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The Spirit of Christ
It must, then, be of infinite consequence to find out as nearly and completely as we may what that Spirit is. The sentence is marked by a striking tone of finality. It is a sentence complete in itself; it would seem to hold an entire Bible. It has upon the reader the effect of having seen the standard by which all life and thought must be judged not a standard in the sense of one of many, but the standard, the only standard; if a man fail there it is of no consequence where he may succeed. This should make us solemn. There need not be any self-discussion as to who are Christians and who are not. Every man can now determine for himself whether he is a Christian. The words are explicit; they are few in number; they go straight to the mark; they are none other than these "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." But many men have the name of Christ. Some men have gone so far as to call nations by the name Divine, by what authority who can tell? But there have been men of imagination ardent and aggressive enough to call a nation Christian. It was a bold definition. The assumptions involved in that appellation are infinite. Is it possible to misuse, misapply, the name of Christ? Ought that name to be attached to anything that is not of the quality of the thing that is named? Ought the word Christ, or Christian, or any other of its forms to be lightly and almost indiscriminately applied? These are searching questions; they do not admit of off-hand treatment. Who is a Christian or a Christ's one? The answer is given: "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his"; therefore, if any man have the Spirit of Christ he is Christ's. Many men have an avowed preference for the doctrines of Christ; they are theoretically orthodox men; they hate persons who differ from them; if they do not go to the extremity of hatred, they linger around the intermediate point of prejudice with a strong inclination towards positive dislike: is that in the text? Not a word of it. There are men who would not for the universe multiplied by ten be Unitarians: but they can be many things which are peculiar, and not always wholesome, and sometimes they must hurt Jesus Christ, whom they have crowned in words and crucified in deeds, whom they worship in attitude and betray in action.
Let us go straight to the inquiry, What is the Spirit of Christ? Many mistakes have been made about the heart or spirit or disposition of the Son of God. We hear much that is merely sentimental. Men not only undeify but dehumanise the Son of God when they speak about him in a merely sentimental manner. We cannot make progress with the extension of the kingdom of Christ unless we have a right conception of the King himself. Who would hesitate in describing the Spirit of Christ to speak of Jesus, Son of Mary, Son of Man, Son of God, as meek, and gentle, and amiable, and kind, and sympathetic, and tearful, and generous, and most forgiving? All that is right; but it assumes much. If we stop there we shall give a false representation of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. What word is more abused, in the sense of being less profoundly understood than the word love? Today it is fashionable to preach the doctrine of Love. Only let men do what they like and wrap around themselves the cloak of God's love, and the preaching will be most acceptable and comforting. It may be true that love is the characteristic of the Spirit of Christ; certainly I shall not dispute it: but love means everything. The word shall not be changed, but its inclusions shall be more critically defined. Love is not a tear shed and dried and forgotten: love is not a sentiment that pays no regard to moral distinctions, and that says with immoral licence, It is of little consequence what you think or say or do, if at the last you crawl to heaven's door and make demands on heaven's love. That is not preaching; it is wicked eloquence.
Let us see what the Spirit of Christ was. There are those who looking upon the earth see only its beauties. They speak of its flowers, and dew morning and evening baptism of dew; they speak of dawn, and spring, and summer, and golden harvest; they set to music words that have no pith in them when detached from their origin and full issue of thought, which speaks of the goodness and the kindness of God in making "everything beautiful in his time." They are perfectly right within given limits, but because they do not include the whole case they are practically wrong; and when they come to apply this analogy to small things, they fail to do justice to the first elements of morality and righteousness. Let us see how the matter stands. The earth does grow flowers, but the earth could not grow a flower if the earth itself were not astronomically correct. The earth owes its beauties to its obedience. How tempting to find a flower and muse about it, and poetise about it, and to forget that that flower is the child of the Ten Commandments that keep the earth in its order and appointed progress! The earth could grow nothing if the earth slipped the leash and undertook a species of gravitation on its own account. If the earth could remove itself one inch, its flowers would wither, its birds would die, its atmosphere would collapse; it would lose all its power of being and doing things that are beautiful and fruitful and good. Let us not fear to go back to origin, to the law point, to the solid reality, to Genesis chap. i. Rom 8:1 , without which there can be no Bible. We begin so frequently at the wrong point, taking up a flower as if it were a thing in itself, caging a bird as if it were a solitary angel, which had first fallen into our keeping, and was to be looked upon as a specimen of an infinite number of other angels, not yet caught. How foolish we are! How in our definition of terms we miss the meaning. He misses the meaning of love who omits the element of righteousness.
What was the Spirit of Christ? Was it not marked by moral sublimity? Was there ever a head like Christ's? Was there ever a heart like Christ's? Jesus Christ did not need to read philosophy, because he was himself the wisdom of God. He needed not to invent a theory, to fit a certain flow and sequence of facts; for he was Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the line that belted with right of proprietorship all facts, all histories, all actions. How righteous he was! Many speak of Christ's love who never speak of Christ's righteousness: yet the righteousness of Christ was as much part of the Spirit of Christ as was the love which he bore in his heart and which he proved on the Cross. Said he, looking round upon the day in which he lived, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Who would have indicated that speech as one expressive peculiarly of love? It is more expressive of criticism, disappointment, moral indignation. Thus Christ alone could speak, because he held all things in the dominion of his own crown and sceptre. If he had not been right he could not have been critical; if he had not been right he might have been pedantic, censorious, inclined to throw discredit upon the repute of others, but he never could have been judge. He loved because he was right; he grew flowers on the soil of his incarnation because he was leashed to the centres of eternity. To have come up from earth and spoken the language of heaven would have been to babble an unknown tongue; but to come down from heaven, to proceed from the Father, was to take up all things inferior and smaller, and use them with a master's handling. Recurring to the illustration of the earth, let us say the earth grows flowers because the earth has rocks, and the rocks of the earth are kept in their right places because of their relation to the sun: so in Christ's great speeches there are beauteous lilies, fair roses, wondrous beauties of colour and form and suggestion, but they are there because he himself is hidden in the bosom of the Father. How fearless Christ was! Never did man see the blush of fear on that marred cheek; never did the critic see the quivering of a coward's apprehension in those calm, all-seeing eyes. When Jesus went in to dine with the great men of his day he turned the table into a pulpit; he turned eating and drinking to sacramental uses; he transfigured the house into a temple of God. Men looked upon him frowningly, indignantly, suggestively, meaning what they would do under other circumstances; but still he proceeded, as a river might proceed through all kinds of landscape, now through wide-open fields, and now through forests and tangled places, and out again into fair blue light. He never ceased his moral discourse because fellow guests were wounded or annoyed, nor did he change his speech because his host looked on and wondered that he should eat bread at a man's table and wound the man himself. Christ never wounded but to heal. Jesus never threw a man into a humiliating position except he regarded it as an intermediate point that lay on the road to exaltation. Have we this spirit of fearlessness? "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." This age is not heroic. There is but little Christianity in this age because there is but little persecution. It takes a Smithfield to make heroes. It requires an Inquisition to develop manhood. The age is, from a Christian point of view, flaccid, gelatinous, unsteady, marked by a quivering incertitude of thought and action, "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." There is no open-air preaching to-day by which I mean open-air profession, testimony and avowal; no profession that is of the nature of challenge: there is profession without angles, without eccentricity, without peculiarity, neat, proper, well-regulated, well-trimmed, privet-hedge-like profession: but bold, heroic, challenging, aggressive profession of Christianity, where is it?
Who can fail to find in the Spirit of Christ the great steady law of religious progressiveness? Never did Jesus Christ say, This is the end. To Jesus Christ an end was impossible, because he spoke of infinity and eternity the ever-being, and the ever-pulsing, and ever-thinking. Christianity is very complete to-day. It can be published in a volume, and if any man dare to add one word to that volume; published and certified by proper authority, he will be regarded as a trespasser, a thief, and a robber, and a wolf in the flock. We are not thus following the Spirit of Christ. Said he, "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." What did that "now" mean but that there was a time to come when all heaven would burn with a revealing glory? Did Jesus Christ accept the doctrine, the dogma, and thinking of his day as final? He set it aside, saying, "It hath been said by them of old time... but I say unto you ." He made history: every speech was an epoch; when he opened his mouth he advanced the progress of the world. We are called upon in our degree and way to do the same thing. We are never to change the quality; that is not in our power to do: but we have to develop what is in the root, we have to give that root fair opportunities of self-evolution: if we put it in the wrong place, treat it with the wrong ministries, deny to it its proper light and rain, then what can it be in the end but a disappointment? Said Christ, "When he, the Spirit of Truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth." Has that Spirit come? That is the vital inquiry. We believe that we are living in the dispensation of the Spirit, under the ministry, direct and vital, of the Holy Ghost; we have therefore a belief in modern and continual inspiration, a ruling in the heart conducted by the Holy Spirit, and a ruling in the whole Church also conducted by the same Divine agency. We do not discover anything that contradicts the Bible, but we discover much that enlarges its applications, clears up its mysteries, and bring its into positive helpful relation to all the development of human life. No man is called upon to write another Bible, but every Christian is called upon to see a Bible within the Bible, more and more of revelation in the very Book, which is supposed to be final, to see within the letter an infinite, ever-gracious, ever-luminous spirit.
How practically beneficent was the Spirit of Christ! "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Christ went about doing good. Whenever he rose in the morning it was to do good, or he would not have awaked again. To have awakened out of sleep for the purpose of doing nothing would have been impossible to the Son of God; he would have slept upwards, he would have dreamed himself back into heaven. Jesus Christ said when men were hungry, "Give ye them to eat." Lord, how can we give them to eat? What have you got in your hand? So little. It will do to begin with give ye them to eat. No man ever gives at Christ's command and in Christ's cause without getting more than he gives. So truly is this the case that it is almost perilous to give anything at Christ's bidding lest we should fall into the temptation of giving it that we may increase our own resources. Herein is a very subtle temptation. Sometimes it has been almost impossible to give bread to the hungry because we knew that God was standing behind us, and no sooner would we part with one loaf than he would give us ten; he was waiting there to see what we would do. The temptation is that we may do it that we may get the ten, and if such be our motive God will disappoint us and bring us to great humiliation. Said Christ, through Paul, "If thine enemy hunger, feed him." Yet we say the day of miracles is past! No miracle ever done by Christ can touch the glory of feeding an enemy, forgiving a foe, withholding the hand that would return an insult. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." When he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; he gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. He said, Forgive, and be like your Father. How often, Lord? "Seventy times seven"; in other words, for ever. Who can do this? We can forgive, Lord, but we cannot forget. Then, said he, you cannot forgive. Who, then, can be Christ's? Who, then, will take the census of the Christian population? A man may be a theologian, and not a Christian. A man may be a minister, and not a Christian. A man may be socially reputable, and not a Christian. A man may be a Pharisee, fasting by rule and paying his debts punctually, and yet know nothing about Christianity. On the other hand, I will lay down this bold doctrine; a man may be full of faults and yet he may be a Christian. We may distinguish justly between one fault and another. We have insisted always, with a consistency that acquires the force of an argument, that everything depends upon the spirit and purpose of the heart. Here, for example is a poor drunkard: can anything be worse! Yes; the drunkard may be the very best of sinners, the very prince of those who do wrong. What is worse than a drunkard? A liar. There is no cure for lying, except a miracle wrought by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. A man may be caught by the demon of drink, and yet he may come out of the assault with tears and heartbreakings, and with a sense of shame that amounts to penitence. But a liar may be sober; a liar may expel a drunkard from the club, and think he is doing good. A liar may be in the church. A liar is the basest of characters. There is no depth so deep as the baseness of a false nature. A man, on the other hand, may be very passionate, he may often go wrong in this direction: what is worse? A thief. A thief is a liar plus. Think of it a thief! a man who watches you, then takes what belongs to you, and then hails you with Good-day! Can that man be converted? I feel that he ought not: but if I touch the Cross of Christ I feel that perhaps he may. But human feeling says, Let him be damned; if there is a hot hell in God's universe let him go in; there is no rag of honour on the base soul; there is no touch of heroism in the vile nature. So would we say outside the Cross, and only the Cross can make us at least hold our tongues. So perverse is human nature that some Christians of loud profession do not hesitate to say that they are very proud. Then they are not Christians. There is more said against pride in the Bible than is said against drunkenness, yet there are men who are proud to call themselves proud, nay, they bridle up and say, You must remember that I am very proud. Then if you are, you are a child of the devil, whoever you are. Now take the statistics of the Christian Church! Yet again so perverse is human nature that men may say, We have heard that the drunkard is better than the liar, and that the passionate man is better than the thief, and that the unchaste man is better probably than the proud man; therefore we will go over to that side. No! God forbid! If alleviations have been sought for, they have not been produced that they might be turned into authority for licence; they have been used as a kind of encouragement to men to whom they refer to come away and come home, and for no other purpose. He who would put them to another purpose is himself a liar and a thief. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Never forget that there is an evangelical spirit as well as an evangelical doctrine. I know of no irony so complete, so bitter, so deadly, as the irony of preaching an evangelical doctrine in an anti-evangelical spirit. The evangelical spirit is full of yearning, solicitude, concern; it is doctrine; it is a spirit of tears; it is a spirit that will not give a man up until he forces himself out of the circle of intercession and the sphere of love.
Who, then, can be saved? God knows. We do not. But there is less Christianity in the world than we might at first suppose. On the other hand, there is more Christianity than is sometimes reckoned. Who are the Christians? The men who want to be Christians. Now the number enlarges. The men who say amid faults and slips lapses of every kind, drunkenness, and passion, and waywardness My God, I hate myself: I wish to be like Jesus, but this devil is too strong for me; he never sleeps; if I could catch him asleep one hour I would pray in it; I want to be like Jesus! If we can say that with our hearts, and live accordingly, though we may be cast down, thrown about, much injured, if that be the supreme purpose, the continual tendency of our life, no man shall pluck us out of our Father's hand.
The Upper Thought
Always wait for the second and better thought. Never interrupt any speaker, especially a speaker of established reputation, but let him quietly and perfectly finish what he has to say; then you can make your remarks. "It is Christ that died." Why are we always dwelling on the death? Is that all that happens? The Apostle brightens, his voice rises, his figure enlarges as if in spiritual dignity, as he exclaims, Died? nay, that were the first thought, the initial stage; the real thing is that he has risen again: the rising is the upper thought, the death is the lower. You will find this to be the case all through and through the divinest life. We are never allowed to stop more than a comma at the word "death." The universe was not made to die: there is no death in the purpose of God: he made man immortal. What difficulty can any one have in declaring the immortality of the soul? No other idea ever entered into the purpose of God. It it be possible for man to commit spiritual suicide, that is another matter; but judged, from the Divine standpoint, when God made man in his own image and likeness he did not make him the creature of a day, but a heir of the ages numberless, a citizen of the city of light. The word "die" must come in, the garden must permit a grave to be dug in its heart, but it can grow flowers all over it. "It is Christ that died, yea rather," it is a rising cadence, an inflection upwards "that is risen again." That is the Christian creed; that is Christian music; that is the very gospel of the heart of God.
We have amongst us teachers of the finest spiritual quality, who are addressing us in some such words as these: Why do you always dwell upon the death of Christ? In your sacrament you always set forth the Lord's death: why do you not forget the idea of death, and pass to the upper thought, and dwell in holy rapture, in sacred, grateful triumph, upon the resurrection of the Lord? The appeal is beautiful, tender, but incomplete. The resurrection implies death: the pinnacle implies the foundation; the pinnacle is only the foundation gone up higher. When we celebrate resurrection we cannot forget death; without the death there could have been no resurrection; without the Cross there could have been no crown; so that we are really dwelling upon the resurrection whilst we are dwelling upon the death, seeing that the death is not the death of a man, but the death of one who made himself equal with God. When such a Man dies he rises again. Christian thought therefore is not single but composite. When the Christian says "Christ died," he says in effect, "yea rather, that is risen again." Besides, when we take the Lord's Supper we do not memorialise the Lord's death; you have omitted part of the statement which you began to quote: we show forth the Lord's death "till he come." Do not omit the three closing words; they make the death beautiful: they abolish death.
This would appear to be so simple that everybody would at once acknowledge it. Its simplicity has often been mistaken, and because of the simplicity men have allowed themselves to fall into obvious and superficial error. This is the key to much beside itself. A right realisation of the second or upper thought makes the kingdom of heaven a new empire to the most enraptured soul. There are minds that instantly fasten upon effects; such minds are apt to lose all the teaching of causes. There are minds marked by great rapidity of action. Their characteristic is impatience; hence they have no pity upon the preacher who waits for the slow and the timid, saying to the prancing horses, Wait, here is a sick man, and we must not leave him behind. That is the great preacher. He will not allow a little child to be dropped out on the road. He is not one of those charioteers who drive on, fall out who or what may. He says, I am bound to take you all with me: wait, here is a lame man, and we must tarry for his salvation. What a pity it is congregations will not allow the preacher to conduct the service! How much they lose when they criticise his method of doing things, not knowing that his, if he be a true man born to do the work, is the great pastoral heart, the great shepherdly solicitude; not one of your impatient men that always want to be foaming at the mouth, but one of your great men-women, father-mothers, that say, Wait until we have taken up the very least and the very lamest of the flock. It we carry out this idea we shall get a new standing-point and recover much of our own comfort and somewhat of our most venerable and trustworthy orthodoxy. Let us see.
The preaching of to-day very largely consists in declaring that love is the crowning grace. There are those who, in proclaiming that sweet doctrine, become almost impatient, indeed, almost contemptuous, when they speak about faith and even hope. Their cry is: Love abideth for ever; love is the consummation; he who has love has God, for God is love. Is this untrue? It is not untrue, but it is incomplete. You cannot have the resurrection without the death, and you cannot have love without faith. Love is not gush, unregulated emotion, a mere foam of the soul, white for a moment and then blackened in extinction. Love, if it is to abide for ever, must have faith for one wing and hope for the other. We are constantly reading the doctrine that not creeds, not theologies, not catechisms, but love is the great thing. So it is. Why are you so contemptuous about faith and theology, and reasoned statement regarding the kingdom of God? We say, the roof is the thing. So it is: but what does it rest upon? Persons who thus announce the supremacy of love may sometimes be led into the fallacy that love is all. It is easier to put the roof on after the walls are up, than it would be to put it on before the walls are built. That latter attempt might be unsuccessful. There may be clever men who can fix roofs upon nothing, but I have never employed them; I have no intention of inquiring concerning their method of working. So that when creatures declare that love is the thing, not creed, or theology, or metaphysics, or eloquence, or prophecy, I answer in one sentence, You are perfectly right; the Apostle himself says the same thing in more ardent and eloquent language, but he also by his whole process and course of teaching shows that love is the blossom and faith is the root. What would you say concerning a man who, delicately and gratefully touching a flower, should say, This is the thing: we do not want your root and your stem. Very well; take up the root, burn the stem: now where is your flower?
Or the point of view is changed sometimes, and we have what are called practical preachers, and their sermon is this: Conduct is the thing we want: everything stands or falls by behaviour: what is a man's life? Is there anything wrong in such inquiry? By no means, but there is a good deal omitted from it. When we come to understand things more clearly and largely we shall see that conduct is translated belief. If conduct is a game at chance, who will praise the man who has mechanically clean hands and a good external reputation? It only so happened: there is no philosophy in it, no eternity in it: but when a man is good because his heart has been touched by Divine influences, and brought into harmony with Divine purposes; when a man's conduct is good because he has been with Jesus and learned of him, has entered into the spirit of his priesthood and accepted the purchase of his sacrifice, then his conduct is no longer his own, it is a creation and a miracle of the grace of God. We are therefore perfectly agreed with the people who say that love is the crowning grace, and that conduct is the principal thing; but we cannot allow them to substitute effects for causes, or in praising the consequences to forget the processes. Still it is Christ that died. Christ's was a resurrection; it was not a descent from heaven, it was an ascent from the earth.
It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again. There are those who are strongly opposed to our dwelling upon the death of Christ. They admonish us to dwell upon the living ministry of the everlasting Priest. They say, He is no longer in the grave: why do you speak about him as a buried Saviour? You should forget the burial and dwell upon the resurrection; Christ is now on the right hand of God pleading for us, amplifying and purifying our prayers, and making them prevalent in the heavenly sanctuary; why not, therefore, forget the dreary, ghastly past, and dwell upon the bright and beauteous present? Why this fear of the death? The resurrection did not save us; the resurrection is the corner stone of the Church, but that which creates the Church, makes it possible in human development, is the Cross of Christ, the Blood of Christ I am not yet sufficiently advanced, or sufficiently in the rear, to be ashamed of saying that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. Earnest men ought to be careful how they suspect one another or denounce one another; they should be eager for each other's welfare: for myself, therefore, I can only say that, if you take out of my gospel the death of Christ, you at the same time take out the resurrection. The one is dependent upon the other. Without the death, resurrection was impossible; resurrection without the death is a worship of the end, by simply ignoring or undervaluing the means.
Then there are others who say, Not the book, but the spirit that is in the book, the living Spirit. We do not care for the Bible as a mere book, they say; we want to be under the influence of the inspirer of the Book. Are they wrong? No; yet their statement is incomplete and is open to serious perversion. They may not mean all that their words imply to other minds, but we are bound to look, not at what we ourselves mean, but at what the words may be taken to mean by sincere and earnest but uninstructed minds. We cannot always go with our own words to explain them; so before sending them forth we should take as much care as possible that they include all the elements of a complete and useful statement. We cannot yet do without the Book. I never inquire how much of the Bible I can do without: my constant inquiry is, How much of it do I know? To what extent am I familiar with this sacred oracle? Have I got into the genius of any one book in the holy volume? Do I know the complete purpose of any writer whose works are found in the sacred canon? Have I been a perfunctory reader of the sacred canon, reading a little here and a little there? or have I mastered the Book, at least in its structure and general outline? Far be it from any one of us to denounce the doctrine that what we want is the Holy Spirit who inspired the Book: but if he inspired the Book, the Book must be of kindred quality with his own. Did he inspire the Book? We believe he did, and therefore in reading the Book we are reading himself. He who holds communion with the Book holds communion with the Spirit. My fear is that by building upon points we shall never build any large and solid structure of thought: we must not therefore be exalting love, or conduct, or the resurrection, or the Spirit, without recognising the under-truths, the basal, historical, sequential realities, on which all these glorious consummations rest their whole weight. I can imagine it very easy for young people especially to be charmed with the doctrine that love is the great crown of Christian life; I can understand how famous poets or novelists ignoring all Puritanic detail should speak to the young and the sentimental about love, and how the young and the sentimental should say, This is what we like: there is no hell here; nothing about the devil, nothing about punishment, but love, love, love all love! That gospel will never save you. You must work your way through all the process to the result, and having done so you will not undervalue or deprecate the process, but thank God for it, because it was full of the elements of education and of discipline, of chastening and of refinement.
Understand me therefore. In all these contentions there is an element of truth. When a man praises love he is right, when he praises conduct he is right, when he praises the Spirit of God he is right; but it is possible for him to praise all these and to do so at the expense of ignoring what they themselves imply vitally, inevitably, and eternally imply. What would you think of a man standing on the top of a hill and saying to climbers below, What are you doing down there? The top is the thing! Here am I, look at me: what are you doing down there? You would say, The man forgets that he was once down here himself. Exactly, there you have the whole thing. We do not fly to the top, we travel to it step by step, oh, so slowly, so wearily! but if the face be set towards the top God will see that we fail not of the beautiful summit. What would you think of a man going into a school and saying to the scholars who were reading alphabets and declining nouns and conjugating verbs and so on, Boys, what is all this about? what you want is not gerund-grinding, but you want wisdom; wisdom is the thing; all these grindings and preparations and processes are nothing, the wisdom that comes of learning is the principal thing. The man is right, but he never got his own wisdom, if it be a wisdom of letters, without going through that very same dreary process. What would you think of a man who was very skilled in any art, in any craft, saying to the apprentice, You need not be doing what you are now doing; what you have to do is what I am doing; look here, a stroke and the thing is done; one movement, and beauty testifies to the skill of my action. That is all right, but practice makes perfect, according to the old saying, and an apprentice is after all not a journeyman, a beginner is not one that is at the point of finishing. We have to go through certain processes. We are told that practice makes the musician, practice makes the sculptor. I say, No, it does not. All the practice in the world would never make some of us sculptors; we should waste all the marble in all the quarries in creation and never get a face out of it. No: practice makes the musician if the musician is in the man; practice will waken the musician, call him and say, Arise! the morning is nigh; awake! the harp awaketh thee; stir thyself, for thy destiny is at hand. There practice can do wonders. A man is either a musician, from all eternity or he is not; he is either a preacher from all eternity or he is not. You cannot make a preacher. You can make a man who will read to you a very neat and almost decent little paper, but you cannot make a preacher. There is something before all this practice, and that is gift, destiny.
It is equally so with all these preachers of the upper truth. They are right, but they are incomplete. I say therefore, begin where you can: recognise the fact that men are at different points in the line of progress. This is the difficulty the preacher has for ever to contend with. He is speaking to a thousand people, two hundred of whom are at the very highest point, two hundred of whom are at the middle, and the rest are at the starting point, and they cannot get into the work; they say, Oh, how hard, how impossible! Who is sufficient for these things? And the preacher has to speak to the very highest, and those in the middle, and those at the end; and he has to speak in his own tongue, now eloquent, now encouraging; at the first solicitous, patient, longsuffering, speaking a word of godly cheer to souls that are just going to give up. Recognise the fact, therefore, that some men are in advance, some are in the midst, some are at the beginning, and if they are all in one direction they all belong to Christ. Let not the one who is on the top of the mountain discourage the climbers who are patiently toiling up. Do speak kindly to us. We would like to be as high up as you are, and we mean to be some day, but give us time. Once you were here; why, here is your very footprint see, there is no mistake about it. Give us, therefore, the word from above. Watchman, what of the upper places? Are they very bright? How is the air in that lofty region? Is it an air of immortality? Oh, send down to me, poor struggler on the mountain-side, some kind word, some cheering message! and by-and-by, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we will clasp hands at the top, and say, It is we who began at the foot of the mountain; we are the climbers; yea rather, it is we who stand on the mountain-top it is we who have thus become familiar with heaven.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 8". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany