Tuesday, June 6th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Galatians 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ galatians-1.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Galatians 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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Paul, an apostle, not of men.
According to the custom of the age, the apostle begins with a short description of himself and his correspondents, connected with a wish for their happiness. Paul was above the affectation of singularity. In the form of his Epistles, he follows the ordinary custom of his country and age; and he thus teaches us that a Christian ought not to be unnecessarily singular. By readily complying with innocent customs, we are the more likely, when we conscientiously abstain from what we account sinful customs, to impress the minds of those around us that we have some other and better reason for our conduct than whim or humour. Yet the apostle contrives to give, even to the inscription of his letter, a decidedly Christian character; and shows us that, though we should not make an ostentatious display of our Christianity, yet, if we are truly religious, our religion will give a colour to the whole of our conduct: even what may seem most remote from direct religious employment will be tinged by it. The manner in which the apostle manages the inscription of this and his other letters, is a fine illustration of his own injunction, “Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him” (Colossians 3:17). He shows his Christianity even in the mode of addressing his letters. (John Brown, D. D.)
The opening salutation
The two threads which run through this Epistle--the defence of the apostle’s own authority, and the maintenance of the doctrine of grace--are knotted together in the opening salutation. By expanding his official title into statement of his direct commission from God (Galatians 1:1), St. Paul meets the personal attack of his opponents; by dwelling on the work of redemption in connection with the name of Christ (Galatians 1:4), he protests against their doctrinal errors. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
The high significance of the apostolate
1. For the founding;
2. For the continuance of the Christian Church, which must perpetually rest upon the foundation of the apostolic doctrine. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
1. To have the Divine vocation is in all circumstances necessary.
2. To be certain of its possession is often important.
3. To appeal to it may often be right and proper. How independent of men, and at the same time how dependent on God, the minister of the gospel is, and knows himself to be I Even so the Christian generally is what he is, not from men, although through men, for neither natural descent nor outward fellowship makes him such--but through Jesus Christ and the Father. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
Christian sense of personal worth
1. Its justification.
2. Its limits. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
Jesus Christ supreme
All through Jesus Christ l
1. Humbling truth; for then nothing is through us.
2. Exalting truth; all is through no less an one than Christ, and thereby through the highest of all, viz., God. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
God the Instructor of the Church
In the church we ought to listen to God alone, and to Jesus Christ whom He has appointed to be our teacher. Whoever assumes a right to instruct us, must speak in the name of God or of Christ. (Calvin.)
Extraordinary gifts associated with extraordinary vocation
Behold the peculiar prerogative of St. Paul above the rest of the apostles. They were called by Christ in the day of His humiliation, but he was called by Christ when sitting at His Father’s right hand in heaven. As his call was thus very extraordinary, so his gifts were answerable to his call. (W. Burkitt.)
The apostle’s attitude
The appearance of the apostle against the Galatians.
1. In the full dignity of his office; at the same time, however, associating the brethren with himself.
2. With the full love of his heart, at the same time conceding nothing of the truth. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
Certainty of Divine calling
What means Paul by this boasting? I answer: This commonplace serves to this end, that every minister of God’s Word should be sure of his calling, that before God and man he may with a bold conscience glory therein, that he preaches the gospel as one that is called and sent: even as the ambassador of a king glories and vaunts in this, that he comes not as a private person, but as the king’s ambassador; and because of this dignity--that he is the king’s ambassador--he is honoured and set in the highest place; which honour should not be given him if he came as a private person. Wherefore, let the preacher of the gospel be certain that his calling is from God. (Luther.)
The name and office of an apostle
The word ἀπόστολος in the first instance is an adjective signifying “despatched” or “sent forth.” Applied to a person, it denotes more than ἄγγελος. The “apostle” is not only the messenger, but the delegate of the person who sends him. He is entrusted with a mission, has powers conferred upon him …. With the later Jews, the word was in common use. It was the title borne by those who were despatched from the mother city by the rulers of the race on any foreign mission, especially such as were charged with collecting the tribute paid to the temple service. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the “apostles” formed a sort of council about the Jewish patriarch, assisting him in his deliberations at home, and executing his orders abroad. Thus in designating His immediate dud most favoured disciples “apostles,” our Lord was not introducing a new term, but adopting one, which from its current usage would suggest to His hearers the idea of a highly responsible mission. At the first institution of the office, the apostles were twelve in number, but in the New Testament there is no hint that the number was intended to be limited to twelve--any more than there is that the number of deacons was intended to remain seven. The Twelve were primarily the Apostles of the Circumcision, the representatives of the twelve tribes. The extension of the Church to the Gentiles might be accompanied by an extension of the apostolate As a matter of fact, we do not find the term apostle restricted to the Twelve with only the exception of St. Paul. St. Paul himself seems in one passage to distinguish between “the Twelve” and “all the apostles,” as if the latter were the more comprehensive term (1 Corinthians 15:5; 1 Corinthians 15:7). It appears both there and in other places (Galatians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 9:5) that James the Lord’s brother is styled an apostle. On the most natural interpretation of another passage (Romans 16:7), Andronicus and Junias, two Christians otherwise unknown to us, are called distinguished members of the apostolate, language which indirectly implies a very considerable extension of the term. In 1 Thessalonians 2:6, again, where in reference to his visit to Thessalonica, he speaks of the disinterested labours of himself and his colleagues, adding, “though we might have been burdensome to you, being apostles of Christ,” it is probable that under this term he includes Sylvanus, who had laboured with him in Thessalonica, and whose name appears in the superscription of the letter. The apostleship of Barnabas, at any rate, is beyond question. St. Luke records his consecration to the office as taking place at the same time with, and in the same manner as, St. Paul’s (Acts 13:2-3). In his account of their missionary labours again, he names them together as “apostles,” even mentioning Barnabas first (Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14). St. Paul himself also in two different Epistles holds similar language (Galatians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 9:5). If, therefore, St. Paul has held a larger place than Barnabas, in the gratitude and veneration of the Church of all ages, this is due not to any superiority of rank or office, but to the ascendency of his personal gifts, a more intense energy and self-devotion, wider and deeper sympathies, a firmer intellectual grasp, a larger measure of the Spirit of Christ. It may be added also, that only by such an extension of the office could any footing be found for the pretensions of the false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13; Revelation 2:2). Had the number been definitely restricted, the claims of these interlopers would have been self-condemned. But if the term is so extended, can we determine the limit to its extension? This will depend on the answer given to such questions as these:--What was the nature of the call? What were the necessary qualifications for the office? What were the duties attached to it? The facts gathered from the New Testament are insufficient to supply a decisive answer to these questions; but they enable us to draw roughly the line by which the apostolate was bounded.
1. The rank of an apostle. The first order in the Church (1 Corinthians 12:28-29; Ephesians 4:11).
2. Tests of apostleship.
(1) Having seen Christ after His resurrection (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8; Acts 1:21-22). This knowledge was supplied to St. Paul miraculously.
(2) Possessing the powers of an apostle (1 Corinthians 9:1-2; 2 Corinthians 12:1-2). These “signs” our modern conceptions would lead us to separate into two classes. The one of these includes moral and spiritual gifts--patience, self-denial, effective preaching; the other comprises such powers as we call supernatural. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
Necessity of a Divine call
Wert thou wiser than Solomon and Daniel, yet until thou art called, flee the sacred ministry, as thou would’st hell and the devil; then wilt thou not spill the Word of God to no purpose. If God needs thee, He will know how to call thee. (Luther.)
St. Paul’s call to the apostleship
There is something very grand in the conversion of a man who has been so fierce an enemy as St. Paul was; it makes us feel that the gospel is indeed the power of God unto salvation: for no other power would be equal to the task of taming so fierce a spirit, and yet of losing none of its power, but turning it to edification instead of destruction.
I. Why was St. Paul called to be an apostle? St. Paul asserts his apostleship: for the reason that his call and commission were made after the ascension of our Lord, and after the number of the apostles would appear to have been completed. Judas proved unworthy of his sacred trust. The twelve felt that their body was incomplete. St. Peter urged the selection of another; Matthias was chosen. I venture to say that St. Peter was wrong in this instance. The assembled disciples had no power to elect such an apostle; and Matthias was not in the full sense an apostle of Jesus Christ. When he was chosen, the Holy Spirit was not yet poured out; the eleven were not yet endued with power from on high for the discharge of their sacred office. St. Peter might therefore be wrong in this instance, however unintentionally he might have erred. It did not belong to any human assembly to choose those who could only be chosen by Christ Himself. The peculiar characteristic of the apostolate was that each one was personally called by Christ Himself; this was their authority and glory. The body of the disciples had not this power; therefore Matthias was not duly called to the apostleship. Nothing is afterwards heard of him in the sacred writings. If it is objected that we hear little of the other apostles after this date, we have at any rate heard of them before, and have known that they were called by Christ. Hence St. Paul was the new twelfth apostle; and was not called of men as was Matthias. Nobly has he filled the trust betrayed by the Traitor. The dignity, and sanctity of the pastoral office: when the Blessed Trinity ordain and commission the minister, he will go forth with power; but if only of man little more will be heard of him.
II. The manner in which he was called and instructed. Though the voice of Jesus addressed him, this was not the means used for directing his soul to peace. God sent a man to instruct him. To us men is committed the word of grace. To “the Man Christ Jesus” was committed the glorious ministry of the gospel. (A. J. J. Cachemaille.)
Apostolic salutation and vindication of apostolic teaching
I. This salutation embraces a vindication of apostolic authority. The Church sometimes fails to understand and estimate the honour which Christ bestows upon His chosen servants.
II. This salutation embraces a defence of apostolic doctrine. “Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.”
1. Christ’s work was voluntary. “He gave Himself.”
2. Christ’s work was vicarious. “He gave Himself for our sins.”
3. Christ’s work was redemptive. “That He might deliver us from this present evil world.” The idea here expressed is that of rescuing from danger.
4. Christ’s redemptive work is in harmony with the will of the Father. There is no separation, much less antagonism, between the will of the Father and of the Son in saving.
5. Christ’s redemptive work secures the highest praise of God. “To Him be glory for ever and ever.”
III. This salutation embraces a profound desire for the bestowal of highest blessings. “Grace be to you, and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.” The greetings men offer each other are determined by the views they entertain of life. They wish each other health, long life, success, enjoyment. But Christians acknowledge another and a higher life. “These two words comprehend whatever belongs to Christianity. Grace releaseth sin, and peace makes the conscience quiet.”--Luther.
This desire for the highest welfare of the Galatians was the harmonious out-flow of the unselfish love of Paul and his fellow-labourers. “And all the brethren which are,” etc. Lessons:
1. It is sometimes necessary for God’s servants to defend their office and teaching.
2. We learn the Spirit we should cherish toward men. We can desire for others no greater blessings than grace and peace. (Richard Nicholls.)
The divinity of the gospel
1. Its ministers are divinely commissioned.
2. Its blessings are divinely secured.
3. Its end is the Divine glory. (J. Lyth.)
Paul an apostle
I. That as Paul puts his call to the apostleship in the forefront of the Epistle, so every minister must have a good and lawful call.
II. That as Paul says, “Not of man,” etc., So every lawful call is from God.
1. God only can call.
2. The Church can only consent and approve.
III. That as Paul proclaims his call, so the call of every minister must be manifest to his conscience and his hearers. Ministers--
1. Are God’s ambassadors.
2. Need divine help.
3. Require human obedience.
IV. That Paul indicates three kinds of call.
1. Human and not Divine--false teachers.
2. Divine though human--ordinary ministers.
3. Wholly Divine--apostles.
V. That as the property of an apostle is to be called immediately by Christ, it follows that the apostolic office ceased with those who filled it. (W. Perkins.)
Paul’s insistance on his apostleship
Who was Paul? Had he sat at the feet of the Master? Had he even seen Christ, or received his commission direct from Him? These questions were asked often and openly, as we gather from Paul’s eagerness in all his Epistles to reply to them. More than once he goes thoroughly into the matter (1 Corinthians 9:1-27.; 2 Corinthians 11:1-33.; Ephesians 3:7; 1Th 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:1-20.; Titus 1:3), and the superscriptions and subscription of his letters show how he felt the need of thus vindicating himself from false imputations. (E. Reuss, B. A.)
Genuine and spurious apostles
The true apostle is like the tree which grows out of the soil and brings forth out of its own inherent vitality living fruit and foliage. The false apostle resembles the artificial tree which is stuck in the soil, and can only bear such painted leaves and fruit as are affixed by the hand of man. Hence the anxiety of Paul to show that man had nothing to do with making him an apostle.
The true apostolical succession
Though you have a straight line of apostolical ancestors, if your work is poor, you are not in the line of the succession; and if your Church does not make full-grown men, it is not. I do not care about the pedigree of my grapes if my vineyard bears better fruit than yours. You may say that yours came from those which Noah planted--but “by their fruits shall ye know them.” And the tests of all churches, doctrines, usages, governments, is this: What are their effects on the generations of men. (H. W. Beecher.)
The apostles defined
It was essential to their office that--
1. They should have seen the Lord, and been ear and eye-witnesses of what they testified to the world.
2. They must have been immediately called and chosen to that office by Christ Himself.
3. Infallible inspiration was also essentially necessary to that office.
4. Another qualification was the power of working miracles.
5. To these qualifications may be added the universality of their commission. (J. McLean.)
Christ the fountain of gospel teaching
See what a plenty of wisdom is in Christ, who is the great doctor of His Church, and gives saving knowledge to all His people. The body of the sun must be needs full of brightness that enlightens the whole world. Christ is the great luminary; in Him are hid all the treasures of knowledge. We are apt to admire the learning of Aristotle and Plato. Alas l what is this poor spark of light to that which is in Christ from whose infinite wisdom both men and angels light their lamp. (T. Watson.)
And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia.
Our religion is not designed to terminate upon ourselves, but to benefit those with whom we associate. As the touched needle has the power to impart something of its own magnetic virtue to kindred substances brought into contact with it, so true grace is always communicative, and delights to diffuse the moral impressions which it has received. The early Churches set a noble pattern, in this respect, to the men of succeeding times.
I. Their unity of sentiment in the fundamental doctrines of Christian faith. Paul blends the testimony of his brethren in the ministry with his own (“all the brethren”) to show that he stood not alone in his views of Christian doctrine; and they delight to bear their concurrent attestation in favour of the truths he proclaimed, and against the errors he condemned.
II. Their unity of affection. “All the brethren that are with me, to the Churches of Galatia.” Amidst some discrepancy of opinion, there was much love at heart, which yet did not prevent their bearing a faithful and energetic protest against the dangerous views newly entertained by their Galatian friends, upon the subject of the incorporation of the Jewish rites with the Christian faith. The truth of grace in others should be the most powerful loadstone to attract our regards towards them. For one man to love another, chiefly because he is of his own opinion and party, is little better than a refined species of selfishness, as he does but embrace his own shadow which he sees falling upon his brother’s breast.
III. Mark also their unity in prayer, for spiritual blessings to descend upon those to whom they wrote--“Grace be to you and peace, from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (The Evangelist.)
A word to pastors and people
I. To pastors.
1. Don’t lord it over your people: they are “brethren.”
2. Take them into your confidence: not to confirm your authority, but because they have an interest in your work.
3. Secure their sympathy: it “will be your solace when you are dealing with crafty Judaizers.
4. Carry them with you. You will need them
(1) in bodily affliction;
(2) in exceptional difficulties.
II. To people,
1. Your pastor is not your slave but your “brother”: love and esteem him.
2. He is the servant of Christ and the Church, and you are his fellowservants: give him sympathy and co-operation.
3. He is your leader: follow him; let him speak not only in his own name but yours, because
(1) you have common interests,
(2) these interests can only be preserved by unanimity (Philippians 1:27).
There is no relationship like that founded on the sanctity of religion. Between you and me that sanctity exists. I stood by your side when you awoke in the dark valley of conviction and owned yourselves lost. I led you by the hand out of the darkness. By your side I have prayed, and my tears have mingled with yours. I have bathed you in the crystal waters of a holy baptism; and when you sang the song of the ransomed captive it filled my heart with a joy as great as your own. Love beginning in such scenes and drawn from so sacred a fountain is not commercial, is not fluctuating. Amid severe toils and not a few anxieties it is a crown of rejoicing to a pastor. (H. W. Beecher.)
The Churches of Galatia
I. Their locality. Probably the seats of the most ancient bishoprics.
1. Ancyra, the capital.
2. Pessinus, the great emporium.
3. Tavium, the junction of many roads.
4. Juliopolis, in the centre of the land. Note Paul’s sagacity in choosing such serviceable centres.
II. Their members.
1. The native Gaulo-Phrygians--an impulsive, inquisitive, imaginative, and superstitious race; worshippers of Cybele, whose cult involved wild ceremonial and horrible mutilations.
2. Jews and proselytes.
3. Roman colonists.
III. Their planting.
1. During second missionary tour (Acts 16:6).
2. Under afflictive circumstances (Galatians 4:13).
3. With warm enthusiasm (Galatians 4:15). Rapid growth, rapid decadence.
IV. Their character.
1. Their natural imaginativeness and impulsiveness moulded by grace.
2. Many churches, but one Church.
3. True churches, though in error.
V. Their early history.
1. Confirmed during third missionary tour (Acts 18:23).
2. Corrupted by Judaizers.
3. Rebuked and perhaps reclaimed by Paul (2 Timothy 4:10).
4. Strongholds of heresy during second and third centuries.
5. Purged by the Diocletian persecution.
6. Triumphant over Julian.
What is a church?
A band of faithful men
Met for God’s worship in some humble room,
Or screened from foes by midnight’s starlit gloom,
On hillside or lone glen
To hear the counsels of God’s Holy Word
Pledged to each other and their common Lord.
These, few as they may be,
Compose a Church, such as in pristine ages
Defied the tyrant’s steel, the bigot’s rage.
For, when but two or three,
Whate’er the place, in faith’s communion meet,
There, with Christ present, is a Church complete.
The Galatian people
When the vast tide of Aryan migration began to set to the westward the Celtic family was among the earliest to stream away. They gradually occupied a great part of the centre and west of Europe, and their various tribes were swept hither and thither by various currents. One of their Brennuses, four centuries b.c., inflicted on Rome its deepest humiliation. Another, 111 years later, ravaged Northern Greece, and when its hordes were driven back at Delphi they found another body under Leonnorius and Lutarius, and established themselves in the northern regions of Asia Minor. But their exactions soon roused an opposition which led to their confinement to the central region. Here we find them in three tribes: the Tolistobogii, with their capital Pessinus; the Tectosages, with their capital Ancyra; the Trocmi, with their capital Tavium. These tribes were, in b.c. 65, united under Deiotarus, tetrarch of the Tolistobogii. The Romans had conquered them in b.c. 189, but had left them nominally independent; and in b.c. 36 Mark Antony made Amyntas king. On his death, b.c. 25, Galatia was joined to Lycaonia and part of Pisidia, and made a Roman province. This was its political condition when Paul entered Pessinus. (F. W. Farrar.)
I. The brotherhood of Christians;
II. Their united action;
III. Their interest in distant churches. (J. Lyth.)
Grace be to you and peace.
St. Paul’s salutation
Here is the salutation, wherein he wishes them God’s gracious favour and goodwill, whereby He is well-pleased with the elect, in and for Christ (Romans 3:24), and peace; i.e.
1. Peace of conscience, and with God (Romans 5:1).
2. Peace with the creatures, as with the angels (Colossians 1:20); with the godly (Isaiah 11:9); with ourselves, all within us being conformed to the rule of the renewed mind (Romans 8:1); and in some respects with our enemies (Proverbs 16:7); and with the beasts of the field (Hosea 2:18).
3. Prosperity and good success (Psalms 122:7). All which he seeks from God the Father as the fountain of grace, and from Jesus Christ as the conduit or pipe to convey grace from the Father unto us (John 1:16). (James Fergusson.)
The manner of obtaining grace and peace
1. God’s gracious favour and goodwill is to be sought by us in the first place, whether for ourselves (Psalms 4:6) or others. All things are mercy to the man who has obtained that mercy.
2. Peace also is to be sought--after grace, not before it. Peace without grace is no peace (Isaiah 57:21).
3. Grace and peace are such as we cannot acquire unto ourselves by our own industry or pains: they come from God, are to be sought from Him, and His blessing is more to be depended upon for attaining of anything which comes under the compass of grace and peace, than our own wisdom, industry, or diligence.
4. Whatever favour we seek from God, we are to seek it also from Jesus Christ as mediator; for He has purchased it (Ephesians 1:7). He is appointed Lord of His own purchase, and there is no coming to, or meeting with, the Father but in Him (John 14:6).
5. They to whom grace and peace belong, are such as acknowledge Jesus for their Lord to command and rule them, and do yield subjection to Him in their heart and life. (James Fergusson. )
Grace and peace
Grace releases sin, and peace makes the conscience quiet. The two friends that torment us are sin and conscience. But Christ has vanquished these two monsters, and trodden them under foot, both in this world and in the world to come. This the world does not know, and therefore it can teach no certainty of the overcoming of sin, conscience, and death. Only Christians have this kind of doctrine, and are exercised and armed with it, to get victory against sin, despair, and everlasting death. And it is a kind of doctrine, neither proceeding of freewill, nor invented by the reason or wisdom of man, but given from above. Moreover, these two words, grace and peace, do contain in them the whole sum of Christianity. Grace contains the remission of sins; peace, a quiet and joyful conscience. But peace of conscience can never be had, unless sin be first forgiven. But sin is not forgiven for the fulfilling of the law: for no man is able to satisfy the law. But the law rather shows sin, accuses and terrifies the conscience, declares the wrath of God, and drives to desperation. Much less is sin taken away by the works and inventions of men, as wicked worshippings, strange religions, vows, and pilgrimages. Finally, there is no work that can take away sin, but sin is rather increased by works. For the justiciaries and meritmongers, the more they labour and sweat to bring themselves out of sin, the deeper they are plunged therein. For there is no means to take away sin, but grace alone. Therefore Paul, in all the greetings of his Epistle, sets grace and peace against sin and an evil conscience. (Luther.)
Heavenly blessings alone avail
The apostle fitly distinguishes this grace and peace from all other kinds of grace and peace whatsoever. He wishes to the Galatians grace and peace, not from the emperor or kings and princes, for those do commonly persecute the godly, and rise up against the Lord and Christ but from God our Father: which is as much as to say, he wished them a heavenly peace. The peace of the world grants nothing but the peace of our goods and bodies. So the grace or favour of the world gives us leave to enjoy our goods, and casts us not out of our possessions. But in affliction, and in the hour of death, the grace and favour of the world cannot help us; they cannot deliver us from affliction, despair, and death. But when the grace and peace of God are in the heart, then is man strong, so that he can neither be cast down with adversity, nor puffed up with prosperity, but walketh on plainly, and keepeth the highway. For he taketh heart and courage in the victory of Christ’s death: and the confidence thereof beginneth to reign in his conscience over sin and death; because, through Him, he hath assured forgiveness of his sins: which, after he has once obtained, his conscience is at rest, and by the word of grace is comforted. (Luther.)
Paul’s customary greeting
A Greek and Hebrew salutation, expressing the apostle’s best wish.
I. Grace. A Greek thought Christianized. Takes the conception of beauty of form, gesture, tone, into the spiritual realm. As here used--
1. It is to be regarded as the attitude of God in Christ towards men. The Divine pity, gentleness, favour; the bearing of a condescending, forgiving, loving God.
2. It is to be possessed as the spirit of a Christian. “Grace of life.” Moral beauty. The indwelling in Christian character of all that the Greeks conceived in their “Three Graces.”
II. Peace. May include--
1. Freedom from persecution--a great desideratum.
2. Absence of internal dissention--main purpose of this letter.
3. Inward calm and quiet confidence in God--ideal peace. The wish of Paul the gift of Jesus. (U. R. Thomas.)
I. The eternal love of God as it sends the Redeemer for man’s salvation is Grace.
II. The fruit of grace flowing from God through Christ is PEACE.
1. Sometimes mercy is the channel through which grace becomes peace when the invocation is addressed to an individual (1Ti 1:16 cf. verse 2).
2. For the Church it is enough that grace in heaven has peace as its counterpart on earth. It is
(1) reconciliation with God;
(2) the tranquil harmony of all the faculties of the soul;
(3) the fellowship of brotherly love;
(4) victory in the conflict with evil;
(5) the earnest of everlasting rest. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
I. A Formula. The heathen commenced their letters with “Health!” The apostle wished his readers something higher than health or happiness, so he commences “Grace and peace.”
II. A benediction. But how in the case of those who rejected grace, or, by unbelief, forfeited peace? In the same way as the minister declares absolution, which is lost if a man rejects it. He has done what he could to show that in Christ there is full absolution for the sinner if he will take it. (F. W. Robertson.)
Peace from God
The child frightened in his play runs to seek his mother. She takes him upon her lap, and presses his head to her bosom; and, with tenderest words of love, she looks down upon him, and smoothes his hair, and kisses his cheek, and wipes away his tears. And then, in a low and gentle voice, she sings some sweet descant, some lullaby of love; and the fear fades out from his face, and a smile of satisfaction plays over it, and at length his eyes close, and he sleeps in the deep depths and delights of peace. God Almighty is the mother, and the soul is the tired child; and He folds it in His arms and dispels its fear, and lulls it to repose, saying, “Sleep, my darling, sleep! It is I who watch thee.” “He giveth His beloved sleep.” The mother’s arms encircle but one; but God clasps every yearning soul to His bosom, and gives to it the peace which passeth understanding, beyond the reach of care or storm. (H. W. Beecher.)
Peace through Christ
The tree of peace strikes its roots into the crevices of the everlasting rock. It grows securely from that rock, and casts out its cool shadow in the sunshine, and makes sweet music in the storm; and is to the believer as the shadow of a great rock and fruit of refreshment in a weary and parched land. (Dr. Cumming.)
I have read that a soldier, dying in the Crimea, requested to have the passage read to him, “Peace I leave with you,” etc. When it was done, he said, “I have that peace. I am going to that Saviour. God is with me: I want no more,” and expired.
The pastor’s prayer
I. The blessings desired--their nature--connexion, grace may exist without peace, but not peace without grace; yet peace flows from grace.
II. Their source--God the Father is the fountain of all grace--Christ is the medium of communication.
III. Their supply--free--sufficient for all--constant--inexhaustible. (J. Lyth.)
Who gave Himself for our sins.
Christ’s giving Himself to death
1. Its occasion: our sins.
2. Its purpose: our deliverance therefrom.
1. The strongest testimony against us.
2. The mightiest consolation for us. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
1. Its great effect: to deliver us from this evil world.
2. Whence it has this effect: as being a satisfying and bearing, and thereby a taking away of the Divine wrath.
3. In whom it is thus effectual: only in those who are His in faith. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
The appropriation of Christ’s merits
1. Every one needs it on account of his sins.
2. The sinner needs it precisely as sinner. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
The Christian’s surrender
If Christ has for our sakes given His all, ah! should not we surrender ourselves, with all that in us is, to Him? Man! keep thyself from sin, on account of which Christ hath endured so much lest thou thyself bring to nought for Him this great work for which He came. (Starke.)
The Christian’s treatment of this world
The character of this world is evil:
1. Therefore the Christian in this world longs for the world to come.
2. He must, however, be delivered from this present world, in order to enter the world to come. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
Redemption through Christ rests upon the will of God
1. This is a rich consolation against all doubts.
2. At the same time it conveys an earnest admonition; for, whoever lightly esteems the redemption accomplished through Christ, sins thereby against the will of God Himself. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
The power of the Cross
Christ by His death introduced a new power into the world: a power by means of which man is rescued from the tyranny of sin, the captive is set free.
I. The redemptive act of Christ.
1. It was voluntary. He “gave Himself.” No opposition of will between the Father and the Son. God’s mercy is just, and His justice is merciful.
2. It was vicarious. He gave Himself “for our sins.” His life was sacrificed in place of ours. Suffering was endured by Him which must otherwise have fallen upon us.
II. The design of Christ in thus giving himself for our sins. To deliver us from this present evil world. To free us from the condemnation and from the power of sin.
1. The Cross of Christ declares to man the will of a righteous and loving Father. It is at once a witness to His righteousness, and a pledge of His mercy.
2. The Cross reveals sin put away by the sacrifice of Christ.
3. The Cross reveals to man the love of Christ. (Emilius Bayley, B. D.)
Particular application of Christ’s merits
Mark diligently the word “our,” for therein lies all the virtue, viz., that all which is said concerning us in Holy Scriptures, in such passages as “for me,” “for us,” “for our sin,” and the like, we should know how to take well in mind, and apply particularly to ourselves, and hold fast thereto by faith. (Luther.)
Our Father’s redemptive purposes
I. The will of God concerning us.
1. Distinguish between the desire of a
(1) king concerning his subjects--to suppress their rebellion;
(2) a master concerning his servants--to enforce their obedience;
(3) a father concerning his children--to win their liberty, rectitude, and love.
2. So our heavenly Father desires to win us from the bondage of sin to Himself.
(1) He only can estimate this bondage aright.
(2) His purpose is to deliver us from it.
II. The gracious way in which our Father works out His will.
1. Jesus is the liberator.
2. He has gained the liberating power.
3. He uses this power in His self-sacrifice.
4. He liberates by
(1) training our trustful love;
(2) gaining entrance into our lives. (R. Tuck, B. A.)
The grand in Christianity
I. In its history. The grand fact of Christianity, its corner stone, the key-note of all its melodies, is “Who gave Himself” (1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14; Galatians 2:20).
1. The greatest gift of love.
2. The model gift of love. Self-sacrifice should be
II. In its purpose. “World,” not nature, but the carnal, selfish, and devilish ἀίων. Christ came to deliver us from sin.
1. Its guilt.
2. Its pollution.
3. Its dominion.
III. In its spring. The “will of God”--
1. Originated the mission of Christ.
2. Met with the hearty concurrence of Christ (Hebrews 10:7-9).
IV. In its issue (verse 5).
1. This doxology is usual after the mention of God’s wonderful love (Romans 11:6; Ephesians 3:21; 1 Timothy 1:17).
2. The great end of redemption is
(1) the right,
(2) the unceasing worship of the infinite Father. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The present evil world
This is not the beautiful universe, not humanity with its burden of sorrows and capacities for greatness; but the spirit of the age as far as it is a thing apart from God. It is not a thing of yesterday: it is a tradition of many ages and civilizations, to which each generation adds something of force, refinement, intellectual or social power, and the world is protean in its capacity for taking new forms. Sometimes it is gross idol worship; sometimes military empire; sometimes a cynical school of philosophy; sometimes the indifference of a blase society. The Church conquered it in the form of the old pagan empire; but the world had a terrible revenge when it could point to such Popes as Julius II., Alexander VI., or Leo X., and to such courts as those of Louis XIV., and Charles II. It had thrown itself at the heart of the Church, and now between it and Christendom there is no hard and fast line of demarcation. The world is within the sanctuary, within the heart, as well as without, and sweeps around each soul like a torrent of hot air, and makes itself felt at every pore of the moral system. It penetrates like a subtle atmosphere in Christendom, while in heathendom it is organized into various systems; but it is the same thing at bottom. It is the essential spirit of corrupt human life, taking no serious account of God, either forgetting Him altogether or putting something in His place, or striking a balance between His claims and those of His antagonists: and thus it is at enmity with God, and thus Christ came to deliver us from it, and thus the first duty of His servants is to free themselves from its power. (Canon Liddon.)
A great statesman has no policy; he accepts a few leading principles, his wisdom being to show how these principles apply to the various occasions of human life. And, similarly, the leading rules of St. Paul’s gospel were a few inductions, the application of which is universal. These are the redemption of man by the sacrifice of Christ, the four facts of which are of enormous extent and are exhibited under a multitude of phases,--redemption, the nature of man, sacrifice, the nature of Christ. Can any conception be more vast? Can any interest be more absorbing? (Paul of Tarsus.)
Redemption by the life of Christ
We are familiar with the expression that Christ gave His life for man, and I would not take away anything from the meaning and magnitude of the act of dying. But I should be glad to give more emphasis to the facts that Christ gave His life as much while He was living as when He was dying, and that to give life may mean either to use it or lay it down. He gave Himself--in dying indeed, but also in living. All His life was a giving. Although comprehensively viewed it was a single gift, yet it was also a continuous gift, developing in every direction, and for the redemption of lost souls. (H. W. Beecher.)
Redemption by the substitutionary death of Christ
In one of the back courts of Paris a fire broke out in the dead of night. The houses were built so that the higher stories overhung the foundation. A father, who was sleeping with his children in the top garret, was suddenly awakened by the flames and smoke. The man sprang out of bed and vaulted to the window of the opposite house. Then placing his feet firmly against the window sill, he launched his body forward and grasped the window of the burning house, and shouting to his eldest boy he said, “Now, my boy, make haste; crawl over my body.” This was done. The second and third followed. The fourth, a little fellow, would only do so after much persuasion: but as he was passing on he heard his father say, “Quick! quick! quick! I cannot hold out much longer,” and as the voices of friends were heard announcing his safety, the hold of the strong man relaxed, and with a heavy crash fell a lifeless corpse into the court below. So Jesus in His own sacred body provides a bridge whereby we may cross the chasm between us and God. The way home is through the rent veil, tile crucified flesh, of our Immanuel. (W. H. M. H. Aitken.)
Love delights in the contemplation of the glory of its object, in the recollection of benefits enjoyed, and in every fit opportunity of renewing the mention of the one beloved name. Our Lord is here presented:
I. As the greatest of all benefactors. Christ “gave.”
II. As actually conferring the most precious and costly donation--“He gave Himself.” In creation Christ gave the creatures to man; in redemption He gave Himself.
III. As contemplating, in the gift, the highest moral object--“For our sins.”
IV. As securing the highest revenue of glory to the Divine character and administration. It was “according to the will of God,” the love of the Father being the originating cause of salvation: “to whom be glory for ever,”--a devout ascription in which all the redeemed family, and all assembled worlds, will unite. But these topics are not more impressive in themselves than they are applicable to the scope and bearing of the apostle’s argument, which was designed to convict the Galatians, and especially the Hebrew converts among them, of criminal folly in undervaluing the truth and grace of the gospel dispensation. For if Christ, whom they owned us Messiah, gave Himself for them, then were they guilty of the deepest ingratitude in deserting the standard of such a benefactor. If Christ came to rescue them from sin, and from the rigid discipline of the legal ceremonies, and from the servitude of “this present evil world,” then how ineffably absurd was it to go back again to the hard bondage whence they had been delivered! If this new and wonderful economy had been introduced “according to the will of God and our Father,” then how inconsistent and unfilial a line of conduct must it be, for adopted sons thus to oppose the Divine designs. (The Evangelist.)
Who gave Himself
I. The gift conferred--“He gave Himself.” The Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Look at the relation He sustains to God. Compared with Christ all the angels are infinitely less, than to you is the minutest mote that floats in the sunbeam.
2. Though God He is also man--“The man Christ Jesus.”
3. Although God, and although man, remember He was also incarnate God; God and man in one Person.
4. While He lived on earth He was emphatically the Holy One. This was the Being who gave Himself.
II. The purpose for which he gave himself--“For our sins.” This assertion throws light upon the doctrine of atonement. That doctrine is based upon two incontrovertable positions first, that God is a perfect Governor; second, that man is a rebel against God’s perfect government. How shall the Governor, without departing from the inherent perfection of His administration for good, admit the rebel man to His favour? Jesus gave Himself to this end. (A. B. Jack.)
Jesus Himself the redemptive gift
For three and thirty years He bore the penalty of sin, an endurance which was consummated when He suffered for us on Calvary. And if you say His sufferings were temporary, and ours should have been eternal, I pray you to remember that His Godhead--and there is the power of His divinity, without which I believe no atonement could be made--that His Godhead gave these services and sufferings a value in the eye of justice far greater than all the services and all the sufferings of all God’s creatures. And it is easy to understand this. Just as the death of the Prince Royal of England, the heir apparent to the British throne, the oldest son of Victoria, would more honour the law of England, were he to die to-morrow on the scaffold, than the deaths of all the felons imprisoned in her jails--and you can fancy such a things; it needs fancy, for it was never shown on earth, the court and the country mourning, the palace plunged in grief, every cottage pale with astonishment, the news of it travelling on the wings of lightning from city to city, and travelling on the wings of the wind across the wave, a mighty multitude assembled, women weeping, and men’s hearts beating, every eye in that sea of heads suffused with tears, while he who was born for a palace, born for a throne, steps forth from the prison to the gallows, to die in the room of the guilty--I say, brethren, just- as the death of that Prince would more honour the law of England than the death of ten hundred victims drawn from the lowest and vilest haunts of society, so the death of Jesus Christ hath honoured the law of God, and now in virtue of what Christ did, and in virtue of what Christ suffered, God stands forth by the cross, not only just, but the justifier of every one who believeth in Jesus. (A. B. Jack.)
Jesus giving Himself for our sins
A friend of mine who, in the days of slavery, was accustomed to visit an old coloured man in his cabin, to read the Bible to him, and to converse with him about good things, mentioned a little circumstance to me, which can best be told in his own words. “Upon such occasions, I would sometimes request him to say what part of the Bible I should read; but this he would never willingly do. ‘Any part, master, for it’s all good.’ His reason for this unwillingness he never gave. I divined, however, that he thought it irreverent to give a preference to any portion of the message, the whole of which was from God Himself. After coaxing him in vain, I would say, ‘Well, if you can’t tell me what you would like to hear, I may as well go back to the house.’ Then would come the ready answer, and unvarying: ‘If it pleases you, sir, I’d rather hear about the sufferings of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.’ From the moment the reading began, his whole being and consciousness seemed to be absorbed by it; and though no articulate word escaped him, the groans and sighs that accompanied the reading throughout, giving emphasis and expression to the words as they fell from my lips, bespoke unutterable fellowship of the sufferings of Jesus. Never before had I begun to enter into the unfathomable depths of that amazing tragedy as I then did. Never before or since have I heard anything from the pulpit that approached this in force and clearness of exposition. Such was the effect upon each of us that I was compelled to pause at intervals to recover a sufficient degree of composure to admit of my proceeding. There was preaching indeed; for the Holy Ghost Himself was the Preacher; preaching to my dear old friend through me, and to me through him, and to both of us through the written Word.” (J. H. Norton.)
Deliverance through sacrifice
On the 10th of June, 1770, the town of Port-au-Prince, in Hayti, was utterly overthrown by a dreadful earthquake. From one of the fallen houses the inmates had fled, except a negro woman, the nurse of her master’s infant child. She would not desert her charge, though the walls were even then giving way. Rushing to its bed-side, she stretched forth her arms to enfold it. The building rocked to its foundation; the roof fell in. Did it crush the hapless pair? The heavy fragments fell indeed upon the woman, but the infant escaped unharmed: for its noble protectress extended her bended form across the body, and, at the sacrifice of her own life, preserved her charge from destruction.
Christ gave Himself up for us
When the Birkenhead, with five hundred soldiers on board, was sinking, the soldiers were drawn up in their ranks on the deck of the ship while the women and children were quietly put into one of the boats. Every one of them did as he was directed, and there was not a murmur or a cry among them till the vessel made her final plunge. Even so, silently and uncomplainingly, did Christ “give Himself up” (Rev. Ver.) for our salvation. (R. Brewin.)
What shall we do then for Christ
Did Simon start from his couch, deeming it beneath his Master’s dignity to stoop to a menial office, and wash his servant’s feet? And can we contemplate the Son of God, not stooping to wash us with water, but dying to wash us with His own precious blood, without these words bursting from our lips, “Lord, what is man that Thou art mindful of him?” Nay rather, should not, and shall not this be our language, That Thou hast done for me, what shall I do for Thee? What? but fondly embrace Thee with all my affections, love Thee with all my heart, serve Thee with all my powers, and, denying myself, but never Thee, say, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits? I will take the cup of salvation, and pay my vows to the Lord, now in the presence of all His people.” (Dr. Guthrie.)
I. A great fact.
II. A glorious purpose.
III. An adequate power.
IV. A grand consummation. (J. Lyth.)
The sacrifice of Christ is
IV. Divinely appointed.
V. Efficient. (J. Lyth.)
An evil world
I. The principal fact of the gospel is, that Jesus Christ “gave Himself for our sins.”
1. “For our sins”--there was the occasion for this act. Did you ever reflect, my brethren, on the peculiar nature of this property, which is here said to belong to us--“our sins”? They are the only thing which we can truly call our own. Everything else that we possess, is given--nay, it is but lent to us; it came, in many instances, without our seeking, and we must quickly part with it again. But “our sins” are our own. The possession of them is of our own making and acquiring. We may, indeed, have had partners, prompters, assistants--each of whom has thereby added to his own accumulation of this property. But our share remains undiminished--there is none to divide it with us. And, what is worse, it is a property which, when once acquired, cannot be alienated or put away. Need I say, that it is a most worthless, most injurious, nay, ruinous possession? There is indeed good reason for all this anxiety: for our sins both deprive us of many present blessings, and entail upon us many future woes.
2. Our text, my brethren, while it names the great fact of the gospel, answers this difficult question. Christ “gave Himself for our sins”--and that in such a manner, as to leave the fatal property just what it was, hateful, and condemned by God and man, while its owner is set free from its curse. “Take Me,” He exclaimed, “instead of those sins.” True, they are still “our sins,” and we must be humbled for them, and repent of them; but, by faith casting them afresh on the atoning Saviour, we shall find that they can no more interrupt our intercourse with God as a friend, than if they had never been committed.
II. Its intended effect. Christ gave Himself for our sins, “that He might deliver us from this present evil world”
1. “This present world” is “evil,” because it is a rebellious world. It has apostatized from the service of its true and rightful Master--of Him who made it.
2. “This present world” is “evil,” because it is a corrupting world. When sinners have been reclaimed from it, they are still liable to be “again entangled therein and overcome.”
3. “This present world,” is “evil,” for it is a doomed world. It bears upon every part of it the sentence of condemnation. (J. Jowett, M. A.)
Christ delivering believers from this present evil world
Let us now look at this rescue or deliverance as the principal subject of thought in the verse of our text. The world spoken of is the present world; it is called evil, and so, if this word evil has any force, the deliverance is a moral and spiritual deliverance, A commentator of great name translates, instead of the present world, the impending world or age--that is, the age of apostasy and of the second coming of Christ as a Judge. But this is unnecessary and improbable. The word rendered present is the same which occurs in the passage, “Things present and things to come;” it is used by the grammarians to denote the present tense as contrasted with the future; and it is a truly Christian idea, that escape from present sin and present corruption was offered by our Lord in His gospel and made possible for us by His death. But what is meant by the world, and in what sense is it an evil world? There are two words used in the New Testament where we find world in our translation. One (κόμος) makes prominent the order or system of things as it exists in space, the other (αἰών) the course or flow of events in time. The two words, as denoting men, the inhabitants of the earth or world, in their present condition of estrangement from God as to their feelings, habits, character, in the world and in the ages of time, are used indiscriminately. In one or two instances the word αἰών is made to signify the material creation; κόσμος, just as our word world, which at first denoted an age of men, has come steadily to have the signification of the material earth or universe. We see from this exposition how and why the world is called evil. If Christ or His apostles have taught that in the order of created things evil is inherent, that this visible world is essentially a vile and corrupt place, owing to its material elements, they would have given sanction to the Gnostic doctrine that God, the supreme and the pure, is not the maker of heaven and earth, but that some other being made them, who is essentially imperfect. Thus Christian morality would have coincided with that ascetical system that has done so much mischief in the world, by teaching that escape from evil consists in extinction of desire, in abstinence from all that gratifies the senses, seclusion from society and absorption in contemplation of the Godhead. In this way we should have had a Christianity which was unfit for the mass of mankind, and which had the seeds of death in itself. Certainly, this was not the view of the world which He took who said, “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from evil.” To the follower of Christ, then, the world, as continued by its Great Maker, in its structure, its sights and sounds, its influences on the soul, cannot appear to be evil. The present creation, though it may have fallen, with man, from a more perfect beauty that once belonged to it, is only good, just as it was at the first, “when God saw everything that He had made and, behold, it was very good.” The sky and clouds are good, although sometimes monotonous rain-clouds cover the face of the heavens. Nor can I see what can possibly make a Christian look on the outer world without joy, when, besides having the same sources of pleasure in it which others find, he sees a God and a Father reflected from the whole universe. It has been sometimes said that the great seriousness which Christianity throws into life, the pressure upon the Christian mind of an unseen world and of the great thoughts of trial and of duty, ought naturally to call him away from things outward and visible. He may be compared to the soldier just before battle. What leisure has he for the music of the birds and the sweet forms of flowers, when victory and death are close at hand? Or he may be compared to the man just ready to embark on a vessel, whose thoughts are turned away from the beautiful outline of the coast, or the floating clouds, and fastened on the great, immeasurable ocean. And so it is said that the culture springing from the world and from life, the refinement of the taste and sensibility to things beautiful, are not encouraged by Christianity. Its influences are one-sidedly moral: it is imperfect, when alone, as a discipline for man. Some of the early Christians showed this defect; the stricter religionists since have shown it. They have looked on the world as evil. In my apprehension this charge has no true foundation. The gospel aims to cultivate our nature, not to turn it into another nature. And this it tries to effect by bringing the most inspiring, elevating motives to bear on our life and character. But, setting the differences of men aside, the gospel has often awakened the slumbering seeds of feeling, the love of beauty or power of thought which lay dormant before, and it puts the soul in the best position to receive all the good, all the softening influences which God appointed for it in its education in this present world. How unlike Christ’s gospel is, in its view of the present evil world, to the religions which have swayed and pressed upon the souls of the great Hindoo race. To them the world was filled with illusions; personal existence was an evil; the soul was on an almost endless transit from one form of life to another; the great goal afar off was absorption in the supreme essence; and self-torture was a means to this consummation. So dreary did this religion of Brahminism become, that the atheism and extinction promised by Buddhism became a positive blessing. This present evil world, then, is such as man has made it, not such as God made it. The very essential doctrine of Christianity is, that God made His revelation and sent His Son to stem and abridge this evil. Here we may see two thoughts in the text. First, it is a present evil world as contrasted with a future and an unseen world. The presence of evil in a visible form, in a society of men whom we cannot avoid and from good whom we ought not to withdraw, if we would, gives to it its principal power. The which resists this evil, on the other hand, is spiritual and distant; there is a conflict between forces that draw their power from unseen realities and forces that have the senses and our temporal state and human opinion on their side. Let us next, for a moment, look at the nature of the evil of the world. It is, first, evil mixed with good, founded on desires and principles which, but for sin in the world, would lead only to good. Hence, it is insidious. We scarce know what excess is, where we must stop, how far we may venture. We have for all this no exact rules, and can have none. Herein lies a great part of our danger, that the judge within is blinded and misguided by the evil without, so that the decisions in the court of conscience are iniquitous. Again, there is an unrighteous sway, even a terror, over us, wielded by the evil or defective opinions of society. If the apostles opposed a false religion, they who wanted just that kind of religion which appeases the conscience and suits a feeble religious sense, became their enemies, Or it may he that a peculiarity of an age of the world consists in a decay of faith, an atmosphere of doubt which seems to act on the minds of men without their being conscious of it. In the light of Scripture this is, indeed, present evil, for it destroys the power of motives and deadens the religious nature. I will speak of but one other characteristic of the evil that may be in the world; it is the accumulation of objects to gratify the desires, and even those desires which may be called voluptuous. In a simple condition of society, where there is little wealth and little division of labour, this is not the predominant evil. Thus, early Rome--and the same is true of almost all simple societies--was outwardly virtuous, reverential, law-abiding, for some generations, only to fall into the grossest condition, at the decline of the Republic and through the Empire, when all the vices in a mingled stream seemed to be overflowing mankind. The apostle saw this; he saw the same decay of good habits in the Greek countries which he traversed; he might, if alive now, see it at Paris; he might see the inroads of thoroughly worldly enjoyment among us. Society ruins itself in such a decline, and needs frightful judgments, wide-sweeping changes, to make it endurable. All this enervating, voluptuous influence must act on every member of society, unless he fights against it and forms himself, by the conflict, into a heroic character. All this philosophers have felt, as well as Christians. There is a celebrated passage in one of Plato’s works, where he uses language something like the apostle’s: “Evil,” says Socrates (in Theaetetus, 176, a.b.), “can never perish; for there must always remain something which is antagonistic to good. Of necessity they hover around this mortal sphere and the earthly nature, having no place among the gods in heaven. Wherefore, also, we ought to fly away thither; and to fly thither is to become like God, as far as this is possible; and to become like Him is to become holy, just, and wise.” Plato saw the evil, and longed for a deliverance, and looked to wisdom and to the inspiration of moral beauty as the best means which he could offer. We look on him as one of the noblest of men, but we have a better guide--even Him who said, “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” His prayer was fulfilled. God has rescued many from the power of darkness and brought them into the kingdom of His dear Son. This rescue was accomplished by Christ, says the apostle, in His giving Himself for us. The first step is the offer of forgiveness of sins, which is procured, according to the uniform testimony of Scripture, by the death of Christ. Without this assurance of receiving pardon and help the sense of sin would be a paralysis of the soul’s active powers; and there would be, after a few fruitless efforts, a despair of making progress toward a holy and a perfect life. Christ’s disclosure of the evil of sin would then have been only a ministry of wrath and of death. Secondly, the soul is thus opened to all the genial motives which must act upon it in order that it may be delivered from the evil that is in the world. Once more, the evil of the world is, to a considerable extent, an excess of good. Desire may not be bad in itself, yet a large amount of the corruption in the world comes from inordinate desire, Finally, the closing words of our text assure us that all this which we have considered is no plan for the improvement of mankind as merely living on the earth, but for the renewal of the world and as an ultimate deliverance of men from sin, through Christ. And Christ’s giving of Himself for our sins, and His purpose, in so doing, to deliver us from the present evil world, took place according to the will of God and our Father. We do not owe our salvation to an impulse, a temporary movement in the mind of Christ, or to circumstances which awoke in a benevolent heart an opposition to the hypocrisy and covetousness of His day. We are taught by this high example, that a life thought out beforehand, carried through to the end according to one plan, is a life nearest to the life of God. (T. D. Woolsey.)
To whom be glory for ever.
Ascription of praise to God
The Hebrews are wont in their writings to intermingle praise and giving of thanks. This custom the apostles themselves observe. Which thing may be very often seen in Paul. For the name of the Lord ought to be had in great reverence, and never to be named without praise and thanksgiving. And thus to do, is a certain kind of worship and service to God. So in worldly matters, when we mention the names of kings or princes, we are wont to do it with some comely gesture, reverence, and bowing of the knee, much more ought we when we speak of God, and to name the name of God with thankfulness and great reverence. (Luther.)
The duty of ascribing glory to God
Here is the close of the salutation, in which, by holding forth His own practice for an example, He comprehends the duty of the redeemed. They are to ascribe lasting glory and praise to God the Father for His goodwill to this work of our redemption by Jesus Christ.
1. As God, in this great work of our redemption, has made the glory of almost all His attributes, especially of His justice, mercy, and wisdom, to shine forth, so it is the duty of the redeemed to acknowledge that glory, and to wish that it may be set forth more and more both in ourselves and others.
2. This duty can never be sufficiently discharged. There is required the leisure of eternity to ascribe glory to God.
3. The glory of the Redeemer, and of God, who sent His son to do that work, shall be the long-lasting and never-ending song of the redeemed.
4. Our praise and thanksgiving must not be formal or verbal only, but fervent and serious, proceeding from the most intimate affection of the heart. (James Fergusson.)
The honour which is due to God for the redemption in Christ
The praise of God--
1. A fruit of the redeemed state.
2. A proof of the same. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
The praise which the redeemed bring to God--
(1) begins in time;
(2) continues into eternity. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
Praise will go on for ever
Praise is the only part of duty in which we at present engage, which is lasting. We pray; but there shall be a time when prayer shall offer its last litany: we believe; but there shall be a time when faith shall be lost in sight: we hope, and hope maketh not ashamed; but there shall be a time when hope lies down and dies, lost in the splendour of the fruition that God shall reveal. But praise goes singing into heaven, and is ready, without a teacher, to strike the harp that is waiting for it, to transmit along the echoes of eternity the song of the Lamb. (W. M. Punshon.)
The praise of God
1. Its nature.
2. Its source.
3. Its duration.
4. Its diffusion. (J. Lyth.)
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you.
The errors of the good and the follies of the wise are painful subjects of contemplation, and we are never more conscious of a sensitive and distressing recoil than when we witness the disappointment of our hopes in reference to those who had once given promise of attaining to distinguished excellence. Some, however, it is to be feared, are comparative strangers to any vivid apprehensions of this kind. They seem to be always on the watch to detect the canker in the rose, or the flaw in the gem, and love the fault that gives them an equal more than the virtue which makes another their superior. But men of nobler temper always delight in beholding the development of exalted worth; and these, far from laying bare with an untrembling hand the infirmities and defects of our common nature, never fail to experience a corresponding depression and regret when the lustre of a great name is tarnished, and especially when religion itself is seen to suffer from the inconsistency of its professed friends.
I. The early appearance of error and declension among the churches founded by the apostle. “So soon removed.” Our attention also is particularly arrested by the prevalence of these evils in the very outset of the history of the Christian Church; and not in the province of Galatia only, but in various other directions. We wonder to see the stream corrupted so near the fountain, the tares springing up with the wheat in the most favoured soils, and the fine gold of the sanctuary so soon becoming dim. To the Church of Thessalonica, St. Paul writes, in one of the earliest of his Epistles, “The mystery of iniquity doth already work.” St. Peter speaks of those “who privily bring in damnable heresies.” St. Jude refers to those who “denied the Lord that bought them,” and adds that these “ungodly men crept in unawares,” like the wolf into the fold, or the muffled traitor into the palace of the king, implying that they ought by all means to have been kept out!
II. The insidious manner in which the most dangerous corruptions are often introduced. “ye are removed unto another gospel--which is not another.” The enemy of souls is never more dangerous than when he assumes the aspect of an angel of light; and injury is more frequently sustained by the artful intermixture of truth with error, than by any temptation to renounce Christianity altogether. We are rarely invited to receive broad, palpable, unmixed falsehood, for from this the mind might naturally recoil, as we should shrink from taking, with our eyes open, undiluted poisons. But the great deceiver goes more skilfully to work, and incorporates false doctrines with some modification of the true. He knows how to wrap up his most deadly poisons in some leaves of the tree of life; as he quoted Scripture to our Lord Himself, and prefaced his fatal temptation to Eve, by the smooth inquiry, “Yea, hath God said?” All these should recollect that the perversion of evangelical truth is followed by melancholy consequences, and produces unhappiness in the mind. There be some that trouble you. “Gospel perverters are soul-troublers.” Like the mystic star of the Apocalypse, which, falling on the waters, turned the peaceful element into turbulence and blood, their course may be traced by the calamities they occasion.
III. The awful criminality and danger of perverting the gospel of Christ. From the greatness of the punishment denounced by the apostle, we learn his estimate of the aggravated guilt of the offence he condemns.
1. The great Protestant principle of the right and duty of private judgment. Though St. Paul proves his apostleship, and demands to be heard as the servant of Christ, he is far from claiming unlimited authority over the consciences of men, but makes a direct appeal to their judgment. If they were not to receive, even from him, another gospel, of course they had to decide what was, and what was not, another gospel. And this they had the means of doing.
2. If such be the danger of perverting, how important is it that we should receive the gospel for the purpose of our salvation. To reject or pervert robs God of His glory, the Church of its comfort, and the world of its hope.
3. The intimate connexion between the purity of the Christian Church and the happiness of its individual members. God reveals this religion, not only as a means of safety, but as an element of blessedness.
4. We may well rejoice in the perpetuity of religion itself, notwithstanding all the attacks of its foes, and all the imperfection of its friends. The gospel partakes of the immortality of its author. (The Evangelist.)
The wonder of a faithful apostle at the defection of faithless converts
I. The apostle wondered that they should have turned from God and the Saviour. When men turn to God expectations are fulfilled; but when they forsake Him astonishment is excited, because of the mystery of iniquity (Jeremiah 2:12-13).
1. To the Galatians the human agency was the ministry of Paul.
2. There is a reference to the Divine power in the call of God. “Him that called you in the grace of Christ.”
II. Paul wondered that they should have changed so suddenly.
III. Paul marvelled that they should renounce the true for the false, the real for the unreal, the genuine for the sham.
IV. Paul wondered that they had been seduced by men whose characters ought to have been understood. Lessons:
1. The will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us should be the subject of our constant meditation.
2. We should beware of teaching that tends to withdraw Christ from our attention and confidence.
3. We should avoid the company of men who, under the pretence of doing us good, only seek to weaken our faith in the gospel. (R. Nicholls.)
Apostasy is easy
It is possible to begin in the Spirit, and to end in the flesh; it is possible to be seriously hindered; it is possible to come short of the promise of the grace of God. Clouds sometimes obscure the brightest evening and the sunniest morning. A slight atmospheric change may transform an Alpine ascent from a safe excitement into an imminent peril. It is thus in the natural world; and so is it in the realm of grace. There are numberless causes, arising from the circumstances of external things, or from the inbred and unsubdued corruption of our own traitorous hearts, which may endanger the constancy of the Christian, and cause his goodness to be even as the morning cloud and as the early dew, goodly and sparkling in promise, but, by the fierce heat of the sun, very speedily exhaled. (W. M. Punshon.)
Luther often, in his books, testified that he was much afraid lest, when he was dead, that sound doctrine of justification by faith alone would die also. It proved so in many places in Germany. Men fell to Popery as fast as leaves fall in autumn. The word here rendered “removed” signifieth properly “transported” or “transplanted.” “He alludes,” saith Jerome, “to the word Galdi, ‘to roll,’ as if he should say, ‘You are Galatians, that is, rolling and changing from the gospel of Christ to the law of Moses.’“ (J. Trapp.)
Different treatment for seducers and seduced
Ye see here how Paul handleth his Galatians, which were fallen away and seduced by the false apostles. He doth not at the first set upon them with vehemence and rigorous words, but after a very fatherly sort, not only patiently bearing their fall, but also in a manner excusing it,. Furthermore, he showeth towards them a motherly affection, and speaketh them very fair; and yet in such sort that he reproveth them notwithstanding, howbeit with very fit words, and wisely framed to the purpose. Contrariwise, he is very hot and full of indignation against those false apostles, their seducers, upon whom he layeth the whole fault; and therefore forthwith, even in the entrance of his Epistle, he bursteth out into plain thunderings and lightnings against them.… So parents, when their child is hurt with the biting of a dog, are wont to pursue the dog only, but the weeping child they bemoan and speak fair unto it, comforting it with the most sweet words. (Luther.)
The apostle’s demeanour
1. Towards the misled. He makes a complaint and charge, but through it all the full tones of Compassion and love are heard.
2. Towards the misleaders. Unsparingly stern, even to denouncing a curse. To fall away from the gospel is bad, but to subvert the gospel is worse. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
The earnestness with which St. Paul opposes the false teachers
The apostle’s earnestness is--
2. Very significant for us.
(1) It should withhold us from the reception of any unevangelical doctrine.
(2) It should strengthen us in the certainty that the gospel which we have is the true one. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
In the first years of a Church, its members are willing to endure hardships, and to make great exertions; but, when once it is prosperous, they desire to take their ease; as one who builds a ship is willing to work all the way from keel to deck until she is launched, thenceforward he expects the ocean to buoy him up, and the winds to bear him on. The youth-time of Churches produces enterprise; their age, indolence. But even this might be borne, did not these dead men sit in the door of their sepulchres, crying out against every living man who refuses to wear the livery of death. I am almost tempted to think that if, with the end of every pastorate, the Church itself were disbanded and destroyed, to be gathered again by the succeeding teacher, we should thus secure an immortality of youth. (H. W. Beecher.)
Apostasy from the truth
1. How far apostasy is not to be wondered at.
2. How far it is to be wondered at. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
Inconstancy a common fault
An apostatising tendency, or inconstancy, is a radical fault of the human heart.
1. Sluggish and immovable, where it is of moment that it should move and apply itself.
2. So moveable and unsteady, where it should abide firm. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
Apostasy of believers
1. The apostasy of believers is, alas, sometimes a fact.
2. From what does it proceed?
3. How far is it to be remedied? (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
The Galatian revolt
I. The revolt. Different kinds of religious revolt.
1. Particular: dissent from some principal doctrines; the ten tribes; the Roman Church.
2. General: renunciation of the name and faith of Christ; Jews; Mahommedans.
3. Under strong pressure; when men compromise the faith from fear of persecution.
4. From obstinacy; as atheists. The Galatian revolt was of the first and third class. They were “carried away” from the doctrine of “grace.”
II. The time it occupied.
1. A brief period.
2. Showing man’s inconstancy in the matter of religion (Hosea 6:4; John 5:35).
3. Pointing a warning to the most privileged.
III. From what they revolted.
1. From Paul.
2. From the grace of God.
IV. To what they revolted.
1. To false teachers.
2. To another gospel compounded of grace and law.
(1) Men are discontented with the pure gifts of God. The Jews, beside the books of Moses, must have the Cabbala; the Papists, beside the written Word, must have tradition; hearers, beside the simple gospel, must have the skill of art and tongue.
(2) The other gospel is no gospel at all. There is only one way of salvation. News of another way, therefore, is bud news.
V. The authors of the revolt.
1. They are troublers, because
(1) they make divisions;
(2) disturb consciences at rest in Christ. Here is the touchstone of heresy. Justification by works is an unbearable yoke (Acts 15:10). So is the teaching that assurance is impossible; so is the dogma of purgatory. The gospel, on the contrary, ends trouble and brings peace and joy (John 15:11; Romans 15:14).
2. They overthrow the gospel of Christ. They did not contest its truth, but, by adding to it, they turned it upside down. (W. Perkins.)
A group of marvels
1. That men should disbelieve the true and believe the false.
2. That men should forsake the proved and follow the speculative.
3. That men should refuse the possible salvation by faith in favour of earning an impossible salvation by works.
4. That men should reject the balm for a wounded conscience, and accept what can only trouble the conscience.
5. That men should turn away from the ambassador of the gospel, and attach themselves to perverters of the gospel. Yet these marvels are to be witnessed every day.
The religious instability of the Galatians
It was the too quick springing of the good seed on poor and shallow soil; the sudden flaming of fire among natures as light, brittle, and inflammable as straw. The modification of an old religion, the hearty adoption of a new, the combination of an antique worship with one recent and unlike, had already been illustrated in Galatian history As Celts, they had brought with them their old Druidism; yet they had already incorporated with this the wild nature worship of Cybele. But while this Phrygian cult was flourishing at Pessinus, and commanding the services of hosts of mutilated priests, and while at Tavium the main object of worship was a colossal bronze Zeus of the Greek type, at Ancyra was established the Roman deification of the Emperor Augustus. In passing through these capitals, Paul would see the epitome of their history and character, and as he ]had bitter cause to learn, the religious views of the Gauls were more or less a reflex of the impressions of the moment, and their favourite sentiments the echo of the language used by the last comer. (F. W. Farrar.)
The Judaizing antagonists of St. Paul
They asserted the exclusive authority of the apostles in Judea (2 Corinthians 11:5; Galatians 2:6, etc.), a pretension which they would have repudiated, and which Paul makes bold to deny them (comp. 1 Corinthians 9:5). They claimed themselves further to be the only true disciples of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 10:7), and in His name imposed, as a condition of salvation, circumcision and all the rites of the law (Galatians 2:3; Galatians 3:3; Galatians 4:10-11; Galatians 5:2, etc.; Romans 14:1, etc.; Philippians 3:2; Colossians 2:21, etc.), and they abruptly broke off all intercourse with uncircumcised Christians (Galatians 2:2), whom Paul had welcomed, and the other apostles recognized, as brethren. Their hatred to Paul was not at all appeased by his heroic sufferings and sublime self-devotion. When the populace of Jerusalem laid homicidal hands upon him, not one of the many myriads of Christians lifted a finger in his defence. Carried to Rome during his two years’ anxious imprisonment, he has still reason to complain of those who preach Christ only of contention, thinking to add affliction to his bonds. (E. Reuss, D. D.)
The real question at issue
If the Judaizers had really believed in the divinity of Jesus, they could not have returned to systems which had died away before the glories of His advent, for that faith would have proved an insurmountable barrier to reactionary yearnings. Their attempt to re-introduce circumcision was a reflection on Christ’s finished work, and so, ultimately, on the dignity of His person. They knew not, or heeded not, that they were members of a kingdom in which circumcision and uncircumcision were insignificant accidents, and in which the new creation of the soul was the one matter of vital import. Although they had not denied Christ in terms; He had become of no effect unto them. They had practically rejected the plenary efficacy of Christ’s grace, and had implicitly denied that He was greater than Moses; and in opposing them, Paul is the apostolic representative of the cause and work of Athanasius. (Canon Liddon.)
The early Churches not pattern Churches
They had apostolic teaching; but beyond that they seem to have been in no respect above, and in many respects below, the level of subsequent ages. If we may judge of their morality by the exhortations they received, Corinth and Thessalonica were but beginners in holiness. If we may judge of their intelligence by the errors into which they fell, they had indeed need that one should teach them which were the first principles of the oracles of God. It could not be otherwise. They were but just rescued from heathenism, and bore the marks of their former bondage. They were like the communities fostered by modern missionaries. The same infantile simplicity, partial apprehensions of truth, danger of being lead astray by the low morality of their kindred, openness to strange heresy, and peril of blending the old with the new in opinion and practice, beset both. The history of the first theological difference in the early Churches is a striking confutation of the dream that they were perfect, and a striking illustration of the dangers to which they were exposed from the attempt, so natural to us all, to put new wine into old bottles. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The grace of Christ
It is not man climbing to heaven; it is God putting down His hand from heaven and raising him up. It is not man paying God for heaven; heaven is God’s free gift to man through Christ. The word “grace” is inscribed on the temple of salvation from the foundation to the top-stone. (Thomas Jones.)
We hear much of moving with the age. But the gospel is not to be changed to answer the opinions of any age. The pulpit is to lead the age, and not the age the pulpit. Let ministers, then, preach the gospel, whether men will bear or forbear. The gospel, in all its glorious doctrines, pure morality, and sweet promises, is the one power to save. (Thomas Jones.)
Ha is the interjection of laughter; ah, the interjection of sorrow. The difference betwixt them is but small; the transposition of what is no substantial letter, but a bare aspirate. How quickly, in the age of a minute, in the very turning of a breath, is our mirth changed into mourning. (Thos. Fuller.)
Movement not progress
Rowland Hill, in a friend’s house, saw a child on a rocking-horse. “Dear me,” said the good man, “how wondrously like some Christians; motion, motion, motion, but no progress.” Covering sin with fair names:--Here we may learn to espy the crafty sleights and subtleties of the devil. No heretic cometh under the title of errors and of the devil, neither doth the devil himself come as a devil in his own likeness, but when he forceth men to manifest wickedness, maketh a cloak for them to cover that sin which they commit or purpose to commit. The murderer, in his rage, seeth not that murder is so great and horrible a sin as it is indeed, for that he hath a cloak to cover the same. Whoremongers, thieves, covetous persons, drunkards, and such other, have wherewith to flatter themselves, and cover their sins. So the devil also cometh out disguised and counterfeit in all his works and devices. In spiritual matter, where Satan cometh forth not black, but white, in the likeness of an angel, or of God Himself, there he passeth himself with most crafty dissimulation, and wonderful sleights, and is wont to set forth to sale his most deadly poison for the doctrine of grace, for the Word of God, for the gospel of Christ. For this cause, Paul calleth the doctrine of the false apostles, Satan’s ministers, a “gospel” also, saying, unto another gospel;” but in derision, as though he would say, Ye Galatians have now other evangelists, and another gospel; my gospel is now despised of you; it is now no more in estimation among you. (Luther.)
A doctored gospel
In “Babbage’s Economy of Manufactures,” we are told that some years ago a mode of preparing old clover and trefoil seeds, by a process called “doctoring,” became so prevalent as to attract the attention of the House of Commons. By this process old and worthless seed was rendered in appearance equal to the best. One witness tried some “doctored” seed, and found that not above one grain in a hundred grew. Is it not to be feared that a “doctored” gospel is becoming very common among us; and if so, it is no wonder that conversions are but few. Only pure truth is living seed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The dilettante gospel
The dilettante gospel has most attractions, of course, for people of a literary and aesthetic turn of mind. What they seek in the sermons they go to hear is not religion, but (as they are fond of styling it) “the poetry and philosophy of religion.” They would be the last to suspect that such a hearing of God’s word is superficial; but superficial it certainly is. It is a craving for an external thing which brings them to the church at all. They give to the accidental and unessential the respect which should only be accorded to the message of God. And the hurt to the cause of Christ, in yielding to such cravings, is that it dethrones the fact that God is speaking through the gospel to human souls. Christ is not in all the thoughts of such hearers. The outward construction of the word, its literary or artistic features, its pathos, simplicity, or force--these are canvassed and accepted or refused; but God’s message and meaning under all is left standing without. It is hardly possible to overstate the evil to which preaching which panders to this class must lead. For those who indulge in it, the Bible inevitably dwindles down into an uninspired book--at best, a book only more interesting than other books that could be named. The gospel which is proclaimed from its pages--the blessed gospel of the grace of God--passes utterly out of view; and hearers will listen to what is presented to them for a whole lifetime, and yet fail to receive one right-hearted impulse towards the work for which God is sustaining a Church in the world. (A. Macleod, D. D.)
No truce with heretics
They had, in fact, only introduced one or two commandments, circumcision and the observance of days, but he says that the gospel was perverted, in order to show that a slight adulteration vitiates the whole. For as he who but partially pares away the image on a royal coin renders the whole spurious, so he who swerves ever so little from the pure faith soon proceeds from this to graver errors, and becomes entirely corrupted. Let those who charge us with being contentious in separating from heretics, and say that there is no real difference between us except what arises from our ambition, hear Paul’s assertion, that those who had but slightly innovated, subverted the gospel. Not that to say that the Son of God is a crested being [as the Aryans did] is a small matter. Know you not that even under the elder covenant, a man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath, and transgressed a single commandment, and that not a great one, was punished with death? and that Uzzah, who supported the ark, when on the point of being overturned, was struck suddenly dead, because he had intruded upon an office which did not pertain to him! Wherefore if to transgress the Sabbath, and to touch the falling ark, drew down the wrath of God so signally as to deprive the offender of even a momentary respite, shall he who corrupts unutterably awful doctrines find excuse and pardon! Assuredly not. A want of zeal in small matters is the cause of all our calamities; because slight errors escape fitting correction, greater ones creep in. As in the body a neglect of wounds generates fever, mortification, and death; so in the soul, slight evils overlooked open the door to graver ones. It is accounted a trivial fault that one man should neglect fasting; that another, who is established in the pure faith, should shrink from its bold profession, and be led by circumstances to dissemble; that a third should be irritated, and threaten to depart from the true faith, is excused on the plea of passion and resentment. Thus a thousand similar errors are daily introduced into the Church, which is divided into as many parties, and we are become a laughing-stock to Jews and Greeks. But if a proper rebuke had at first been given to those who attempted slight perversions, and a deflection from the Divine oracles, such a pestilence would not have been generated, nor such a storm have shaken the Church. You will now understand why Paul calls circumcision a perversion of the gospel. There are many of us now who fast on the same day as the Jews, and keep the Sabbaths in the same manner; and what shall I call our tolerance of this, noble or miserable? Again, many Gentile customs are observed by some among us; omens, auguries, presages, distinctions of days, a curious attention to the circumstances of their children’s birth, and, as soon as they are born, tablets with impious inscriptions placed upon their unhappy heads, thereby teaching them from the first to lay aside virtuous endeavours, and drawing them as much as possible under the false domination of fate. But if Christ profits nothing those that are circumcised, how shall faith hereafter avail to the salvation of those who have introduced such corruptions? (Chrysostom.)
The risks of revelation not such as to invalidate its accuracy
But as to the possibility of the mind of man being brought into practical working relations with external certainty, even at some distance in time and place, without claiming infallibility for the interpreter, we may refer to familiar facts, on a much lower plane, for a decisive illustration. At Greenwich Observatory there is an exact and absolutely certain knowledge of the true time of day. This certain knowledge of the time of day is made the basis of the safety and direction of the whole internal traffic of England, and of the direction of our whole navy, and vast commercial marine, on every sea. In the one case the time is transmitted from the infallible clock at Greenwich by telegraph, in the twinkling of an eye, to the extremities of the country, and all the railways sufficiently well set their time by that standard. In the other, the “Nautical Almanac,” a book-revelation, notwithstanding all the risks of printing, carries the results of the infallible science of Greenwich to sea in every craft that leaves our shores. There may be occasional and infinitesimal defects in the transmission of the time to London, Edinburgh, and Dublin. There may be occasional errors in the printing of the “Nautical Almanac,” and occasionally much ignorance and obtuseness in captains and lieutenants in taking observations of the sun and moon; whence errors in the working of the longitude and latitude, and awful catastrophes at sea. But surely no one would hence argue that the endeavour to enforce the infallible rule of Greenwich time upon railways and ship-masters was an interference with the liberties of modern intelligence, or in fact an endeavour which must needs practically fail, through the fallibility, or bad eyesight or arithmetic, of stationmasters and captains. No one would think of telling each such functionary that on the whole, since the use of an infallible authority would involve a claim to infallibility in the nautical observer, it was best for every one to make of the facts of nature what he could, and to guess the hour, each man according to his several ability. And if any of these people set up for rejectors of the message from Greenwich, or said that it required a commentary to make it a safe guide, they would be reckoned somewhat too intelligent for their situations. Now in this parable the Greenwich Observatory corresponds with the apostolic certainty in doctrinal teaching. There may be some risks in the transmission of its message. There may be errors in the attempt to interpret a book-revelation. But on the whole it is true that the apostolic certainty is effectually present, close at hand amongst us, and may be most correctly apprehended, no doubt in different degrees, by those who most simply and intelligently desire to receive its directions The difficulties resemble those which hinder the attainment of scientific certainty in nature. There are some risks in both cases. There are personal equations, as the astronomers say of each observer’s eye, to be eliminated; and the abstract difficulty might be made to appear enormous. But the parallel is complete between the laws of sound interpretation of nature and those of the sound interpretation of recorded revelation. And in neither case is it safe to throw overboard the standard of certainty, or to set up for free and independent investigators simply because of minor risks attending the effort to receive the Divine communications. The misfortune is, perhaps, that in religion there are so many more persons whose worldly interests, or intellectual twist, incline them not to see what the apostles wrote, than there are of station-masters and captains who do not desire to know the Greenwich time. (E. White.)
The unchangeable gospel
I take it that the gospel cannot be a changeable, variable, shifting gospel, a sort of sliding-scale gospel, because--
1. It is certain that man has not changed. Just to-day man is what he was in the days of Christ and the apostles.
2. I think nobody would have the hardihood to deny it--that truth in the very essence of it must always be the same. A fact, though it happened ten thousand years ago, is as much a fact as if it happened yesterday. Truth must be always the same. “But there is a great advance made,” says one. How? In the principles of things--in mathematical science, for instance. Certainly there are great masters of mathematics, and great advances have been made, but upon the principle that two and two are four, and twice three makes six, there has been no advance. A proposal for a new multiplication table would scarcely be entertained even in a board school. No; these fundamental principles stand the same, and so must the fundamental truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which are to all good men’s thinking what these tables, these fixed facts in mathematics, are in all calculations. Truth must be the same. It cannot be altered; it is impossible.
3. The gospel is the same, because it was, and is, sufficient for all the purposes for which God sent it. What I mean is this, we want to give the people the gospel more by itself. There is a good story told of Caesar Malan. I should never forget my vision of that grave, reverend man, whom many at thief platform still remember. He was a man of strong idiosyncrasies, and of somewhat singular habits. Going once from Boulogne to Paris, he got into a coach; and he was no sooner seated, than he began reading out a chapter from the Bible. A Frenchman opposite strongly objected, and I think with some reason, as persons in public conveyances should remember that there are other people there. Caesar Malan, however, did not think of that, and he continued to read the chapter, and the Frenchman continued to object. He said he did not believe in the authority of the Bible, and that it was offensive to him to hear it read. At last Caesar Malan’s French deacon said, “I think, dear pastor, that I differ from you about your doing this: this gentleman does not believe in the authority of the book, and you ought to prove to him its authority and then read it.” Said he, “If I was going out to fight and I bad my sword, and I met somebody on the other side, would you say, ‘First prove that you have a sword before you fight?’ No; I will prove it is a sword.” So he went on reading. He and his deacon supped together, and the waiter came in, and asked whether they were going on the next morning in the coach to Paris, because, he said, that the French gentleman who had ridden with them on the previous day was anxious to ride with Mr. Malan again. He afterwards became a communicant at Caesar Malan’s church, and was one of his best friends. It is the Word of God that does it--not our talking about God’s Word; it is the Word itself. Quote plenty of Scripture; put plenty of Divine words in. It is God’s Word, not man’s comments on God’s Word, that saves souls. Furthermore, dear friends, we want no improved gospel, because there is nothing that requires that the gospel should be amended. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The mixture of truth and error dangerous
A friend of mine some time ago bought some coals; and as is natural to coals, having to deal with the earth, being earthy, there were some slates in them, and sitting in the drawing-room, the slates now and then exploded, somewhat to damage a person’s eyes. Therefore he said to the coal merchant, “My dear sir, the next lot of coals you sell me, would you mind selling me coals? I know, of course, that some bits of slate will get among them, and I am willing to take a fair proportion; but I should like to have the coals by themselves and the slates by themselves.” That is precisely what I would have done with Holy Scripture. We will have so many books inspired--the coals--and so much marked off as being slates. It is a serious thing if you get a bit of slate into your common teaching, and your faith and daily life; you do not know what damage may be done by it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Steadfast in the truth
There is a story told of Waterloo, that a certain regiment had been so set upon by the French that one of their officers wrote to the Duke and said they would be cut in pieces unless help was sent. All that the Duke said was “Stand firm!” and the officer galloped back with the order. Again the soldier said: “It is all up with us, and we shall be destroyed; there are very few of us left even now.” Again the officer went to the Duke, and again his order was “Stand firm.” They did stand finn and left their bodies on the place; but England was rid of the despot. Oh, sirs, the order to-day is, “Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The work of deception
I. Is easy.
II. Proceeds from a perversion of the truth.
III. Cannot escape punishment.
IV. Must be unsparingly exposed and condemned. (J. Lyth.)
The instability of many is
I. Matter of fact--they are easily swayed by false opinions and drawn away from God--through ignorance, pride, natural tendency to error.
II. Matter of surprise--we expect better things of those who have received the truth, because it is its own witness--it exposes and condemns error.
III. Matter of regret--it is to grieve God, who has called them; to forfeit the grace of Christ; to trust in another gospel which is not another. (J. Lyth.)
I. The pretensions of error.
II. The folly of them. (J. Lyth.)
I. There is but one gospel; all others are delusions.
II. The gospel may be perverted by adding to, or taking from it; falsifying its meaning and application; converting it into a system of works or an occasion of license.
III. To pervert the gospel is to destroy it; it is no longer gospel--brings no salvation.
IV. Such perversion brings trouble--to the Church, to the individual. (J. Lyth.)
The perversion of the gospel is
III. Foolish, because wicked; fatal. (J. Lyth.)
Religious errors are soul troublers. Like the mystic star of the Apocalypse, which, falling into the waters, turned the peaceful element into turbulence and blood, they stir up the Church into distressing agitations. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The gospel of Christ
What is meant by this?
(1) The gospel which speaks of Christ;
(2) the gospel which was delivered by Christ; or
(3) the gospel that belongs to Christ?
(4) Does it not combine all these meanings? (Bishop Lightfoot.)
The gospel is the Word of God: Christ is the Word of God. He is the Word containing all words. You need not go to a theologian to learn that religion should be called a gospel: go into the streets; do you not see in wretched faces that a gospel is wanted--good news from God? (T. T. Lynch.)
Perverting the gospel
If, at the tent door, the Arab offers to the thirsty passer-by a cup of water, clear, cool, and sparkling in the cup, but in which he has cleverly concealed a painful and deadly poison, he would deserve and receive the anathema of all honest men. Much more terrible shall be the doom of him who, pretending friendship with the souls of men, and offering them in their need, instead of the pure water of life the deadly, poison of false doctrine, shall bring down upon himself the righteous and unerring anathema of God. (R. Brewin.)
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you.
St. Paul’s protestation against seducers
I. The miscarriage supposed--“Though we, or an angel,” etc.
1. Not persons of the greatest interest. “We,” who have this relation to you as Pastors and Teachers; “we,” whom at present you esteem; let neither our relation to you, nor your affection to us, prevail in this particular. Friends are no friends when they go about to divide us from the great Friend of all. “We”--for our number--“Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil”; nor to think evil. In which good counsel of the apostle take notice of his sincerity and ingenuity of disposition, in that he would not have so much as himself to be taken into consideration to the prejudice or disadvantage of the gospel.
2. Not persons of the greatest perfections--“Or an angel from heaven.”
Three kinds of perfection are here expressed.
1. The perfection of parts and understanding, and natural abilities. The greatest learning is not to be heard to the disparagement of truth.
2. The perfection of grace and spiritual endowments. The greatest holiness is not to be made a patron of error. Satan takes advantage of reputed goodness to wind others into labyrinths of opinion and practice.
3. The perfection of employment or manner of dispensation. An angel from heaven. The highest revelations are not to be heard against Scripture.
And for these cases in which some indulgence and freedom is to be granted, as in smaller matters, yet respect is to be had to the principles whereupon this is granted.
1. That it be not out of an indifferency and neutrality in religion.
2. That it proceed not from corruption and carnal policy. “Bear with me; let alone my errors; I will pardon yours”; which people cry up charity in such matters that they may better hide their own unsoundness.
In this passage there are divers gradations.
1. That the apostle lays this grievous and heavy censure not so much upon the opinion simply considered, or privately enjoyed, but upon the vent and communication of it in preaching (1 Timothy 6:3; Titus 1:10-11; Matthew 5:19).
2. It is not preaching at large, but to you; there is an emphasis upon his hearers. Of all false teachers there are none like seducers.
3. There is an emphasis also upon the doctrine. There is a caution against false doctrine; also against new doctrine.
II. The caution or denunciation of punishment inferred upon it--“Let him be accursed.” There are two things which require to be unfolded.
1. The apostle’s authority.
2. The apostle’s charity. This does not give allowance to others lightly and from a private spirit to be full of imprecations. Observe in this emphasis his confidence and firm persuasion of the truth which he had taught and delivered.
Preachers have need to be well assured of the truth of that which they teach.
1. Because they deal in matters of great importance. They speak on matters of life and death.
2. There are many more whose judgments do depend upon it.
3. For the better enforcing of the truth itself. The confidence of the preacher stirs up belief in the hearer. But sometimes the more confident are the most ignorant.
It is not a confidence of presumption but of well-grounded knowledge; not of fancy but of assurance.
1. The apostle’s zeal in the cause of Christ. There is great earnestness expressed in this simple proposition of the text.
2. His impartiality.
3. His constancy. “As we said before” (Galatians 1:9). How far this was not the same in the ninth verse which he said in the eighth. To take notice of the difference, how far it was not the same; for this there is a double alteration, the one in the expression of the preacher, and the other in the expression of the doctrine: for the preacher, that is signified in the eighth verse--“We, or an angel from heaven;” but in the ninth indefinitely--“If any one.” Then as to the doctrine in the eighth verse it is laid down under this phrase--“which we have preached.” That “which ye have received” is more than what we have preached.
1. His constancy as to his doctrine.
(1) The same for matter.
(2) The same as to the quality of it.
2. The constancy to the censure which he imposed. This threefold.
(1) The inflexibility and unvariableness of the gospel and doctrine of Christ.
(2) The duties of the hearers of it. Not to receive all we hear without consideration.
(3) The heresy of false teachers. (T. Horton, D. D.)
Orthodoxy relates to the matter of preaching more than to the manner
There are divers improvements and modifications of the same truth, according to the various gifts and abilities which God communicates to His servants, some in one kind, and some in another. Ye shall have some kind of persons who would confine all kind of preachers to one and the same kind of way and method of preaching. This is a business which is not to be expected, neither does the apostle urge it in this Scripture, but in the allowing to every one that gift and manner of preaching which is most agreeable to himself (so it be grave and sober, and proper, and becoming the majesty of the gospel), he does limit them only for matter to the doctrine of the Scripture; that there be nothing delivered but ‘what does consist with that, and which either directly or by consequent is to be found in it. (T. Horton, D. D.)
The gospel unchangeable
First, we have here set before us the inflexibility and unvariableness of the gospel and doctrine of Christ; that it is a thing which does not change with times, or persons, or conditions, but is still one and the same, otherwise the apostle could not have been thus absolute and peremptory about it. What was religion formerly, is religion still; and what is now religion, was religion many years ago in the genera-lions which are past, and will be, and must be likewise to the end of the world. We speak now in regard of the things themselves in their own nature. Indeed men’s opinions alter and vary about them, but the points themselves are still the same: we can have no new gospel, nor new Jesus, nor new Spirit of God, as the apostle seems to imply in the Scripture before alleged. All these things are unalterable, and inviolable, and indispensable; there’s no changing, nor bartering of them. Look as the principles of nature are immutable, so likewise the principles of grace. That the principles of nature are so is very clear; reason is the same in all men, and in all nations, and in all ages, and the same common principles of it are scattered and dispersed, and communicated to the whole world. This holds also (by a proportion) as to the principles of religion and Christianity; though so many have not these principles in them, as have the principles of nature: yet so many as have them, they have them as immutably and unchangeably, one as the other; and ye may as soon rase out these, as ye may rase out them. The ground hereof is this: Because these things are laid in the nature of God Himself, who alters not; as God Himself is unchangeable, so is His truth which issues and proceeds from Himself. And such a kind of thing is the gospel, it is an extract and emanation from God; it was hid in Him, and it does spring out, and flow forth from Him. (T. Horton, D. D.)
The receiver of false doctrine as bad as the preacher of it
And therefore ye may again take notice of it, that it is not only said, “Besides what we have preached,” but “What ye have received.” The receiver is as bad as the thief in this particular: and as it is a cursed thing to scatter error, so it is as cursed a thing to take it up, and carry it home, and keep it by us, or nourish it with us; which therefore we should now all be persuaded (in the fear of God) to avoid and shun what we can. (T. Horton, D. D.)
The danger of adding to the doctrine of the gospel
The occasion of these words. The Sadducees urged the necessity of circumcision, and keeping the law of Moses; thus altering the terms and conditions of religion they made it quite another thing from what our Saviour intended.
I. That the addition of anything to the Christian religion as necessary to be believed or practised in order to salvation, is a perverting of the gospel of Christ, and preaching another gospel.
II. No pretence of infallibility is sufficient to authorize and warrant the addition of anything to the Christian doctrine, as necessary to be believed or practised, in order to salvation.
III. Christians may judge and discern when another gospel is preached, when new articles of faith, or points of practice not enjoined by the gospel, are imposed upon Christians.
IV. I proceed to the fourth observation, which is plainly consequent from those laid down before; namely, that since the declaration of the gospel, and the confirmation given to it, there is no authority in the Christian Church to impose upon Christians anything, as of necessity to salvation, which the gospel hath not made so.
V. It follows likewise from the foregoing observations, that there is no visible judge (how much soever he may pretend to infallibility), to whose determination and decision, in matters of faith and practice necessary to salvation, Christians are bound to submit, without examination, whether those things be agreeable to the doctrine of the gospel, or not.
VI. and last observation from the text; that whosoever teacheth anything, as of necessity to salvation to be believed or practised, besides what the gospel of Christ hath made necessary, does fall under the anathema here in the text; because they that do so, do, according to the mind of St. Paul, pervert the gospel of Christ, and preach another gospel. (J. Tillotson, D. D.)
The preaching of a false gospel a great evil
I. There is a true gospel.
1. He was convinced of the truth of the gospel, because it had been made known to him by Divine revelation.
2. He was convinced of the truth of the gospel, because of the change if had wrought in him.
3. He was assured of the truth of the gospel by the manifestations of its power in others.
II. There is a false gospel.
1. It was a false gospel to teach that there was any other plan by which a sinner could be justified than by believing upon Jesus Christ.
2. It was a false gospel to teach that believers ought to obey the ceremonial law.
III. The publication of a false gospel is a great evil.
1. The publication of a false gospel is ruinous to man.
2. The publication of a false gospel is dishonouring to God.
1. Amid the various methods by which the truth of the gospel is established, there is some one in particular that suits the condition of every man.
2. On the part of those who labour in the gospel, there should be the deepest and most solemn conviction concerning the truth they declare.
3. Faith in the true gospel is essential to salvation; without it, the soul is accursed. (Richard Nicholls.)
False teachers cursed
As he is a traitor to his prince who taketh upon him to coin money out of a base metal, yea, although in the stamp he putteth for a show the image of the prince, so he that shall broach any doctrine that cometh not from God, whatsoever he say for it, or whatsoever gloss he set on it, he is a traitor unto God, yea, in truth, a cursed traitor, though he were an angel from heaven. (T. Boston.)
False teaching ruinous to souls
In the war on the Rhine, in 1794, the French got possession of the village of Rhinthal by a very curious ruse de guerre of one Joseph Werck, a trumpeter. This village was maintained by an Austrian party of six hundred hussars. Two companies of foot were ordered to make an attack on it at ten o’clock at night. The Austrians had been apprised of the intended attack, and were drawn up ready to charge on the assailing party. On perceiving this, Werck detached himself from his own party, and contrived, by favour of the darkness, to slip into the midst of the enemy; when, taking his trumpet, he first sounded the rally in the Austrian manner, and, next moment, the retreat. The Austrians, deceived by the signal, were off in an instant at fall gallop; and the French became masters of the village without striking a blow. (Percy.)
False teachers useless
A Universalist preached to a chance audience, and, at its close, offered to preach again at a future day; when an old Friend arose, and said, “If thou hast told the truth this time, we do not need thee any more; and, if thou hast told us a lie, we do not want thee any more.”
The gospel according to Paul
To exercise candour and forbearance towards those who differ from us, is a Christian duty. Yet there are bounds beyond which candour is indifference, and forbearance treason. In things nonessential various opinions may be tolerated; in essentials we must be firm and unwavering. St. Paul sees that in Galatia the very foundations of Christianity are shaking. He therefore reasserts with great force the gospel he had preached there.
I. What was the gospel Paul preached? The great doctrine he insisted on, was justification by faith without the works of the law. Now consider--
1. His line of argument. The law curses and condemns. By faith alone are we justified, and made partakers of the benefits of the gospel. The prophets preached this. The covenant with Abraham was one of promise.
2. The objections he anticipates. No ground for saying the gospel tends to licentiousness. Works are needful, though not to be taken into account.
3. The perversions of which he complains. The addition of legal observance to performance of duties enjoined by the gospel, under the impression that thus they could render themselves more acceptable to God. This was mongrel--neither law nor gospel; so practically a rejection of the gospel.
II. Why did Paul manifest such zeal in maintaining, this gospel?
1. To maintain the purity of the gospel, the fountain of life to the world.
2. To maintain the importance of the gospel, the only source of salvation.
3. To maintain the sufficiency of the gospel to justify and sanctify.
Application--If this gospel be true, it is of importance
(a) to be received by you, and
(b) to be diffused by you over the world. There was nothing that Paul would not do and suffer, in order to propagate the gospel of God. Shall not we emulate his zeal? (Charles Simeon, M. A.)
The else gospel
The gospel must be preached in its
(5) sufficiency. (W. Cadman, M. A.)
Only one gospel
Strong words; to many, offensive words. The doctrine of “only one gospel” is not popular. Men are impatient of dogma, opposed to all exclusiveness in religion; they like to think there are many gospels, many avenues leading to salvation. The question, however, is, not whether the doctrine of “only one gospel” is popular, but whether it is true. There are various considerations which serve to prove its truth.
I. The nature and condition of man. The nature of man is one Varying greatly in outward form and expression, but still essentially one. And as his nature is one, so is the moral disease under which it labours. Sin, although manifold in its modes of action, is essentially one in principle, it is the assertion of independence, rebellion against God’s authority, the setting up of the human will in opposition to the Divine; and being thus one and the same disease, one and only one remedy is required to heal it.
II. The nature and character of god. Oneness His essential attribute, and we should expect a manifestation of that quality in any scheme for the salvation of man emanating from God.
III. The express teaching of the Word of God. One, and only one, plan of salvation is revealed in the Bible (Acts 4:12).
1. The terms of the one salvation are broad, in that they propose to us the entire Person and work of Christ as the basis upon which we may build.
2. They are narrow, in that they rigorously exclude every other scheme and means of salvation. It is really a question of supremacy. One must reign, either God or man. In claiming supremacy, God claims His right; man must submit, or perish. (Emilius Bayley, B. D.)
The complete gospel
The apostle obviously means to state, not only that his gospel was true, but complete--nothing needed to be added to it. The Jewish teachers might have said: “We do not contradict, we only modify, add to, and so improve the gospel as preached by Paul.” The grand subject of the gospel of Christ is the way in which a sinner may be restored to the Divine favour, and obtain the pardon of his sin and the salvation of his soul. It is because the gospel of Christ contains the only true account of the only way of justification, and that a way exactly suited to our wretched circumstances, that it receives its name of “gospel”--glad tidings of great joy. “Another gospel” means, then, a system of doctrine teaching a way of obtaining the Divine favour different from that laid down in Christ’s gospel. The leading principles of Christ’s gospel are two:
(a) that men are restored to the Divine favour entirely on account of the doings and sufferings of Jesus Christ; and
(b) that men are interested in these doings and sufferings entirely by believing.
Every plan of restoring men to God’s favour, which does not embrace these two principles, or which embraces what is inconsistent with either of them, is another gospel. Every plan, for example, which, like that of the Judaising teachers, leads men to depend on their own obedience to any law to any extent; in any degree, either as the ground of their justification or the means of their justification, is another gospel. It is a most momentous consideration, that “the avowed atheist does not more effectually reject the record of God concerning His Son, than the nominal Christian who believes something else than this under the name of a gospel, and trusts in some other Christ than this Christ under the name of a Saviour.” (John Brown, D. D.)
Religious teaching to be tested by the Bible
Too much to blame are our over-credulous multitude, who, hand over head, admit and receive for orthodox whatsoever is propounded unto them by their teachers; and think this a sufficient warrant for any point they hold. Our ministers said it, or such a preacher delivered it in a pulpit,--as if there were not some who run before they are sent, and publish the visions of their own brain, prophesying that which God never spake. In matters civil we are more cautious and wary; no gold, almost, do we take before we have tried it by the touch, or weighed it in the balance; and what is the reason? because there is much of it light and naught; yea, hardly we will take a groat without bowing, bending, rubbing it, and the like, being therein oftentimes over-curious; but in religious matters, which concern our faith and soul’s salvation, we are over-careless, albeit we are forewarned of many false prophets that are gone into the world, and therefore willed not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits whether they be of God. This is a great yet common fault among us. Were he an angel from heaven that preaches to thee, yet art thou bound to look into his doctrine, and examine it, and not to take it upon credit without he bring sufficient proof and warrant for it. Like good Bereans, see you search the Scriptures, whether these things be so. (N. Rogers.)
I. It seems to have been ordered by Divine wisdom that the gospel should, as much as possible, avail itself of the ordinary channels of communication and influence in spreading through the world.
II. the secret of the power of preaching.
1. It conveys far better than any other vehicle the affirmation of the whole man--his whole nature, his whole experience--to the matter which he desires to communicate.
2. It brings into play all the affinities, sympathies, and affections of the being, and is therefore a most powerful instrument in arriving at the truth.
3. So much is true of all preaching. But in the preaching of the gospel there is a source of special power--the principle of representation--the power and right to Speak to men in the name of God.
III. The special preaching of the apostolic age. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Change of gospel
King James II. sat for his portrait to Verelst, the great flower painter. So completely was the canvas filled with elegant garlands of flowers, that the king himself was quite hidden out of sight. May we not in preaching and teaching attract so much attention to human wisdom, words and flowers, that Christ shall take quite an unimportant part in our instruction? And what is that but bringing in a different gospel, which yet is not another? The true gospel:--
I. The true gospel exists. Paul got his assurance of this--
1. By the manner in which it came to him.
(1) Not by intuition, learning, or traditions,
(2) but by direct revelation from heaven (Acts 26:14-27).
2. By its revolutionary influence over him.
II. The true gospel is pervertible. It was perverted.
1. In apostolic times (see almost all the Epistles), which exposes the folly of going to antiquity for a standard in theology or morals.
2. In modern times, by rationalism, sectarianism, and intolerance.
III. The perversion of the true gospel is a tremendous evil; greater than the anathema of angels or apostles. Why? Because--
1. It misrepresents the Divine character.
2. Neutralizes the Divine power to save.
1. A lesson to preachers. How great their responsibility.
2. A lesson to hearers. “Take heed how ye hear.” (D. Thomas.)
The intolerance of the gospel
I. The nature of the gospel shows it to be uncompromising.
1. It is founded on the Divine unity, and can never make a truce with Polytheism, Pantheism, or Materialism.
2. It displays the atonement of Christ, and consequently antagonizes every system which places salvation in any other.
3. It is revealed by one Spirit through inspired men, and therefore opposes
II. This intolerance is adapted to the needs of the human mind.
1. The heart craves for one allsufficient Redeemer.
2. The intellect, for an infallible revelation of Divine love.
3. The moral nature, for an authoritative lawgiver in the midst of the tangled perplexities of life.
III. This intolerance is compatible with diversity in the manifestations of spiritual life. (S. Pearson, M. A.)
An angelic evangel
I. Its advantages and disadvantages.
1. It would carry a weight and conviction which no human ministry can impart.
(1) then our probation would be at an end, for there would be no choice between believing and disbelieving.
(2) We should lose the equality and sympathy between preacher and hearer based on a common nature and experience.
II. Its criterion. Supposing such to be possible, how are we to test its truth?
1. Not by the rank, genius, and holiness of the preacher.
2. But by comparing it with revealed truth. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The most dreaded Jewish punishment. Three degrees.
I. Nidui. Casting out of the synagogue and separation from society, which might last thirty days.
II. Cherem. The sentence of devotion to death.
III. Shammatha or Maranatha, which purported that the criminal had nothing to expect but the final infliction of the Day of Judgment. He was loaded with execrations, excluded from temple and synagogue, his goods were confiscated, his sons debarred from circumcision and his daughters from marriage, and he solemnly remitted to the judgment of heaven. This was the curse the apostle invoked on himself or any one who preached another gospel. (D. Thomas.)
The old gospel and the new
Plenty of people come to a mission to hear a new gospel. I have seen the old gospel do many wonderful things. I have seen it transform character. I have seen it raise men from the lowest dregs of society and make them earnest and useful members of it. But I have never seen a new gospel do anything for any man. (W. H. M. H. Aitken.)
Christ the preacher’s great theme
There was a shield in which the maker wrought his name, so that it could be effaced only by the destruction of his work; and so should the name of our glorious Immanuel be inwrought through the texture of our instructions, that their very consistency shall be dependent on the diffusion of that one blessed name throughout their length and breadth. On entering the cathedral-towns of England, the towers, or the spire, of the mother-church, or minster, are seen shooting up into the sky, far above all the other buildings, public or private, secular or sacred, and so let Jesus, the Church’s Lord, King, and Saviour, have the pre-eminence above “the whole city of topics and themes, Divine and human, which may be meetly grouped around His name; He casting His sanctifying shadow over all. (Evangelical Magazine.)
The desert of traitors
Benedict Arnold once asked a loyal captain what the Americans would do with him if they caught him. He replied, “I believe they would first cut off your lame leg, which was wounded in the cause of freedom and virtue at Quebec, and bury it with the honours of war, and afterwards hang the remainder of your body on a gibbet.” (Foster.)
What did the apostle mean by this strong asseveration? They are scathing words, and if true for his time, are true for ours also. What could he mean but this, that if any misunderstood and misrepresented the gospel--God’s grandest and simplest revelation of Himself--it would show such a perverted mind, heart, and conscience, that he could be no other than accursed. He might conceivably be an angel coming from the undenied splendours of heaven; and if he failed to see God’s glory in Bethlehem, or could not feel God’s love at Calvary, or could not behold Divine hope for man at the resurrection, then, though his mind was angelic in its powers, it would be darker than the midnight sky, when the clouds return after the rain. Such moral gloom has fallen on many men; such callousness to the Cross; such indifference to the splendours of the Ascension; such utter scepticism about the completeness of Christ’s work, and the Divinity of Christ’s person. And if they have thus wilfully rejected the revelation of the first century, if they are not moved by love to a living Christ, God is their judge, and the gospel itself has become their accuser. In such a case this inspired sentence is a warning sent beforehand, that they may, shaking off their delusion, find blessing and life for evermore. (S. Pearson, M. A.)
A curse upon him who preaches a false doctrine
1. A fearfully earnest utterance.
2. Yet pressingly needful.
3. Instructive for all who are wavering. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
The curse of the apostle against the false apostles
I. Whom it strikes.
1. Necessarily every one, without exception, who changes the blessing of the gospel into mischief, and so out of good prepares for himself death.
2. Those also who have deep insight, or other high qualifications for serving the kingdom of God, and yet do nut preach it purely.
3. Even an angel himself, if he could preach another gospel.
II. Why must it be uttered.
1. He who preaches the gospel must have a will to serve, not men, but God.
2. Through a false gospel men may indeed be attracted, but God views it as blasphemy.
3. Therefore he is placed under the curse, who will serve the gospel, and yet doing so as a man-pleaser, is found an unfruitful servant of Christ. (Lisco.)
St. Paul’s curse on teachers of false doctrine
How weak is that reason which would argue from the holiness of a teacher to the truth of what is taught. It must never be taken for granted that the doctrine is sound, because the preacher seems righteous. There are certain standards to which doctrines must be referred, and by their agreement with these--not by the character of their supporters--are we bound to decide upon their truth or falseness.
I. Revelation must in all its parts be consistent with itself. Fresh disclosures of His will God may make from time to time, but they must always be in harmony with what has gone before. In reading the Bible we always look, as it were, on the same landscape; the only difference being, as we take in more of its statements, that more and more of the mist is rolled away from the horizon, so that the eye can include a broader sweep of beauty. The later writers turn towards us a larger portion of the illuminated hemisphere than the earlier; but as the mighty globe turns majestically on its axis, we feel that the oceans and lands which come successively into view, are but constituent parts of the same glorious world. There is the discovery of now territories, but as fast as discovered the territories combine to make up one planet. In like manner, it is no fresh system of religion, which is made known to succeeding generations of men, as the brief notices given to patriarchs expand in the institutions of the law, under the teachings of prophecy, till at length in the days of Christ and His apostles they burst into magnificence and fill a world with redemption. From beginning to end it is the same system--a system for the rescue of men through the interference of a Surety; and revelation has been only the gradual development of this system--the drawing up another fold of the veil from the landscape, the adding another stripe of light to the crescent; so that the early fathers of the race, and ourselves, on whom have fallen the ends of the world, look on the same arrangements for human deliverance, though to them there was nothing but a cloudy expanse, with here and there a prominent landmark, while to us, though the horizon loses itself in the far-off eternity, every object of personal interest is exhibited in beauty and distinctness. Nothing, therefore, is to be believed, which contradicts any portion of what is thus revealed. No matter what other credentials a teacher brings, if there be not this evidence in his favour his doctrine is to be rejected.
II. How are men to know that propounded doctrines are not according to truth? Evidently by comparison.
1. The duty of determining why you believe. The hope of believers is in no sense a baseless or indefinite thing, but rests upon grounds capable of demonstration. It is of paramount importance that you know thoroughly the claims of that gospel which is to expel every other.
2. The duty of examining what you believe. God has furnished the Christian with a rule by which to try doctrines, and commanded him to reject, without regard to the authority of the teacher, whatever that rule determines to be error.
3. The duty of thorough acquaintance with the Scriptures. What can be the worth of your decision, if you know but little of the criterion? (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Let him be accursed.--The sentence on false teachers
The Greek word is “anathema,” which properly means “a person or thing which has been devoted to God; and especially something which he who devoted it has solemnly pledged himself to God to destroy” (Leviticus 27:28-29; Numbers 21:2-3; John 6:16-17; John 6:21). But it is also used without any reference to an offerer or to a vow, and signifies “a person or thing which is accursed” (Deuteronomy 7:26). What did St. Paul mean by the expression, “let him be accursed,” as applied to the false teachers? He cannot mean that he would have them wish for the curse of God to come down on them. He would rather have prayed that these unhappy men might be converted and saved; as he himself, once a persecutor and blasphemer, and as the Galatians, once gross and wicked idolaters, had been. His meaning appears to be simply this, “let him be regarded by you as one accursed of God.” There is only one other place in which we find this expression in this exact form, viz., 1 Corinthians 16:22 --“If any man love not the Lord, let him be anathema, maranatha.” Can we imagine that Paul wished all professing Christians who did not love the Lord to be accursed? It is impossible to suppose such a thing. He can only mean, surely, that if any one proved that he had no real love for Christ, then--whatever his profession and his knowledge and his gifts might be--the Corinthians were to regard him as an unconverted man, and therefore as one who had no personal interest in the salvation of Christ, but was still under the curse of the law. And if this be his meaning, then there will be nothing in it but what will be in perfect harmony with all Paul’s teaching and with all Paul’s love for souls. (John Venn, M. A.)
For do I now persuade men, or God?
or do I seek to please men?
I. That the governing principle and motive of the religious life, is a practical concern not for the favour of man, but for that of god. “Do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” The particle “now” seems to contrast his present line of conduct as a Christian with his former procedure as a Pharisee. Here we perceive, therefore, the high standard of moral action which Christianity enabled St. Paul to propose to himself. His object was “not to please men, but God.” Conventional utility is the standard of the world; and to please each other, so far as mutual interests can be advanced by the process, has been, time out of mind, the highest object contemplated in the codes of worldly men. But the Christian standard is far higher; and its results upon society, wherever it is acted upon, are invaluable. In every inquiry as to practical duty, Christianity brings the idea of the Supreme Being immediately before the mind--the great originator of human obligations--the infallible arbiter of human conduct--the final judge of human actions. The gospel is pre-eminently the religion of motives, and takes especial cognizance not only of what we do, but why we do it; and teaches us to inquire, not merely into the correctness of the action itself, but into the views and feelings whence it originated. In asserting his own freedom from selfish considerations, St. Paul incidentally taxes the false apostles with being governed by these debasing characteristics, their motives being notoriously too corrupt to bear the light. A supreme concern for the favour and friendship of God, as it is the governing principle of the religious life, has always distinguished the favoured servants of Christ. It was this principle of love and loyalty to heaven that induced Moses to relinquish the fleeting honours of a court, and to set at nought alike the treasures of Egypt and the frown of kings; for he endured at seeing Him who is invisible. This led the fathers of the Reformation, the Waldenses of the Continent, and the Puritans of a succeeding age, to endure obloquy, persecution, and martyrdom itself, rather than surrender the claims of conscience, or renounce their allegiance to the King of kings. And as the same causes must produce the same effects, this principle will induce us to take a decided part in the contest always going on.
II. The source whence all true knowledge of the gospel is to be derived, whether as a matter of doctrine or as a matter of experience. “I certify to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me was not after man, for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The religion we profess is not of man, but of God. This conviction is necessary.
1. To satisfy our reason as men.
2. To relieve our fears as sinners.
3. To promote our usefulness as Christians.
1. A broad line of distinction between the Christian and the hypocrite. The one seeks to commend himself to man, the other to God. The nominal Christian may say, “I received my religion as an heirloom from my ancestors,” or through the medium of educational bias and conviction; or from the lip of some eloquent expounder of evangelical doctrine; but the genuine disciple may, with unpresuming eye, look upwards and say, “I received it, ‘not of man, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.’” Again. It teaches us to distinguish between the varieties of character which obtain within the precincts of the Church itself, between Christian and Christian, between those who give token of advanced spirituality and ripeness for heaven, and those of inferior attainments and of less vigorous piety. “One star differeth from another star in glory.” Some attain an early maturity, and some continue “children in understanding” to a late period in life. Some run with patience the race set before them; others halt in their mid-way course, and long to unclasp their armour, if they do not surrender their shield. Some, like the children of Israel at Horeb, are satisfied to skirt the base of the Mount; whilst others, like Moses, ascend its summit, converse with God face to face, an& bear about them much of the brightness and blessedness of the region in which they had found their happiness and their home. Some, like the Galatians, give ear to something very much like “another gospel;” others, like the apostle, amidst lamented infirmities, firmly abide by the revelation of Jesus Christ. Finally, Our subject reads aH impressive lesson to the ministers of religion. “They must not,” as Perkins judiciously remarks, “content themselves with that teaching which they find in the schools; but they must learn Christ as Paul learned Him. They that would convert others must be effectually converted. John must first eat the book, and then prophesy.” (The Evangelist.)
I. The humour of desiring to be pleased, and the danger of it. A parasite is more welcome to us than a prophet. He is our apostle who will bring familiar and beloved arguments to persuade us to that to which we have persuaded ourselves already, and further our motion to that to which we are flying. Men would rather be cozened with a pleasing lie, than saved with a frowning and threatening truth. The causes from which this desire to be pleased proceedeth, and its hitter effects. 1.
(1) And, first, it hath no better original than defect, than a wilful and negligent failing in those duties to which nature and religion have obliged us, a leanness and emptiness of the soul, which, not willing to fill itself with righteousness, filleth itself with air, with false counsels and false attestations, with miserable comforts. “It is a thing soon done, and requireth no labour nor study, to be pleased.” We desire it as sick men do health, as prisoners do liberty, as men on the rack do ease: for a troubled spirit is an ill disease; not to have our will is the worst imprisonment; and to “condemn a man’s self in that which he alloweth” and maketh his choice (Romans 14:22), is to put himself upon the rack. We may see it in our civil affairs and matters of lesser alloy: when anything lieth upon us as a burden, how willing are we to cast it off! When we are poor, we dream of riches, and make up “that which is not” with that which may be (Proverbs 23:5). When we have no house to hide our heads, we build a palace in the air. We are unwilling to suffer, but we are willing, nay, desirous, to be eased. And so it falleth out in the managing of our spiritual estate: we do as the apostle exhorteth (though not to this end), “cast away everything that presseth down” (Hebrews 12:1); but so cast it away as to leave it heavier than before; prefer a momentary ease, which we beg or borrow or force from things without us, before that peace which nothing can bring in but that grief and serious repentance which we put off with hands and words as a thing irksome and unpleasing.
(2) And thus, in the second place, proceedeth even from the force and power of conscience within us, which, ii we will not hearken to it as a friend, will turn Fury, and pursue and lash us; and if we will not obey her dictates, will make us feel her whip. This is our judge and our executioner.
2. Let us now see the danger of this humour, and the bitter effects it doth produce.
(1) And, first, this desire to be pleased placeth us out of all hope of succour, leaveth us like an army besieged when the enemy hath cut off all relief. It is a curse itself, and carrieth a train of curses with it. It maketh us blind to ourselves, and not fit to make use of other men’s eyes.
(2) For, in the second place, this humour, this desire to be pleased, doth not make up our defects, but maketh them greater; doth not make vice a virtue,but sin more sinful. For he is a villain indeed that will be a villain, and yet be thought a saint; such a one as God will spew out of His mouth.
(3) For, in the third place, this humour, this desire to be pleased, doth not take the whip from conscience, but enrageth her; layeth her asleep, to awake with more terror. For conscience may be “seared” indeed (1 Timothy 4:2), but cannot be abolished; may sleep, but cannot die, but is as immortal as the soul itself. Conscience followeth our knowledge; and it is impossible to chase that away, impossible to be ignorant of that which I cannot but know. It is not conscience but our lusts that make the music.
II. We proceed now to lay open the other evil humour, of pleasing men, Which is more visible and eminent in the text. And indeed to desire to be pleased and to be ready to please, saith Isidore Pelusiot, “to flatter and to be flattered,” bear that near relation the one to the other that we never meet them asunder. It is the devil’s net, in which he catcheth two at once. If there be an itching ear, you cannot miss but you shall find a flattering tongue. If the king of Sicily delight in geometry, the whole court shall swarm with mathematicians. If Nero be lascivious, his palace shall be turned into a stew or brothelhouse, or worse. And, first, we must not imagine that St. Paul doth bring in here a cynical morosity or a Nabal-like churlishness; that none may speak to us, and we speak nothing but words; that we should “make a noise like a dog, and so go round about the city” (Psalms 59:6-14); that we should be as thorns in our brethren’s sides, ever pricking and galling them. What, then, is that which here St. Paul condemneth? Look into the text, and you shall see Christ and men as it were two opposite terms. If the man be in error, I must not please him in his error; for Christ is truth: if the man be in sin, I must not please him; for Christ is righteousness. So when men stand in opposition to Christ, when men will neither hear His voice nor follow Him in His ways, but delight themselves in their own, and rest and please themselves in error as in truth, to awake them out of this pleasant dream, we must trouble them, we must thunder to them, we must disquiet and displease them. For who would give an opiate pill to these lethargies? To please men, then, is to tell a sick man that he is well; a weak man, that he is strong; an erring man, that he is orthodox; instead of purging out the noxious humour, to nourish and increase it; to smooth and strew the ways of error with roses, that men may walk with ease and delight, and even dance to their destruction; to find out their palate, and to fit it; to envenom that more which they affect, as Agrippina gave Claudius the emperor poison in a mushroom. What a seditious flatterer is in a commonwealth, that a false apostle is in the Church. They are as loud for the truth as the best champions she hath; but either subtract from it, or add to it, or pervert and corrupt it, that so the truth itself may help to usher in a lie. When the truth itself doth not please us, any lie will please us; but then it must carry with it something of the truth. For instance: to acknowledge Christ, but with the law, is a dangerous mixture: it was the error of the Galatians here.
III. You see now what it is to please men, and from whence it proceedeth, from whence it springeth, even from that bitter root, the root of all evil, the love of the world. Let us now behold that huge distance and inconsistency which is between these two, the pleasing of men, and the service of Christ: “If I yet please men, I am not the servant of Christ.”
1. And, first, we cannot do both, not serve men and Christ, no more than you can draw the same straight line to two points, to touch them both (Matthew 6:24).
2. Secondly. The servant must have his eye upon his master; and as he seeth him do, must do likewise. Power cannot flatter; and mercy is so intent on its work that it thinketh of nothing else. To work wonders to please men were the greatest wonder of all.
1. For conclusion, then: Let them who are set apart to lead others in the way of truth and righteousness take heed.
2. And of the person by His doctrine.
3. And therefore, in the last place, let us all, both teachers and hearers, purge out this evil humour of pleasing and being pleased: and “let us,” as the apostle exhorteth, “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Let us “speak truth every one to his neighbour; for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25). (A. Faringdon.)
Applause of conscience best
One applause of conscience is worth all the triumphs in the world. (A. Faringdon.)
Truth better than flattery
Thou shalt not see thy brother sin; but “thou shalt rebuke” and save thy brother (Leviticus 19:17). Common charity requireth thus much at thy hand: and to make question of it is as if thou shouldst ask with Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). This is the true and surest method of pleasing one another. For flattery, like the bee, carrieth honey in its mouth, but hath a sting in its tail; but truth is sharp and bitter at first, but at last more pleasant than manna. He that would seal up thy lips for the truth which thou speakest, will at last kiss those lips, and bless God in the day of His visitation. And this if we do, we shall “please one another to edification” (Romans 15:2), and not unto ruin. And thus all shall be pleased; the Physician, that he hath his intent, and the patient in his health: the strong shall be pleased in the weak, and the weak in the strong; the wise in the ignorant, and the ignorant in the wise: and Christ shall be well pleased to see brethren thus walk together in unity, strengthening and inciting one another in the ways of righteousness; and when we have thus walked hand-in-hand together to our journey’s end, He shall admit us into His presence, where there “is fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore” (Psalms 16:11). (A. Faringdon.)
Sinners not to be flattered
We should not mould and fit our best part to their worst, our reason to their lust; nor make our fancy the elaboratory to work out such essays as may please and destroy them. We should not foment the anger of the revenger to consume him, nor help the covetous to bury himself alive, nor the ambitious to break his neck, nor the schismatic to rend the seamless coat of Christ, nor the seditious to swim to hell in a river of blood: but we should bind the revenger’s hands, break the miser’s idols, bring down the ambitious to the dust, make up those rents which faction hath made, and confine the seditious to his own sphere and place. When the world pleaseth us, we are as willing to please the world, and we make it our stage, and act our parts; we call ourselves “friends,” and are but parasites; we call ourselves “prophets,” and are but wizards and jugglers; we call ourselves “apostles,” and are seducers; we call ourselves “brethren,” though it be in evil, and, like Hippocrates’ twins, we live and die together. We flatter, and are flattered; we are blind, and leaders of the blind, and fall together with them into the ditch. (A. Faringdon.)
The gospel is unpopular
(1) Because of its holiness. It is the expression of the will of the All-holy, and demands submission and conformity to that will. Issuing from the fountain of purity, it calls for purity in every part. Only those who have the love of God in their hearts can appreciate and welcome it. To all others it must always be hateful.
(2) Because of its mysteriousness. Christ can only be apprehended by those who receive Him in faith; to others He is an enigma, and His salvation a thing beyond understanding; and men love not that which they are unable to comprehend. Pride of intellect protests against the gospel’s admitted mysteriousness.
(3) Because of its exclusiveness. It claims to be the one true system, and that all others are false; a claim which makes enemies of every other religion’s votaries, and of those who--caring for no religion themselves--would tolerate all.
(4) Because of its freeness. Men would prefer if the gospel asked for something at their hands, recognized that there was such a thing as human merit. A free gospel deals a blow to their self.conceit and self-satisfaction.
(5) Because of its aggressiveness. It is not content to leave men to themselves; and they resent every attempt at interference with them. The gospel offers no terms of compromise. In the name of God it demands unconditional submission. It aims at universal conquest. Hence its unpopularity with the world. (Emilius Bayley, B. D.)
I. Christian firmness is not self-willed indifference to human opinion. On the contrary, the Christian is anxious to please and yield to others wherever his own interests alone are concerned. Many things he might rightly claim, he will shrink from pressing; many things that he may suffer, he will quietly submit to, rather than irritate the minds of men against the piety that he professes, or close the door against the future possibility of being the instrument of their conversion. Self-renunciation for the honour of God, or for the good of man, is the special spirit of a Christian. Nay, more; he will spare the feelings and humours of men whenever he lawfully can, doing things in their way rather than his own, being careful of appearances as well as realities. (Romans 12:17-18; 2 Corinthians 8:21; 1 Timothy 3:7; etc.)
II. Nor is it selfish inattention to human welfare. Salvation is not to be achieved in isolated effort, but is wrought out in the very nourishment and growth of those affections, occupations, and energies, which our duties in the world produce. There cannot be a genuine desire to save our own soul, a true Christian spirit of personal piety, which will not, from its very nature, expand beyond the confines of our own bosom, and overflow in copious streams towards all with whom we have to do.
III. It is simply paramount obedience to Divine authority. Pleasing men must always be subordinate to pleasing God. Every concession must be with a reservation of our Master’s rights and privileges, honour and authority; every treaty must be so, for it is only good as it may be acknowledged and ratified by Him. All things may be tried for Him; hut nothing listened to against Him. (Prebendary Griffith.)
Right and wrong men-pleasing
We are not to please men, be they never so many or great, out of flatness of spirit, so as, for the pleasing of them, either go to neglect any part of our duty towards God and Christ; or
(2) to go against our own conscience, by doing any dishonest or unlawful thing; or,
(3) to do them harm whom we would please, by confirming them in their sins, humouring them in their peevishness, or but even cherishing their weakness; for weakness, though it may be borne with, yet it must not be cherished.
(4) But then, by yielding to their infirmities for a time, in hope to win them, by patiently expecting their conversion, or strengthening, by restoring them with the spirit of meekness, with meekness instructing them that oppose themselves, should we seek to please all men. (Bishop Christopher Wordsworth.)
Two earnest questions
1. Which seekest thou most--man’s favour, or God’s favour?
2. Which is weightier--man’s favour, or God’s favour? (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
Ministerial faithfulness and discretion
The love of popularity is a temptation from which few of us probably are free. The conscientious minister is constantly reminded of the fact that “the fear of man bringeth a snare.” In our public and private ministrations we often have to advocate truths which are uncongenial and unwelcome to many of those to whom we minister. A clear, decided, pointed application of God’s Word, must be unwelcome to the worldly, the careless, the self-indulgent, and the self-righteous. But we are naturally reluctant to forfeit the good opinion of others. Hence the temptation to modify, if not to hold back, offensive truths; to present our message, not in its naked simplicity, but in such a manner as shall disarm opposition; to avoid anything like close dealing with the conscience; to busy ourselves only with pointless generalities; to seek rather to please the imagination and gratify the taste, than to awaken conscience, to convince of sin, and to urge the surrender of heart and life to Christ. It is easy enough, by a little contrivance, to make our gospel popular. It is possible to teach truth, and nothing but truth, and yet to give no offence. We have only to modify our statements, or to generalize our applications, and the thing is done. We have but to omit an unpalatable truth, or so to state it as that none need apply it to themselves, and no objection will be raised. Men will tolerate, nay, approve of, a modified system of evangelical truth, to whom the entire presentment of such truth would be unacceptable. Four times, in a single verse, is the prophet warned against this temptation: “And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words;… be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks” (Ezekiel 2:6). And the Apostle Paul was fully conscious of the danger when he said, “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). At the same time; we must be careful that our unpopularity springs from legitimate causes: from the unreasonable opposition of the world to the truth of God, not from the just dislike of men to offensive peculiarities or positive faults. A Christian may be unpopular because he is vain, conceited, selfish, ungenial, narrow-minded, dogmatic, or the like. He may impute his unpopularity to his religion; whereas it comes rather from his want of religion: it originates not in the doctrine which he professes, but in his failure “to adorn” that doctrine in his daily life. Want of tact, again, in Christians often provokes opposition. The attempt to press the claims of religion upon others at unseasonable times, the employment of technical religious phraseology, the use of theological words and expressions not commonly heard in society, the thrusting of religious idiosyncrasies upon the unwilling and unsympathizing, are causes which frequently operate to the detriment of the principles which we have at heart. Christians should beware of mistaking forwardness for fidelity, and an obtrusive familiarity with sacred things for the honest outflowings of the heart full of love to God and man. Christian prudence is as needful, as worldly compromise is dangerous and wrong. In a word, we must not court unpopularity, or provoke it needlessly, or think that it never arises from any fault of our own. But, on the other hand, we must not dread it, lest we place ourselves among those who “love the praise of men more than the praise of God.” Ministers must ask, not how they may best please their congregations, but how they may save souls; not how they may stand well with the world, but how they may best serve their Master. (Emilius Bayley, B. D.)
Theodoric, an Arian king, did exceedingly affect a certain deacon, although orthodox. The deacon, thinking to please him better, and get preferment, became an Arian, which, when the king understood he changed his love into hatred, and caused his head to be struck from his shoulders. (Trapp.)
Pleasing men or serving Christ
A railway-gate keeper who, one cold night required every passenger to show his ticket before passing through to the train, and was rewarded with considerable grumbling and protesting, was told, “You are a very unpopular man to-night.” “I only care to be popular with one man,” was the reply, “and that is the superintendent.” He might have pleased the passengers, disobeyed orders, and lost his position. He was too wise for that; his business was to please one man--the man who hired him, gave him his orders, and rewarded him for faithfulness, and who would discharge him for disobedience. The servant of Christ has many opportunities to make himself unpopular. There are multitudes who would be glad to have him relax the strictness of his rules. If he is their servant they demand that he should consult their wishes. But if he serves them, he cannot serve the Lord. “No man can serve two masters.” He who tries to be popular with the world, will lose his popularity with the Lord. He will make friends, but he will lose the one Friend who is above all others. He will win plaudits, but he will not hear the gracious word, “Well done!” A faithful servant:--Not the least interesting of the monuments I saw amid the venerable ruins of Rome was one which held within its broken urn some half-burned bones. They were the ashes of one, who, as appeared from the inscription on the tablet, had belonged to Caesar’s household, and to the memory of whose virtues as a faithful, honest, and devoted servant, the emperor himself had ordered that marble to be raised. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
A ministerial alternative
I. To please men by--
1. Watering down the doctrines of the gospel until they mean whatever hearers like to make them.
2. Toning down the precepts of the gospel until they are undistinguishable from the maxims of worldly policy.
3. Introducing secular expedients to attract audiences over whom an attenuated gospel has host its power.
4. Sinking the stern preacher of righteousness in the bland mover-about in society.
II. To serve Christ by--
1. The proclamation of unalterable trust.
2. The insistence of, and personal conformity to, a high moral standard.
3. The disdain of mere clap-trap and popular arts.
4. The imitation of the self-denying example of the Master. The one may please men; the other will save them. Bondage to man or to Christ:--
I. The necessity to please men represents in a very typical manner the non-freedom of the unredeemed man. This is a real slavery because--
1. It disturbs the development of an independent plan of life.
2. It is a part of the bondage of sin.
3. It involves servitude to the customs and fashions of the world.
II. Freedom from this yoke is only gained by entering the service of Christ. Just as the servant of a king boasts of his office as the highest liberty, so can we when we serve the Lord Christ.
III. Deliverance from the fear of man and the necessity of pleasing him, and servitude to Christ and pleasing Him, may be taken as a general description of Christian liberty. In conclusion--
1. Has the desire to have the good opinion of my neighbours any part in my profession of religion?
2. Even if my religious service is not done to be seen of men, is it a thing of form or principle?
3. Have I courage to dissent from the usages of society if my conscience protests? Do I always set before me, “What does Christ demand?” and not, “What will men say?” (Professor Robertson Smith.)
The servant of Christ
I. The servant.
1. He realizes the most perfect ideal of life. Others live for pleasure, wealth, fame; he for Christ.
2. He has the best Master.
3. He yields to the most valid claims--property, protection, redemption.
4. He has the strongest warrants--reason, conscience, love.
5. He is promised and enjoys the noblest reward--his Master’s smile, his Sovereign’s throne.
II. His service.
1. It is dignified in its sphere.
2. Grand in its motive--“pleasing God.”
3. Splendid in its instrument--the gospel.
4. Glorious in the freedom of its consecration.
5. Beneficent in the uses which it serves.
What the apostle means is making sure that God is with him. This can only be done by taking God’s way as ours, and not by hoping to get Him to, take ours as His. This much Paul says in vindication of his severity, whose office was that of a persuader of men. “Nay,” he says, “the question is not of gaining over men, but of standing right with God, and that even at the expense of an absolute breach with men. At such a time as this, when deceitful men are striving to undo all my work for Christ, so far from being called to conciliate them, were I to do so I should not be a servant of Christ.” (Professor Robertson Smith.)
Man-pleasing a vice in a moral reformer
Watch the author of a first poem or novel. What eagerness to see all the reviews; what anxiety till they come out; what manoeuvring to ascertain what people have said! And how many persons are there that, even after their apprenticeship in literature or art is over, can honestly affirm that the feeling has quite left them? Raphael must have liked to hear his pictures praised: nor was the approbation of the public a matter of indifference to the octogenarian Goethe, But though the artist or the literateur may so far make a merit of popularity it is quite different with the moral teacher or agent in great social changes. Popularity may happen to flow toward such a man, but it should not be treated as a reward or incentive, but rather as a means of deciding what proportion of society has been moved in the direction of his own spirit, and how much yet remains to be brought into subjection. In certain cases, indeed, it might be proper to lay it down as a maxim that he cannot honestly or efficiently accomplish his office without exciting opposition at every step he takes. (North British Review.)
The wise Phocion was so sensible how dangerous it was to be touched with what the multitude approved, that upon a general acclamation made when he was making an oration he turned to an intelligent friend and asked in a surprised manner, “What slip have I made?” (Steele.)
Men-pleasing the source of unfaithfulness
The soul that cannot entirely trust God, whether man be pleased or displeased, can never long be true to Him for while you are eyeing men you are losing God and stabbing religion at the very heart. (T. Manton.)
When one has learned to seek the honour that cometh from God only, he will take the withholding of the honour that cometh by man very lightly indeed. (Geo. Macdonald.)
The alternative to men-pleasing
Do not preach so much to please as to profit. Choose rather to discover men’s sins than to show your own eloquence. That is the best looking-glass, not which is most gilded but which shows the truest face. (T. Watson.)
The servant of Christ
The title which the apostle gives himself, “the servant, or the slave, of Christ,” expresses, we may be sure, no mere acquiescence in some current fashion of Eastern speech, but the aspect of his life and conduct which he desires to keep before himself and others. St. Paul belonged to two worlds, the Jewish and the Greek, and in this title he has both worlds in view. In the language of the Psalter, and of the Hebrew prophets, every Israelite is, as such, a servant of the Lord, and to the collective people, viewed in its separate and its consecrated life, it is said, “Thou, Israel, art My servant, thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, thou art My servant, I have chosen thee.” But besides this general and ethical meaning, the title had a technical, official force. Any man who was marked out from among his fellows as having a special work to do for the Lord, was regarded as taken into the service of the invisible King, whose livery he thus wore by the force of events, and by his acts, and by the tenour of his life, in the eyes of his countrymen. In this sense, too, every member of the prophetic order came in time to be termed a “servant of the Lord;” and the title reached its highest significance when, in the later group of Isaiah’s writings, it was used of the King Messiah, whose future humiliation and glory there mingled indistinctly with the nearer, although still distant, suffering and deliverance of the martyred people in Babylon. When, then, St. Peter and St. Jude, writing to Churches mainly or entirely of Jewish origin, styled themselves servants of Jesus Christ, they probably understood the title, chiefly if not exclusively, in the traditional and narrower Hebrew sense. But when St. Paul, writing to the Roman or Philippian Church, calls himself a servant of Christ, it is difficult to suppose that he does not read into the title the meaning which his readers would naturally find there, In these Churches, consisting altogether or predominantly of converts from heathendom, the phrase would rather suggest the ordinary slave of the GreekRoman world, than an inspired or distinguished servant of the Hebrew theocracy. That unseen, that immense population of human beings which worked, which suffered in silence, which tilled the fields, which manned the fleets, which constructed the palaces and the bridges of the world, which supplied to those who had property and power their cooks, their carpenters, their painters, their astronomers, their doctors, their poets, their copyists, their gladiators, their buffoons; which ministered to the refinement, intelligence, luxury, passions of the wealthy; which by its ceaseless and almost unnoticed waste of unregarded life satisfied the requirements, and helped to fill the coffers of the State. The slave class was almost the most prominent, as it was certainly the most mournful feature in “the ancient society.” In the view of antiquity, the slave was but an animated instrument, a mere body which chanced to be endowed with certain mental capacities. In the eye of the law, the slave was not a person: he was classed by the jurists with goods and with animals; he was sold, he was bequeathed by will, he was lent to a friend, he was shut up, he was banished, until the day of the later legislation he was killed--quite at the discretion of his owner. And St. Paul calls himself this--the slave of Jesus Christ! He was not merely a servant holding an honourable post in the kingdom of heaven, which he might relinquish at pleasure; he was consciously a slave. And in this abandonment of all human liberty at the feet of the Redeemer rain this utter surrender of the right to his intelligence, his affections, the employment of his time and his property, his movements from place to place, except as his Master might command, St. Paul found the true dignity and happiness of his being as a man. He belonged to Jesus Christ not by any original or solitary act of his own, but because, as he could not but acknowledge, Jesus Christ had paid for him, had bought him at an incalculable cost, out of slavery which was misery and degradation, into a service, which was freedom indeed. (Canon Liddon.)
Our duty with respect to public opinion
Public opinion is that common stock of thought and sentiment which is created by human society, or by a particular section of it; and it in turn keeps its authors under strict control. It is a natural product, it is a deposit which cannot but result from human intercourse. No sooner do men associate with one another, than a public opinion of some kind comes to be. And as civilization advances, and man multiplies the channels whereby he ascertains and governs the thought of his fellow-men, public opinion grows in strength, in area, and men voluntarily, or rather instinctively, abandon an increasing district of their understandings and conduct to its undisputed control. It varies in definiteness and in exigency with the number of human beings which it happens to represent. There is public opinion proper to each village and town, to each society and profession, to each country, to each civilization, to the world; but between the most general and the narrowest forms of this common body of thought and sentiment, there are bands and joints which weld the whole into a substantial unit; and in modern times public opinion has taken a concrete body and form, such as two centuries ago was undreamt of. It lives, it works in the daily press. In the press we see visibly embodied before our eyes this empire of opinion, with its countless varieties and sub-divisions, with its strong, corporate, and substantial unities. And so, face to face with the press, every man who hopes to keep his own conscience in moderately good order knows that in public opinion he encounters a force with which, sooner or later, on a large scale or a small, before the world or in the recesses of his own conscience, he must of necessity reckon; and that, whether he bears like St. Paul a commission from heaven, or endeavours to be loyal to such truth as he knows of chiefly or altogether among the concerns of earth. What is the duty of the Christian towards this ubiquitous, this penetrating agency? Is he to shut himself up and despise it, as might some Stoic of the earlier Stoic school? Assuredly not. St. Paul did not do that. He was respectful, even towards heathen opinion … Are we, then, to place ourselves trustfully under public opinion, to defer to and obey it, at least in a Christian country; and is it to furnish us in the last resort with the rule of conduct and criterion of moral, even religious, truth? Again, most assuredly not; for it is, in fact, a compromise between the many elements which go to make up human society; and the lower and selfish elements of thought and feeling are apt upon the whole to preponderate. Public opinion is too wanting in patience, in penetration, in delicacy, to deal successfully with religious questions. It cannot be right to cry “Hosanna” now; to-morrow, “Crucify”; to applaud in Galilee what you condemn in Jerusalem; to sanction in this generation what was denounced in that; to adore what you have burned, to burn what you have adored with conspicuous versatility, merely because a large body of human beings--the majority of them, it may be, quite without particular information on the subject in hand--love to have it so. To attempt to please men in this sense is, most assuredly, incompatible with the service of Christ. The Christian has, or ought to have, upon his heart and upon his conscience, the revelation of truth which in these great crises of life sets him above the exigencies of public opinion. He that is spiritual judgeth all things, but he himself is judged of no man. He will not, indeed, break with it lightly or wantonly; he will look ones and again, aye and a third time, to be sure that he is not himself deceived, if not in his principle yet in its application. But when this point is once clear, he will resolutely go forward. (Canon Liddon.)
I remember one of my parishioners telling me that “he thought a person should not go to church to be made uncomfortable.” I replied that I thought so too; but whether it should be the sermon or the man’s life that should be altered, so as to avoid the discomfort, must depend on whether the doctrine was right or wrong. (Archbishop Whately.)
Reward of men-pleasing--
One Sunday afternoon a well-known minister, fatigued after his labours in church, retired to his room to rest. He had not long lain down, before he fell asleep and began to dream. He dreamed, that on walking into his garden, he entered a bower that had been erected in it, where he sat down to read and meditate. While thus employed, he thought he heard some person enter the garden.; and, leaving his bower, he immediately hastened towards the spot whence the sound seemed to come, in order to discover who it was that had entered. He had not proceeded far before he discovered a particular friend of his, a minister of considerable talents and popularity. On approaching his friend, he was surprised to find on his countenance a gloom which it had not been wont to bear, indicating violent agitation of mind which seemed to arise from conscious remorse. After the usual salutations had passed, his friend asked the relater the time of the day. To which he replied, “Twenty.five minutes after four.” On hearing this the stranger said, “It is only one hour since I died, and now”--(here his countenance spoke unutterable horrors.) “Why so troubled?” inquired the dreaming minister. “It is not,” said he, “because I have not preached the gospel; nor is it because I have not been rendered useful, for I have now many seals to my ministry that can bear testimony to the truth as it is in Jesus, which they have received from my lips’; but it is because I have been accumulating to myself the praise of men, more than the honour which cometh from above; and, verily, I have my reward.” Having thus said, he disappeared, and was seen no more. The minister awoke, and soon learned of the death of the popular preacher at the precise time indicated in the dream.
Attempts at men-pleasing not always successful
Dr. Dodd’s besetting sin seems to have been an excessive anxiety to give satisfaction to all, to “please men” of every shade of opinion. Having to preach one Sunday at a country town, where were two different meeting-houses, the one Calvinistic and the other Arminian, the doctor provided himself with two sermons as opposite in their doctrine as were the congregations he was to preach to. When he arrived at the place he mounted the Calvinistic pulpit in the morning, gave out his text, and began his sermon; but he had not proceeded far when he perceived that he had pulled out the wrong sermon. However, it was now too late to repair the mischief, so he was obliged to go through with it, much to his own discomfiture, and to the dissatisfaction of the people. Having but two sermons with him, and knowing that many of his morning hearers would follow him to the other meeting in the afternoon, he was under the necessity of preaching his Calvinistic discourse in the Arminian place of worship, and of course gave as much discontent to his second congregation as he had done to the first. The doctor mentioning his mistake shortly afterwards to an intimate friend, received sorry comfort from the reply: “Never mind, sir; you only happened to put your hand into the wrong pocket!”
It is true that a man may impart light to others, who does not himself see the light. It is true that, like a concave speculum, cut from a block of ice, which by its power of concentrating the rays of the sun, kindles touchwood or explodes gunpowder, a preacher may set others on fire, when his own heart is cold as frost. It is true that he may stand like a lifeless finger-post, pointing the way on a road where he neither leads nor follows. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
That the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
The inspiration of St. Paul
The greater part of our knowledge must always rest on the authority of others. No single man is able to ascertain for himself the innumerable facts, in all the various fields of human investigation, out of which alone a personal conviction can grow. Nor can we always reason out the conclusions that we accept on others’ testimony. We must take them on faith. False teachers in Galatia attempted to weaken Paul’s authority by asserting that he, having never been a personal disciple of Jesus, and not therefore included in the original commission, was to be looked on as no more than a self-appointed proclaimer of a self-invented doctrine, or as the agent only of other persons who employed his zeal and talents to diffuse their error, or perhaps as the ignorant perverter of the truths which he had at first been taught by the apostles at Jerusalem, and from which he had gone aside. St. Paul here refutes these accusations and insinuations.
I. His principles of Christianity were not derived from human authority. He was not the retailer of other men’s notions, and proclaimer of what others had invented for him and enjoined on him. He had not been drilled in any human school, and then sent forth to talk--to distribute the materials which had been put into his hands, and to hawk about the goods which others had manufactured for him. Far higher than this was his authority; far deeper his knowledge and convictions.
II. Nor through human instruction. Not merely conviction arrived at by self-study of others’ opinions.
III. But from divine disclosure. God unveiled His hidden things to the mental vision of the apostle. His inspiration is a revelation, disclosure, communication from God. Therefore he speaks with authority. (Prebendary Griffith.)
The nature of revelation
Revelation is distinguished from ordinary moral and spiritual influences by its suddenness. It shows us in an instant, what, under ordinary circumstances, would grow up gradually and insensibly. In the individual it is accompanied by a sudden transition from darkness to light; in the world at large it is an anticipation of moral truth and of the course of human experience. Reducible to no natural laws, it is to our ordinary moral and spiritual nature what peculiar cataleptic conditions are to our bodily, constitution. It seems to come from without, and is not; to be confounded with any inward emotion, any more than a dream or the sight of a painting. As compared with prophecy, it is nearer to us, representing as in a picture the things that shall shortly come to pass, and yet embracing a wider range; not, like the prophets of old, describing the fortunes of an individual nation, as it may have crossed the path of the Jewish people, but lifting up the veil from the whole invisible world. In all its different senses it retains this external, present, immediate character. Whether it be the future kingdom of Christ, or the fall of Jerusalem or of Rome, or the world lying in wickedness, that is described, all is displayed immediately before us as on some mount of transfiguration--the figures near to us, and the colours bright. (B. Jowett, M. A.)
The gospel no work of man
1. As a word of doctrine, it did not spring from men, nor was it taught by men, but by Christ Himself, who brought it Himself, and through whom alone His people have it.
2. As a word of comfort, only through Him can we commit ourselves to it.
3. As a word of power, in which there should be no change, from which no departure. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
A solemn avowal concerning the gospel
I. The gospel that Paul preached. The purport of his ministry and the faith he proclaimed are given in Acts 26:22-23.
II. The gospel which Paul preached was not of man.
1. His gospel was not after man. It did not originate with man. Human schemes of salvation have ever been imperfect in theory and worthless in practice.
2. Paul’s gospel was not communicated by man. “I neither received it of man.”
3. The gospel which Paul preached was not explained to him by man. “Neither was I taught it.”
III. The gospel that Paul preached was revealed to him.
IV. Paul’s testimony in relation to the gospel was delivered with great impressiveness and solemnity. “I declare unto you, brethren.” Lessons:
1. Paul and the other apostles preached what had been revealed to them; there cannot, therefore, be in the true sense, any successors to the apostles now.
2. The gospel being a revelation, should be received with reverent trust. (Richard Nicholls.)
I certify you
I. That men may be certified that the gospel is not of man but of God, by--
1. The evidences of God’s Spirit imprinted on and expressed in it.
2. The testimony of its promulgators who were neither knaves nor fools.
3. The assurance of obedience and experience (John 7:17).
II. That Christ is the great teacher of this gospel.
1. He is the Revealer of the will of the Father touching the redemption of mankind (John 1:18; John 8:26).
2. He calls and sends the preachers of this gospel (John 20:21; Ephesians 4:11).
3. He gives the Spirit who illuminates the mind and guides into all truth.
III. That Christ teaches the teachers of this gospel.
1. By immediate revelation,
2. By ordinary instruction in the schools.
IV. That those who are teachers must be first taught, and must then teach what they have learned. (2 Timothy 3:14). (W. Perkins.)
Preaching the gospel
To preach is to announce by heralding. We have to reiterate as new and happy tidings in the ear of a stranger that God’s kingdom is come, is to come, and that we can help it to come, I ask any man, if this be true and not romance, is it not an honour to proclaim it, although it be with us as with Paul, against difficulties and calumnies. (T. T. Lynch.)
The inspiration of St. Paul
In an important sense the inspiration of St. Paul is the highest in Holy Scripture; for while Moses laid a foundation, and prophets brought together the Divine materials, and evangelists built up the walls of the glorious temple of God’s truth, it was reserved for Paul to complete the structure and bring out its beauties to be seen of the whole earth. There are magnificent temples in Bible lands that have served for quarries for the structures the Turks have built under their shadow. Yet even in ruin their greatness is more conspicuous from the contrast. So the ablest theologians have gone to Paul for the choicest stones of their goodly structures, and still the temple he was commissioned to complete looks down on them all, not a ruin but perfect as at the first. His Epistles form the crowning glory of that Word of God that abideth for ever. (M. Laurie, D. D.)
Certification of Divine revelation
Can a revelation be certified? The answer may be divided into three parts.
1. The method of the revelation, by individual men, and by writings handed down from age to age, is not unreasonable.
2. The anterior probability of such a revelation as is given in Scripture is undoubtedly strong.
3. The test of time being applied to the revelation actually given, sufficiently approves the Divine authority which is claimed for it. (R. A. Redford.)
Divine revelation from above
I. It occupies a higher region than that which is physical, mental, or moral.
II. It comes down upon the intellect, not out of it.
1. It is sublimely authoritative.
2. By the side of it the most advanced knowledge is halting and immature.
III. Paul insisted on his apostleship because this revelation was committed to him. (S. Pearson, M. A.)
It is an historical fact that human nature is always below revelation
Great discoveries are usually the product of preceding ages of thought. One mind developes the idea; but it is the fruitage of the ages ripened in that mind. A pearl is found; but the location has been indicated by previous researches. But revealed religion is something different from this. It is separate from and superior to the thought of the age. It calls the wisdom of the world foolishness, and introduces a new standpoint and starting-point around which it gathers what was valuable in the old, and destroys the remainder. Hence it will always be found true that a struggle is necessary to bring up the human mind and keep it up to the level of revealed religion, anti that revealed religion produces the struggle. Even those who profess to be its friends retrograde as soon as its power abates, and new applications of that power have to be made to bring them up again. (J. B. Walker, M. A.)
Revelation by Christ
Revelation seems usually to be ascribed to the Son of God in consistency with His character as the Word, the declarer of God’s will who has manifested God in the flesh (see also 1 Corinthians 11:23; Revelation 1:1; Revelation 5:9). Whereas Inspiration is usually connected with the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21; Acts 1:16; Hebrews 7:8). But Luke 2:26 is an exception to the rule. And, doubtless as on the one hand it is from the Son that the Spirit proceeds, being indeed the water which flows out of the rock of our salvation: so, on the other, no revelation can be made without the Spirit who opens the inward eye to what is outwardly communicated. (Dean Goulburn.)
For ye have heard of my conversation in time past.
My conversation in time past
I. An humbling and painful recollection. We should study the true uses of the past. The past is rightly used when it--
1. Deepens our sense of guilt.
2. Illustrates the greatness of Divine mercy.
3. Inspires us with courage in relation to the future.
II. An humbling and painful recollection relieved by the highest consideration.
1. Not a self-recovery or development,
2. but the inward revelation of Christ.
III. An humbling and painful recollection succeeded by a holy and sublime vocation. The fact that God calls converted sinners to preach His gospel.
1. Pats the minister into moral sympathy with his hearers.
2. Exemplifies the power of God to execute His purposes.
3. Stimulates the study of Divine things.
Application: The text--
1. Appeals to the worst of men.
2. Explains the vehemence and urgency of an earnest ministry.
3. Exalts and illustrates the gospel of Christ. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Paul’s former life
I. As a persecutor. Consider--
1. The wasting.
(1) How can the Church be wasted? Not in its inward estate, which stands in election, faith, justification; glory; but in respect of men’s bodies, public assemblies, religious exercises.
(2) Why does God suffer it to be wasted? Judgment begins at the house of God. Painful operations are often needful to health.
2. The waster.
(1) Sin, when it takes place, gives a man no rest till it has brought him to a height of wickedness.
(2) Therefore avoid the beginning of evil.
II. As a religionist.
1. He profited exceedingly. Observe
(1) that there should be holy emulation in religion,
(2) but modest pretensions an excellence.
2. He was exceedingly jealous
(1) about the law and unwritten traditions,
(2) but not according to knowledge.
III. Whence learn--
1. To addict and set ourselves earnestly to maintain the truth.
2. To be angry when God is dishonoured and His Word disobeyed.
3. Not to give liberty to the best of our natural affections, as zeal, but to rule them.
4. To estimate unwritten traditions at their proper worth. (W. Perkins.)
Persecutor and minister
A minister once preaching a charity sermon in the west of England, began as follows: “Many years have elapsed since I was within these walls. On that occasion there came three young men with the intention not only of scoffing at the minister, but with stones in their pockets for the purpose of assaulting him. After a few words one of them said with an oath, ‘Let us be at him now;’ but the second replied, ‘No; stop till we hear what he makes of this point.’ The minister went on, when the second said, ‘We have heard enough; now throw,’ But the third interfered, remarking, ‘He is not so foolish as I expected; let us hear him out.’ The preacher concluded without having been interrupted. Now mark me--of these three young men one was executed for forgery; the second lies under sentence of death for murder; the third, through the infinite mercy of God, now addresses you. Listen to him.”
The value in controversy of practical experience of the opposite side
Paul knew the joints in his opponents’ armour, and shows at the outset that he knew not only the opinions of the Judaisers, but the spiritual atmosphere in which they had been educated. Such a controversialist the enemy cannot afford to despise, for the battle is half won before it has commenced. It is often very annoying to a young man to be told by a mature Christian, “I thought as sceptically as you do, and spoke as rashly, believing that I was going to turn the orthodox world upside down; but I have got beyond those days, and am now a wiser man, as I trust you will be.” Yet this is frequently the only way of meeting the case. The young man retires within himself, looks at rash utterances in the light of cool reflection, finds that truth and novelty are not synonymous, and is at least silent, which is a great gain to himself and to those around him. (S. Pearson, M. A.)
Paul’s antecedents a qualification for his work
It has often happened that the destroyer of a creed or system has been bred and trained in the bosom of the system which he was destined to shake or destroy. Sakya Mouni had been brought up in Brahminism; Luther had taken the vows of an Augustinian; Pascal had been trained as a Jesuit; Spinoza was a Jew; Wesley and Whitefield were clergymen of the Church of England. It was not otherwise with St. Paul. The victorious enemy of heathen philosophy and worship had passed his boyhood amid the heathen surroundings of a philosophic city. The deadly antagonist of Judaic exclusiveness was by birth a Hebrew of the Hebrews. The dealer of the death-wound to the spirit of Pharisaism was a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees, a scholar of Gamaliel, had been taught according to the perfect manner of the law of his fathers, and had lived “after the most straightest sect” of the Jewish service. (F. W. Farrar.)
Early persecution of Christians
“Oh!” said Caesar, “we will soon root up this Christianity. Off with their heads!” The different governors hastened one after another of the disciples to death; but, the more they persecuted them, the more they multiplied. The pro-consuls had orders to destroy Christians; the more they hunted them, the more Christians there were, until, at last, men pressed to the judgment-seat, and asked to be permitted to die for Christ. They invented torments; they dragged saints at the heels of wild horses; they laid them upon red-hot gridirons; they pulled off the skin from their flesh piece by piece; they were sawn asunder; they were wrapped up in skins, and daubed with pitch, and set in Nero’s gardens at night to burn; they were left to rot in dungeons; they were made a spectacle to all men in the amphitheatre; the bears hugged them to death; the lions tore them to pieces; the wild bulls tossed them upon their horns: and yet Christianity spread. All the swords of the legionaries which had put to rout the armies of all nations, and had overcome the invincible Gaul and the savage Briton, could not withstand the feebleness of Christianity; for the weakness of God is mightier than men. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The two parts of St. Paul’s life
There are questions which it is interesting to suggest, even when they can never receive a perfect and satisfactory answer. One of these questions may be asked respecting St. Paul: What was the relation in which his former life stood to the great fact of his conversion? He himself, in looking back upon the times in which he persecuted the Church of God, thought of them chiefly as an increasing evidence of the mercy of God, which was afterwards extended to him. It Seemed so strange to have been what he had been, and to be what he was. Nor does our own conception of him, in relation to his former self, commonly reach beyond this contrast of the old and new man; the persecutor and the preacher of the gospel; the young man at whose feet the witnesses against Stephen laid down their clothes; and the same Paul disputing against the Grecians, full of visions and revelations of the Lord, on whom in later life came daily the care of all the Churches. Yet we cannot but admit also the possibility, or rather the probable truth, of another point of view. If there were any among the contemporaries of St. Paul who had known him in youth and in age, they would have seen similarities such as escape us in the character of the apostle at different periods of his life. The zealot against the gospel might have seemed to them transfigured into the opponent of the law; they would have found something in common in the Pharisee of the Pharisees, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and the man who had a vow on his last journey to Jerusalem. And when they heard the narrative of his conversion from his own lips, they might have remarked that to one of his temperament only could such an event have happened, and would have noted many superficial resemblances which showed him to be the same man, while the great inward change which had overflowed upon the world was hid from their eyes. The gifts of God to man have ever some reference to natural disposition. He who becomes the servant of God does not thereby cease to be himself. Often the transition is greater in appearance than in reality, from its very suddenness. There is a kind of rebellion against self and nature and God, which, through the mercy of God to the soul, seems almost necessarily to lead to reaction. Persons have been worse than their fellow-men in outward appearance, and yet there was within them the spirit of a child waiting to return home to their father’s house. A change passes over them which we may figure to ourselves, not only as the new man taking the place of the old, but as the inner man taking the place of the outer. So fearfully and wonderfully are we made, that the very contrast to what we are has often an inexpressible power over us. It seems sometimes as if the same religious education had tended to contrary results; in one case to a devout life, in another to a reaction against it; sometimes to one form of faith, at other times to another … Perhaps we shall not be far wrong in concluding, that those who have undergone great religious changes have been of a fervid, imaginative cast of mind; looking for more in this world than it was capable of yielding; easily touched by the remembrance of the past, or inspired by some ideal of the future. When with this has been combined a zeal for the good of their fellow-men, they have become the heralds and champions of the religious movements of the world. The change has begun within, but has overflowed without them, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren,” is the order of nature and of grace. In secret they brood over their own state; weary and profitless, their soul fainteth within them. The religion they profess is a religion not of life to them, but of death; they lose their interest in the world, and are cut off from the communion of their fellow-men. While they are musing, the fire kindles, and at the last--“they speak with their tongue.” Then pours forth irrepressibly the pent-up stream--“unto all and upon all” their fellow-men; the intense flame of inward enthusiasm warms and lights up the world. First, they are the evidence to others; then, again, others are the evidence to them. All religious leaders cannot be reduced to a single type of character; yet in all, perhaps, two characteristics may be observed;
(1) great self-reflection;
(2) intense sympathy with other men.
Such men have generally appeared at favourable conjunctures of circumstances, when the old was about to vanish away, and the new to appear. The world has yearned towards them, and they towards the world. They have uttered what all men were feeling; they have interpreted the age to itself. Often such men have been brought up in the faith which they afterwards oppose, and a part of their power has consisted in their acquaintance with the enemy. They see other men like themselves formerly, wandering out of the way in the idol’s temple, amid a burdensome ceremonial, with prayers and sacrifices unable to free the soul. They lead them by the way themselves came to the home of Christ … Great men are sometimes said to possess the power of command, but not the power of entering into the feelings of others. They have no fear of their fellows, but neither are they always capable of immediately impressing them or of perceiving the impression which their words or actions make upon them. Often they live in a kind of solitude on which other men do not venture to intrude; putting forth their strength on particular occasions, careless or abstracted about the daily concerns of life. Such was not the greatness of St. Paul; not only in the sense in which he says that “he could do all things through Christ,” but in a more earthly and human one was it true, that his strength was his weakness, and his weakness his strength. His dependence on others was in part, also, the source of his influence over them. His natural character was the type of that communion of the Spirit which he preached; the meanness of appearance which he attributes to himself, the image of that contrast which the gospel presents to human greatness. Glorying and humiliation, life and death, a vision of angels strengthening him, the “thorn in the flesh” rebuking him, the greatest tenderness not without sternness, sorrows above measure, consolations above measure, are some of the contradictions which were reconciled in the same man. The centre in which things so strange met and moved was the Cross of Christ, whose marks in his body he bore; what was behind of whose afflictions he rejoiced to fill up. Let us look once more, a little closer, at that visage marred in his Master’s service. A poor decrepit being, afflicted, perhaps, with palsy, certainly with some bodily defect,--led out of prison between Roman soldiers, probably at times faltering in his speech, the creature, as he seemed to spectators, of nervous sensibility; yearning, almost with a sort of fondness, to save the souls of those whom he saw around him,--spoke a few eloquent words in the cause of Christian truth, at which kings were awed, telling the tale of his own conversion with such simple pathos, that after ages have hardly heard the like. (B. Jowett, M. A.)
Early life of St. Paul
The Apostle Paul was probably born in the later years of Herod, or early in the short reign of Archelaus, when, under the sway of the emperor Augustus, the Roman world was at peace, and when the wickedness of the imperial despotism had not yet fully developed itself. The pirates who had infested the Eastern Mediterranean had been sternly suppressed. The Jewish people were still enjoying everywhere ample toleration under the Roman rule, and a Jewish family like St. Paul’s, settled at Tarsus in Cilicia, would have been in sufficiently comfortable circumstances. For Tarsus was a free city of the Empire; that is to say, it was governed by its own magistrates, and was exempted from the annoyance of a Roman garrison; but it was not a colony like Philippi in Macedonia, and the freedom of Rome, which St. Paul says he had at his birth, would probably have been earned by some services rendered by his father during the civil wars to some one of the contending parties in the State. It is at least probable from the expression, “a Hebrew of the Hebrews,” which he applies ¢o himself, that his parents were originally emigrants from Palestine. We know that they were of the tribe of Benjamin, and that they were strict members of the Pharisee sect. Probably his father was engaged in the Mediterranean trade. To his mother, it is a remarkable circumstance, there is not one reference in his writings, He had a sister whose son lived in later years at Jerusalem, and who would have been his playmate at Tarsus. The Talmud says that s father’s duty toward his boy is to circumcise him, to teach him the law, and to teach him a trade. We know from the Epistle to the Philippians that the first of these precepts was accurately complied with on the eighth day after the child’s birth. The second would probably have been obeyed by sending the boy, not to one of the Greek schools in which Tarsus abounded, but to a Jewish school attached to one of the synagogues, where, after the age of five, he would have learnt the Hebrew Scriptures,--at ten those floating maxims of the great Jewish doctors which were afterwards collected in the Mishna, so as, at thirteen, to become what was called a “Subject of the Precept,” after a ceremony which was a kind of shadow of Christian confirmation. The third requirement was complied with by setting him to make tents out of the hair-cloth supplied by the goats which abounded on the slopes of the neighbouring mountains of the Taurus, and which was a chief article in the trade of the port--tents which to this day, according to Beaufort, are used largely by the peasantry of south-eastern Asia Minor during the harvesttime. At or soon after thirteen the little Saul would have been sent from home, probably in a trading vessel bound from the port of Tarsus for Caesarea, on his way to Jerusalem. Already, as a boy, the Holy City must have possessed for him an interest surpassing any which could be raised by any other place on earth. Every great festival would have been followed by the return of one or more of his countrymen to Tarsus, full of the inspiration of the sacred sights, full of the splendour of the new temple, full of the fame and learning of the great doctors of the law. Especially he would have heard much of the two rival schools of Hillel and Shammai, of which the former exalted tradition above the letter of the law, while the latter preferred the law to tradition when they clashed. Of these the school of Hillel was much the more influential, and when St. Paul was a boy or a young man its one great ornament was Gamaliel, who was evidently one of those men whose candour, wisdom, and consistent elevation of character would have secured him influence in any society, or in any age of the world. It was at the feet of Gamaliel, St. Paul tells us, he was brought up; and this expression “at the feet of Gamaliel” exactly recalls to us the manner in which the Rabbinical Assemblies of the Wise, as they were termed, were held. The teacher sat on a raised platform,--the pupils on low seats, or on the floor beneath. At this period of St. Paul’s life we are, to a certain extent, in the region of conjecture; but it is, upon the whole, scarcely doubtful that he would have returned to Tarsus in the prime of manhood, before he reappeared in Jerusalem as a member of the synagogue which was connected with, or maintained by, the Jews in Cilicia. This visit would have completed his acquaintance with the language, and to a certain limited extent with the literature, of Greece. At this time in his life, too, St. Paul would probably have become familiar with that large section of the Jews of the dispersion whose centre was Alexandria, who in everything but religion were nearly Greeks, whose religion was taking more and more of the Greek dress every day This education was moulding and developing a character which may be described by one single word--intensity. There was much besides. There was sensitiveness; there was impetuosity; there was courage; there was independence; but, in all that he did, Paul of Tarsus, before his conversion as well as after it, threw his whole energy, whether of thought or resolution, into his work. (Canon Liddon.)
Confession of former wrongdoing
I man may make his past sins known out of pride, but also out of humility. Whoever does not boast himself of the same, but humbles himself therefore before God, and willingly bears the shame of them before men, not relying upon himself, makes a good confession, but one not needful to be uttered before every man, as sometimes it would bring more scandal than benefit. (Quesnel.)
And profited in the Jews’ religion above many.
Paul’s prospects in the Jewish religion
He might, no doubt, have been the head of the Pharisaic faction in the last expiring struggles of his nation; he might have rallied round him the nobler spirits of his countrymen, and by his courage and prudence have caused Jerusalem to hold out a few months or years more against the army of Titus. Still at best he would have been a Maccabeus or a Gamaliel, and what a difference to the whole subsequent fortunes of the world between a Maccabeus and a Paul, between the Jewish Rabbi and the Apostle to the Gentiles. (Dean Stanley.)
His natural faculties were by his conversion “not unclothed, but clothed upon”; the glory of Divine grace was shown here as always, not by repressing and weakening the human character, but by bringing it out for the first time in its full vigour. He was still a Jew; the zeal of his ancestral tribe (Genesis 49:27), which had caused him “to ravin as a wolf in the morning” of his life, still glowed in his veins when he “returned in the evening to divide the spoil” of the mightier enemy whom he had defeated and bound; and in the unwearied energy and self.devotion, no less than the peculiar intensity of natural feeling, which mark his whole life and writings, we discern the qualities which the Jewish people alone of all the nations then existing on the earth could have furnished. (Dean Stanley.)
The traditions of the fathers
There are two large divisions of Rabbinic lore which may be classed under the heads of Hagadoth, or unrecorded legends; and Halachoth, or rules and precedents in explanation of dubious or undefined points of legal observance. It is natural that there should be but few traces of the latter in the writings of one whose express object was to deliver the Gentiles from the intolerable burden of legal Judaism. But though there is little trace of them he tells us that he had once been enthusiastic in their observance. And there are abundant signs that with the Hagadoth he was extremely familiar--e.g., Jannes and Jambres (2 Timothy 3:8), the last trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:52), the giving of the law by angels (Galatians 3:19), Satan as god of this world and prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), celestial and infernal hierarchies (Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12), are all recurrent in Talmudic writings. 1 Corinthians 11:10 refers to the Rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 6:2, which avers that angels fell because of their guilty love of women. The following rock of 1 Corinthians 10:4 is also a tradition. (F. W. Farrar.)
A false zeal in religion is always, in some respect or other, a misdirected zeal, or a zeal not according to knowledge; a zeal seeking some false end, or, while proposing to itself a good end, seeking its promotion in some unauthorized way. Jehu had a good zeal, which he called zeal for the Lord of Hosts. His fault was not that he was too zealous, but that his zeal was really directed to his own advancement. The Jews, in the days of Christ, had a zeal for God; but it was so misdirected as to fire them with a frenzy to destroy the Son of God, and extinguish the Light of the world. There are countless forms of false zeal now at work; but, in all cases, they sin not by excess, but by misdirection. Some are flaming with a zeal to spread some of the corruption of Christianity, and to carry men away from its great and cardinal truths. Some are equally zealous to build up a sect or a party on other foundations than those which God has laid in Zion; and that which taints their zeal is the purpose to which they employ it, and not any excessive fervour of their zeal itself. (Dr. Bonar.)
The most remarkable examples of zeal are found in the records of the early itinerant ministers. Richard Nolley, one of these, came upon the fresh trail of an emigrant in the wilderness, and followed it till he overtook the family. When the emigrant saw him, he said, “What, a methodist preacher! I quit Virginia to be out of the way of them; but in my settlement in Georgia I thought I should be beyond their reach. There they were; and they got my wife and daughter to join them. Then I come here to Chocktaw Corner, find a piece of land, feel sure that I shall have some peace from the preachers; and here is one before I have unloaded my waggon!” The preacher exhorted him to make his peace with God, that he might not be troubled by the everywhere-present methodist preachers.
During the battle of Gettysburg, Chaplain Eastman was so badly injured by a fall of his horse as to be compelled to lie down on the field for the night. As he lay in the darkness, he heard a voice say, “Oh my God!” and thought, “How can I get at him?” Unable to walk, he started to roll to the sufferer, and rolled through blood, among the dead bodies, till he came to the dying man, to whom he preached Christ. This service done, he was sent for to attend a dying officer, to whom he had to be carried by two soldiers. Thus he passed the long night; the soldiers carrying him from one dying man to another, to whom he preached Christ, and with whom he prayed, while compelled to lie on his back beside them.
The purity of that zeal for religion by which we gain worldly wealth is open to suspicion. Well fare their hearts who will not only wear out their shoes, but also their feet, in God’s service, even if they should not gain a shoe-latchet thereby.
True zeal is a sweet, heavenly, and gentle flame, which makes us active for God, but always within the sphere of love. It never calls for “fire from heaven,” to censure those who differ a little from us in their apprehensions. It is like that kind of lightning which melts the sword within, but singes not the scabbard; it strives to save the soul without hurting the body: (R. Cudworth.)
Good objects not to be unduly esteemed
Human nature is prone to extremes, sometimes in that which is good. St. Paul did not deem it necessary to underrate Judaism in order to justify his adherence to Christianity, But it is not to undervalue an institution to place it in its true light, and to regard it according to its intrinsic worth. It is not to undervalue a stream, to say of it that it is not the fountain, nor the blossom that it is not fruit, nor a shadow that it is not the substance, nor a taper that it is not the sun. St. Paul knew well that the Jewish ceremonies were valuable not for their own sake merely, but as so many moral conductors to Christ; and that that end being accomplished, their virtue ceased. And he was not the man to tolerate for a moment the egregious absurdity of those who, for sinister purposes, would depose Christ from his high supremacy, and substitute the ancient ritual of Moses for the atonement of the cross, and go back to the dim twilight of the law, while living under the meridian brightness of the gospel day. But it is only when viewed in contrast with the inherent efficacy of the better sacrifice, the better covenant, and the better promises, introduced by the Son of God Himself, that he ever speaks with anything like disparagement of the abrogated institutions of Judaism; which, like the waning orbs of night when the sun is nigh, “have no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth.” “Ye have heard of my conversation in times past in the Jews’ religion; being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” The general instruction to be derived from this reference to his own past history, and to the errors of the Galatian people, is, that great care is requisite lest objects, good in themselves, be perverted to lead the mind away from Christ. (The Evangelist.)
Paul’s Jewish life
I. The religion of Paul before his conversion was distinguished by hatred and cruelty. “He persecuted the Church of God and wasted it.”
II. The religion of Paul before his conversion was distinguished by great proficiency in Jewish rites and ceremonies. “He profited in the Jews’ religion above many his equals in his own nation.”
III. Paul’s religion before his conversion was distinguished by zeal for the traditions of the fathers. “Being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” Lessons:
1. Paul exhibited a character in which the desire to excel was ever prominent. His persecution was above measure, his proficiency and zeal in the Jewish religion, were superior to his contemporaries. The same feature of character was observed in Christian work.
2. Paul’s history teaches that sincerity is no proof of righteousness. He “thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (R. Nicholls.)
I. Is founded on the human in religion;
II. Is bitter and persecuting in its spirit; III Indicates not true religion but the want of it. (J. Lyth.)
But when it pleased God to reveal His Son in me.
Although Paul was suddenly converted, yet God had had thoughts of mercy towards him from his very birth. God did not begin to work with him when he was on the road to Damascus. That was not the first occasion on which eyes of love had darted upon this chief of sinners.
I. The purpose of God preceding saving grace, as it may clearly be seen developing itself in human history. The life of men before conversion is really a working of them in the clay. You may perceive God’s purpose in St. Paul, when you think of
(1) the singular gifts with which he was endowed;
(2) his education;
(3) the spiritual struggles through which he passed;
(4) the singular formation of his mind.
Even as a sinner, Paul was great. A man full of energy and determination. His conversion only lifted him into a higher life, but left him unchanged as to temperament, nature, and force of character. He seems to have been constituted naturally a thorough-going, thorough-hearted man, in order that when grace did come to him he might be just as earnest, dauntless, fearless, in defence of the right. Such a man was wanted to lead the vanguard in the great crusade against the god of this world, and from his very birth God was fitting him for this position; before he was converted, prevenient grace was thus engaged, fashioning, moulding, and preparing the man, in order that by-and-by there might be put into his nostrils the breath of life.
II. Grace preceding calling in another sense. It is impossible to say, concerning the elect, when the grace of God begins to deal with them. You can tell when the quickening grace comes, but not when the grace itself comes.
1. Formative grace. This is to be born of Christian parents, in a Christian country, and nurtured in piety.
2. Preventive grace. Saved from sins that others fall into.
3. Restraining grace. Debarred by circumstances from sins to which we are inclined.
4. Preparatory work of grace. Before casting in the seed, God is pleased to give to some
(a) an attentive ear. Willingness to listen to the Word when it is brought to him;
(b) an ingenuousness of heart;
(c) a tender conscience;
(d) dissatisfaction with their present state.
Apples of Sodom, at one time fair and sweet to their taste, God turns to ashes and bitterness in their mouth.
Thus it was with Augustine, wandering wearily hither and thither with a death-thirst in his soul, that no fount of philosophy, or scholastic argument, or heretical teaching could ever assuage. He was aware of his unhappy estate, and turned his eye round the circle of the universe looking for peace, not fully conscious of what he wanted, though feeling an aching void the world could never fill. He had not found the centre, fixed and steadfast, around which all else revolved in ceaseless change. All this appetite, this hunger and thirst, is not of the devil, or of the human heart alone, but of God.
III. Paul’s actual calling by Divine grace. All preparatory work of which we have spoken, was not the source or origin of the vital godliness which afterwards distinguished him; that came to him on a sudden. In a moment he saw everything in a different light; and from a foe he was changed into a staunch and loyal friend of Jesus. He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Some of the good fathers amongst us are mourning very bitterly just now over their sons. Your children do not turn out as you wish they would; they are getting sceptical, some of them, and they are also falling into sin. Well, dear friends, it is yours to mourn; it is enough to make you weep bitterly; but let me whisper a word into your ear. Do not sorrow as those who are without hope, for God may have very great designs to be answered, even by these very young men who seem to be running so altogether in the wrong direction. I do not think I could go so far as John Bunyan did, when he said he was sure God would have some eminent saints in the next generation, because the young men in his day were such gross sinners, that he thought they would make fine saints; and when the Lord came and saved them by His mercy, they would love much because they had had so much forgiven. I would hardly like to say so much as that, but I do believe that sometimes in the inscrutable wisdom of God, when some of those who have been sceptical come to see the truth, they are the very best men that could possibly be found to do battle against the- enemy. Some of those who have fallen into error, after having passed through it, and happily come up from its deep ditch, are just the men to stand and warn others against it. I cannot conceive that Luther would ever have been so mighty a preacher of the faith, if he had not himself struggled up and down Pilate’s staircase on his knees, when trying to get to heaven by his penances and his good works. O let us have hope. We do not know but that God may be intending yet to call them and bless them. Who can tell, there may be a young man here to-night who will one day be the herald of the Cross in China, in Hindostan, in Africa, and in the islands of the sea? Remember John Williams wishing to keep an appointment with another young man who committed a certain sin. He wanted to know what time it was, and so just stepped into Moorfields Chapel; some one saw him, and he did not like to go out, and the word preached by Mr. Timothy East fell on his ears, and the young sinner was made a saint; and you all know how he afterwards perished as a martyr on the shores of Erromanga. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
St. Paul here claims to be an apostle, an inspired apostle, one qualified to speak with authority, and to teach infallible truth.
I. A Divine communication of light and knowledge was made to him. He had been blind, now he saw.
II. The subject of this Divine communication was the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. In Christ was seen the glory of the Divine nature.
2. In Christ was seen the glory of the Divine attributes. As the wax bears the perfect image of the seal, so were all the perfections of the Divine character reflected in him.
3. In Christ was seen the glory of the Divine purposes. Redemption is the masterpiece of Divine wisdom; in redemption Christ is the central figure.
III. The sphere in which this Divine communication had place was the soul of the apostle. “In me.” He saw, believed, and loved. His intellect was more than satisfied; his heart was at peace. Judaism was superseded, and like a dissolving view, passed rapidly away; heathenism was seen more clearly to be a lie and an imposture. To know Christ, to win Christ, to preach Christ, to love Christ, to be with Christ, was all he desired. (Emilius Bayley, B. D.)
What we need is the revelation of Christ within us; not the communication of truths yet unrevealed, as was necessary in the case of the founders of our religion, but the communication of truths already made known; the removal of the veil from our hearts, and the giving of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Each of us must for himself discover the hid treasure; whether the light flashes upon us in an instant, as with the woman at the well of Jacob, or comes to us as the result of long search and patient inquiry, as in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, we must find the Messiah, we must hear Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world. It will not suffice, in this day at least, to take religion upon trust, to accept the popular faith, just because it is popular. Such belief will not stand in the day of trial; it certainly will exercise no constraining influence upon our hearts and lives. Whether for our peace or for our usefulness, Christ must live within us; the reasonable mind must apprehend Him, the heart must cleave to Him. Thus our lives will tell upon the world around us. There will be a living power within, full of holy joy, and peace, and comfort; whilst a living power will go forth from us, and act silently, it may be, but effectually, upon the world without. (Emilius Bayley, B. D.)
God’s call and Paul’s reply
The Christian religion is emphatically one. It may differ and does differ, in its development; but the foundation must be belief in Deity--an intelligent, devout recognition of the Almighty in His varied relationships to the world. Hence a perfect belief in a perfect Deity means this: That you believe in and regard that Deity as the Creator and Controller of the universe; as the Saviour of the world; as the appliancer of the redemptive scheme--in other words, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Unless this is recognized, there can be no true Christianity.
I. Christian Life Is Identified With A Knowledge Of Christ.
1. To know Christ is to know the great centre to which all other doctrines converge.
2. Knowing Christ as a Saviour, you realize the damnable nature of sin.
II. Christ Is Known Only As He Is Divinely Revealed.
1. Ordinary means. Bible reading. Church going. Conversation. Sunday Schools, etc.
2. Extraordinary. St. Paul’s conversion.
III. The knowledge of Christ is given in pursuance of a divine purpose.
IV. Knowledge of Christ is preparatory for the highest usefulness. (A. F. Barfield.)
Doctrine of predestination
I look upon this earth in which I live. I find it grasped and girded by God’s all-embracing laws, as of gravitation, of the ebb and flow of the tides, of light, of the procession of the seasons--all utterly and absolutely beyond my control. They reach above, beneath, around, within me; I cannot touch them. There they are; unalterable, unswerving, necessitated--in its profoundest sense, predestinated. And what is the issue of obedience to these laws? Happiness, in the measure of such obedience. Is that no revelation of the character of the God of the universe. No revelation! I could shut my Bible, and from creation--from the meanest flower that blows, up to the stars that hang like lamps before the great white throne--find infinite proofs that my God is also my Father. Exactly so, I cannot tell how free will, choice, contingency, accord with predestination, election, foreordination, substitution. I do not feel that I am called upon to do so. But as we have seen, our own consciousness attests the former, while the Word of God recognizes and addresses them--recognizes and addresses man as free to think, feel, will, choose, reject. Equally does the Word of God affirm the latter. I therefore accept them also, and can defer knowing how the All-wise harmonizes them, until He pleases to reveal them to me. Nay, more, I have deepest belief that even as the physical world is grasped and girded by its great laws, so must the other and grander world of mind have underneath it, like the granite base of the everlasting hills, above it, like the dome of the sky, kindred laws. These laws I recognize and accept in predestination, election, foreordination, substitution. (A. B. Grosart, LL. D.)
The threefold revelation of Christ
I. To him. When he was “called” on the way to Damascus, and so to every one who becomes His servant Christ appears to arrest and claim him.
II. In him. The Lord is revealed in His servant’s heart as his life and strength.
III. Through him. The new life of Christ’s servant is a perpetual
(2) proclamation of His Redeemer. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
I. Is the foundation of all doctrinal and ethical truth.
II. Tends to personal edification, deep emotion, and dutiful submission to the Divine will.
III. Determines the tone and strength of our life.
IV. Is a means to consciousness of direct personal relationship to God. (T. Goadby.)
The personal history and public purpose of the conversion
I. Its personal history.
1. The inner revelation of Christ to the soul, which is something more than His revelation to
(1) the senses,
(2) the understanding,
(3) the conscience.
2. The inner revelation of Christ to the soul through God.
(1) By predetermination.
(2) By sovereignty.
II. Its public purpose.
1. Not his own good.
2. But to preach.
(1) Paul felt the duty of preaching to be paramount.
(2) He employed the best means for its effective discharge. (D. Thomas.)
Ministers are separated to their own work
I. A soldier who went to the war took with him some of the small instruments of his craft--he was a watchmaker and repairer--thinking to make some extra shillings now and then while in camp. He did so. He found plenty of watches to mend, and almost forgot that he was a soldier. One day, when ordered off on some duty, he exclaimed, “Why, how can I go? I’ve got ten watches to mend!” Some ministers are so absorbed in self-seeking that they are ready to say to the Master’s call, “I pray Thee have me excused!” They are nominally ministers of Christ, but really only watch-menders. Mr. Moody says:--I remember when I was in Chicago before the fire, I was on some ten or twelve committees. My hands were full. If a man came to me to talk about his soul I would say, “I haven’t time; got a committee to attend to.” But now I have turned my back on everything--turned my attention to saving souls, and God has blessed me and made me an instrument to save more souls during the last four or five years than during all my previous life. And so if a minister will devote himself to this undivided work, God will bless him. Take that motto of Paul’s: “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
A river flowing with rapid and majestic current to the sea would defy the efforts of the whole world to turn it back again to its source; yet, by the returning tide it is not only arrested in its course but driven up again with great rapidity towards its fountain head. It is thus that a sinner is stopped in his career of sin, and turned towards high and heavenly things. (C. Simeon.)
The inward revelation of Christ
Now, there is nothing mysterious about this. Have we not all felt this inward revelation of Christ?--a discovery larger, sweeter and more and more luminous, of this nature and work, which enters and is woven like a thread of gold into the fabric of thought and character. The disciples doubtless had a conception at first of the Saviour as a general benefactor to the race and His teachings as generally helpful to men, but after their characters began to mature they came to understand the personal, individual and vital relationship between Him and them. A keen sense of personal sinfulness must precede any vivid conception of the grace of Christ as shown to burdened and aspiring souls. Again, in the silent government of the soul’s activities we recognize Christ revealed in us. We recognize inward impulsions that are not born of us, but of a resident and daily more regnant power that is working through our own volitions. In labour and worship, in acts of beneficence and in all the service of life, we feel the silent government of the indwelling Master. With these inward revelations and spiritual intuitions we are guided in duty. Truth is verified in our vision, because it is illuminated by Him who is the light of the world. Christ finds a home in our affectional nature. At first we feel that we ought to love Christ more than all else--parents, friends, or treasure; but it is hard to do this, and our obedience is apt to be mechanical until the inward grace and subtle sense of the indwelling Helper comes to be recognized. It is as indefinable a sense as the odour of the lily and rose that perfumes our dwelling, yet we know it to be a reality. We see bane changed to blessing and a spirit of nobleness begotten in us, so that we come naturally, that is, reasonably and by the tutelage of His grace, to love Him better than all things else. This love toward Christ as He is within us testifies of the Divine indwelling, and it is a love which He will crown and glorify. In the joyful assurance of the future we find evidence of this revelation of Christ in us. He satisfies and gratifies us every hour by these revelations to us. Men of the world wonder at us. They call our confidence credulity and superstition. Nay, it is the dictate of our assurance of Christ in us. The text illumines other utterances of Paul. The life he lived was the life of Christ in him: “I, yet not I.” Thus was fulfilled the promise, “We will make our abode with him.” We see from this subject how progressive Christian experience is. One may say, “Would that I could at once step into the fulness of the knowledge of God!” Do you expect to step at once into the fulness of earthly knowledge? Shall not this more august revelation be continuous and progressive? Begin now in obedience to Christ, go on step by step till Christ’s life is enthroned within you, and then it will be manifested by you. We have here a suggestion as to how the world influences us and crowds out Christ. Work for Christ wears a new significance when the fact and propulsive power of this indwelling are thus revealed. (R. S. Storrs.)
Paul’s account of his conversion
I. Conversion described. Paul writes of the change through which he had passed in brief but forcible terms. “It pleased God to reveal His Son in me.”
1. The change in Paul was a spiritual one.
2. God’s great work is done in the soul, because the fountain of evil is there.
3. Conversion is a clear, definite recognition of Christ as the Saviour. He was revealed in Paul, so that he had no doubt of His Divinity or of His Messiahship. He believed Him to be the Christ, the Son of God.
II. Conversion explained.
1. Conversion is an act of God’s grace. It pleased God to reveal His Son in Paul.
2. Conversion is preceded by means which are altogether of God’s arrangement. Paul here refers to plans, remote and immediate, and both are of God. “He separated him from his mother’s womb.”
III. Conversion manifested.
1. By his renouncing that which he had formerly sought after.
2. His voluntary exile and solitude was a further manifestation of his conversion.
3. His conversion was manifest by his return to Damascus, and engaging in active service.
1. The methods by which men are brought to Christ vary, but conversion is in every instance the same, the revealing of the Son of God to the heart.
2. All who have been renewed by the power of God, manifest in themselves the reality of the change. Conversion is regeneration realized in the heart and life. (R. Nicholls.)
The inward realization by St. Paul himself of the gospel
“It pleased God to reveal His Son in me.” He needed not to go to the traditions of the life of our Saviour. Christ was known to him in a more immediate way. He found in his own heart the living oracle, and needed not to travel further. One of his remarkable words is this:--Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven, etc. But, more closely, what was this process? It was the translation of the historical Christ into the present Christ; of the Christ according to the flesh into the Christ of spiritual consciousness. What is translation? It is was the extracting a thought from its visible, or representative envelope, and then
(2) it is the recasting of this thought into another form of our own intelligent selection. By this process, faithfully carried out, you make the thought your own. You bring it out of its mere external relation to the mind as an object, and you make it a part of your mind, as subject. It is no longer now something that you contemplate merely with the mind’s eye, and which passes from memory when your attention is withdrawn, but it is now bound up with your mind, and must remain a part of your conscious being. We are always performing this process upon some matter or other. In this way the student gathers the thought of a foreign author, throws it out again into the best form in which he can recognize it in his own language, and now it is his possession. The artist gazes for hours at a picture of which we see little more than the surface, and throws out the sense of it on the canvas of his brain, or in visible studies of his own. The friend watches the face of his friend, quickly seizes the thought that is playing in living expression on his brow and eye and mouth, and projects the meaning again into some image or some verbal expression. In whatever interests us we separate the form from the contents; we grasp these contents, we pass them through our mind in deep reflection, until of themselves they flow into a new shape, which is a form of our consciousness, and may be a permanent stamp of it. So St. Paul gazed at the cross and the resurrection of Christ, extracted a marvellous fund of Divine meaning from them, which in turn he threw out into forms of thought which are so mighty in their power over us because they were first so mightily realized in himself. Thus the significance of the cross, translated into his own consciousness, became a personal experience: death unto sin, because Christ died; or, a revelation of Divine love: “the Son of God who loved me.” The resurrection in like manner, “raised up together with Christ,” “alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” There was something deeper even than this process of translation; there was an identification of himself with Christ (no other word will hardly express this deeper process). He felt that he was included in Christ. In the Sonship of Christ he saw his own sonship to God realized. As in Christ the Holy Spirit dwelt in a human body, so St. Paul realized the indwelling of God in himself. He saw a contrast of weakness with power in the crucifixion--he realized that contrast in himself. It seems no strain of language to say that in the consciousness of Paul, Christ was inseparable from himself. He could not abstract the ego, as metaphysicians would say, from a non-ego. He could not think of himself without thinking of Christ. “I am crucified with Christ,” etc. He applies the same mode of thought to his converts and disciples. (E. Johnson, M. A.)
Christ manifested to the soul
The co-essential, co-eternal Son of God, was revealed in the Apostle Paul. Were we possessed of all the knowledge Adam had in innocence, or which Solomon acquired by labour and industry, or which the prophets and apostles obtained by Divine inspiration--yet, without this internal revelation of Christ, we should be as remote from happiness as the devils in hell. Now observe--
I. How the revelation of Christ IN a man differs from the mere external revelation of Christ TO a man.
1. They differ in their original source and spring. Both proceed from God; but the one is the fruit of His general favour, the other of His special grace.
2. In the means by which they are wrought. The one, by outward means; the other by the internal agency of the Divine spirit. Moral suasion and human instruction may reveal Christ to a man; but it is the peculiar office of the Spirit to reveal Christ in us, to take of His things and show them to us so convincingly that we shall have no doubt of their truth and reality.
3. The subject of this knowledge is different, as well as the manner of conveyance. The external revelation of Christ affects only the head; that which is internal, the heart. The one reaches only to the understanding; the other influences the practical judgment, directs the will, and gives law to the affections. The necessity and excellency of Christ, in all His characters and offices, is now so clearly discerned, that the soul goes out after Him, and rests in Him, as its supreme good and everlasting portion.
4. In their nature and essential properties. The one dark and confused; the other clear and distinct. The one is seeing things in our own light; the other, in God’s light. The one is distant, and therefore undelightful; the other, appropriative and satisfying,--not equally so in every saint, but in a greater or less degree in all.
5. In their continuance. The revelation of Christ to a man may be lost, eclipsed, or destroyed; but the revelation of the text is permanent and abiding. God is the Author of it, and His gifts are without repentance; the Spirit is the efficient cause, and He never wholly withdraws His influence.
II. The necessity and excellence of an internal revelation of Christ.
1. It is the beginning of all Christian experience, the first blessed fruit of the Spirit’s influence on a sinner’s heart. Without it, no grace here, and no hope of salvation hereafter. The meritorious sufferings of Christ will not save us without the spiritual knowledge of Him.
2. The foundation of all spiritual comfort. When Christ enters, light, peace, glory enter, applying what He has done, bringing home to us what He has purchased.
3. The grand spring of holiness and obedience. The more we know of Christ, the more we shall love Him; and the more we love Him, the more conscientious, universal, and unwearied will be our obedience; subjection a delight and pleasure, instead of a task or burden. Knowledge which reaches the heart, will regulate the life and conversation.
4. This revelation is especially necessary to form the ministerial character. A faithful minister must be a good man, as well as bring good tidings.
5. This revelation is connected with eternal life, and a certain pledge of, as well as necessary preparation for, a future state of happiness and glory. If ignorant of Christ, we cannot believe on Him, or be saved by Him. Closing inferences:
(a) No wonder so many men of great ability arc enemies to the gospel and its doctrine of salvation. God has never yet revealed His Son in them.
(b) How should we pity those destitute of this revelation! Other wants may be afflicting: this is damning.
(c) What reason for thankfulness have those who are blessed with the spiritual saving knowledge of Christ. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Conversion a revelation in the soul
Conversion is a revelation, i.e., not a discovery of something new, but the unveiling of what has been hidden. No explanation for such a change as followed this revelation, save in the region of the supernatural.
1. This revelation was to St. Paul a vindication of Christ’s character. St. Paul had thought Jesus an impostor; God removes the veil from his heart, and he sees Him to be the Christ, the only begotten Son of the Divine Father.
2. It was a revelation to him of his own position He not only saw who Christ was, but what he himself had been.
3. A revelation of the Divine long-suffering. When the light of that day of mercy dawned, what was the message? It might have been a message of doom; and Paul felt that. It might have been a voice of wrath, proclaiming wrath for his countless sins. But no; the voice comes with the old message of entreaty, “Why persecutest thou Me?” The voice comes with the Divine pathos and the Divine hope: “Saul, Saul, arise and stand upon thy feet, for I have appeared to thee not to hurl the bolts of judgment, not to rehearse the catalogue of thy transgressions, not to ring the knell of thy doom, but to announce the true advent of thy noblest life, to make thee a minister of My gospel, to send thee to men.” What wonder, then, that Paul counts himself an example of God’s long-suffering? What wonder that he speaks in such terms of redeeming love, of the riches--the unfathomed and unfathomable riches--of grace?
4. A revelation of a glorious destiny. No higher honour than to preach Christ, to be the minister of reconciliation to thousands.
5. This revelation was all-inclusive, In this Divine light, all things looked Divine. Henceforth, Jesus Christ was stamped on everything. The world was His; life was His; labour was His; love was His.
6. This revelation was ever increasing. The horizon widened. Every hour the light grew clearer, and spread to wider stretches. Even after thirty years acquaintance with Christ, Paul only feels there is so much to be known, that what he does know is as nothing to what he has yet to learn (Philippians 3:8-14). Is our conversion like his? (T. W. Handford.)
The inner revelation of Christ
The object of this Divine revelation was “His Son”; not the truth about Him, or His work, or His death, or His glory, but Himself--Himself including all. His person is the sum of the gospel. This revelation may have been in some sense subsequent to the direct call, or it may refer also to the appearance of the Redeemer near Damascus qualifying him for the apostleship (1 Corinthians 9:1). It gave him full and glowing views of the Redeemer’s person, including His various relations to God and to man,--such views as fixed the apostle’s faith upon Him, centred his love in Him, and enabled him to hold Him out in his preaching as the one living and glorified Saviour. It was by no process of reasoning that he came to such conclusions, by no elaborate and sustained series of demonstrations that he wrought out his Christology. Gad revealed His Son in him, Divine light was flashed in upon him, so that he saw what he had not seen before, fully, suddenly, and by a higher than intuitive suggestion. He had not been taught, and he did not need to be taught by any of the apostles. (John Eadie, D. D.)
Revelation unlike reasoning
Revelation is opposed to knowledge gained by prolonged and patient thought. It is unlike the common process by which an intellectual conclusion is reached, the inference of one syllogism forming but the premiss of another, till by a series of connected links, primary or abstract truth is reached. For it is sudden and perfect illumination, lifting the receptive power into intensest susceptibility, and so lighting up the whole theme disclosed, that it is immediately and fully apprehended in its evidence and reality. We know not, indeed, what the process is, what the waking up of the higher intuition is, or what the ecstasy which throws into momentary abeyance all the lower faculties. It may resemble that new sphere of vision in which genius enjoys gleams of unutterable beauty, or that “demonstration of the Spirit” which gives the truth new aspects of richness and grandeur to the sanctified soul in some mood of rapt meditation. But still it is different and higher far both in matter and purpose. It was God’s revelation of His Son,--not glimpses of the truth about Him, but Himself; not merely summoning His attention to His paramount claims, so as to elicit an acknowledgment of them,--not simply presenting Him to his intellectual perception to be studied and comprehended,--nor even shrining an image of Him in his heart to be loved and cherished,--but His Son unveiled in living reality; and in him--in his inner self, not in any distinct and separate realm of his being--with the conscious possession of all this infallible and communicable knowledge which was given, perhaps, first in clear and vivid outline, and then filled in surely and gradually. (John Eadie, D. D.)
Conversion of St. Paul
The vision which St. Paul saw on the way to Damascus, followed him through his whole life. There was one image which hovered over him, one thought which urged him onward, one spirit which he breathed, one life which he lived--the image, the thought, the spirit, the life of Christ. In the ruder times of Christianity we have heard of saints whose eyes were ever fixed on the material image of the crucified Redeemer, who bore in their body the marks of the Lord Jesus. What is true of them in a grosser and more literal sense, is true of St. Paul figuratively and spiritually: he felt himself and all other Christians to be crucified with Christ. In all His affliction they are afflicted, even as they are the partakers of His glory, dying with Him in sin and to sin, buried in baptism, filling up in their body the measure of His suffering, partaking of His hidden life in the grave, that with Him also they may rise again. If the apostle rejoices, he is as one risen with Christ; if he suffers, he is crucified with Him; if at one and the same instant he suffers, and triumphs, and is a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men, he is but as Christ was, Who was lifted up from the earth that he might draw all men after Him. He is as one stricken to the earth, at the same time that he partakes of the vision of the Divine glory. It is this thought and image of Christ, not freedom or faith, or any form of the subjective principle, which is the primary idea of the gospel in the mind of the apostle, Neither is it the belief in Christ as an object without him, to whom he is to transfer all his sins, but the ever-present consciousness of Christ within him, Who is one and inseparable from him, that is the support and anchor of his soul. As it is to the apostle more than any other human teacher we trace back the great doctrine of righteousness by faith, so to this event in his life we must refer that impression of Divine truth, which opened the kingdom of heaven to all mankind by the sight of Christ Himself. St. Paul was the human medium through which it was conveyed; an apostle not of man, neither by man, but of Jesus Christ, in whom it pleased God to reveal His Son. As it was necessary for the other apostles that Christ should go away, or otherwise the Comforter would net come unto them, so also it was in a certain sense a preeminence that he possessed over them, that as one born out of due time he had not known Christ according to the flesh, but only in a heavenly and spiritual manner. (B. Jowett, M. A.)
Life in the revelation of Christ
A man often passes through many stages before he becomes truly converted to God. When he is first awakened to serious impressions, and sees the folly of intently pursuing worldly things, to the neglect of the more durable riches, he resembles a boy emerging from childhood, who throws aside his trifles and playthings for amusements of a higher and more intellectual kind. He now sets himself with all diligence to working out his own salvation in his own strength; multiplies his religious duties, and reforms his bad habits; yet all this while he is like one who has been employed in new painting and varnishing a wooden statue--it has no life within. But when the Holy Spirit influences his heart, and reveals Christ in him, he is in the state of one who has awakened from a dream, in which he has been acting a fictitious part, to live and move and use all his faculties in reality, and enter on the great business of life. (H. G. Salter.)
Readiness for service
Brutus visiting Ligarius found him ill, and said, “What! sick, Ligarius?” “No, Brutus,” said he; if thou hast any noble enterprise in hand I am well.” So should the believer say of Christ; what might excuse us from other labour shall never prevent our engaging in His service. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Personal responsibility as entrusted with a revelation
“To reveal His Son in me,” might seem to imply some internal revelation; doubtless there was, but St. Paul more immediately referred to the fact that God intended to reveal His Son to mankind by and through him; he was to be the instrument of the revelation; God had revealed Christ to him, that he might reveal Him to others. For God can never make a revelation of His Son through a man, until He has first made the revelation within him; the lamp cannot illuminate until the light has been lighted within it; the light shines without because it shines within; and if St. Paul could speak confidently of God having been pleased to call him by His grace, and to reveal Christ through him to the heathen, it was because he could speak confidently of that revelation of Christ to his own soul, which had so thoroughly converted his mind and changed the purpose of his life. Let us leave St. Paul, however, for a few moments, and let me remind you how that God has from the beginning revealed Himself to man, and that the spiritual condition of man before God has depended upon the way in which he has received the revelation. To be able to receive a revelation from God, this is one mark of humanity; and to be able to reject the revelation, this is another. Next observe that the whole course of sacred history, since the days of Adam, has been a history of revelations. God has revealed, unveiled, discovered Himself to this man and to that, in order that he to whom God has been revealed may reveal Him to ethers; the process of which St. Paul speaks when he says, “to reveal His Son in me,” is the very process which has been going on from the beginning. Look at Noah. Look at Abraham. “The Lord had said unto Abraham.” That is the very beginning of his history. Once more, look at Moses. You see precisely the same characteristics of conduct. He, too, received a revelation from God; and the pressure of the responsibility which that revelation brought with it is made all the more conspicuous by the fact that Moses shrank from it, and tried to evade it. We wish to regard ourselves as laid under a pressure of responsibility by the fact of our having received a revelation from God. (The Dean of Ely.)
The duty imposed by revelation
Let us then take the Holy Scriptures in our hands, or press them to our hearts, and say, Here is the record of the way in which God has at sundry times and in divers manners spoken to our fathers by the prophets, and has in these latter days spoken to us by His Son; and having done this, then let us go on to ask ourselves what ought to be the practical consequences of having such a possession? It is a common saying in these days that property has its duties as well as its privileges, and so the possession of the Word of God, compared with which all other possessions must be poor and trifling, must bring with it very great duties: what are they? These, at least; to honour it, to love it, to strive if necessary, or even to die, for it; but besides these, there is the more common and perhaps the more important duty, of exhibiting in our own lives the ideal which Holy Scripture sets before us, the duty of living like Christ, and becoming (as it were) a living practical commentary upon the contents of God’s book. This is just the difference between this book and others; other books you may read and forget, this you must not forget; others you may have on your shelves and not read unless you like, this you must read if you can; upon others you may pronounce any opinion you please, but this must govern your opinions, and you must take it as the light of your feet and the lamp to your paths. Yes, this is the way in which you must treat the Scriptures, not only for your own sakes, but for the sake of others. I said just now that you must strive, if necessary, for the Holy Scriptures, but undoubtedly the most effective way of defending them from assaults, and making men honour them, is to act them out in your conduct, and let Christ be revealed to men in your lives. St. Paul speaks in the text of Christ being revealed in him. I have spoken of the force of that phrase; and now, finally, I would ask you to compare it with a similar phrase with which the apostle closes the chapter from which I have taken my text; he says, “they glorified God in me;” they saw his life, they saw the change made by God’s revelation, and they glorified God in him when they saw Christ revealed in him; and so, Christian brethren, if we have received a revelation from God, and if a deep responsibility is laid upon us by the reception of that revelation, then the best mode of discharging our responsibility is to lead a holy and godly life. That will show forth Christ. (The Dean of Ely.)
St. Paul’s call to the apostolic office
I. The source whence his religious impressions were derived. What does Paul mean to teach us when he says that he was called? He means that it was not he who first came to the Master, but that having been called to Him, he obeyed; that he did not spontaneously seek and find, but that he was found when he was wandering; that it was not he who first looked up to the light, but the light which sent its rays upon his vision, and having closed his outward, opened his inward eyes.
II. His destination to the apostolic office.
1. That this commission was co-incident with his conversion, and he became a successful advocate of the truth he once opposed. The suddenness of his preparation for the office strikes us as much as the suddenness of his call to it; and his history teaches us that Christ is at no loss for instruments in the advancement of His cause. If the interests of religion require some distinguished champion, He reverses the ordinary laws of procedure, and goes down to the camp of the enemy, and fixing His eye upon the hope and pride of all their hosts, converts him from a foe into a friend, and presents him to the world as a trophy of His power, and a successful herald of His praise. Christ rules “in the midst of His enemies,” and from the very stones that threaten to impede his triumphal march, “can raise up children to Abraham.” Luther was educated as a monk in the University of Wirtemburg, and was so eager an upholder of the existing system, that he publicly defended, in a thesis, the martyrdom of John Huss. He was, even after his conversion, long reluctant to throw off the authority of the Pope; yet this man was the instrument of the emancipation of Europe, and, once engaged, as Atterbury has observed, against the united forces of the papal world, stood the shock with bravery and success. “I was,” says Latimer, “as obstinate a papist as any in England, and when made Bachelor of Divinity, my whole oration went against Philip Melancthon and his opinions.” Soame Jenyns was for many years a deist, yet, after emerging from a labyrinth of scepticism, he wrote an ingenious work on the internal evidences of the Christian religion, the success of which gave him much joy on his death-bed. The late Mr. Biddulph, in his work on the Liturgy, states of Gilbert West, and his friend Lord Lyttleton, that they were both men of acknowledged talents, and had imbibed the principles of infidelity from a superficial view of the Scriptures. Fully persuaded that the system was an imposture, they were determined to expose the cheat. Mr. West chose the Resurrection of Christ, and Lord Lyttleton the Conversion of St. Paul, for the subject of hostile criticism, Both sat down to their respective tasks, full of prejudice and contempt for Christianity, but the result of their separate attempts was truly extraordinary. They were both converted by their efforts to overthrow the truth, and came together, not as they anticipated, to exult over an imposture turned to ridicule, but to lament their own folly, and felicitate each other upon their joint conviction that the Bible was the Word of God. And their inquiries have furnished two most valuable treatises in favour of revelation: one entitled, “Observations on the Resurrection of Christ,” and the other, “Observations on the Conversion of St. Paul.” “This also cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.”
2. That the decision and energy he displayed in the service of Christ are worthy of universal imitation. “Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.” In the concerns of salvation flesh and blood are very bad counsellors. Flesh and blood would have kept the three Hebrew youths from the fiery furnace; Abraham from offering the child of promise, etc. (The Evangelist.)
The inward revelation of Christ
I. The sum of experience in conversion.
II. The chief essential qualification of the preacher.
III. The great religious want of the world. (T. Goadby.)
The inner revelation of Christ
Education refines and elevates but does not save and sanctify the soul; law civilizes but cannot change the heart and the will; science and philosophy give power and endless resources to enlarge the faculties of the mind, but they leave the problems of sin and pardon unsolved. The revelation of Christ fills the soul with light, and life, and joy; is the only solution of the problems of our moral being; the only deliverer from the law of sin and death; the only pledge of everlasting life, and indeed the beginning of a Divine education which ennobles and saves, and the dawn of a heavenly day which brings wisdom, and righteousness, and peace. (T. Goadby.)
is the calm exercise of omnipotent power like that which commanded the light to shine out of darkness: it commands the light of the glory of God to shine on the soul from the face of God internally revealed. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
is the personal interview of each conscience with God the Judge of all. (W. J. Irons, D. D.)
The conversion of St. Paul a witness to the truth of Christianity
He was not separated from the events, as we are, by centuries of time. He was not liable to be blinded by the dazzling glamour of a victorious Christendom. He had mingled daily with men who had watched from Bethlehem to Golgotha the life of the Crucified. He had talked with the priests who had consigned Him to the cross; he had put to death the followers who had wept beside His tomb. He had to face the horror of a Messiah who “had hung upon a tree.” He had heard again and again the:proofs which had satisfied an Annas and a Gamaliel that Jesus was a deceiver. The events on which the apostle relied as proof of His Divinity had taken place in the full blaze of contemporary knowledge. He had not to deal with the uncertainties of criticism or assaults on authenticity. He could question not ancient documents hut living men. He had thousands of means close at hand whereby to test truths which up to this time he had so passionately and contemptuously disbelieved. In accepting this half-crushed and wholly execrated faith he had everything in the world to lose--he had nothing conceivable to gain; and yet, in spite of all--over-whelmed by a conviction which he felt to be irresistible--Saul the Pharisee became a witness of the resurrection, a preacher of the Cross. (F. W. Farrar.)
Preach Him among the heathen.
I. His great motive. To preach Christ.
II. His prompt surrender.
3. Final. (A. F. Barfield.)
The very theory of Christianity, not merely its finest enthusiasm, is that when once Christ is in the heart the whole life must be entirely His. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
Paul was not like the missionary of later times, whose great work is accomplished if he can add to the number of his converts; he was this, but he was much more than this; it was not the actual conversions themselves, but the principle which every conversion involved, that constitutes the enduring interest of that life-long struggle. It was not merely that he reclaimed from Paganism the Grecian cities of Asia Minor, but that at every step which he took westward he tore up the prejudice of ages. It was not merely that he cast out the false spirit from the damsel at Philippi, hut that here religion ceased to be Asiatic and became European. It was not merely that at Athens he converted Dionysius and Damaris, but that there was seen a Jew standing in the court of the Areopagus, and appealing to an Athenian audience as children of the same Father, and worshippers, though unconsciously, of the same God. It was not that at Rome he made some impression on the slaves of the Imperial palace, but that a descendant of Abraham recognized in that corrupt metropolis a field for his exertions as sacred as the courts of the Temple at Jerusalem. (Dean Stanley.)
The work of a missionary
I. By whom sent.
II. Whither sent.
III. To Whom sent.
IV. For what sent.
A missionary’s work is not that of--
4. But that of preaching to the heathen.
V. With what encouragement. God’s command: that is enough. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
The missionary an enthusiast
Whom shall the Lord send? The passive neutral? The respectable indolent selfist? The tame, dull, average religionist? The mere doctrinist, whose faiths, instead of being alive and part of himself, are like dry botanical preparations, classified and kept in a book? The man who studies how little he can give, or be, or do, or suffer for Christ, and yet be safe? The sluggard who, when a shadow shakes or a leaf rustles, says, “a lion is in the way”? The coward who makes his profession under shelter, and creeps along with slow cautious steps? No I all these must be cleared out of the way. Lord Lansdowne asked Dr. Price the Unitarian what was to be done to reform the profligate people of Calne? “Send them an enthusiast,” was the reply. And only an enthusiast is likely to be a divinely successful missionary to the heathen, whether at home or abroad. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
I. God’s way of working in the hearts of His people is to start and quicken religious impulses.
1. By preaching.
2. Bible study.
4. Religious biography. But
5. there are impulses for which we cannot account at all.
II. God carries on His work in us by settling impulses into life principles. This is sanctification. The leaping mountain spring that bounds from rock to rock, and rushes over hindrances, gathers strength and becomes presently the noiseless quiet river that flows smoothly along, breathing out refreshment as it flows, and singing to its own quieter music the same song to God.
III. Sin checks these impulses by suggesting delay in acting them out.
IV. The Divine origin of these impulses may be tested by their tendency to--
V. Such impulses may be safely followed.
VI. Divine impulses are checked by the cool calculations of selfishness. Application:
1. Some of you are not naturally impulsive. There is a side of your nature which needs cultivation.
2. Some of you are naturally very impulsive. Don’t lay violent hands upon them, but strengthen your other faculties. (R. Tuck, B. A.)
I conferred not with flesh and blood.
It is difficult for us, at this distance of time, to feel, as St. Paul did, the importance of his apostolic independence. That the point was, in his opinion, a vital one, is evident from the fact that he devotes nearly a third part of this Epistle to the proof of it. It was important in two ways.
1. If it could be shown that for some considerable period after his conversion the apostle held little or no intercourse with the twelve, that he sought not their teaching, but maintained an independent course, and acted solely upon his own responsibility, it would go far to prove that he occupied no subordinate position, but possessed an authority which was equal in all respects to theirs.
2. Whilst if it could be further shown that, although deriving no instruction from the twelve, he yet taught a system of Divine truth which was recognized by them as identical with their own, it would be a strong argument in favour of his position that he had received his gospel, not of man, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. For these reasons St. Paul asserts strongly, and argues out at length, the fact of his independence. (Emilius Bayley, B. D.)
Divine teaching for all
No man must rest satisfied with merely human teaching. In its proper place such teaching is most valuable. But it is not all that is required. There is a sense in which each Christian ought to be able to say, “I conferred not with flesh and blood”--“I felt the necessity of higher teaching than that of man; I knew that there were endowments which flesh and blood could not bestow upon me; I sought them directly from God.” There is doubtless a spirit of independence which is a spirit of pride; but there is an independence of man which is the independence of humility--an independence which is so conscious of the inadequacy of everything human to satisfy the longings of the soul, that it can only carry its great need to a source which is Divine. (Emilius Bayley, B. D.)
The duty of obedience
Implicit obedience is our first duty to God, and one for which nothing else will compensate. If a lad at school is bidden to cipher, and chooses to write a copy instead, the goodness of the writing will not save him from censure. We must obey, whether we see the reason or not; for God knows best. A guide through an unknown country must be followed without demur. A captain, in coming up the Humber or Southampton Water, yields complete authority to the pilot. A soldier in battle must fight when and where he is ordered; when the conflict is over, he may reflect upon and perceive the wisdom of his commander in movements that at the time of their execution were perplexing. The farmer must obey God’s natural laws of the seasons, if he would win a harvest; and we must all obey God’s spiritual laws if we would reap happiness here and hereafter. (Anon.)
Nature of obedience
1. Active; not only avoiding what is prohibited, but performing what is commanded (Colossians 3:8; Colossians 3:10).
2. Personal; for though Christ has obeyed the law for us as a covenant of works, yet He has not abrogated it as a rule of life (Romans 7:22; Romans 3:31).
3. Sincere (Psalms 51:6; 1 Timothy 1:5).
4. Affectionate; springing from love, not from terror (1 John 5:19; 1 John 2:5; 2 Corinthians 5:14).
5. Diligent; as St. Paul’s at this time.
6. Conspicuous (Philippians 2:15; Matthew 5:16).
7. Universal; not one duty, but all must be performed.
8. Perpetual; at all times, places, occasions. (C. Buck.)
Obligation to obedience
We are bound in all to obey God:
1. From the relation in which we stand to Him as His creatures.
2. From the law He has revealed to us in His Word.
3. From the blessings of His providence which we are constantly receiving.
4. From His love and goodness in the grand work of redemption. (C. Buck.)
Advantages of obedience
1. It adorns the gospel (Titus 2:10).
2. It evidences grace (2 Corinthians 5:17).
3. It rejoices the hearts of the ministers and people of God (3 John 1:2; 2Th 1:19-20).
4. It silences gainsayers (2 Peter 1:11-12).
5. It encourages the saints, while it reproves the lukewarm (Matthew 5:16).
6. It affords peace to the subjects of it (Psalms 25:12-13; Acts 24:16).
7. It powerfully recommends religion, as that which is both delightful and practicable (Colossians 1:10).
8. It is the forerunner and evidence of eternal glory (Romans 6:22; Revelation 22:14). (C. Buck.)
Actual obedience is the practice and exercise of the several graces and duties of Christianity. (C. Buck.)
Obedience is the performance of the commands of a superior. (C. Buck.)
obedience is the exact conformity of our hearts and lives to the law of God, without the least imperfection. (C. Buck.)
obedience consists in a belief of the gospel, of the holiness and equity of its precepts, of the truth of its promises, and a true repentance of all our sins. (C. Buck.)
A soul sincerely obedient will not pick and choose what commands to obey and what to reject, as hypocrites do. An obedient soul is like a crystal glass with a light in the midst, which shines forth through every part thereof. A man sincerely obedient lays such a charge upon his whole man; as Mary the mother of Christ did upon all the servants at the feast, “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.” Eyes, ears, hands, heart, lips, legs, body, and soul, do you all seriously and affectionately observe whatever Jesus Christ says unto you, and do it. (T. Brooks.)
A story is told of a great captain who, after a battle, was talking over the events of the day with his officers. He asked them who had done the best that day. Some spoke of one man who had fought very bravely, and some or another. “No,” he said, “you are all mistaken. The best man in the field to-day was a soldier who was just lifting up his arm to strike an enemy, but, when he heard the trumpet sound a retreat, checked himself, and dropped his arm without striking the blow. That perfect and ready obedience to the will of his general is the noblest thing that has been done to-day.”
I. There was no pause, for he says “immediately.”
II. There was no giving opportunity for any counter influence. He “conferred not,” etc. He neither took counsel with himself nor with others.
III. It is as though he felt the danger of a moment’s delay: fearful lest his convictions should be weakened if they did not at once produce great energy of conduct. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
In matters of prudence second thoughts are best; in matters of conscience first thoughts are the best. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Promptness: its importance
Act “immediately” on your impressions of what is right. Stay not to debate when conscience has decided. Turn feelings into principles by forthwith employing them in practice. Do as Paul did. He was like the mariner who, if he can get a glimpse of the sun, seizes an observation and shifts the rudder. Get you but a glance of God’s will, and instantaneously shape your course by it. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Promptness: the danger of a want of it in religion
You felt a conviction as to duty, but you determined to take time for consideration, and the conviction cooled. It was a golden moment, but in your prudence--the prudence when a leak is found out in the ship of waiting till to-morrow before trying to stop it--you determined to do nothing hastily, but to wait and see whether the conviction was aught else but a transient feeling. Of course it proved a transient feeling. The first touches of God’s Spirit are meant to be transient unless attended to. The Spirit is likened to the wind, and the soul is breathed upon rather than struck. It is your business to prevent the impression being transient. If you would keep the dew on the grass you must keep the sun from it. If you would keep the impression of the heart you must keep the world from the heart. But because you have paused to confer with flesh and blood, you have given the world time to rally its forces, and therefore by the next day the impression is gone, and you have perhaps secretly felt pleased that second thoughts were so different from the first. Second thoughts tie men to the world where first thoughts would have devoted them to God. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Promptness: its blessedness
Happy he who has learned this one thing--to do the plain duty of the moment quickly and cheerfully, whatever it may be, and whatever may be the consequences,
Non-conference with flesh and blood
I. Awakens reflection as to the sphere and limits of religious organization.
II. Enforces the necessity of individual culture and the importance of individual action.
III. Suggests hopeful anticipations as to the progress of the Kingdom of God. (T. Goadby.)
There is not a spider hanging on the King’s wall but hath its errand; there is not a nettle that groweth in the corner of the churchyard but hath its purpose; there is not a single insect fluttering in the breeze but accomplisheth some Divine decree; and I will never have it that God created any man, especially any Christian man, to be a blank, a nothing. He made you for an cud; find out what that end is; find.out your niche and fill it. If it be ever so little, do something in this great battle for God and truth. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Conferring with flesh and blood
Invading armies always endeavour to leave their ships riding in a safe and sheltered anchorage. In the event of their enterprise proving unsuccessful, they thus secure the means of retreat; and to provide for such an emergency is regarded as a good stroke of generalship. Wellington fought Waterloo with the Forest of Soigny at his back; and the fleet which carried our soldiers to fight the Russians before Sebastopol waited the issue in the Bay of Balaclava. The brave old Romans, whom Caesar led, invaded our country after a different fashion. The first thing they did on disembarking, was to burn their ships; doing so in sight of thousands who were bravely mustering on the heights of England, to defend their homes, their wives and little ones, their freedom and native land. Not leaving the enemy to cut off their retreat, they cut it off themselves. Their own hands put the torch to the fleet which had brought them to Britain, and, in the event of failure would have carried them back to Italy. With the glare of that brave conflagration on their eagles, banners, and serried ranks, we cannot wonder that, with such sons to fight her battles, Rome rose from a petty town to be mistress of the world. Both her destiny and their determination were to be plainly seen in the blaze of their burning ships. Bringing to the enterprise such an indomitable spirit and such decision of character, unless the stars of heaven fought against them as against Sisera, how could they fail to conquer? (Dr. Guthrie.)
Ministers must preach Christ
In a village church in one of the Tyrolese valleys, we saw upon the pulpit an outstretched arm, carved in wood, the hand of which held forth a cross. We noted the emblem as full of instruction as to what all true ministry should be, and must be--a holding forth of the cross of Christ to the multitude as the only trust of sinners. Jesus Christ must be set forth evidently crucified among them. Lord, make this the aim and habit of all our ministers. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“I have had to interline your sermon all through and through with the name of Christ,” was the criticism which an aged parishioner once passed upon the discourse of a young pastor. Said the lamented M’Cheyne, “Some speculate on doctrines about the gospel, rather than preach the gospel itself.” “I see a man cannot be a faithful minister, until he preaches Christ for Christ’s sake.” (Christian Treasury.)
Preachers must not confer with flesh and blood
A distinguished general said to Luther, as he was about to enter the presence of the judges at Worms, “Poor monk, thou art now going to make a nobler stand than I or any other captains have ever made in the bloodiest of our battles. But if thy cause is just and thou art sure of it, go forward in God’s name and fear nothing. God will not forsake thee.” As the Earl of Morton stood looking down into the grave of John Knox he said, “There lies one who never feared the face of man.”
As when a general commands his army to march, if, then, the soldiers should stand upon terms, and refuse to go except they have better clothes, their pay in hand, or the like, and then they will march,--this would not show them an obedient, disciplined army; but if, at the reading of their orders, they presently break up their quarters, and set forth, though it be midnight when the command come, and they without money, or clothes on their backs, leaving the whole care of themselves for these things to their general, and they only attend how they may best fulfil his commands,--these may be said to march in obedience. (H. G. Salter.)
A conference to be avoided
Being taught of God, he did not consult those who were already believers, lest he should seem to have received his religion at second-hand. He did not consult his relatives, who would have advised caution. He did not consult his own interests, which all lay in the opposite direction. These he counted loss for Christ. He did not consult his own safety, but risked life itself for Jesus. In this independent course he was justified, and should be imitated.
I. Faith needs no warrant but the will of god.
1. Good men in all ages have acted upon this conviction. Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samson, David, Elijah, Daniel, the three who were cast into the furnace, etc.
2. To ask more is virtually to renounce the Lord as our Commander and Guide, and to lift man into his place.
3. To hesitate from self-interest is openly to defy the Lord.
4. To submit the claims of duty to the judgment of the flesh is diametrically opposed to the character and claims of the Lord Jesus, who gave Himself to us, and expects us to give ourselves to Him without question or reserve.
5. To delay duty until we have held such consultation almost always ends in not doing the right thing at all. Too often it is sought after that an excuse may be found for avoiding an unpleasant duty.
II. The principle has a wide range of application.
1. To known duties. In service we are not to consult personal liking, ease, honour, prospect of advancement, or remuneration.
2. To needful sacrifices. We had better not confer with flesh and blood; for good men may be self-indulgent, and so consult their own flesh.
3. To special service. We are not to be held back from this by--Considerations of personal weakness; considerations of want of visible means; considerations of how others will interpret our actions.
4. To an open avowal of Christ. We must not be deterred from it by--The wishes of others, who think themselves involved in our act; the dread of contempt from those who deride godliness; the fear of not holding on, and of thus disgracing religion; reluctance to give up the world, and a secret clinging to its ways. This is a very perilous vice. “Remember Lot’s wife.”
III. The principle commends itself our best judgment. It is justified by--
1. The judgment which we exercise upon others. We blame them if they have no mind of their own. We applaud them if they are bravely faithful.
2. The judgment of an enlightened conscience.
3. The judgment of a dying bed.
4. The judgment of an eternal world. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A hard lesson
But this is a hard lesson to learn. I read some time ago of a German captain who found this out. He was drilling a company of volunteers. The parade ground was a field by the seaside. The men were going through their exercises very nicely, but the captain thought he would give them a lesson about obeying orders. They were marching up and down in the line of the water at some distance from it. He concluded to give them an order to march directly towards the water and see how far they would go. The men are marching along. “Halt, company,” says the captain. In a moment they halt. “Right face” is the next word, and instantly they wheel round. “Forwart martch,” is then the order. At once they begin to march directly towards the water: on they go, nearer and nearer to it. Soon they reach the edge of the water. Then there is a sudden halt. “Vat for you stop? I no say, Halt,” cried the captain. “Why, captain, here is the water,” said one of the men. “Vell, vet of it,” cried he, greatly excited, “Vater is nothing; fire is nothing; everything is nothing. Ven I say, Forwart martch, then you must forwart martch.” The captain was right; the first duty of a soldier is to learn to obey. (Dr. Richard Newton.)
What God calls a man to do He will carry him through
I would undertake to govern half-a-dozen worlds if God called me to do it; but if He did not call me to do it, I would not undertake to govern half-a-dozen sheep. (Dr. Payson.)
Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me.
Aspects of the new life
I. Negative. He did not report himself.
1. The apostles were stiffly conservative, and
(1) might have suspected his conversion;
(2) would probably have questioned his Divine commission;
(3) would certainly have repudiated his apostleship.
2. Paul wanted nothing of them, and they could give him nothing.
3. He wished his life rather than his lips to speak. Let others see the reality of your conversion;they will then need no verbal proof of it.
II. Passive. In Arabia Paul--
1. Lived a life of quiet meditation.
2. Equipped himself for his great work.
3. Calmly waited for indications from God. After conversion
(1) don’t rush into office, but
(2) think, read, pray, weigh the responsibility of Christian work, fit yourself by Divine grace, wait till God says, “Go.”
III. Active. “To Damascus” (see Acts 9:22).
1. The hour had struck, and the man was ready for it.
(1) Paul now knew not only what to say, but how to say it and defend it.
(2) The seed sown at conversion had produced a body of experience.
2. Once at it he grew strong in the work.
3. He was rewarded with striking success.
IV. Suffering (Acts 9:23-24).
1. Persecution tests depth of conviction and reality of work.
2. Look for it, but don’t fear it.
V. Independence. Living movements do not come of committees, they come of individuals. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
Just as an eagle, which has been drenched and battered by some fierce storm, will alight to plume its ruffled wings, so, when a great soul has “passed through fire and through water,” it needs some safe and quiet place in which to rest … Like almost every great soul in ancient or modern times, to whom has been entrusted the task of swaying the destinies by moulding the convictions of mankind--like Sakya Mouni, like Mahomet in the cave of Hira, like St. Francis of Assisi in his sickness, like Luther in the monastery of Erfurt, Paul would need a quiet period in which to elevate his thoughts, to still the tumult of his emotions, to commune in secrecy and in silence with his own soul. (F. W. Farrar.)
The significance of this episode for us
In the busy mart, amid life’s dusky lanes and accumulating cares, we lose and forget our God. Our books are too much with us; friends and social life make the hours busy with what is human; and the claims of business are of increasing urgency. We must find for ourselves a desert place, where, occasionally for prolonged seasons, and daily for a short season, we may receive the Lord’s anointing. (S. Pearson, M. A.)
Meditation is the life of the soul; action is the outcome of meditation, honour is the reward of action. So meditate that thou mayest do; so do that thou mayest be honoured; so accept honour as to give God the glory.
The inner life of St. Paul
The world and the Church have ever shown a curiosity as to the inner life of great men, as to what they were, not when the eye of man was upon them, but when they were alone--what they were in the secret recesses of their hearts; and this curiosity has made biographies and autobiographies, and private journals and letters, very popular. It has led, moreover, to the publication of documents which were never meant for the public eye, and which had better have remained unperused. But God has seen fit in the ease of St. Paul to gratify, not indeed a mere morbid curiosity, but the devout desire on the part of His Church to know something of the great apostle’s secret feelings and sternest conflicts for its own edification and for His own glory. (Canon Miller.)
St. Paul’s solitude
His main object we may assume to have been to seclude himself for a while from the outer world, to commune with God and his own soul in stillness, and to seek for grace for his future labours. It was a pause in his career, which he might legitimately crave after; a moment of calm between the stormy passions of his past life, and the tumultuous scenes which lay before him; a half-hour of heavenly silence in which, alone with God, he might learn more perfectly his Master’s will, and gather strength to do his Master’s work. We may follow the apostle into Arabia, and safely infer that his retirement was made use of for the following purposes.
1. Thought. On reviewing his past life--his former antagonism to Christ, his ignorance and self-will, his unbelief and active enmity; and the forbearance, love, and mercy of God--what food for reflection had St. Paul! Thought concerning God, the gospel of Christ, the soul, sin, death, salvation, life, heaven, is essential to salvation; there can be no real, intelligent living unto God without it.
2. Selfabasement. Bitter mourning for sin. The manifestation of God’s love deepens the sense of ingratitude and unworthiness in the truly penitent.
3. Prayer. He who is most fully conscious of his own utter helplessness, will cling with tightest grasp to the only Giver of all good.
4. Self-dedication. The life given to God. (Emilius Bayley, B. D.)
St. Paul’s sojourn in Arabia
1. Obscurity of the incident. A veil of thick darkness hangs over St. Paul’s visit to Arabia. Of the scenes among which he moved, of the thoughts and occupations which engaged him while there, of all the circumstances of a crisis which must have shaped the whole tenour of his after life, absolutely nothing is known. “Immediately,” says St. Paul, “I went away into Arabia.” The historian passes over the incident without a mention. It is a mysterious pause, a moment of suspense in the apostle’s history, a breathless calm which ushers in the tumultuous storm of his active missionary life.
2. The place. If we suppose that the apostle at this critical moment betook himself to the Sinaitic peninsula, the scene of the giving of the law, then his visit to Arabia becomes full of meaning. He was attracted thither by a spirit akin to that which formerly had driven Elijah to the same region (1 Kings 19:8-18). Standing on the threshold of the new covenant, he was anxious to look upon the birth-place of the old: that dwelling for a while in seclusion in the presence of “the mount that burned with fire,” he might ponder over the transient glories of the “ministration of death,” and apprehend its real purpose in relation to the more glorious covenant which was now to supplant it. Here, surrounded by the children of the desert, the descendants of Hagar the bondwoman, he read the true meaning and power of the law. In the rugged and barren region whence it issued, he saw a fit type of that bleak desolation, which it created, and was intended to create, in the soul of man. In the midst of such scenes and associations, his spirit was attuned to harmony with his Divine mission, and fitted to receive fresh visions and revelations.
3. Its duration. What was the length of this sojourn we can only conjecture. The interval between his conversion and his first visit to Jerusalem, St. Paul here states to have been three years. The notices of time in the narrative of the Acts are vague, but not contradictory to this statement. From Damascus, St. Paul tells us, he went away into Arabia, whence he returned to Damascus. St. Luke represents him as preaching actively in this city after his conversion, not mentioning, and apparently not aware of any interruption, though his narrative is not inconsistent with such. It seems probable, then, that St. Paul’s visit to Arabia took place early in this period, before he commenced his active labours. “Immediately,” he says, “instead of conferring with flesh and blood, I went into Arabia.” The silence of the historian is best accounted for on the supposition that the sojourn there was short; but as St. Luke’s companionship with the apostle commenced at a much later date, no great stress must be laid on the omission. Yet, on the other hand, there is no reason for supposing it of long duration. It was probably brief--brief enough not to occupy any considerable space in the apostle’s history, and yet not too brief to serve the purpose it was intended to serve.
4. Its purpose. Can we doubt that by this journey he sought seclusion from the outer world, that his desire was to commune with God and his own soul amid these hallowed scenes, and thus to gather strength in solitude for his active labours? His own language implies this--“I conferred not with flesh and blood, but departed into Arabia.” The fathers for the most part take a different view of this incident. They imagine the apostle hurrying forth into the wilds of Arabia, burning to impart to others the glad tidings which had so suddenly burst upon himself. “See how fervent was his soul,” exclaims Chrysostom; “he was eager to occupy lands yet untilled; he forthwith attacked a barbarous and savage people, choosing a life of conflict and much toil.” This comment strikes a false note. Far different at such a crisis must have been the spirit of him, whose life henceforth was at least as conspicuous for patient wisdom and large sympathies as for intense self-devotion. He retired for a while, we may suppose, that, “separate from the world, his heart might deeply take, and strongly keep, the print of heaven.” And what place more fit for this retirement than that holy ground, “where all around, On mountains, sand, and sky, God’s chariot wheels have left distinctest trace.” (Bishop Lightfoot.)
St Paul’s seclusion
After a great change of conviction, nature, as well as something higher than nature, tells us that a long period of retirement and silence is fitting, if not necessary. The three days in the house of Judas were not enough in which to sound the heights and depths of newly recognized truth, or the strength and weakness of the soul which was to own and to proclaim it. They were to be followed by three years passed in the desert of Arabia. It is, indeed, thought that this retirement was dictated by a wish to preach the gospel to the wandering Bedouin tribes, or to the settled Arabs at Petrea. And there is no doubt that “Arabia” among the ancients was a very wide and inclusive geographical term. It might have included Damascus itself; it might have even taken in regions far to the north, extending to the very borders of Cilicia. But these are less usual uses of the word; nor can it be supposed that emphasis would have been laid on this retirement if all that had been meant was a journey of a few miles into the desert beyond the walls of Damascus. Something may be said for a retreat to Petra, the ancient capital of Edom, which had its own synagogue in Jerusalem; but the probabilities are that, under the profound and awful inspirations of the hour, Paul sought to tread in the very footsteps of Moses and Elijah at the base of Sinai. The spiritual attractions of such a course must have been, to a man of his character and antecedents, not less than overwhelming. There, where the Jewish law had been given, he wag led to ask what it really meant--what were its sanctions, what its obligations, what the limit of its moral capacity, what the criterion of its weakness. There he must have felt the inspiration of a life like Elijah’s, the great representative of a persecuted religious minority, the preacher of an unpopular truth against vulgar but intolerant error. Would not the still small voice which had there spoken to the prophet--or rather, did it not--again and again speak to him? They were precious years, depend upon it, for a man whose later life was to be passed, wholly passed, in action. (Canon Liddon.)
Value of seclusion
The value of such retirement, if circumstances admit of it or suggest it, before entering on the decisive work of life, can hardly be exaggerated. Many a young man, whose education is complete (as the phrase goes), and who knows, or thinks that he knows, what to do for himself or his fellow-creatures, is often painfully disappointed when his plans for immediate action suddenly break down, and he has to remain for a while in comparative obscurity and inaction. It seems to him to be a loss of time, with little or nothing to redeem the disadvantage. He is wasting, he thinks, his best years in idleness. He may, of course, so act as to make that phrase justifiable. It need not be so. A prudent, no less than a religious man, will thankfully, if he can, avail himself of such an opportunity for consolidating his acquirements, for reviewing the bearing of his governing convictions, for estimating more accurately the resources at his disposal for extending or contracting his plans, at least for reconsidering them. A religious man will, above all, seize such an opportunity for testing and strengthening his motives, and for cultivating an increased intimacy with those means and sources of effective strength which he will need so much hereafter. (Canon Liddon.)
I. God sometimes raises up and qualifies His agents without human intervention.
II. Such agents are duly qualified and may be tested by their fruits.
III. As a rule, they have assigned them some new department of labour. (J. Lyth.)
Residence in Arabia
The point thus suggested is the interval between the choice of a profession or calling in life and the entrance on the public duties of that profession or calling.
I. The first point relates to the professions or callings which may be properly regarded as presenting themselves to one who is about to embark on life.
1. The first thing which strikes us on this point is the great variety of things to be done in the world, during any one generation; or the variety of the fields for exertion and employment.
2. The next point, under this head, relates to the variety of endowments among men, as adapted to these various occupations--endowments such that these various ends are in fact secured, and such that at the same time they are secured voluntarily, or so that men enter on their different pursuits not by force or compulsion, but of preference and choice.
3. A third remark under this head; the ends of life may be secured, the purposes of society advanced, and God may be honoured, in any one of these occupations and employments.
II. In the next place, we have to inquire on what principles should such a profession or calling be chosen?
1. The first is, that the profession or calling should be selected in which the most can be made of life for its proper purposes; or, in which life can be turned to the best account. Life, though transitory, short, uncertain, has its purpose.
2. The second principle which I mention is, that, consequently, when there is a fitness for either of two or more courses of life, that should be chosen which under the circumstances will be most adapted to secure the ends of life.
3. A third rule would be that the profession or calling should be chosen which will be best adapted to develop the peculiar endowments of the mind, or which will be in the line of those endowments.
4. A fourth thing which is vital to any just views of life, to a proper choice of a profession, is, that that only should be chosen which is just and honourable; which is itself right, and is consistent with the highest standard of morality; and which can be pursued in all its ramifications, and always, and in all respects, on the principles of honesty, truth, justice, and fairness.
5. A fifth principle is that that course should be chosen in which there are the fewest temptations to evil.
6. A sixth principle is, that a young man should choose that which while it will conduce to his own individual interest and to the purpose of his life, will, at the same time, promote the general good of society, and contribute to the advancement of the race.
7. A seventh principle may be added. It is, that that calling should be selected which will not interfere with, but which will best aid the preparation for another world.
III. These remarks and suggestions will enable us, in the third place, to answer the main inquiry with which we started--in what way shall the interval between the choosing of a profession and the entrance on its active duties be employed?
1. The first is, that time enough should be taken to prepare for the profession or calling which has been selected.
2. Secondly, the studies should obviously have reference to the future calling.
3. One thought only remains: It is, that the preparation for that profession should be--as the choice of the profession, and the profession itself should be--subordinate to the life to come--to the preparation for eternity. (A. Barnes.)
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem.
St. Paul’s return to Jerusalem
He returned from a spiritual as Ezra had from a bodily captivity, and to his renewed mind all things appeared new. What an emotion smote his heart at the first distant view of the Temple, that house of sacrifice, that edifice of prophecy. Its sacrifices had been realized; its prophecies fulfilled. As he approached the gates, he might have trodden the very spot where he had assisted in the death of Stephen, and he entered them perfectly content, were it God’s will, to be dragged to the same fate. When he entered the city, what deep thoughts were suggested by the haunts of his youth, and by the sight of those spots where he had so eagerly sought that knowledge which he had now so eagerly abandoned. What an intolerable burden he had cast off. He felt as a glorified spirit may be supposed to feel on revisiting the scenes of its fleshly sojourn. (Archdeacon Evans.)
The abode with Peter
The fifteen days were doubtless spent in conversation about the mission and life of Christ; and it seems certain--though St. Paul repudiates the presumption that he derived any part of his authority, or of the exposition which he gave of the gospel, from any person whatsoever--that he must have heard during this fortnight many of those facts of the private life of Christ, which were so well known to the chief of the Twelve, and many of those discourses which Peter so clearly remembered. (Paul of Tarsus.)
I. The visit to peter.
1. After three years’ seclusion Paul would yearn for fellowship with such a heart as Peter’s.
2. The visit shows us that
(1) he was not primarily in quest of knowledge, nor
(2) to secure an ecclesiastical status.
3. It was a visit of pure friendship.
II. The lessons it suggests. That Christian friendship is--
1. All-embracing. It includes differences of rank, gifts, culture, temperament.
2. No men could be more diverse than Peter and Paul, and yet neither disparaged or envied the other.
II. Equalizing. Paul could now meet on equal terms the most distinguished men of his day: Peter the premier apostle, James the Lord’s brother. “One is your Master, etc.”
III. Hospitable. Paul, once a dreaded persecutor, now found a welcome and a home from the chief of the persecuted. Peter a married man. Fraternal intercourse and fellowship:--
I. The nature of Christian fellowship.
1. A fellowship in Christ.
2. A fellowship of love.
3. A fellowship in which individual interests are advanced by mutual help.
II. The advantages of Christian fellowship.
1. Their fellowship would be profitable, because each would contribute towards a clearer apprehension of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.
2. The fellowship would be profitable, because it would assure each that the Christian life is one of great trial.
3. The fellowship would be profitable, because each of the apostles would see that the Christian life is one of certain comfort.
III. To secure Christian fellowship often requires personal sacrifice. To see Peter and the others, Paul undertook a considerable journey, and exposed himself on the one hand to the scorn and enmity of his former friends, and on the other to the coldness and suspicion of the disciples in Jerusalem. Lessons:
1. That the opportunities for Christian fellowship are usually brief; they should therefore, when presented, be diligently improved. Paul could only remain fifteen days at Jerusalem: the persecutions of his enemies compelled him to leave.
2. Such opportunities being made the most of, lead to glorious results in time and eternity. Who can tell how much the Christian world is indebted to the harmonious fellowship of Peter, James, and Paul at Jerusalem? (R. Nicholls.)
Save James the Lord’s brother.
James appears, to whatever source we may turn for information, as the one authoritative ruler, the one undoubted representative of the Christian society. But whatever the influence he exercised, or the authority be maintained, it was due not to his apostleship, but to those relations which are brought before us by the epithets affixed to his name, “James the brother of our Lord,” “James the Just.” If we open the contemporary Christian records it is to his decision (Acts 15:13) that the council of Jerusalem bows; and to him, taking precedence even of Cephas and John, that Paul communicates the revelation that had been entrusted to him (Galatians 2:9). If we turn to later traditions preserved in Hegessipus, or in the Clementine Recognitions and Homilies, he appears before us as the one mysterious bulwark of the chosen people; invested with a priestly sanctity before which the pontificate of Aaron fades into insignificance--as the one universal bishop of the Christian Church. If we look to the impression produced on the mind of the Jewish people, we find that he alone of all the apostles has obtained a place in their national records, whether in the simple narrative of Josephus, or in the wild legends of the Talmud. He was emphatically “the Just”; the predictions of the “Just one” were regarded as fulfilled in his person; the people vied with each other to touch the hem of his garment; after the manner of Elijah he was reported in the droughts of Palestine to have called down rain; and with the austere features, linen ephod, bare feet, long locks and unshorn beard of the Nazarite, he was believed to have gathered round him the admiring populace to ask: “What is the gate of salvation?” And in that striking scene, when at the close of a long life he is described as standing on the front of the temple and bearing witness to the coming judgment of the Son of man, it was with a feeling of bitter disappointment that the Scribes and Pharisees are represented as rushing upon him with the cry, “Woe, Woe, the Just one also is deceived”; and in his cruel death, the Jewish historian, no less than the Christian martyrologist, saw the filling up of the cup of guilt which was to hasten on the final catastrophe of the apostate nation. His chair was preserved as a relic till the fourth century, and the pillar which marked the spot where he fell long remained in the valley of Jehoshaphat, under the precipice from which he was thrown. (Dean Stanley.)
I lie not.
Truthfulness; its violation
Untruthfulness is something more than direct and deliberate misstatement, e.g., by the practice of making excuses for faults in conduct which do not fairly admit of them; by exaggeration, which from carelessness or vanity overstates the case; by equivocation, in which the words may be true, but the impression conveyed false; by dissimulation, which by silence or some assumed attitude allows a false impression of our position to go abroad; by the breaking of promises, whether from inability to fulfil a promise rashly made, or from neglect to fulfil one to which we have the power of giving effect; and by falsehood in act, such as is exemplified in schools in “copying” or “prompting.” To inspire even a moderate love of this virtue, it is necessary to set the highest value of it before the child; the teacher must therefore be on the alert to check all its violations.
Truthfulness excites trust
Talent is by no means rare in the world; nor is even genius. But can talent be trusted, or even genius? Not unless based on truthfulness. It is this quality more than any other that commands the esteem and respect, and secures the confidence of others. Truthfulness is at the foundation of all personal excellence. (S. Smiles, LL. D.)
The truth-teller--his reward and work
Honour to the truthful man! Hail to the people with whom veracity prevails! Joy to mankind, when this daughter of light wins the victory over falsehood, and thrusts her back to that kingdom of darkness whence she sprang. (De Wette.)
A solemn declaration of the truth
I. Paul asseverates the truth of definite statements.
II. His declaration of truth was comprehensive.
III. His truthfulness commended itself to the judgment of men, and to the approval of God.
1. Men were invited to witness it. “Behold.”
2. God was the witness of the truth. It had been spoken, and acted in His sight. “All things are naked and open unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”
1. The best of men are sometimes suspected of wrong-doing, and are liable to misrepresentation.
2. Every Christian man should speak and act as in the presence of God.
3. Very solemn avowals, as oaths, ought to be used only under constraint. (R. Nicholls.)
Perfect truthfulness necessary
Concave mirrors magnify the features nearest to them into undue and monstrous propertions; and in common mirrors that are ill cast, and of uneven surface, the most beautiful face is distorted into deformity. So there are many minds of this description: they distort or magnify, diminish or discolour, almost every gospel truth which they reflect. (Dr. Guthrie.)
Galeazius, a gentleman of great wealth, who suffered martyrdom at St. Angelo in Italy, being much entreated by his friends to recant, replied, “Death is much sweeter to me with the testimony of truth than life with its least denial.”
The minister of the seminary at Clermont, France, having been siezed at Autun by the populace, the mayor, who wished to save him, advised him not to take the oath, but to allow him to tell the people that he had taken it. “I would myself make known your falsehood to the people” replied the clergyman: “it is not permitted me to ransom my life by a lie. The God who prohibits my taking this oath will not allow me to make it believed that I have taken it.” The mayor was silent, and the minister was martyred. (Foster.)
I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
I. Its sphere.
1. Among strangers--“Syria.”
II. Its nature.
(1) the propagation of philosophic dogmas;
(2) the practice of mere philanthropy;
(3) the gathering of a personal following.
2. But preaching the faith once destroyed.
(1) The unconverted destroy the faith by opposition or neglect--“He that is not for Me, etc.”
(2) It is the duty of the converted to repair the injuries they have inflicted on the faith.
III. Its fame. Strangers hear of it.
1. Not trumpeted by self or interested friends.
2. Not secured by unworthy arts.
3. But by words which, like light, cannot be hid. This is true popularity, and has been won by Carey, Judson, Hunt, Moffat, Ellis, etc.
IV. Its Result: God’s glory.
1. This was what Paul wished.
2. His apostleship was not of man but of God. God, therefore, deserved the praise. All ministerial and Church gifts from Him, therefore to Him the glory.
I. The work to which Paul was devoted was preaching the faith. The preaching of the faith signified--
1. The declaration of the whole gospel. He had been subdued by the gospel, and what he had felt of the word of life that he declared unto others.
II. Paul’s labours were exercised in different places. In Damascus and Jerusalem, and now in various parts of Cilicia as well as Syria, Paul preached the gospel. His message was the same in substance in every place, be-cause--
1. All men needed salvation; and,
2. A salvation was provided for all.
III. Paul’s labours were extensive in their influence. Even those who had not seen his face heard of him, and of the grace of God which was manifested by him. Many of them in Judaea who once dreaded his name were now cheered and blessed, and their faith was strengthened by what they heard of him.
IV. Paul’s labours exalted the glory of God. “It is of God’s grace when, from a persecutor and misleader, a man becomes a true teacher and confessor. O wonder! Is not that as much as if a dead man were raised to life? And it serves to the praise of the Divine confession that the Lord does not destroy His enemies, but wins them over, and converts them to His service.” Lessons:
1. The religion of Jesus Christ inspires a man to active service. His love constrains every believer to do something in His cause.
2. A holy and zealous life is a confirmation of the truth. Hence Paul introduced the text as an argument to show that the mission entrusted to him was of God. (Richard Nicholls.)
Which were in Christ.
Relation of Churches to Christ:
I. They are founded on Christ (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 1:2).
II. They are built by Christ (Ephesians 4:16).
III. They are the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 4:12).
IV. They are redeemed through Christ (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25).
V. They are consecrated to Christ (Ephesians 5:26).
VI. They will be glorified in Christ (Ephesians 5:27). We are reminded of the beautiful symbol of the prophet, as he saw in the Messianic age flecks of doves, varied it may be in their plumage, speeding with fleet wings to the windows of the true ark, safe in Christ “from the windy storm and tempest” (Isaiah 9:8); or the still more apposite figure employed by the Redeemer Himself when not only does He speak of the individual members of His flock, calling His own separate sheep by name, and one by one leading them out; but also refers to them in the aggregate. They constitute, though with divers folds and many under-shepherds, one great flock--reposing in green pastures, and by “the waters of comfort” under Himself, the chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
But they had heard.
True glory takes root and spreads! All false pretences, like perishing flowers, fall to the ground: nor can any counterfeit last long. (Cicero.)
The widening success of missionary toil
The immediate influence of the labours of a missionary will, in all probability, be less than he anticipates: he will perhaps go down to the grave as one disappointed of his hope. But, like Abraham, he must against hope believe in hope. He has planted a seed, which will push itself forth on all sides. He has excited a spark, which will raise a flame through a kingdom. The flame once excited shall spread from breast to breast, from family to family, from village to village; in time from kingdoms to empires, and at length from empires to continents. But the flame must first be lighted from the fire that burns on the altar of God. How will the faithful missionary rejoice when by and by he shall meet not a straggling individual or two whom he has turned to God, but perhaps a nation of converts to whom he had been the original means of bringing salvation. (Professor Farish.)
Persecutor and preacher
Paul had the spirit of his ancestor, who sought to slay the Gibeonites in his zeal for the children of Israel; and when he was converted, he retained not only the recollection of Stephen’s death, but of the multiplied murders which he had ordered or encouraged, when, during the wild anarchy of Caligula’s reign, he obtained authority from the chief priests to bind and slay. His resolution and strength of purpose were the traits of his youth, his manhood, and his age. Thus when the real work of Paul was understood the old fear of him vanished, and those who knew of him only by that work glorified God in him. Thus early in his career was the blessing of Jacob fulfilled in the greatest of the descendents of his youngest son--“Benjamin shall devour in the morning as a ravenous wolf, and in the evening give nurture.” (Paul of Tarsus.)
Conversion reverses men’s lives
There was a man, while Messrs. Moody and Sankey were in London, who got out a little paper called “The Moody and Sankey Humbug.” He used to have it to sell to the people coming into the meeting. After he had sold a great many thousand copies of that number, he wanted to get out another number; so he went into the meeting to get something to put into the paper; but the power of the Lord was present, and the arrow of conviction went down deep into his heart. He went out, not to write a paper, but to destroy his paper that he had written, and to tell what the Holy Ghost had done for him. (Nye.)
The scoffer turned preacher
One evening a young man who had been educated for a barrister was seated with some gay companions in a London tavern, when his companions, knowing he was a clever mimic, requested him to go and hear Mr. Wesley preach, and then come and mimic the whole affair for their amusement. He went. The text, “Prepare to meet thy God,” frightened him like a bursting shell, and conviction deepened during the sermon. On his return to his friends they inquired, “Well, have you taken him off?” He replied, “No, gentlemen; but he has taken me off.” He left his companions, gave his heart to God, and became one of Mr. Wesley’s most useful preachers.
Hard to forgive self
There are some sins which, even if forgiven by others, cannot easily be pardoned by the penitent mind. Dr. Bates tells us that the excellent Richard Baxter cherished such self-condemnation on account of his own sinfulness, that he was in the habit of saying, “I can more easily believe that God will forgive me, than that I can forgive myself.” Sin promises much in the outset, but dreadfully disappoints in the issue. “What fruit had ye in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” On the other hand, it becomes an irrefragable argument in favour of an early devotedness to the religious life, that whilst it bestows infinite blessings hereafter, it saves from incalculable misery here; and is at once favourable to a grateful retrospect of the past, and a happy anticipation of the future. (The Evangelist.)
I. A man’s character goes before him.
II. Greatly influences the reception he meets with.
III. Should be diligently taken care of. (J. Lyth.)
I. The persecutor--full of pride--false zeal--bitterness--destroying the faith.
II. The preacher--full of humility--devotedness--love--glorying in the crucified Jesus. (J. Lyth.)
The conversion of St. Paul
As Gentiles by birth, we have peculiar interest in all that relates to St. Paul, not only in his conversion, as on this day commemorated by the Church, but generally, as sinners, we may often recur to this conversion, and derive from it instruction and encouragement. If there were such longsuffering on the part of the Redeemer, that He bore with a man who thirsted for the blood of the saints, and in place of visiting him with vengeance, constrained him by His grace to accept salvation through His death; who can ever have right to think his own case hopeless, and suppose himself beyond the reach of forgiveness? Now, we know of St. Paul that he sinned in ignorance, and that whilst persecuting the Church of God, and endeavouring to exterminate Christianity, he evidently thought that he was doing God service. He had been educated in the strictest forms of the Jewish religion; and felt a zeal for the law of Moses, whose authority he thought attacked by the followers of Jesus; and he regarded it as a most solemn duty to strive by every means to eradicate the rising superstition. Hence, it becomes a grave question how far this ignorance was an excuse for his crime--how far, that is, it can be taken as a palliation of doing wrong that a man suppose himself doing right. We certainly cannot admit that St. Paul was not to blame, because he all along obeyed the dictates of his conscience. It is clear that the apostle did not regard himself as, on this account, innocent, for he speaks of himself in the days of his unbelief, in terms which strongly mark a sense of the guiltiness of his conduct. St. Paul was answerable for cherishing such a blind and bigoted attachment to the law as prevented his admitting the pretensions of the gospel. He was answerable for that misguided and uncalculating zeal which allowed him not to see that the law was but fulfilled, in place of being destroyed, by the gospel. He was answerable for the rejection of all the evidence from miracle and prophecy, which we know to have been sufficient, and by which, therefore, he ought to have been convinced. We think it of great importance that men should rightly understand that they are to the full as answerable for their principles as for their practices--for the rule of conduct adopted as well as for their adherence to it when once it has been adopted. For we often hear of men acting up to their belief, and the assertion is made as conveying the opinion that a man is responsible for his conduct, but not for his creed. And what is done in ignorance is represented as necessarily done excusably; and thus the simple principle is overlooked, that there may be a sin of the understanding as well as a sin of the flesh, and that it may be just as easy to offend by closing the mind against truth, as by putting forth the hand to do wrong. All that can be said is just this--If a man sin in ignorance, obeying the dictates of a misinformed conscience, and if he die in his ignorance, and therefore without repentance, we have no right to think he will be pardoned at the judgment, unless his ignorance were unavoidable, so that it could not have been removed by any carefulness of his own. St. Paul indeed obtained mercy, but the form which mercy took was not immediately that of full forgiveness, but that of greater instruction, so that the persecutor might retract his error and turn his zeal to the right channel. Let us now consider the conversion of St. Paul as furnishing evidence to the truth of Christianity. You will all admit that the change which had been made in Saul was of the most extraordinary kind, and not to be accounted for by any of those sudden transitions which one sometimes sees in unstable and vacillating characters. He was a man whose whole prejudices, feelings, and interests were enlisted against Christianity. He could become a Christian only by the sacrifice of position, of property, and perhaps even of life. He must have thought Christianity attested by supernatural evidence, whether that evidence were real, or whether it was the product of his own excited feelings. And, accordingly, the scriptural account assigns a miraculous manifestation as the cause of Saul’s conversion. The only man who would be likely to imagine a miracle on the side of Christianity would be a man pre-disposed to that side--anxious to embrace the religion if he can but prove it true. Such a man might possibly take that for miraculous which was only natural, and he persuaded by certain sounds that he was holding a dialogue, though he himself were the only speaker. But that a man in Saul’s circumstances should have done this--indeed, it seems to us that it would have been a greater miracle than that which is said to have overcome the apostle. Besides, how could St. Paul have been altogether deceived? Perhaps he only fancied the great light; perhaps he only fancied the voice; but could he fancy his own blindness? He must have been sure that he could not see. This was not a point upon which he could deceive himself. And whence came the blindness? If you say from the great light, then it is almost saying that the light was supernatural; and, therefore, there was miracle. Or, if you think the apostle might have been struck blind by a common flash of lightning, what shall be said of the recovery of sight? Is this, also, natural? You may think it was. Observe what pains are taken to prove the recovery miraculous. St. Paul sees, in a vision, a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hands on him that he might receive his sight. A corresponding vision is granted to this Ananias. He is sent to visit Paul, and lay his hands on him that his blindness may be removed. And how came the two visions to tally with such precision? Ananias, left to himself, would never have thought of visiting Paul. The disciple would not have put himself in the hands of the persecutor; and so indisposed was he to go, that, even when directed by God, he remonstrated on the danger. We are sure, therefore, that Ananias really thought he saw a vision; and we may be equally sure that St. Paul really thought he saw a vision. But then men may easily fancy visions, and little dependence is to be placed on dreams. Admitted. But how will you account for the precise coincidence between the visions? for the thorough accuracy with which they fitted into each other? Will you call this accident? You may account for anything by such reasoning; but candid men will not go along with you in such theories as these. Paul’s vision by itself might have proved nothing. Ananias’ vision by itself might have proved nothing. But when the two are precisely coincident, the correspondence demands authority for each. It is too surprising to be referred to accident, and if not to accident, it must be referred to Divine ordering; so that we unhesitatingly maintain the circumstances of the whole transaction to have been such, that Saul, who certainly could have had no interest in deceiving himself, could not himself have been deceived. And, this being established, we can point to the conversion of this apostle as irrefragable evidence of the truth of Christianity. The brightness which struck down Saul of Tarsus lights up the moral firmament of every after generation. The voice by which he was arrested sends its echoes to the remotest lands and the remotest times. Yea, even those “unto whom the ends of the world are come,” have derived their religion through the preaching of Paul, and may prove its divinity by his conversion. These, my brethren, are the chief points of view under which it is most interesting and instructive, to survey that great event which the Church this day commemorates. It may indeed moreover be, that the whole history we have been reviewing is typical, for it has been assumed by many learned men that St. Paul was throughout a type of the Jewish nation--a type in his opposition--a type in his conversion--a type in his preaching Christianity. You may easily trace the types if you remember that the Jews, after centuries of fierce and unrelenting hostility to Christianity, had been banished from the land of their fathers, and that after their conversion to the faith of Jesus, they became preachers to the heathen, and carried Christianity to the earth’s remotest families. We rather wish to guard you against an opinion, which has been often entertained and supported by such instances as that of St. Paul. The opinion is that if conversion be genuine, its period must be strongly marked, so that a man shall be able to fix the precise time of its occurrence, and the exact process by which it was wrought. Now we are sure that a rule such as this would decide against the genuineness of the religion of a great body of professing Christians. The operations of God’s Spirit are various. To profess to reduce them under a single description were to betray ignorance of their nature and effect. If the renovating process be in some eases rapid and vehement, in others it is gradual and silent, and is not to be discovered except by its results. One man may be converted by a sudden flash from heaven, and another through successive applications of the common means of grace. We know of no proof of conversion except the fruits by which it will be followed. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
How to welcome new converts
How often, too, when some one who has been prominently connected with a denomination that is not generally considered evangelical comes out and declares himself for that which is counted orthodox, he is met with freezing suspicion, and kept at a distance by the picket-guard that is always peering out for spies; or if some, like Barnabas, should put themselves beside him, they will be suspected along with him, and draw down upon themselves abundant expostulation. “Wait,” say these cautious ones, “until he has been duly quarantined; let him prove his steadfastness, and then we will receive him;” not seeing that their cold reserve is just the thing most calculated to send him back. So, again, in dealing with young converts, how slow some are to believe in the thoroughness and genuineness of God’s own work. It was not so with Barnabas, and it ought not to be so with us. We knew a good Christian lady who went to her pastor for the addresses of those who were received from time to time into the Church, that she might personally call upon them, and congratulate them on the stand which they had made. There was a deaconess without the name!--a true daughter of consolation! and after her visits the friends to whom she had spoken began to discover that there was more in Church fellowship than the mere sitting down together at the communion-table. If there were more like her in all our Churches, these spiritual societies would become more like “households of the faith,” and the coming in of each new member would create a joy like that which hails the advent of a new-born babe into every rightly-constituted home. Where are ye, oh ye Barnabases? Look around, and see if there be not field enough to-night for beginning operations. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
And they glorified God in me.
God’s glory in the soul
I. In the act of conversion God is glorified. It is strange how many misapplications of this word “conversion” prevail in the world and the Churches. It is used to express the change from one civilization to another; the Chinaman is converted when he becomes an American. It is employed to tell the story of a change of philosophical thought, when one begins to believe in the existence of spirits after having all his days supposed that God had nothing in this universe like unto Himself, but all was dead, inert matter. It is introduced, again, as the explanation of a person’s change of ecclesiastical relations. One passes from your church into the church opposite to yours, and he is “converted,” according to the usage of many. He has changed the mere form of his profession, whilst he holds to the same great essential truths. Yet not one nor all of these are here meant by the words in the sacred Scriptures. It tells the story of a Divine impulse upon our affections, to turn them from the things they have loved before; upon our will, to entirely change the purposes and desires which have prevailed before; upon our life, to make perfect the contrast of that it had been theretofore. It is the impulse of God upon man, turning him away from the things that tempt him further from God unto the things that attract him into nearer associations and relationship. And every part of the act of conversion is Divine. This act of conversion includes several facts.
1. The sense of estrangement from God is its first feature. Now you will admit that this is not a common experience among men. God produces this sense of estrangement. All conversions begin here, and no power but that which is Divine can make a man realize that great truth.
2. Instantly the desire for reconciliation springs up in the heart of him whom God is converting. This has God wrought. No human being can pump up such a desire out of his estranged heart. It is like the spring in the soil which God feeds from the clouds--it would run dry if He did not give the early and the latter rain and the morning and the evening dew.
3. Now comes the determination to return. It may have occupied only minutes, but what a journey it is of soul!
II. But I want to speak, secondly, of the influence of conversion. This is the glory of God. Both our conscious and unconscious influence as converted men and women is continually crying, “Let God be glorified.”
1. In this influence of a converted soul, the first fact is the withdrawal from dishonouring associations. “Conversion to God,” says one of the old seventeenth century divines, “begins with aversion from sin.”
2. A second fact in this influence is the attachment of one’s self to God’s people. “Let God be glorified,” is the desire and the expression of the soul. There is a ministry to which this influence impels him. The convert seeks his brother to save him.
III. Now, lastly, I want to point out some aspects of God’s glory that converted lives do testify. God does it all, and it takes all that there is in God to do it. It is no light work, Wherever you see a converted man, brother, there has been an Omnipresent God, there has been an Omniscient God, there has been the exercise of the omnipotence of God. Every natural perfection of God is engaged in the conversion of a soul. Now, it is very difficult to conceive of God in our times of thought, still less in our times of devotion. The eye is made for taking in the things of beauty in this world; the reason is adapted to comprehend principles. But the eye cannot look at the full meridian sun, and the reason is blinded when it searches the depths of God’s glory. Yet, when He manifests Himself in the works of His hands; when He brings the soul out of darkness into light; when He transforms a backsliding infidel into a true and accepted and faithful child of His; we testify, “God has been here.” The Arab was asked how he knew that there was a God; and he answered, “When I look out of my door in the morning, how do I know it was a man, and not a camel, that passed my tent?” We know Him from the marks of His presence. A converted soul glorifies all the natural perfections of God. The moral attributes are equally engaged in a soul’s conversion. Justice, mercy, love, fidelity, holiness; all these are rays of His glory. Take that prism, to-morrow, and let the sun shine through it, and you will see marvels. The white, pure light is divided into many colours. Even so this gospel of God’s grace analyzes the glory of God, and shows how justice and mercy have met together; how righteousness and peace have kissed each other. At Bethlehem! see God condescending; in Galilee I see God obeying; in Gethsemane I see God struggling and agonizing; on Golgotha I see God bowing his head in the substitution for man’s sin. What glorious rays of beauty! But when, with Peter and James and John, we stand on Mount Hermon to view a transfigured Christ, whose face did shine as the sun, we behold the glory of God in marvellous combination. Each ray may be contemplated in itself, but all blend in the glory of God a Saviour. All that each event of life testifies is there, and far, far more than the mind of man can ever conceive. But then, more than that, the covenant relations of God are glorified. The converted man finds a Father--meets a Saviour--is welcomed by a Friend. Now, it is sometimes the experience of children in this world, who never go away from home, that they find their parents in a new and better sense than they had ever met them before. If they have doubted them, if they have been disobedient to them, if they have suspected them, and if, at length, the dark cloud between child and parent passes away, the little one comes with new confidence to bury his head in his father’s bosom, or on his mother’s neck, to say, “I never knew you until now; I never understood you till now. The love has been deep down in my heart, but now I have found my father, I know the one with whom I have so long been living.” Even so is it here, dear friends. The converted man finds the fatherhood of God, who has been his father in Jesus Christ, ever since he was born; realizes the Saviourhood of God, who bought him with a price before his first returnings were ever experienced; and rests in the friendship of God, who is his abiding, faithful supporter and strength. This is my subject--the glory of God in the conversion of a soul. Now, dear brother, let us bring it down to one single point. Has any one glorified God on your behalf? (S. H. Tyng; D. D.)
God’s glory incapable of addition
The God whose glory is in the heavens, revealed in the history of earth, and declared by the experience of every sincere and trusting soul, has perfections impossible of addition as they are evasive of all analysis. He is the standard of holiness, the source of life, the saviour from wrong. His glory belongeth unto Him; He will not give it to another; yet every soul, every life, every home, every Church, dwelling in the brightness of the beauty of God, declares, extends, exalts His glory. Before the eye and in the ear of rational creatures, theology cannot make God either more or less than He is. The panegyric does not add one virtue to the person about whom it is told; the picture that is true cannot make the portrait more beautiful than the face; the window, translucent, does not create, but lets in, the light; even so our relation to God in His glory. It belongs unto us to declare--it does not belong unto us either to diminish or increase the majesty of God. All our consecration cannot add one ray, all our scorning cannot detract aught from Him. (S. H. Tyng; D. D.)
They glorified God in me
I. THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD IN MAN. God is manifested--
1. In nature.
2. But this is surpassed by His manifestation in man.
(3) morally; and because this latter is based on the manifestation of God in Christ--
(a) in the New Testament;
(b) in the believer;
(c) in ministerial gifts and fruit.
II. The glorification of God for this manifestation. In the way of--
3. Trust that God will maintain the succession. (J. Stoughton, D. D.)
He does not say they marvelled at me, they praised me, they were struck with admiration of me, but they glorified God in me. (Chrysostom.)
They praised God, and took courage to believe the more in the mercy of God for that He had mercy on such a great sinner as he. “In me.” They wondered that grace should be so rich as to take hold of such a wretch as I was, and for my sake believed in Christ the more. (Bunyan.)
Christ glorified in Paul’s conversion
I am sure there was never a man who had more hurtful thoughts of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, than Paul had, for he could not endure to hear of His name, nor to hear of any that professed His name, but persecuted them all most cruelly. And yet our Lord, He did no more but speak a word or two to him, and with these same few words He cast him off his high horse, whereupon he rode so triumphantly, and lays him down upon his back and under his feet, to make him say, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” That is a cast of the power of our Lord’s right arm. (S. Rutherford.)
Divine grace seen in the life
Can I see the dew of heaven as it falls on a summer evening? I cannot. It comes down softly and gently, noiselessly and imperceptibly. But when I go forth in the morning, after a cloudless night, and see every leaf sparkling with moisture, and feel every blade of grass damp and wet, I say at once, “There has been a dew.” Just so it is with the presence of the Spirit in the soul. (Bishop Ryle.)
That the conversion of an immortal soul is cause of great joy and thanksgiving to the God of grace
I. This will appear if we consider the nature of the human soul, and the misery from which it is rescued.
II. If we contemplate the felicity to which a saved soul is exalted.
III. It will further appear if we consider the price paid for the salvation of the soul.
IV. This is evinced by the perfect nature of salvation. (The Pulpit.)
They glorified God in--
I. The subjection of the persecutor.
II. The conversion of the sinner.
III. The zeal and success of the preacher.
IV. The dignity of his office. (J. Lyth.)
God glorified in Paul
I. In his conversion--a persecutor and a Pharisee--yet called by special grace (verses 13-15).
II. In his call to the ministry--Divinely qualified (verse 16)--and instructed (verses 11, 12, 17).
III. In his labours--incessant--widely distributed--unsupported by human influence--yet abundant to the glory of God. (J. Lyth.)
God glorified in Christians
It should ever be the end of the Christian man, not only to promote the glory of God by his works, but to illustrate the glory of God in his character; in this, as in nothing else, are the goodness and power of God seen most strikingly. An architect rears a building. It is admired for its beauty in detail, and its grandeur as a whole; but the praise belongs not to the building, but to the builder. A tutor takes a youth under his care, and sends him forth to attain eminence and distinction in the early struggles and in the highest positions of life, but the tutor is glorified in the pupil. So the creation is the result of the Almighty hand, and He is glorified in it. Impressions of His glory are left upon the largest and upon the least; upon the stars in their courses discovered to the telescope; and on the minutest specimens of organized life which the microscope opens to our startled eye. And shall my God be less glorified in the new creation than He is in the old? Shall He not be glorified by the humblest Christian, just as He was glorified by the great apostle? All stars shine by His will, and one star differs from another star in glory, for this is His will; but each renders to Him its measure of praise. God, who is glorified in Saul of Tarsus pre-eminently, must be glorified in each of us, as Christians, according to our position and opportunity. If we have a Christian’s hope, it is to the glory of His name; if we have a Christian’s life, it is to the glory of His cross; if we have performed a duty, it is to the glory of His grace; if we have borne a trial, it is to the glory of His support; if we have overcome a sinful habit, or the lust which led to it, it is to the glory of His power which gave us self-mastery. (C. J. P. Eyre, M. A.)