Then another thing I would venture to say is, Make it your business to cultivate a character like that of Jesus Christ. If you would go to the work of growing a Christ-like spirit one-hundredth part as systematically as you will go to your business to-morrow, and stick at it, there would be a very different condition of things in most of our hearts. No man becomes noble and good and like the dear Lord 'by a jump,' without making a systematic and conscious effort towards it.
I would say, lastly, Make haste about cultivating a Christlike character. The harvest is great, the toil is heavy, the sun is drawing to the west, the evening shadows are very long with some of us, the reckoning is at hand, and the Master waits to count your sheaves. There is no time to lose, brother; set about it as you have never done before, and say, 'This one thing I do.'
And so let us not fill our minds with vain hopes which, whether they be fulfilled or not, will not satisfy us, but lift our eyes to and stay our anticipations on those glories beyond, as real as God is real, and as certain as His word is true. Let these hopes concentrate and define for us the aims of our life; and let the aims, clearly accepted and recognised, be pursued with earnestness, with 'diligence,' with haste, with the enthusiasm of which they, and they only, are worthy. Let us listen to our Master, 'I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day; the night cometh.' And let us listen to the words of the servant, which reverse the metaphor, and teach the same lesson in a trumpet call which anticipates the dawn and rouses the sleeping soldiers: 'The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.'
'But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ....'—2 Peter iii. 18.
These are the last words of an old man, written down as his legacy to us. He was himself a striking example of his own precept. It would be an interesting study to examine these two letters of the Apostle Peter, in order to construct from them a picture of what he became, and to contrast it with his own earlier self when full of self-confidence, rashness, and instability. It took a lifetime for Simon, the son of Jonas, to grow into Peter; but it was done. And the very faults of the character became strength. What he had proved possible in his own case he commands and commends to us, and from the height to which he has reached, he looks upwards to the infinite ascent which he knows he will attain when he puts off this tabernacle; and then downwards to his brethren, bidding them, too, climb and aspire. His last word is like that of the great Roman Catholic apostle to the East Indies: 'Forward!' He is like some trumpeter on the battlefield who spends his last breath in sounding an advance. Immortal hope animates his dying injunction: 'Grow! grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.'
So I think we may take these words, dear friends, as the starting-point for some very plain remarks about what I am afraid is a neglected duty, the duty of growth in Christian character.
I. I begin, first, with a word or two about the direction which Christian growth ought to take.
Now those of you who use the Revised Version will see in it a very slight, but very valuable alteration. It reads there: 'Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.' The effect of that alteration being to bring out more clearly that whilst the direction of the growth is twofold, the process is one. And to bring out more clearly, also, that both the grace and the knowledge have connection with Jesus Christ.
He is the Giver and the Author of the grace. He is the Object of the knowledge. The one is more moral and spiritual; the other, if we may so say, more intellectual; but both are realised by one act of progress, and both inhere in, and refer to, and are occupied with, and are derived from, Jesus Christ Himself.
Let us look a little more closely at this double direction, this bifurcation, as it were, of Christian growth. The tree, like some of our forest trees, in its normal progress, diverges into two main branches at a short distance upwards from the root.
First, we have growth in the 'grace' of Christ. Grace, of course, means, first, the undeserved love and favour which God in Jesus Christ bears to us sinful and inferior creatures; and then it means the consequence of that love and favour in the manifold spiritual endowments which in us become 'graces,' beauties, and excellences of Christian character. So then, if you are a Christian, you ought to be continually realising a deeper and more blessed consciousness of Christ's love and favour as yours. You ought to be, if I may so say, nestling every day nearer and nearer to His heart, and getting more and more sure, and more and more happily sure, of more and more of His mercy and love to you.
And if you are a Christian you ought not only thus to be realising daily, with increasing certitude and power, the fact of His love, but you ought to be drinking in and deriving more and more every day of the consequences of that love, of the spiritual gifts of which His hands are full. There is open for each of us in Him an inexhaustible store of abundance. And if our Christian life is real and vigorous there ought to be in us a daily increasing capacity, and therefore a daily increasing possession of the gifts of His grace. There ought to be, in other words, also a daily progressive transformation into His likeness. It is 'the grace of our Lord Jesus,' not only in the sense that He is the Author and the Bestower of it to each of us, but also in the sense that He Himself possesses and exemplifies it. So that there is nothing mystical and remote from the experience of daily life in this exhortation: 'Grow in grace'; and it is not growth in some occult theological virtue, or transcendent experience, but a very plain, practical thing, a daily transformation, with growing completeness and precision of resemblance, into the likeness of Jesus Christ; the grace that was in Him being transferred to me, and my character being growingly irradiated and refined, softened and ennobled by the reflection of the lustre of His.
This it is to 'grow into the grace of our Lord and Saviour'; a deeper consciousness of His love creeping round the roots of my heart every day, and fuller possession of His gifts placed in my opening hand every day; and a continual approximation to the beauty of His likeness, which never halts nor ceases.
'Grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.' The knowledge of a person is not the same as the knowledge of a creed or of a thought or of a book. We are to grow in the knowledge of Christ, which includes but is more than the intellectual apprehension of the truths concerning Him. He might turn the injunction into—'Increase your acquaintance with your Saviour.' Many Christians never get to be any more intimate with Him than they were when they were first introduced to Him. They are on a kind of bowing acquaintance with their Master, and have little more than that. We sometimes begin an acquaintance which we think promises to ripen into a friendship, but are disappointed. Circumstances or some want of congeniality which is discovered prevent its growth. So with not a few professing Christians. They have got no nearer Jesus Christ than when they first knew Him. Their friendship has not grown. It has never reached the stage where all restraints are laid aside and there is perfect confidence. 'Grow in the knowledge of your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.' Get more and more intimate with Him, nearer to Him, and franker and more cordial with Him day by day.
But there is another side to the injunction besides that. We are to grow in the grasp, the intellectual grasp and realisation of the truths which lie wrapped up and enfolded in Him. The first truths that a man learns when he becomes a Christian are the most important. The lesson that the little child learns contains the Omega as well as the Alpha of all truth. There is no word in all the gospel that is an advance on that initial word, the faith of which saves the most ignorant who trusts to it. We begin with the end, if I may say so, and the highest truth is the first truth that we learn. But the aspect which that truth bears to the man when, first of all, it dawns upon him, and he sees in it the end of his fears, the cleansing of his heart, the pardoning of his sins, his acceptance with God, is a very different thing from the aspect that it ought to wear to him, after, say forty years of pondering, of growing up to it, after years of experience have taught him. Life is the best commentary upon the truths of the gospel, and the experience teaches their depths and their power, their far-reaching applications and harmonies. So our growth in the knowledge of Jesus Christ is not a growing away from the earliest lessons, or a leaving them behind, but a growing up to and into them. So as to learn more fully and clearly all their infinite contents of grace and truth. The treasure put into our hands at first is discovered in its true preciousness as life and trial test its metal and its inexhaustibleness. The child's lesson is the man's lesson. All our Christian progress in knowledge consists in bringing to light the deep meaning, the far-reaching consequences of the fact of Christ's incarnation, death, and glory. 'God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' The same truth which shone at first a star in a far-off sky, through a sinful man's night of fear and agony, grows in brilliance as we draw nearer to it, until at last it blazes, the central Sun of the Universe, the hearth for all vital warmth, the fountain of all guiding light, the centre of all energy. Christ in His manhood, in His divinity, Christ in His cross, resurrection, and glory, is the object of all knowledge, and we grow in the knowledge of Him by penetrating more deeply into the truths which we have long ago learned, as well as by following them as they lead us into new fields, and disclose unsuspected issues in creed and practice.
That growth will not be one-sided; for grace and knowledge will advance side by side—the moral and spiritual keeping step with the intellectual, the practical with the theoretical. And that growth will have no term. It is growth towards an infinite object of our aspiration, imitation, and affection. So we shall ever approach and never surpass Jesus Christ. Such endless progress is the very salt of life. It keeps us young when physical strength decays. It flames, an immortal hope, to light the darkness of the grave when all other hopes are quenched in night.
II. Now, for a moment, look at another thought, viz., the obligation.
It is a command, that is to say, the will is involved. Growth is to be done by effort, and the fact that it is a command teaches us this, that we are not to take this one metaphor as if it exhausted the whole of the facts of the case in reference to Christian progress.
You would never think of telling a child to grow any more than you would think of telling a plant to grow, but Peter does tell Christian men and women to grow. Why? Because they are not plants, but men with wills, which can resist, and can either further or hinder their progress.
'Lo! in the middle of the wood, The folded leaf is wooed from out the bud, ... and there Grows green and broad, and takes no care.'
But that is not how we grow. 'In the sweat of thy brow,' with pain and peril, with effort and toil, and not otherwise, do men grow in everything but stature. And especially is it so in the Christian character. There are other metaphors that need to be taken into consideration as well as this of growth, with all its sweet suggestions of continuous, effortless, spontaneous advance.
The Christian progress is not only growth, it is warfare. The Christian progress is not only growth, it is a race. The Christian progress is not only growth, it is mortifying the old man. The Christian progress is not only growth, it is putting off the old man with his deeds and putting on the new! 'First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear,' was never meant for a complete account of how the Christian life is perfected.
We are bidden to grow, and that command points to hindrances and resistance, to the need for effort and the governing action of our own wills.
The command is one sorely needed in the present state of our average Christianity. Our churches are full of monsters, specimens of arrested growth, dwarfs, who have scarcely grown since they were babes, infants all their lives. I come to you with a very plain question: Have you any more of Christ's beauty in your characters, any more of His grace in your hearts, any more of His truth in your minds than you had a year ago, ten years ago, or at that far-off period when some of you greyheaded men first professed to be Christians? Have you experienced so many things in vain? Have the years taught you nothing? Ah, brethren! for how many of us is it true: 'When for the time ye ought to be teachers ye have need that one teach you which be the first principles of the oracles of God'? 'Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.'
And we need the command because all about us there are hindrances. There is the hindrance of an abuse of the evangelical doctrine of conversion, and the idea that springs up in many hearts that if once a man has 'passed from death unto life,' and has managed to get inside the door of the banqueting-hall, that is enough. And there are numbers of people in our Nonconformist communities especially, where that doctrine of conversion is most distinctly preached, whose growth is stopped by the abuse that they make of it in fancying if they have once exercised faith in Jesus Christ they may safely and sinlessly stand still. 'Conversion' is turning round. What do we turn round for? Surely, in order that we may travel on in the new direction, not that we may stay where we are. There is also the hindrance of mere indolence, and there is the hindrance arising from absorption in the world and its concerns.
If all your strength is going thither, there is none left to grow with. Many professing Christians take such deep draughts of the intoxicating cup of this world's pleasures that it stunts their growth. People sometimes give children gin in order to keep them from growing. Some of you do that for your Christian character by the deep draughts that you take of the Circean cup of this world's pleasures and cares.
And not unfrequently, some one favourite evil, some lust or passion, or weakness, or desire, which you have not the strength to cast out, will kill all aspirations and destroy all possibilities of growth; and will be like an iron band round a little sapling, which will confine it and utterly prevent all expansion. Is that the case with any of us? We all need—and I pray you suffer—the word of exhortation.
III. Now, again, consider the method of growth.
There are two things essential to the growth of animal life. One is food, the other is exercise; and your Christian character will grow by no other means.
Now as to the first. The true means by which we shall grow in Christian grace is by holding continual intercourse and communion with Jesus Christ. It is from Him that all come. He is the Fountain of Life; He gives the life, He nourishes the life, He increases the life. And whilst I have been saying, in an earlier part of this discourse, that we are not to expect an effortless growth, I must here say that we shall very much mistake what Christian progress requires if we suppose that the effort is most profitably directed to the cultivation of specific and single acts of goodness and purity. Our efforts are best when directed to keeping ourselves in union with our Lord. The heart united to Him will certainly be advancing in all things fair and lovely and of good report. Keep yourselves in touch with Christ; and Christ will make you grow. That is to say, occupy heart and mind with Him, let your thoughts go to Him. Do you ever, from morning to night, on a week-day, think about your Master, about His truth, about the principles of His Gospel, about His great love to you? Keep your heart in union with Him, in the midst of the rush and hurry of your daily life. Are your desires turning to Him? Do they go out towards Him and feel after Him? It will take an effort to keep up the union with Him, but without the effort there will be no contact, and without the contact there will be no growth. As soon may you expect a plant, wrenched from the soil and shut out from the sunshine to grow, as expect any Christian progress in the hearts which are disjoined from Jesus Christ. But rooted in that soil, smiled upon by that sun, watered by the perpetual dew from His Heaven, we shall 'grow like the lily, and cast forth our roots like Lebanon. The secret of real Christian progress and the direction in which the effort of Christian progress can most profitably and effectually be made, is simply in keeping close to our Lord and Master. He is the food of the Spirit. 'I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.'
Communion with Christ includes prayer. Desire to grow will help our growth. We tend to become what we long to be. Desire which impels to effort will not be in vain if it likewise impels to prayer. We may have the answer to our petition for growth in set ways; we may be but partially conscious of the answer, nor know that our faces shine when we go among men. But certainly if we pray for what is in such accordance with His will as 'growth in grace' is, we shall have the petition that we desire. That longing to know Him better and to possess more of His grace, like the tendrils of some climbing plant, will always find the support round which it may twine, and by which it may ascend.
The other condition of growth is exercise. Use the grace which you have, and it increases. Practice the truth which you know, and many things will become clearer. The blacksmith's muscles are strengthened by wielding the forge-hammer, but unused they waste. The child grows by exercise. To him that hath—truly possesses with that possession which only use secures—shall be given.
Communion with Christ, including prayer, and exercise are the means of growth.
IV. Lastly, observe the solemn alternative to growth.
It is not a question of either growing or not growing, and there an end; but if you will look at the context you will see that the exhortation of my text comes in in a very significant connection. 'Behold! beware, lest being led away ... ye fall from your own steadfastness.' 'But grow in grace.' That is to say, the only preventive of falling away from steadfastness is continual progress. The alternative of advance is retrogression. There is no standing still upon the inclined plane. If you are not going up, gravity begins to act, and down you go. There must either be continual advance or there will be certain decay and corruption. As soon as growth ceases in this physiology disintegration commences. Just as the graces exercised are strengthened, so the graces unexercised decay. The slothful servant wraps his talent in a napkin, and buries it in the ground. He may try to persuade his Master and himself with 'There Thou hast that is Thine'; but He will not take up what you buried. Rust and verdigris will have done their work upon the coin; the inscription will be obliterated and the image will be marred. You cannot bury your Christian grace in indolence without diminishing it. It will be like a bit of ice wrapped in a cloth and left in the sun, it will all have gone into water when you come to take it out. And the truth that you do not live by, whose relations and large harmonies and controlling power are not being increasingly realised in your lives; that truth is becoming less and less real, more and more shadowy, and ghostlike to you. Truth which is not growing is becoming fossilised. 'The things most surely believed' are often the things which have least power. Unquestioned truth too often lies 'bedridden in the dormitory of the soul side by side with exploded error.' The sure way to reduce your knowledge of Jesus Christ to that inert condition is to neglect increasing it and applying it to your daily life. There are men, in all churches, and there are some whole communions whose creeds are the most orthodox, and also utterly useless, and as near as possible nonentities, simply because the creed is accepted and shelved. If your belief is to be of any use to you, or to be held by you in the face of temptations to abandon it, you must keep it fresh, and oxygenated, so to say, by continual fresh apprehension of it and closer application of it to conduct. As soon as the stream stands, it stagnates; and the very manna from God will breed worms and stink. And Christian truth unpractised by those who hold it, corrupts itself and corrupts them.
So Peter tells us that the alternative is growth or apostasy. This decay may be most real and unsuspected. There are many, many professing Christians all ignorant that, like the Jewish giant of old, their strength is gone from them, and the Spirit of God departed. My brother, I beseech you, rouse yourself from your contented slothfulness. Do not be satisfied with merely having come within the Temple. Count nothing as won whilst anything remains to be won. There is a whole ocean of boundless grace and truth rolling shoreless there before you. Do not content yourselves with picking up a few shells on the beach, but launch out into the deep, and learn to know more and more of the grace and truth and beauty of your Saviour and your God.
But remember dead things do not grow. You cannot grow unless you are alive, and you are not alive unless you have Jesus Christ.
Have you given yourselves to Him? have you taken Him as yours? given yourselves to Him as His servants, subjects, soldiers? taken Him for yours as your Saviour, Sacrifice, Pattern, Inspirer, Friend? If you have, then you have life which will grow if you keep it in union with Him. Joined to Him, men are like a 'tree that is planted by the rivers of water,' which spreads its foliage and bears its fruit, and year after year flings a wider shadow upon the grass, and lifts a sturdier bole to the heavens. Separated from Him they are like the chaff, which has neither root nor life, and which cannot grow.
Which, my friend, are you?
THE MESSAGE AND ITS PRACTICAL RESULTS
'This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. 6. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin. 8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.'
'My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2. And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. 3. And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4. He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him. 6. He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.'—1 John i. 5-ii. 6.
John is the mystic among the New Testament writers. He dwells much on the immediate union of the soul with God, and he has little to say about institutions and rites. His method is not to argue, but to utter deep, simple propositions which convince by their own light. But he is also intensely eager for plain, practical morality, and in that respect sets the example which, unfortunately, too many of the more mystical types of Christian teaching have failed to follow. To him the outcome and test of all deep hidden union with God is righteousness in life.
The blending of these two elements, which is the very keynote of this letter, is wonderfully set forth in this passage. They would require much more space than we command for their treatment, for every clause is weighty as gold. We can but skim the surface, and try to bring out the salient points.
I. We have, first, a wonderful gathering up of the whole gospel message into one utterance as to the essential nature of God. Light is in all languages the symbol of knowledge, of joy, of purity. It is the source of life. Its very nature is to ray itself out into and conquer darkness. Its splendor dazzles every eye; all things rejoice in its beams. Darkness is the type of ignorance, of sorrow, of sin. But, whilst the symbol is thus rich in manifold revelations, probably purity and self-communication are the predominating ideas here.
John has been honoured to give the world the three great revelations that God is spirit, is light, is love. And this profound saying in some sense includes both the others, inasmuch as light, which to the popular mind is most widely apart from matter, may well stand for the emblem of spirit, and, since to radiate is its inseparable quality, does represent in symbol the delight in imparting Himself, which is the very heart of the declaration that God is love. If, then, we grasp these two thoughts of absolute purity and of self-impartation as the very nature and property of God, John tells us that we grasp the kernel of the Gospel.
And he thinks that men never will grasp them certainly unless a 'message' from God, a definite revelation in historical fact, certifies them. We may hope or doubt, or desire, but we cannot be sure that God is light unless he tells us so by unmistakable act. John knew what act that was—the sending of His only-begotten Son. To the positive statement John, in his usual manner, appends an emphatic negative one: 'Darkness is not in him, no, not in any way.' He is light, all light, only light.
II. With characteristic moral earnestness, John passes at once to the practical effects which the message is meant to have. We are not told what God is simply that we may know, but that, knowing, we may do and be. If He is light, two things will follow in those who are in union with Him—they will walk in light, and they will in His light see their own evil. John deals with these two consequences in verses 6-10—the former in verses 6 and 7; the latter in verses 8-10. The parallelism in the construction of these two sets of verses is striking:
VERSES 6, 7. VERSES 8, 9.
If we say If we say
that we have fellowship with that we have no sin Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
But if we walk in the light, If we confess our sins, as He is in the light,
we have fellowship one with He is faithful and righteous to another. forgive us our sins,
and the blood of Jesus His Son and to cleanse us from all cleanseth us from all sin. unrighteousness.
As to the former of these two paragraphs, the underlying thought is that fellowship with God necessarily involves moral likeness to Him. Worship is always aspiration after, and conformity to, the character of the god worshipped, and there can be no true communion with a God who is light unless the worshipper walks in light. In plain language, all high-flying pretensions to communion with God must verify themselves by practical righteousness. That cuts deep into an emotional religion, which has much to say about raptures and the like, but produces little purifying effect on the humble details of daily life.
There are always professing Christians who talk of their blessed experiences, and woefully fail in prosaic virtues. It is a pity that a man should hold his head so high that he does not look to keep his feet out of the mud. Such a profession is for the most part tainted with more or less conscious falsehood, and is always a proof that the truth—the sum of God's revelation—is not operative in the man; that he is not turning his belief into act, as all belief should be. On the other hand, the true relation resulting from the message is that we should walk in the light, as He is in it.
Verse 10 seems to be simply a reiteration of the preceding idea, with some intensifying, and that chiefly in the description of the true character of the denial of sin. To make God a liar is worse than to lie or to deceive ourselves; and all ignoring of sin does that, because not only has God declared its universality by the words of revelation, but all His dealings with men are based upon the fact that they are all sinners, and we fly in the face of all His words and works if we deny that which we ourselves are. Therefore the Apostle further varies his expression, and says 'His word' instead of 'the truth,' thus bringing into prominence the thought that 'the truth' is made accessible to us because God has spoken.
III. Chapter ii. 1-6 is in structure analogous to the preceding section. As there, so here, the 'message' is summed up in one great fact,—Christ's work as advocate for believers and as propitiation for the world. As there, so here, two practical consequences follow, which are drawn out on corresponding lines. Observe the repetition in verses 3 and 5 b, of 'hereby know we,' and in verses 4 and 6 of 'He that saith.'
Note, too, the reappearance of 'is a liar' and of 'the truth is not in him' in verse 4. The drift of the section may be briefly put as follows. John's heart melts as he thinks of the possibilities of holiness open to believers, and of the sad actualities of their imperfect lives, and he addresses them by the tender name, 'my little children.' The impelling and guiding motive of his letter is that they may not sin. Practical righteousness is the end of revelation, and its complete attainment should be the aim of every believer.
But the sad experience of 'saints' is that they are not yet wholly delivered from its power. Therefore 'the message' is not only 'God is light without blending of darkness,' but, 'we Christians have an Advocate with the Father.' Jesus is to-day carrying on His mighty work of prevalent intercession for all His servants, and that intercession secures forgiveness for their inconsistencies and lapses, because it rests upon Christ's finished work of 'propitiation,' which is for the whole world, even though it actually avails only for believers.
Such being the power of Christ's work in its twofold aspect of propitiation and of intercession, the same practical issues as in the preceding section were shown to flow from the revealed nature of God are here, in somewhat different form, linked with that work. First, keeping his commandments (which is equivalent to 'walking in the light') is the test to ourselves, as well as to others, of our really knowing Him with a knowledge which is not mere head work, but the acquaintance of sympathy and friendship, or, in the words of the previous paragraph, having fellowship with Him.
Clearly, the scope of this section requires that 'His commandments' should here mean Christ's, not the Father's. All professions of knowing Jesus which are not verified by obedience to Him are false. If we do keep His word—not merely the individual 'commandments,' but the word as one great whole—our love to God reaches its perfection, for it is no mere emotion of the heart, but the force which is to mould and actuate all our acts.
Verse 5 b should be separated from the preceding words, for it is really the beginning of the second issue from the work of Christ, and is parallel with 'hereby know we,' etc., in verse 3. Observe the progress in thought from the assurance that we know (ver. 3) to the assurance that we are in Him. The Christian's relation to Jesus is not only that of acquaintance, however intimate, loving, and transforming, but that of actual dwelling in Him. That great truth shines on every page of the New Testament, and is not to be weakened down into metaphor or rhetoric. It is the very heart of the Christian life, and the test that we have attained to it, and that not merely as an occasional, but as a permanent, condition (note that 'are in Him' is strengthened to 'abideth in Him') is that our outward life, in its manifold activities, shall be conformed to the pattern of all holiness in the life of Jesus. To walk as He walked is to walk in the light. Profession is nothing, conduct is everything, and we shall only be clear of sin in the measure in which we have Him who is the light of men for the very life of our lives.
WALKING IN THE LIGHT
'If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.'—1 John i. 7.
John was the Apostle of love, but he was also a 'son of thunder.' His intense moral earnestness and his very love made him hate evil, and sternly condemn it; and his words flash and roll as no other words in Scripture, except the words of the Lord of love. In the immediate context he has been laying down what is to him the very heart of his message, that 'God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.' There are spots in the sun, great tracts of blackness on its radiant disc; but in God is unmingled, perfect purity. That being so, it is clear that no man can be in sympathy or hold communion with Him, unless he, too, in his measure, is light.
So, with fiery indignation, John turns to the people, of whom there were some, even in the primitive Church, who made claims to a lofty spirituality and communion with God, and all the while were manifestly living in the darkness of sin. He will not mince matters with them. He roundly says that they are lying, and the worst sort of lie—an acted lie: 'They do not the truth.' Then, with a quick turn, he opposes to these pretenders the men who really are in fellowship with God, and in my text lays down the principle that walking in the light is essential to fellowship with God. Only, in his usual fashion, he turns the antithesis into a somewhat different form, so as to suggest another aspect of the truth, and instead of saying, as we might expect for the verbal accuracy of the contrast, 'If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with God,' he says, 'we have fellowship one with another.' Then he adds a still further result of that walk, 'the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin.'
Now there are three things: walking in the light, which is the only Christian walk; the companions of those who walk in the light; and the progressive cleansing which is given.
I. Note this 'Walking in the light,' which is the only Christian walk.
In all languages, light is the natural symbol for three things: knowledge, joy, purity. The one ray is broken into its three constituent parts. But just as there are some surfaces which are sensitive to the violet rays, say, of the spectrum, and not to the others, so John's intense moral earnestness makes him mainly sensitive to the symbolism which makes light the expression, not so much of knowledge or of joy, as of moral purity. And although that is not exclusively his use of the emblem, it is predominately so, and it is so here. To 'walk in the light' then, is, speaking generally, to have purity, righteousness, goodness, as the very element and atmosphere in which our progressive and changeful life is carried on.
Note, too, before I go further, that very significant antithesis: we 'walk'; He is—God is in the light essentially, changelessly, undisturbedly, eternally; and the light in which He is, His 'own calm home, His habitation from eternity,' is light which has flowed out from Himself as a halo round the midnight moon. It is all one in substance to say God is in light, or, as the Psalmist has it, 'He covered Himself with light as with a garment,' and to say, 'God is light.'
But, side by side with that changeless abiding in the perfect purity, which is inaccessible, the Apostle ventures to put, not in contrast only, but in parallel (as He is), our changing, effortful, active, progressive life in the light (God is); we walk.
So, then, the essential of a Christian character is that the light of purity and moral goodness shall be as the very orb, in the midst of which it stands and advances. That implies effort, and it implies activity, and it implies progress. And we are only Christians in the measure in which the conscious activities of our daily lives, and the deepest energies of our inward being, are bathed and saturated with this love of, and effort after, righteousness. It is vain, says John, to talk about fellowship with God, unless the fellowship is rooted in sympathy with Him in that which is the very heart of his Being, the perfect light of perfect holiness. Test your Christianity by that.
Then, still further, there is implied in this great requirement of walking in the light, not only activity and effort, and progress and purity, but also that the whole of the life shall be brought into relation with, and shall be moulded after, the pattern of the God in whom we profess to believe. Religion, in its deepest meaning, is the aspiration after likeness to the god. You see it in heathenism. Men make their gods after their own image, and then the god makes the worshippers after his image. Mars is the god of the soldier, and Venus goddess of the profligate, and Apollo god of the musical and the wise, etc., and in Christianity the deepest thing in it is aspiration and effort after likeness to God. Love is imitation; admiration, especially when it is raised to the highest degree and becomes adoration, is imitation. And the man that lies before God, like a mirror in the sunshine, receives on the still surface of his soul—but not, like the mirror, on the surface only, but down into its deepest depths—the reflected image of Him on Whom he gazes. 'We all with unveiled face, mirroring glory, are changed into the same image.' So to walk in the light is only possible when we are drawn into it, and our feeble feet made fit to tread upon the radiant glory, by the thought that He is in the light. To imitate Him is to be righteous. So do not let us forget that a correct creed, and devout emotions, ay! and a morality which has no connection with Him, are all imperfect, and that the end of all our religion, our orthodox creed and our sweet emotions and inward feelings of acceptance and favour and fellowship, are meant to converge on, and to produce this—a life and a character which lives and moves and has its being in a great orb of light and purity.
But another thing is included in this grand metaphor of my text. Not only does it enjoin upon us effort and activity and progress in the light and the linking of all our purity with God, but also, it bids us shroud no part of our conduct or our character either from ourselves or from Him. Bring it all out into the light. And although with a penitent heart, and a face suffused with blushes, we have sometimes to say, 'See, Father, what I have done!' it is far better that the revealing light should shine down upon us, and like the sunshine on wet linen, melt away the foulness which it touches, than that we should huddle the ugly thing up in a corner, to be one day revealed and transfixed by the flash of the light turned into lightning. 'He that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest.'
II. So much, then, for my first point; the second is: The companions of the men that walk in the light.
I have already pointed out that the accurate, perhaps pedantically accurate, form of the antithesis would have been: 'If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with God.' But John says, first, 'we have fellowship one with another.' Underlying that, as I shall have to say in a moment, there is the other thought: 'We have fellowship with God.' But he deals with the other side of the truth first. That just comes to this, that the only cement that perfectly knits men to each other is their common possession of that light, and the consequent fellowship with God. There are plenty of other bonds that draw us to one another; but these, if they are not strengthened by this deepest of all bonds, the affinity of souls, that are moving together in the realm of light and purity, are precarious, and apt to snap. Sin separates men quite as much as it separates each man from God. It is the wedge driven into the tree that rends it apart. Human society with its various bonds is like the iron hoop that may be put around the barrel staves, giving them a quasi-unity. The one thing that builds men together into a whole is that each shall be, as it were, embedded in the rock which is the foundation, and the building will rise into a holy temple in the Lord. Sin separates; as the prophet confessed, 'All we like sheep have gone astray, every one to his own way,' and the flock is broken up into a multitude of scattered sheep. Social enthusiasts may learn the lesson that the only way by which brotherhood among men can become anything else than a name, and probably end, as it did in the great French Revolution, in 'brothers' making hecatombs of their brethren under the guillotine, is that it shall be the corollary from the Fatherhood of God. If we walk in the light, not otherwise, we have 'fellowship one with another.'
Then, still further, in this fellowship one with another, John presupposes the fellowship with God for each, which makes the possibility and the certainty of all being drawn into one family. He does not think it necessary to state, what is so plain and obvious, viz., that unless we are in sympathy with God, in our aspiration and effort after the light which is His home and ours, we have no real communion with Him. I said that sin separated man from man, and disrupted all the sweet bonds of amity, so that if men come into contact, being themselves in the darkness, they come into collision rather than into communion. A company of travellers in the night are isolated individuals. When the sun rises on their paths they are a company again. And in like manner, sin separates us from God, and if our hearts are turned towards, and denizens of, the darkness of impurity, then we have no communion with Him. He cannot come to us if we love the darkness. He
'Can but listen at the gate, And hear the household jar within.'
The tide of the Atlantic feels along the base of iron-bound cliffs on our western shores, and there is not a crevice into which it can come. So God moves about us, but is without us, so long as we walk in darkness. So let us remember that no union with Him is possible, except there be this common dwelling in the light. Two grains of quicksilver laid upon a polished surface will never unite if their surfaces be dusted over with minute impurities, or if the surface of one of them be. Clean away the motes, and they will coalesce and be one. A film of sin separates men from God. And if the film be removed the man dwells in God, and God in him.
III. That brings me to my last point: The progressive cleansing of those who dwell in the light.
'The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.' Now if you will notice the whole context, and eminently the words a couple of verses after my text, you will see that the cleansing here meant is not the cleansing of forgiveness, but the cleansing of purifying. For the two things are articulately distinguished in the ninth verse: 'He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.' So, to use theological terms, it is not justification, but sanctification that is meant here.
Then there is another thing to be noticed, and that is that when the Apostle speaks here about the blood of Christ, he is not thinking of that blood as shed on the Cross, the atoning sacrifice, but of that blood as transfused into the veins, the source there of our new life. The Old Testament says that 'the blood is the life.' Never mind about the statement being scientifically correct; it conveys the idea of the time, which underlies a great deal of Old and New Testament teaching. And when John says the blood of Jesus cleanses from 'all sin,' he says just the same thing as his brother Paul said, 'the law of the spirit of life in Jesus Christ makes me free from the law of sin and death.' That is to say, a growing cleansing from the dominion and the power of sin is granted to us, if we have the life of Jesus Christ breathed into our lives. The metaphor is a very strong one. They tell us—I know nothing about the truth of it—that sometimes it has been possible to revive a moribund man by transfusing into his veins blood from another. That is a picture of the only way by which you and I can become free from the tyranny that dominates us. We must have the life of Christ as the animating principle of our lives, the spirit of Jesus emancipating us from the power of sin and death.
So you see, there are two aspects of Christ's great work set before us under that one metaphor of the blood in its two-fold form, first, as shed for us sinners on the Cross; second, as poured into our veins day by day. That works progressive cleansing. It covers the whole ground of all possible iniquity. Pardon is much, purifying is more. The sacrifice on the Cross is the basis of everything, but that sacrifice does not exhaust what Christ does for us. He died for our sins, and lives for our sanctifying. He died for us, He lives in us. Because He died, we are forgiven; because He lives, we are made pure. Only remember John's 'if.' The 'blood of Jesus will progressively cleanse us until it has cleansed us from all sin,' on condition that we 'walk in the light,' not otherwise. If the main direction of our lives is towards the light; if we seek, by aspiration and by effort, and by deliberate choice, to live in holiness, then, and not else, will the power of the life of Jesus Christ deliver us from the power of sin and death.
Now, my text presupposes that the people to whom it is addressed, and whom it concerns, have already passed from darkness into light, if not wholly, yet in germ. But for those who have not so passed, there is something to be said before my text. And John says it immediately; here it is, 'If any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for our sins only, but for the whole world.' So we have to begin with the blood shed for us, the means of our pardon, and then we have the advance of the blood sprinkled on us, the means of our cleansing. If by humble faith we take the dying Lord for our Saviour, and the channel of our forgiveness, we shall have the pardon of our sins. If we listen to the voice that says, 'Ye were sometime darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light,' we shall have fellowship with the living Lord, and daily know more and more of the power of His cleansing blood, making us 'meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.'
THE COMMANDMENT, OLD YET NEW
'I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning.... Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you.'—1 John ii. 7, 8.
The simplest words may carry the deepest thoughts. Perhaps angels and little children speak very much alike. This letter, like all of John's writing, is pellucid in speech, profound in thought, clear and deep, like the abysses of mid-ocean. His terms are such as a child can understand; his sentences short and inartificial: he does not reason, he declares; he has neither argument nor rhetoric, but he teaches us the deepest truths, and shows us that we get nearer the centre by insight than by logic.
Now the words that I have taken for my text are very characteristic of this Apostle's manner. He has a great, wide-reaching truth to proclaim, and he puts it in the simplest, most inartificial manner, laying side by side two artless sentences, and stimulates us by the juxtaposition, leading us to feel after, and so to make our own, the large lessons that are in them. Let me, then, try to bring these out.
I. And the first one that strikes me is—'the word' is 'a commandment.'
Now, by 'the word' here the Apostle obviously means, since he speaks about it as that which these Asiatic Christians 'heard from the beginning,' the initial truth which was presented for their acceptance in the story of the life and death of Jesus Christ. That was 'the word' and, says he, just because it was a history it is a commandment; just because it was the Revelation of God it is a law. God never tells us anything merely that we may be wise. The purpose of all divine speech, whether in His great works in nature, or in the voices of our own consciences, or in the syllables that we have to piece together from out of the complicated noises of the world's history, or in this book, or in the Incarnate Word, where all the wandering syllables are gathered together into one word—the purpose of all that God says to men is primarily that they may know, but in order that, knowing, they may do; and still more that they may be. And so, inasmuch as every piece of religious knowledge has in it the capacity of directing conduct, all God's word is a commandment.
And, if that is true in regard to other revelations and manifestations that he has made of Himself, it is especially true in regard to the summing-up of all in the Incarnate Word, and in His words, and in the words that tell us of His life and of His death. So whatever truths there may be, and there are many, which, of course, have only the remotest, if any, bearing upon life and conduct, every bit of Christian truth has a direct grip upon a man's life, and brings with it a stringent obligation.
Now, the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ, 'the Word which ye heard from the beginning,' which, I suppose, would roughly correspond with what is told us in our four Gospels; the word which these Asiatic Christians heard at first, the good news that was brought to them in the midst of their gropings and peradventures, commanded, in the first place, absolute trust, the submission of the will as well as the assent of the understanding. But also it commanded imitation, for Jesus Christ was revealed to them, as He is revealed to us, as being the Incarnate realisation of the ideal of humanity; and what He is, the knowledge that He is that, binds us to try to be in our turn.
And more than that, brethren, the Cross of Christ is a commandment. For we miserably mutilate it, and sinfully as well as foolishly limit its application and its power, if we recognise it only—I was going to say mainly—as being the ground of our hope and of what we call our salvation, and do not recognise it as being the obligatory example of our lives, which we are bound to translate into our daily practice. Jesus Christ Himself has told us that in many a fashion, never more touchingly and wondrously than when in response to the request of a handful of Greeks to see Him, He answered with the word which not only declared what was obligatory upon Him, but what was obligatory upon us all, and for the want of which all the great endowments of the Greek mind at last rotted down into sensuousness, when He said, 'Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit' and then went on to say, 'he that loveth his life shall lose it.'
So, then, brethren, 'the word which ye heard at the beginning,' the story of Christ, His life and His death, is a stringent commandment. Now, this is one of the blessings of Christianity, that all which was hard and hopeless, ministering to despair sometimes, as well as stirring to fierce effort at others, in the conception of law or duty as it stands outside us, is changed into the tender word, 'if ye love Me, keep My commandments.' If any man serve Me, let him ... 'follow Me.' It is a law; it is 'the law of liberty.' So you have not done all that is needful when you have accepted the teaching of Christ in the Scriptures and the teaching of the Scriptures concerning Christ. Nor have you done all that is needful when clasping Him, and clinging simply to His Cross, you recognise in it the means and the pledge of your acceptance with God, and the ground and anchor of all your hope. There is something more to be done. The Gospel is a commandment, and commandments require not only assent, not only trust, but practical obedience. The 'old commandment' is the 'word which ye heard from the beginning.'
II. The old Christ is perpetually new.
The Apostle goes on, in the last words of my text, to say, 'Which thing' (viz., this combination of the old and the new) 'is true in Him and in you.' 'True in Him'—that is to say, Christ, the old Christ that was declared to these Asiatic Christians as they were groping amidst the illusions of their heathenism, is perpetually becoming new as new circumstances emerge, and new duties are called for, and new days come with new burdens, hopes, possibilities, or dangers. The perpetual newness of the old Christ is what is taught here.
Suppose one of these men in Ephesus heard for the first time the story that away in Judea there had lived the manifestation of God in the flesh, and that He, in His wonderful love, had died for men, that they might be saved from the grip of their sins. And suppose that man barely able to see, had yet seen that much, and clutched at it. He was a Christian, but the Christ that he discerned when he first discerned Him through the mists, and the Christ that he had in his life and in his heart, after, say, twenty years of Christian living, are very different. The old Christ remained, but the old Christ was becoming new day by day, according to the new necessities and positions. And that is what will be our experience if we have any real Christianity in us. The old Christ that we trusted at first was able to do for us all that we asked Him to do, but we did not ask Him at first for half enough, and we did not learn at first a tithe of what was in Him. Suppose, for instance, some great ship comes alongside a raft with ship-wrecked sailors upon it, and in the darkness of the night transfers them to the security of its deck. They know how safe they are, they know what has saved them, but what do they know compared with what they will know before the voyage ends of all the reservoirs of power and stores of supplies that are in her? Christ comes to us in the darkness, and delivers us. We know Him for our Deliverer from the first moment, if we truly have grasped Him. But it will take summering and wintering with Him, through many a long day and year, before we can ever have a partially adequate apprehension of all that lies in Him.
And what will teach us the depths of Christ, and how does He become new to us? Well, by trusting Him, by following Him, and by the ministry of life. Some of us, I have no doubt, can look back upon past days when sorrow fell upon us, blighting and all but crushing; and then things that we had read a thousand times in the Bible, and thought we had believed, blazed up into a new meaning, and we felt as if we had never understood anything about them before. The Christ that is with us in the darkness, and whom we find able to turn even it, if not into light, at least into a solemn twilight not unvisited by hopes, that Christ is more to us than the Christ that we first of all learnt so little to know. And life's new circumstances, its emerging duties, are like the strokes of the spade which clears away the soil, and discloses the treasure in all its extent which we purchased when we bought that field. We buy the treasure at once, but it takes a long time to count it. The old Christ is perpetually the new Christ.
So, brethren, Christian progress consists not in getting away from the original facts, the elements of the Gospel, but it consists in penetrating more deeply into these, and feeling more of their power and their grasp. All Euclid is in the definitions and axioms and postulates at the beginning. All our books are the letters of the alphabet. And progress consists, not in advancing beyond, but in sinking into, that initial truth, 'God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.'
I might say a word here as to another phase of this perpetual newness of the old Christ—viz., in His adaptation to deal with all the complications and perplexities and problems of each successive age. It has taken the Church a long, long time to find out and to formulate, rightly or wrongly, what it has discovered in Jesus. The conclusions to be drawn from the simple Gospel truth, the presuppositions on which it rests, require all the efforts of all the Church through all the ages, and transcend them all. And I venture to say, though it may sound like unsupported dogma, that for this generation's questionings, social, moral, and political, the answer is to be found in Him. He, and He only, will interpret each generation to itself, and will meet its clamant needs. There is none other for the world to-day but the old Christ with the new aspect which the new conditions require.
Did it ever strike you how remarkable it is, and, as it seems to me, of how great worth as an argument for the truth of Christianity it is, that Jesus Christ comes to this, as to every generation, with the air of belonging to it? Think of the difference between the aspect which a Plato or a Socrates presents to the world to-day, and the aspect which that Lord presents. You do not need to strip anything off Him. He committed Himself to no statements which the progress of thought or knowledge has exploded. He stands before the world to-day fitting its needs as closely as He did those of the men of His own generation. The old Christ is the new Christ.
III. Lastly, in the Christian life the old commandment is perpetually new.
'Which thing is true ... in you.' That is to say, 'the commandment which ye received at the beginning,' when ye received Christ as Saviour, has in itself a power of adapting itself to all new conditions as they may emerge, and will be felt increasingly to grow stringent, and increasingly to demand more entire conformity, and increasingly to sweep its circle round the whole of human life. For this is the result of all obedience, that the conception of duty becomes more clear and more stringent. 'If any man will do His will' the reward shall be that he will see more and more the altitude of that will, the length and breadth and depth and height of the possible conformity of the human spirit to the will of God. And so as we advance in obedience we shall see unreached advances before us, and each new step of progress will declare more fully how much still remains to be accomplished. In us the 'old commandment' will become ever new.
And not only so, but perpetually with the increasing sweep and stringency of the obligation will be felt an increasing sense of our failure to fulfil it. Character is built up, for good or for evil, by slow degrees. Conscience is quickened by being listened to, and stifled by being neglected. A little speck of mud on a vestal virgin's robe, or on a swan's plumage, will be conspicuous, while a splash twenty times the size will pass unnoticed on the rags of some travel-stained wayfarer. The purer we become, the more we shall know ourselves to be impure.
Thus, my brother, there opens out before us an endless course in which all the blessedness that belongs to the entertaining and preservation of ancient convictions, lifelong friends, and familiar truths, and all the antithetical blessedness that belongs to the joy of seeing, rising upon our horizon as some new planet with lustrous light, will be united in our experience. We shall at once be conservative and progressive; holding by the old Christ and the old commandment, and finding that both have in them endless novelty. The trunk is old; every summer brings fresh leaves. And at last we may hope to come to the new Jerusalem, and drink the new wine of the Kingdom, and yet find that the old love remains, and that the new Christ, whose presence makes the new heavens and the new earth, is 'the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,' the old Christ whom, amid the shadows of earth, we tried to love and copy.
'I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.'—1 John ii. 14.
'What am I going to be?' is the question that presses upon young people stepping out of the irresponsibilities of childhood into youth. But, unfortunately, the question is generally supposed to be answered when they have fixed upon a trade or profession. It means, rightly taken, a great deal more than that. 'What am I going to make of myself?' 'What ideal have I before me, towards which I constantly press?' is a question that I would fain lay upon the hearts of all that now hear me. For the misery and the reason of the failure of so many lives is simply that people have never fairly looked that question in the face and tried to answer it, but drift and drift, and let circumstances determine them. And, of course, in a world like this, such people are sure to turn out what such an immense number of people do turn out, failures as far as all God's purposes with humanity are concerned. The absence of a clear ideal is the misery and the loss of all young people who do not possess it.
So here in my text is an old man's notion of what young men ought to be and may be. 'Ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.'
So said the aged John to some amongst his hearers in these corrupt Asiatic cities. It was not merely a fair ideal painted upon vacancy, but it was a portrait of actual young Christians in these little Asiatic churches. And I would fain have some of you take this realised ideal for yours and see to it that your lives be conformed to it.
There are three points here. The Apostle, first of all, lays his finger upon the strength, which is something more than mere physical strength, proper to youth. Then he lets us see the secret source of that strength: 'Ye have the word of God abiding in you.' And then he shows the field on which it should be exercised, and the victory which it secures: 'And ye have overcome the wicked one.' Now let me touch upon these three points briefly in succession.
I. First, then, note here the strength which you young people ought to covet and to aim at.
It is not merely the physical strength proper to their age, nor the mere unworn buoyancy and vigour which sorrows and care and responsibilities have not thinned and weakened. These are great and precious gifts. We never know how precious they are until they have slipped away from us. These are great and precious gifts, to be preserved as long as may be, by purity and by moderation, and to be used for high and great purposes. But the strength that is in thews and muscles is not the strength that the Apostle is speaking about here, nor anything that belongs simply to the natural stage of your development, whether it be purely physical or purely mental. Samson was a far weaker man than the poor little Jew 'whose bodily presence was weak and his speech contemptible,' and who all his days carried about with him that 'thorn in the flesh.' It is not your body that is to be strong, but yourselves.
Now the foundation of all true strength lies here, in a good, strong will. In this world, unless a man has learned to say 'No!' and to say it very decidedly, and to stick to it, he will never come to any good. Two words contain the secret of noble life: 'Resist!' and 'Persist!' And the true strength of manhood lies in this mainly, that, in spite of all antagonisms, hindrances, voices, and things that array themselves against you, having greatly resolved, you do greatly do what you have resolved, and having said 'I will!' let neither men nor devils lead you to say, 'I will not.' Depend upon it, that to be weak in this direction is to be weak all through. Strong passions make weak men. And a strong will is the foundation, in this wicked and antagonistic world in which we live, of all real strength.
But then the strength that I would have you seek, and strive to cultivate, must be a strength of will founded upon strong reason. Determination unenlightened is obstinacy, and obstinacy is weakness. A mule can beat you at that: 'Be ye not as the mule, which have no understanding.' A determination which does not take into its view all the facts of the case, nor is influenced by these, has no right to call itself strength. It is only, to quote a modern saying—I know not whether true of the person to whom it was originally applied or no—is 'only a lath painted to look like iron.' Unintelligent obstinacy is folly, like the conduct of some man who sticks to his pick and his task in a quarry after the bugle has warned him of an impending explosion, which will blow him to atoms.
But that is not all. A strong will, illuminated by a strong beam of light from the understanding, must be guided and governed by a strong hand put forth by Conscience. 'I should like' is the weakling's motto. 'I will' may be an obstinate fool's motto. 'I ought, therefore, God helping me, and though the devil hinders me, I will,' is a man's. Conscience is king. To obey it is to be free; to neglect it is to be a slave.
Is not this a better ideal for life than gathering any outward possessions, however you may succeed therein? A thousand things will have to be taken into account, and may help or may hinder outward prosperity and success. But nobody can hinder you working at your character and succeeding in making it what it ought to be; and to form character is the end of life. 'To be weak is miserable, doing or suffering.' Ay! that is true, though Milton put it into the devil's mouth. And there is only one strength that will last, 'for even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fail.' But the strength of a fixed and illuminated and conscience-guided will, which governs the man and is governed by God, shall never faint or grow weak. This is the strength which we should seek, and which I ask you to make the conscious aim of your lives.
II. Now note, secondly, how to get it.
'Ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you.' Those young Asiatic Christians, that John had in his eye, had learned the secret and the conditions of this strength; and not only in limb and sinew, or in springy and elastic buoyancy of youthful, mental, and spiritual vigour were they strong, but they were so because 'the Word of God abode in them.' Now, there are two significations of that great expression, both of them frequent in John's Gospel, and both of them, I think, transferred to this Epistle, each of which may yield us a word of counsel. By 'the Word of God,' as I take it, is meant—perhaps I ought to say both, but, at all events, either—the revelation of God's truth in Holy Scripture, or the personal revelation of the will and nature of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Whichever of these two meanings—and at bottom they come to be one—we attach to this expression, we draw from them an exhortation. Let me put this very briefly.
Let me say to you, then, if you want to be strong, let Scripture truth occupy and fill and be always present to your mind. There are powers to rule and to direct all conduct, motive powers of the strongest character in these great truths of God's revelation. They are meant to influence a man in all his doings, and it is for us to bring the greatest and solemnest of them to bear on the smallest things of our daily life. Suppose, now, that you go to your work, and some little difficulty starts up in your path, or some trivial annoyance ruffles your temper, or some lurking temptation is suddenly sprung upon you. Suppose your mind and heart were saturated with God's truth, with the great thoughts of His being, of His love, of His righteousness, of Christ's death for you, of Christ's presence with you, of Christ's guardianship over you, of Christ's present will that you should walk in His ways, of the bright hopes of the future, and the solemn vision of that great White Throne and the retribution that streams thence, do you think it would be possible for you to fall into sin, to yield to temptation, to be annoyed by any irritation or bother, or overweighted by any duty? No! Whosoever lives with the thoughts that God has given us in His Word familiar to His mind and within easy reach of His hand, has therein an armlet against all possible temptation, a test that will unveil the hidden corruption in the sweetest seductions, and a calming power that will keep his heart still and collected in the midst of agitations. If the Word of God in that lower sense of the principles involved in the gospel of Jesus Christ, dwell in your hearts, the fangs are taken out of the serpent. If you drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt you, and you will 'be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.'
Bring the greatest truths you can find to bear on the smallest duties, and the small duties will grow great to match the principles by which they are done. Bring the laws of Jesus Christ down to the little things, for, in the name of common sense, if our religion is not meant to regulate trifles, what is it meant to regulate? Life is made up of trifles. There are half a dozen crises in the course of your life, but there are a thousand trivial things in the course of every day. It would be a poor kind of regulating principle that controlled the crises, and left us alone to manage with the trifles the best way we could.
But in order that there shall be this continual operation of the motives and principles involved in the gospel upon our daily lives, we must have them very near our hand, ready to be laid hold of. The soldier that would march through an enemy's country, having left his gun in the hands of some camp follower, would be very likely to be shot before he got his gun. I remember going through the Red Sea; at the mouth of it where the entrance is narrow, and the currents run strong, when the ship approaches the dangerous place, the men take their stations at appointed places, and the ponderous anchors are loosened and ready to be dropped in an instant if the swirl of the current sweeps the ship into dangerous proximity to the reef. It is no time to cut the lashings of the anchors when the keel is grating on the coral rocks. And it is no time to have to look about for our weapons when the sudden temptation leaps upon us like a strong man armed. You must have them familiar to you by devout meditation, by frequent reflection, prayer, study of God's Word, if they are to be of any use to you at all. And I am afraid that about the last book in the world that loads of young men and women think of sitting down to read, systematically and connectedly, is the Bible. You will read sermons and other religious books; you will read newspapers, pamphlets, novels; but the Scripture, in its entirety, is a strange book to myriads of men who call themselves Christians. And so they are weak. If you want to be strong, 'let the Word of God abide in your hearts.'
And then if we take the other view, which at bottom is not another, of the meaning of this phrase, and apply it rather to the personal word, Jesus Christ Himself, that will yield us another exhortation, and that is, let Jesus Christ into your hearts and keep Him there, and He will make you strong. I believe that it is no piece of metaphor or an exaggerated way of putting the continuance of the influence of Christ's example and Christ's teaching upon men's hearts and minds, when He tells us that 'if any man open the door He will come in and sup with him.' I want to urge the one thought on you that it is possible, in simple literal fact, for that Divine Saviour, who was 'in Heaven' whilst He walked on earth, and walks on earth to-day when He has returned to His native Heaven, to enter into my spirit and yours, and really to abide within us, the life of our lives, 'the strength of our hearts, and our portion for ever.' The rest of us can render help to one another by strength ministered from without; Jesus Christ will come into your hearts, if you let Him, in His very sweetness and omnipotence of power, and will breathe His own grace into your weakness, strengthening you as from within. Others can help you from without, as you put an iron band round some over-weighted, crumbling brick pillar in order to prevent it from collapsing, but He will pass into us as you may drive an iron rod up through the centre of the column, and make it strong inside, and we shall be strong if Jesus Christ dwells within us. Open the door, dear young friends; let Christ come into your hearts, which He will do if you do not hinder Him, and if you ask Him. Trust Him with simple reliance upon Him for everything. Faith is 'the door'; the door is nothing of itself, but when it is opened it admits the guest. So do you let that Master come and abide, and you will hear Him say to you, as He said of old, 'Child! My grace is sufficient.' How modest He is. Sufficient!—an ocean enough to fill a thimble! 'My grace is sufficient for thee; and My strength is made perfect in weakness.'
III. Now, lastly, notice the field on which the strength is to be exercised, and the victory which it secures. 'Ye have overcome the wicked one.'
There is a battle for us all, on which I need not dwell, the conflict with evil around and with evil within, and with the prince of the embattled legions of the darkness, whom the New Testament has more clearly revealed to us. You young people have many advantages in the conflict; you have some special disadvantages as well. You have strong passions, you have not much experience, you do not know how bitter the dregs are of the cup whose foaming bubbles look so attractive, and whose upper inch tastes so sweet. But on the other hand you have not yet contracted habits that it is misery to indulge in, and, as it would seem, impossible to break, and the world is yet before you.
You cannot begin too soon to choose your side. And here is the side on which alone victory is possible for a man—the side of Jesus Christ, who will teach your hands to war and your fingers to fight.
Notice that remarkable phrase, 'Ye have overcome the wicked one.' He is talking to young Christians before whom the battle may seem to lie, and yet He speaks of their conquest as an accomplished fact, and as a thing behind them. What does that mean? It means this, that if you will take service in Christ's army, and by His grace resolve to be His faithful soldier till your life's end, that act of faith, which enrols you as His, is itself the victory which guarantees, if it be continued, the whole conquest in time.
There used to be an old superstition that—
'Who sheds the foremost foeman's life His party conquers in the strife';
and whosoever has exercised, however imperfectly and feebly, the faith in Jesus Christ the Lord has therein conquered the devil and all his works, and Satan is henceforth a beaten Satan, and the battle, in essence, is completed even in the act of its being begun.
'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith'; not only because our confidence in Jesus Christ is the blowing of the bugle that summons to warfare and shakes off the tyrant's yoke, but it is also the means by which we join ourselves to Him who has overcome, and make His victory ours. He has fought our antagonist in the wilderness once, in Gethsemane twice, on the Cross thrice; and the perfect conquest in which Jesus bound the strong man and spoiled his goods may become, and will become, your conquest, if you wed yourselves to that dear Lord by simple faith in Him.
What a priceless thing it is that you may begin your independent manhood with a conquest that will draw after it ultimate and supreme victory. You will still have to fight, but you will have only to fight detachments. If you trust yourselves to Jesus Christ you have conquered the main body of the army, and it is only the stragglers that you will have to contend with hereafter. He that loves Jesus, and has given himself to Him, has pinned the dragon to the ground by its head, and though it may 'swinge the scaly horror of its folded tail,' and twine its loathly coils around him, yet he has conquered, and he is conquering, and he will conquer. Only let him hold fast by the hand which brings strength into him by its touch.
Will you, dear young friends, take service in this army? Do you want to be weak or strong? Do you want your lives to be victorious whatever may happen to them in the way of outward prosperity or failure? Then give yourselves to this Lord. His voice calls you to be His soldiers. He will cover your heads in the day of battle. He will strengthen you 'with might by His Spirit in the inner man.' He will hide His Word in your heart that you offend not against Him. He will dwell Himself within you to make you strong in your extremest weakness and victorious over your mightiest foe; and in that sign you will conquer and 'be more than conquerors through Him that loved you.'
Oh, I pray that you may ask yourselves the question, 'What am I going to be?' and may answer it, 'I am going to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might'; and to overcome, as He also hath overcome, the world and the flesh and the devil.
RIVER AND ROCK
'The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.'—1 John ii. 17.
John has been solemnly giving a charge not to love the world, nor the things that are in it. That charge was addressed to 'children,' 'young men,' 'fathers.' Whether these designations be taken as referring to growth and maturity of Christian experience, or of natural age, they equally carry the lesson that no age and no stage is beyond the danger of being drawn away by the world's love, or beyond the need of the solemn dehortation therefrom.
My text is the second of the reasons which the Apostle gives for his earnest charge. We all, therefore, need it, and we always need it; though on the last Sunday of another year, it may be more than usually appropriate to turn our thoughts in its direction. 'The world passeth away, and the lust thereof.' Let us lay the handful of snow on our fevered foreheads and cool our desires.
Now there are but two things set forth in this text, which is a great and wonderful antithesis between something which is in perpetual flux and passage and something which is permanent. If I might venture to cast the two thoughts into metaphorical form, I should say that here are a river and a rock. The one, the sad truth of sense, universally believed and as universally forgotten; the other, the glad truth of faith, so little regarded or operative in men's lives.
I ask you, then, to look with me for a few moments at each of these thoughts.
I. First, then, the river, or the sad truth of sense.
Now you observe that there are two things in my text of which this transiency is predicated, the one 'the world,' the other 'the lust thereof'; the one outside us, the other within us. As to the former, I need only, I suppose, remind you in a sentence that what John means by 'the world' is not the material globe on which we dwell, but the whole aggregate of things visible and material, together with the lives of the men whose lives are directed to, and bounded by, that visible and material, and all considered as wrenched apart from God. That, and not the mere external physical creation, is what he means by 'the world,' and therefore the passing away of which he speaks is not only (although, of course, it includes) the decay and dissolution of material things, but the transiency of things which are or have to do with the visible, and are separated by us from God. Over all these, he says, there is written the sentence, 'Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.' There is a continual flowing on of the stream. As the original implies even more strongly than in our translation, 'the world' is in the act of 'passing away.' Like the slow travelling of the scenes of some moveable panorama which glide along, even as the eye looks upon them, and are concealed behind the side flats before the gazer has taken in the whole picture, so equably, constantly, silently, and therefore unnoticed by us, all is in a state of continual motion. There is no present time. Even whilst we name the moment it dies. The drop hangs for an instant on the verge, gleaming in the sunlight, and then falls into the gloomy abyss that silently sucks up years and centuries. There is no present, but all is movement.
Brethren, that has been the commonplace of moralists and poets and preachers from the beginning of time; and it would be folly for me to suppose that I can add anything to the impressiveness of the thought. All that I want to do is to wake you up to preach it to yourselves, for that is the only thing that is of any use.
'So passeth, in the passing of an hour Of mortal life, the leaf, the bud, the flower.'
But besides this transiency external to us, John finds a corresponding transiency within us. 'The world passeth, and the lust thereof.' Of course the word 'lust' is employed by him in a much wider sense than in our use of it. With us it means one specific and very ugly form of earthly desire. With him it includes the whole genus—all desires of every sort, more or less noble or ignoble, which have this for their characteristic, that they are directed to, stimulated by, and fed or starved on, the fleeting things of this outward life. If thus a man has anchored himself to that which has no perpetual stay, so long as the cable holds he follows the fate of the thing to which he has pinned himself. And if it perish he perishes, in a very profound sense, with it. If you trust yourselves in the leaky vessel, when the water rises in it it will drown you, and you will go to the bottom with the craft to which you have trusted yourselves. If you embark in the little ship that carries Christ and His fortunes, you will come with Him to the haven.
But these fleeting desires, of which my text speaks, point to that sad feature of human experience, that we all outgrow and leave behind us, and think of very little value, the things that once to us were all but heaven. There was a time when toys and sweetmeats were our treasures, and since that day how many burnt-out hopes we all have had! How little we should know ourselves if we could go back to the fears and wishes and desires that used to agitate us ten, twenty, thirty years ago! They lie behind us, no longer part of ourselves; they have slipped away from us, and
'We all are changed, by still degrees, All but the basis of the soul.'
The self-conscious same man abides, and yet how different the same man is! Our lives, then will zig-zag instead of keeping a straight course, if we let desires that are limited by anything that we can see guide and regulate us.
But, brethren, though it be a digression from my text, I cannot help touching for a moment upon a yet sadder thought than that. There are desires that remain, when the gratification of them has become impossible. Sometimes the lust outlasts the world, sometimes the world outlasts the lust; and one knows not whether is the sadder. There is a hell upon earth for many of us who, having set our affections upon some creatural object, and having had that withdrawn from us, are ready to say, 'They have taken away my gods! And what shall I do?' And there is a hell of the same sort waiting beyond those dark gates through which we have all to pass, where men who never desired anything, except what the world that has slipped out of their reluctant fingers could give them, are shut up with impossible longings after a for-ever-vanished good. 'Father Abraham! a drop of water; for I am tormented in this flame.' That is what men come to, if the fire of their lust burn after its objects are withdrawn.
But let me remind you that this transiency of which I have been speaking receives very strange treatment from most of us. I do not know that it is altogether to be regretted that it so seldom comes to men's consciousness. Perhaps it is right that it should not be uppermost in our thoughts always; but yet there is no vindication for the entire oblivion to which we condemn it. The march of these fleeting things is like that of cavalry with their horses' feet wrapped in straw, in the night, across the snow, silent and unnoticed. We cannot realise the revolution of the earth, because everything partakes in it. We talk about standing still, and we are whirling through space with inconceivable rapidity. By a like illusion we deceive ourselves with the notion of stability, when everything about us is hastening away. Some of you do not like to be reminded of it, and think it a killjoy. You try to get rid of the thought, and hide your head in the sand, and fancy that the rest of your body presents no mark to the archer's arrow. Now surely common sense says to all, that if there be some fact certain and plain and applying to you, which, if accepted, would profoundly modify your life, you ought to take it into account. And what I want you to do, dear friends, now, is to look in the face this fact, which you all acknowledge so utterly that some of you are ready to say, 'What was the use of coming to a chapel to hear that threadbare old thing dinned into my ears again?' and to take it into account in shaping your lives. Have you done so? Have you? Suppose a man that lived in a land habitually shaken by earthquakes were to say, 'I mean to ignore the fact; and I am going to build a house just as if there was not such a thing as an earthquake expected'; he would have it toppling about his ears very soon. Suppose a man upon the ice-slopes of the Alps was to say, 'I am going to ignore slipperiness and gravitation,' he would before long find himself, if there was any consciousness left in him, at the bottom of a precipice, bruised and bleeding. And suppose a man says, 'I am not going to take the fleetingness of the things of earth into account at all, but intend to live as if all things were to remain as they are'; what would become of him do you think? Is he a wise man or a fool? And is he you? He is some of you! 'So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.'
Then let me say to you, see that you take noble lessons out of these undeniable and all-important facts. There is one kind of lesson that I do not want you to take out of it. 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die,' or, to put it into a more vulgar formula, 'A short life and a merry one.' The mere contemplation of the transiency of earthly things may, and often does, lend itself to very ignoble conclusions, and men draw from it the thought that, as life is short, they had better crowd into it as much of sensual enjoyment as they can.
'Gather ye roses while ye may' is a very common keynote, struck by poets of the baser sort. And it is a thought that influences some of us, I have little doubt. Or there may be another consideration. 'Make hay whilst the sun shines.' 'Hurry on your getting rich, because you have not very long to do it in'; or the like.
Now all that is supremely unworthy. The true lesson to be drawn is the plain, old one which it is never superfluous to shout into men's ears, until they have obeyed it—viz., 'Set not thine heart on that which is not; and which flieth away as an eagle towards heaven.' Do you, dear brother, see to it, that your roots go down through the gravel on the surface. Do you see to it that you dig deeper than that; and thrusting your hand, as it were, through the thin, silk-paper screen that stands between you and the Eternal, grasp the hand that you will find on the other side, waiting and ready to clasp you, and to hold you up.
When they build a new house in Rome they have to dig down through sometimes sixty or a hundred feet of rubbish that runs like water, the ruins of old temples and palaces, once occupied by men in the same flush of life in which we are now. We too have to dig down through ruins, until we get to the Rock and build there, and build secure. Withdraw your affections and your thoughts and your desires from the fleeting, and fix them on the permanent. If a captain takes anything but the pole-star for his fixed point he will lose his reckoning, and his ship will be on the reefs. If we take anything but God for our supreme delight and desire we shall perish.
Then let me say, too, let this thought stimulate us to crowd every moment, as full as it can be packed, with noble work and heavenly thoughts. These fleeting things are elastic, and you may put all but infinite treasure into them. Think of what the possibilities, for each of us, of this dying year were on the 1st of January; and of what the realisation has been by the 28th of December. So much that we could have done! so little that we have done! So many ripples of the river have passed, bearing no golden sand to pile upon the shore! 'We have been' is a sad word; but oh, the one sad word is, 'We might have been!' And, so, do you see to it that you fill time with that which is kindred to eternity, and make 'one day as a thousand years' in the elastic possibilities and realities of consecration and of service.
Further, let the thought help us to the conviction of the relative insignificance of all that can change. That will not spoil nor shade any real joy; rather it will add to it poignancy that prevents it from cloying or from becoming the enemy of our souls. But the thought will wondrously lighten the burden that we have to carry, and the tasks which we have to perform. 'But for a moment,' makes all light. There was an old rabbi, long ago, whose real name was all but lost, because everybody nick-named him 'Rabbi Thisalso.' The reason was because he had perpetually on his lips the saying about everything as it came, 'This also will pass.' He was a wise man. Let us go to his school and learn his wisdom.
II. Now let me say a word, and it can only be a word, about the second of the thoughts here, which I designated as the Rock, or the glad truth of Faith.
We might have expected that John's antithesis to the world that passeth would have been the God that abides. But he does not so word his sentence, although the thought of the divine permanence underlies it. Rather over against the fleeting world he puts the abiding man who does the will of God.
Of course there is a very solemn sense in which all men, even they who have most exclusively lived for what they call the present, do last for ever, and in which their deeds do so too. After death is the judgment, and the issues of eternity depend upon the actions of time; and every fleeting thought comes back to the hand that projected it, like the Australian savage's boomerang that, flung out, returns and falls at the feet of the thrower. But that is not what John means by 'abiding for ever.' He means something very much more blessed and lofty than that; and the following is the course of his thought. There is only one permanent Reality in the universe, and that is God. All else is shadow and He is the substance. All else was, is, and is not. He is the One who was, is, and is to come, the timeless and only permanent Being. The will of God is the permanent element in all changeful material things. And consequently he who does the will of God links himself with the Divine Eternity, and becomes partaker of that solemn and blessed Being which lives above mutation.
Obedience to God's will is the permanent element in human life. Whosoever humbly and trustfully seeks to mould his will after the divine will, and to bring God's will into practice in his doings, that man has pierced through the shadows and grasped the substance, and partakes of the Immortality which he adores and serves. Himself shall live for ever in the true life which is blessedness. His deeds shall live for ever when all that lifted itself in opposition to the Divine will shall be crushed and annihilated. They shall live in His own peaceful consciousness; they shall live in the blessed rewards which they shall bring to the doers. His habits will need no change.
What will you do when you are dead? You have to go into a world where there are no gossip and no housekeeping; no mills and no offices; no shops, no books; no colleges and no sciences to learn. What will you do there? 'He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.' If you have done your housekeeping, and your weaving and spinning, and your book-keeping, and your buying and selling, and your studying, and your experimenting with a conscious reference to God, it is all right. That has made the act capable of eternity, and there will be no need for such a man to change. The material on which he works will change, but the inner substance of his life will be unaffected by the trivial change from earth to heaven. Whilst the endless ages roll he will be doing just what he was doing down here; only here he was playing with counters, and yonder he will be trusted with gold, and dominion over ten cities. To all other men the change that comes when earth passes from them, or they from it, is as when a trench is dug across a railway, into which the express goes with a smash, and there is an end. To the man who, in the trifles of time, has been obeying the will of God, and therefore subserving eternity and his interests there, the trench is bridged, and he will go on after he crosses it just as he did before, with the same purpose, the same desires, the same submission, and the same drinking into himself of the fulness of immortal life.
Brother, John tells us that obedience to the will of God brings permanence into our fleeting years. But how are we to obey the will of God? John tells us that the only way is by love. But how are we to love God? John tells us that the only way to love—which love is the only way to obedience—is by knowing and believing the love that God hath to us. But how are we to know that God hath love to us? John tells us that the only way to know the love of God, which is the only way of our loving Him, which in its turn is the only way to obedience, which again is the only way to permanence of life, is to believe in Jesus Christ and His propitiation for our sins. The river flows on for ever, but it sweeps round the base of the Rock of Ages. And in Him, by faith in His blood, we may find our sure refuge and eternal home.
THE LOVE THAT CALLS US SONS
'Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God....'—1 John iii. 1.
One or two points of an expository character will serve to introduce what else I have to say on these words.
The text is, I suppose, generally understood as if it pointed to the fact that we are called the sons of God as the great exemplification of the wonderfulness of His love. That is a perfectly possible view of the connection and meaning of the text. But if we are to translate with perfect accuracy we must render, not 'that we should be called,' but 'in order that we should be called the sons of God.' The meaning then is that the love bestowed is the means by which the design that we should be called His sons is accomplished. What John calls us to contemplate with wonder and gratitude is not only the fact of this marvellous love, but also the glorious end to which it has been given to us and works. There seems no reason for slurring over this meaning in favour of the more vague 'that' of our version. God gives His great and wonderful love in Jesus Christ, and all the gifts and powers which live in Him like fragrance in the rose. All this lavish bestowal of love, unspeakable as it is, may be regarded as having one great end, which God deems worthy of even such expenditure, namely, that men should become, in the deepest sense, His children. It is not so much to the contemplation of our blessedness in being sons, as to the devout gaze on the love which, by its wonderful process, has made it possible for us to be sons, that we are summoned here.
Again, you will find a remarkable addition to our text in the Revised Version—namely, 'and such we are.' Now these words come with a very great weight of manuscript authority, and of internal evidence. They are parenthetical, a kind of rapid 'aside' of the writer's, expressing his joyful confidence that he and his brethren are sons of God, not only in name, but in reality. They are the voice of personal assurance, the voice of the spirit 'by which we cry Abba, Father,' breaking in for a moment on the flow of the sentence, like an irrepressible, glad answer to the Father's call. With these explanations let us look at the words.
I. The love that is given.
We are called upon to come with our little vessels to measure the contents of the great ocean, to plumb with our short lines the infinite abyss, and not only to estimate the quantity but the quality of that love, which, in both respects, surpasses all our means of comparison and conception.
Properly speaking, we can do neither the one nor the other, for we have no line long enough to sound its depths, and no experience which will give us a standard with which to compare its quality. But all that we can do, John would have us do—that is, look and ever look at the working of that love till we form some not wholly inadequate idea of it.