It is in these words, I believe, that we have the key to the New Testament doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ; He is sent by Christ; He comes to continue the work of Christ. He is, as one writer has it, Christ's alter ego, or, as it was said long ago, Christ's "Vicar," or substitute, on the earth. When, therefore, we speak of the presence of the Spirit, what we mean, or what we ought to mean, is the spiritual presence of Christ. In the Holy Spirit Christ Himself is present, wherever, as He said, two or three are gathered together in His name. In the Holy Spirit, given to be with us for ever, He makes good to His disciples the great word of His promise, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." This is the fact continually to be kept in mind—the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ; for, if this be forgotten, then, as all experience shows, either the doctrine is wholly ignored, or it is made the subject of that vague, unreal way of speaking, which, alas! is so often the bane of spiritual truth.
At the same time, what has been said must not be interpreted so as to suggest that the Holy Spirit is merely an impersonal influence. On the contrary, the words of our Lord quoted above distinctly imply what we call "personality," and a personality separate from His own. If all that Jesus really meant to teach was that He would manifest His own invisible presence to His disciples by spiritual influences, we can only conclude that His words have been tampered with; as they stand, it is impossible that this should exhaust their meaning. To teach, to bear witness, to guide, to bring to remembrance, to declare the things that are to come,—these are the acts, not of a Power, but of a Person; and all these things, Christ said, the Holy Spirit should do. Indeed, it is not easy to see how language could have been framed to set forth the idea of a Divine Person, separate alike from the Father and the Son, more explicitly than we find it in these chapters.
We turn now to the second part of our question: What is it that the Holy Spirit does for us? Christ's teaching on the work of the Spirit may be gathered up under two heads: (1) His work in the Church; (2) His work in the world.
(1) When we speak of the Spirit's work in the Church, it must be understood that the reference is to no particular ecclesiastical organization, but to the people of Christ generally, "the men and women in whom the spiritual work of Christ is going forward." And among these the Holy Spirit works in two ways.
(a) He is the Spirit of truth, the Divine Remembrancer: "He shall guide you into all the truth;" "He shall take of Mine, and shall declare it unto you;" "He shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you." It is not, it will be observed, all truth, but all the truth of Christ, with which the Spirit deals—the truth concerning Him, and the truth which He taught. Nor is it a new revelation which the Spirit gives, but rather a more perfect understanding of that which has been already given in Christ. Here, then, is the test by which to try all that claims the authority of spiritual truth. Does it "glorify" Christ? Does it lead us into a fuller knowledge of Him "in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden"? "Whosoever goeth onward," says St. John, in a remarkable passage, for which English readers are indebted to the Revised Version, "and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God." In other words, no true progress is possible except as we abide in Christ. If He be ignored and left behind, though we still keep the name and boast ourselves "progressives," we have lost the reality. On the other hand, every new discovery, every movement in the life of men, every intellectual and spiritual awakening which serves to make manifest the glory of Christ as Creator, or Revealer, or Redeemer, is a fresh fulfilment of His promise concerning the guiding Spirit of truth. Perhaps our best commentary is the history of the Church. In the New Testament itself we have the first-fruits of the Spirit's work. There we may see, in Gospels and Epistles, how the Spirit took of the things of Christ and showed them unto His disciples. And all through the varied history of the Church's long past, that same Divine Remembrancer has been at work, calling us through the lips of an Augustine, a Luther, or a Wesley, into the fullness of the inheritance of truth which is ours in Christ Jesus.
(b) The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of power. "Behold," said the ascending Christ, "I send forth the promise of My Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city until ye be clothed with power from on high." And, again, "Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Ghost is come upon you." Of Jesus Himself it was said by one of His disciples "that God anointed Him with the Holy Ghost and with power"; and of His disciples Jesus said: "He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall He do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father." Here, again, our best commentary is the history of the Church, and especially the first chapter of that history as it is written in the Acts of the Apostles. This was the promise, "Ye shall receive power," and this, in brief, the story of its fulfilment, "With great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus." Let any one read the early chapters of St. Luke's narrative; let him mark the utter disparity between the "acts" and the "apostles"—between the things done and the men by whom they were done—and then let him ask if there is any explanation which does really bridge the gulf short of this, that behind Peter and John and the rest there stood Another, speaking through their lips, working through their hands, Himself the real Doer in all those wondrous "acts"? When D.L. Moody was holding in Birmingham one of those remarkable series of meetings which so deeply stirred our country in the early 'seventies, Dr. Dale, who followed the work with the keenest sympathy, and yet not without a feeling akin to stupefaction at the amazing results which it produced, once told Moody that the work was most plainly of God, for he could see no real relation between him and what he had done. Is not this disparity the very sign-manual of the Holy Spirit's presence? "Why," asked Peter, when the multitude were filled with wonder and amazement at the healing of the lame man, "Why fasten ye your eyes on us as though by our own power or godliness we had made him to walk?" Work that is really of God can never be accounted for in that fashion. There is always a something in the effects which cannot be traced back to a human cause. Let "our own power and godliness" be what they may—and they can never be too great—they are all vain and helpless apart from the power of God. "I planted, Apollos watered; God gave the increase." Wherefore let the Church trust neither in him that planteth nor in him that watereth, but in God who giveth the increase.
(2) We come now to the Holy Spirit's work in the world. And, just as in speaking of the "Church" it was not any visible organization which we had in mind, so now by the "world" is not meant merely the persons who are outside all such organizations. There is, as we are often reminded nowadays, a Church outside the Churches; and, on the other hand, not a little of what Christ meant by the "world" is often to be found inside what we mean by the "Church." The "world," then, is simply the mass of men, wherever they are to be found, who are living apart from God. Now, of this world Christ said it "cannot receive" the Spirit of truth; "it beholdeth Him not, neither knoweth Him." If, therefore, there is a ministry of the Spirit in the world, it must be wholly different in kind from that spoken of above. And this is what we learn from Christ's teaching: "He, when He is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." There is a ring of judicial sternness in the words; they call up to our minds the solemnities of a court of justice—the indictment, the conviction, the condemnation. And yet one can well believe that there were hours in the after life of the apostles when, of all the comforting, reassuring words which Christ had spoken to them in that Upper Room, there were none more helpful than these. For they knew now that, when they stood up to bear their witness before a hostile world, they had a fellow-witness in men's hearts. They could go nowhere—in Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria, or the uttermost parts of the earth—where the gracious ministries of the Spirit had not preceded them. He, the Paraclete, was not only with them, their "strong-siding Champion," He was in the world also, in the hearts even of them who set themselves most stoutly against the Lord and against His Anointed, subduing their rebelliousness and reconciling them to God. We who teach and preach to-day, do we think of these things as we ought? Does not our message sometimes win a response which is at once a surprise and a rebuke to us? We knew that the seed which we cast into the ground was the word of God; but the soil seemed so poor and thin we scarce had looked for any harvest; yet the seed sprang up and grew, we knew not how. We had forgotten that over all that wide field which is the world the Divine Husbandman is ever at work, at work while men sleep, breaking up the fallow ground, and making ready the soil for the seed. We need to learn to count more on God, to grasp more fully the glorious breadth of promise which He has given us in His Spirit, to remember that, not only in the Church, but in the world—which is His world—that Spirit is always present to testify of God, to convict men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
And yet, while we encourage ourselves with thoughts like these, we dare not forget that men may resist, they may grieve, they may quench the Holy Spirit. He is grieved whensoever He is resisted; He may be resisted until He is quenched. It was Christ Himself who spoke of a sin against the Holy Spirit which "hath never forgiveness." Is there any more painful, perplexing, and yet more certain fact in life than this, that man can resist God? Is there any that has bound up with it more terrible and inevitable issues? "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears," cried the martyr Stephen to his judges, "ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye." And the end for their fathers and for them we know. Wherefore the Holy Spirit saith: "To-day, if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts."
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CONCERNING THE KINGDOM OF GOD
"The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost."—ST. PAUL.
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CONCERNING THE KINGDOM OF GOD
"Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth."—MATT. vi. 10.
One of the most obvious features of the teaching of Jesus is the prominence which it gives to what is called "the kingdom of heaven," or, "the kingdom of God." And this prominence becomes the more striking when we turn from the Gospels to the Epistles where the phrase is only rarely to be found. With Jesus the kingdom was a kind of watchword which was continually on His lips. Thus, e.g., St. Mark begins his account of the preaching of Jesus in these words: "After that John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the Gospel." In like manner, St. Matthew tells us that "Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom." Parable after parable opens with the formula "The kingdom of heaven is like unto—," or, "So is the kingdom of God as if—," or, "How shall we liken the kingdom of God?" When Christ sent forth the Twelve, this was His command, "Go ... and as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Again, when He sent forth the Seventy, He said, "Into whatsoever city ye enter ... say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you." And in the great Forty Days, before He was received up, it was still of "the things concerning the kingdom of God" that He spake unto His disciples. Every time a little child is baptized we call to mind His words, "For of such is the kingdom of God." Every time we repeat the prayer He taught His disciples to pray we say, "Thy kingdom come." In all, it is said, there are no less than one hundred and twelve references to the kingdom to be found in the Gospels.
When, however, we turn to the Epistles what do we find? In the whole of St. Paul's Epistles the kingdom is not named as often as in the briefest of the four Gospels. It is mentioned only once by St. Peter, once by St. James, once by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and not at all in the three Epistles of St. John. Not only so, but at least until quite recent times, the Church of Christ has in the main followed the lead of the apostles, and has said but little of the kingdom of God. How is this to be explained? Does it mean that the whole Church of Christ, including the Church of the apostles, has failed to understand the mind of the Master, and has let slip an essential element of His teaching? So some recent writers do not hesitate to declare. Burke once said that he did not know how to draw up an indictment against a whole people; but these, apparently, have no difficulty in drawing up an indictment against the whole Church. "With all respect to the great Apostle," writes one of them, "one may be allowed to express his regret that St. Paul has not said less about the Church and more about the Kingdom." To which I hope one may be forgiven if he is tempted to retort that the great apostle probably knew what he was about as well as his modern critic can tell him. We shall do well to pause, and pause again, before we accept any interpretation of the facts of the New Testament which implies that we to-day have a better understanding of the mind of Christ than the apostles had. For my own part, whenever I come across any writer who tries to correct Paul by Jesus, I find it safest to assume that he has misread Paul, or Jesus, or both. Moreover, though we need make no claim of infallibility for the Church, yet, if we believe in a Holy Spirit given to guide the disciples of Christ into all the truth of Christ, we shall find it difficult to believe at the same time that the whole Church has from the beginning missed the right way, and in a matter so important as this, failed to apprehend the thought of Christ.
We are not, however, shut up to any such unworthy conclusions. There is another and sufficient explanation of the facts to which reference has been made. It was natural that Jesus, speaking in the first instance to Jews, should move as far as possible within the circle of ideas with which they were already familiar. Now, no phrase had a more thoroughly familiar sound to Jewish ears than this of the kingdom of God. It needed, of course, to be purified and enlarged before it could be made the vehicle of the loftier ideas of Jesus. Still, the idea was there, "a point of attachment," as one writer says, in the minds of his hearers to which Jesus could fasten what He wished to say. But after our Lord's Resurrection and Ascension, and especially after the fall of Jerusalem, the whole condition of things was changed. A phrase which in the synagogues of the Jews proved helpful and illumining, might easily become, among the populations of Asia Minor, of Greece, and of Italy, to whom the gospel was now preached, useless, and even misleading. Is it any wonder, therefore, if the first Christian missionaries quietly dropped the old phrase and found others to take its place? Men who knew themselves guided by the Spirit of Jesus would not feel compelled to quote the words of Jesus, if, under altered circumstances, other words more fittingly expressed His thoughts.
What did Jesus mean when He spoke of the kingdom of God? The idea as set forth in the Gospels is so complex, the phrase is used to cover so many and different conceptions, that it is practically impossible to frame a definition within which all the sayings of Jesus concerning the kingdom can be included. The nearest approach to a definition which it is necessary to attempt is suggested by the two petitions in the Lord's Prayer which are quoted above. The second petition explains the first: the kingdom comes in proportion as men do on earth the will of God. For our present purpose, therefore, we may think of the kingdom as a spiritual commonwealth embracing all who do God's will. To much that Christ taught concerning the kingdom—its Head, its numbers, its growth and development—it is impossible, in one brief discourse, even to refer. Here again, it must suffice to single out one or two points for special emphasis:
(1) In the doctrine of the kingdom of God, we have set before us the social aspect of Christ's teaching; it reminds us of what we owe, not only to Him who is its King, but to those who are our fellow-subjects. Of particular duties it is impossible to speak, though these, as we know, fill a large place in the teaching of Jesus. But let us at least bring home to ourselves the thought of obligation, obligation involved in and springing out of our common relationship as members of the kingdom of God. The obligation is writ large on every page of the New Testament—in the Gospels, in the doctrine of the kingdom; in the Epistles, in the corresponding doctrine of the Church. It can hardly be said too often, that, according to the New Testament ideal, there are no unattached Christians. The apostles never conceive of religion as merely a private matter between the soul and God. All true religion, as John Wesley used to say, is not solitary but social. Its starting-point is the individual, but its goal is a kingdom. Christ came to save men and women in order that through them He might build up a redeemed society in which the will of God should be done. We do, indeed, often hear of Christians whose religion begins and ends with getting their own souls saved. This simply means that so far as it is true they are not yet Christian. To think only of oneself is to deny one of the first principles of the kingdom. Wesley taught the early Methodists to sing—
"A charge to keep I have. A God to glorify; A never-dying soul to save, And fit it for the sky;"
and some of his followers, both early and later, seem to have thought that this was the whole of the hymn; but the verse goes on without a full stop—
"To serve the present age, My calling to fulfil; O may it all my powers engage To do my Master's will!"
And until we who profess and call ourselves Christians have learned this lesson of service, and have entered into Christ's thought of the kingdom, with its interlacing network of obligations, we have still need that some one teach us again the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God.
(2) Again, the kingdom of God, Christ taught, is present; it is not of, but it is in, this world, set up in the midst of the existing order of things. There are, it is true, passages in which Christ speaks of the kingdom as in the future, and to come. Thus, e.g., He speaks of a time when men "shall come from the east and west, and from the north and south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God"; when "the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father"; when they shall "inherit the kingdom prepared for" them "from the foundation of the world"; and so forth. But there is no real contradiction between this and what has been already said. The kingdom is a growth, a movement working itself out in history, and therefore it may be said to be past, present, or future, according to our point of view. In the sense that it has not yet fully come, that its final consummation is still waited for, it is future; and so sometimes Christ speaks of it. But it is simply impossible to do justice to all His sayings and deny that in His thought the kingdom is also present. Its consummation may belong to the future, its beginnings are here already. When Christ calls it the kingdom of heaven, it is rather its origin and character that are suggested than the sphere of its realization. In parable after parable He speaks of it as a secret silent energy already at work in the world. He called on men here and now to seek it, and to enter it. So eagerly were the lost and the perishing pressing into it that once He declared that from the days of John the Baptist the kingdom of heaven suffered violence. Not in some future heaven but here "on earth" He bade His disciples pray that God's will might be done. "When Jesus said the kingdom of heaven, be sure He did not mean an unseen refuge, whither a handful might one day escape, like persecuted and disheartened Puritans fleeing from a hopeless England, but He intended what might be and then was in Galilee, what should be and now is in England." "Thy kingdom come"—it is here on earth we must look for the answer to our prayer. And every man who himself does, and in every possible way strives to get done, God's will among men, is Christ's co-worker and fellow-builder.
"I will not cease from mental fight, Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, Till we have built Jerusalem In England's green and pleasant land."
That is the spirit of all the true servants of Jesus.
(3) But the most important fact concerning the kingdom in Christ's view of it is that it is spiritual. And, because it is spiritual, it failed wholly to satisfy the earth-bound ambitions of the Jews. For generations they had fed their national pride with visions of a world obedient to Israel's sway, and when one who claimed to be the Messiah nevertheless told them plainly that His kingdom was not of this world, they turned from Him as from one that mocked. He and they both spoke of a kingdom of God, but while they emphasized the "kingdom" He emphasized "God." So wholly did men fail to enter into His mind that on one occasion two of His own disciples came to Him asking that they might sit, one on the right hand, and one on the left hand in His glory. And even when He was just about to leave them, and to return to His Father, the old ambitions still made themselves heard. "Lord," said they, "dost Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" But with all such dreams of temporal sovereignty Christ would have nothing to do; He had put them from Him, definitely and for ever, in the Temptation in the wilderness. He completely reversed the current notions concerning the kingdom. "Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God cometh, He answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation; neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you." And when self-complacent religious leaders flattered themselves that, of course, the first places in the kingdom would be theirs, He sternly warned them that they might find themselves altogether shut out while the publicans and harlots whom they despised were admitted. Through all His teaching Christ laid the emphasis on character. Pride, and love of power, and sordid ambitions, and all self-seeking—for these things, and for them that cherished these things, the kingdom had no place. "Blessed," Christ said, "are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." "Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." "Whosoever would become great among you, shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be servant of all"—these are they that are accounted worthy of the kingdom of God.
The earliest account of Christ's preaching which has already been quoted, gives us the right point of view for the interpretation of Christ's idea of the kingdom as spiritual: "Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: Repent ye, and believe in the gospel." He had come to establish a kingdom whose dominion should be for ever, against which the gates of hell should not prevail, and the foundation of it He laid in the penitent and obedient hearts of men. This explains why Christ had so little to do with programmes, and so much to do with men. If a man's right to the title of reformer be judged by the magnitude of the revolution which he has effected, it is but bare justice to call Him the greatest reformer who ever lived. Yet He put out no programme; He made Himself the spokesman of no party, the advocate of no social or political reform. To the disappointment of His friends, as much as to the confusion of His enemies, He absolutely refused to take sides on the vexed political questions of the hour. "Unto Caesar," He said, "render the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." But on individuals He spent Himself to the uttermost. "He is not only indifferent to numbers, but often seems disinclined to deal with numbers. He sends the multitude away; He goes apart into a mountain with His chosen disciples; He withdraws Himself from the throng in Jerusalem to the quiet home in Bethany; He discourses of the profoundest purposes of His mission with the Twelve in an upper room; He opens the treasures of His wisdom before one Pharisee at night, and one unresponsive woman by the well." Always His work is done not by "external organization or mass-movements or force of numbers," but from within: "Repent ye and believe in the gospel."
Now, this was the vary last kind of message that the Pharisees of Christ's day were looking for. They wanted the world put right—according to their own ideas of right—it is true; but to be told that they must begin with themselves was not at all what they wanted. Are not many of us in the same case to-day? We are all eager for reforms, at least so long as they are from without. We have a touching faith in the power of machinery and organization. We are quite sure that if Parliament would only pass this, that, and the other bit of legislative reform, on which our hearts are set, the millennium would be here, if not by the morning post, at least by the session's end. And there is much, undoubtedly, that Parliament can and ought to do for us. Nevertheless, was not Christ right? Instead of the old prayer, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me," some of us, as one writer says, would rather pray, "Create a better social order, O God; and renew a right relation between various classes of men." We are ready to begin anywhere rather than with ourselves, at any point in the big circumference rather than at the centre. "I don't deny, my friends," wrote Charles Kingsley to the Chartists, "it is much cheaper and pleasanter to be reformed by the devil than by God; for God will only reform society on the condition of our reforming every man his own self, while the devil is quite ready to help us to mend the laws and the Parliament, earth and heaven, without ever starting such an impertinent and 'personal' request as that a man should mend himself." Yet without self-reform nothing is possible. "The character of the aggregate," says Herbert Spencer, "is determined by the characters of the units." And he illustrates thus: Suppose a man building with good, square, well-burnt bricks; without the use of mortar he may build a wall of a certain height and stability. But if his bricks are warped and cracked or broken, the wall cannot be of the same height and stability. If again, instead of bricks he use cannon-balls then he cannot build a wall at all; at most, something in the form of a pyramid with a square or rectangular base. And if, once more, for cannon-balls we substitute rough, unhewn boulders, no definite stable form is possible. "The character of the aggregate is, determined by the characters of the units." Every attempt to reconstruct society which leaves out of account the character of the men and women who constitute society is foredoomed to failure. Behind every social problem stands the greater problem of the individual, the redemption of character. We may get, as assuredly we ought to get, better houses for the working-classes; but unless we also get better working-classes for the houses, we shall not have greatly mended matters. And no turn of the Parliamentary machine will produce these for us. We can pass new laws; only the grace of God can make new men. "For my part," says Kingsley once more, speaking through the lips of his tailor-poet, "I seem to have learnt that the only thing to regenerate the world is not more of any system, good or bad; but simply more of the Spirit of God." "Except a man be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
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"Tho' world on world in myriad myriads roll Round us, each with different powers, And other forms of life than ours, What know we greater than the soul?" TENNYSON.
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"There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."—LUKE XV. 10.
This is one of many sayings of our Lord which reveal His sense of the infinite worth of the human soul, which is the central fact in His teaching about man, and the only one with which in the present chapter we shall be concerned. Other aspects of the truth will come into view in the following chapter, when we come to consider Christ's teaching about sin.
"The infinite worth of the human soul"—this is a discovery the glory of which, it is no exaggeration to say, belongs wholly to Christ. It is said that one of the most magnificent diamonds in Europe, which to-day blazes in a king's crown, once lay for months on a stall in a piazza at Rome labelled, "Rock-crystal, price one franc." And it was thus that for ages the priceless jewel of the soul lay unheeded and despised of men. Before Christ came, men honoured the rich, and the great, and the wise, as we honour them now; but man as man was of little or no account. If one had, or could get, a pedestal by which to lift himself above the common crowd, he might count for something; but if he had nothing save his own feet to stand upon, he was a mere nobody, for whom nobody cared. We turn to the teaching of Jesus, and what a contrast! "Of how much more value," He said, "are ye than the birds!" "How much then is a man"—not a rich man, not a wise man, not a Pharisee, but a man—"of more value than a sheep!" "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" It was by thought-provoking questions such as these that Jesus revealed His own thoughts concerning man. And, of course, when He spoke in this way about the soul, when He said that a man might gain the whole world, but that if the price he paid for it were his soul, he was the loser, He was not speaking of the souls of a select few, but of the souls of all. Every man, every woman, every little child—all were precious in His sight. It is man as man, Christ taught, that is of worth to God.
Consider how much is involved in the bare fact that Christ came into the world the son of a poor mother, and lived in it a poor man. "A man's life," He said, "consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." And the best commentary on the saying is just His own life; for He had nothing. There is something very suggestive in Christ's use of the little possessive pronoun "My." We know how we use the word. Listen to the rich man in the parable: "My fruits," "my barns," "my corn," "my goods." Now listen to Christ. He says: "My Father," "My Church," "My friends," "My disciples"; but He never says "My house," "My lands," "My books." The one perfect life this earth has seen was the life of One who owned nothing, and left behind Him nothing but the clothes He wore. And not only was Christ poor Himself, He spent His life among the poor. "To believe that a man with L60 a year," Canon Liddon once said, "is just as much worthy of respect as a man with L6000, you must be seriously a Christian." You must indeed. Yet that which is for us so hard never seems to have cost Christ a struggle. We cannot so much as think of mere money, more or less, counting for anything in His sight. The little artificial distinctions of society were to Him nothing, and less than nothing. He went to be guest with a man that was a sinner. A woman that was a harlot He suffered to wash His feet with her tears, and to wipe them with her hair. "This man," said His enemies, with scorn vibrant in every word, "receiveth sinners and eateth with them." And they were right; but what they counted His deepest shame was in reality His chiefest glory.
Now, what does all this mean but simply this, that it was for man as man that Christ cared? Observe the difference in the point at which He and we become interested in men. We are interested in them, for the most part, when, by their work, or their wealth, or their fame, they have added something to themselves; in other words, we become interested when they become interesting. But that which gave worth to man in Christ's eyes lay beneath all these merely adventitious circumstances of his life, in his naked humanity, in what he was, or might be, in himself. This is why to Him all souls were dear. We love them that love us, the loving and the lovable; Christ loved the unloving and the unlovable. He was named, and rightly named, "Friend of publicans and sinners." Then were bad men of worth to Christ? They were; for, as Tennyson says, "If there be a devil in man, there is an angel too." Christ saw the possible angel in the actual devil. He knew that the lost might be found, and the bad become good, and the prodigal return home; and He loved men, not only for what they were, but for what they might be.
It would be easy to show that this high doctrine of man underlies, and is involved in, the whole life and work and teaching of Jesus. It is involved in the doctrine of God. Indeed, as Dr. Dale says, the Christian doctrine of man is really a part of the Christian doctrine of God. Because God is a Father, every man is a son of God, or, rather, every man has within him the capacity for sonship. It is involved in the doctrine of the Incarnation; that stupendous fact reveals not only the condescension of God but the glory and exaltation of man. If God could become man, there must be a certain kinship between God and man; since God has become man, our poor human nature has been thereby lifted up and glorified. The same great doctrine is implied in the truth of Christ's atonement. When He who knew Himself to be the eternal Son of God spoke of His own life as the "ransom" for the forfeited lives of men, He revealed once more how infinite is the worth of that which could be redeemed only at such tremendous cost.
Such, then, is Christ's teaching about man. And, as I have already said, it was a new thing in human history. Nowhere is the line which divides the world B.C. from the world A.D. more sharply defined than here. Before Christ came, no one dared to say, for no one believed, that the soul of every man, and still less the soul of every woman and child, was of worth to God, that even a slave might become a son of the Most High. But Christ believed it, and Christ said it, and when He said it, the new world, the world in which we live, began to be. The great difference between ancient and modern civilizations, one eminent historian has said, is to be found here, that while ancient civilization cared only for the welfare of the favoured few, modern civilization seeks the welfare of all. And when we ask further what has made the difference, history sends us back for answer to the four Gospels and the teaching of Jesus concerning the infinite worth of the soul of man.
And now, to bring matters to a practical issue, have we who profess the faith of Christ learnt to set, either upon others or upon ourselves, the value which Christ put upon all men? Far as we have travelled from ancient Greece and Rome, are we not still, in our thoughts about men, often pagan rather than Christian? Our very speech bewrayeth us, and shows how little even yet we have learnt to think Christ's thoughts after Him. He declared, in words which have already been quoted, that "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." Nevertheless, in our daily speech we persist in measuring men by this very standard; we say that a man "is worth" so much, though, of course, all that we mean is that he has so much. Again, we allow ourselves to speak about the "hands" in a factory, as if with the hand there went neither head nor heart. If we must put a part for the whole, why should it not be after the fashion of the New Testament? "And there were added unto them in that day"—so it is written in one place—"about three thousand souls"—"souls," not "hands." And we may depend upon it there would be less soulless labour in the world, and fewer men and women in danger of degenerating into mere "hands," if we would learn to think of them in Christ's higher and worthier way.
Let me try to show, by two or three examples, how Christ's teaching about man is needed through all our life.
(1) There was, perhaps, never a time when so many were striving to fulfil the apostle's injunction, and, as they have opportunity, to do good unto all men. More and more we busy ourselves to-day with the good works of philanthropy and Christian charity. And what we must remember is that our philanthropy needs our theology to sustain it. They only will continue Christ's work for man who cherish Christ's thoughts about man. Sever philanthropy from the great Christian ideas which have created and sustained it, and it will very speedily come to an end of its resources. All experience shows that philanthropy cut off from Christ has not capital enough on which to do its business. And the reason is not far to seek. They who strive to save their fellows, they who go down into the depths that they may lift men up, see so much of the darkened under-side of human life, they are brought so close up to the ugly facts of human baseness, human trickery, human ingratitude, that, unless there be behind them the staying, steadying power of the faith and love of Christ, they cannot long endure the strain; they grow weary in well-doing, perchance even they grow bitter and contemptuous, and in a little while the tasks they have taken up fall unfinished from their hands. "Society" takes to "slumming" for a season—just as for another season it may take to ping-pong—but the fit does not last; and only they keep on through the long, grey days, when neither sun nor stars are seen, who have learnt to look on men with the eyes, and to feel toward them with the heart, of Jesus the Man of Nazareth.
(2) "Whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on Me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great mill-stone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea." Once more is revealed Christ's thought of the worth of the soul. How the holy passion against him who would hurt "one of these little ones" glows and scorches in His words! Is this a word for any of us? Is there one among us who is tempting a brother man to dishonesty, to drink, to lust; who is pushing some thoughtless girl down the steep and slippery slope which ends—we know where? Then let him stop and listen, not to me, but to Christ. Never, I think, did He speak with such solemn, heart-shaking emphasis, and He says that it were better a man should die, that he should die this night, die the most miserable and shameful death, than that he should bring the blood of another's soul upon his head. It must needs be that occasions of stumbling come, but woe, woe to that man by whom they come, when he and the slain soul's Saviour shall stand face to face! Oh, if there be one among us who is playing the tempter, and doing the devil's work, let him get to his knees, and cry with the conscience-smitten Psalmist, "Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation"; and peradventure even yet He may hear and have mercy.
(3) Let fathers and mothers ponder what this teaching of Jesus concerning man means for them in relation to their children. There came into your home a while ago a little child, a gift from God, just such a babe as Jesus Himself was in His mother's arms in Bethlehem. The child is yours, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh, and it bears your likeness and image; but it is also God's child, and it bears His image. What difference is the coming of the little stranger making in you? I do not ask what difference is it making to you, for the answer would be ready in a moment, "Much, every way"; but, what difference is it making in you? Does it never occur to you that you ought to be a different man—a better man—that you ought to be a different woman—a better woman—for the sake of the little one lying in the cradle? Do you know that of all the things God ever made and owns, in this or all His worlds, there is nothing more dear to Him than the soul of the little child He has committed to your hands? What hands those should be that bear a gift like that! Perhaps we never thought of it in that way before. But it is true, whether we think of it or not. Is it not time to begin to think of it? This night, as we stand over our sleeping child, let us promise to God, for the child's sake, that we will be His.
(4) Last of all, we must learn to set Christ's value upon ourselves. This is the tragedy of life, that we hold ourselves so cheap. We are sprung of heaven's first blood, have titles manifold, and yet, when the crown is offered us, we choose rather, like the man with the muck-rake, in Bunyan's great allegory, to grub among the dust and sticks and straws of the floor. In the times of the French Revolution, French soldiers, it is said, stabled their horses in some of the magnificent cathedrals of France; but some of us are guilty of a far worse sacrilege in that holy of holies which we call the soul. "Ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold," but with blood, precious blood, even the blood of Christ. And the soul which cost that, we are ready to sell any day in the open market for a little more pleasure or a little more pelf. The birthright is bartered for the sorriest mess of pottage, and the jewel which the King covets to wear in His crown our own feet trample in the mire of the streets. The pity of it, the pity of it!
In one of Dora Greenwell's simple and beautiful Songs of Salvation, a pitman tells to his wife the story of his conversion. He had got a word like a fire in his heart that would not let him be, "Jesus, the Son of God, who loved, and who gave Himself for me."
"It was for me that Jesus died! for me, and a world of men, Just as sinful, and just as slow to give back His love again; And He didn't wait till I came to Him, but He loved me at my worst; He needn't ever have died for me if I could have loved Him first."
And then he continues:—
"And could'st Thou love such a man as me, my Saviour! Then I'll take More heed to this wand'ring soul of mine, if it's only for Thy sake."
Yes, we are all of worth to God, but we must needs go to the Cross to learn how great is our worth; and, as we bow in its sacred shadow, may we learn to say: "For Thy sake, O Christ, for Thy sake, I'll take more heed to this wandering soul of mine."
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"O man, strange composite of heaven and earth! Majesty dwarfed to baseness! fragrant flower Running to poisonous seed! and seeming worth Choking corruption! weakness mastering power! Who never art so near to crime and shame, As when thou hast achieved some deed of name." NEWMAN.
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"When ye pray, say.... Forgive us our sins."—LUKE xi. 2, 4.
A recent writer has pointed out that sin, like death, is not seriously realized except as a personal fact. We really know it only when we know it about ourselves. The word "sin" has no serious meaning to a man, except when it means that he himself is a sinful man. And hence it comes to pass that we can still turn to the penitential Psalms, to the seventh chapter of Romans, to the Confessions of St. Augustine, or to the Grace Abounding of John Bunyan, and make their words the language of our own broken and contrite hearts. For when Bunyan and Augustine and Paul and the psalmists spoke of sin, they spoke not the thoughts of others, but their knowledge of themselves; they looked into their own hearts and wrote. That is why their words "find" us to-day. Nevertheless, paradox though it may seem, our greatest Teacher concerning sin, Himself "knew no sin." Born without sin, living and dying without sin, Christ yet "knew what was in man," knew the sin that was in man, and from His own sinless height once for all revealed and judged and condemned it. Let us seek, then, to learn the mind of Christ on this great matter.
And once more, as I have had occasion to point out in a previous chapter, we must not look for anything formal, defined, systematic in Christ's teaching. We cannot open the Gospels, as we might some modern theological treatise, and read out from them a scientific exposition of sin—its origin, its nature, its treatment. The New Testament is not like a museum, where the flowers are dried and pressed, and the fossils lie carefully arranged within glass cases, and everything is duly classified and labelled. Rather it is like nature itself, where the flowers grow wild at our feet, and the rocks lie as the Creator's hand left them, and where each man must do the classifying and labelling for himself. Museums have their uses, and there will always be those who prefer them—they save so much trouble. But since Christ's aim was not to save us trouble, but to teach us to see things with our own eyes, to see them as He saw them, and to think of them as He thinks, it is no wonder that He has chosen rather to put us down in the midst of a world of living truths than in a museum of assorted and dead facts.
What, then, is the teaching of Jesus concerning sin? His tone is at once severe and hopeful. Sometimes His words are words that shake our hearts with fear; sometimes they surprise us with their overflowing tenderness and pity. But however He may deal with the sinner, we are always made to feel that to Jesus sin is a serious thing, a problem not to be slurred over and made light of, but to be faced, and met, and grappled with. Christ's sense of the gravity of sin comes out in many ways.
(1) It is involved in His doctrine of man. He who made so much of man could not make light of man's sin. It is because man is so great that his sin is so grave. No one can understand the New Testament doctrine of sin who does not read it in the light of the New Testament doctrine of man. When we think of man as Christ thought of him, when we see in him the possibilities which Christ saw, the Scripture language concerning sin becomes intelligible enough; until then it may easily seem exaggerated and unreal. It is the height for which man was made and meant which measures the fall which is involved in his sin.
(2) Call to mind the language in which Christ set forth the effects of sin. He spoke of men as blind, as sick, as dead; He said they were as sheep gone astray, as sons that are lost, as men in debt which they can never pay, in bondage from which they can never free themselves. The very accumulation of metaphors bears witness to Christ's sense of the havoc wrought by sin. Nor are they metaphors merely; they are His reading of the facts of life as it lay before Him. Let me refer briefly to two of them, (a) Christ spoke of men as in bondage through their sin. "If," He said once, "ye abide in My word ... ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." And straightway jealous Jewish ears caught at that word "free." "Free?" they cried, "Free? we be Abraham's seed, and have never yet been in bondage to any man: how sayest Thou, Ye shall be made free?" Yet even as they lift their hands in protest Christ hears the clink of their fetters: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, every one that committeth sin is the bond-servant—the slave—of sin." "To whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants—his slaves—ye are whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness." Apostle and Lord mean the same thing, true of us as it was true of the Jews: "Every one that committeth sin is the slave of sin." (b) Further, Christ says, men are in debt through their sin. In one parable He tells us of a certain lender who had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty; but neither had wherewith to pay. In another parable we hear of a servant who owed his lord ten thousand talents—a gigantic sum, vague in its vastness, "millions" as we might say—and he likewise had not wherewith to pay. Further, in the application of each parable, it is God to whom this unpayable debt is due. Now, it is just at this point that our sense of sin to-day is weakest. The scientist, the dramatist, the novelist are all proclaiming our responsibility toward them that come after us; with pitiless insistence they are telling us that the evil that men do lives after them, that it is not done with when it is done. Yet, with all this, there may be no thought of God. It is the consciousness not merely of responsibility, but of responsibility God-ward, which needs to be strengthened. When we sin we may wrong others much, we may wrong ourselves more, but we wrong God most of all; and we shall never recover Christ's thought of sin until, like the psalmist and the prodigal, we have learned to cry to Him, "Against Thee have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Thy sight."
(3) But sin, in Christ's view of it, is not merely something a man does, it is what he is. Go through Paul's long and dismal catalogue of "the works of the flesh": "Fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, heresies, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like." Yet even this is not the whole of the matter. Sin is more than the sum-total of man's sins. The fruits are corrupt because the tree which yields them is corrupt; the stream is tainted because the fountain whence it flows is impure; man commits sin because he is sinful. It was just here that Christ broke, and broke decisively, with the traditional religion of His time. To the average Jew of that day righteousness and sin meant nothing more than the observance or the non-observance of certain religious traditions. "For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands diligently, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders: and when they come from the market-place, except they wash themselves, they eat not; and many other things there be which they have received to hold, washings of cups, and pots, and brazen vessels." "Nay," said Jesus, "you are beginning at the wrong end, you are concerned about the wrong things, for from within, out of the heart of men, evil thoughts proceed, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetings, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, railing, pride, foolishness: all these evil things proceed from within." Deep in the heart of man evil has its seat, and until that is touched nothing is done.
(4) And, lastly, Christ says all men are sinful. Of course, He did not say, nor did He imply that all are equally sinful. On the contrary, He said plainly that whereas the debt of some is as fifty pence, the debt of others is as five hundred pence. Neither did Christ teach that man is wholly sinful, in the sense that there is in man nothing that is good, or that every man is by nature as bad as he can be. Nor, let it be said in passing, is this what theology means when it speaks, as it still sometimes does, about the "total depravity" of human nature. What is meant is, as Dr. Denney says, that the depravity which sin has produced in human nature extends to the whole of it. If I poison my finger, it is not only the finger that is poisoned; the poison is in the blood, and, unless it be got rid of, not my finger merely, but my life is in peril. And in like manner the sin which taints my nature taints my whole nature, perverting the conscience, enfeebling the will, and darkening the understanding. But with whatever qualifications Christ's indictment is against the whole human race. He never discusses the origin of sin, but He always assumes its presence. No matter how His hearers might vary, this factor remained constant. "If ye, being evil" that mournful presupposition could be made everywhere. He spoke of men as "lost," and said that He had come to seek and save them. He summoned men, without distinction, to repentance. He spoke of His blood as "shed for many unto remission of sins." The gospel which, in His name, was to be preached unto all the nations was concerning "repentance and remission of sins." Even His own disciples He taught, as they prayed, to say, "Forgive us our sins." And though it is true He said once that He had not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance, He did not thereby mean to suggest that there really are some righteous persons who have no need of repentance; rather was He seeking by the keenness of His Divine irony to pierce the hard self-satisfaction of men whose need was greater just because it was unfelt.
"All have sinned;" but once more let us remind ourselves, sin is not seriously realized except as a personal fact. The truth must come home as a truth about ourselves. The accusing finger singles men out and fastens the charge on each several conscience: "Thou art the man!" And as the accusation is individual, so, likewise, must the acknowledgement be. It is not enough that in church we cry in company, "Lord have mercy upon us, miserable offenders"; each must learn to pray for himself, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Then comes the word of pardon, personal and individual as the condemnation, "The Lord also hath put away thy sin."
In what has been said thus far I have dwelt, for the most part, on the sterner and darker aspects of Christ's teaching about sin. And, as every student of contemporary literature knows, there are voices all around us to-day ready to take up and emphasize every word of His concerning the mischief wrought by moral evil. Take, e.g., a passage like this from Thomas Hardy's powerful but sombre story, Tess:—
"Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?"
"All like ours?"
"I don't know; but I think so. They sometimes seem to me like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound—a few blighted."
"Which do we live on—a splendid one, or a blighted one?"
"A blighted one."
Or, turn to the works of George Eliot. No prophet of righteousness ever bound sin and its consequences more firmly together, or proclaimed with more solemn emphasis the certainty of the evil-doer's doom. "Our deeds are like children that are born to us," she says; "nay, children may be strangled, but deeds never"—this is the note one hears through all her books. If we have done wrong, it is in vain we cry for mercy. We are taken by the throat and delivered over to the tormentors until we have paid the uttermost farthing.
"The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it."
And this is all that writers such as these have to say to us. Retribution they know, but not Redemption. "There are no arresting angels in the path"—only the Angel of Justice with the drawn sword.
But this is not the teaching of Jesus concerning sin. He is not blind, and if we give ear to Him He will not suffer us to be blind, either to its character or its consequences; but He says that sin can be forgiven, and its iron bondage broken. Jesus believed in the recoverability of man at his worst. It is a fact significant of much that the first mention of sin in the New Testament is in a prophecy of its destruction: "Thou shalt call His name Jesus; for it is He that shall save His people from their sins." And throughout the first three Gospels sin is named almost exclusively in connection with its forgiveness. What Christ hath joined together let no man put asunder. Herein is the very gospel of God, that Christ came not to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved. "Do you know what Christ would say to you, my girl?" said a missionary to a poor girl dying. "He would say, 'Thy sins are forgiven thee.'" "Would He, though, would He?" she cried, starting up; "take me to Him, take me to Him." Yes, thank God, we know what to do with our sin; we know what we must do to be saved.
Let us go back again for a moment over the ground we have already travelled. We are in debt, with nothing to pay; but Christ has taken the long account, and has crossed it through and through. We are in bondage, with no power to set ourselves free; but Christ has come to rend the iron chain and proclaim deliverance to the captives. We are wrong, wrong within, wrong at the core; but again He is equal to our need, for concerning Him it is written that He shall take away not only the "sins" but the "sin" of the world. Is anything too hard for Him? Just as a lover of pictures will sometimes discover a portrait, the work of an old master, marred and disfigured by the dirt and neglect of years, and will patiently cleanse and retouch it, till the lips seem to speak again, and the old light shines in the eyes, and all its hidden glory is revealed once more, so does Christ bring out the Divine image, hidden but never lost, in the sinful souls of men. And all this He can do for all men; for Christ knows no hopeless ones.
One of the saddest sights in a great city is its hospital for incurables. Who can think but with a pang of pity and of pain of these—old men and little children joined in one sad fellowship—for whom the physician's skill has done its best and failed, for whom now nothing remains save to suffer and to die? But in the world's great hospital of ailing souls, where every day the Good Physician walks, there is no incurable ward. He lays His hands on the sick, and they are healed; He touches the eyes of the blind, and they see; unto the leper as white as snow his flesh comes again as the flesh of a little child; even souls that are dead through their trespasses and sins He restores to life. But never, never does He turn away from any, saying, "Thou art too far gone; there is nothing that I can do for thee." "I spake to Thy disciples," cried the father of the child which had a dumb spirit, "I spake to Thy disciples that they should cast it out; and they were not able." "Bring him unto Me," said Jesus. Then He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying unto him, "Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I command thee, come out of him and enter no more into him." Verily, with authority He commandeth even the unclean spirits and they obey Him.
Therefore let us despair of no man; therefore let no man despair of himself. If we will, we can; we can, because Christ will. "I was before," says St. Paul, "a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; howbeit I obtained mercy." "I am a wretched captive of sin," cries Samuel Rutherford, "yet my Lord can hew heaven out of worse timber." There is no unpardonable sin—none, at least, save the sin of refusing the pardon which avails for all sin. "'Mine iniquity is greater than can be forgiven.' No, Cain, thou errest; God's mercy is far greater, couldst thou ask mercy. Men cannot be more sinful than God is merciful if, with penitent hearts, they will call upon Him."
We have all read of the passing of William MacLure in Ian Maclaren's touching idyll. "A'm gettin' drowsy," said the doctor to Drumsheugh, "read a bit tae me." Then Drumsheugh put on his spectacles, and searched for some comfortable Scripture. Presently he began to read: "In My Father's house are many mansions;" but MacLure stopped him. "It's a bonnie word," he said, "but it's no' for the like o' me. It's ower guid; a' daurna tak' it." Then he bid Drumsheugh shut the book and let it open of itself, and he would find the place where he had been reading every night for the last month. Drumsheugh did as he was bidden, and the book opened at the parable wherein the Master tells what God thinks of a Pharisee and a penitent sinner. And when he came to the words, "And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner," once more the dying man stopped him: "That micht hae been written for me, Paitrick, or ony ither auld sinner that hes feenished his life, an' hes naething tae say for himsel."
Nothing to say for ourselves—that is what it comes to, when we know the truth about ourselves. And when at last our mouth is stopped, when our last poor plea is silenced, when with penitent and obedient hearts we seek the mercy to which from the first we have been utterly shut up, then indeed we
"have found the ground wherein Sure our soul's anchor may remain."
"Not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to His mercy He saved us."
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"I spend my whole life in going about and persuading you all to give your first and chiefest care to the perfection of your souls, and not till you have done that to think of your bodies, or your wealth; and telling you that virtue does not come from wealth, but that wealth, and every other good thing which men have, whether in public, or in private, comes from virtue."—SOCRATES.
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"Seek ye first ... His righteousness."—MATT. vi. 33.
Righteousness, as it was understood and taught by Christ, includes the two things which we often distinguish as religion and morality. It is right-doing, not only as between man and man, but as between man and God. The Lawgiver of the New Testament, like the lawgiver of the Old, has given to us two tables of stone. On the one He has written, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind "; and on the other, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." In these two commandments the whole law is summed up, the whole duty of man is made known. It is well to emphasize this two-fold aspect of the truth at a time when we are often tempted to define religion wholly in the terms of morality, and, while insisting on the duties which we owe to each other, to forget those which we owe to God. If there be a God righteousness must surely have a meaning in relation to Him; it cannot be simply another name for philanthropy. Christ at least will not call that man just and good who does right to all except his Maker. In the Christian doctrine of the good life room must be found for God. At the present moment, however, it is the subject in its man-ward aspect that I wish specially to keep in view, partly because some limitation is obviously necessary, and partly also because it is this of which Christ Himself had most to say.
What, then, is Christ's idea of righteousness? In other words, what did He teach concerning the good life? Now here also, as in His teaching about God, Christ did not need to begin de novo. Those to whom He spoke had already their own ideals of duty and holiness. True, these were sadly in need of revision and correction. Nevertheless, such as they were, they were there, and Christ could use them as His starting-point. Consequently, therefore, we find His ideas of righteousness defined largely by contrast with existing ideas. "It was said to them of old time ... but I say unto you." This is the note heard all through the Sermon on the Mount. The contrast may be stated in two ways.
(1) In the first place, Christ said that the righteousness of His disciples must exceed that of publicans and heathen: "If ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the Gentiles the same?" There are virtues exhibited in the lives of even wholly irreligious men. There are rudimentary moral principles which they that know not God nevertheless acknowledge and obey. It was so in Christ's time; it is so still. The popular American ballad, "Jim Bludso," and Ian Maclaren's touching story of the Drumtochty postman, are familiar illustrations of self-sacrificing virtues revealed by men of coarse and vicious lives. Nor ought we to deny the reality of such virtues; still less ought we to follow the bad example of St. Augustine and call them "splendid vices." Such was not Christ's way. He assumed the existence and reality of this "natural goodness," and with familiar illustrations of it on His tongue turned upon His disciples with the question, "What do ye more?"
"What do ye more?" Yet in some respects, it is to be feared, the morality of the Church sometimes falls behind that of the world. One of the most painful passages in St. Paul's epistles is that in which he tells the Corinthian Christians that one of their own number had been guilty of immorality such as would have shocked even the conscience of an unbelieving Gentile. And it was but the other day that I came across this sentence from the pen of an observant and friendly critic of contemporary religious life: "I am afraid," he said, "it must be admitted that the idea of honour, though in itself an essential part of Christian ethics, is much stronger outside the Churches than within them." How far facts justify the criticism I will not stay to inquire; but the very fact that a charge like this can be made should prove a sharp reminder to us of the stringency of the demands which Jesus Christ makes upon us. There is no kind of sound moral fruit which is to be found anywhere in the wide fields of the world which He does not look for in richer and riper abundance within the garden of His Church.
A great Christian preacher has given an admirable illustration of one way in which we may examine ourselves in this matter. He has grouped together a number of precepts from the writings of some of the great heathen moralists, such as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, and then has urged the question how far we who profess to be the disciples of a loftier faith are true even to these ancient heathen ideals. Perhaps, however, this is not a method of self-examination which is open to us all. But this, at least, we can do: we can test ourselves by that moral law, which God gave to the Jews by Moses, and which Christ reinterpreted in the Sermon on the Mount. "Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery"—all these commandments in their literal meaning we must observe; yet this is not enough; "do not even the publicans the same?" and Christ's demand is, "What do ye more than others?" The murderous thought, Christ says, that is murder; the lustful look, that is adultery. "Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you." As we listen to words like these must not we also confess, "Either these sayings are not Christ's, or we are not Christians"?
(2) Christ's idea of righteousness is further defined by contrast with that of the Pharisees: "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." What was the Pharisees' idea of religion? Let us take the words which Christ Himself put into the lips of a representative of his class: "God, I thank Thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get." This is a full-length portrait of the finished Pharisee. Religion to him was a round of prescribed ritual, a barren externalism, a subjection to the dominion of the letter, which never touched the heart, nor bowed the spirit down in penitence and humility before God. The Pharisee's whole concern was with externals; but Christ declared that he who is only right outwardly is not right at all. There is no such thing, He said, as goodness which is not from within. The alms-deeds, the prayer, the fasting of the Pharisee were all done before men, to be seen of them; and so long as that which men saw was right and seemly, he was satisfied. But Christ went back behind the outward act to the heart. A man is really, He said, what he is there. You may hang grapes on a thorn-bush, that will not make it a vine; you may put a sheep's fleece on a wolf's back, but that will not change its wolfish heart. And men are what they are within. Just as to get good fruit you must first of all make the tree good, so to secure good deeds you must first make good men. This was the truth which Pharisaism ignored; with what results all the world knows. In the long history of man, it remains, perhaps, the supreme illustration of the fatal facility with which religion and morality are divorced when once the emphasis is laid upon the outward and ceremonial instead of the inward and spiritual. All experience helps us to understand how the system works. There is no deliberate intention of setting ritual above righteousness, but it is so much easier to count one's beads than to curb one's temper, so much easier to fast in Lent than to be unswervingly just, that if once the easier thing gets attached to it an exaggerated importance, fidelity in it is allowed to atone for laxity in greater things, and the last result is Pharisaism, where we see conscience concerned about the tithing of garden herbs, but with no power over the life, and religion not merely tolerating but actually ministering to moral evil. It was in the name of religion that the Pharisees suffered a man to violate even the sanctities of the Fifth Commandment, and to do dishonour to his father and mother. The righteous man in their eyes was not he who loved mercy, and did justly, and walked humbly with his God, but he who observed the traditions of the elders. So that, as Professor Bruce says, it was possible for a man to comply with all the requirements of the Rabbis and yet remain in heart and life an utter miscreant. "Outwardly," said Christ, "ye appear righteous unto men, but inwardly ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." Is it any wonder that He should call down fire from heaven to consume a system which had yielded such bitter, poisonous fruits as these?
But let us remember, as Mozley well says, there are no extinct species in the world of evil. The value for us of Christ's condemnation lies in this, that it is a permanent tendency of human nature which He is condemning. Pharisaism is not dead. Have I not seen the Pharisee dressed in good broad-cloth and going to church with his Bible under his arm? And have I not seen him sitting in church and reading the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, and thinking to himself what shockingly wicked people these men must have been of whom Christ spoke such terrible words, and never once supposing that there is anything in the chapter that concerns him? No, Pharisaism is not dead; and when we read of those who devoured widows' houses and for a pretence made long prayers, using their religion as a cloak for their villainy, let us remember that Christ says to His disciples to-day, even as He said to them centuries ago, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven."
Thus far we have considered Christ's idea of righteousness only in contrast with other ideas. When we seek to define it in itself we fall back naturally on the words of the two great commandments which have already been quoted: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind;" and "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Righteousness, Christ says, is love, love to God and love to man.
But to them of old time it was said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour." Where, then, is the difference between the old commandment and the new? It lies in the new definition of "neighbour." The old law which said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour," said also, "and hate thine enemy"; which meant that some are and some are not our neighbours, and that toward those who are not love has no obligations. But Christ broke down for ever the middle wall of partition, and declared the old distinction null and void. In His parable of the Good Samaritan He taught that every man is our neighbour who has need of us, and to whom it is possible for us to prove ourselves a friend. As we have opportunity we are to do good unto all men. The same lesson with, if possible, still greater emphasis, Christ taught in the Upper Room: "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." A love that goes all the way with human need, that gives not itself by measure, that is not chilled by indifference, nor thwarted by ingratitude, that fights against evil until it overcomes it—such was the love He gave, and such is the love He asks. And in that command all other commands are comprehended. Christ might have made His own the daring word of St. Augustine, "Love, and do what you like."
When first men heard this law of the heavenly righteousness how wondrous simple it must have seemed in contrast with the elaborate scribe-made law which their Rabbis laid upon them. Pharisaism had reduced religion to a branch of mechanics, a vast network of rules which closed in the life of man on every side, a burden grievous and heavy to be borne, which crushed the soul under its weary load. This was the yoke of which Peter said that neither they nor their fathers were able to bear it. Was it any marvel that from such a system men should turn to Him who cried, "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light"? But if Christ's law of love is simpler it is also far more exacting than the old law which it superseded. It has meshes far finer than any that Pharisaic ingenuity could weave. Rabbinical law can secure the tithing of mint and anise and cumin, the washing of cups and pots, and many such like things; it can regulate the life of ritual and outward observance; and after that it has no more that it can do. But Christ's law of love is a mentor that searches out the deep things of man. The inside of the cup and platter, the things that are within, the hidden man of the heart—it is on these its eyes are fixed. It gives heed both to the words of the mouth and the meditations of the heart. And, sometimes, when the lips are speaking fair, suddenly it will fling open the heart's door and show us where, in some secret chamber, Greed and Pride and Envy and Hate sit side by side in unblest fellowship. Verily this law of love is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.
There is no room to do more than mention the fact which crowns the revelation of this new law of righteousness. Christ's words about goodness do not come to us alone; they come united with a life which is their best exposition. Christ is all His followers are to be; in Him the righteousness of the kingdom is incarnate. From henceforth the righteous man is the Christ-like man. The standard of human life is no longer a code but a character; for the gospel does not put us into subjection to fresh laws; it calls us to "the study of a living Person, and the following of a living Mind." And when to Jesus we bring the old question, "Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" He does not now repeat the commandments, but He says, "If thou wouldest be perfect, follow Me, learn of Me, do as I have done to you, love as I have loved you."
Such, then, is the good life which Christ reveals, and to which He calls us. To say that to Him we owe our highest ideal of righteousness, is only to affirm what no one now seriously denies. John Stuart Mill has, it is true, alleged certain defects against Christianity as an ethical system, yet Mill himself has frankly admitted that "it would not be easy now, even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract to the concrete, than to endeavour so to live that Christ would approve our life." If Christ be not our one Master in the moral world, it will at least be soon enough to discuss a rival's claims when he appears; as yet there is no sign of him. But the point I am most anxious to emphasize just now is not simply that Jesus has put before us an ideal, the highest of its kind in the world, but that there is nothing of any kind to be desired before it. To be good as Christ was good, here in very truth is the summum bonum of life, the greatest thing in the world, that which, before all other things, a man should seek to make his own, There are times, perhaps, in the lives of all of us when we are tempted to doubt it—times when the kingdoms of this world, the kingdoms of wealth and power and knowledge lie stretched at our feet, and the whispering fiend at our elbow bids us bow and enter in. But once again, if we be true men, the moment comes,
"When the spirit's true endowments Stand out plainly from its false ones,"
when the sacred, saving faith in righteousness returns, and we know that Christ was right, that for ever and for ever it is true that better than to be rich, or to be clever, or to be famous, is it to be true, to be pure, to be good.
Yes, goodness is the principal thing; therefore get goodness, and with all thy getting—at the price of all that thou hast gotten (such is the true meaning of the words)—get righteousness. Is this what we are doing? Goodness is the first thing; are we putting it first? Day by day are we saying to it, "Sit thou on my right hand," while we put all other things under our feet? "Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I remember thee not; if I prefer not thee above my chief joy"—is this the kind of honour that we are paying to it? "We make it our ambition," said St Paul, "to be well pleasing unto Him." Where this is the master ambition, all other lawful ambitions may be safely cherished and given their place. But if some lesser power rule, whose right it is not to reign over us, the end is chaos and night. "Seek ye first His righteousness;" we subvert Christ's order at our peril. And this righteousness must be sought. As men seek wealth, as men seek knowledge, as men seek power, so must we seek goodness. "Wherefore giving all diligence"—in no other way can the pearl of great price be secured; it does not lie by the roadside for any lounger to pick up. "With toil of heart and knees and hands," so only can the "path upward" and the prize be won. "Blessed," said Jesus, "are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness." Blessed, He meant, are they who long more than anything else to be good; for all such longing shall be abundantly satisfied. Exalt righteousness, and she shall promote thee; she shall bring thee to honour when thou dost embrace her. She shall give to thine head a chaplet of grace; a crown of beauty shall she deliver to thee.
It is fitting that a chapter on righteousness should follow one on sin, for this may find some to whom the other made no appeal. At a meeting of Christian workers held some years ago in Glasgow, the chairman invited the late Professor Henry Drummond, who was present, though his name was not on the programme, to say a few words. He accepted the invitation, but said he would do no more than state a fact and ask a question. The fact was this, that in recent revival movements, in which he had had large experience, there were few indications of that deep and overwhelming conviction of sin which had been so characteristic a feature of similar revivals in past days. And this was the question, Did it mean that the Holy Spirit was in any way modifying the method of His operation? What answer the wise men of the meeting gave to the Professor's question I do not know. But fact and question alike deserve to be carefully pondered. The Spirit, when He is come, Christ said, "will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." "Will convict the world of righteousness"—have we not sometimes forgotten this? Have we not put the full stop at "sin," as though the Holy Spirit's convicting work ended there? Nevertheless, there are many to-day whose religious life begins, not so much in a sense of their own sin and guilt and need, as rather in the consciousness of the glory and honour of Christ. It is what they find within themselves which brings some men to Christ; it is what they find in Him which brings others. Some are driven by the strong hands of stern necessity; some are wooed by the sweet constraint of the sinless Son of God. Some are crushed and broken and humbled to the dust, and their first cry is "God be merciful to me a sinner"; some when they hear the call of Christ leap up to greet Him with a new light in their eyes and the glad confession on their lips, "Lord I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest."
What, then, shall we say to these things? What but this, "There are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all." Travellers to the same country do not always journey by the same route; and for some of the heavenly pilgrims the Slough of Despond lies on the other side of the Wicket Gate. After all, it is of small moment what brings a man forth from the City of Destruction; enough if he have come out and if now his face is set toward the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
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"Who seeketh finds: what shall be his relief Who hath no power to seek, no heart to pray, No sense of God, but bears as best he may, A lonely incommunicable grief? What shall he do? One only thing he knows, That his life flits a frail uneasy spark In the great vast of universal dark, And that the grave may not be all repose. Be still, sad soul! lift thou no passionate cry, But spread the desert of thy being bare To the full searching of the All-seeing eye: Wait—and through dark misgiving, blank despair, God will come down in pity, and fill the dry Dead plain with light, and life, and vernal air." J.C. SHAIRP.
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"What man is there of you, who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone; or if he shall ask for a fish, will give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?"—MATT. vii. 9-11.
There has been in our day much painful disputation concerning prayer and the laws of nature. Whole volumes have been written to prove that it is possible, or that it is impossible, for God to answer prayer. I am not going to thresh out again this dry straw just now. Discussions of this kind have, undoubtedly, their place; indeed, whether we will or no, they are often forced upon us by the conditions of the hour; but they had no place in the teaching of Jesus, and I do not propose to say anything about them now. I wish rather, imitating as far as may be the gracious simplicity and directness of the argument of Jesus which we have just read, to gather up some of the practical suggestions touching this great matter which are strewn throughout the Gospels alike in the precepts and practice of our Lord.
First of all, then, let us get fixed in our minds the saying of Jesus that "men ought always to pray and not to faint." The very form of the saying suggests that Christ knew how easy it is for us to faint and grow weary in our prayers. Men cease from prayer on many grounds. Some there are in whom the questioning, doubting spirit has grown so strong that for a time it has silenced even the cry of the heart for God. Some there are who are so busy, they tell us, that they have no time for prayer; and after all, they ask, Is not honest work the highest kind of prayer? And some there are who have ceased to pray, because they have been disappointed, because nothing seemed to come of their prayers. They asked but they did not receive, they sought but they did not find, they knocked but no door was opened to them; there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded; and now they ask, they seek, they knock no more. And some of us there are who do not pray because, as one of the psalmists says, our soul "cleaveth unto the dust." The things of God, the things of the soul, the things of eternity—what Paul calls "the things that are above"—are of no concern to us; we have sold ourselves to work, to think, to live, for the things of the earth and the dust.
Nevertheless, be the cause of our prayerlessness what it may, Christ's word remains true. Man made in the image of God ought always to pray and not to faint. And even more than by His words does Christ by His example prompt us to prayer. Turn, e.g., to the third Gospel. All the Evangelists show us Jesus at prayer; but it is to Luke that we owe almost all our pictures of the kneeling Christ. Let us glance at them as they pass in quick succession before our eyes:
"Jesus having been baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened" (iii. 21).
"He withdrew Himself in the deserts, and prayed" (v. 16).
"It came to pass in these days, that He went out into the mountain to pray; and He continued all night in prayer to God". (vi. 12).
"It came to pass, as He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him" (ix. 18).
"It came to pass about eight days after these sayings, He took with Him Peter and John and James and went up into the mountain to pray. And as He was praying the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment became white and dazzling" (ix. 28, 29).
"It came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, that when He ceased, one of the disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples" (xi. 1).
"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not" (xxii. 32).
"And He kneeled down and prayed, saying, Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine be done.... And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground" (xxii. 41, 44).
"And Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (xxiii. 34).
And if thus He, the Redeemer, prayed, how much greater need have we, the redeemed, always to pray and not to faint?
"But we are so busy, we have no time." Then let us look at another picture. This time it is Mark who is the painter. He has chosen as his subject our Lord's first Sabbath in Capernaum. The day begins with teaching: "He entered into the synagogue and taught." After teaching comes healing: "There was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit;" him, straightway, Jesus healed. Then, "straightway, when they were come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever, and straightway they tell Him of her; and He came and took her by the hand, and raised her up." So the day wore on toward evening and sunset, when "they brought unto Him all that were sick, and them that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many that were sick with divers diseases and cast out many devils." So closed at last the long day's busy toil. "And in the morning, a great while before day, He rose up and went out and departed into a desert place, and there prayed;" as if just because He was so much with men the more did He need to be with God. Laborare est orare, we say, "work is prayer." And, undoubtedly, "work may be prayer"; but we are deceiving ourselves and hurting our own souls, if we think that work can take the place of prayer. And if there is one lesson that these earthly years of the Son of Man—busy as they were prayerful, prayerful as they were busy—can teach us, it is surely this, that just because our activities are so abounding, the more need have we to make a space around the soul wherein it may be able to think, and pray, and aspire.
One of the best-known pictures of the last half century is Millet's "Angelus." The scene is a potato-field, in the midst of which, and occupying the foreground of the picture, are two figures, a young man and a young woman. Against the distant sky-line is the steeple of a church. It is the evening hour, and as the bell rings which calls the villagers to worship, the workers in the field lay aside the implements of their toil, and with folded hands and bowed heads, stand for a moment in silent prayer. It is a picture of what every life should be, of what every life must be, which has taken as its pattern the Perfect Life in which work and prayer are blent like bells of sweet accord.
Another saying of Christ's concerning prayer, not less fundamental is this: "When ye pray, say, Our Father, which art in heaven." How essential to prayer is a right thought of God it can hardly be necessary to point out. "When ye pray say——" what? All depends on how we fill in the blank. Our thought of God determines the character of all our intercourse with Him. If "God" is only the name which we give to the vast, unknown Power which lies behind the visible phenomena of the universe, if He is only a dim shadow projected by our own minds, or a collection of attributes whose names we have learned from the Catechism, our prayers will soon come to an end. When Jesus prayed He said always "Father"; and the Father to whom He prayed, and whom He revealed, He it is to whom our prayers should be offered.
This is a matter the practical importance of which it would be hard to exaggerate. Think, e.g., of the questions concerning prayer which would be answered straightway, had we but made our own Christ's thought of God. We are all familiar with the little problems about prayer with which some good people are wont to tease themselves and their friends and their ministers: Is it right to pray for rain, for fine weather for the recovery of health, for the success of some temporal enterprize, and so forth? How shall we meet questions of this sort? Shall we draw a line and say, all things on this side of the line we may pray about, all things on that side of the line we may not pray about? This will not help us. Rather we must keep Christ's great word before us: "When ye pray, say, Father." There or nowhere is the answer to be found. Just as every wise father seeks to train his child to make of him his confidant, to have no secrets from him, to trust him utterly, and in everything, so would God have us feel towards Him; as free, as frank, as unfettered, should our fellowship with Him be. To put it under constraint, to fence it about with rules, would be to rob it of all that gives it worth, And, therefore, I cannot tell any man, and I do not want any man to tell me, what we may pray for, or what we may not pray for. "When ye pray, say, Father;" and for the rest let your own heart teach you. But if we are left thus free shall we not ask many things which we have no right to ask, which God cannot grant? Undoubtedly we shall, just as a boy of five will ask many things that his father, because he loves him, must refuse. Nevertheless, no wise father would wish to check the childish prattle. There is nothing that he values more than just these frank, uncalculating confidences, for he knows that it is by means of them that the shaping hands of love can do their perfect work. And the remedy for our mistakes in prayer is not a set of little man-made rules, telling us what to pray for and what not to pray for, but rather a deeper insight into, and a fuller understanding of, the glory and blessedness of the Divine Fatherhood.
Passing now from these preliminary counsels concerning prayer, let us note how great is the importance which, both by His precepts and His example, Christ attaches to the duty of intercessory prayer. I have been much struck of late in reading several books on this subject, to note how one writer after another judges it needful to warn his readers against the idea that prayer is no more than petition. What they say is, of course, true; prayer is much more than petition. But, unless I misread the signs of the times, this is not the warning which just now we most need to hear. Rather do we need to be told that prayer is more than communion, that petition, simple asking that we may obtain, is a part, and a very large part of prayer. "Who rises from prayer a better man," says George Meredith, "his prayer is answered." This is true, but it is far from being the whole truth. The duty of intercession, of prayer for others, is writ large on every page of the New Testament; but intercession has simply no meaning at all unless we believe that God will grant our requests as may be most expedient for us and for them for whom we pray. Let me illustrate the wealth of Christ's teaching on this matter by two or three examples.
(1) We have all read Tennyson's question—
"What are men better than sheep or goats That nourish a blind life within the brain, If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer Both for themselves and those who call them friends?"
For themselves and those who call them friends—but Christ will not suffer us to stop there. "Bless them that curse you," He said; "pray for them that despitefully use you." So He spoke, and on the Cross He made the great word luminous for ever by His own prayer for His murderers: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
(2) Christ prayed for His disciples and for His Church: "I pray for them ... neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on Me through their word." "I will pray the Father and He shall give you ——." Only once are the actual words recorded, but they cover, we are sure, great stretches of Christ's intercourse with God. And when once in their work for Him they had failed, He puts His finger on the secret of their failure thus: "This kind can come out by nothing save by prayer." Do we pray for our Church? We find fault with it; but do we pray for it? We blame its office—bearers and criticize its ministers; but do we pray for them? We go to the house of God on the Sabbath day; but no fire is burning on the altar, the minister has no message for us, we come away no whit better than we went. Whose is the blame? Let the man in the pulpit take his share; but is it all his? Must not some of it be laid at the door of his people? How many of them during the week had prayed for him, that his eyes might be opened and his heart touched, that as he sat and worked in his study he might get from God to give to them? Dr. Dale used to say that if ever he preached a good sermon, a sermon that really helped men, it was due to the prayers of his people as much as to anything he had done himself. If in all our churches we would but proclaim a truce to our bickerings and fault-findings, and try what prayer can do!
(3) Christ prayed for the children: "Then were there brought unto Him little children that He should lay His hands on them, and pray.... And He took them in His arms, and blessed them, laying His hands upon them." It is surely needless to dwell on this. What man is there who, if he have a child, will not speak to God in his behalf? "And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God that we die not.... And Samuel said unto the people, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you." God have mercy on him who has little children who bear his name, but who never cries to heaven in their behalf! "He blessed them," i.e. He invoked a blessing, God's blessing, upon them. And we are sure the prayer was heard, and the little ones were blessed. And will not God hear our prayers for our children? When Monica, the saintly mother of Augustine, besought an African bishop once and again to help her with her wilful, profligate son, the good man answered her, "Woman, go in peace; it cannot be that the child of such tears should be lost." "God's seed," wrote Samuel Rutherford to Marion M'Naught about her daughter Grizel, "shall come to God's harvest." It shall, for the promise holds, and what we have sown we shall also reap.
(4) And, lastly, Christ prayed for individuals: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you,—all of you," that is; the pronoun is plural— "that he might sift you as wheat; but I made supplication for thee"— "thee, Peter"; now the singular pronoun is used—"that thy faith fail not." The words point to a definite crisis in the experience of Peter, when the onset of the Tempter was met by the intercession of the Saviour. To me Gethsemane itself is not more wonderful than this picture of Christ on His knees before God, naming His loved disciple by name, and praying that, in this supreme hour of his life, his faith should not utterly break down. "Making mention of thee in my prayers"—does this not bring us near to the secret of prevailing prayer? We are afraid to be individual and particular; we lose ourselves in large generalities, until our prayers die of very vagueness. There is surely a more excellent way. "My God," Paul wrote to the Philippians, "shall fulfil"—not merely "all your need," as the Authorized Version has it, but—"every need of yours." There is a fine discrimination in the Divine love which sifts and sorts men's needs, and applies itself to them one by one, just as the need may be. And when in prayer we speak to God, let it be not only of "all our need," flung in one great, careless heap before Him, but of "every need of ours," each one named by its name, and all spread out in order before Him.