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The Christian Life by Thomas Arnold

Part 4 out of 6

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that we may surrender up our whole souls to it; before which obedience,
reverence, without measure, intense humility, most unreserved adoration,
may all be duly rendered. One name there is, and one only; one alone in
heaven and in earth; not truth, not justice, not benevolence, not
Christ's mother, not his holiest servants, not his blessed sacraments,
not his very mystical body, but Himself only, who died for us and rose
again, Jesus Christ, both God and Man.

He is truth, and he is righteousness, and he is love; he gives his grace
to his sacraments, and his manifold gifts to his Church; whoever hath
him hath all things; but if we do not take heed, whenever we turn our
mind to any other object, we shall make it an idol and lose him. Take
him in all his fulness, not as God merely, not as man merely; not in his
life on earth only, not in his death only, not in his exaltation at
God's right hand only; but in all his fulness, the Christ of God, God
and Man, our Prophet, our Priest, our King and Lord, redeeming us by his
blood, sanctifying us by his Spirit; and then worship him and love him
with all the heart, and with, all the soul, and with all the strength;
and we shall see how all evil will be barred, and all good will abound.
No man who worships Christ alone, can be a fanatic, nor yet can be a
more philosopher; he cannot be bigoted, nor yet can he be indifferent;
he cannot be so the slave of what be calls amiable feelings as to cast
truth and justice behind him; nor yet can he so pursue truth and justice
as to lose sight of humbler and softer feelings, self-abasement,
reverence, devotion. There is no evil tendency in the nature of any one
of us, which has not its cure in the true worship of Christ our Saviour.
Let us look into our hearts, and consider their besetting faults. Are we
indolent, or are we active; are we enthusiastic, or are we cold; zealous
or indifferent, devout or reasonable; whatever the inclination, or bias
of our nature be, if we follow its kindred idol, it will be magnified
and grow on to our ruin; if we worship Christ, it will be pruned and
chastened, and made to grow up with opposite tendencies, all alike
tempered, none destroyed; none overgrowing the garden, but all filling
it with their several fruits; so that it shall be, indeed, the garden of
the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord shall dwell in the midst of it.

And who shall dare to make sad the heart of him who is thus drinking
daily of the well-spring of righteousness, by telling him that he is not
yet saved, nor can be, unless he will come and bow down before his idol?
And if, rather than do so, he break the idol in pieces, who shall dare
to call him profane, or cold in love to his Lord, when it was in his
very jealousy for his Lord, and in his full purpose to worship him
alone, that he threw down all that exalted itself above its due
proportion against him? And if a man be not so worshipping Christ only,
who shall dare to encourage him in his evil way, by magnifying the
sacredness of his idol, and ascribing to it that healing virtue which
belongs to Christ alone?

What has been here said might bear to be followed up at far greater
length than the present occasion will admit of. But the main point is
one, I think, of no small importance, that all fanaticism and
superstition on the one hand, and all unbelief and coldness of heart on
the other, arise from what is in fact idolatry,--the putting some other
object, whether it be called a religious or moral one,--and an object
often in itself very excellent,--in the place of Christ himself, as set
forth to us fully in the Scriptures. And as no idol can stand in
Christ's place, or in any way save us, so whoever worships Christ truly
is preserved from all idols and has life eternal. And if any one demand
of him further, that he should worship his idol, and tells him that he
is not safe if he does not; his answer will be rather that he will
perish if he does; that he is safe, fully safe, and only safe, so long
as he clings to Christ alone; and that to make anything else necessary
to his safety, is not only to minister to superstition, but to
ungodliness also; not only to lay on us a yoke which neither our fathers
nor we were able to bear; but, by the very act of laying this
unchristian yoke upon us, to tear from us the easy yoke and light burden
of Christ himself, our Lord and our life.


* * * * *


* * * * *

HEBREWS in. 16.

_For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came
out of Egypt by Moses_.

I take this verse as my text, rather than those which immediately go
before or follow it, because it affords one of the most serious
instances of mistranslation that are to be met with in the whole New
Testament. For the true translation of the words is this: "For who were
they who, when they had heard, did provoke? nay, were they not all who
came out of Egypt through Moses?" And then it goes on--"And with whom
was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose
carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should
not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?" I call this a
serious mistranslation, because it lessens the force of the writer's
comparison. So far from meaning to say that "some, but not all did
provoke," he lays a stress on the universality of the evil: it was not
only a few, but the whole people who came out of Egypt, with only the
two individual exceptions of Caleb and Joshua. All the rest who were
grown up when they came out of Egypt did provoke God; and the carcases
of that whole generation, fell in the wilderness.

Had the lesson from the Hebrews been actually chosen for the service of
this day, it could hardly have suited it better. For this day is the
New-year's day of the Christian year; and it is probably for this reason
that the service of the first day of the common year is confined
entirely to the commemoration of our Lord's circumcision, and takes no
notice of the beginning of a new year. It is manifest that it could not
do so without confusion: for the first of January is not the beginning
of the Christian year, but Advent Sunday; the last Sunday of the
Christian year is not Christmas-day, as it would be this year if we
reckoned by the common divisions of time; but it is the last Sunday
after Trinity. Now, then, we are at the beginning of our year; and well
it is that, as our trial is now become shorter by another year, as
another division of our lives has passed away, we should fix our eyes on
that which makes every year so valuable,--the Judgment, for which it
ought to be a preparation. In fact, if we observe, we shall see that
these Sundays in Advent are much more regarded by the Church as the
beginning of a new year, than as a mere prelude to the celebration of
the festival of Christmas. That is, Christmas-day is regarded, so to
speak, in a two-fold light, as representing both the comings of our
Lord, his first coming in the flesh, and his second coming to judgment.
When the day actually arrives, it commemorates our Lord's first coming:
and this is the beginning of the Christian year, historically regarded,
that is, so far as it is a commemoration of the several events of our
Lord's life on earth. But before it comes, it is regarded as
commemorating our Lord's second coming: and wisely, for his first coming
requires now no previous preparation for it; we cannot well put
ourselves into the position of those who lived before Christ appeared.
But our whole life is, or ought to be, a preparation for his second
coming; and it is this state, of which the season of Advent in the
Church services is intended to be the representation.

There is something striking in the season of the natural year at which
we thus celebrate the beginning of another Christian year. It is a true
type of our condition, of the insensible manner in which all the changes
of our lives steal upon us, that nature, at this moment, gives no
outward signs of beginning: it is a period which does not manifest any
striking change in the state of things around us. The Christian Spring
begins ere we have reached the half of the natural winter. Nature is not
bursting into life, but rather preparing itself for a long period of
death. And this is a type of an universal truth, that the signs and
warnings which we must look to, must come from within us, not from
without: that neither sky nor earth, will arouse us from our deadly
slumber, unless we are ourselves aroused already, and more disposed to
make warnings for ourselves than to find them.

If this be true of nature, it is true also of all the efforts of man. As
nature will give no sign, so man cannot. Let the Church do all that she
may; let her keep her solemn anniversaries, and choose out for her
services all such passages of Scripture as may be most fitted to impress
the lesson which she would teach; still we know that these are alike
powerless and unheeded; that unless there be in our own minds something
beforehand disposed to profit by them, they are but the words of
unavailing affection, vainly spoken to the ears of the dead.

Oh that we would remember this, all of us; that there is no voice in
nature, no voice in man, that can really awaken the sleeping soul. That
is the work of a far mightier power, to be sought for with most earnest
prayers for ourselves and for each other: that the Holy Spirit of God
would speak, and would dispose our hearts to hear; that so being
awakened from death and our ears being truly opened, all things outward
may now join in language which we can hear; and nature, and man, life
and death, things present and things to come, may be but the manifold
voices of the Spirit of God, all working for us together for good. Till
this be so, we speak in vain; our words neither reach our own hearts,
nor the hearts of our hearers; they are but recorded in God's book of
judgment, to be brought forward hereafter for the condemnation of
us both.

Yet we must still speak; for the Spirit of God, who alone works in us
effectually, works also secretly; we know not when, nor how, nor where.
But we know, that as the Father worketh hitherto, and the Son worketh
hitherto, so the Holy Spirit worketh hitherto, and is still working
daily. We know that, every year, he creates in thousands of God's people
that work which alone shall abide for ever. We know that in the year
that is just past he has done this; that in the year which is just
beginning he will do it. Have we not here, also, many in whom he has
wrought this work? may we not hope, and surely believe, that there are
many in whom he is even now preparing to work it?

We know not who these are; still less do we know, what were the
occasions which the Holy Spirit so blessed as to work in them his work
of life. But this we know, that we are bound to minister all the
occasions which we can; we must not spare our labour, although it is God
alone who gives the increase. We must speak of life and of death, of
Christ and of judgment, not forgetting that we speak often, and shall
speak, utterly in vain; yet knowing that it is by these very thoughts,
though long unheeded, that God's Spirit does in his own good time awaken
the heart; he takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us; and
then, what was before like a book in a strange language--we saw the
figures, but they conveyed no meaning to our minds--becomes, on a
sudden, instinct with the language of God, which we hear and understand
as readily as if it were our own tongue wherein we were born.

Therefore, we speak and say, that another year has now dawned upon us;
and we would remind you, and remember, ourselves, in what words the
various Scriptures of this day's service point out its inestimable
value. "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." So says St.
Paul in the epistle of this day; and how blessed are all those amongst
us who can feel that this is truly said of them! Then, indeed, a new
year's day is a day of rejoicing; we are so much nearer that period when
all care, all anxiety, all painful labour will be for ever ended. But
there is other language of a different sort, which, it may be, will suit
us better. "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have
rebelled against me." "Their land is full of idols; they worship the
work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made;" which
means to us, the work of our own hearts, that which our own fancies and
desires have made. "Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for
fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty." For in the very
temple of God, his Church, all manner of profane thoughts and words and
works are crowded together; the din of covetousness and worldliness is
loud and constant, and will ill abide the day of his coming, who will, a
second time, cast out of his temple all that is unclean. And is there
not also in us that evil heart of unbelief and disobedience which
departs from the living God? are there not here those who are becoming
daily hardened through the deceitfulness of sin? How are they passing
their time in the wilderness, and with what prospects when they come to
the end of it? God said, "I sware in my wrath, that they shall not enter
into my rest." By the way that they came, by the same shall they return;
they shall go back to that bondage from which they were once redeemed,
and from which they will be redeemed again no more for ever.

These are some of the passages of this day's service which speaks to us
at the beginning of this new Christian year. Let me add to all this
language of warning, the language in which God, by his apostle Paul,
answers every one of us, if we ask of him in sincerity of heart, "Lord,
what wilt thou have me to do?" He answers, "The night is far spent, the
day is at hand: let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and
drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and
envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for
the flesh, to fulfil the works thereof." Now, I grant, that this day, of
which the apostle speaks, has never yet shone so brightly, as he had
hoped and imagined; clouds have, up to this hour, continually
overshadowed it. I mean, that the lives of Christians have hindered them
from being the light of the world. It has been a light pale and dim, and
therefore the works of darkness have continued to abound. But admit
this, and what follows? Is it, or can it be, anything else but a more
earnest desire not to be ourselves children of darkness, lest what we
see to have happened in part should happen altogether; namely, that the
day should never shine on us at all? We see that God's promises have
been in part forfeited; we see that Christ's kingdom has not been what
it was prophesied it should be. Is not this a solemn warning, that for
us, too, individually, God's promises may be forfeited? that all we read
in Scripture of light, and life, and glory, and happiness, should really
prove to us words only, and no reality? that whereas the promise of
salvation has been made to us, we should be in the end, not saved, but
lost? If, indeed, God's kingdom were shining around us, in its full
beauty; if every evil thing were driven out of his temple; if we saw
nothing but holy lives and happy, the fruits of his Spirit, truth, and
love, and joy; then we might be less anxious for ourselves; our course
would be far smoother; the very stream would carry us along to the end
of our voyage without our labour: what evil thoughts would not be
withered, and die long ere they could ripen into action, if the very air
which we breathed were of such, keen and heavenly purity! It is because
all this is not so, that we have need of so much watchfulness; it is
because the faults of every one of us make our brethren's task harder;
because there is not one bad or careless person amongst us who is not a
hindrance in his brother's path, and does not oblige him to exert
himself the more. Therefore, because the day is not bright, but
overclouded; because it is but too like the night, and too many use it
as the night for all works of darkness; let us take the more heed that
we do not ourselves so mistake it; let us watch each of us the light
within us, lest, indeed, we should wholly stumble; let us put on the
Lord Jesus Christ. You know how often I have dwelt on this; how often I
have tried to show that Christ is all in all to us; that to put on
Christ, is a truer and fuller expression, by far, than if we had been
told to put on truth, or holiness, or goodness. It includes all these,
with something more, that nothing but itself can give--the sense of
safety, and joy unspeakable, in feeling ourselves sheltered in our
Saviour's arms, and taken even into himself. Assuredly, if we put on the
Lord Jesus Christ, we shall not make provision for the flesh to fulfil
the lusts thereof; such a warning would then be wholly unnecessary. Or,
if we do not like language thus figurative, let us put it, if we will,
into the plainest words that shall express the same meaning; let us call
it praying to Christ, thinking of him, hoping in him, earnestly loving
him; these, at least, are words without a figure, which all can surely
understand. Let us be Christ's this year that is now beginning; be his
servants, be his disciples, be his redeemed in deed; let us live to him,
and for him; setting him before us every day to do his will, and to live
in his blessing. Then, indeed, if it be his pleasure that we should
serve him throughout this year, even to its end, we may repeat, with a
deeper feeling of their truth, the words of St. Paul; we may say, when
next Advent Sunday shall appear, that now is our salvation nearer than
when we became believers.


* * * * *


* * * * *

JOHN i. 10.

_He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew
Him not_.

When we use ourselves, or hear others use, the term "mystery," as
applied to things belonging to the gospel, we should do well to consider
what is meant by it. For our common notion of the word mystery is of
something dark; whereas Christ and his gospel are continually spoken of
as being, above all other things, light. Then come others, and say,
"Light and darkness cannot go together: what you call the mysteries of
Christianity are no part of it, but the fond inventions of man:
Christianity is all simple and clear:" and thus they strike away some of
the very greatest truths which God has revealed to us. Thus they deal in
particular with the great truth declared in the text, that He who made
the world visited it in the likeness of man. Now, if this truth were a
mystery, in the common notion of that term; if it were a thing full of
darkness, defying our minds to understand it, or to draw any good from
it; then, indeed, it would be of little consequence whether we received
it or no. It is because it is a mystery in a very different sense, in
the sense in which the word is used commonly in the Scriptures; that
is, a thing which was a secret, but which God has been pleased to
reveal, and to reveal for our benefit, that therefore the loss of it
would be the loss of a real blessing, a loss at once of light
and comfort.

But we must go a little further, and explain from what this sad
confusion in the use of the term "mystery" has arisen. There are many
things relating to ourselves and to things around us, which by nature we
cannot understand; and of God we can scarcely understand anything. Now,
while the gospel has revealed much that we did not know before, it yet
has not revealed everything: of God, in particular, it has given us much
most precious knowledge, yet it has not removed all the veil. It has
furnished us with a glass, indeed, to use the apostle's comparison; but
the glass, although, a great help, although reflecting a likeness of
what, without it, we could not see at all, is yet a dark and imperfect
manner of seeing, compared with, the seeing face to face. So, when the
gospel tells us that He who made the world visited it in our nature, it
does not indeed enable us yet fully to conceive what He is who made us,
and then became as one of us; there is still left around the name of God
that light inaccessible which is to our imperfections darkness; and so
far as we cannot understand or conceive rightly of God, so far it is
true that we cannot understand all that is conveyed in the expression
that God was in the world dwelling among us. Yet it is still most true
that by the revelation thus made to us we have gained immensely. God, as
he is in himself, we cannot understand; but Jesus Christ we can. When we
are told to love God, if we look to the life and death of Christ, we can
understand and feel how truly he deserves our love; when we are told to
be perfect as God is perfect, we have the image of this perfection so
truly set before us in his Son Jesus, that it may be well said, "Whoso
hath seen Him hath seen the Father;" and why, then, should we ask with
Philip, that "He should show us the Father?"

What, then, the festival of Christmas presents to us, as distinct from
that of Easter, is generally the revelation of God in the flesh. True it
is, that we may make it, if we will, the same as Easter: that is, we may
celebrate it as the birth of our Saviour, of him who died and rose again
for us; but then we only celebrate our Lord's birth with reference to
his death and resurrection: that is, we make Christmas to be Easter
under another name. And so everything relating to our Lord may be made
to refer to his death and resurrection; for in them consists our
redemption, and for that reason Easter has ever been considered as the
great festival of the Christian year. But yet apart from this, Christmas
has something peculiarly its own: namely, as I said before, the
revelation of God in the flesh, not only to make atonement for our
sins,--which is the peculiar subject of the celebration of the season of
Easter,--but to give us notions of God at once distinct and lively; to
enable us to have One in the invisible world, whom we could conceive of
as distinctly as of a mere man, yet whom we might love with all our
hearts, and trust with all our hearts, and yet be guilty of no idolatry.

It is not, then, only as the beginning of an earthly life of little more
than thirty years, that we may celebrate the day of our Lord's birth in
the flesh. His own words express what this day has brought to us:
"Henceforth shall ye see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending
and descending upon the Son of man." The words here, like so many of our
Lord's, are expressed in a parable; but their meaning is not the less
clear. They allude evidently to Jacob's vision, to the ladder reaching
from earth to heaven, on which the angels were ascending and descending
continually. But this vision is itself a parable; showing, under the
figure of the ladder reaching from earth to heaven, and the angels going
up and down on it, a free communication, as it were, between God and
man, heaven brought nearer to earth, and heavenly things made more
familiar. Now, this is done, in a manner, by every revelation from God;
most of all, by the revelation of his Son. Nor is it only by his Spirit
that Christ communicates with us even now; though, he is ascended again
into heaven, yet the benefits of his having become man, over and above
those of his dying and rising again for us, have not yet passed away. It
is still the man Christ Jesus who brings heaven near to earth, and earth
near to heaven.

It has been well said by Augustine, that babes in Christ should so think
of the Son of man as not to lose sight of the Son of God; that more
advanced Christians should so think of the Son of God as not to lose
sight of the Son of man. Augustine well understood how the thought of
the Son of man is fitted to our weakness; and that the best and most
advanced of us in this mortal life are never so strong as to be able to
do without it. Have we ever tried this with our children? We tell them
that God made them, and takes care of them, and loves them, and hears
their prayers, and knows what is in their hearts, and cannot bear what
is evil. These are such notions of God as a child requires, and can
understand. But, if we join with them some of those other notions which
belong to God as he is in himself; that he is a Spirit, not to be seen,
not to be conceived of as in any one place, or in any one form; what do
we but embarrass our child's mind, and lessen that sense of near and
dear relation to God which, our earlier accounts of God had given him?
Yet we must teach him something of this sort, if we would prevent him
from forming unworthy notions of God, such as have been the beginning
of all idolatry. Here, then, is the blessing of the revelation of God in
Christ. All that he can understand of God, or love in him, or fear in
him--that is to be found in Christ. Christ made him, takes care of him,
can hear his prayers, can read his little heart, loves him tenderly; yet
cannot bear what is evil, and will strictly judge him at the last day.
But what we must teach when we speak of God, yet which has a tendency to
lessen the liveliness of our impressions of him, this has no place when
we speak of Christ. Christ has a body, incorruptible and glorified
indeed, such as they who are Christ's shall also wear at his coming, yet
still a body. Christ is not to be seen, indeed, for the clouds have
received him out of our sight: yet he may be conceived of as in one
place--at the right hand of God; as in one certain and well-known
form--the form of the Son of man. Yet let us observe again, and be
thankful for the perfect wisdom of God. Even while presenting to us God
in Christ; that is to say, God with all those attributes which we can
understand, and fear, and love; and without those which, throw us, as it
were, to an infinite distance, overwhelming our minds, and baffling all
our conceptions; even then the utmost care is taken to make us remember
that God in himself is really that infinite and incomprehensible Being
to whom we cannot, in our present state, approach; that even his
manifestation of himself in Christ Jesus, is one less perfect than we
shall be permitted to see hereafter; that Christ stands at the right
hand of the Majesty on high; that he has received from the Father all
his kingdom and his glory; finally, that the Father is greater than he,
inasmuch as any other nature added to the pure and perfect essence of
God, must, in a certain measure, if I may venture so to speak, be a
coming down to a lower point, from the very and unmixed Divinity.

I have purposely mentioned this last circumstance, although it is not
the view that I wish particularly to take to-day, because such passages
as that which I quoted, where Christ tells his disciples that his Father
was greater than he, and many others of the same sort, throughout the
New Testament, are sometimes apt to embarrass and perplex us, if we do
not consider their peculiar object. It was very necessary, especially at
a time when men were so accustomed to worship their highest gods under
the form of men, that whilst the gospel was itself holding out the man
Christ Jesus as the object of religious faith, and fear, and love, and
teaching that all power was given to him, in heaven and in earth,--it
should, also, guard us against supposing that it meant to represent God
as, in himself, wearing a human form, or having a nature partaking of
our infirmities; and, therefore, it always speaks of there being
something in God higher, and more perfect, than could possibly be
revealed to man; and for this eternal and infinite, and inconceivable
Being, it claims the reserve of our highest thoughts, or, rather, it
commands us to believe, that they who shall hereafter see God face to
face, shall be allowed to see something still greater than is now
revealed to us, even in him who is the express image of God, and the
brightness of his glory.

But, now, to return to what I was dwelling on before. It is not only for
children, that the revelation of God in Christ is so valuable; it is
fitted to the wants of us all, at all times, and under all
circumstances. Say, that we are in joy; say, that we are enjoying some
of the festivities of this season. It is quite plain, that, at whatever
moment the thought of God is unwelcome to us, that moment is one of sin
or unbelief: yet, how can we dare to mix up the notion of the most high
God with any earthly merriment, or festivity? Then, if we think of him
who was present at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, and who worked a
miracle for no other object than to increase the enjoyment of that
marriage supper, do we not feel how the highest thoughts may be joined
with the most common occasions? how we may bring Christ home with, us to
our social meetings, to bless us, and to sanctify them? Imagine him in
our feasts as he was in Cana:--we may do it without profaneness; being
sure, from that example, that he condemns not innocent mirth; that it is
not merely because there is a feast, or because friends and neighbours
are gathered together, that Christ cannot, therefore, be in the midst of
us. This alone does not drive him away; but, oh consider, with what ears
would he have listened to any words of unkindness, of profaneness, or of
impurity! with what eyes would he have viewed any intemperance, or
revelling; any such, immoderate yielding up of the night to pleasure,
that a less portion of the next day can be given to duty and to God!
Even as he would have heard or seen such things in Cana of Galilee, so
does he hear and see them amongst us; the same gracious eye of love is
on our moderate and permitted enjoyments; the same turning away from,
the same firm and just displeasure at every word or deed which turns
pleasure into sin.

But if I seek for instances to show how God in Christ is brought very
near to us, what can I choose more striking than that most solemn act of
Christian communion to which we are called this day? For, what is there
in our mortal life, what joy, what sorrow, what feeling elated or
subdued, which is not in that communion brought near to Christ to
receive his blessing? What is the first and outward thing of which it
reminds us? Is it not that last supper in Jerusalem, in which men,--the
twelve disciples, the first members of our Christian brotherhood,--were
brought into such solemn nearness to God, as seems to have begun the
privileges of heaven upon earth? They were brought near at once to
Christ and to one another: united to one another in him, in that double
bond which, is the perfection at once of our duty and of our happiness.
And so in our communion we, too, draw near to Christ and to each other;
we feel--who is there at that moment, at least, that does not
feel?--what a tie there is to bind each of us to his brother, when we
come to the table of our common Lord. So far, the Lord's Supper is but a
type of what every Christian meeting should be: never should any of us
be gathered together on any occasion of common life, in our families or
with our neighbours; we should sit down to no meal, we should meet in no
company, without having Christ also in the midst of us; without
remembering what we all are to him, and what we each therefore are to
our brethren. But when we further recollect what there is in the Lord's
Supper beyond the mere meeting of Christ and his disciples; what it is
which the bread and the wine commemorate; of what we partake when, as
true Christians, we eat of that bread, and drink of that cup; then we
shall understand that God indeed is brought very near to us; inasmuch,
as he who is a Christian, and partakes sincerely of Christian communion,
is a partaker also of Christ: and as belonging to his body, his living
spiritual body, the universal Church, receives his share of all those
blessings, of all that infinite love which the Father shows continually
to the head of that body, his own well-beloved Son.

Say not then in your hearts, Who can ascend up into heaven, that is, to
bring Christ down? As on this day, when he took our nature upon him, he
came down to abide with us for ever; to abide with, us, even when we
should see him with our eyes no more: for whilst he was on earth he so
took part in all the concerns of life, in all its duties, its sorrows,
and its joys, that memory, when looking back on the past, can fancy him
present still; and then let the liveliest fancy do its work to the
utmost, it cannot go beyond the reality; he is present still, for that
belongs to his almightiness; he is present with us, because he is God;
and we can fancy him with us, because he is man. This is the way to
lessen our distance from God and heaven, by bringing Christ continually
to us on earth: the sky is closed, and shows no sign; all things
continue as they were from the beginning of the world; evil abounds, and
therefore the faith of many waxes cold; but Christ was and is amongst
us; and we need no surer sign than that sign of the prophet
Jonah--Christ crucified and Christ risen--to make us feel that we may
live with God daily upon earth, and doing so, shall live with him for an
eternal life, in a country that cannot pass away.


* * * * *


* * * * *

MATTHEW xxvi. 40, 41.

_What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye
enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the
flesh is weak_.

These words, we cannot doubt, have an application to ourselves, and to
all Christians, far beyond the particular occasion on which they were
actually spoken. They are, in fact, the words which Christ addresses
daily to all of us. Every day, when he sees how often we have gone
astray from him, he repeats to us, Could ye not watch with me one hour?
Every day he commands us to watch and pray, that we enter not into
temptation; every day he reminds us, that however willing may be our
spirits, yet our flesh is weak; and that through that weakness, sin
prevails over it, and having triumphed over our flesh, proceeds to
enslave our spirit also.

And as the words are applicable to us every day, so also are they in a
particular manner suitable now, when the season of Lent is so nearly
over, and Easter is so fast approaching. Have we been unable to watch,
with Christ one hour? Already are the good resolutions with which, we,
perhaps, began Lent, broken in many instances; and the impressions, if
any such were made in us, are already weakened. They have been a
burden, which we have shaken off, because the weakness of our nature
found it too heavy to bear. Sad it is to think how often this same
process has been repeated in all time, how often it will be repeated
to the end.

Let us just review what the course of this process has probably been.
Now, as the parable of the Sower describes three several sorts of
persons, who never bring forth, fruit; so in the very same persons,
there is at different times something of each of the three characters
there described. We, the very same persons, are at one time hard, at
another careless, and at another over-busy; although, if compared with,
other persons, and in the general form of their characters, some are
hard, and others are careless, and others over-busy; different persons
having different faults predominantly. But even the hardness of the road
side, although God forbid that it should be our prevailing temper, yet
surely it does sometimes exist in too many of us. In common speech, we
talk of a person showing a hard temper, meaning, generally, a hard
temper towards other men. We have done wrong, but being angry when we
are reproved for it, we will not acknowledge it at all, and cheat our
consciences, by dwelling upon the supposed wrong that has been done to
us in some over-severity of reproof or punishment, instead of confessing
and repenting of the original wrong which we ourselves did. But is it
not true, that a hard temper towards man is very often, even
consciously, a hard temper towards God? Does it never happen, that if
conscience presents to us the thought of God, whether as a God of
judgment to terrify us, or as a God of love to melt us, we repel it with
impatience, or with sullenness? Does not the heart sometimes almost
speak aloud the language of blasphemy: Who is God, that I should mind
him? I do not care what may happen, I will not be softened. Do not all
sorts of unbelieving thoughts pass rapidly through the mind at such
moments; first in their less daring form, whispering, as the serpent did
to Eve, that we shall not surely die; that we shall have time to repent
by and by; that God will not be so strict a judge as to condemn us for
such a little; that by some means or other, we shall escape? But then
they come, also, in their bolder form: What do I or any man know about
another world, or God's judgments? may it not be all a fiction, so that
I have, in reality, nothing to fear? In short, under one form or
another, is it not true, that our hearts have sometimes displayed
actually hardness towards God; that the thought of God has been actually
presented to our minds, but that we have turned it aside, and have not
suffered it to make any impression upon us? And thus, we have not only
not watched with Christ according to his command, but have actually told
him that we would not. But this has been in our worst temper, certainly;
it may not have happened,--I trust that it has not happened often. More
commonly, I dare say, the fault has been carelessness. We have gone out
of this place; sacred names have ceased to sound in our ears; sights in
any degree connected with, holy things have been all withdrawn from us.
Other sounds and other sights have been before us, and our minds have
yielded to them altogether. There are minds, indeed, which have no
spring of thought in themselves; which are quiet, and in truth empty,
till some outward objects come to engage them. Take them at a moment
when they are alone, or when there is no very interesting object before
them, and ask them of what they are thinking. If the answer were truly
given, such a mind would say, "Of nothing." Certain images may be
faintly presented to it; it may be that it is not altogether a blank;
yet it could not name anything distinctly. No form had been vivid enough
to produce any corresponding resolution in us; we were, as it were, in a
state between sleeping and waking, with neither thoughts nor dreams
definite enough to affect us. This state finds exactly all that it
desires in the presence or the near hope of outward objects; the mind
lives in its daily pursuits, and companions, and amusements. What
impressions have been once produced are soon worn away; and in a soil so
shallow nothing makes a durable impression: everything can, as it were,
scratch upon its surface, while nothing can strike deeply down within.

Or, again, take the rarer case of those who are over-busy. There are
minds, undoubtedly, which are as incapable of rest as those of the
generality of men are prone to it; there are minds which enter keenly
into everything presented to them by their outward senses, and which,
when their senses cease to supply them, have an inexhaustible source of
thought within, which furnishes them with abundant matter of reflection
or of speculation. To such a mind, doing is most delightful; whether it
be outward doing, or the mere exercise of thought, either supplies alike
the consciousness of power. Where, then, is there room for the less
obtruding things of God? Into that restless water, another and another
image is for ever stepping down, pushing aside and keeping at a distance
the sobering reflections of God and of Christ. Alas! the thorns grow so
vigorously in such a soil, that they altogether choke and kill the seed
of God's word.

So, then, we are either asleep, or, if we are awake, we are not waking
with Christ. On one side, in that garden of Gethsemane were the
disciples sleeping; below, and fast ascending the hill,--not sleeping,
certainly, but with lanterns and torches and weapons,--were those whose
waking was for evil. Where were they who watched with Christ one hour
then,--or where are those who watch with him now?

HOW gently, yet how earnestly, does he call upon us to "watch and pray,
lest we enter into temptation." To watch and to pray: for of all those
around him some were sleeping, and none were praying; so that they who
watched were not watching with him, but against him. In our careless
state of mind the call to us is to watch; in our over-busy state the
call to us is to pray; in our hard state there is equal need for both.
And even in our best moods, when we are not hard, nor careless, nor
over-busy, when we are at once sober and earnest and gentle, then not
least does Christ call upon us to watch and to pray, that we may retain
that than which else no gleam of April sunshine was ever more fleeting;
that we may perfect that which else is of the earth, earthly, and when
we lie down in the dust will wither and come to dust also.

Jesus Christ brought life and immortality, it is said, to light through
the gospel. He brought life and immortality to light:--is this indeed
true as far as we are concerned? What do we think would be the
difference in this point between many of us--who will dare say how
many?--and a school, I will not say of Jewish, but even of Greek or
Roman or Egyptian boys, eighteen hundred, or twenty-four hundred, or
three or four thousand years ago? Compare us at our worship with them,
and then, I grant, the difference would appear enormous. We have no
images, making the glory of the incorruptible God like to corruptible
man; we have no vain stream of incense; no shedding of the blood of
bulls and calves in sacrifice: the hymns which are sung here are not
vain repetitions or impious fables, which gave no word of answer to
those questions which it most concerns mankind to know. Here, indeed,
Jesus Christ is truly set forth, crucified among us; here life and
immortality are brought to light. But follow us out of this place,--to
our respective pursuits and amusements, to our social meetings, or our
times of solitary thought,--and wherein do we seem to see life and
immortality more brightly revealed than to those heathen schools of old?
Do we enjoy any worldly good less keenly, or less shrink from any
worldly evil? Death, which to the heathen view was the end of all
things, is to us (so our language goes) the gate of life. Do we think of
it with more hope and less fear than the heathen did? Christ has risen,
and has reconciled us to God. Is God more to us?--God now revealed to us
as our reconciled Father--do we oftener think of him, do we love him
better, than he was thought of and loved in those heathen schools, which
had Homer's poetry for their only gospel? We talk of light, of
revelation, of the knowledge of God, while verily and really we are
walking, not in light, but in darkness: not in knowledge of God, but in
blindness and hardness of heart.

"The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." How great is the
loving-kindness of these words,--how gently does Christ bear with the
weakness of his disciples! But this thought may be the most blessed or
the most dangerous thought in the world; the most blessed if it touches
us with love, the most dangerous if it emboldens us in sin. He is full
of loving-kindness, full of long-suffering; for days, and weeks, and
months, and years he bears with us: we grieve him, and he entreats; we
crucify him afresh, yet he will not come down from the cross in power
and majesty; he endures and spares. So it is for days, and months, and
years; for some years it may be to most of us,--for many years to some
of the youngest. There may be some here who may go on grieving Christ,
and crucifying him afresh, for as much as seventy years; and he will
bear with them all that time, and his sun will daily shine upon them,
and his creatures and his word will minister to their pleasure; and he
himself will say nothing to them but to entreat them to turn and be
saved. This may last, I say, to some amongst us for seventy years; to
others it may last fifty; to many of us it may last for forty, or for
thirty; none of us, perhaps, are so old but that it may last with us
twenty, or at the least ten. Such is the prospect before us, if we like
it: not to be depended upon with certainty, it is true, but yet to be
regarded as probable. But as these ten, or twenty, or fifty, or seventy
years pass on, Christ will still spare us, but his voice of entreaty
will be less often heard; the distance between him and us will be
consciously wider. From one place after another where we once used
sometimes to see him, he will have departed; year after year some object
which used once to catch the light from heaven, will have become
overgrown, and will lie constantly in gloom; year after year the world
will become to us more entirely devoid of God. If sorrow, or some
softening joy ever turns our minds towards Christ, we shall be startled
at perceiving there is something which keeps us from him, that we cannot
earnestly believe in him; that if we speak of loving him, our hearts,
which can still love earthly things, feel that the words are but
mockery. Alas, alas! the increased weakness of our flesh, has destroyed
all the power of our spirit, and almost all its willingness: it is bound
with chains which it cannot break, and, indeed, scarcely desires to
break. Redemption, Salvation, Victory,--what words are these when
applied to that enslaved, that lost, that utterly overthrown and
vanquished soul, which sin is leading in triumph now, and which will
speedily be given over to walk for ever as a captive in the eternal
triumph of death!

Not one word of what I have said is raised beyond the simplest
expression of truth; this is our portion if we will not watch with
Christ. We know how often we have failed to do so, either sleeping in
carelessness, or being busy and wakeful, but not with him or for him.
Still he calls us to watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation; to
mark our lives and actions; to mark them often; to see whether we have
done well or ill in the month past, or in the week past, or in the day
past; to consider whether we are better than we were, or worse; whether
we think Christ loves us better, or worse; whether we are more or less
cold towards him. I know not what else can be called watching with
Christ than such a looking into ourselves as we are in his sight. It is
very hard to be done;--yes, it is hard--harder than anything probably
which we ever attempted before; and, therefore, we must pray withal for
his help, whose strength is perfected in our weakness. And if it be so
hard, and we have need so greatly to pray for God's help, should we not
all also be anxious to help one another? And knowing, as we do from our
own consciences, how difficult it is to watch with Christ, and how
thankful we should be to any one who were to make it easier to us,
should we not be sure that our neighbour is in like case with ourselves;
that our help may be as useful to him as we feel that his would be to
us? This is our bounden duty of love towards one another; what then
should be said of us if we not only neglect this duty, but do the very
contrary to it; if we actually help the evil in our brother's heart to
destroy him more entirely; if we will not watch with Christ ourselves,
and strive to prevent others from doing so?


* * * * *


* * * * *

ROMANS v. 8.

_God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us_.

We all remember the story in the Gospel, of the different treatment
which our Lord met with in the same house, from the Pharisee, who had
invited him into it, and from the woman who came in and knelt at his
feet, and kissed them, and bathed them with her tears. Our Lord
accounted for the difference in these words, "To whom little is
forgiven, the same loveth little;" which means to speak of the sense or
feeling in the person's own mind, "He who feels that little is or needs
to be forgiven him, he also loves little." And this same difference
which existed toward him when he was present on earth, exists no less
now, whenever he is brought before our thoughts. The same sort of
persons who saw him with indifference, think of him also with
indifference; they who saw him with love, think of him also with love.
There is no art, no power in the world, which can give an interest to
words spoken concerning him, for those who feel that little is and that
little needs to be forgiven them, or to those who never consider about
their being forgiven at all. To such, this day, with its services, what
they hear from the Scriptures, or what they hear from men, must be
alike a matter of indifference: it is not possible that it should be
otherwise. Yet, God forbid that we should design what we are saying this
day only for a certain few of our congregation, as if the rest neither
would nor could be interested in it. So long as any one is careless, he
cannot, it is true, be interested about the things of Christ; but who
can say at what moment, through God's grace, he may cease to be
careless? Is it too much to say, that scarcely a service is performed in
any congregation in the land, which does not awaken an interest in some
one who before was indifferent? I do rot say a deep interest, nor a
lasting one, but an interest; there is a thought, a heeding, an
inclination of the mind to listen, created probably by the Church
services in some one or other, every time that they are performed. As we
never can know in whom this may be so created, as all have great need
that it should be created, as all are deeply concerned whether they feel
that they are so or no, so we speak to all alike; and if the language
does pass over their ears like an unknown or indistinct sound, the fault
and the loss are theirs; but the Church has borne her witness, and has
so far done her duty.

But again, for ears not careless, but most interested; for hearts to
whom Christ is more than all in the world besides; for minds, before
whom the wisdom of the gospel is ever growing, rising to a loftier
height, and striking downwards to a depth more profound,--yet without
end in its height or its depth; is there not, also, a difficulty in
speaking to them of that great thing which the Church celebrates to-day?
Is there no difficulty in awakening their interest, or rather how can we
escape even from wearying or repelling them, when their own affections
and deep thoughts must find all words of man, whether of themselves or
others, infinitely unworthy to express either the one or the other? To
such, then, the words of the preacher may be no more than music without
any words at all; which does but serve to lead and accompany our own
thoughts, without distinctly suggesting any thoughts of another to
interrupt the workings of our own minds. We would speak of Christ's
death; most good it is for us and for you to think upon it; so far as
our words suit the current of your own thoughts, use them and listen to
them; so far as they are a too unworthy expression of what we ought to
think and feel, follow your own reflections, and let the words neither
offend you nor distract you.

I would endeavour just to touch, upon some of the purposes for which the
Scripture tells us that Christ died, and for which his death was
declared to be the great object of our faith. This done in the simplest
and fewest words will best show the infinite greatness of the subject;
and how truly it is, so to speak, the central point of Christianity.

First of all, Christ died as a proper sacrifice for sin; as a sacrifice,
the virtue of which, is altogether distinct from our knowledge of it, or
from any effect which it has a tendency to produce on our own minds. We
are forgiven for his sake; we are acquitted through his death, and
through faith in his blood. What a view does this open, partially,
indeed,--for what mortal eye can reach to the end of it?--of the evil of
sin, and of God's love! of what God's justice required, and of what
God's love fulfilled! This great sacrifice was made once, but it will
not be made again; for those who despise this there remains no more
offering for sin, but their sin abideth with them for ever.

Secondly, Christ's death is revealed to us as a motive capable of
overcoming all temptations to evil. "How much more shall the blood of
Christ purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"
"He suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us
to God;" that is, that a consideration of what Christ's death declares
to us should have power to melt the hardest heart, and to sober the
lightest: that, when we think of Christ dying, dying for us, and so
purchasing for us the forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life, such a
love, and such a prospect of peace with God, and of glory, should in the
highest degree soften and enkindle us; and from love for him, and
confidence of hope through the prospect which he has given us, we should
be able to overcome all temptations. "I am persuaded," says St. Paul,
"that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor
powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of
God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Thirdly, Christ suffered for as, leaving us an example that we should
follow his steps. He left us an example of all meekness, and patience,
and humility; he left us an example of perfect submission to God's will;
he left us an infinite comfort by letting us feel when we are in any
trouble, or pain, or affliction, that he was troubled too; that he knew
pain, and endured affliction. Above all, in that hour which must come to
all of us, he has left us the greatest of all supports;--for he endured
to die; and we may enter with less fear into the darkness of the grave,
for even there Christ has been for our sakes, and arose from out of it a

Fourthly, Christ died that he might gather together in one the children
of God that were scattered abroad; he died to purchase to himself his
universal Church. So it is said in the Scriptures: and on this
particular purpose of his death, it may not be amiss to dwell, for none
so needs to be held in remembrance. Many there are, and ever have been,
who have rested their whole hope towards God on his sacrifice; many who
have learnt from his cross to overcome sin; from his resurrection to
overcome the world; many who, amidst all the troubles of life, and in
the hour of death, have been supported by the thought of his example.
But where is his universal Church? where the company of God's children
gathered together into one? where is the city set upon the hill, that
cannot be hid? where is the visible kingdom of God, where all its people
are striving under one Divine Head, against sin, the world, and the
devil? This is the sign which we look for and cannot find; this is the
fulfilment of the prophecies for which we seem destined to wait in vain.

And what if, on the contrary, that which is called the Church act rather
the part of the world; if our worst foes be truly those of our own
household: if they who should have been for our help, be rather an
occasion of falling: if one of our greatest difficulties in following
Christ steadily, arise from the total want of encouragement, yea, often
from the direct opposition of those who are themselves pledged to follow
him to the death; if that Church, which was to have been the clearest
sign to the world of the truth of Christ's gospel, be now, in many
respects, rather a stumbling-block to the adversary and unbeliever, so
that the name of God is through us blasphemed among the heathen, rather
than glorified; may we not humble ourselves before God in sorrow and in
shame? and must we not confess, that through our sin, and the sin of our
fathers, Christ, in respect of this one purpose of his death, has as yet
died in vain?

Israel after the flesh, lamenting their Jerusalem which is now not
theirs, and mourning over their ruined temple, in all their synagogues
repeat constantly the prayer, O Lord, build thou the walls of Jerusalem!
O Lord, build! O Lord, build! O Lord, build! is the solemn chorus,
marking by its repetition the earnestness of their desire. And should
not this be the prayer of the Israel of God, scattered now as they are
into their thousand divided and corrupted synagogues, and no token to be
seen of the pure and universal Church, the living temple of the Spirit
of God; should not we too, privately and publicly, join in the prayer of
the earthly Israel, and pray that Christ would build for us the walls of
our true Jerusalem? For only think what it would be, if Christ's Church
existed more than in name; consider what it would be if baptism were a
real bond; if we looked on one another as brethren, redeemed by one
ransom, pledged to one service; if we bore with one another's
weaknesses; if we helped one another's endeavours; if each saw and
heard, in the words and life of his neighbour, an image of Christ, and a
pledge of the truth of his promises. Consider what it would be, if, with
no quarrels, with no jealousies, with no unkindness, we sought not every
man his own, but every man also another's welfare; as true members one
of another,--of one body, of which Christ is the head. Consider what it
would be, if our judgments of men and things were like Christ's
judgments; neither strengthening the heart of the careless and sinful by
our laxity, nor making sad the heart of God's true servant by our
uncharitableness; not putting little things in the place of great, nor
great things in the place of little; not neglecting the unity of the
Spirit; not stickling for a sameness in the form. Or, if we carry our
views a little wider; if we look out upon the world at large, and hear
of rumours of wars, and see the signs of internal disorders, and
perhaps may think that the clouds are gathering which, herald one of the
comings of the Son of man to judgment, whether the last of all or not it
were vain to ask; how blessed would it be, if we could see such an ark
of Christ's Church as should float visibly upon, the stormy waters;
gathering within it, in peace and safety, men of various dispositions
and conditions, and opinions; those who held much of truth, and those
who had mixed with it much of error: those whom Christ would call clean,
and those, too, whom some of their brethren call unclean, but whom
Christ has redeemed, and will save no less than their despisers; all, in
short, who fled from sin and from the world to Christ, and to the
company of Christ's people! O if we could but see such an ark preparing
while God's long-suffering yet withholds the flood! O that all God's
scattered and divided children would join together in one earnest
prayer, O Lord, build thou the walls of Jerusalem! O Lord, build! O
Lord, build! O Lord, build!

Yet, for this, among other purposes of mercy, did the Son of God, as on
this day, suffer death upon the cross: he died that we might be one in
him. Let us turn, then, from the thought of the general temple in ruins,
and let us see whether we cannot, at any rate, within the walls of our
own little particular congregation, fulfil also this object of Christ's
death, and be one in him. Let us consider one another, to provoke unto
love and to good works: we too often consider one another for the very
contrary purpose, to provoke to contempt or ill-will. True it is, that
if we look for it we can find much of evil in our brethren, and they can
find much also in us; and we might become all haters of one another, all
in some sort deserving to be hated. But where is he who is entitled to
hate another's evil when he has evil in himself; and when Christ, who
had none, did not hate the evil of us all, but rather died to save it?
And is it not true also, that, if we look for it, we can also find in
every one something to love? something, undoubtedly, even in him who has
in himself least: but much, infinitely much in all, when we look upon
them as Christ's redeemed. Not more beautifully than truly has it been
said, that Christian souls--

"Though worn and soiled by sinful clay,
Are yet, to eyes that see them true,
All glistening with baptismal dew."

They have the seal of belonging to Christ; they are his and our
brethren. And, as his latest command, and his beloved Apostle's also,
was that we should love one another; so, if we would bring all our
solemn thoughts of Christ's death to one point, and endeavour to derive
from it some one particular lesson for our daily lives, I know not that
any would be more needed or better for us, than that we should
especially apply the thought of Christ dying on the cross for us to
soften our angry, and proud, and selfish feelings; to restrain us from
angry or sneering words; from unkind, offensive, rude, or insulting
actions; to excite us to gentleness, courtesy, kindness; remembering
that he, be he who he may, whom we allow ourselves to despise, or to
dislike, or to annoy, or to neglect, was one so precious in Christ's
sight, that he laid down his life for his sake, and invites him to be
for ever with, him and with his Father.


* * * * *


* * * * *

JOHN xx. 20.

_Then the disciples went away again unto their own home_.

With this verse ends the portion of the scripture chosen for the gospel
in this morning's service. It finishes the account of the visit of Peter
and John to the sepulchre; and, therefore, the close of the extract at
this point is sufficiently natural. Yet the effect of the quiet tone of
these words, just following the account of the greatest event which
earth has ever witnessed, is, I think, singularly impressive; the more
so when we remember that they were written by one of the very persons,
whose visit had been just described; and that the writer, therefore,
could tell full well, to how intense an interest there had succeeded
that solemn calm. They went away from the very sight, if I may so speak,
of Christ risen, to their own homes. And what thoughts do we suppose
that they carried with them? Let us endeavour to recall them, for our
benefit, also, who, like them, are going, as it were, to the ordinary
tenure of our daily lives from this day's high solemnity.

The disciples went away to their own homes; and there they waited,
either in Jerusalem or in Galilee, pursuing, as we find from the last
chapter of St. John, their common occupations, till, after their Lord's
ascension, power was given them from on high, and the great work of
their apostleship began. During this period, Christ appeared to them
several times: he conversed with them, he ate and drank with them: but
he did not live continually with them, as he had done before his
crucifixion: he did not take them about with him as before, while he was
performing the part of the great prophet of the house of Israel. They
were now at their own homes waiting for his call to more active duties.
They had seen him dead, and they had seen, him risen, and they were
receiving into their souls all the lessons of his life and death and
resurrection, brought before them, and impressed upon them by that Holy
Spirit, who, according to Christ's promise, was to take of the things
which are Christ's, and to show them to Christ's disciples.

It is true that there came upon them, after this, an especial visitation
of the Spirit of power, to fit them for their particular work of
apostles or messengers to mankind. Having been converted themselves,
they were to strengthen their brethren. And as this especial visitation
of the Holy Spirit was given to them only, and to those on whom they
themselves laid their hands, so none have ever since been called to that
particular work to which they were called, in any thing of the same
degree of fulness. What is peculiar to them as apostles is not
applicable exactly to us; but we are all concerned in what belongs to
them as Christians: in this respect, their case is ours; and they, when
at their own homes, and engaged in their own callings, stand in the same
situation as we all.

We may, however, still make a two-fold division; we may regard the
apostles going away to their own homes, as a temporary thing, as a mere
term of preparation for the duties which they were afterwards called to;
or we may look upon it as complete so far as earth is concerned, since,
taking them as Christians only and not as apostles, they might have so
lived on to the end of their lives, having received all those helps
which were needed for their own personal salvation, and having only to
use them daily for their soul's benefit. This same distinction we may
apply to ourselves. We may consider ourselves as going to our own homes
for a time only, awaiting our call to active life; or we may consider
ourselves as withdrawing, after every celebration of Christ's
resurrection, to that round of daily duties which on earth shall never
alter; and to which all the helps derived from our communion with Christ
are to be applied, with nothing future, so for as earth is concerned,
for which we may need them. So then, of whatever age we may be, what is
said of the apostles in the text may apply to us also: after having
witnessed, as it were, Christ's resurrection, we go away to our own
homes. Let us first take that part of the text which is common to us
all, though not in the same degree--the having been witnesses of
Christ's resurrection. John and Peter found him not in the sepulchre;
they found the linen clothes and the napkin lying there, but he was
gone. And upon this, as John assures us, both for himself and his
companion, "they believed." They believed, we should observe, when as
yet they had no more seen Jesus himself after his resurrection, than we
Lave now. They only knew that he had been dead, and that he was not in
the sepulchre. And this we know also; we have not seen him, indeed,
since his resurrection: but we are sure he is not in the sepulchre. We
are sure that the malice of his enemies did not do its work: we are
sure, for we are ourselves witnesses of it, that that name, and that
word, which they hoped would have been destroyed for ever, like the
names of many, not only of false prophets and deceivers, but even of
good men and of wise, have not perished, but have brought forth fruit
more abundantly, from the very cause that was intended to put them out.
Christ's gospel, assuredly, is a living thing, full of vigour and full
of power; it has worked mightily for good, and is working; it is so full
of blessing, it tends so largely towards the happiness that is enjoyed
upon earth, that we are quite sure it is not lying still buried in
Christ's sepulchre.

They (the two disciples) then went away believing, because they found
that he was not in the sepulchre. But Mary Magdalene came and told them,
that she had seen him risen, and had heard his voice with her ears. What
she told Peter and John, Peter and John are now telling to us. They tell
us that they have heard him, have seen him with their eyes, have looked
upon him, yea, that their hands have handled him. They tell us even more
than Mary Magdalene told them; for she had not been allowed to touch
him. We may well trust their testimony, as they trusted hers, being
quite ready indeed to believe that he was alive, because they had found
that he was not amongst the dead. And so we, finding that he is not
amongst the dead, seeing and knowing the fruits of his gospel, the
living and ever increasing fruits of it, may well believe that its
author is risen, and that the pains of death were loosed from off him,
because it was not possible that he should be holden by them.

In this way, we, like the two disciples, may be all said to be witnesses
of Christ's resurrection. May it not be said still more of those amongst
us who assembled this morning round Christ's table, to keep alive the
memory of his death; when we partook of that bread, and drank of that
cup, of which so many thousands and millions, in every age and in every
land, have eaten and drunken, all receiving them, with nearly the same
words,--the body that was given for us, the blood that was shed for
us,--all, making allowances for human weakness, finding in that
communion the peace and the strength of God; all alike receiving it with
penitent hearts, and with faith, and purposes of good for the time to
come? Did we not then witness that Christ is not perished? that he has
been ever, and still is, mighty to save? That command given to twelve
persons, in an obscure chamber in Jerusalem, by one who, the next day,
was to die as a malefactor, has been, and is obeyed from one end of the
world to another; and wherever it has been obeyed, there, in proportion
to the sincerity of the obedience, has been the fulness of the blessing.

But this is now past, as with the two disciples, and we are going again
to our own homes. There, neither the empty sepulchre nor the risen
Saviour are present before us, but common scenes and familiar
occupations, which, in themselves have nothing in them of Christ. So it
must be; we cannot be always within these walls; we cannot always be
engaged in public prayer; we cannot always be hearing Christ's word, nor
partaking of his communion; we must be going about our several works,
and must be busied in them; some of us in preparation for other work to
come, others to go on till the end of their lives with this only. May we
not hope that Christ, and Christ's Spirit, will visit us the while in
these our daily callings, as he came to his disciples Peter and John,
when following their business as fishers on the lake of Gennesareth?

How can we get him to visit us? There is one answer--by prayer and by
watchfulness. By prayer, whether we are in our preparatory state, or our
fixed one; by prayer, and I think I may add, by praying in our own
words. Of course, when we pray together, some of us must join in the
words of others; and it makes little difference, whether those words be
spoken or read. But when we pray alone, some, perhaps, may still use
none but prayers made by others, especially the Lord's prayer. We should
remember, however, that the Lord's prayer was given for this very
purpose, to teach us how to pray for ourselves. But it does not do this,
if we use it alone, and still more, if we use it without understanding
it. If we do understand it, and study it, it will indeed teach us to
pray; it will show us what we most need in prayer, and what are our
greatest evils; but surely it may be said, that no man ever learnt this
lesson well without wishing to practise it; no man ever used the Lord's
prayer with understanding and with earnestness, without adding to it
others of his own. And this is not a trifling matter. We know the
difficulty of attending in prayer; and if we use the words of others
only, which we must, therefore, repeat from memory, it is perfectly
possible to say them over without really joining with them in our minds:
we may say them over to ourselves, and be actually thinking of other
things the while. And the same thing holds good, of course, even with
prayers that we have made ourselves, if we accustom ourselves to repeat
them without alteration; they then become, in fact, the work of another
than our actual mind, and may be repeated by memory alone. Therefore, it
seems to be of consequence to vary the words, and even the matter of our
private prayers, that so we may not deceive ourselves, by repeating
merely, when we fancy that we are praying. Ten words actually made by
ourselves at the moment, and not remembered, are a real prayer; for it
is not hypocrisy that is the most common danger; our temper, when we are
on our knees, is apt indeed to be careless, but not, I hope and believe,
deceitful. This, of course, must be well known to a very large
proportion of us; but, perhaps, there are some to whom it may be
useful; some to whom the advice may not yet have suggested itself, that
they should make their own prayers, in part, at least, whenever they
kneel down to their private devotions.

And this sort of prayer, with God's blessing, is likely to make us
watchful. We rise in the morning: we say some prayers of our own; we
hear others read to us; and yet it is possible that we may not have
really prayed ourselves in either case; we may not have brought
ourselves truly into the presence of God. Hence our true condition, with
all its dangers, has not been brought before our minds; the need of
watchfulness has not been shown to us. But with real prayer of our own
hearts' making it is different; God is then present to us, and sin and
righteousness: our dream of carelessness is, for a moment at least,
broken. No doubt it is but too easy to dream again; yet still an
opportunity of exerting ourselves to keep awake is given us; we are
roused to consciousness of our situation; and that, at any rate, renders
exertion possible. There is no doubt that souls are most commonly lost
by this continued dreaming, till at length, when seemingly awake (they
are not so really), they are like men who answer to the call that would
arouse them, but they answer, in fact, unconsciously. We cannot tell for
ourselves or others any way by which our souls shall certainly be saved,
in spite of carelessness; or any way by which, carelessness shall be
overcome necessarily; all that can be done is, to point out how it may
be overcome, by what means the soul may be helped in its endeavours; not
how those endeavours and holy desires may be rendered needless.

Thus, then, we may gain Christ to visit us at our own homes and in our
common callings, when we are returned to them. And that difference which
I spoke of as existing between us, that some of us are waiting for
Christ's call to a higher field of action, while others are engaged in
that sort of duty which will last their lives, I know not that
this--though it be often important, and though I am often obliged to
dwell on it--need enter into our considerations to-day. Rather, perhaps,
may we overlook this difference, and feel that all of us here
assembled--those in their state of earliest preparation for after
duties; those to whom that earliest state is passed away, and who are
entered into another state, in part preparatory, in part partaking of
the character of actual life; and those also whose preparation, speaking
of earth, only, is completed altogether, who must be doing, and whose
time even of doing is far advanced--that all of us have in truth one
great call yet before us: and that, with respect to that, we are all, as
it were, preparing still. And for that great call, common to all of us,
we need all the same common readiness; and that readiness will be
effected in us only by the same means,--if now, before it come, Christ
and Christ's Spirit shall, in our homes and daily callings, be persuaded
to visit us.


* * * * *


* * * * *

ACTS xix. 2.

_Have you received the Holy Ghost since ye believed_?

It appears, by what follows these words, that the question here related
especially to those gifts of the Holy Ghost which were given, in the
first age of the church, as a sign of God's power, and a witness that
the work of the gospel was from God. Yet although this be so, and
therefore the words, in this particular sense, cannot to any good
purpose be asked now; yet there is another sense, and that not a lower
but a far higher one, in which we may ask them, and in which it concerns
us in the highest degree, what sort of answer we can give to them, I
say, "what sort of answer;" for I think it is true of all Christians
that, in a certain measure, they have received the Holy Ghost. Not only
does the doctrine of our own, and I believe every other, church,
concerning baptism, show this: but it seems also necessarily to follow,
from those words of St. Paul, that "No man can say that Jesus is the
Lord but by the Holy Ghost." And yet the Scripture and common experience
alike show us, that a man may call Jesus Lord, and yet not be really
his, nor one who will be owned by Him at the last day. So that what is
of real importance to us is, the degree of fulness and force with which
we could give the answer to the words of the text; not simply saying
that we have received the Holy Ghost, which would be true, but might be
far from sufficient; but saying that we have received Him and are
receiving Him more and more, so that our hearts and lives are showing
the impression of his heavenly seal daily more and more clearly and

And this must really have always been the answer which it concerned
every Christian to be able to make; although it has been in various
instances, and by very opposite parties, tried to be evaded. It is
evaded alike by those who set too highly the grace given in baptism, and
by those who, setting this too low, direct our attention to another
point in a man's life, which they call his justification or conversion.
For both alike would give an exaggerated importance to one particular
moment of our lives, and to the grace then given. Now, the importance of
particular moments in men's lives differs exceedingly in different
persons; but yet in all may be exaggerated. I suppose that if ever in
any man's life a particular point was of immense importance, it was the
point of his conversion in the case of St. Paul. There were here united
all that grace which according to one view accompanies baptism
especially, and all which according to the other view accompanies
conversion and justification. Here was a point which separated St.
Paul's later life from his earlier with a broader line of separation
than can possibly be the ease in general. There can be no doubt that he,
if ever man did, received at that particular time the Holy Ghost. But
if, ten or twenty years afterwards, St. Paul had been asked concerning
what the Holy Ghost had done for him, he would not certainly have
confined himself in his answer to the grace once given him at his
conversion and baptism, but would have spoken of that which he had been
receiving since every hour and every day, carrying forward and
completing that work of God which had been begun at the time of his
journey to Damascus. And as he had received more and more grace, so was
his confidence in his acceptance with God at the last day more and more
assured. For he writes to the Corinthians, many years after his
conversion and baptism, that he kept under his body, and was bringing it
into subjection, lest that by any means, after having preached to
others, he should be himself a castaway. And some years later still,
though he does not use so strong an expression as that of becoming a
castaway, yet he still says, even when writing to the Philippians from
Rome, that he counted not himself to have apprehended, nor to have
attained his object fully; but forgetting what was behind, even the
grace of his conversion and baptism, he pressed on to the things which
were before, even that continued and increasing grace which was required
to bring him in safety to his heavenly crown. But if we go on some years
yet farther, when his labours were ended, and the sure prospect of
speedy death was before him; when the past grace was everything, and
what he could expect yet to come was scarcely any other than that
particular aid which we need in our struggle with the last enemy--death;
then, his language is free from all uncertainty; then, in the full sense
of the words, he could say that he had received the Holy Ghost, that his
spirit had been fully born again for its eternal being, and that there
only remained the raising up also of his mortal body, to complete that
new creation of body and soul which Christ's Spirit works in Christ's
redeemed. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I
have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me my crown of
righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me at
that day."

It seems, then, that the great question which we should be anxious to
be able to answer in the affirmative, is this, "_Are we receiving_ the
Holy Ghost since we believed?" "Since we believed," whether we choose to
carry back the date of our first belief to the very time of our baptism,
when grace was given to us,--we know not to what degree nor how,--yet
given to us, as being then received into Christ's flock; or whether we
go back only to that time when we can ourselves remember ourselves to
have believed, and so can remember that God's grace was given to us.
Have we been ever since, and are we still, receiving the Holy Ghost? O
blessed above all blessedness, if we can say that this is true of us! O
blessed with a blessedness most complete, if we only do not too entirely
abandon ourselves to enjoy it! Elect of God; holy and beloved; justified
and sanctified; there is nothing in all the world that could impair or
destroy such happiness, except we ourselves, in evil hour, believed it
to be out of the reach of danger.

But if the witness of memory and conscience be less favourable; if we
can remember long seasons of our lives during which we were not
receiving the Holy Ghost; long seasons of a cold and hard state, in
which there was, as it were, neither rain nor dew, nor yet sun to ripen
what had grown before; but all was so ungenial that no new thing grew;
and what had grown was withering and almost dying; what shall be said,
then, and how can the time be made up which was so wasted? But we
remember, it may be, that this deadly season passed away: the rain fell
once more, and the tender dew, and the quickening sun shone brightly:
our spiritual growth began again, and is now going on healthily; we have
not always been receiving the Holy Ghost since we believed, but we are
receiving him now. How gracious, then, has God been to us, that he has
again renewed us unto repentance; that he has shown that we have not, in
the fullest sense, sinned against the Holy Ghost, seeing that the Holy
Ghost still abides with us! we grieved him, and tried his
long-suffering, but he has not abandoned us to our own evil hearts; we
are receiving him who is the giver of life, and we still live.

But must not we speak of others? is not another case to be supposed
possible? may there not be some who cannot say with truth that they are
receiving the holy Ghost now? They received him once; we doubt it not;
perhaps they were receiving him for some length of time; their early
childhood was watched by Christian care; their youth and early manhood,
when it received freshly things of this world, received also, with
lively thankfulness, the grace of God; they can remember a time when
they were growing in goodness; when they were being renewed after the
image of God. But they can remember, also, that this time passed away;
the grace of early childhood was put out by the temptations of boyhood;
the grace of youth and opening manhood died away amid the hardness of
this life's maturity. It is so, I believe, often; that boyhood, which
is, as it were, ripened childhood, destroys the grace of our earliest
years; that again, when youth offers us a second beginning of life, we
are again impressed with good; but that ripened youth, which is manhood,
brings with it again the reason of hardness, and again our spiritual
growth, is destroyed. We can remember, I am supposing, that this fatal
change did take place; but can we date it to any particular act, or
month, or day, or hour? We can do so most rarely: in this respect the
seed of death can even less be traced to its beginning than the seed of
life. And yet there _was_ a beginning, only we do not remember it. And
why do we not remember it? Because the real beginning was in some act
which seemed of so little consequence that it made no impression; in the
altering some habit which we judged to be a mere trifle; in the
indulging some temper which even at the time we hardly noticed. Some
such little thing,--little in our view of it,--made the fatal turn; we
received the grace of God less and less: we heeded not the change for a
season; and when it was so marked that we could not but heed it, then we
had ceased to regard it; and so it was that the spring of our life was
dried up: and it is of no more avail to our present and future state,
that we once received grace, than the rain of last winter will be
sufficient to ripen the summer's harvest, if from this time forward we
have nothing but drought and cold.

Some few, again, there may be, who, within their own recollection, could
not say that they have received the Holy Ghost: persons who have lived
among careless friends, to whom the way of life has never been steadily
pointed out; while the way of death, with all its manifold paths,
meeting at last in one, has been continually before them. Shall we say
that these, because they have been baptized, are therefore guilty of
having rejected grace given? that this sin is aggravated, because a
mercy was offered them once of which they were unconscious? We would not
say this; but we would say that it is impossible but that they must have
received the Holy Ghost within their memory; it is impossible but that
conscience must have sometimes spoken, and that they must have sometimes
been enabled to obey it; it is impossible but that they must have had
some notions of sin, and some desires to struggle against it; and so far
as they ever felt that desire, it was the work of God's Holy Spirit.
Man cannot dare to say how great the amount of their guilt may be; but
guilt there certainly is; they have grieved the Holy Spirit; and, though
we dare not say that they have utterly blasphemed him, yet they have a
long hardness to overcome, and every hour of delayed turning to God
increases it: it may be possible still to overcome it, but meanwhile it
is not overcome; they are not receiving the Holy Spirit; they are not
being renewed into the likeness of Christ, without which no man can
see God.

Here, then, are the four cases, one of which must belong to every one of
us here assembled. Either we have been always and still are receiving
the Holy Ghost; or we can remember when we were not, but yet are
receiving him now; or we can remember when we were, but yet now are not;
or we cannot remember to have received him ever, nor are we yet
receiving him. I cannot say which of the last two states is the most
dreadful, nor scarcely which of the first two states is the most
blessed. But yet as even those happy states admit not of
over-confidence, so neither do the last two most unhappy states oblige
us to despair. Not to despair; but they do urge us to every degree of
fear less than despair. There is far more danger of our not fearing
enough than of our being driven to despair. There is far more danger of
your looking on the season of youth, of our looking on to old age; you
trusting to the second freshness and tenderness of the first,--we to the
calmness and necessary reflection of the last. There is far more danger
of our thus hardening ourselves beyond recall; there is not only the
danger, but there is the sin, the greatest sin, I suppose, of which the
human mind is capable, that of deliberately choosing evil for the
present rather than good, calculating that, by and by, we shall choose
good rather than evil. I believe, that it is impossible to conceive of
any state of mind more sinful than one which should so feel and so
choose; and this is the state which we incur, and which we persist in
whenever we put off the thought of repentance. Now, then, it only
remains, that we apply this each to ourselves; I say all of us apply it,
the young and the old alike; for there is not one here so young as not
to have cause to apply it; there is not one of us who would not, I am
sure, be a different person from what he now is, if he were to ask
himself steadily every day, Have I been and am I receiving the Holy
Ghost since I believed?


* * * * *


* * * * *

JOHN iii. 9.

_How can these things be_?

This is the second question put by Nicodemus to our Lord with regard to
the truths which Jesus was declaring to him. The first was, "How can a
man be born when he is old?" which was said upon our Lord's telling him
that, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Now, it will be observed, that these two questions are treated by our
Lord in a different manner: to the first he, in fact, gives an answer;
that is, he removes by his answer that difficulty in Nicodemus's mind
which led to the question; but to the second he gives no answer, and
leaves Nicodemus--and with Nicodemus, us all also--exactly in the same
ignorance as he found him at the beginning.

Now, is there any difference in the nature of these two questions, which
led our Lord to treat them so differently? We might suppose beforehand
that there would be; and when we come to examine them, so we shall find
it. The difficulty in the first question rendered true faith impossible,
and, therefore, our Lord removed it; the difficulty in the second
question did not properly interfere with faith at all, but might,
through man's fault, be a temptation to him to refuse to believe. And
as this, like other temptations, must be overcome by us, and not taken
away from our path before we encounter it, so our Lord did not think
proper to remove it or to lessen it.

We must now unfold this difference more clearly. When Christ said,
"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,"
Nicodemus could not possibly believe what our Lord said, because he did
not understand his meaning. He did not know what he meant by "a man's
being born again," and, therefore, he could not believe, as he did not
know what he was to believe. Words which we do not understand, are like
words spoken in an unknown language; we can neither believe them nor
disbelieve them, because we do not know what they say. For instance, I
repeat these words, [Greek: tous pantas haemas phanerothaenai dei
emprosaen tou baematos tou Christou.] Now, if I were to ask, Do you
believe these words? is it not manifest that all of you who know Greek
enough, to understand them may also believe them; but of those who do
not know Greek, not a single person can yet believe them? They are as
yet words spoken as to the air. But when I add, that these words mean,
"We must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ;" now we can all
believe them because we can all understand them.

It is, then, perfectly impossible for any man to believe a statement
except in proportion as he understands its meaning. And, therefore, our
Lord explained what he meant to Nicodemus, and told him that, by being
born again, he did not mean the natural birth of the body; but a birth
caused by the Spirit, and therefore itself a birth of a spirit: for, as
that which is born from a body is itself also a body, so that which is
born of a spirit is itself also a spirit. So that Christ's words now are
seen to have this meaning,--No man can enter into the kingdom of God
except God's Spirit creates in him a spirit or mind like unto himself,
and like unto Christ, and like unto the Father. Nicodemus, then, could
now understand what was meant, and might have believed it. But he asks
rather another question, "How can these things be?" How can God's Spirit
create within me a spirit like himself, while I continue a man as
before? Many persons since have asked similar questions; but to none of
them is an answer given. How God's Spirit works within us I cannot tell;
but if we take the appointed means of procuring his aid, we shall surely
find that he has worked and does work in us to life eternal.

We must, then, in order to believe, understand what it is that is told
us; but it is by no means necessary that we should understand how it is
to happen. It is not necessary, and in a thousand instances we do not
know. "If we take poison, we shall die:" there is a statement which we
can understand, and therefore believe. But do we understand how it is
that poison kills us? Does every one here know how poisons act upon the
human frame, and what is the different operation of different
poisons,--how laudanum kills, for instance, and how arsenic? Surely
there are very few of us, at most, who do understand this: and yet would
it not be exceedingly unreasonable to refuse to believe that poison will
kill us, because we do not understand the manner _how_?

Thus far, I think, the question is perfectly plain, so soon as it is
once laid before us. But the real point of perplexity is to be found a
step further. In almost all propositions there is something about the
terms which we do understand, and something which we do not. For
instance, let me say these few words:--"A frigate was lost amidst the
breakers." These words would be understood in a certain degree, by all
who hear me: and so far as all understand them, all can believe them.
All would understand that a ship had sunk in the water, or been dashed
to pieces; that it would be useful no more for the purposes for which it
had been made. But what is meant by the words "frigate" and "breakers"
all would not understand, and many would understand very differently:
that is to say, those who had happened to have known most about the sea
and sea affairs would understand most about them, while those who knew
less would understand less; but probably none of us would understand
their meaning so fully, or would have so distinct and lively an image of
the things, as would be enjoyed by an actual seaman; and even amongst
seamen themselves, there would again be different degrees of
understanding, according to their different degrees of experience, or
knowledge of ships, or powers of mind.

I have taken the instance at random, and any other proposition might
have served my purpose as well. But men do not speak to one another at
random; when they say anything to their neighbour, they mean it to
produce on his mind a certain effect. Suppose that we were living near
the sea-coast, and any one were suddenly to come in, and to utter the
words which I have taken as my example: should we not know that what the
man meant by these words was, that there was a danger at hand for which
our help was needed? It matters not that we have no distinct ideas of
the terms "frigate" or "breakers;" we understand enough for our belief
and practice, and we should hasten to the sea-shore accordingly. Or
suppose that the same words were told us of a frigate in which we had
some near relation: should we not see at once that what we were meant to
understand and to believe in the words was, that we had lost a relation?
That is the truth with which we are concerned; and this we can
understand and feel, although we may be able to understand nothing more
of the words in which that truth is conveyed to us. Now, in like manner,
in whatever God says to us there is a purpose: it is intended to produce
on our minds a certain impression, and so far it must be understood. But
when God speaks to us of heavenly things, the terms employed can only be
understood in part, and so far as God's purpose with regard to our minds
reaches; but there must be a great deal in them which we can no more
understand than one who had never seen a ship, or a picture of one,
could understand the word "frigate." Our business is to consider what
impression or what actions the words are intended to produce in us. Up
to this point we can and must understand them: beyond this they may be
wholly above the reach of our faculties, and we can form of them no
ideas at all.

It is clear that this will be the case most especially whenever God
reveals to us anything concerning himself. Take these few words, for
example, "God is a spirit;" take them as a mere abstract truth, and how
little can we understand about them! Who will dare to say that he
understands all that is contained in the words "God" and "spirit?" We
might weary ourselves for ever in attempting so to search out either.
But God said these words to us: and the point is, What impression did he
mean them to have upon us? how far can we understand them? This he has
not by any means left doubtful, for it follows immediately, "They who
worship him should worship Him in spirit and in truth." For this end the
words were spoken, and thus far they are clear to us. God lives not on
Mount Gerizim or at Jerusalem: but in every place he hears the prayers
of the sincere and contrite heart, in no place will he regard the
offerings of the proud and evil.

Or again, "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,
to the end that all who believe in him should not perish, but have
eternal life." Here are words in themselves, as abstract truths,
perfectly overwhelming; "God," "God's only-begotten Son," "Eternity."
Who shall understand these things, when it is said, that "none knoweth
the Son, save the Father; that none knoweth the Father, save the Son?"
But did God tell us the words for nothing? can we understand nothing
from them? believe nothing? feel nothing? Nay, they were spoken that we
might both understand, and believe, and feel. How must He love us, who
gives for us his only-begotten Son! how surely may we believe in Him who
is an only-begotten Son to his Father,--so equal in nature, so entire in
union!--What must that happiness be, which reaches beyond our powers of
counting! Would we go further?--then the veil is drawn before us; other
truths there are, no doubt, contained in the words; truths which the
angels might desire to look into; truths which even they may be unable
to understand. But these are the secret things which belong unto our
God; the things which are revealed they are what belong to us and to our
children, that we may understand, and believe, and do them.

Again, "the Comforter, whom Christ will send unto us from the Father,
even the Spirit of Truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall
testify of Christ." What words are here! "The Spirit of Truth," "the
Spirit proceeding from the Father;" the Spirit "whom Christ will send,"
and "send from the Father." Can any created being understand, to the
full, such "heavenly things" as these? But would Christ have uttered to
his disciples mere unintelligible words, which could tell them nothing,
and excite in them no feeling but mere wonder? Not so; but the words
told them that Christ was not to be lost to them after he had left them
on earth; that every gift of God was his: that even that Spirit of God,
in which is contained all the fulness of the Godhead, is the Spirit of
Christ also; that that mighty power which should work in them so
abundantly, was of no other or lower origin than God himself; as
entirely God, as the spirit of man is man. But can we therefore
understand the Spirit of God, or conceive of him? How should we, when we
cannot understand our own? This, and this only, we understand and
believe, that without him our spirits cannot be quickened; that unless
we pray daily for his aid, and listen to his calls within us, our spirit
will never be created after his image, and we cannot enter into the
kingdom of God.

It is thus, and thus only, that the revelations of God's word are beyond
our understandings: that in them, beings and things are spoken of,
which, taken generally, and in themselves, we should in vain endeavour
to comprehend. But what God means us to know, or feel, or do, respecting
them, that we can understand; and beyond this we have no concern. It is,
in fact, a contradiction to speak of revealing what is unintelligible;
for so far as it is a revealed truth it is intelligible; so far as it is
unintelligible, it is not revealed. But though a thing revealed must be
intelligible in itself, yet it by no means follows that we can
understand _how_ it happens. When we are told that the dead shall rise
again, we can understand quite well what is meant; that we beings who
feel happiness and misery, shall feel them again, either the one or the
other, after we seemingly have done with them for ever in the grave. But
"How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?" are
questions to which, whether asked scoffingly or sincerely, we can give
no answers; here our understanding fails, and here the truth is not
revealed to us.

How, then, has Christianity no mysteries? In one sense, blessed be God
for it, it has many. Using mysteries in St. Paul's sense of great
revelations of things which were and must be unknown to all, except God
had revealed them: then, indeed, they are many; the pillar and ground of
truth, great without controversy, and full of salvation. But take
mysteries in our more common sense of the word,--as things which are
revealed to none, and can be understood by none,--then it is true that
Christianity leaves many such in existence; that many such she has done
away; that none has she created. She leaves many mysteries with respect
to God, and with respect to ourselves; God is still incomprehensible;
life and death have many things in them beyond our questioning; we may
still look around us, above us, and within us, and wonder, and be
ignorant. But if she still leaves the veil drawn over much in heaven and
in earth, yet from how much has she removed it! Life and death are still
in many respects dark; but she has brought to light immortality. God is
still in himself incomprehensible; but all his glory, and all his
perfections, are revealed to us in his only-begotten Son Christ Jesus.
God's Spirit who can search out in his own proper essence? yet
Christianity has taught us how we may have him to dwell with us for
ever, and taste the fulness of his blessings. Yea, thanks be to God for
the great Christian mystery which we this day celebrate; that he has
revealed himself to us as our Saviour and our Comforter; that he has
revealed to us his infinite love, in that he has given us his
only-begotten Son to die for us, and his own Eternal Spirit to make our
hearts his temple.


* * * * *

EXODUS iii. 6.

_And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God_.

LUKE xxiii. 30.

_Then shall they begin to say to the mountains. Fall on us; and to the
hills, Cover us_.

These two passages occur, the one in the first lesson of this morning's
service, the other in the second. One or other of them must have been,
or must be, the case of you, of me, of every soul of man that lives or
has lived since the world began. There must be a time in the existence
of every human being when he will fear God. But the great, the infinite
difference is, whether we fear him at the beginning of our relations to
him, or at the end.

The fear of Moses was felt at the beginning of his knowledge of God.
When God revealed himself to him at the bush, it was, so far as we are
told, the first time that Moses learnt to know him. The fear of those
who say to the mountains, "Fall on us," is felt at the very end of their
knowledge of God; for to those who are punished with everlasting
destruction from the presence of the Lord, God is not. So that the two
cases in the text are exact instances of the difference of which I
spoke, in the most extreme degree. Moses, the greatest of the prophets,
fears God at first; those who are cast into hell, fear him at last.

The appearance of God, as described in this passage of Scripture, is an
image also of his dealings with us at the beginning of our course, when
we fear him with a saving fear. "The bush burned with fire, but the bush
was not consumed." God shows his terrors, but he does not, as yet,
destroy with them. It is the very opposite to this at last, for then he
is expressly said to be a consuming fire.

Moses turned aside to see this great sight, why the bush was not burnt.
That sight is the very same which the world has been offering for so
many hundreds of years: God's terrors are around it, but, as yet, it is
not consumed, because he wills that we should fear him before it is
too late.

There is, indeed, this great difference;--that the signs of God's
presence do not now force themselves upon our eyes; so that we may, if
we choose, walk on our own way, without turning aside to see and observe
them. And thus we do not see God, and do not, therefore, hide our faces
for fear of him, but go on, and feel no fear, till the time when we
cannot help seeing him. And it may be, that this time will never come
till our life, and with it our space of trial, is gone for ever.

Here, then, is our state, that God will manifest himself no more to us
in such a way as that we cannot help seeing him. The burning bush will
be no more given us as a sign; Christ will no more manifest himself unto
the world. And yet, unless we do see him, unless we learn to fear him
while he is yet an unconsuming fire, unless we know that he is near, and
that the place whereon we stand is holy ground, we shall most certainly
see him when he will be a consuming fire, and when we shall join in
crying to the mountains, to fall on us, and to the hills, to cover us.

Every person who thinks at all, must, I am sure, be satisfied, that our
great want, the great need of our condition, is this one thing--to
realize to ourselves the presence of God. It is a want not at all
peculiar to the young. Thoughtfulness, in one sense, is indeed likely to
come with advancing years: we are more apt to think at forty than at
fifteen; but it by no means follows that we are more apt to think about
God. In this matter we are nearly at a level at all times of our life:
it is with all of us our one great want, to bring the idea of God, with
a living and abiding power, home to our minds.

This is illustrated by a wish ascribed to a great and good man--Johnson,
and which has been noticed with a sneer by unbelievers, a wish that he
might see a spirit from the other world, to testify to him of the truth
of the resurrection. This has been sneered at, as if it were a
confession of the unsatisfactory nature of the evidence which we
actually possess: but, in truth, it is a confession only of the weakness
which clings to us all, that things unseen, which our reason only
assures us to be real, are continually overpowered by things affecting
our senses; and, therefore, it was a natural wish that sight might, in a
manner, come to the aid of reason; that the eye might see, and the ear
might hear, a form and words which belonged to another world. And this
wish might arise (I do not say wisely, or that his deliberate judgment
would sanction it, but it might arise) in the breast of a good man, and
one who would be willing to lay down his life in proof of his belief in
Christ's promises. It might arise, not because he felt any doubt, when
his mind turned calmly to the subject; not because he was hesitating
what should be the main principle of his life; but because his
experience had told him, that there are many times in the life of man
when the mind does not fully exert itself; when habit and impressions
rule us, in a manner, in its stead. And when so many of our impressions
must be earthly, and as our impressions colour our habits, is it not
natural (I do not say wise, but is it not natural) to desire some one
forcible unearthly impression, which might, on the other side, colour
our habits, and so influence us at those times when the mind, almost by
the necessity of our condition, cannot directly interpose its own
deliberate decision as our authority?

No doubt the wish to which I have been alluding is not one which our
reason would sanction; but it expresses in a very lively and striking
manner a want which is most true and real, although it proposes an
impossible remedy. But the question cannot but occur to us, Can it be
that our heavenly Father, who knows whereof we are made, should have
intended us to live wholly by faith in this world? That is, Can it have
been his will that all visible signs of himself should be withdrawn from
us; and that we should be left only with the record and the evidence of
his mighty works done in our behalf in past times; and with that other
evidence of his wisdom and power which is afforded by the wonders of
his creation?

We look into the Scriptures and we learn that such was not his will. We
were to live by faith, indeed, with, respect to the unseen world, there
the sign given was to be for ever only the sign of Christ's
resurrection. But yet it was not designed that the evidence of Christ's
having redeemed us should be sought for only in the records of the past;
he purposed that there should be a living record, a record that might
speak to our senses as well as to our reason; that should continually
present us with impressions of the reality of Christ's salvation; and so
might work upon the habits of our life, as insensibly as the air we
breathe. This living witness, which should last till Christ came again,
was to be no other than his own body instinct with his own Spirit--his
people, the temple of the Holy Ghost, his holy universal Church.

If we consider for a moment, this would entirely meet the want of which
I have been speaking. It is possible, certainly, to look upon the face
of nature without being reminded of God; yet it is surely true, that in
the outward creation, in the order of the seasons, the laws of the
heavenly bodies, the wonderful wisdom and goodness displayed in the
constitution of every living thing in its order, there is a tendency at
least to impress us with, the thought of God, if nothing else obstructed
it. But there is a constant obstruction in the state of man. Looking at
men, hearing them, considering them, it is not only possible not to be
reminded of God; but their very tendency is to exclude him from our
minds, because the moral workmanship which is so predominant in them has
assuredly not had God for its author. We all in our dealings with one
another, lead each other away from God. We present to each other's view
what seems to be a complete world of our own, in which God is not. We
see a beginning, a middle, and an end; we see faculties for acquiring
knowledge, and for receiving enjoyment; and earth furnishes knowledge to
the one and enjoyment to the other. We see desires, and we see the
objects to which they are limited; we see that death removes men from
all these objects, and consistently with this, we observe, that death is
generally regarded as the greatest of all evils. Man's witness, then, as
far as it goes, is against the reality of God and of eternity. His life,
his language, his desires, his understanding appear, when we look over
the world, to refer to no being higher than himself, to no other state
of things than that of which sight testifies.

Now, Christ's Church, the living temple of the Holy Ghost, puts in the
place of this natural and corrupt man, whose witness is against God,
another sort of man, redeemed and regenerate, whose whole being breathes
a perpetual witness of God. Consider, again, what we should see in such
a Church. We should see a beginning, a middle, but the end is not yet
visible; we should see, besides the faculties for knowledge and
enjoyment which were receiving their gratification daily, other
faculties of both kinds, whose gratification was as yet withheld; we
should see desires not limited to any object now visible or attainable.
We should see death looked to as the gate by which these hitherto
unobtained objects were to be sought for; and we should hear it spoken
of, not as the greatest of evils, but as an event solemn, indeed, and
painful to nature, but full of blessing and of happiness. We should see
love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness,
temperance; a constitution of nature as manifestly proclaiming its
author to be the God of all holiness and loving-kindness, as the
wonderful structure of our eyes or hands declares them to be the work of
the God of all wisdom and power. We should thus see in all our
fellow-men, not only as much, but far more than in the constitution of
the lower animals, or of the plants, or of the heavenly bodies, a
witness of God and of eternity. Their whole lives would be a witness;
their whole conversation would be a witness; their outward and more
peculiar acts of worship would then bear their part in harmony with all
the rest. Every day would the voices of the Church be heard in its
services of prayer and thanksgiving; every day would its members renew
their pledges of faithfulness to Christ, and to one another, upon
partaking together the memorials of his sacrifice.

What could we desire more than such a living witness as this? What sign
in the sky, what momentary appearance of a spirit from the unseen world,
could so impress us with the reality of God, as this daily worshipping
in his living temple; this daily sight, of more than the Shechinah of
old, even of his most Holy Spirit, diffusing on every side light and
blessing? And what is now become of this witness? can names, and forms,
and ordinances, supply its place? can our unfrequent worship, our most
seldom communion, impress on us an image of men living altogether in the
presence of God, and in communion with Christ? But before we dwell on
this, we may, while considering the design of the true Church of Christ,
well understand how such excellent things should be spoken of it, and
how it should have been introduced into the Creed itself, following
immediately after the mention of the Holy Ghost. That holy universal
Church was to be the abiding witness of Christ's love and of Christ's
promises; not in its outward forms only, for they by themselves are not
a living witness; they cannot meet our want--to have God and heavenly
things made real to us; but in its whole spirit, by which renewed man
was to bear as visibly the image of God, as corrupted man had lost it.
This was the sure sign that Christ had appointed to abide until his
coming again; this sign, as striking as the burning bush, would compel
us to observe; would make us sure that the place whereon we stand is
holy ground.

Then follows the question: With this sign lost in its most essential
points, how can we supply its place? and how can we best avail ourselves
of those parts of it which still remain? and how can we each endeavour
to build up a partial and most imperfect imitation of it, which may
yet, in some sort, serve to supply our great want, and remind us daily
of God? This opens a wide field for thought, to those who are willing to
follow it; but much of it belongs to other occasions rather than this:
the practical part of it,--the means of most imperfectly supplying the
want of God's own appointed sign, a true and living universal Church,
shall be the subject of my next Lecture.


* * * * *

PSALM cxxxvii. 4.

_How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land_?

This was said by the exiles of Jerusalem, when they were in the land of
their captivity in Babylon. There is no reason to suppose that their
condition was one of bondage, as it had been in Egypt: the nations
removed by conquest, under the Persian kings, from their own country to
another land, were no otherwise ill-treated; they had new homes given
them in which they lived unmolested; only they were torn away from their
own land, and were as sojourners in a land of strangers. But the
peculiar evil of this state was, that they were torn away from the
proper seat of their worship. The Jew in Babylon might have his own
home, and his own land to cultivate, as he had in Judaea; but nothing
could replace to him the loss of the temple at Jerusalem: there alone
could the morning and evening sacrifices be offered; there alone could
the sin-offering for the people be duly made. Banished from the temple,
therefore, he was deprived also of the most solemn part of his religion;
he was, as it were, exiled from God; and the worship of God, as it was
now left to him,--that is, the offering up of prayers and praises,--was
almost painful to him, as it reminded him so forcibly of his changed

Such also, in some respects, was to be the state of the Christian
Church after our Lord's ascension. The only acceptable sacrifice was now
that of their great High Priest interceding for them in the presence of
the Father: heaven was their temple, and they were far removed from it
upon earth: they, too, like the Jews in Babylon, were a little society
by themselves living in the midst of strangers. "Our citizenship," says
St. Paul to the Philippians, "is in heaven:" here they were not
citizens, but sojourners. Why, then, should not the early Christians
have joined altogether in the feeling of the Jews at Babylon? why should
not they, too, have felt and said, "How can we sing the Lord's song in a
strange land?"

The answer is contained in what I said last Sunday; because Christ had
not left them comfortless or forsaken, but was come again to them by his
Holy Spirit; because God was dwelling in the midst of them; because they
were not exiles from the temple of God, but were themselves become God's
temple; because through the virtue of the one offering for sin once
made, but for ever presented before God by their High Priest in heaven,
they, in God's temple on earth, were presenting also their daily and
acceptable sacrifice, the sacrifice of themselves; because also, though
as yet they were a small society in a land of strangers, yet the stone
formed without hands was to become a mighty mountain, and cover the
whole earth: what was now the land of strangers was to become theirs;
the whole earth should be full of the knowledge of the Lord; the
kingdoms of the world were to become his kingdom; and thus earth,
redeemed from the curse of sin, was again to be so blessed that God's
servants living upon it should find it no place of exile.

But if this, in its reality, does not now exist; if, although God's
temple be on earth, the appointed sacrifice in it is not offered, the
living sacrifice of ourselves; if the society has, by spreading, become
weak, and the kingdoms of the earth are Christ's kingdoms in name alone;
are we, then, come back once more to the condition of the Jews in
Babylon? are we exiles from God, living amongst strangers? and must we,
too, say, with the prophet, "How can we sing the Lord's song in a
strange land?"

This was the question which I proposed to answer: What can we do to make
our condition unlike that of exiles from God: to restore that true sign
of his presence amongst us, the living fire of his Holy Spirit pervading
every part of his temple? I mean, what can we do as individuals? for the
question in any other sense is not to be asked or answered here. But we,
each of us, must have felt, at some time or other, our distance from
God. Put the idea in what form or what words we will, we must--every one
of us who has ever thought seriously at all--we must regret that there
is not a stronger and more abiding influence over us, to keep us from
evil, and to turn us to good.

Now, the vestiges of Christ's church left among us are chiefly these:
our prayers together, whether in our families or in this place; our
reading of the Scriptures together; our communion, rare as it is, in the
memorials of the body and blood of Christ our Saviour. These are the
vestiges of that which was designed to be with us always, and in every
part of our lives, the holy temple of God, his living church; but which
now presents itself to us only at particular times, and places, and
actions; in our worship and in our joint reading of the Scriptures, and
in our communion.

It will be understood at once why I have not spoken here of prayer and
reading the Scriptures by ourselves alone. Most necessary as these are
to us, yet they do not belong to the helps ministered to us by the
church; they belong to us each as individuals, and in these respects we
must be in the same state everywhere: these were enjoyed by the Jews
even in their exile in Babylon. But the church acts upon us through one
another, and therefore the vestiges of the church can only be sought for
in what we do, not alone, but together. I, therefore, noticed only that
prayer, and that reading of the Scriptures, in which many of us took
part in common.

Such common prayer takes place amongst us every morning and evening, as
well as on Sundays within these walls. Whenever we meet on those
occasions, we meet as Christ's church. Now, conceive how the effect of
such meeting depends on the conduct of each of us. It is not necessary
to notice behaviour openly profane and disorderly: this does not occur
amongst us. We see, however, that if it did occur in any meeting for the
purposes of religious worship, such a meeting would do us harm rather
than good: its witness to us would not be in favour of God, but against
him. But take another case: when we are assembled for prayers, suppose
our behaviour, without being disorderly, was yet so manifestly
indifferent as to be really indecent; that is, suppose every countenance
showed such manifest signs of weariness, and impatience, and want of
interest in what was going forward, that it was evident there was no
general sympathy with any feeling of devotion. Would not the effect here
also be injurious? would not such a meeting also shock and check our
approaches towards God? would it not rather convince us that God was
really far distant from us, instead of showing that he was in the
midst of us?

Ascend one step higher. Our behaviour is neither disorderly, nor
manifestly indifferent: it is decent, serious, respectful. What is the

Book of the day: