GOD'S CONTROVERSY WITH MAN. REV. CHARLES PREST.
"Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel; and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel."—AMOS iv. 12.
This chapter refers to the condition of Israel at the time of this prophecy, and to the expostulation and threatened procedure of God concerning the nation. God's people had revolted from Him; they had sunk into idolatry; they had been often reproved, but had hardened their necks, and therefore the Lord, after recapitulating the calamities which had befallen them, and which all came in the way of fatherly chastisements for their recovery to righteousness, and indicating that his anger was not turned away, says, "and because I will do this unto thee"—and because having done this repentance does not appear, then prepare to meet me. That is, meet me in battle. If you will not submit, then let the battle be fought; if you will not bow down to these kind modes of discipline—kindly intentioned, however terrible in execution, then prepare to meet me. This expostulation proceeds upon a very intelligible principle—a principle, however, which we sometimes sadly forget, and which we are too much in the habit of neglecting—on the principle that man is an accountable creature; and secondly, that God will call him to account for his conduct.
God has a controversy with man, with us—a controversy with us because of our sin, our sin being an outrage against the divine love; a controversy with us because He is right and we are wrong; because He designs the welfare of all, and the sin that we love is productive of universal destruction; a controversy with sinners that can only be terminated in one of two ways—a controversy with every unconverted person here to-day. Do not deceive yourselves: if you are strangers to the life of God, you are in opposition to Him, and with you as sinners there is a controversy only to be terminated—first, by your submission, your repentance—and, thank God, He has prepared a perfect and suitable method for our submission, and for our repentance. If He has a controversy with us, He wills it to be terminated in such a mode as shall secure the original purpose of his great love, which our sin has outraged. Christ has appeared in our behalf, and for this purpose has offered a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for our sins. For this purpose the Divine Spirit waits in all our assemblies, and now in this place, that any of you who are now enemies to Him by wicked works, being pricked in your hearts on account of your sins, and groaning under your condemnation, may fly for refuge to the hope set before you in Christ Jesus our Lord. So God would have this controversy terminated. So He invites you in his great mercy to terminate it. And for this purpose we are ministers of reconciliation, and "we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."
There is but one other way of terminating this controversy, and that is by our destruction. If we will abide in our controversy, if we will wage the battle to the end, this destruction must ensue, here is no method else—no escape any where between the one extreme and the other; it is submission and life, it is battle and death—death eternal. O that death eternal! What is it? Not the annihilation of your souls. What is the death of a soul? The loss of the life of God—the loss of communion with God. The soul is made for such a communion: this is its true life; it has no satisfaction apart from this enjoyment. There cannot be communion without love; that is the soul of communion; and if you renounce the reign of love, and come under the dominion of enmity, you cut yourselves off from the life of God, you die, and must endure the bitter pains of eternal death. I pray God that you may terminate this controversy, and thank God that you may do so, by the submission of your hearts to his merciful provision of salvation, that so you may live in hallowed Christian blessedness here, and inherit perfect fellowship and communion with God hereafter.
We should humble ourselves in the presence of that great calamity which has fallen upon our flocks and upon our herds. I think it is well in times of public calamity that public attention should be called to these things; and our attention has been called thereto—not, it is true, by the governing authorities of the country. No matter for that. It is right that we should listen to the admonition that we have received in our own denomination, and do all we can rightly to humble ourselves, and above all, earnestly to pray to God that He would take away the evil from us, and that, in taking away the evil, He would render us the less liable to promote the dire necessity of future visitation. Let me then call your attention to some general principles connected with God's dealings with the nations.
There is a national as well as an individual providence. In the ancient government of God over the nations of the earth, in his dealings with his own people and with the heathen peoples about them, his hand was clearly discerned on many occasions, and his arm sometimes made bare. There were the predictions of certain events to come, and there was the recognised accomplishment of those predictions sometime afterwards. Then, again, you find miraculous interpositions of correction, of punishment, or of deliverance. If you turn your attention to the history of God's Church, you find all these things manifest; you find Israel in Egypt; then the command that they should be allowed to pass away from their bondage; you find Egypt resisting the command, and God sent among the people of Egypt signs and wonders, and plagues by the hand of Moses, but they submitted not. He called them to obedience, but they rebelled. By and bye, He slew their firstborn, the chief of all their strength, and then the people came out with silver and with gold. Nations are not simply chastised in this world, they are also punished. Every one of us shall give an account of himself to God at the last great day, and strictly speaking, the punishment of separate individuals will not begin in this life; but nations cannot be judged collectively hereafter; they are dealt with here; and God's dealings with the nations stand out in his palpable acts with these Egyptians. They saw the hand of God for a time, but they fell back into their ancient rebellion and pursued the Israelites to the Red Sea, and God made that sea a way for his ransomed and destroyed the pursuing host. Go through the entire history of God's ancient people. You find the Assyrians round about Jerusalem, you see the angel of God going forth, and that mighty host is destroyed. Go through all the dealings of God with heathen nations, and you find these physical manifestations of God's power. In our day there are no such manifestations as these. In modern times the events of the divine government are not so authoritatively predicted, and the exceedingly foolish attempts of some people to interpret prophecy and to apply it arbitrarily to passing events cannot be too severely condemned. They tend greatly to prejudice the proper interpretation of Scriptural prophecy before the world, and deserve severe reprehension, and should be altogether discountenanced by all men of sound mind. In our day we have not these authoritative predictions of events. But amid all this there is a tendency to ignore the action of God in the government of the world altogether. Instead of recognising his presence or acknowledging his power, the varied events—political, social, and otherwise—events like the one to which I have just referred, affecting the nation, are denied their true character; and the view that I have ventured to place before you in many places would be treated with ridicule. Men say, when they look at political events, that they are to be traced to the conclusions of well-directed political economy, or to the failure of the application of sound principles of government. I know very well that if the pestilence comes there are men who trace it to no higher than physical causes. I know very well that if great calamities happen in storm or tempest the physical cause is alone recognised. And with reference to the scourge of our cattle clever men look, as they ought, after the physical causes. They look, as I think they are bound, to the development of the evil influences leading to such a result. But if men now-a-days are Christian enough to recognise God in the parliament of this country there is no great response, unless it be a response of ill-concealed scorn; and even among people who profess more of Christianity there is a danger of leaving the stern, enlightened, and faithful recognition of God which distinguished our fathers, and of looking, in some fancied superiority of our intellect—which is but a fancy; for there were wise men before us—for explanation in something, in anything oft-times, rather than the recognition of God's power.
Remember this, however, brethren, that the principles of God's government in our day are the same which have inhered in that government in all ages—that, however human circumstances may differ, however the nations of this world may alter, however the powers of men may vary time after time, God's government is an immutable thing; it changes not. The perfect idea of a human government is this—I do not say it is realised—to have certain fixed principles that are to abide, and then in the application of those principles to find an elasticity which shall meet every conceivable alteration of circumstances about us. That is the idea of a perfect human government; but human governments do not attain to it. The government of God, however, is perfect. The great principle is love—"God is love;" its great end, the welfare of man; the purpose of that government, the spread of Christianity for the welfare of mankind.
There is no expediency in this government, as men understand it. The governments of this world are too much founded upon expediency—the government of this country for the last sixty or seventy years lamentably founded upon it. There was a time when there was less of it here, but the disciples of expediency increase, and it is now rather "What is convenient?" than "What is right?" There is an expediency taught in the Bible, but it is nothing more than the best way of doing the right thing. It never truckles. The government of God knows nothing of our human expedients; it knows a great deal of Divine arrangements, and God as truly governs as though in his government of the nations He should work signs and wonders and divers miracles daily.
God has spoken in the history of our own country. Look at some of the startling events of the last two hundred years. You look at the act of our noble, intelligent, never-to-be-sufficiently-admired, firm old English ancestors, in driving James the Second from his throne, and working out the glorious Revolution of 1688. Well, if you look at all this politically, you speak of their wisdom, their fortitude, and their indomitable spirit; you speak too of storm and tempest all working in their favour. Aye, aye, but the hand of God was there, as much in sending away that unworthy King as God's hand was in sending Nebuchadnezzar to feed among the oxen. God's hand may not appear in our modern times as in former days, but faith sees that hand in the common affairs of mankind. But because we do not see the operation, because the operation is not palpable to men's senses, the agency of God is forgotten. Depend upon it, it is a great mistake to imagine that if we could see, now and then, some great miracle wrought, we should get into the habit of recognising the power and wisdom of God. The Israelites were fed in the desert by miracle, and rebelled against God whilst they ate the food miraculously given to them. The wonder—the perfection of the Divine operation is this, that without disturbing in our little individual history any of the common affairs which arise in every-day life, without working any miracle at all, and whilst to the eyes of men all things continue as they were from the beginning, whilst there is nothing observable in the method, He works all things together for the good of them that love Him, combining opposing forces and blending together the elements of life and of death in one grand atmosphere of benediction for the welfare of the righteous, and all this without disturbing the ordinary course of cause and effect. The power of God impresses itself not merely through the lower links of the chain of providence—cause and effect, but upon the higher part of that chain which sends down its influence, its intelligence, its all-wise benevolence, to work out the welfare of those that are the objects of his love.
So it is with nations. You will see public events rising up in connection with ordinary causes, but we ought to acknowledge the great First-cause. The principles of divine government which operated in the old time are now as surely in operation as they were then. They are not antiquated: they are not at all supplanted; they operate in the same way, to the same ends; they operate to national and personal benefit, to national and personal reproof, or, in the neglect of such admonition, to national and personal punishment, showing us that God's government is now the government which it was in the ancient days, and that though we see no miracles in our day God is as much in the midst of unthinking multitudes as when men were startled by the visible interposition of his Almighty power.
Let us look, then, at the state of things about us now. Is there not sufficient cause in this land to lead us to humble ourselves, to improve the admonition of our God; that we should prepare to meet Him, in the only way in which we can meet Him to our profit, by our personal submission to a greater extent; and if we love our country, that we should put ourselves into a position to bring the nation out of any state of rebellion against God, to lead it back to a more perfect reconciliation with Him? What evils have we now to deplore? Why, a great number. It is a blessed land after all; and there is more of Christianity found in it than in any other in the world. There is doubtless more of the direct influence of Christianity in our population than you will find elsewhere, and certainly more of the indirect influence upon the constitution of the nation, upon our legislation, upon our national—aye, and upon our domestic habits. There is a large amount of the indirect influence of Christianity in our midst, for which we have cause to be thankful. But then, on the other hand, how much is there of evil? There is great evil in our midst. There is first, what really our fathers had not so much to do with—there is the presence and power of a subtle, of a most ably-wrought and powerfully-patronised Popery, about which we have been asleep for too long a time, Popery, which is inimical to the welfare of any nation, and inconsistent with the political happiness, prosperity and security of any people. You have not far to go for the proof of this. You have only to go to the present miserable condition of Ireland to prove it. It is all very well for disclaimers to arise from the men who created the disloyal element of this mischief, but they must esteem the Protestants of this country more credulous than I hope they will prove if they expect them to believe their present protestations. What else have you? You have the presence of this Popery also where Protestantism alone ought to be known. You have it dishonestly intruded into the temples of Christian truth; and you have the pernicious nonsense of miserable and disgraceful antics obtruded into what men call divine worship, utterly beneath the dignity of sensible men. You have another thing. You have infidelity, and in the pulpit too—the pulpit in high places—infidelity in its worst form. You have all this, and no power, and very little inclination exists to correct it. You have all this, and multitudes love to have it so. That is one form of evil, leading to many other forms, and causing all thoughtful men to deplore the condition of churches cursed with a schism like this, with a false doctrine and heresy so utterly opposed to the truth and to the salvation of men. Well, then, look, at the profanity of the people around us. Look at the ungodliness of decent people. I am not here to-day to call your attention simply, as people sometimes do, to the lowest classes of society. They are bad enough. They are a festering mass at the foundation of all the greatness of the nation; they are a mass which, if not corrected in their tendencies, may at any time be quickened into an activity that will utterly wreck the entire superstructure of all that as Christians and as Englishmen we hold dear. But higher up, where there is no profaneness or criminality, or gross and disgusting visible intemperance, what other evils are there? There is decency, but there is an absence of the recognition of God. God is not in men's thoughts. And there is a fearful and fatal indifference as to the claims of religion that has come over the nations. Multitudes neglect public worship. I apprehend the least evidence that anybody can give of religious impression, or of recognition of the claims of religion, is that they should attend the public worship of Almighty God. You find, however, hundreds of thousands in this nation who never attend divine service. If our churches and chapels in London were to be attended next Sunday by the usual number of persons, and those besides who ought to attend were disposed to try to gain admission at any one time during the day, we have not half churches and chapels enough to hold them; whilst, as it is, the room provided is not occupied. This indifference is a fearful thing. Paul yearned over his countrymen, but in some respects our countrymen are worse than Paul's. "I could wish," said that glorious, patriotic man—that grand old man, that most blessed and chief of all the Apostles, with heaven in his view, his career well-nigh ended, his work done, and Churches rising up around him of which he was the father—not churches built upon other men's foundations—"I could wish myself accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Yet "I bear them record, that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." In England, at this day, there are multitudes of whom it may be said, "God is not in all their thoughts." And the heathenism spread about us is as bad in its developments as in any other part of the world, and more aggravated in its character because of its immediate proximity with the light and truth of our blessed Christianity. There is in this land, too, an absorbing of men in worldliness: this, perhaps, comes nearer to us. In my time I have seen worldliness not only enthralling obviously and professedly worldly men. I have seen worldliness come into the Church—aye, among Methodists. How many young men have I seen, earnest, zealous, devoted, doing just that work for God which must be done by young men if the population of this land is to be won to Christ—they enter into business-life, by-and-bye God prospers their industry, and they begin to thrive in the world; and what then? Oh, then this fervour abates—they get immersed in earthly things. We lose their activities in the Church; the ungodly part of the world lose the influence of a blessed example and of their Christian teaching. They are too busy to attend to the service of God at all on the week days, they say to their ministers: "We will find the money if you will send men to do the work among these poor people." Find money to do it! So they ought: but do they think they place the Church under obligation by doing that? Not a whit. They ought to be thankful to the Church, and to the God of the Church, that He will have their money, that God permits them gratefully to recognise in this way their stewardship; but I say to every such person, if you think you can purchase exemption from personal devotion to God, and from such devotion as shall lead you to spread the truth by your personal labour, to the utmost extent of your ability, you are greatly mistaken. We can have no such compositions of God's claim; you must not dream of them. There is a feebleness, therefore, of the Church; oft-times arising from this cause, a feebleness we must seek to cure, as it only can be cured, by an increase of our own personal godliness.
But how do we stand just now? God has sometimes admonished this nation for its ungodliness. I do not speak of the nation now as profane or criminal. Take the best view of it. And I remember that a great theologian has said, the true view of man's depravity is not that every man is profane or intemperate or mischievous—the great proof of the universal depravity of man is found in man's ungodliness—in his not recognising the claims of God, and not bowing to his love. We have had admonition after admonition, within our own lives, most of us. Not long since God sent a pestilence into our midst—on two remarkable occasions. Well do I remember the state of the people where I was labouring in one of the large towns of this country, with between three and four hundred deaths, from cholera, occurring every week. The people were alarmed. There was a national day of humiliation and prayer; our places of worship were crowded. The people were alarmed, but they were not permanently impressed. God heard prayer; yes, he delights to hear prayer. God answered it; he delights to answer it. The evil passed away; the concern passed with it; and I shall never forget the contrast between the congregations on the day of humiliation, and when they were summoned to thank God for the removal of the scourge. "Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?"
It is only four years ago that another check came upon the nation—that one of our great branches of national industry became suddenly paralysed; and what mercy was there in that! There was the good hand of God in the administration of that chastisement, in the conduct of the people under such calamities, and in the absence of mischievous, designing men from among them. I have known the time when that population would have been inflamed by a calamity of far less consequence to acts of the greatest violence. God's hand was there. He chastised the nation; but He guided the chastisement. And now again, another evil has come upon us—a greater evil, perhaps, than people imagined at first—this plague among our herds. There will be great loss to individuals, and no doubt there will be great loss to all; for it is impossible for so much wealth or money's worth to be destroyed in any nation without all the people in the nation feeling it more or less. I think it right, therefore, that we have been called to recognise the hand of God therein—to look through all external causes to his hand. It is a very dangerous thing, a thing I have never done in my life, and never would do, to talk about the providence of God in its punitive power, to talk about retribution in the application of God's providence in individual cases. It is very unwise to do that, and sometimes it may be most uncharitable. It is different, however, in God's dealings with a nation. We are admonished, or punished, by a great national calamity that has stirred all classes of men each in their own way, and has raised all their activities in order to see if evils of this kind may not be checked in their operation. This evil is present with us. And then, as to other evils that may arise. If you look abroad into the world, to the relations of this country to other nations, you have peace just now; but he would be a bold man who should predict the continuation of this peace for any length of time. No, your statesmen cannot keep the peace of nations; and the folly of our boasting about the peace-working power of our commercial relations has already be seen. We cannot give peace to the world. Who can tell how soon the calamity of war may afflict this country? Not I trust on its shores; but what is this land that it has any right to expect a perpetual immunity from the horrors of war in her midst? Do not say these things will pass away. Do not say these things are remote. They may quickly overtake us, and we should be careful that we do not provoke our God to hasten any of his judgments or to aggravate present ones. If you are delivered from calamity—if this great national calamity, for such it is, has not touched you, or at least not so touched you as to inconvenience you at all, remember to give sympathy to those that are suffering from it; and let thankfulness for your present mercies manifest itself in that godly amendment of life which shall prove your best contribution to the future safety and the prosperity of the nation. If we neglect this we place ourselves in opposition to God's government, and are in danger, by our opposition, of being told to prepare to meet God in conflict. Individual sinners do so who refuse repentance; nations do so that will not submit to God. You that are living without God, pray what prospect have you, what prospect of victory? The potsherd of the earth may strive with the potsherd, but woe to the man that strives with his Maker. The God whom you are called upon to meet is the "God that formeth the mountains, that createth the wind, that declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name."
Let the ungodliness of this land increase—and it will increase if we neglect the manifestation of godliness in opposition to it—and what then? There will be the culmination of national sin, and there will be the enactments of Parliament against the law of God, as on a former memorable occasion in France; let it come to that, and let a crisis arise; and though your statesmen should be the most sagacious, and have all the ability which has ever distinguished the foremost men of the Government of this land; let your Parliament be intelligent and patriotic; let your sons be as brave on flood or field as their fathers; let your commerce be ever so flourishing, your arts ever so perfect, your literature ever so exalted—none of these things would save the nation—none of these things would be an effectual shield against calamity; and upon the wreck of this grand old realm—wrecked by its ungodliness, made rotten at its base by sin—upon the wreck of this nation which, had it been godly, would have borne the shock of all the earth, and dashed it back like foam—on the wreck of Britain shall be written, "The nation, the kingdom, that will not serve thee shall perish." That inscription has been often written upon empires as magnificent, as powerful, and as illustrious as this.
What, then, is our duty? What have we to do with this? We who are gathered together in this chapel may say, can we arrest the course of the nation? Can we turn back the floods of ungodliness? Can we go out and produce an influence that may avert these calamities? I do not say that you alone can do this; but I do say, that you are bound to contribute your utmost to the check of these evils, with as perfect a heart, and with as earnest a purpose, and as free a will, as though your hand could dash back the evil and rescue the nation from its danger.
Our immediate duty is repentance. That is the duty of the nation. But the word nation is a comprehensive one; we lose ourselves in it. We may do as we are in danger of doing with the word Church, lose sight of our own individual responsibility in confused ideas of what the Church collectively is to do. God cannot yield in this conflict; his righteousness forbids this. The nation must yield and become obedient, or the result indicated must follow. If then the nation is to repent, where is that repentance to begin? Why in this place to-day, so far as we are concerned. In whose hearts must this repentance commence? Why in the hearts of every one of you unconverted persons, that are rather contributing to the ungodliness of the country than to the increase of its spiritual power. You may not be drunkards, you may not be profligate; but if you are living without the recognition of God's love and the enjoyment of his favour, you are ungodly; and your first duty is to repent. There is no salvation without this repentance, let some modern preachers say what they will. The Master of all preachers sent the Apostles forth, and they preached everywhere that men should repent. There is a fashionable preaching, I am told, that has no repentance in it. So much the worse for the people that listen to such error. There is no merit in repentance; the only meritorious cause of your salvation is the blood-shedding and the present and perfect atonement of Christ. But "the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ." The old Puritans were right who said, that the soundest conversions were those with which the law had most to do. Mount Sinai exhibited proofs of God's love, and Christ, who died for us on Calvary, is the author and enforcer of the whole law. There must be the bowing down of your souls to the claims of the law, the struggle for amendment, the renunciation of sin, the recognition of your own hopelessness, and the cry, "What must I do to be saved?" "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Then comes Christ, and peace, and joy; a participation in the divine nature; and a power to contribute practically to the repentance of the nation. This is your duty.
You Christian people, too, are called upon to repent. Depend upon it as we go through life an act of repentance, once for all, will not do: we shall need repentance daily. When a man is admitted to the favour of God it is that his mouth should be stopped, it is that he should entertain penitential feeling as long as he lives—not the penitence of guilt, but the penitence of gratitude. The recollection, I am a sinner, will inspire and maintain such penitence; and a blessed end that man will make, who in the full meaning of the words, pours out the prayer at the last, "God be merciful to me a sinner." We need repentance—we all need it. Let us turn our attention to ourselves, and ascertain how much we have contributed to the existing evils of the nation. How much have we contributed to the present state of things which in the judgment of sober Christian concern may be held to have provoked the anger of God? We may have contributed to these evils, and I dare say we have, in two ways: first, by neglect of duty. There are sinners about you, you need not go far to find them—perhaps there are some ungodly people in your own houses. What have you ever done to make them godly? What effort have you made, what kind of an example have you set them in your words, in your tempers, in your spiritual aspirations? Now tell yourselves honestly. You have been living with them up to this day, living with them during this day. What have you said to them? Do your conduct and your words condemn their sin, and invite them to reconciliation with God? What does conscience say to this? What does the recollection of the past few hours say to this? There are wicked people about you: some of you have leisure; what have you done for your ungodly neighbours? What poor man's house have you visited? What wretched sinner have you talked to? You have passed along the streets, and have seen sin abounding; have you ever tried to check it? Have you ever thought it worth while to follow some half dozen people deeply immersed in sin, and by patient, earnest, godly admonitions, counsels, and entreaties, have you sought the salvation of their souls? Have you done this? "Oh!" you busy men say, "we have not time." I know better; you must not tell practical men that; they know that all of us waste a great deal more time than we want for such a purpose. It is not a question of time at all, but a question of inclination. Have we done so? Are evils abating by our instrumentality? Do not say, "I could do very little." Do what you can! "If I could move a multitude I would do it." No, that will not do. You good women, are you doing all the good you can in your families? Do you mothers give yourselves to the right training of your children? Fathers, are you practically anxious for the spiritual good of your families? Do you help your wives to bring up a godly family, which shall prove a blessing to the nation; and not such an one as Dr. Paley says, as shall turn out wild beasts upon society. You have little ability; well, if you have not ten talents, do not bury the one talent. Paul did one thing, and that was the secret of all his greatness—he did his duty. Do you do yours? There was a simplicity of purpose about him, an earnestness of endeavour, a thoroughness in the doing of it that made him what he was, the greatest of all apostles and the greatest man that the Christian Church has known. Take that simple rule, you young people; strive to spread the influence of a godly example among all about you: do what you can, in a way consistent with your position in life, and in a way consistent altogether with modesty, humility, and a deep devotion to God, and you will not labour in vain. We are guilty of sins of omission, and we need repentance.
But how have we contributed to the evils of the nation by our activities? Some of you were converted, perhaps, when you had lived to be twenty years of age, some of you thirty or forty, some perhaps were older; what kind of lives had you led before that time? How many of your former companions did you injure by a godless example? perhaps by foolish words, perhaps by ungodly actions. God has rescued you; where are they? What has become of the seed you then planted in their minds? If God drew out the roots of vice by his grace from your hearts, the influence of this evil remains elsewhere. What mischief is often done by men prior to their conversion in their families! When you see there is so much wickedness in the land, then say, "What have I done to increase it?" And I think we shall all find great need to repent; great need to set an example of repentance to all about us.
The first thing, then, is this deep humiliation of heart that shall bring us all to bow before God, and cause us to join in the prayer, "Enter not into judgment with thy servants, O God, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." But, then, you Christian professors must bestir yourselves. This repentance must not be a passing emotion, not a temporary influence, however powerful; but there must be a correspondent continued effort to promote it amongst your families and neighbours, and to the utmost extent of your power in the world; engaging meanwhile in earnest prayer; and then consecrating yourselves more fully to this work under the influence of two things, a deep sense of personal responsibility and of the constraint of divine love. Submit, then, to this will of God. Know the rod, and Him that hath appointed it. If the multitudes about you do not know it you know it. If God be not recognised, let it be yours to recognise Him amid the surrounding worldliness, and depend upon it your purity of heart shall increase, and you will see God in all things, in all calamities, and in all joys. It is a strange thing that nations and individuals see God more readily in trouble than they do in their joys. Amid the immunities from ill which Christian people often enjoy how little they think of God. Trouble comes, calamity comes, and we owe the quickening of our religious feelings, strangely enough, more to our fears than we to our gratitude. And it will be well if we are so quickened by present calamity.
Thus let us prepare ourselves to promote that condition of feeling in the nation which shall lead us to meet God not in conflict but in the way of his judgments, to bow to his rule, to abate our ungodliness, and to become as a nation wise and understanding.
One remark as to the popular interpretation of the text. You will have to meet God speedily in your death. You should prepare to meet Him, for you cannot resist; you cannot flee from Him. Let us prepare to meet Him by embracing the mercy which He offers, receiving the love which He communicates to us, and devoting the rest of our lives to his service and glory. You are called upon, then, and I think for these reasons properly called upon, to contribute to and to promote the humiliation of the nation. Whatever other people do, humble yourselves before God. And let not the impression be a temporary one, but in the future seek that practical love which constitutes the repentance necessary to the nation, and necessary to you that you may prompt the repentance and reformation of those about you, and which can alone save the land of our fathers from calamity and make her more fully what she ought to be, "a praise in the earth." Amen!
THE PROPHETIC THEME. REV. GERVASE SMITH.
"Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow."—1 PETER i. 10, 11.
There is a peculiar interest attaching to the writer of this epistle. Although it was probably in old age, when a large experience of labour and sorrow had chastened his spirit, and in prospect of martyrdom, that he composed these chapters, they bear unmistakable proofs of his own vigour of thought, and suggest many reminiscences of his remarkable life. Whether you regard him as a man, a Christian, or an apostle, he presents an illustrious subject for the student of these modern times. His history puts before us many and serious defects; but there is much more to approve and admire: and while a feeling or sorrow lingers over the one, the other is so marked and prominent that it secures your sympathy, and you are drawn towards the man with an ineffable affection. There is a candour, and honesty, and generosity, and heroism, which gives to his character a most healthy tone. The qualities of his mind and heart, when sanctified by grace, become really noble; and if it were right, you would like to forget his failings in presence of so much that is both manly and good.
His two epistles are a precious legacy to the Church. The first is addressed to the "scattered strangers:" but whether this expression refer to Jews, or converted Gentiles, or both, or to the "dispersed" of the ten tribes, there is no satisfactory evidence. We are in similar doubt as to the place from which it was written. The Church at Babylon is named in the last chapter; but there was a Babylon in Egypt, and another in Assyria, and Rome itself is thus figuratively designated.
The style of the apostle's writing is just what you would expect from the man himself. Vehemence, majesty, and, at the same time, ease and freedom, are manifest in every page.
The chief design of this epistle is to administer comfort to those already suffering; and to prepare others for the affliction they were about to endure. The first chapter adduces several considerations to uphold their constancy. One is that they are the chosen of God; "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied." Then, as the elect of God, they had a good hope of heaven. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time." A third consideration is, that though in the midst of trial, their Saviour was with them, and the end of their faith was sure. "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls." And, finally, they were to remember that this subject of their salvation had been matter of earnest enquiry among the prophets, whose labours are now made to contribute to their comfort. "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow."
I.—THE STUDENT, AND II.—HIS THEME.
I. "The prophets have enquired and searched diligently."
The term "prophet" is most properly applied to one who is divinely instructed as to future events, and divinely inspired to make them known. In an accommodated sense it is given to the apostles and public teachers of the primitive Church. And now it is conventionally used to denote a somewhat less honourable class. "The prophets of our day" are many. From the positive style they have adopted, you would suppose that the gift of prescience had come upon them in a far more absolute form than upon the prophets of old. With more dogmatism and less authority do they pronounce upon "the times and seasons." Though failure on failure happens, this seems rather to nerve their confidence; and every successive mistake is followed by another guess with increased assurance.
1. Who are the prophets referred to in the text? They are the men to whom the term is strictly applicable. We do not forget such names as Moses and Samuel, and Elijah and Elisha, and others; but their prophecies are not given with the formality of those distinct books to which perhaps St. Peter refers. In point of time Jonah comes just with his message of woe to the city of Nineveh. Amos the herdman and Hosea his contemporary follow. Then Joel with his thunder, and Isaiah with his evangelism; Micah with his earnestness; Nahum with his sublimity; and Zephaniah with his severity, take their place in about equal succession. Jeremiah then appears with all his weightiness of matter and solemnity of manner. Habakkuk in briefer form takes up the same subjects. Daniel with great grandeur of style dwells on the topics of the text. Obadiah stands between him and Ezekiel as though to make them both more prominent. At a later period come Haggai and Zechariah; and then Malachi closes the illustrious train, taking the last pen from the wing of inspiration, or putting the signet upon the scroll of prophecy. Some of these may be especially referred to; but we include them all: for "to Him give all the prophets witness; that in his name whosoever believeth in Him shall have forgiveness of sins."
(i.) They were men; not angels, or belonging to some order of being superior to ourselves; but they were members with us of the same human family, and "subject to like passions as we are." They were sinners: born with the old taint of corruption; subject to hereditary guilt, depravity, and death, and exposed to all the evils to which flesh is heir. They were redeemed sinners, included in that same covenant of mercy of which we make our boast. They were therefore personally interested in those truths which became the subject of their search.
The original promise belonged to them as well as to us. They claimed an interest in the leading facts of patriarchal history, and in the gorgeous ceremonial of the Mosaic Institute. All the events of divine providence which were preparing the way for the Messiah's coming, and the predictions which they themselves uttered, had some personal bearing. They were not uninterested students of past history, of present circumstances, or of future events. Their own destinies were involved in the truths they taught.
(ii.) They were good men. That the Divine Being has sometimes made "false prophets" means of carrying out his purposes there can be no doubt. But he is a daring man who would venture from this either to justify or extenuate an impure ministry. Sanctuary services are too pure and solemn to be performed by any but "clean hands." The instruments which God ordains are holy. With a miserable exception here and there, even the enemies of truth have not denied to the ancient prophets the crown of a good character. Try them by any recognised standard of virtue, and they will not be found wanting. Trace the minutest circumstances of their private life; their self denial; their exposure to danger; their fearlessness in denouncing sin; their being proof against corruption; their zeal; their sympathy; their benevolence—and they present a startling contrast with the priests of Paganism, or the false prophets among the Jews.
Call to mind the meekness of Moses; the heroism of Elijah; the gratitude of David; the sweetness of Hosea; the fervour of Isaiah; the tenderness of Jeremiah; the constancy of Daniel; the faithfulness of Ezekiel—and you unhesitatingly endorse the inspired oracle, that they were "holy men." And although some of the prophets are remarkable for particular features of character, they are not wanting in all the others which are requisite to constitute goodness.
But what a magnificent portrait could you present to the mind as you review the whole! The characteristics of these different men meet and blend in the photograph; and you look upon a being—human it is true, but sanctified by grace, and fitted to exercise "a more telling influence upon the destines of the world," than the mightiest statesman, or the profoundest philosopher, or the noblest warrior of which history can boast. Like the hues of the rainbow, which in all their softness and sweetness and sublimity, rejoice to span the heavens together, and make up one token of the covenant, do the prophets stand before us as one class of men, unfolding the covenant of mercy, and offering light and life to a dying and dark world.
(iii.) They were inspired good men. And here is suggested one of the most formidable dangers of the present day. An attempt is being made to dry up the most fruitful source of confidence which the Christian has in the truth of his Bible:—viz., its plenary inspiration. We know that this is not new; but the lover of "the Book" had charmed himself with the hope that the controversy was over, and the truth triumphant. He is now, however, alarmed on finding that in addition to the old adversaries—the infidel, the sceptic, and the profane—he has to enter the lists with new combatants altogether; and among the rest, the descendants of those glorious Reformers, who, centuries ago, shook the papal power to its centre; melted the Bible's chain in the martyr's flame; and liberated the mind of a continent from the most crushing spiritual despotism the world ever knew. It is a distressing sound to hear those academic halls, which have been the greatness and the pride of Germany, resounding with pernicious error, not to say, positive blasphemy. Looking at the subject in the light of heaven we gratefully and confidently say that "the word of the Lord endureth for ever;" but humanly speaking, the Bible is in danger. And we must be prepared to meet it with a zeal, "such as in the martyr's glowed, dying champions for their God." The plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, and therefore of the prophets—is our impregnable stronghold, and must never be abandoned. The apostle says, when referring to the Old Testament—"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." And by this inspiration we do not merely mean that some general ideas were poured into their minds, which they clothed in their own language, and then published them to the world as a revelation from heaven. If the Bible be inspired at all, it is fully inspired. Otherwise, you cannot tell where to make the distinction between what is divine and what is human. You must either maintain the truth of the whole book, or abandon your conviction of its supreme authority. We adopt the statement that the prophets "composed their works under so plenary and immediate an influence of the Holy Spirit that God may be said to speak by them to man, and not merely that they spoke to men in the name of God, and by his authority." Mark the wide distinction which is here suggested. Take the case of an earnest and trustworthy minister. He tells his congregation that he is anxious to give them the truth; and has been to God in his closet asking for light. In answer to prayer he believes that the Holy Spirit has given him light; and, confident that it is the truth, he announces it to the people. But you would not say that that man is inspired. There may be much of what is fallible and human with what is truthful and divine. Suppose, however, that on some Sabbath morning, he could with authority stand up and say that what is now about to be declared is not his, but God's—that he is in ignorance of what the utterance will really be, and that in simple fact, God is to speak through him, using his lips only as the medium of communication; you have here an instance of what is meant by plenary inspiration. And this we say is the case with the prophets. These "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth."
2. Their Conduct. They "enquired and searched diligently."
(i.) What is implied in the search they made? It would seem as if for the moment the thought of their inspiration was dropped; and like other earnest students of the Bible, they now search to ascertain the meaning of their own, and each other's prophecies. There is here, however, an incidental, though strong proof of the justice of their claims. The predictions they uttered were not their own conceptions; not the product of their own reasoning; and perhaps not even engraven on their own memory. They gave expression to statements beyond themselves, and the meaning of which at the time, they did not understand. And when (if we may so say) the breath of inspiration had passed from them, they sat down to discover by diligent search the import of those utterances which they had made. They had written for the world: they now enquired for themselves. Their predictions are by the grace of God, the property of the Church: their search is for their own personal benefit. The truths they proclaim, become the power of God to their own comfort and purity.
The metaphor is taken from the employment of a miner who digs deeply into the caverns of the earth that he may find its treasures; and by their appropriation enrich himself. The prophets were not satisfied with the mere knowledge of the fact that the mine existed, and that its contents were more brilliant than any of Golconda, and beyond the price of rubies. They went to dig for themselves; and seizing the precious pearls of truth, they enriched and beautified and ennobled their own character, until their shining became too glorious for earth: they were then translated to heaven to sparkle amid eternal sunshine, and burn in glory for ever. How solemnly does the Great Teacher's injunction sound in our ears—"Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of Me."
(ii.) The earnestness of their search. They "enquired and searched diligently." This word is forceful and signifies to trace out or explore thoroughly. The idea which the apostle intends to convey is thought to be this: "they perceived that in their communications there were so great and glorious truths which they did not fully comprehend, and they diligently employed their natural faculties to understand that which they were appointed to impart to succeeding generations." There is much of simplicity and power in the account which Daniel gives of his own search. "In the first year of" the reign "of Darius"—"I (Daniel) understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. And I set my face (marking earnestness and diligence and resolve) unto the Lord God to seek by prayer and supplication" the meaning of these things. You are not surprised at the visit of the man Gabriel, who was caused to fly swiftly; and, touching him at the time of the evening oblation, said, "O Daniel I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. I will show thee that which is noted in the Scriptures of truth."
Now, if the prophets had thus with earnest diligence to search out the meaning of their own predictions, what but our capacity should be the measure of our toil? Nor is this labour to be confined to the pulpit. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." If you want to know the meaning of your Bible, you must prayerfully study it. "These in Berea were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so."
Here then is our Student: himself a study for all who are anxious to comprehend this book. There are only three orders of being by whom God has spoken to the world: Christ; the angels; and men. And among these men the prophets hold the first rank. At an early period—the elements of religion being already revealed—a new method of communicating truth was employed; and man rose from the position of an observer, to the dignity and majesty of the prophet. In some instances he is removed at once into this office without previous training. But generally God walks among "the schools of the prophets;" and laying his hand upon the chosen one, He bids him go forth. His very call seems to constitute him an extraordinary man. Both his appearance and actions make him singular. He stands alone. The mountain or the sequestered vale is his abode; and he is only seen among men when he has some message from God. Clothed in his sackcloth, he appears at the court, the city, and the village; and having pronounced the coming woe, or stated the imposed duty, or offered pardon, he mysteriously disappears; and is seen no more, till the burden is again upon him, and forces him to come forth and speak. There is a fire in his eye, but it is inspiration, not wildness. There is a majesty in his gait, as though he is either great himself, or is employed by one who is. There is a solemnity of countenance and a nobility of manner, which say that he is not often among mortals, but dwells in a higher sphere. In language which more fully pertains to us as Christians, his "conversation is in heaven." Carried up by the Spirit perhaps to the summit of the mountain which covers his retreat, views of the future break upon his vision. His eye burns; his lips quiver; his bosom heaves. And opening his mouth, he pours forth in more than angelic cadences, the designs of God concerning men, and kingdoms, and the human race. It may be that to himself all this is a mystery. He therefore gathers up every utterance, and carries them to his mountain home. In that consecrated cave he spreads out the panorama; and lifting up his eyes to heaven for light, he traces the picture to see what "the Spirit of Christ which was in" him "did signify."
"Sweet is the harp of prophecy; too sweet Not to be wronged by a mere mortal touch, Nor can the wonders it records be sung To meaner music, and not suffer loss."
II. THE THEME.—It is here presented in a twofold aspect. First, in its entirety: and secondly, in one of its branches.
1. The great subject of prophetic enquiry is salvation. "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently."
(i.) In its nature. Is there a word in universal language which has as much meaning in it as this word salvation? It takes within its range all time and all eternity. Though specially designed for man, it has its influence upon every order of being God has made, and presents the most glorious manifestations of God himself which the world possesses. It glares upon sin with indignation, but throws its arms of mercy around the sinner; offers to him a deliverance from the guilt and power and pollution and inbeing of evil; gives him the favour and image of his Maker; assures to him victory over his final adversary; introduces him to, and acquits him before the great white throne; and arrays him in all the glories of an everlasting heaven.
To understand it fully comes not within the range of angelic intellect; and yet it demands our highest regard, as it has had the attention of enquiring prophets. 'Tis true they had not the light upon it that a better dispensation has given to us. It is not to be expected that they should be penetrated with its glory as we ought to be; but they were so impressed by its grandeur, that their thoughts were raised above all merely temporal deliverances, and they felt that their own interests were wrapped up in the theme. "And thus," we are told, "did this sweet stream of their doctrine, as the rivers, make its own banks fertile and pleasant as it ran by, and flowed still forward to after ages; and by the confluence of more such prophecies, grew greater as it went, till it fell in with the main current of the gospel in the New Testament both acted and preached by the Great Prophet himself whom they foretold as to come, and recorded by his apostles and evangelists, and thus united into one river clear as crystal. This doctrine of salvation in the Scriptures hath refreshed the city of God, his Church under the gospel, and still shall do so till it empty itself into the ocean of eternity."
(ii.) This salvation in its provision, is of grace. "Who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you." The apostle does not mean to say by this clause, that there is something in the theme exclusively adapted to those to whom he wrote. But we understand him to mean, in general terms, that the ancient seers searched diligently into that system of mercy, which should in after times, and under the Christian dispensation, be more fully revealed.
The word "grace" may have reference to the manner in which this scheme should be made known; intimating that it was by divine favour that the new economy supervened upon the old. But we take it rather to denote the gospel salvation itself. It is altogether a system of grace. In its projection; in its development; in its accomplishment; in its application; in its final consummation, it is all of grace. "By grace ye are saved."
We are not among the number of those who doubt or deny the entire and absolute fall of man. Whatever good there was in him was then destroyed; whatever evil there is in him, was then induced. He is fallen in mind and soul and body. Physically, morally, spiritually, he is a wreck. But was no vestage left of that divine image in which he was created? Not one. No lingering desire to regain his glory and the position he had lost? None. Was he altogether dead to virtue and his Maker's claims? Yes, altogether. But was his nature so far polluted as that no trace of his original purity could be discovered? Not a trace to be seen even by an Omniscient eye. And was there left to him no inherent power to do that which is good? None whatever. "From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment."
Then see his position. If his fall, which is so entire, is his own act, he is as much amenable to his Maker as he was before. The fact of his fall will not lesson his obligations: nor will it impose upon God any necessity to show mercy. He therefore stands before his Judge a condemned criminal; and the course which the Judge shall take is entirely within himself. There is nothing which can force Him to show favour. If He say, die, He is as justly glorious as He was before. If then, there is no obligation upon God to save: and if He does determine to be gracious, the salvation must be of grace. Oh, is it possible to conceive the solemnity of that moment when the destinies of untold millions were in the balance? Can you picture the suspense of heaven and hell when waiting Jehovah's fiat? Surely for the moment the pulse of nature throbbed not; heaven's music ceased to flow, and the howl of the pit was hushed. Then God, on his azure throne, holding in one hand the sword, and in the other the sceptre, stretched out the sceptre saying, "Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom."
Your salvation is of grace. You are required to pray; but you are saved by grace. You are required to believe; but you are saved by grace. You are required to labour; but you are saved by grace. You are required to suffer; but you are saved by grace. You will have to die; but when you stand a spirit glorified before the throne, it will be by grace.
(iii.) Salvation in its object is the soul. "Receiving the end of your faith even the salvation of your souls." By the soul we understand the immaterial principle or spiritual part of man; which though united with the body, is perfectly distinct from it.
As to its nature, it is possessed of intelligence, volition, sensation. It has capacities for enjoyment and suffering: for both good and evil. Its immortality is assured to us by the mouth of God. It may be lost. With all its dignity and glory, it may be for ever crushed by the divine hand, but never destroyed. While, however, it may be lost, it may be saved. The grace which can calm its fears, and satisfy its hopes, and purge its impurity, and consummate its bliss is now manifested. How insignificant does everything appear when compared with its salvation. The blotting of the sun, the desolation of an universe is a trifle when put in the balance with an immortal spirit. Let the sceptic doubt its immortality, and the atheist deny, and the scoffer jest; but let us look forward to the judgment-seat and beyond it, for "the soul, immortal as its sire, shall never die."
(iv.) Salvation, in its attainment, is by faith. "The end of your faith."
There is no article of our religion more plainly revealed than this—"By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but hath eternal life. He that believeth shall be saved." Faith is the simplest operation of the mind; and may therefore strictly be said to be incapable of definition. Still it is easy to say what is meant by the term when applied to personal salvation. It means the trust of the heart on the atonement of Christ, as the condition of pardon. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." It is however of the highest importance that the thought of its simplicity be made prominent. Let us not undervalue religious knowledge; for to some extent it is absolutely necessary. But do not mystify the plan of mercy, and perplex the anxious seeker by requirements which the gospel has not made prominent. Many a poor sinner exercises faith in Christ who cannot give a philosophical disquisition as to its nature. It is not necessary to be thoroughly acquainted with the science of optics in order to see. A man may look through a telescope before he can define the refraction or reflection of light. Now all that is included in the word salvation hangs on this simple condition.
The question may be regarded perhaps more nice than wise as to why such a condition should have been appointed; and yet it will sometimes force itself upon the thoughtful mind. The answer to it must in great measure be conjectural, but may we not suppose that one design of it was to do away with the last vestige of self-righteousness in man? If Moses had struck the rock with something more powerful than the little rod, the gushing of the waters might have been attributed to his own strength. If Jericho had been taken by a regular siege, the glory of its conquest would have been ascribed to military science and the prowess of arms. If some heavy conditions had been imposed upon the sinner, he would have claimed his pardon.
"But, 'how unlike the complex works of man, Heaven's easy, artless, unencumbered plan, No meretricious graces to beguile, No clustering ornaments to clay the pile. From ostentation as from weakness free, It stands like the cerulean arch we see, Majestic in its own simplicity. Inscribed above the portal from afar, Conspicuous as the brightness of a star, Legible only by the light they give, Stand the soul-quickening words—Believe and Live.'"
2. The apostle next concentrates attention upon one leading branch of this great theme.
Having put the whole subject before us in the word salvation, he now fixes our thought upon the relation which Christ sustains to it. "Searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." The testimony which is here said to be borne to Christ, is by the Spirit, and the signification of the Spirit in the testimony is that which the prophets sought. He who in the text is called "the Spirit of Christ," in the following verse is designated the Holy Ghost, so that there can be no doubt as to the person referred to. He is variously spoken of as "the Spirit of God"—"the Spirit of the Father"—"the Spirit of the Son"—"the Holy Spirit," and He is the third person in the Holy Trinity. "In the entire and undivided unity of the Godhead, there is a Trinity of personal subsistences; consubstantial, co-equal, and co-eternal." It was this "Spirit of Christ" who inspired the prophets; for these "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
(i.) They sought the signification of the Spirit as to the Saviour's person. "Searching what." This expression is said to mean either what time; or what people; or what person. But looking at the whole passage it seems most naturally to refer to Him who is the subject of these predictions. They therefore diligently enquired as to who He was, of whom they, under inspiration, had been speaking.
(ii.) They also studied the prophecies as to the time of his coming: "What manner of time?" This phrase has a twofold application. It may refer to that particular period of the world's history when the Saviour should come to endure his sufferings and enter into his glory. So Daniel reckoned up the number of the weeks, and sought to understand the time.
It may also have reference to "the character and condition of the age" when He should become incarnate. "What manner of time?"
We are now brought to the testimony itself which the Spirit beforehand gave.
(iii.) The Saviour's sufferings, in their relation to our salvation. "The sufferings of Christ."
We limit ourselves to two thoughts: these sufferings were predicted, and those predictions were fulfilled. Nearly the whole of the Old Testament has a connection with them. They are predicted by the very page which records the fall. "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Under the patriarchal economy there was a significant allusion to them in the offering up of Isaac. The Mosaic types were prophecies. The paschal lamb; the smitten rock; the brazen serpent; and the scape-goat on the day of expiation, exhibited this feature of Messiah's character. Well nigh every page of the prophets is marked by blood and sorrow. The Psalmist, in thrilling tone, enquires, "My God, my God why hast thou forsaken Me?" And in the last struggles of death Jesus quoted the passage in its application to himself. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is an unapproachable description of a suffering person. Its reference to Christ has been extorted from the Jew, and is confidently believed by every Christian. The notion of two Messiahs—the one suffering and the other conquering—is an unworthy subterfuge, and stands opposed to both fact and Scripture. Daniel is second only to Isaiah in his minute and powerful description of the Redeemer's sufferings. Zechariah almost closes the book by the startling cry, "Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered; and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones."
That these Scriptures have been fulfilled who can doubt that believes the gospels? Just before the Saviour's ascension, and while yet partaking of the valedictory feast with his disciples, "He said unto them, these are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms concerning Me. Then opened He their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day." We pass by the pain and hunger and thirst which are the attributes of humanity; but from his very incarnation may it be said that his sufferings began. Mark the meanness of his birth; the poverty of his circumstances; the persecution which drove Him from his infant-home, and think of his manner of life prior to the public announcement of his character, and you say with the prophet—"A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief."
Now look into Gethsemane's innermost recess and you see an amount of suffering unendurable except under heavenly strengthening; "And, being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him." Betrayed by a disciple, He is apprehended by the "multitude with swords and staves:" then arraigned before the high priest; then before Pilate: then taken before Herod and clothed in the purple; then bound and dragged again before Pilate: then smitten by the ruffianly attendants, and forsaken by his followers He is condemned to die. After the Roman fashion He is led away bearing his own cross to the fated hill. Here is the consummation of their cruelty, of his suffering, and of heaven's suspense. The leader of an army to the battle-field looks with anxiety to that moment of the day which decides the conflict; and either covers him with a nation's glory, or overwhelms him in a nation's disgrace. The fate of empires has hung on the actions of an hour; and the liberties of a continent have trembled for an instant in the balance. But the salvation of a world was hanging on Calvary till the Sufferer exclaimed: "It is finished."
You will not suppose that we have exhibited all, or even a principal part of "the sufferings of Christ." We do not wish to underrate this bodily distress; but oh, compare it not with the depth of the soul's agony. The hand of man which smote Him was malignant and painful too; but the hand of God with the sword of justice in it, fell in dreadful weight and pierced his spirit. His being betrayed and forsaken by the disciples was a source of pain; but it was when the Father hid his face that his sufferings were complete. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken Me?"
In addition to the general scope of prophecy, there are many minute and particular predictions of suffering which were fulfilled. The Psalmist says—"Yea mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me." And you call to mind the betrayal of our Saviour. David says again, "They pierced my hands and my feet." And when He was crucified the nails were driven through these parts of the body. Isaiah says, "He was numbered with the transgressors;" and we know that He was crucified between two thieves. Prophecy says, "They part my garments among them, and casts lots upon my vesture." History says, "And they crucified Him, and parted his garments casting lots." Prophecy says, "A bone of Him shall not be broken." History says that when the soldiers "came to Jesus and saw that He was dead already, they brake not his legs." Prophecy says, "They gave me also gall for my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." History says, "They gave Him vinegar to drink mingled with gall," when He said "I thirst." You are not surprised then, that after the fulfilment of so many and varied predictions, Jesus should have spoken to the two doubting disciples with a somewhat sterner voice than was his wont: "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken, ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory."
(iv.) See the connection between this salvation and the Saviour, with regard to the glory resulting from his passion and death. "And the glory," or glories, "that should follow." We distract not your mind with the many meanings of the word "glory." In the text it signifies the honour accruing to the Redeemer himself, and the benefit resulting to the world from his sufferings. It will apply to his resurrection; for even of this the prophets had some knowledge. "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." It has also reference to the Saviour's exaltation to and session at the right hand of the Father: for this is the result of his humiliation. "We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man." But it has another meaning. The glory resulting from "the sufferings of Christ," is to be seen in the carrying out of his own scheme of mercy, and the universal happiness of man. Nothing short of this can satisfy the scope of the text; the expectation and claims of the Messiah; or the call of the Church. It was no less an object than this—the saving of a whole world—that brought Christ from heaven and raised up the Church on earth. If you look or labour for anything short of this, you degrade your Master and dishonour yourselves. You have got too large a machinery at work for anything less than this. You will cripple the energies and damp the ardour of our Captain's embattled hosts, if you are satisfied with anything short of the conquest of a world. The question therefore is, have we any fair prospect of, and guarantee for, universal glory?
The text itself affords ground of hope that in the Scriptures we shall find all we desire. An intimation is given that the prophets themselves not only predicted it, but by their diligent search, apprehended and believed it. And let us not suppose that our faith in a happy world rests on a few dark or obscure expressions thinly scattered over the Bible, and requiring more than ordinary penetration to find them at all. Science by gigantic strides seems almost to have reached its perfection. We are told that by its light the philosopher can, from a single bone put into his hands, discover the existence of a "great wingless bird" of another hemisphere, and can construct "its skeleton so exactly, that when all the bones" arrive in this country "the correspondence between them and their conjectural portraits" is complete; that the astronomer is able by his calculations to tell the existence of a planet, which observation proves to be strictly true. But wonderful as is all this, we are not reduced to any such necessity with regard to the future of the gospel. We have not to take a few dark sayings, or enigmatical expressions, or hieroglyphic inscriptions, and as we best may spell out the universal spread of truth. As with the light of a sunbeam, or with "the point of a diamond," is it revealed. He that runs may read. Abraham saw it: "And in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Jacob saw it: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be." David saw it: "Ask of Me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." Isaiah saw it: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them." Oh what a state of security and peace!
"Lift up thine eyes round about, and see; all they gather themselves together, they come to thee; thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side." Let the Church no more hang down her head with grief. Look up, and see what is approaching. "All they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side." A general confluence of the nations is at hand, and all will flow into the church. "Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee." The vast-swelling multitude with their wealth shall come and beg admission. "We have now to beg people to come into the church: the day is coming when they shall ask permission. "Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?" Who are these myriads making their way to Christ? "And as the doves to their windows?" There is a storm at hand: the people foresee it, and run for refuge. "Thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day or night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought." So constant is the pouring in that the doors must be kept open. It is now a rare thing to see a convert approaching; but then the stream will be continuous, and the houses of prayer open night and day.
"Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breast of kings: and thou shalt know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob." The very wealth which is now in heathen hands shall be consecrated to the further spread of the gospel. "And thou shalt suck the breast of kings:" for they shall become "nursing fathers and queens nursing mothers;" and the reign of the Messiah shall be one of peace. "Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders: but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise. The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended. Thy people also shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified. A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the Lord will hasten it in his time." Do not say that this glorious chapter is exceptional. It is only a sample, and the bulk is equal in beauty. If the Bible, then, be true, a redeemed universe is hastening upon us. Paradise created even cannot put before us the glory of paradise restored. All the events which are passing over us—even those which appear the most alarming—are under an influence which will make them tributary to the final issue. "Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things, and blessed be his glorious name for ever; and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen."
1. Let us learn a lesson of veneration for the Scriptures. Unless it be the great doctrine of atonement, there is no truth to which the Christian clings, assailed with greater bitterness in our days than the plenary authority of the Bible. Moreover the low views on this question which many professing Christians hold and teach, are most deplorable and damaging. We expect opposition from the avowed adversaries of the Book; but, the source of truth is now imperilled by indifference and treachery. The whole volume has a divine origin. "God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past by the prophets hath in these last days spoken to us by his Son."
2. A lesson of love to the Saviour. "He hath died" for us, "the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." Do not forget your personal interest in those sufferings to which the text refers. They are in the strictest sense vicarious. He suffered not for his own sins, but for yours. You may realise their saving efficacy, and be "made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." How great are his claims upon our affection and service!
3. A lesson of duty to the world. The salvation of the whole race is provided by "the sufferings;" and is included in "the glory." A sanctified universe is to be the result of the Saviour's cross: and to a large extent He has made the Churches responsible for the conversion of the world. A weight of obligation rests upon each member which cannot be put into language. The wailings of a dying race call loudly for our zeal. The groans of the lost gather strength as they ascend the pit. The voice of heaven, from angels, saints, and God, urge us onward in the discharge of duty. Oh, the wreck is on the billow; hasten with the means of safety. The plague-spot is in the camp; offer the incense of atonement. And let all your efforts be put forth in faith, and under a deep impression of the truth of Cecil's memorable words: "Faith is the master-spring of a Minister," as well as of every Christian. "Hell is before me, and thousands of lost souls are shut up there in everlasting agony. Jesus Christ stands forth to save men from rushing into this bottomless abyss. He sends me to proclaim His ability and love. I want no fourth idea."
THE MIND WHICH WAS IN CHRIST JESUS. REV. GEORGE WOOD.
"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." PHILIPPIANS ii. 5.
The Saviour left His followers an example that they should tread in His steps; and His example in everything that appertains to His human nature, is not only practicable but essential. We cannot imitate His power, or His wisdom, or His miracles, or His sufferings, or anything in which His Divine nature was manifested or employed; but we can imitate His meekness, His patience, His zeal, His self-denial, His superiority to temptation, His abandonment of the world, His devotion to His Father's will, in short, all those habits of mind and life which distinguished His earthly career. And with this perfect example before us, we need never be in doubt or perplexity as to what is our duty; we may test our motives and our conduct by the teaching and example of Christ, and if we possess His mind we shall endeavour to copy His life—to "walk as Christ also walked"—to be in this world as Christ also was.
This Epistle was addressed by the Apostle Paul to a Church which he tenderly loved, and for whose prosperity he constantly prayed. He had suffered much in the establishment of Christianity at Philippi, and the Philippians had suffered much in the maintenance of their profession of faith, chiefly from their fellow-citizens who continued heathen. The Apostle was a prisoner at Rome, with the prospect of martyrdom as the termination of his glorious career. Undaunted by the prospect, he declares his readiness—nay, more—his "desire to depart and be with Christ." He exhorts the Philippians to steadfastness, fidelity, and patience amid the sufferings to which they were exposed from without; and to simplicity and "lowliness of mind" amongst themselves. He sets before them the conduct of Christ in His condescension, and the glory of Christ in His exaltation; and exhorts them to imitate the Saviour's humility, that they might share His triumph. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."
This text is of universal application. It applies to us. The highest dignity attainable in this world is conformity to Jesus Christ. In what then does conformity to Jesus Christ consist? In other words, what are those elements of character and conduct which distinguished Him, and which are to be copied by us in our daily life?
I. The first which we mention, and which is prominent throughout the whole of His history is meekness or humility. Dignified as was His character, high as were His claims, glorious as was His mission, He was never arrogant or boastful, proud or ostentatious. He neither sought the homage of the multitude, nor the society of the rich and the great. He accepted these if offered, but He never sought them. It is a fact that Christ never demanded, yet never declined the worship of men during His earthly sojourn. The Apostles shrunk from it, Angels rebuked it when offered to them, Christ never did. It was sometimes given, it was never declined. He did not obtrude Himself upon the attention of the multitude as the Saviour of the world; but ate, and drank, and slept, and walked, and lived amongst them, and was in every respect a man with men. He sometimes escaped from the society of the rich, that He might mitigate the sorrows, and promote the interests of the poor. He never sought human applause, and frequently retired from the scene of the most astounding miracle, charging the subject of His healing and His blessing to "tell no man" of Him. He might have taken the throne, and reigned "King of the Jews," in a political and worldly sense, had He been covetous of regal honours, or ambitious for worldly power. But He had a higher mission. His kingdom was "not of this world," and He came "not to be ministered unto, but to minister."
It cannot, however, be asserted that Jesus was insensible, or altogether indifferent, to the temptations to popularity and power to which He was exposed; if so, His example is of no practical utility to us. He did not feel as we feel, and we can gather no instruction, and no motives from His history or experience. But we believe that He "was in all points tempted like as we are;" that as a man He was the subject of all the emotions, affections, and impulses which we feel. He could weep, and love, and hate, and fear, and pure as His nature was, He had to battle with the various temptations of the world and the wicked one, all the more perhaps because of the sinlessness of His holy humanity.
Great and frequent were the provocations of His enemies, but He never lost His temper—He never forfeited the claim to be called "the meek and lowly Jesus." If you follow Him to the house of Caiaphas the high priest, to the judgment hall of Herod or of Pilate, or to the Cross itself—though He was buffetted, accused falsely, condemned, spit upon, crucified—He passed through all the same calm, humble, holy Being. There was no retaliation, no resentment. There was majesty in His very meekness. And this is an important element in the Saviour's character and conduct, which as Christians we must acquire and exhibit.
Undue elevation in circumstances of prosperity and fame, is as injurious to our spiritual progress, as irritation and depression are in circumstances of adversity and trial; and both are to be avoided. The Saviour left us an example—a bright and a beautiful example—O how few of us copy it in this respect. When the voice of flattery and praise is heard—when we are raised to posts of influence and honour—when the sun shines brightly upon our daily pathway—how few of us keep our meekness and humility; how few of us carry all our honours back to Him who gave them; how few of us so improve and sanctify our talents as that He shall have the glory. And on the other hand when fortune frowns upon us—when the world despises us—when our "own familiar friend, in whom we trusted, lifteth up his heel against us," alas! how few of us "calmly sit on tumult's wheel," and leave events to God. It is easier to sing and preach about such a disposition than it is to acquire and exhibit it; but it is attainable and it is essential—"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus."
II. Simplicity and unity distinguish the character and conduct of Christ. In all His intercourse with friends and foes, His adherence to truth and righteousness is marked and constant. He was criticised and catechised and calumniated, but His transparency of character was never destroyed. His enemies opposed and threatened, but He never hesitated in the path of duty, or in His devotion to His Father's will. However captious their questions, and whether they related to political or spiritual matters, He invariably turned them against His opponents, and made them minister to the cause of truth and righteousness. Sometimes He stood single-handed against a multitude of foes, they were often vacillating, cowardly, and inconsistent with themselves; but not so the Saviour. With what authority did He rebuke their selfishness, their duplicity, their sin; and yet how confidently could He appeal to His bitterest opponents as to the simplicity and purity of His own character and life—"Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" The proud and supercilious Pharisees sought "to entangle Him in His talk;" they charged Him with blasphemy, with disregard for the Sabbath, with breaking the law, and they disputed His authority to act as He did; but their cunning could not ensnare, their threatening could not intimidate. Satan sought by a threefold temptation to turn Him aside; he desired Him to question, in the first place, the providence of God, then to tempt an interposition of Providence by exposing Himself to unnecessary danger, and finally to fall down and worship him; but our Lord indignantly repelled the tempter, and maintained His purity; and "angels came and ministered unto Him." "I must work the works of Him that sent me," was the motto of His life—the simple purpose of His mind; nor did He shrink from any portion of that work however hazardous and difficult. "My meat," said He, "is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work."
In this simple purpose of the Saviour's mind and conduct we have a beautiful example. Nothing is so difficult, in days like these, as the maintenance of a pure and simple mind. Duplicity, deception, and selfishness pervade all ranks and conditions of men. You find them in the shop, in the market-place, in the family, and alas! in the church itself; and nothing but a resolute resistance, directed and sustained by the grace of God, can make the Christian proof against these evils. O imitate the Saviour. Mark out for yourselves a definite line of conduct, consistent with your Christian profession, and adhere to it firmly, in spite of custom or contempt, and in the prospect of death itself.
Simplicity produces unity. There is nothing complex in the character and life of Christ. Every part is in perfect keeping with the whole. His teaching, His miracles, His conduct, illustrate each other, and combine to prove His true Messiahship, and exhibit the perfection of His life. If there were glaring inconsistencies in the history of Jesus—if the four Evangelists had written documents which could not be harmonized—if the moral teaching, and the moral conduct of Christ were at variance—if His pretensions were not justified by His works—then we might deny His Messiahship, and disregard Him as our Great Example. But it is not so. What He taught He practised; what He promised he performed; the work He came from heaven to accomplish He actually "finished," even to the shedding of His blood. "The cup which my Father hath given me to drink," said He, "shall I not drink it?" Thus the example of Christ forbids all fickleness and falsehood. It condemns all false appearances; and says to all His followers, with an authority and force which even the words themselves do not contain, "Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." What a wonderful and glorious change would the observance of such a rule effect in the church, and in the world! "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus."
III. The mind of Christ is distinguished by its sympathy and ceaseless activity. He could weep at the grave of Lazarus, before calling back His friend to life. He could stop at the gate of Nain, to cheer the heart of a bereaved widow, by restoring to life her only son. He could condescend to touch the loathsome leper, and thus make him clean. He could stoop to hold a conversation with a penitent adulteress. He could work a miracle to feed a hungry multitude. He could look conviction into Peter's heart, and thus send the faithless Apostle out of His presence weeping bitterly. O there was nothing cold, ungenerous, or selfish in the nature of Christ. He was never too much occupied to listen to the tale of sorrow, nor too dignified to afford relief. He was never unapproachable. The finest sensibilities, the purest affections, the deepest sympathies were exhibited in actions, which, had there been no ultimate purpose in His mission, would have marked Him as a benefactor of our race, and carried down His name and His fame to the latest posterity. And this, in a humbler degree, we are called upon to imitate. How little like the Saviour is the man whose heart is hard, whose temper is irritable, and who has no bowels of compassion for the destitute and afflicted. How little like the Saviour is the man who prides himself upon superior extraction or superior position, and looks down with contempt upon the poor and the penniless. The Son of Man came to seek, and to save the lost: and when John's disciples asked Him for evidence that He was Christ, His reply was simply this: Go tell your master the things which ye have seen and heard; "the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them." What an outline is this of the Redeemer's daily toil! How He "went about doing good!" How He wandered among the cities and villages of Judaea and Samaria; sharing the rough hospitality of fishermen—the barley-bread of the poorest peasant; working miracles of healing; teaching doctrines of profoundest import; contending with His enemies, the Pharisees and Scribes; and conducting the minds and the hearts of His disciples and the multitudes away from their superstitions and their prejudices, to the heart of His Father's love, and the results of His own suffering and sacrifice in their behalf: nor did this sublime and ceaseless activity terminate until He hung upon the cross—and then only to be renewed in ceaseless intercession at His Father's throne. And again He left us an example. This active sympathy is the very genius of our holy religion—the spirit which it breathes—the life which it lives—the pure and blessed element in which it grows and becomes perfect. Happy is the man who thus imitates the Saviour—whose "weariness of life is gone," by the employment of his talents and his time in "doing and receiving good."