be no difficulty about the situation; I see the hosts of Syria coming round us, coming nearer and nearer, and making escape impossible: why talk about my eyes not being open? the old prophet simply said, "Lord, open his eyes, that he may see." And the Lord opened his eyes, and he saw; then he believed. The larger seeing is the larger believing. True sight is true faith. But at present, in our physical conditions, in our murky atmosphere, in our limitations, no man can see anything beyond mere figure, form, transient colour. We are indebted to revelation for all we know of the innermost secret of things. Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with the mighty army of men who protested against these sophisms, who died rather than be bewildered and puzzled by them, let us also lay aside every entangling robe, everything that is of a cumbrous nature, and the well-stood-arounded sin, the popular sophism, the silly, foolish, superficial talk that has reduced itself into proverbs, and let us get hold of the deep, eternal philosophy of things. How can we do so? Christian teaching has a ready answer to that inquiry: only by acquainting ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. He claims to be before all things, and above all things and to hold in his hand the organisation and administration of all things. He is the only begotten Son of the Father, who alone knoweth how eternity throbs and burns. Lord, open our eyes! When we meet thee on the wayside, we say, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us! And when thou dost say. What will ye? We say, Lord, Lord, that we may see! We meet thee at the point of need. Our pain inspires our prayer.
Almighty God, we bless thee for all the great men who have spoken to us the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we never forget the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; may we learn all our prayers there; there may we receive pardon, release from the perdition and the torment of sin, inspiration to study deeply and serve well. Glorious Cross! a tree, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations. May we go back to thy Word for all truth; thou hast revealed all things to us in Christ Jesus: Lord, open our eyes, that we may behold wondrous things in the Son of thy love. He fills the earth, and he fills all heaven, and he is the Head of all things to the Church. If we have forgotten aught of his beauty, bring it now to the recollection of our heart; if for a moment we have forgotten that he is fairest among ten thousand and altogether lovely, may we see him as we have not seen him before, with the vision of our love, and may we ourselves become transfigured into the likeness of his glory. Wonderful is his name, wonderful in might and wisdom and truth and love, all wonderful. Men heard the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth, and said they had heard no such music before; men beheld the wonderful works which he did, and gave glory to God in loud, sweet song. May we be worthy of such an ancestry; not caring for the form, may we strive after the power of godliness; may we know that the word of God is with power, may we be assured that we have known Christ by the renewal of every disposition, and the heightening and glorifying of every purpose. We thank thee for good men, as we thank thee for the salt of the earth, and for the light of the world, for the freshness of spring, for the abundance of summer. O Christ, thou wilt always have a generation to call thee blessed; thou shalt see of the travail of thy soul and shalt be satisfied; Calvary shall not stand for nothing, it shall be the very centre of heaven. Help us to live wisely and well during the handful of days allotted upon the earth. We were babes yesterday, we shall be dead and gone tomorrow; oh, may we spend the intervening moments having great care lest we lose one of the jewels of God. Amen.
"Sinners Against Themselves"
"Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against him self"; "such gainsaying of sinners against themselves" (R.V.); or, such gainsaying of sinners against each himself in their totality, against themselves.
We are accustomed to talk about sinners against God, and we too frequently lose ourselves in the sublimity of the confession. Here we have it brought before us in another and more direct and simple but not truer form, namely, "sinners against themselves." A man can understand what that means, where he cannot understand what is meant by sinning against God. You must begin with the selfish. Man can hardly ever get beyond himself. This is beneficent as well as embarrassing; all depending upon the circumstances. Self-projection properly conducted becomes an instrument with which we more perfectly understand the mystery of the divine nature. It is difficult to think of God other than as infinite man; it is almost impossible to think of God except under human form. Angels are but glorified human creatures; even their wings do not destroy their human look: and it has pleased God to allow us to climb up the ladder of self-consciousness and self-study, so that we may touch at least the edge of his garments. When men begin to understand that sin hurts themselves, they may begin partially to comprehend what is meant by sin offending, grieving, hurting God.
Take the first meaning of the words, to which there is no objection that there was a gainsaying of sinners against Christ. He was encountered on every hand by obstinate and cruel hostility. That sense of the text is not disputed. It is, however, only part of a larger and truer sense. Whilst the gainsaying was proceeding against Christ, the view which Christ took of the gainsaying was, These poor fools are hurting themselves. We have not only to do with the view taken by outside observers of the action of men, we have to do with the view which Christ himself took of the whole set of circumstances. From our point of view the hostility was against Christ: he was reviled, despised, rejected of men, encountered with fiercest antagonism: he was seized with cruel hands and murdered; the Prince of Life was killed: all that is perfectly and literally true; but it does not interfere with the view which was taken of the occasion by Jesus Christ. Looking down from his Cross he said, "These poor fools are committing suicide; they do not know it: they are crucifying themselves, stabbing themselves, ruining themselves." Nor was this a merely philosophical interpretation of human history: this is one of the most affecting circumstances in the life of the Redeemer: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" and again, "Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves." "Saul, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks": thou canst not make one little mark upon the eternal throne, but thou canst bruise thine own hands, and breed mortification in thine own flesh. The sinner is not only a criminal, he is a fool.
Have we any phrases in our common speech that will throw some light upon this view taken of human hostility by Jesus Christ? When do we most deeply and sincerely pity some people? When we come to the point of saying, "They are blind to their own interest": not only are they annoying other people (as if that were a trifle), but they are "absolutely insensible to their own interest." That is thought to be a very condemnatory accusation: because it reduces the people to a position, not only of hostility which may have some dignity in it, but to a position of absolute stupidity and folly and madness. Let us take care what admissions we make along this line; because some keen-minded preacher may gather up all these admissions, and hurl them upon us when he comes to make his final indictment. What do we say of some young men? Speaking of their immorality, speaking of what we foolishly term their minor immorality, such as their want of punctuality, their want of scrupulousness in statement or in personal habit, we say, Such young men are "injuring their own prospects." Or, when young expectants are not sufficiently dutiful to relatives or friends, we seem to sum up all the pith and range of our compassion when we say, They are so foolish, because they are "standing in their own light." Take care! All these admissions are profoundly theological. They are not little maxims which apply only to the transient occasion and the immediate figures; they are Bibles not fully opened, and they contain judgment and wrath and hell. It is impossible to be other than theological. The term has now become a term of derision; there is a limited sense in which perhaps the derision may be well expended. Wherever we are we are touching eternity. We could not drink the draught of time except out of the goblet of eternity. Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, if we be other than the veriest fools, we are touching God, and we shall awake to say, Lo, God is here, and I knew it not: this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven, and a little trifling admission I made in the market-place is magnified into a canon by which I may be condemned. Thou wicked and slothful servant! out of thine own mouth will I judge thee. Man cannot open his mouth without condemning himself. His cleverest admissions are but the most craftily drawn impeachments of his integrity. Man has not a little maxim in the market-place that may not stab him through and through, and will not do it in the final make-up and settlement of things. The preacher need go no farther than the maxims of the market-place to find a Bible. If you took away the written book from the preacher, you would not take away his texts: his texts are in the life of men, they are in the moralities of society, his texts are in the little canons by which conduct is partially regulated. All these grow on the edges of the Bible proper. They may not grow right in the very middle of this revelation, down where the Tree of life stands heaven-high, but all these little floral maxims grow on the edges of God's revelation garden. The point, however, to be held steadfastly in view is this, that we do admit that we often simply pity men who are so blind to their own interest, who stand in their own light, who bligh their own prospects, who foolishly, madly strike the rock from under their own feet. That we take to be the very supremacy of madness.
Jesus Christ, looking upon all the gainsaying of sinners, said, This is meant to be against me, and it is against me; it has a distinct bearing upon my personal feeling: but if these people could see the thing in its reality, they would see that every time a man strikes God he puts a sword into his own heart. Sinners are sinners against themselves; they stand in their own light, blight their own prospects, and cut the ground from under their own feet.
To sin is not simply to break some outward law. It is to injure ourselves. For example, a man sins against the outward law of health: what happens? His own health goes down; in his own illness he writes his own condemnation. Health is not a figure outside a man issuing decrees and fiats, man saying, "I will read these and see what they are; if I like them I will obey them, and if I dislike them I will throw them aside," and having read them says, "I will none of you." Can that man live as if he had not resented the appeals of the spirit of health? Certainly not; he is playing a losing game, he is fighting a losing battle: no man can fight the angel of health and win. He may abstain from food, he may abstain from the cleansing bath, he may decline to take renovating and stimulating exercise, he may take himself into his own hands and say to the genius of health, I will not take my legislation from your court. What happens? Nothing to the genius of health; that radiant figure still lives, rules, and dictates the true règime of physical development. What happens to the fool that ran away in a spirit of disobedience? This happens to him ruin. And the spirit of health says, The poor soul is a sinner against himself. Suppose a man should say he will not submit to intellectual discipline: he will not read, he will not open a book, he will have no subjects assigned for study; he will simply live upon himself, and as for consulting other minds and following an educational programme, he will do nothing of the kind: what happens? Narrowness, mental feebleness, want of a large, round, all-inclusive sympathy; sectarianism happens, bigotry happens, little miserable prejudices are bred in the heart that is so ill-treated: and the genius of mind says pensively, The man is hurting himself: he might live in the sunlight, and he has locked himself up in the darkness; he might have read many books and have seen how difficult it is to pronounce an opinion upon everything, because in every question there are numerous considerations that require balancing, shading, colouring, weighing, and he might have learned to be modest. But hear him how he chatters, what little maxims he has, what small, paltry pedantry: where is freshness of thought, clearness of judgment, massiveness of understanding, geniality and charitableness of criticism? The man has killed his soul. Suppose a man should say he will not use his right arm any more, he will bind it to his side, he will do what he can with the hand on the left side. He has a kind of liberty to do so; this he might practise for a long time: what becomes of the right hand? Paralysis, loss of strength, feebleness, or some other calamity. Unbind the limb at the end of seven years; now stretch it out. It cannot be done; the man is a sinner against himself. Christianity is the subblimest protest against selfishness, and the sublimest inspiration in the direction of true, large, complete self-culture. To oppose Jesus Christ is not simply to be on the wrong side of an argument. There are those who talk as if Christianity were simply argumentative, and as if one man has as much right to his opinion as any other man. That is perfectly true, but Christianity is not an argument only; health is not an argument, mental cultivation is not an argument, the proper discipline of the limbs is not an argument, only: there is an argumentative side; in Christianity there is an argumentative side, large and sublime: but Christianity is not an argument merely, only, or exclusively. That is where men get so far wrong. Hence we have this wonderful little Vanity Fair, on the base as large as a fourpenny piece, that one man should get up and say he has as perfect a right to his opinion as any preacher in the world. So he has, perhaps; that depends upon a number of considerations which he has not mind enough to take in: but even if he could establish his right to his opinion he would not touch the real measure of this sublime inquiry. Christianity is not only an argument, it is a morality, it is a science of conduct, it is a philosophy of spiritual training, it is a sublime endeavour to bring errant minds into harmonic line, to lift up that which is bulging into perpendicularity, and to put that which is off colour into the right music of shade. Christianity is not an argument, it is a redemption. You admit this in all the lower levels of life, why do you hesitate about it in the sanctuary? Suppose a man should rise and say, With regard to health and cleanliness, I have as much right to my opinion as you. We say, Very good: what is your opinion? My opinion is that a man has only to let his body alone, and it will take care of itself. If we had a whole eternity to debate in, we might contradict him. Some persons must be allowed to utter their inquiries and pronounce their judgments, and there the matter must be left. To oppose Christ is to injure one's own soul: the soul is no longer what it was. Contact with Christ gives sweetness to the soul, fineness of temper, nobleness of charity; contact with Christ makes men simple, sincere, modest, kind-hearted; contact with Christ lifts the life to a higher level. To sin against Christ is to sin against the innermost philosophy, the divinest science, the first thought of the eternal impulse, the essential fire of the universe. Whoever sins against Christ bears no more fruit; he is as a withered fig tree, and hungering men passing by and seeing leaves thereon will say, Let us appease our hunger here, and lo, the fig tree is without figs: men curse it, hunger curses it, just expectation curses it, and it withers away. To sin against Christ is to go down in the highest regions of the soul; to sin against Christ is to lose quality of mind and heart and thought and purpose. This is not always incidentally evident. Yet such decadence in fine quality is observable, if we look at the person implicated at sufficiently wide intervals of time; so we say about some men, He is not somehow what he used to be: what is the difference in that man? The difference is subtle, and yet it is all but palpable; it hardly admits being stated in words, and yet it stands before us like a wall of adamant. If you can trace that man's inner history you have the explanation: he has ceased to pray; once he prayed always, now he prays seven times a day only; once he prayed seven times a day, now he prays but twice; once he prayed but twice, now he does not pray at all. Can he keep up the fine bloom of the soul? No. A man cannot cut himself off from God, and be as good, and great, and wise, and kind as he was during a period of intercommunion. Let experience answer, let the facts of the market-place and the fireside testify: where prayer dies the soul withers, where love of religious communion ceases to animate the man the soul soon takes up with minor engagements, and quickly tells in its loss of bloom and radiance and pith the tragedy of its fall.
This is the view which Christ himself took. He said, They are plotting their own ruin. This deeply affected him; this was one of his keenest agonies that men do not see the reality of their conduct. They will live such a little life, they will take in so little field, they will build walls around themselves instead of living in the enlarged liberty of God's horizon. When the nation goes down in its best religious feeling, it goes down politically, commercially; every enterprise is a new phase of gambling, and every promise is a new form of investment. The view which Christ took of the condition of society is that all wrong doers are hurting themselves. When this view is taken we shall get rid of a good deal of narrow selfishness; we may become less metaphysical, but we shall become more human, and therefore more sympathetic. Can any enlightened man look upon a youth who never reads a book, and feel that he may be after all a very good and a very capable young man? It is impossible. We live on books. There is a temptation to live without such aids, but it is a temptation to live on stones instead of bread. If you could see that youth in the proper light you would say, Poor soul, how he dawdles away his time! how he fritters away his opportunities! how he might be strengthening, enlarging, and equipping himself! There are young men who to-day boast that they never open a book: what becomes of those young men? That is one of the unanswered questions of history. They can come to nothing really useful, and they can do nothing really good; unless indeed they make up for want of consultation of books by some other kind of equal or superior study: but study there must be; otherwise the mind goes down, the soul languishes. How we cry out against the man who starves his body! we sometimes indeed threaten men with mechanical appliances if they do not sufficiently partake of food to recruit their animal strength: it would be a crime against the state for any man to starve his body. How anxious we are to keep the flesh, the bone, and the sinew in good condition. But if we were true to our own argument, and saw it in all its last and just issues, we should say, If it is a crime against the state to deplete and ruin the body, what must it be but high treason against the universe to starve a soul? But this is the continual difficulty of all intellectual teachers, all day-school teachers, all Sunday-school teachers, all pulpit teachers, and all men who undertake to assist the development of the human mind, that men will instantly acknowledge the argument as bearing upon the body, but when it is lifted to its higher applications they fall away from the monition, and go on feeding the flesh and depleting the mind. What can be God's feeling about sinners but that they are self-lost, self-ruined, self-condemned? O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself. There is a suicide other than that of the body. A man may never have made "his own quietus" "with a bare bodkin," and yet his soul may be lying within him a blanched corpse: he may be a living sepulchre, a walking grave, the completest, the saddest, the most humiliating of ironies. God pities the sinner because the sinner hurts himself. God's hell is not a fire kindled by mere anger, it is a fire kindled by sin. Do not blame God for having dug a hell in his universe, he did not dig one inch of it: sin dug it, sin lighted it, sin filled it with its fire and brimstone. It is so in the matter of health, of intellectual cultivation, of social relationship, and it must be so in its highest spiritual and theological applications. Suppose a man should shut out the sun from his dwelling: does he hurt the sun? He hurts himself, and the sun might say as it gazes upon the barred shutters, O poor fool, dwelling in that darkness, I am here with a gospel of light; I am here to make thee a gardener; I am here to show thee new mysteries and apocalypses of colour; I am here, representing the music and the harmony of the universe: why wilt thou not open these shutters, and let me work for thee all the miracles of light? I pity thee: thou hurtest thyself. Suppose a little flower should say, I will not live outside any longer, I will not have anything to do with what is called the course of nature, I will live wholly by myself, I will have nothing to do with the sun, or with the dews of night or morning, or with the former or the latter rain, or with the breezes roaring like a whirlwind, or whispering like a zephyr: I am going to live altogether by my little self, does the flower hurt the sun, or the dew, or the living breeze? No. Poor hermit, poor cut-throat, it hurts itself. All living roots are in the sun; all colour is the child of the sun; all beauty is an adapted sunbeam. Turn ye, turn ye! Why will ye die, rot away, lose rootage, and be cast out as unprofitable servants? Turn ye, turn ye! As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in death, I do not want that servant in the household of my universe: but to be men you must have certain liberties, and to have such liberties involves the possibility of suicide. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! I called, but ye refused; ye will not come unto me that ye might have life. This is God's complaint, and it hurts him, not so much that we are rebels against his throne, as that we are rebels against ourselves.
Almighty God, we pray thee mercifully to direct us in all the way of life; then shall perplexities become means of grace, and our embarrassments shall give us deeper cause for thought, and turn our wonder into reverence and expectancy. Look upon thy servants who have to toil for bread: teach them that there is pleasure in labour, that the heaven of our reward is in the getting of our bread, not in the eating of it; may we know the pleasures of the chase; may we know that we are called to the fresh air that comes from the hills of heaven, and to the exercise which warms the blood of the soul. We thank thee for all thy care and love, thy patience. Thou dost sit down with us at the common meal and make it a sacrament; thou dost go out with us on our daily errands, and when we come back we glow with holy fire, for we have touched the Lord. Sanctify our bereavements and losses and cares; show us that every grave we dig is another acre in our heavenly estate; show us that every loss is but an aspect of some great gain. May we be gentle with one another, patient, forbearing; reluctant to strike, unwilling to divide and quarrel; may we seek out reasons for reconciliation rather than excuses for continued hostility. Rebuke our selfishness; pity the man who is laying up for himself pile on pile, and then telling lies to God and to man, saying that the claims upon him are so many that he can do nothing more. The Lord forbear to smite the liar, or the earth would be too small for the tombs of those who tell falsehoods. The Lord direct us, keep us, guide us in the way of life: open the doors which open upon liberty and the way of progress; explain to us enough for the cultivation and ennoblement of our faith, and may we in all things glorify the living Father. Let Thy Spirit dwell within us mighty Spirit, holy Spirit, loving Spirit, that every evil power may be cast out of us, and every vain imagination may be destroyed, and our whole soul become as an immortal temple inhabited by the King of eternity. May our heart be pure, and our voice eloquent in all speech of wisdom and charity; may we open our lips for the dumb, may we plead for others as we cannot plead for ourselves, in all faithfulness, nobleness, and trustfulness; and when the end shall come may we find that it is but the beginning, that in Thy universe there is no end: the suns sets to rise again. Thou art moving all things by a law of revolution: we ascend as we revolve. May we enter into all the double motion of Thy great dominion, and feel whilst we are upon the earth we are in heaven, whilst apparently making no progress we are surely though imperceptibly ascending. When heaven opens, and we see the first glimpse of the garden-land, the summer-country, where the flowers bloom for ever and the music never ceases, we shall forget the burden, the pain, the toil, the fear of life: so shall we ever be with the Lord. Amen.
The Price of Birthrights
You pity Esau. You think that he was driven by necessity to make this poor bargain. You say that, if he had been less hungry and weary, he would have stood for higher figures. That is the common mistake of men. There is only one price that can be had for a birthright, and that is "one morsel of meat." There are no higher figures; there are no better bargains. If he had received ten thousand worlds they would have constituted but one morsel of meat, when in the other hand there was a birthright. Now what becomes of your clever compromise, your sharp sight in trade, your keen sagacity? If you have been so foolish as to sell your birthright, I know what you got for it you got "one morsel of meat," and nothing more. It is very desirable to impress this upon young minds, who may not yet have fully completed the momentous transaction. The devil has no more on his counter; the enemy has no more at the bank; he pays you all he can pay you when you sell your birthright, one gulp, one morsel, one flash of pleasure, and then hell! Nothing more is possible. Then why haggle with the old serpent, the devil? Why ask for three-half-pence more for your soul? The whole transaction totals up to one morsel of meat. That is all he gave to the mother of the world. She and he struck the first bargain about birthrights. When she saw that the tree was good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took fruit how much can a woman hold in her hand? and she did eat: and then she knew that she was naked. So it comes and goes, age after age, the same temptation, the same bargain, the same price, the same perdition!
See if these things be not true in experience, in every degree of the circle of life's tragedy. You will have pleasure, you will gratify a passion: do it; having done it, what have you got in your hand, in your mouth? In the very indulgence of the passion you consume the compensation; when all is over there is nothing left but fire, shame, reproach, the sting of hell. This is inevitable; this is the law of providence, the law of experience, the law of justice. Never gratify a passion, for thus you would take the pleasure out it; never gratify an ambition, otherwise you will be delivered over to the misery of reaction. Never take the poor man's one little bit of garden; whilst you do not get it you may have some little pleasure in considering how you may obtain it, but the moment you lay hold of the deeds, the sunshine dies on the hill, the landscape is gone. This is the gospel that needs to be preached through all the market-places, and through all the sanctuaries of unbaptised and unholy commerce. You must feel this, or we cannot go profitably one step farther. You have made your fortune: now what of it? You cannot enjoy it if you bargained for it with the wrong party; if you gave your birthright for it, if you gave anything for it more than honest labour and a fair proportion of your time, I defy you to enjoy it. If you tried to enjoy it, it would reduce itself to one morsel, and you would swallow it in one act, and it would be forgotten for ever. You are not the clever man that you were thought to be. God hath no greater fool of your inches in all his universe. You are rich, and you have so many horses that you never can get a ride, and so many coachmen that not one of them is ever well enough to take you out. I know you have both hands quite full; now lift them to your mouth! You cannot. Oh that men were wise, that they understood these things! that they would conduct commerce and bargain-making on the right lines, and that they would never sell a birthright for one morsel of meat, which, I repeat, is all they can ever get back in that unhallowed transaction. Or you may be serving a bad cause, giving up to it all your energy and thought, all your solicitude and emotion, and you may have won the cause; now let us join you in the feast you are going to make in celebration of the victory; spread the table; what have you by way of banquet? The cause was a rotten one; it meant oppression, corruption, selfishness, sharp practice; it meant falsehood, it meant the surrender of your manhood, which is the surrender of your soul: now spread your feast! Where is the feast? Blessed be God, the bad man has no banquet; he does not know what it is to be content, quiet in soul, joyous and filial in aspiration and reverence. The man who has paid his birthright for his victory has no feast, no joy, nothing to show for his folly: and this is true the world over, and the ages through; and until we drive this into the heads and the hearts of the people our metaphysical preaching amounts to nothing, and our pity may but help men to gild their lies.
The highest rights can be parted with. A man can get rid of his birthright. A man can deplete his soul of itself. One would think it would be impossible to part with anything but that which is material, commercial, arithmetical; but history and may we not add personal consciousness? testifies to the fact that we sell our souls. Why do we not say so to ourselves plainly and frankly? Why not confess the crime of suicide? This is the intolerable agony of remorse. If we had sold a hand we could make it up again in some form, but when we have sold the brain, the heart, the soul, how can we recover such birthrights? We have often said that God has given to man the power of committing suicide, but never the right to commit it. A man can put, so to say, the instrument of destruction to his own soul; across immortality he can draw the razor of destruction. "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." That word "die" has never been explained. We have given to it narrow meanings, and therefore have sought to found upon it narrow theologies. Only God knows what it is to die. No traveller has returned to tell us what it is to die. It must be terrible beyond the power of language to express, for God hath no pleasure in it; and if he of the infinite heart cannot make room for death, who shall describe it in words, or figure it in sufficient symbols? There are possessions without which we could not be men, without which we could not begin to live, and without which we could not receive the ministries of nature. Is a man deaf? then he cannot receive the ministry of music: see how he looks; mark the vacancy, mingled with expectancy, in that strange aspect: the face is a note of interrogation, Is something going on? Is something being said that I ought to hear? You all seem to me to be rapt and transfigured, and yet I cannot understand what it is that is operating upon your souls: Oh, tell me! But you cannot tell a stone. Is a man blind? then he is excluded from the ministry of light and colour and form and all hat peculiarity of distributed magnitude which constitute the very apocalypse and wizardry of form. And you cannot represent to blindness what a beam of light is like. So you may have got rid of your religious sensitiveness, and now you may say about the hymn-book out of which you used to sing that you can find nothing in it. You are right; not for a moment do I dispute the fact that you can find nothing where you used to find so much. The book is not dead, but your spiritual sensitiveness is extinct. So with the divine revelation. You were once accustomed to delight in it, you meditated therein day and night, and now any last critic who is dealing in the vapourings of critics who are already ashamed of their folly can tempt you to leave the Church. Has the Church changed? Not at all. Is the Bible so revised as to have ejected its own wisdom and made room for some man's folly? No. Then, what is the explanation of it? The birthright is gone, the soul's power of vision, the soul's responsiveness to appealing heavens and all the nurturing ministries of nature. You can exhaust yourselves. You have sold your birthright
What things are there that may be called birthrights? Carlyle says there are no natural rights. He does not say who told him so; not even in a footnote does he indicate his authorities, and Carlyle seldom indicated any authorities except by footnote, by some awkward vindictive kick. I do not go to a learned dyspeptic, in order to learn whether there are any natural rights. A recent interpreter has declared his acceptance of the doctrine that there are no natural rights. Who told these men so? There are birthrights; they themselves acknowledge that there may be moral right: but all this action on their part may amount to a mere play upon words. We need not discuss what is meant by natural rights, if it be granted that men have certain moral rights; it is enough for the Christian teacher to know that he is dealing with people who have a moral nature, who have moral aspirations, moral aversions, and moral preferences, and who are governed by these moral ministries. That is the basis upon which the Christian teacher proceeds. There are some birthrights that are moral, others that are intellectual, and others that are social. Surely we come into something: surely there is some law of inheritance, and some law and discipline of succession. What the ancients did and left behind them did in some sort suggest that sons would be born to them, who, improving the estate, would hand it on to the generations following. It would be difficult to persuade a child that it has no right in the sun; it would be difficult to persuade the very poorest little girl in the poorest quarter of London that she has no right in music. Hear the Orpheus: how plagued your ear is! but, see, every little girl in the neighbourhood is on tiptoe, is alive; she has found an old anonymous kinsman and they are holding revel together. Let them! If some crabbed philosopher should say to these dancing, pirouetting children there are no natural rights, of course they would cease and stare and wonder and bless the bearded prophet! We cannot get rid of instinct, much older than logic; we cannot get rid of aspirations that have no words, God's own songs in the soul. Let us one and all take care lest we part with our birthright on any terms; and let us especially remember that, whatever the terms may be in figures, they total up into one morsel of meat in reality. It is a morsel, and it is one morsel, and it never can be more under any circumstances. When you in that wicked gambling transaction made ten thousand pounds you only made one morsel of meat, and you are afraid to eat it; you wish somebody else would eat it, you would be glad to get rid of it: the money has an ugly look, the image of the sovereign seems to be in the wrong place, to be humiliated and disgraced so long as it is in your coffers. You know this. When you went out the other night to gratify your evil desire you came home like a whipped hound, afraid because there was something behind you; a leaf stirred and made you feel that all heaven had come down in judgment. You sneaked into the slumber which you did not deserve. Through and through, I repeat, all the ages long, this is true, that Esau parted with his birthright, and never got more than one morsel of meat.
What is the relation of Christ to these Esaus? Has Christianity anything to say to such poor merchantmen? Christianity first begins with a revelation of their folly; Christianity shows them that, if a man should gain the whole world and lose his birthright, he has gained nothing, he has profited nothing, he is a loser by the transaction. What is a man profited if he gain the whole world and lose his birthright? Christianity is never afraid to sit down and talk men into shame, talk men into remorse. That is one of the initial elements in the Christian ministry, that it makes men burn with the spirit of self-reproach. If that spirit be permitted to conduct its ministry aright, its action will end in the discipline of contrition, repentance; the eyes will not be steely with defiance, but moist with repentance; the voice will no longer be hard, it will be mellowed into the music of "I am no more worthy to be called thy son." Then Christianity advances from this point of the revelation of folly, and sets up its method of restoring lost rights. In Christ we get more than we lost in Adam, or more than we lost in ourselves; we get our highest selves, our highest manhood, our noblest, saintliest identity; in him we are vitalised, by him we are clothed, and through him we shall be crowned. More than our first parents lost we find in the Second Adam. Have you come to him? Have you thrown yourselves upon him by faith? Have you said, Lord Jesus, I will not let thee go until thou dost give me again the birthright which I squandered: herein prove thy deity: with man this is impossible, with God all things are possible: thou canst recover even my birthright which I sold for one morsel of meat, and now I ask thee with tears in my eyes and conviction in my heart and penitence in my soul, God be merciful to me a sinner, and recover the rights which I have lost? Above all and including all, God the Holy Ghost comes to the soul with hear it the new birth, and therefore the new birthright! This is the mystery of the Cross; this is thy miracle, O Calvary, when it is translated into human experience. Men, brethren, and fathers, let the time past more than suffice! We have sold our birthrights with less than Esau's excuse; we have forfeited our standing before God, we have unmanned ourselves; and to me the Cross of Christ has no meaning, unless it mean redemption, recovery, rehabilitation; and the action of God the Holy Ghost is but a dramatic action, if it mean not the regeneration of the soul, the new birth, the new birthright, which held in Christ we should hold for ever. O earth, earth, earth! hear the word of the Lord!
This seems to be hard. Is it possible that a man can cry his heart out, and be no better for it? Has it come to this, that, notwithstanding all the healing and redeeming ministries of life, there is a possibility of a man repenting to the point of tears, many, hot, and bitter, and yet the whole penitential process coming to nothing? We must examine this apparent state of the facts, because, if it is as real as it is apparent, we ought to be filled with sadness. This is a poor account to give of a man's life: first he sold his birthright, and secondly he could not recover his position. Is it possible to condense life into two points? Is it possible that we may say of some man at the last only two things, leaving all other things, many or few, to be included or suggested in the pregnant summary? It is not in all cases a pregnant summary; it is, contrariwise, a barren void summary, and there is nothing in it beyond the first line and the last. Thus men may disembowel life: this miracle of evisceration may be wrought by any man. It rests with us whether our life should be full of glittering points, indicating brightness of mind, fearlessness of spirit, love of intelligence, devotion to progress, and consecration to the service of the world; or whether we shall have for an epitaph, Born Died . To be born ought to have tragedy in it; to die ought to be a fact redeemed from contempt by suggested immortality. Yet how nearly possible it is for a man's story to be comprehended in two words Born: Died; or, Had his opportunities, lost them; or, Started well, and soon came to a pitiful end. Of Esau we hear but these two things: yet what fresh air there was about the man! How like a living mountain he was! He might have been the flower of the family, yet history, even written by the eloquent pen of Paul or Apollos, says of him, He had a birthright, and he lost it.
How unavailable was his repentance. What does crying amount to? Everything depends upon what we are crying for, or crying about. There is a crying that is simple selfishness. A man breaks the law, finds himself in prison, and cries. Why does he cry? Not because he broke the law, but because the law found him out, and is punishing him: crying for punishment is not penitence. Crying because of sin, the hatefulness of sin, its offensiveness to God: that is real contrition, and that penitence avails everywhere and through all time. What did Esau seek? We hear that he sought something "carefully with tears." He did not seek repentance, he sought a blessing. Insert the word "blessing," instead of the word "it," and we read: Esau found no place of repentance, though he sought the forfeited blessing "carefully with tears." He wanted to have it back again, and he could not secure it. "Place of repentance": what does that mean? Does it mean room to cry in? No; that would be a fatal mistake. "No place for repentance": was he seeking a mountain where he could be alone, and where he could pour out rivers of tears before God, but was unable to find a solitary hill? No; there is no such meaning in the text "Place of repentance" is an expression which does nor refer to locality or to space; its meaning is infinitely larger, both in depth and width. He found no room for repentance, no room to prove his better desire, no sphere or scope in the use of which he could establish before God and man the reality, the sincerity, and the completeness of his contrition. No doubt he was penitent enough in a selfish way. But do not let us mock him; the devil wins all his triumphs in a moment. If he took months we might turn round and smite him on the face, and when we have thrown him down by great violence, we might run away miles before he could recover himself. The devil puts a man into hell in one act. If this were a tragedy in three acts, men might escape from it, but no sooner does the devil come, than the man is gone. Consider the suddenness of temptation, the violence of temptation, and consider how unprepared men are for fatal results. So much depends upon one act, one word, one condition. The fall of man was not a tragedy in ten volumes: it was a word, and then death; it was all over in one morning, in one interview, in one action. Nor are men to be mocked herein, but rather pitied. A man is an hungered: who but one ever refused bread when the wolf of hunger bit him? Consider the hunger, pity the hungerer. We do not know whether a man can make up his mind to a long course of dissoluteness, but we do know that many a man goes out in the morning, fresh in spirit, happy in domestic relation, and at night he is brought back worse than dead. How was it done? By a long, tedious process? No; by a stroke: one whiff from the devil's garden, and self-control was lost; the man was felled to the earth, the man was unmanned.
This was the case of Esau: he was cruel, he was supplanted, he was victimised; and yet having done the deed, having lost the blessing, he could not recover that blessing, because he never had opportunity in which to develop and prove his penitence. Nor need this be any mystery to us, because it is written on the first page and the last, and all the intervening pages, of every man's practical experience. A man has neglected his early education: can he ever recover it? Never. He may be veneered, he may be painted and decorated and certificated, but in the soul of him he has no culture, he is no scholar. But did he cry over his want of intellectual capacity, culture, and refinement? Will that not help him to scholarship? Not a whit. A man cannot go back to his youth and repair fully and enduringly the vacancies which marked his opening days. You never can recover your youth; you never can go to school again, in the same sense in which you go when the brain is young, and all the susceptibilities are keenly alive and are responsive to every appeal; you cannot be a boy again. Mark how the man whose early education was neglected halts, how he lacks confidence, how he is devoid of conscious power: he stumbles, hesitates, blurs his words so as to give them helpful ambiguity, that he may have the benefit of a doubt, if there is one, as to how he uttered the word. Why all this trickery of expression? Because the man's soul does not know the secret of the word; he has never been within it, behind it, above it; he is not its master. Will not crying do something towards retrieving the position? We need not answer the inquiry. The man has no opportunity of showing his repentance in any availing sense, because a man cannot live two days at a time; he cannot be living as a man of maturity and as a boy who is acquiring education. He has lost the one period, he has come into the other, and no man can be living two contemporaneous lives the one young, and the other old; the one in business, and the other at school with any adequate and blessed effect. Redeem the time, buy up the opportunity: while you are at school take out of that flower all the honey that is in it.
A man has neglected seedtime, he awakes to a consciousness of the fact, and he begins to cry: will that bring him an abundant harvest? It will not add one ear of corn to his field. But the man is very sorry. True, but the time has gone by. The man tears his hair, and cries night and day, and says, Oh, fool that I have been! if I had my time to live over again! Exactly: but that is just what you have not. Do you understand that? Life is one journey. Does that fact get into you, stir you, and make you sensible and wise? But a man ought really to get something by repentance not by the way of harvest, not in the way of neglected opportunity. There comes to every man shall we personalise it and say a fair, sweet, hospitable angel, whose name is Opportunity. The angel says, Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation: I love you, I have come for you, I want you to go with me; here is the chariot, here is the king's welcome, here is the divine authority: come! We are sullen, obstinate, perverse; if we answer, it is in a negative; we reply surlily or loudly, but in either case repellently, No. The angel has gone: will crying, repentance, bring that angel back again? No, though we seek her carefully with tears: she is gone. A man has been unkind to his parents. He sees it now. Every man is sure to find that out sooner or later; there is a spirit parental in the air that punishes all domestic cruelty. The man is now in his better mind, and he says, "If I had but the old folks back again." True: but we cannot have them back again, do you see that? do you feel it? do you acknowledge it? Now is the accepted time: they are with you, love them. Your parents are dead and gone, what will your repentance do? You neglected both of them, you rejected their counsel, you declined all their persuasions, you sneered at their prayers, and even in some cases their poverty did not draw out your energy you lived upon them like a vampire: pray do not add insult to dishonour by saying what you would do now it you had the chance. You would do nothing now unless your heart is born again.
These illustrations will show how possible it is for a man so to allow opportunities and rights and duties to pass without improving them or accepting their responsibilities, and afterward to cry and howl and weep, the whole tragedy coming to nothing. We deny the doctrine of eternal punishment, but we practise it. Man is a contradictory creature, self-contradictory, perpetrating the most glaring and palpable ironies, all the day long. A man will stand in quite a philosophical and theological attitude with a Bible in his hand, and will prove to you that eternal punishment is nonsense. Yet that man is practising the very thing that he denies. And he cannot help it. There is more than the letter on this subject, there is the spirit. The forger is never forgiven. Hear that! What, never? Never! not by society. But one man may forgive him? Yes, that is possible; it just shows you what one man is, namely, nothing, in relation to the settlement of all the deeper and greater questions of life. Not What one soft-hearted, kind-hearted soul would do, but what constituted man society will do is the question. There are many units; there is the unit of the individual, there is the unit of society, there is the unit of God. The unit of society is much larger than the unit of the individual, and that larger unit never forgives. How long a punishment would you assign to a forger? He has suffered five-and-twenty years' imprisonment, now he is at liberty again, and you have a very large commercial establishment in the city, will you forgive him, reinstate him, and treat him as an honest man? Or, if you advance towards him, will you do so without inspection, without keeping your eyes open, without watching him night and day? Suppose there should be one kind, loving soul that would even go so far as that; yet let it be told to a number of men who have not heard the circumstance before, that there is a forger in the house, and at once the atmosphere is changed.
What shall come hereafter we cannot tell. With men many things are impossible, with God all things are possible. It is not for us to tell God when his mercy should begin or when it should end; we leave that with him: but do not set up any theory of punishment that will enable you to sin with impunity; do not get up any theory of the universe that will enable you to be a greater criminal than you have been under another theory. Suspect any philosophy that licenses you to serve the devil. The other philosophy is more likely to be right, the philosophy that says, Take care, take heed, beware: for sin croucheth at the door. That was what the Lord said, sin and punishment crouch like couchant beasts, wolves at the door. Believe the philosophy rather which says, The wicked shall be turned into hell and all the nations that forget God: The way of transgressors is hard: It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks: Our God is a consuming fire: It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. These are terrible words, and men are now confectioned and pampered to that degree of refinement that they do not like these words. Not to like them is not to disprove them. Why make a risk of it? Why say, All will turn out right at last? It did not in the case of neglected early education, it did not in the case of neglected seedtime, it did not in the case of neglected parents: why should it at last prove to be an artifice, an invention, a trick, that comes right at last, do what you may in the middle? The repentance spoken of in the text has no relation to moral and spiritual repentance. Every soul may repent and live, or the Cross of Christ is the supreme mistake of the universe. That Cross means, The worst man may repent, and live; that Cross says, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
The case of Esau was the loss of an earthly blessing, an earthly relationship, a temporary supremacy, and that could not be recovered by repentance; but, blessed be God, this is the gospel of blood: "Return, O wanderer, to thy home." Do not be discouraged by the case of Esau, for that was local, temporary, and superficial. The Gospel of Christ proclaims that there is no man living who is really sorry for sin, that may not come back to his father's house, and be jewelled, and robed, and readopted, as if the apostasy had never taken place.