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Pious At the Wrong Places
In other words, you are pious at the wrong places. That is the point. It applies to us all. We think we make up for lack of the right, and complete piety by fussing about a thousand things that are secondary, subordinate, and hardly of any consequence. Thus man writes his poor programme of service. He has his little fads and likings and prejudices, and if you will allow him to cobble away at these he thinks he is about as good as anybody else. When men work according to their prejudice they are not working at all in the sight and love and acceptance of God. They are working on their own account, for their own purposes, with their own wishes in view; they are fools, and blind, and it requires the Son of God to tell them this in the right tone. What they are doing has its own importance if set in the right perspective, "these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." If you carefully examine men's Christian life and Christian profession you will find they are doing the little things they like to do. They have not attained the dignity of sacrifice. They like to go to church, they like to hear good music, they like the general society of the Christian congregation. That is the fatal word they "like." When we are doing the things we like, we are doing nothing. That has to be broken down; that bad root has to be gotten right out of us; every fang and fibre of it has to come out, and to be thrown into the fire. So long as people only do the things they like to do, they are in danger of supporting their little prejudices by a loud invocation addressed to their own consciences. There are points at which there should be a general conscience; that general conscience will only occupy its right sphere and exert its right influence in proportion as the individual conscience is watched and cultivated and sanctified. There should, however, be times when men give up their little likings, their small, drivelling prejudices, and unite with the infinite stream of devotional and noble sentiment.
We may do the little without doing the great. That is the mischief; and we may so do the little as to imagine that we are doing the great, which is the still deeper and more fatal mischief. Men like to keep their piety well under their hand, so that they can take it up and set it down and manipulate it with perfect ease; then it is no real piety, for true piety is discipline, aspiration, discontent with present achievement, and determination to conquer some loftier, sunnier altitude. "I count not myself to have apprehended," said the chiefest of us, the mightiest runner in the race, the stoutest champion in the war. We cannot do the great without doing the little. That is the beautiful relation and issue of things in Christian life and experience. We cannot pay attention to "judgment and the love of God," and allow the little taxations to escape notice. This is how Christ would work; this is the programme of Christianity. It says, Get the people to do the great things, and then they will surely do the little things in due time and turn. Christianity addresses itself to vitalities, not to accidents and externalities. Christianity is the spiritual religion; the book it carries is the sword of God, quick and powerful, mightier than any two-edged sword ever forged by human hands. It makes its way into the innermost parts of life, and by war brings peace into the soul. Does Christianity trouble itself about washing hands, and tithing mint and rue and all manner of herbs? Not at all. Is Christianity a little reformer going up and down in the world, seeing where it can patch up broken walls and repair broken glass? Nothing of the sort. Has Christianity any little detailed platform of reformation? None, none. Then how can Christianity get at the habits of the people? By getting at their hearts. Christianity is not a little outside day-labourer, who comes for an eight-hours' spell at the dilapidation of human life; Christianity is the spirit of love, which is the spirit of God, and it does not begin its work until it gets into the heart; its watchword is, Behold I stand at the door and knock; I cannot begin outside, the ruin is not external, I must start from the innermost core and root of things, and work my way to circumferences and outlying relations and engagements. How does Christianity address itself to the health of the people? Through the heart. Of course the little fussy reformer goes in at once for an immediately new and absolutely sparkling and dazzling programme of sanitation. Christianity says, Why so hot, my little sir? Health is the expression of the heart. When the heart is right there will not be lacking the colour of health upon the cheek. You are painting skin. I am touching life at its font and central spring. Christianity does not build a new house for a man; it creates for him a new atmosphere. Atmosphere is always the largest quantity. It is larger even than light; it abides when the light has gone away. Atmosphere stays with us all night. Atmosphere makes life; we take from it our health, our vitality, our temperature, we take from it our colour. What Christianity wants to create, therefore, is a Pentecostal air, fire-filled, angel-thronged, pure and health-giving, as that which flows over the hills of heaven.
Christianity, therefore, does not begin with your little reformer, fussy, urgent, tumultuous, self-exploding. Christianity begins with "judgment and the love of God." Hence its slowness. That is the explanation of the tardiness of the kingdom of God, because when it does come it will never go away. Our little reforms have their day, they have their day and cease to be; but when the kingdom of God comes it has taken uncounted centuries to come it will abide, and God shall be all in all; the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. The greatness of Christianity is the explanation of its tardiness. It is being out-run at present by many competitors, and so impatient are those competitors that they jeer Christianity, and they jeer the Church, and they jeer the pulpit, and they say that the ministers of the Church are always the last to come along; then arises the loud vulgar laugh of ignorance. Those who take but superficial views of life and duty want us to be getting on. I have been watching two buildings in my own neighbourhood: the one was being put up by a speculative builder, and he put it up almost before I had time to turn round; the other dwelling was being put up for the owner, and directly by the owner, and every stone seemed to bear the impression of individual appreciation. The house was a long time in being built, and it will be a long time in being blown down: already I have seen the ladder five times against the chimney of the speculative builder. We cannot build the kingdom of heaven according to this spirit. God will not have it so. He is content to be mocked for slowness that he may work his way into everlastingness.
Here the Christian ministry is blamed. I have letters from Cornwall, and from Scotland, and from Ireland, from physicians, and working men, and men of business, and young men, who, if all gathered together, would constitute the largest cave of Adullam that ever existed upon the face of the earth, and they are all telling us ministers and preachers and Christian teachers to get on. They are fools, and blind. A little plan can be pushed on very much indeed. You can have a ladder made by contract, but not a tree. That is the difference. You can pledge that this day week at three o'clock in the afternoon that ladder shall be ready under a penalty of two pounds, but you cannot pledge that about an oak-tree. It will be ready when it likes, so to say; it will be ready when it co-operates with the sun, and the soil, and the air, in other words, with God; but when the oak does come it will make your ladder look both useful and vulgar.
The question is, What is the work we have to do? Is it to "tithe mint and rue and all manner or herbs"? or is it to establish "judgment, and the love of God"? The work may be in process of being done when there seems to be nothing but a spirit of indolence over the whole Church. Reason takes a long time, because it means to abide for ever when it works out its holy purpose. The pulpit has absolutely nothing to do with the little questions that may be ranked with "mint and rue and all manner of herbs." If any man stood up in a pulpit and delivered his opinion about strikes, he would prostitute his vocation, he would dishonour the altar. He would be beginning at the wrong end: pious in the wrong place. We have nothing to do in the pulpit with competing politics; we have nothing to do with civic administration in the pulpit: and yet we have to do with them all, but in another and loftier and grander sense. You cannot have "judgment and the love of God" operating in human understanding and conscience and life, without mint and rue and all manner of herbs having due attention paid to them. This is the glory of the pulpit. This is the glory of the pulpit because it is the glory of Christianity. Yet there are persons all round about us who tell us how we ought to preach; especially is a man delighted when he can come in and say, "That is the very thing I have been saying, sir, the last five-and-twenty years." Man loves to hear himself loudly preached. But what about the other man who has been saying the exact contrary these five-and-twenty years? Of course it is easy to relegate him to old-fogeydom; easy to say that he is out of the running, out of the swim, out of the spirit of the times; that is a rough-and-ready method with your opponents: but is it just, is it reasonable, is it right in the sight of eternity?
My contention is that the pulpit has nothing to do with the details of controverted or contentious questions, and yet the pulpit can exert upon them the profoundest and most beneficent influence. When I go into the church I must hear honesty so expounded and so enforced sweet, wholesome honesty, frank-faced, open-eyed honesty that I dare not go out and do the little mean dishonesty which I had intended to do. Has the pulpit been talking metaphysics when it has been so talking and so affecting my life? It is absurd and unjust to maintain any such contention. My preacher did not say a word about little detailed acts of theft, of felony, but he so exalted honesty, snow-white honesty, that I burned with shame when I thought of the mean thing I was going to do tomorrow morning. When I go into the church I must hear justice so expounded and so vindicated as to make it impossible for me to be unjust, whether I am man or master. Is the minister therefore doing nothing? Is Christianity dumb amid all your strikes and elections and contentions? The Sermon on the Mount would settle everything; yet the Sermon on the Mount is a great moral revelation and a sublime moral appeal. The Golden Rule would reconcile capital and labour, all political contention and uproar, all selfishness and greed. Yet we are waiting for some man to write a large book that will philosophically adjust and determine everything. We have been waiting for him so long that I have long ago given up any expectation of seeing him. I find the Man has come and the book has been written the name of the Man is Jesus Christ, the name of the Book is the Golden Rule, and all contentions and controversies should be settled by that rule alone. Herein is he Prince of Peace, Reconciler of the nations. When I go to hear my minister I must hear Charity sweet, tuneful, beauteous, mother-like, sister-like Charity so expounded and applied that I cannot and will not write my bad criticism tomorrow. I thought of running that man down, but I cannot now. If what I have heard is true about charity, great, noble, all-hoping, divinest love if that is true, I should be ashamed of myself if I wrote that bad-blooded criticism upon my fellow-worker; I will burn it. Is the pulpit, thus interpreted and thus applied, doing nothing? It would seem to be doing more if it placarded the church walls with "Discourse next Sunday morning on the Great Strike." I should be ashamed of any sanctuary that was blistered with such a brand. Yet the pulpit, I may repeat again and again almost to tediousness, does take up every quarrel, contention, difficulty, threatening of war, and would settle them all upon the altar of Christ.
Here, then, let us refresh our memory by saying here is the reason of the slowness of many Christian means. It is not the business of the pulpit to discuss politics, but it is the business of the pulpit to rouse and educate conscience. Many of my correspondents call for practical preaching that is to say, they mean by "practical preaching" a very sound whipping of the man who sits next to them. They insist that the pulpit is not practical; but when the pulpit inflicts upon them a just laceration, then they say the pulpit is transgressing its province, is becoming personal and intolerable. God be thanked! I would it were intolerable by some wretches! I would that justice and the love of God could be so expounded and enforced that every man who is going to cease work tomorrow morning before the clock strikes twelve should be ashamed of himself, and say to himself, "I am a bad thief," and keep his hand going till the clock strikes right up. I would have justice so expounded that if any employer were thinking of withdrawing, curtailing, pinching, and unjustly treating the humblest boy in his charge, he should say, Instead of stinting him I will increase his income. I will encourage him by all manner of kindly recognition. If great principles, divine religion and maxim, do not work out these issues, nothing can work them out. They may appear for a time to be doing well; but all your plans, policies, programmes, schemes, arrangements will come to nothing, they will wither away because there is no deepness of earth; and the thing that will abide is the regenerated life, the soul born from above. If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature; old things have passed away, and all things have become new. If we are not born again, we may do very much in speculative building and in new programme drawing, we may make great excitement as if we were going to readjust the relations of individual, social, and imperial life; but it will come to nothing, it will be as an idiot's tale sound, fury, signifying nothing. Have faith in "judgment and the love of God "; in other words, have faith in truths that are fundamental, vital, that spring from Christ and return to Christ; in other and better words still, have faith in the Cross. That, and that alone, will bring the nations to brotherhood, will unite earth with heaven.
Almighty God, our lives are precious unto thee, for thou dost create them, and thou hast redeemed them with a price beyond all reckoning. We are redeemed not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. And inasmuch as thou hast freely delivered him up for us all, with him also thou wilt surely give us all things. Help us to trust in the Lord, and to wait patiently for all the way that he himself is taking, knowing that at the end thereof we shall see some new and beautiful vision of thy love. We oftentimes hasten thee, because we are weak, our prayers show our weakness; every hour we urge thee where thou dost need no importunity. We wonder at thy slowness, and at much of thy method of governing man, because we ourselves can see but a little way, and what we do see is beheld very indistinctly. Thy will be done. We put ourselves into thy hands; we are to thee children and sons and redeemed ones, and surely thou wilt magnify thy grace and thy power in our life. We know not what a day may bring forth. We are of yesterday, and know nothing. We cannot tell what is passing around us, and as for the secret of the next hour, behold it is too deep for us. What, then, shall we do? We will rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him. We will put our case into the hands of God, and we will say, Judge thou; direct the way of our feet; uphold our lives in righteousness, and by-and-by, when it seemeth good in thy sight, bring forth our judgment as the light, and our righteousness as the noonday. We will trust thee in Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus Christ alone that we know the meaning of true faith. May the faith which he called for be found in us! Lord, increase our faith. May we by faith lay hold of thy words of love, and fully realise them; enter into their meaning and live upon them, as a child lives upon his inheritance. What is it that hinders us from the full realisation of thy presence and thy care? Surely it is our unbelief. Help us, now that we are gathered around the Cross of Jesus Christ, to renounce our unbelief and to begin our life again. May it henceforward be a life of faith on the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us. We humbly beseech thee to pardon our sins. God be merciful unto us sinners! The blood of Jesus Christ, thy Son, cleanseth from all sin. May we know its purifying power. May we know the joy of pardoned men, and the blessedness of those whose iniquity is covered. Enable us now to worship thee with simplicity and sincerity and love, and whilst we tarry before thee, may a great light fill our hearts; may a new joy take possession of us; may each hearer listen to the gospel as he never listened to it before, and answer the appeal of thy love by the entire surrender of his heart. Break down the stubborn will, dispel the prejudices of an evil mind; destroy the power of temptation, and the whole system of our spiritual enemy; do thou upset and utterly put him away, and give us again to feel that we are children of God; that we have stewardship imposed upon us; that we ourselves are not our own, and that what is in our hand belongs unto the Giver of every good gift. Lord, hear us and be merciful unto us, and read the secret of our heart, and come to us as a God of truth where we need instruction, as a God of comfort where sorrow is swallowing us up, as a God of light where we are groping and stumbling in darkness; and above all and including all, come unto us as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Show thyself to us as we need to see thee. We hope in God; we pray for the gift of God the Holy Ghost. We would be solemn, quiet, thoughtful. We would be inspired whilst we abide in the sanctuary. We would be filled with the Holy Ghost! Let the Lord hear us; let our cry prevail with our Father, and our hearts shall be filled with blessing! Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 11". The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent