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The Christian Life by Thomas Arnold

Part 5 out of 6

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effect in this case? Not absolutely unfavourable certainly; but yet far
from being much help towards good. We bear our witness that we are
engaged in a matter that should be treated with reverence: this is very
right; but do we more than this? Do we show that we are engaged in a
matter that commands our interest also, as well as our respect? If not,
our witness is not the witness of Christ's church: it does not go to
declare that God is in us of a truth.

Let us go on one step more. We meet together to pray: we are orderly, we
are quiet, we are serious; but the countenance shows that we are
something more than these. There is on it the expression, never to be
mistaken, of real interest. Remember I am speaking of meetings for
prayer, where the words are perfectly familiar to us, and where the
interest therefore cannot be the mere interest of novelty. Say, then,
that our countenances express interest: I do not mean strong and excited
feeling; but interest, which may be very real yet very quiet also. We
look as if we thought of what we were engaged in, of what we are
ourselves, and of what God is to us. We are joined in one common feeling
of thankfulness to him for mercies past, of wishing for his help and
love for the time to come. Now, think what would be the effect of such a
meeting. Would it not be, clearly, positively good! Would not every
individual's earnestness be confirmed by the manifest earnestness of
others? Would not his own sense of God's reality be rendered stronger,
by seeing that others felt it just as he did? Then, here would be the
church of God rendering her appointed witness: she would be giving her
sure sign that God is not far from any one of us.

Now, then, observe what we may lose or gain by our different behaviour,
whenever we meet together in prayer; what we lose, nay, what positive
mischief we do, by any visible impatience or indifference; what we
should gain by really joining in our hearts in the meaning of what was
uttered. It is a solemn thing for the consciences of us all; but surely
it must be true, that, whenever we are careless or indifferent in our
public prayers, we are actually injuring our neighbours, and are, so far
as in us lies, destroying the witness which the church of Christ should
render to the truth of God her Saviour.

I do not know that there is anything more impressive than the sight of a
congregation evidently in earnest in the service in which they are
engaged. We then feel how different is our own lonely prayer from the
united voice of many hearts; each cheering, strengthening, enkindling
the other. We then consider one another to provoke unto love and good
works. How different are the feelings with which we regard a number of
persons met for any common purpose, and the same persons engaged
together in serious prayer or praise! Then Christ seems to appear to us
in each of them; we are all one in him. How little do all earthly
unkindnesses, dislikes, prejudices, become in our eyes, when the real
bond of our common faith is discerned clearly! There is indeed neither
Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian,
bond nor free, but Christ is all, and in all. And to look at our
brethren, once or twice in every day, with these Christian eyes, would
it not also, by degrees, impress us at other times, and begin to form
something of our habitual temper and regard towards them?

Thus much of our meetings for prayer. One word only on those in which we
meet to read the Scriptures. Here I know, that difference of age, and
our peculiar relations to each other, make us very apt to lose the
religious character of our readings of the Scriptures, and to regard
them merely as lessons. No doubt, the object here is instruction; it is
not so much in itself a religious exercise, as a means to enable you to
perform religious exercises with understanding and sincerity. Still
there is a peculiar character attached even to lessons, when they are
taken out of the Scriptures: and the duty of attention and interest in
the work becomes even stronger than under other circumstances. But with
those of a more advanced age, I think there is more than this; I think
it must be our own fault, if, whilst engaged together in reading the
Scriptures, which we only read because we are Christians, we do not feel
that there also we are employed on a duty belonging to the Church
of Christ.

Lastly, there is our joint communion in the bread, and in the cup, of
the Lord's Supper. Here there is seriousness; here there is always, I
trust and believe, something of real interest; and, therefore, we never,
I think, meet together at the Lord's table, without feeling a true
effect of Christ's gifts to and in his Church; we are strengthened and
brought nearer to one another, and to him. But this most precious pledge
of Christ's Church we too often forfeit for ourselves. That we have lost
so much of the help which the Church was designed to give, is not our
fault individually; but it is our fault that we neglect this means of
strength, so great in bearing witness to Christ, and in kindling love
towards one another. What can be said of us, if, with so many helps
lost, we throw away that which still remains? if, of the great treasure
which the Church yet keeps, we are wilfully ignorant? How much good
might we do, both to ourselves and to each other, by joining in that
communion! How surely should we be strengthened in all that is good, and
have a help from each other, through his Spirit working in us all, to
struggle against our evil!


* * * * *


_For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the
Lord's death till he come_.

When I spoke last Sunday of the benefits yet to be derived from Christ's
Church, I spoke of them, as being, for the most part, three in
number--our communion in prayer, our communion in reading the
Scriptures, and our communion in the Lord's Supper; and, after having
spoken of the first two of these, I proposed to leave the third for our
consideration to-day.

The words of the text are enough to show how closely this subject is
connected with that event which we celebrate to-day[13]: "As often as ye
eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he
come." The communion, then, with one another in the Lord's Supper is
doing that which this day was also designed to do; it is showing forth,
or declaring the Lord's death; it is declaring, in the face of all the
world, that we partake of the Lord's Supper because we believe that
Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us.

[Footnote 13: Good Friday.]

God might, no doubt, if it had so pleased him, have made all spiritual
blessing come to us immediately from himself. Without ascending any
higher with the idea, it is plain that Christianity might have been made
a thing wholly between each individual man and Christ; all our worship
might have been the secret worship of our own hearts; and in eating the
bread, and drinking the cup, to show forth the Lord's death, each one of
us might have done this singly, holding communion with Christ alone. I
mean, that it is quite conceivable that we should have had Christianity,
and a great number of Christians spread all over the world, but yet no
Christian Church. But, although this is conceivable, and, in fact, is
practically the case in some particular instances where individual
Christians happen to be quite cut off from all other Christians,--as has
been known sometimes in foreign and remote countries; and although,
through various evil causes, it has become, in many respects, too much
the case with us all; for our religion is with all of us, I am inclined
to think, too much a matter between God and ourselves alone; yet still
it is not the design of Christ that it should be so: his people were not
only to be good men, redeemed from sin and death and brought to know and
love the truth, in which relation Christianity would appear like a
divine philosophy only, working not only upon individuals, but through
their individual minds, and as individuals; but they were to be the
Christian Church, helping one another in things pertaining to God, and
making their mutual brotherhood to one another an essential part of what
are called peculiarly their acts of religion. So that the Church of
England seems to have well borne in mind this character of Christianity,
namely, that it presents us not each, but all together, before God; and
therefore it is ordered that even in very small parishes, where "there
are not more than twenty persons in the parish of discretion to receive
the communion, yet there shall be no communion, except four, or three at
the least, out of these twenty communicate together with the priest."
Nay, even in the Communion of the Sick, under circumstances which seem
to make religion particularly an individual matter between Christ and
our own single selves; when the expected approach of death seems to
separate, in the most marked manner, according to human judgment, him
who is going hence from his brethren still in the world; even then it is
ordered that two other persons, at the least, shall communicate along
with the sick man and the minister. Nor is this ever relaxed except in
times of pestilence; when it is provided, that if no other person can be
persuaded to join from their fear of infection, then, and then only upon
special request of the diseased, the minister may alone communicate with
them. So faithfully does our Church adhere to this true Christian
notion, that at the Lord's Supper we are not to communicate with Christ
alone, but with him in and together with our brethren; so that I was
justified in regarding the Holy Communion as one of those helps and
blessings which we still derive from the Christian Church--from Christ's
mystical body.

It is the natural process of all false and corrupt religions, on the
contrary, to destroy this notion of Christ's Church, and to lead away
our thoughts from our brethren in matters of religion, and to fix them
merely upon God as known to us through a priest. The great evil in this
is, (if there is any one evil greater than another in a system so wholly
made up of falsehood, and so leading to all wickedness; but, at any
rate, one great evil of it is,) that whereas the greatest part of all
our lives is engaged in our relations towards our brethren, that there
lie most of our temptations to evil, as well as of our opportunities of
good, if our brethren do not form an essential part of our religions
views, it follows, and always has followed, that our behaviour and
feelings towards them are guided by views and principles not religious;
and that by this fatal separation of what God has joined together, our
worship and religious services become superstitious, while our life and
actions become worldly, in the bad sense of the term, low principled,
and profane.

If this is not so clear when put into a general form, it will be plain
enough when I show it in that particular example which we are concerned
with here. Nowhere, I believe, is the temptation stronger to lose sight
of one another in our religious exercises, and especially in our
Communion. Our serious thoughts in turning to God, turn away almost
instinctively from our companions about us. Practically, as far as the
heart is concerned, we are a great deal too apt to go to the Lord's
table each alone. But consider how much we lose by this. We are
necessarily in constant relations with one another; some of those
relations are formal, others are trivial; we connect each other every
day with a great many thoughts, I do not say of unkindness, but yet of
that indifferent character which is no hindrance to any unkindness when
the temptation to it happens to arise. This must always be the case in
life; business, neighbourhood, pleasure,--the occasions of most of our
intercourse with one another,--have in them nothing solemn or softening:
they have in themselves but little tendency to lead us to the love of
one another. Now, if this be so in the world, it is even more so here;
your intercourse with one another is much closer and more constant than
what can exist in after life with any but the members of your own
family; and yet the various relations which this intercourse has to do
with, are even less serious and less softening than those of ordinary
life in manhood. The kindliness of feeling which is awakened in after
years between two men, by the remembrance of having been at school
together, even without any particular acquaintance with each other, is a
very different thing from the feeling of being at school with each
other now. I do not wonder, then, that any one of you, when he resolves
to come to the Holy Communion, should rather try to turn away his
thoughts from his companions, and to think of himself alone as being
concerned in what he is going to do. I do not wonder at it; but, then,
neither do I wonder that, when the Communion is over, and thoughts of
his companions must return, they receive little or no colour from his
religious act so lately performed; that they are as indifferent as they
were before, as little furnishing a security against neglect, or
positive unkindness, or encouragement of others to evil. Depend upon it,
unless your common life is made a part of your religion, your religion
will never sanctify your common life.

Now consider, on the one hand, what might be the effect of going to the
Holy Communion with a direct feeling that, in that Communion, we, though
many, were all brought together in Christ Jesus. And first, I will speak
of our thoughts of those who are partakers of the Communion with us,
then of those who are not. When others are gone out, and we who are to
communicate are left alone with each other, then, if we perceive that
there are many of us, the first natural feeling is one of joy, that we
are so many; that our party,--that only true and good party to which we
may belong with all our hearts,--that our party,--that Christ's party,
seems so considerable. Then there comes the thought, that we are all met
together freely, willingly, not as a matter of form, to receive the
pledges of Christ's love to us, to pledge ourselves to him in return. If
we are serious, those around us may be supposed to be serious too; if we
wish to have help from God to lead a holier life, they surely wish the
same; if the thought of past sin is humbling us, the same shame is
working in our brethren's bosoms; if we are secretly resolving, by
God's grace, to serve him in earnest, the hearts around us are, no
doubt, resolving the same. There is the consciousness, (when and where
else can we enjoy it?) that we are in sympathy with all present; that,
coloured merely by the lesser distinctions of individual character, one
and the same current of feeling is working within us all. And, if
feeling this of our sympathy with one another, how strongly is it
heightened by the thought of what Christ has done for us all! We are all
loving him, because he loved us all; we are going together to celebrate
his death, because he died for us all; we are resolving all to serve
him, because his Holy Spirit is given to us all, and we are all brought
to drink of the same Spirit. Then let us boldly carry our thoughts a
little forward to that time, only a short hour hence, when we shall
again be meeting one another, in very different relations; even in those
common indifferent relations of ordinary life which are connected so
little with Christ. Is it impossible to think, that, although we shall
meet without these walls in very different circumstances, yet that we
have seen each other pledging ourselves to serve Christ together? if the
recollection of this lives in us, why should it not live in our
neighbour? If we are labouring to keep alive our good resolutions made
at Christ's table, why should we think that others have forgotten them?
We do not talk of them openly, yet still they exist within us. May not
our neighbour's silence also conceal within his breast the same good
purposes? At any rate, we may and ought to regard him as ranged on our
side in the great struggle of life; and if outward circumstances do not
so bring us together as to allow of our openly declaring our sympathy,
yet we may presume that it still exists; and this consciousness may
communicate to the ordinary relations of life that very softness which
they need, in order to make them Christian.

Again, with regard to those who go out, and do not approach to the
Lord's table. With some it is owing to their youth; with others to a
mistaken notion of their youth; with others to some less excusable
reason, perhaps, but yet to such as cannot yet exclude kindness and
hope. But having once felt what it is to be only with those who are met
really as Christians, our sense of what it is to want this feeling is
proportionably raised. Is it sad to us to think that our neighbour does
not look upon us as fellow Christians? is it something cold to feel that
he regards us only in those common worldly relations which leave men in
heart so far asunder? Then let us take heed that we do not ourselves
feel so towards him. We have learnt to judge more truly, to feel more
justly, of our relations to every one who bears Christ's name: if we
forget this, we have no excuse; for we have been at Christ's table, and
have been taught what Christians are to one another. And let our
neighbour be ever so careless, yet we know that Christ cares for him;
that his Spirit has not yet forsaken him, but is still striving with
him. And if God vouchsafes so much to him, how can we look upon him as
though he were no way connected with us? how can we be as careless of
his welfare, as apt either to annoy him, or to lead him into evil, or to
take no pains to rescue him from it, as if he were no more to us than
the accidental inhabitant of the same place, who was going on his way as
we may be on ours, neither having any concern with the other?

And, now, is it nothing to learn so to feel towards those around us; to
have thus gained what will add kindness and interest to all our
relations with others; and, in the case of many, will give an abiding
sense of the truest sympathy, and consequently greater confidence and
encouragement to ourselves? Be sure that this is not to profane the
Lord's Supper, but to use it according to Christ's own ordinance. For
though the thoughts of which I have been speaking, have, in one sense,
man and not God for their object, yet as they do not begin in man but in
Christ, and in his love to us all, so neither do they, properly
speaking, rest in man as such, but convert him, as it were, into an
image of Christ: so that their end, as well as their beginning, is with
Him. I do earnestly desire that you would come to Christ's table, in
order to learn a Christian's feelings towards one another. This is what
you want every day; and the absence of which leads to more and worse
faults than, perhaps, any other single cause. But, then, this Christian
feeling towards one another, how is it to be gained but by a Christian
feeling towards Christ? and where are we to learn brotherly love in all
our common dealings, but from a grateful thought of that Divine love
towards us all which is shown forth in the sacrament of the Lord's
Supper; inasmuch as, so often as we eat that bread and drink that cup,
we do show the Lord's death till He come.


* * * * *

LUKE i. 3, 4.

_It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all
things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent
Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things
wherein thou hast been instructed_.

These words, from the preface to St. Luke's Gospel, contain in them one
or two points on which it may be of use to dwell; and not least so at
the present time, when they are more frequently brought under our notice
than was the case a few years ago. On a subject which we never, or very
rarely hear mentioned, it may be difficult to excite attention; and, as
a general rule, there is little use in making the attempt. But when
names and notions are very frequently brought to our ears, and in a
degree to our minds, then it becomes important that we should comprehend
the matter to which they relate clearly and correctly; and a previous
interest respecting it may be supposed to exist, which make further
explanation acceptable.

St. Luke tells Theophilus that it seemed good to him to write in order
an account of our Lord's life and death, that Theophilus might know the
certainty of those things in which he had been instructed; and this, as
a general rule, might well describe one great use of the Scripture to
each of us, as individual members of Christ's Church--it enables us to
know the certainty of the things in which we have been instructed. We do
not, in the first instance, get our knowledge of Christ from the
Scriptures,--we, each of us, I mean as individuals,--but from the
teaching of our parents first; then of our instructors, and from books
fitted for the instruction of children; whether it be the Catechism of
the Church, or books written by private persons, of which we know that
there are many. But as our minds open, and our opportunities of judging
for ourselves increase, then the Scripture presents itself to acquaint
us with the certainty of what we had heard already; to show us the
original and perfect truth, of which we have received impressions
before, but such as were not original nor perfect; to confirm and
enforce all that was good and true in our early teaching; and if it
should so happen that it contained any thing of grave error mixed with
truth, then to enable us to discover and reject it.

It is apparent, then, that the Scripture, to do this, must have an
authority distinct from, and higher than, that of our early teaching;
but yet it is no less true that it comes to us individually recommended,
in the first instance, by the authority of our early teaching, and
received by us, not for its own sake, but for the sake of those who put
it into our hands. What child can, by possibility, go into the evidence
which makes it reasonable to believe the Bible, and to reject the
authority of the Koran? Our children believe the Bible for our sakes;
they look at it with respect, because we tell them that it ought to be
respected; they read it, and learn it, because we desire them; they
acquire a habit of veneration for it long before they could give any
other reason for venerating it than their parents' authority. And
blessed be God that they do; for, as it has been well said, if we their
parents do not endeavour to give our children habits of love and respect
for what is good and true, Satan will give them habits of love for what
is evil: for the child must receive impressions from without; and it is
God's wisdom that he should receive these impressions from his parents,
who have the strongest interest in his welfare, and who have besides
that instinctive parental love which, more surely, as well as more
purely, than any possible sense of interest, makes them earnestly desire
their child's good.

But when our children are old enough to understand and to inquire, do we
then content ourselves with saying that they must take our word for it;
that the Bible is true because we tell them so? Where is the father who
does not feel, first, that he himself is not fitted to be an infallible
authority; and, secondly, that if he were, he should be thwarting the
providence of God, who has willed not simply that we should believe with
understanding. He gladly therefore observes the beginnings of a spirit
of inquiry in his son's mind, knowing that it is not inconsistent with a
belief in truth, but is a necessary step to that which alone in a man
deserves the name of belief--a belief, namely, sanctioned by reason.
With what pleasure does he point out to his son the grounds of his own
faith! how gladly does he introduce him to the critical and historical
evidence for the truth of the Scriptures, that he may complete the work
which he had long since begun, and deliver over the faith which had been
so long nursed under the shade of parental authority, to the care of his
son's own conscience and reason!

We see clearly that our individual faith, although grounded in the first
instance on parental authority, yet rests afterwards on wholly different
grounds; namely, on the direct evidence in confirmation of it which is
presented to our own minds. But with regard to those who are called the
Fathers of the Church, it is contended sometimes that we do receive the
Scriptures, in the end, upon their authority: and it is argued, that if
their authority is sufficient for so great a thing as this, it must be
sufficient for every thing else; that if, in short, we believe the
Scriptures for their sake, then we ought also to believe other things
which they may tell us, for their sake, even though they are not to be
found in Scripture.

In the argument there is this great fault, that it misstates the
question at the outset. The authority of the Fathers, as they are
called, is never to any sound mind the only reason for believing in the
Scriptures; I think it is by no means so much as the principle reason.
It is one reason, amongst many; but not the strongest. And, in like
manner, their authority in other points, if there were other and
stronger reasons which confirmed it,--as in many cases there are,--is
and ought to be respected. But, because we lay a certain stress upon it,
it does not follow that we should do well to make it bear the whole
weight of the building. Because we believe the Scriptures, partly on the
authority of the Fathers, as they are called, but more for other
reasons, does it follow that we should equally respect the authority of
the Fathers when there are no other reasons in support of it, but many
which make against it?

In truth, however, the internal evidence in favour of the authenticity
and genuineness of the Scriptures is that on which the mind can rest
with far greater satisfaction than on any external testimonies, however
valuable. On one point, which might seem most to require other
evidence--the age, namely, and origin of the writings of the New
Testament--it has been wonderfully ordered that the books, generally
speaking, are their own witness. I mean that their peculiar language
proves them to have been written by persons such as the apostles were,
and such as the Christian writers immediately following them were not;
persons, namely, whose original language and habits of thinking were
those of Jews, and to whom the Greek in which they wrote was, in its
language and associations, essentially foreign. I do not dwell on the
many other points of internal evidence: it is sufficient to say that
those who are most familar with such inquiries, and who best know how
little any external testimony can avail in favour of a book where the
internal evidence is against it, are most satisfied that the principal
writings of the New Testament do contain abundantly in themselves, for
competent judges, the evidence of their own genuineness and

That the testimony of the early Christian writers goes along with this
evidence and confirms it, is matter indeed of sincere thankfulness;
because more minds, perhaps, are able to believe on external evidence
than on internal. But of this testimony of the Christian writers it is
essential to observe, that two very important points are such as do
indeed affect this particular question much, but yet do not confer any
value on the judgment of the witness in other matters. When a very early
Christian writer quotes a passage from the New Testament, such as we
find it now in our Bibles, it is indeed an argument, which all can
understand, that he had before him the same Bible which we have, and
that though he lived so near to the beginning of the gospel, yet that
some parts of the New Testament must have been written still nearer to
it. This is an evidence to the age of the New Testament, valuable indeed
to us, but implying in the writer who gives it no qualities which confer
authority; it merely shows that the book which he read must have existed
before he could quote it. A second point of evidence is, when a very
early Christian writer quotes any part of the New Testament as being
considered by those to whom he was writing as an authority. This, again,
is a valuable piece of testimony; but neither does it imply any general
wisdom or authority in the writer who gives it: its value is derived
merely from the age at which he lived, and not from his personal
character. And with regard to the general reception of the New Testament
by the Christians of his time, which, in the case supposed, he states as
a fact, no doubt that the general opinion of the early Christians,
where, as in this case, we can be sure that it is reported correctly, is
an authority, and a great authority, in favour of the Scriptures:
combined, as it is, with the still stronger internal evidence of the
books themselves, it is irresistible. But it were too much to argue
that, therefore, it was alone sufficient, not only when destitute of
other evidence, but if opposed to it; and especially if it should happen
to be opposed to that very Scripture which we know they acknowledged to
be above themselves, but which we do not know that they were enabled in
all cases either rightly to interpret or faithfully to follow.

When, therefore, we are told that, as we believe the Scriptures
themselves upon tradition, so we should believe other things also, the
answer is, that we do not believe the Scriptures either entirely or
principally, upon what is called tradition; but for their own internal
evidence; and that the opinions of the early Christians, like those of
other men, may be very good in certain points, and to a certain degree,
without being good in all points, and absolutely; that many a man's
judgment would justly weigh with us, in addition to other strong reasons
in the case itself, when we should by no means follow it where we were
clear that there were strong reasons against it. This, indeed, is so
obvious, that it seems almost foolish to be at the trouble of stating
it; but what is so absurd in common life, that the contrary to it is a
mere truism, is, unfortunately, when applied to a subject with which we
are not familiar, often considered as an unanswerable argument, if it
happen to suit our disposition or our prejudices.

But, although the Scripture is to the Church, and to the individual,
too, who is able to judge for himself, the only decisive authority in
matters of faith, yet we must not forget that it comes to us as it did
to Theophilus, to persuade us of the certainty of things in which we
have been already instructed; not to instruct from the beginning, by
itself alone, those to whom its subject is entirely strange: in other
words, it is and ought to be the general rule, that the Church teaches,
and the Scripture confirms that teaching: or, if it be in any part
erroneous, reproves it. For some appear to think, that by calling the
Scripture the sole authority in matters of faith, we mean to exclude the
Church altogether; and to call upon every man,--nay, upon every
child,--to make out his own religion for himself from the volume of the
Scriptures. The explanation briefly given is this; that while the
Scripture alone teaches the Church, the Church teaches individuals; and
that the authority of her teaching, like that of all human teaching,
whether of individuals or societies, varies justly according to
circumstances; being received, as it ought to be, almost implicitly by
some, as a parent's is by a child, and by others listened to with
respect, as that which is in the main agreeable to the truth, but still
not considered to be, nor really claiming to be received as, infallible.
But this part of the subject will require to be considered by itself on
another occasion.


* * * * *

LUKE i. 3,4.

_It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all
things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent
Theophilus, that than mightest know the certainty of those things in
which thou hast been instructed_.

I said at the conclusion of my lecture, last Sunday, that when we of the
Church of England assert that the Scripture is the sole authority in
matters of faith, we by no means mean to exclude the office of the
Church, nor to assert any thing so extravagant, as that it is the duty
of every person to sit down with the volume of the Scriptures in his
hand, and to make out from that alone, without listening to any human
authority, what is the revelation made by God to man. But I know that
many are led to adopt notions no less extravagant of the authority of
the Church and of tradition,--even to the full extent maintained by the
Church of Rome,--because they see no other refuge from what appears to
them, and not unreasonably, so miserable and so extreme a folly; for an
extreme and a most miserable folly doubtless it would be, in any one, to
throw aside all human aid except his own; to disregard alike the wisdom
of individuals, and the agreeing decisions of bodies of men; to act as
if none but himself had ever loved truth, or had been able to discover
it; and as if he himself did possess both the will and the power to
do so.

This is so foolish, that I doubt whether any one ever held such
notions, and, much more, whether be acted upon them. But is it more wise
to run from one form of error into its opposite, which, generally
speaking, is no less foolish and extravagant? What should we say of a
man who could see no middle course between never asking for advice, and
always blindly following it; between never accepting instruction upon
any subject, and believing his instructors infallible? And this last
comparison, with our particular situation here, will enable us, I think,
by referring to our own daily experience, to understand the present
question sufficiently. The whole system of education supposes,
undoubtedly, that the teacher, in those matters which he teaches, should
be an authority to the taught: a learner in any matter must rely on the
books, and on the living instructors, out of which and from whom he is
to learn. There are difficulties, certainly, in all learning; but we do
not commonly see them increased by a disposition on the part of the
learner to question and dispute every thing that is told him. There is a
feeling rather of receiving what he is told implicitly; and, by so
doing, he learns: but does it ever enter into his head that his teacher
is infallible? or does any teacher of sane mind wish him to think so?
And observe, now, what is the actual process: the mind of the learner is
generally docile, trustful, respectful towards his teacher; aware, also,
of his own comparative ignorance. It is certainly most right that it
should be so. But this really teachable and humble learner finds a false
spelling in one of his books; or hears his teacher, from oversight, say
one word in his explanation instead of another: does he cease to be
teachable and humble,--is it really a want of childlike faith, and an
indulgence of the pride of reason, if he decides that the false spelling
was an error of the press; that the word which his teacher used was a
mistake? Yet errors, mistakes, of how trifling a kind soever, are
inconsistent with infallibility; and the perceiving that they are errors
is an exercise of our individual judgment upon our instructors. To hear
some men talk, we should think that no boy could do so without losing
all humility and all teachableness; without forthwith supposing that he
was able to be his own instructor.

I have begun on purpose with an elementary case, in which a very young
boy might perceive an error in his books, or in his instructors,
without, in any degree, forfeiting his true humility. But we will now go
somewhat farther: we will take a more advanced student, such as the
oldest of those among you, who are still learners, and who know that
they have much to learn, but who, having been learners for some time
past, have also acquired some knowledge. In the books which they refer
to, and from which they are constantly deriving assistance, do they
never observe any errors in the printing? do they never find
explanations given, which they perceive to be imperfect, nay, which they
often feel to be actually wrong? And, passing from books to living
instructors, should we blame a thoughtful, attentive, and well-informed
pupil, because his mind did not at once acquiesce in our interpretation
of some difficult passage; because he consulted other authorities on the
subject, and was unsatisfied in his judgment; the reason of his
hesitation being, that our interpretation appeared to him to give an
unsatisfactory sense, or to be obtained by violating the rules of
language? Is he proud, rebellious, puffed up, wanting in a teachable
spirit, without faith, without humility, because he so ventures to judge
for himself of what his teacher tells him? Does such a judging for
himself interfere, in the slightest degree, with the relation between us
and him? Does it make him really cease to respect us? or dispose him to
believe that he is altogether beyond the reach of our instruction? Or
are we so mad as to regard our authority as wholly set at nought,
because it is not allowed to be infallible? Doubtless, it would be
wholly set at nought, if we had presumed to be infallible. Then it would
not be merely that, in some one particular point, our decision had been
doubted, but that one point would involve our authority in all; because
it would prove, that we had set up beforehand a false claim: and he who
does so is either foolish, or a deceiver; there is apparent a flaw
either in his understanding, or in his principles, which undoubtedly
does repel respect.

Let me go on a step farther still. It has been my happiness to retain,
in after years, my intercourse with many of those who were formerly my
pupils; to know them when their minds have been matured, and their
education, in the ordinary sense of the term, completed. Is not the
relation between us altered then still more? Is it incompatible with
true respect and regard, that they should now judge still more freely,
in those very points, I mean, in which heretofore they had received my
instructions all but implicitly? that on points of scholarship and
criticism, they should entirely think for themselves? Or does this
thinking for themselve mean, that they will begin to question all they
had ever learnt? or sit down to forget purposely all their school
instructions, and make out a new knowledge of the ancient languages for
themselves? Who does not know, that they whose minds are most eager to
discern truth, are the very persons who prize their early instruction
most, and confess how much they are indebted to it; and that the
exercise of their judgments loads them to go on freely in the same path
in which they have walked so long, here and there it may be departing
from it where they find a better line, but going on towards the same
object, and generally in the same direction?

What has been the experience of my life,--the constantly observing the
natural union between sense and modesty; the perfect compatibility of
respect for instruction with freedom of judgment; the seeing how Nature
herself teaches us to proportion the implicitness of our belief to our
consciousness of ignorance: to rise gradually and gently from a state of
passively leaning, as it were, on the arm of another, to resting more
and more of our weight on our own limbs, and, at last, to standing
alone, this has perpetually exemplified our relations, as individuals,
to the Church. Taught by her, in our childhood and youth, under all
circumstances; taught by her, in the great majority of instances,
through our whole lives; never, in any case, becoming so independent of
her as we do in riper years, of the individual instructor of our youth;
she has an abiding claim on our respect, on our deference, on our
regard: but if it should be, that her teaching contained any thing at
variance with God's word, we should perceive it more or less clearly,
according to our degrees of knowledge; we should trust or mistrust our
judgment, according to our degree of knowledge; but in the last resort,
as we suppose that even a young boy might be sure that his book was in
error, in the case of a manifest false print, so there may be things so
certainly inconsistent with Scripture, that a common Christian may be
able to judge of them, and to say that they are like false prints in his
lesson, they are manifest errors, not to be followed, but avoided. So
far he may be said to judge of his teacher; but not the less will he
respect and listen to her authority in general, unless she has herself
made the slightest error ruinous to her authority by claiming to be in
all points, great or small, alike infallible.

Men crave a general rule for their guidance at all times, and under all
circumstances; whereas life is a constant call upon us to consider how
far one general rule, in the particular case before us, is modified by
another, or where one rule should be applied, and where another. To
separate humility from idolatry, conscience from presumption, is often
an arduous task: to different persons there is a different besetting
danger; so it is under different circumstances, and at different times.
Every day does the seaman, on a voyage, take his observations, to know
whereabouts he is; he compares his position with his charts; he
considers the direction of the wind, and the set of the current, or
tide; and from all these together, he judges on which side his danger
lies, on what course he should steer, or how much sail he may venture to
carry. This is an image of our own condition: we cannot have a general
rule to tell us where we should follow others, and where we must differ
from them; to say what is modesty, and what is indolence; what is a
proper deference to others, and what is a trusting in man so far, that
it becomes a want of trust in God. Only, we are sure that these are
points which we must decide for ourselves; the human will must be free,
so far as other men are concerned. If we say, that we will implicitly
trust others, then there is our decision, which no one could have made
for us, and which is our own choice as to the principle of our lives;
for which choice, we each of us, and no one else in all the world, must
answer at the judgment-seat of God. Only, in that word there is our
comfort, that, for our conduct in so doubtful a voyage as that of life,
amidst so many conflicting opinions, each courting our adherence to
it,--amidst such a variety of circumstances without, and of feelings
within, and on which, notwithstanding, our condition for all eternity
must depend,--we shall be judged, not by erring man, not by our own
fallible conscience, but by the all-wise, and all-righteous God. With
him, after all, even in the very courts of his holy Church, we yet, in
one sense, must each of us live alone. On his gracious aid, given to our
own individual souls, and determining our own individual wills, depends
the character of our life here and for ever. Trusting to him, praying to
him, we shall then make use of all the means that his goodness has
provided for us; we shall ask counsel of friends; we shall listen to
teachers; we shall delight to be in the company of God's people, of one
mind, and of one voice, with the good and wise of every generation; we
shall be afraid of leaning too much to our own understanding, knowing
how it is encompassed with error; but knowing that other men are
encompassed with error also, and that we, and not they, must answer for
our choice before Christ's judgment, we must, in the last resort, if our
conscience and sense of truth cannot be persuaded that other men speak
according to God's will,--we must follow our own inward convictions,
though all the world were to follow the contrary.


* * * * *

JOHN ix. 29.

_We know that God spake unto Moses; as for this fellow, we know not from
whence he is_.

The questions involved in the conversations recorded in this chapter,
are of great practical importance. Not perhaps of immediate practical
importance to all in this present congregation; but yet sure to be of
importance to all hereafter, and of importance to many at this actual
moment. Nay, they are of importance to those who, from their youth,
might be thought to have little to do with them, either where the mind
is already anxious and inquiring beyond its years, or where it happens
to be exposed to strong party influences, or that its passions are
likely to be engaged on a particular side, however little the
understanding may be interested in the matter. In fact, in religious
knowledge, as in other things, the omissions of youth are hard to make
up in manhood; they who grow up with a very small knowledge of the
Scriptures, and with no understanding of any of the questions connected
with them, can with difficulty make up for this defect in after years;
they become, according to the influences to which, they may happen to be
subjected, either unbelieving or fanatical.

If we were to question the youngest boy about the language held in this
chapter by the Pharisees, and by the man who had been born blind, we
should, no doubt, be answered, that what the Pharisees said, was wrong;
and what the man born blind said, was right. This would be the answer
which it would be thought proper to give; because it would be perceived
that the Pharisees' language expressed unbelief in Christ; and that the
man born blind was expressing gratitude and faith towards him. Nor,
indeed, should we expect a young boy to go much farther than this; for
such general impressions are, at his age, as much many times as can be
looked for. But it is strange to observe how much this want of
understanding outlasts the age of boyhood; how apt men are to judge
according to names, and to see no farther: to say, that the language of
the Pharisees was wrong, because they find it employed against Christ;
but yet to use the very same language themselves, whilst they think that
they are all the while speaking for Christ.

But in this conversation between the Pharisees and the blind man, there
are, indeed, as I said, points involved of very great importance; it
contains the question as to the degree of weight to be attached to
miracles; and the question, no less grave, with what degree of tenacity
we should reject what claims to be a new truth, because it seems to be
at a variance with supposed old truths to which we have been long
accustomed to cling with undoubting affection.

The question as to the weight of miracles is contained in the sixteenth
verse. Some of the Pharisees said, This man is not of God, because he
keepeth not the Sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner
do such miracles? That is to say, the first party rejected the miracles
because they seemed to be wrought in favour of a supposed false
doctrine; the other accepted the doctrine, because it seemed warranted
to their belief by the miracles.

The second question is contained in the words of the text, "We know
that God spake to Moses; as for this fellow, we know not from whence he
is." We have been taught from our childhood, and have the belief
associated with every good and pious thought in us, that God spake to
Moses, and gave him the law as our rule of life; but as for this fellow,
we know not from whence he is. His works may be wonderful, his words may
be specious; but we never heard of him before, and we cannot tear up all
the holiest feelings of our nature to receive a new doctrine. We will
hold to the old way in which, we were taught by our fathers to walk, and
in which they walked before us.

This last question is one which, as we well know, is continually
presented to our minds. No one says, that the Pharisees were right, any
more than those very Pharisees thought that their fathers were right who
had killed the prophets. But as our Lord told them, that they were in
truth the children in spirit of those who had killed the prophets;
because, although they had been taught to condemn the outward form of
their fathers' action, they were repeating it themselves in its
principles and spirit; so many of those who condemn the Pharisees are
really their exact image, repeating now against the truths of their own
days the very same arguments which the Pharisees used against the truths
of theirs.

For the arguments of these Pharisees, both as regards miracles, and as
regards the suspicion with which we should look on a doctrine opposed to
the settled opinions of our lives, have in fact, in both cases, a great
mixture of justice in them; and it is this very mixture which we may
hope beguiled them; and also beguiles those, who in our own days repeat
their language.

For most certain it is that the Scripture itself supposes the
possibility of false miracles. The case is especially provided against
in Deuteronomy. It there says, "If there arise among you a prophet or a
dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or
the wonder come to pass whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go
after other gods which thou hast not known, and let us serve them: thou
shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet or that dreamer of
dreams, for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the
Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." Observe how
nearly this comes to the language of the Pharisees, "This man is not of
God, because he keepeth not the Sabbath day." "Here," they might have
said, "is the very case foreseen in the Scriptures: a prophet has
wrought a sign and a wonder, which is at the same time a breach of God's
commandments. God has told us that such signs are not to be heeded, that
he does but prove us with them to see whether we love him truly: knowing
that where there is a love of him, the heart will heed no sign or
wonder, how great soever, which would tempt it to think lightly of his
commandments." Shall we say that this is not a just interpretation of
the passage in Deuteronomy? shall we say that this is the language of
unbelief or of sin? or, rather, shall we not confess that it is in
accordance with God's word, and holy, and faithful, and true? And yet
this most just language led those who used it to reject one of Christ's
greatest miracles, and to refuse the salvation of the Holy One of God.
Can God's truth be contrary to itself? or can truth and goodness lead so
directly to error and to evil?

Now, then, where is the solution to be found? for some solution there
must be, unless we will either condemn a most true principle, or defend
a most false conclusion. The error lies in confounding God's moral law
with his law of ordinances; precisely the same error which led the Jews
to stone Stephen. The law had undoubtedly commanded that he who
blasphemed God should be stoned; the Jews called Stephen's speaking
against the holy place and against the law blasphemy against God, and
they murdered God's faithful servant and Christ's blessed martyr. Even
so the law had said, Let no miracle be so great as to tempt you to
forsake God: the Jews considered the forsaking the law of the Sabbath to
be a forsaking of God, and they said that Christ's miracle was a work of
Satan. There is no blasphemy into which we may not fall, no crime from
which we shall be safe, if we do not separate in our minds most clearly
such laws as relate to moral and eternal duties, and such as relate to
outward or positive ordinances, even when commanded or instituted by God
himself. It is most false to say that the fact of their being commanded
sets them on a level with each other. So long as they are commanded to
us, it is no doubt our duty to obey them equally: but the difference
between them is this, that whereas the first are commanded to us and to
our children for ever, and no possible evidence can be so great as to
persuade us that God has repealed them; (for the utmost conceivable
amount of external testimony, such as that of miracles, could only lead
to madness;--the human mind might, conceivably, be overwhelmed by the
conflict, but should never and could never be tempted to renounce its
very being, and lie against its Maker;) the others, that is, the
commands to observe certain forms and ordinances, are in their nature
essentially temporary and changeable: we have no right to assume that
they will be continued, and therefore a miracle at any time might justly
require us to forsake them; and not only an outward miracle, but the
changed circumstances of the times may speak God's will no less clearly
than a miracle, and may absolutely make it our duty to lay aside those
ordinances, which to us hitherto, and to our fathers before us, were
indeed the commands of God.

Now let us take the other question,--which may indeed be called a
question as to the allowableness of resting confidently in truth already
gained, without consenting to examine the claims of something asserting
itself to be a new truth, yet which seems to interfere with the old. Is
nothing within us to be safe from possible doubt, or is everything? Or
is it here, as in the former case, that there are truths so tried and so
sacred that it were blasphemy to question them; while there are others,
often closely intermixed with these, which are not so sacred, because
they are not eternal; which may and ought to be examined when occasion
requires; and which may be laid aside, or exchanged rather, for some
higher truth, if it shall reasonably appear that their work is done, and
that if we retain them longer they will change their character, and
become no longer true but false. "David having served his own generation
by the will of God, fell asleep, and was gathered unto his fathers, and
saw corruption; but He whom God raised again saw no corruption." This is
the difference between positive ordinances and moral: the first serve
their appointed number of generations by the will of God, and then are
gathered to their fathers, and perish; the latter are by the right hand
of God exalted, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.

"We know," said the Jews, "that God spake to Moses; but for this fellow,
we know not from whence he is." There was a time when their fathers had
held almost the very same language to Moses: "they refused him, saying
Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?" But now they knew that God
had spoken to Moses, but were refusing Him who was sent unto them after
Moses. God had spoken unto Moses, it was most true: he had spoken to him
and given him commandments which were to last for ever; and which
Christ, so far from undoing, was sent to confirm and to perfect; he had
spoken to him other things, which were not to last for ever, but yet
which were not to be cast away with dishonour; but having, in the
fulness of time, done their work, were then, like David, to fall asleep.
All that was required of the Jews, was not to reject as blasphemy a
doctrine which should distinguish between these two sorts of truths:
which in no way requires to believe that God had not spoken to
Moses,--which, on the contrary, maintained that he had so spoken,--but
only contended that he has also, in these last days, spoken unto us by
his Son; and that his Son, bearing the full image of Divine authority,
might well be believed if he spoke of some parts of Moses's law as
having now fulfilled their work, seeing that they were such parts only
as, by their very nature, were not eternal: they had not been from the
beginning, and therefore they would not live on to the end.

The practical conclusion is, that, whilst we hold fast, with an
undoubting and unwavering faith, all truths which, by their very nature,
are eternal, and to deny which is no other than to speak against the
Holy Ghost, we should listen patiently to, and pass no harsh judgment
on, those who question other truths not necessarily eternal, while they
declare that they are, to the best of their consciences, seeking to obey
God and Christ. When I say, that we should listen patiently, and not
pass harsh judgments upon those who question such points, I say it
without at all meaning that we should agree with them. It would be
monstrous indeed, to suppose that old opinions are never combated
wrongly; that old institutions are never pronounced to have lived out
their appointed time, when, in fact, they are still in their full
vigour. But the language of those who defend the doctrines and the
ordinances of the Church may, and often does, partake of the sin of that
of the Pharisees, even when those against whom they are contending, are
not, like Christ, bringing in a new and higher truth, but an actual
error. To point out that it is an error, to defend ourselves and the
Church from it, is most right, and most highly our duty; but it is
neither right, nor our duty, but the very sin of the Pharisees, to put
it down merely by saying, "As for this fellow, we know not from whence
he is;" to treat the whole question as an impiety, and to deny the
virtues and the holiness of those who maintain it, because they are, as
we call it, "speaking blasphemous things against the holy place and
against the law." The mischief of this to ourselves is infinite; nay, in
its extreme, it leads to language which is fearfully resembling the very
blasphemy against the Holy Ghost; for, when we say, as has been said,
that where men's lives are apparently good and holy, and their doctrines
are against those of the Church, the holiness is an unreal holiness, and
that we cannot see into their hearts, this is, in fact, denying the Holy
Spirit's most infallible sign--the fruits of righteousness; and being
positive rather of the truth of the Church, than of the truth of God.
There is nothing so certain as that goodness is from God; nothing so
certain as that sin is not from God; nothing so certain as that sin is
not from him. To deny, or doubt this, is to dispute the greatest
assurance of truth that God has ever been pleased to give to us. It does
not, by any means, follow, that all good men are free from error, nor
that error is less error because good men hold it; but to make the error
which is less certain, a reason for disputing the goodness which is more
certain, is the spirit, not of God, nor of the Church of God, but of
those false zealots who put an idol in God's place; of such as rejected
Christ and murdered Stephen.


* * * * *

1 CORINTHIANS xiv, 20.

_Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit, in malice be ye
children, but in understanding be men_.

It would be going a great deal too far to say, that they who fulfilled
the latter part of this command, were sure also to fulfil the former;
that they who were men in understanding, were, therefore, likely to be
children in malice. But the converse holds good, with remarkable
certainty, that they who are children in understanding, are
proportionally apt to be men in malice: that is, in proportion as men
neglect that which should be the guide of their lives, so are they left
to the mastery of their passions; and as nature and outward
circumstances do not allow these passions to remain as quiet and as
little grown as they are in childhood,--for they are sure to ripen
without any trouble of ours,--so men are left with nothing but the evils
of both ages, the vices of the man, and the unripeness and ignorance of
the child.

It is indeed a strange and almost incredible thing, that any should ever
have united in their minds the notions of innocence and ignorance as
applied to any but literal children: nor is it less strange, that any
should ever have been afraid of their understanding, and should have
sought goodness through prejudice, and blindness, and folly. Compared
with this, their conduct was infinitely reasonable who weakened and
tormented their bodies in order to strengthen, as they thought, their
spiritual nature. Such conduct was, by comparison, reasonable because
there is a great deal of bodily weakness and discomfort, which really
does not interfere with the strength and purity of our character in
itself, although, by abridging our activity, it may lessen our means of
usefulness. But what should we say of a man who directed his ill usage
of his body to that part of our system which is most closely connected
with the brain; who were purposely to impair his nervous system, and
subject himself to those delusions and diseased views of things which
are the well-known result of any disorder there? Yet this is precisely
what they do who seek to mortify and lower their understanding. It is as
impossible that they should become better men by such a process, as if
they were literally to take medicines to affect their nerves or their
brain, in the hope of becoming idiotic or delirious. It is, in fact, the
worst kind of self-murder; for it is a presumptuous destroying of that
which is our best life, because we dread to undergo those trials which
God has appointed for the perfecting both of it and of us.

But from the wilful blindness of these men, let us turn to the Christian
wisdom of the Apostle: "In malice be ye children, but in understanding
be men." Let us turn to what is recorded of our Lord in his early life,
at that age when, as man, the cultivation of his understanding was his
particular duty--that he was found in the temple, sitting in the midst
of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions: not asking
questions only, as one too impatient or too vain to wait for an answer,
or to consider it when he had received it; not hearing only, as one
careless and passive, who thinks that the words of wisdom can improve
his mind by being indolently admitted through the ears, with no more
effort than his body uses when it is refreshed by a cooling air, or when
it is laid down in running water; but both hearing and asking questions;
docile and patient, yet active and intelligent; knowing that the wisdom
was to be communicated from without, but that it belongs to the vigorous
exercise of the power within, to apprehend it, and to convert it to

Now, what is recorded of our Lord for our example, as to the manner in
which he received instruction when delivered by word of mouth, this same
thing should we do with that instruction, which, as is the ease with
most of ours, we derive from reading. Put the Scriptures in the place of
those living teachers whom Christ was so eager to hear; the words of
Christ, and of his Spirit, instead of those far inferior guides from
whom, notwithstanding, he, for our sakes, once submitted to learn; and
what can be more exact than the application of the example? Let us be
found in God's true temple, in the communion of his faithful
people,--his universal Church, sitting down as it were, surrounded by
the voices of the oracles of God--prophets, apostles, and Jesus Christ
himself: let us be found with the record of these oracles in our hands,
both reading them and asking them questions.

It is quite clear that what hinders a true understanding of anything is
vagueness; and it is by this process of asking questions that vagueness
is to be dispelled: for, in the first place, it removes one great
vagueness, or indistinctness, which is very apt to beset the minds of
many; namely, the not clearly seeing whether they understand a thing or
no; and much more, the not seeing what it is that they do understand,
and what it is which they do not. Take any one of our Lord's parables,
and read it even to a young child: there will be something of an
impression conveyed, and some feelings awakened; but all will be
indistinct; the child will not know whether he understands or no, but
will soon gain the habit of supposing that he does, as that is at once
the least troublesome, and the least unpleasant to our vanity. And this
same vague impression is often received by uneducated persons from
reading or bearing either the Scriptures or sermons; it is by no means
the same as if they had read or heard something in an unknown language;
but yet they can give no distinct account of what they have heard or
read; they do not know how far they understand it, and how far they do
not. Here, then, is the use of "asking questions,"--asking questions of
ourselves or of our book, I mean, for I am supposing the case of our
reading, when it can rarely happen that we have any living person at
hand to give us an answer. Now, taking the earliest and simplest state
of knowledge, it is plain that the first question to put to ourselves
will be, "Do I understand the meaning of all the words and expressions
in what I have been reading?" I know that this is taking things at their
very beginning, but it is my wish to do so. Now, so plain and forcible
is the English of our Bible, generally speaking, that the words
difficult to be understood will probably not be many: yet some such do
occur, owing, in some instances, to a change of the language; as in the
words "let," and "prevent," which now signify, the one, "to allow, or
suffer to be done," and the other "to stop, or hinder," but which
signified, when our translation was made, the first, "to stop or
hinder," and the second, "to be beforehand with us;" as in the prayer,
"Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings, with thy most gracious favour;"
the meaning is, "Let thy favour be with us beforehand, O Lord, in
whatever we are going to do." In other instances the words are difficult
because they are used in a particular sense, such as we do not learn
from our common language; of which kind are the words "elect," "saints,"
"justification," "righteousness," and many others. Now, if we ask
ourselves "whether we understand these words or no," our common sense,
when thus questioned, will readily tell us, whether we do or not;
although if we had not directly asked the question, it might never have
thought about it. Of course, our common sense cannot tell us what the
true meaning is; that is a matter of information, and our means of
gaining information may be more or less; but still, a great step is
gained, the mist is partly cleared away; we can say to ourselves, "Here
is something which I do understand, and here is something which I do
not; I must keep the two distinct, for the first I may use, the second I
cannot; I will mark it down as a thing about which I may get explanation
at another time; but at present it is a blank in the picture, it is the
same as if it were not there." This, then, is the first process of
self-questioning, adapted, as I have already said, to those whose
knowledge is most elementary.

Suppose, however, that we are got beyond difficulties of this sort--that
the words and particular expressions of the Scriptures are mostly clear
to us. Now, take again one of our Lord's parables; say, for instance,
that of the labourers in the vineyard: we read it, and find that he who
went to work at the eleventh hour received as much as he who had been
working all the day. This seems to say, that he who begins to serve God
in his old age shall receive his crown of glory no less than he who has
served him all his life. But now try the process of self-questioning:
what do I think that Christ means me to learn from this? what is the
lesson to me? what is it to make me feel, or think, or do? If it makes
me think that I shall receive an equal crown of glory if I begin to
serve God in my old age, and therefore if it leads me to live
carelessly, this is clearly making Christ encourage wickedness; and such
a thought is blasphemy. He cannot mean me to learn this from it: let me
look at the parable again. Who is it who is reproved in those words
which seem to contain its real object? It is one who complains of God
for having rewarded others equally with himself. Now this I can see is
not a good feeling: it is pride and jealousy. In order, then to learn
what the parable means me to learn, let me put myself in the position of
those reproved in it. If I complain that others are rewarded by God as
much as I am, it is altogether a bad feeling, and one which I ought to
check; for I have nothing to do with God's dealings to others, let me
think of what concerns myself. Here I have the lesson of the parable
complete: and here I find it is useful for me. But if I take it for a
different object, and suppose that it means to encourage waiting till
the eleventh hour--waiting till we are old before we repent--we find
that we make it only actually to be mischievous to us. And thus we gain
a great piece of knowledge: namely, that the parables of our Lord are
mostly designed to teach, some one particular lesson, with respect to
some one particular fault: and that if we take them generally, as if all
in them was applicable to all persons, whether exposed to that
particular fault or not, we shall absolutely be in danger of deriving
mischief from them instead of good. It is true, that in this particular
parable, the gross wickedness of such an interpretation as I have
mentioned is guarded against even in the story itself; because those who
worked only at the eleventh hour are expressly said to have stood idle
so long only because no man had hired them; their delay, therefore, was
no fault of their own. But even if this circumstance had been left out,
it would have been just the same; because the general rule is, that we
apply to a parable only for its particular lesson, and do not strain it
to any thing else. Had this been well understood, no one would have ever
found so much difficulty in understanding the parable of the
unjust steward.

This is another great step towards the dispelling vagueness, to apply
the particular lesson of each part of Scripture to that state of
knowledge, or feeling, or practice in ourselves, which it was intended
to benefit; to apply it as a lesson to ourselves, not as a general truth
for our neighbours. And the very desire to do this, makes us naturally
look with care to the object of every passage--to see to whom it was
addressed, and on what occasion; for this will often surely guide us to
the point that we want. But in order to do this, we must strive to
clothe the whole in our own common language; to get rid of those
expressions which to us convey the meaning faintly; and to put it into
such others as shall come most strongly home to us. This I have spoken
of on other occasions; and I have so often witnessed the bad effects of
not doing so, that I am sure it may well bear to be noticed again; I
mean the putting such words as "persecution," "the cares and riches of
the world," "the kingdom of God," "confessing Christ," "denying Christ,"
and many others, into a language which to us has more lively reality,
which makes us manifestly see that it is of us, and of our common life,
and of our dangers, that the scripture is speaking, and not only of
things in a remote time and country, and under circumstances quite
unlike our own. Therefore I have a strong objection to the use of what
is called peculiarly religious language, because I am sure that it
hinders us from bringing the matter of that language thoroughly home to
us; our minds do not entirely assimilate with, it; or if they fancy that
they do, it is only by their becoming themselves affected, and losing
their sense of the reality of things around them. For our language is
fixed for us, and we cannot alter it; and into that common language in
which we think and feel, all truth must be translated, if we would think
and feel respecting it at once rightly, clearly, and vividly. Happy is
he, who, by practising this early, has imbued his own natural language
with the spirit of God's wisdom and holiness; and who can see, and
understand, and feel them the better, because they are so put into a
form with which he is perfectly familiar.

More might be said, very much more, but here I will now pause. In this
world, wherein heavenly things are, after all, hard to seize and fix
upon, we have great need that no mists of imperfect understanding darken
them, over and above those of the corrupt will. To see them clearly, to
understand them distinctly and vividly, may, indeed, after all be vain:
a thicker veil may yet remain behind, and we may see and understand, and
yet perish. Only the clear sight of God in Christ can be no light
blessing; and there may be a hope, that understanding and approving with
all our minds his excellent wisdom, the light may warm us as well as
assist our sight; that we may see, and not in our vague and empty sense,
but in the force of the scriptural meaning of the word,--may see, and
so believe.


* * * * *

MATTHEW xxvi. 45, 46.

_Sleep on now and take your rest; behold, the hour is at hand, and the
Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be.
going; behold, he is at hand that doth betray me_.

I take these verses for my text, in the first place, because some have
fancied a difficulty in them, and have even proposed to alter the
translation, and read the first words as a question, "Do ye still sleep
and take your rest?" and because they are really a very good
illustration of our Lord's manner of speaking, a manner which it is of
the highest importance to us fully to understand. And, secondly, I take
them as a text for the general lesson which they convey to us; their
mixture of condemnation and mercy; their view, at once looking backwards
and forwards, not losing sight of irreparable evils of a neglected past,
nor yet making those evils worse by so dwelling upon them as to forget
the still available future; not concealing from us the solemn truth,
that what is done cannot be undone, yet warning us also not to undo by a
vain despair that future which may yet be done to our soul's health.

First, a difficulty has been fancied to exist in the words, as if our
Lord had bade his disciples to do two contradictory things: telling
them, first, to sleep on and take their rust, and then saying, "Rise,
let us be going." And because in St. Luke's account, when our Lord
comes to his disciples the last time, his words are given thus, "Why
sleep ye? rise and pray, that ye enter not into temptation:" therefore,
as I have said, his words in the text have been translated, "Are ye
sleeping and resting for the remainder of the time?" Now, I should not
take up your time with things of this sort, where I believe our common
translation to be most certainly right, were it not for the sake of one
or two general remarks, which I think may not be out of place. It is a
general rule, that in passages not obscure, but appearing to contain
some moral difficulty, if I may so speak; that is, something which seems
inconsistent with our notions of God's holiness, or wisdom, or justice;
something, in short, of a stumbling-block, which we fear may occasion a
triumph to unbelievers; it is a rule, I say, that in passages of this
kind the difficulty is not to be met by departing from the
common-received translation. And the reason of this is plain; that had
not the commonly received translation in such cases been clearly the
right one, it would never have come to be commonly received. Amongst the
thousands of interpreters of Scripture, all, from the earliest time,
anxious to remove grounds of cavil from the adversaries of their faith,
a passage would never have been translated so as to afford such a
ground, if the right translation of it could have been different. Such
places are especially those in which the common translation needs not to
be suspected: and it is merely leading us astray from the true
explanation of the apparent difficulty, when we thus attempt to evade it
by tampering with the translation. A notable instance of this was
afforded some few years since in a new translation of some of the books
of the Old Testament; in which it was pretended that most of those
points which had been most attacked by unbelievers were, in fact, mere
mistranslations, and that the real meaning of the original was
something totally different; and, in order to show the necessity of his
alterations, the writer entirely allowed the objections of unbelievers
to the common reading; and said that no sufficient answer had been or
could be made to them. This was an extreme case, and probably imposed
only on a very few: but less instances of the same thing are common: St.
Paul's words about being baptized for the dead, have been twisted to all
sorts of senses, from their natural and only possible meaning, because
men could not bear to believe that the superstition of being baptized as
proxies for another could have existed at a period which they were
resolved to consider so pure: and so in the text, a force has been put
upon the words which they cannot bear, in order to remove a supposed
contradiction: and all that would have been gained by the change would
be, to have one instructive illustration the less of our Lord's peculiar
manner of discourse, and one instance the less of the inimitable way in
which his language, addressed directly to the circumstances before him,
contains, at the same time, a general lesson, for the use of all his
disciples in all ages.

Our Lord's habitual language was parabolical; I use the word in a wide
sense, to include all language which is not meant to be taken according
to the letter. Observe his conversation with the Samaritan woman; it
begins at once with parable, "If thou hadst known who it was that asked
of thee, saying, Give me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of him, and
he would have given thee living water." And again, "Whoso drinketh of
the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but it shall be in
him a well of water, springing up unto life eternal." This seems to have
been, if I may venture to say so, the favourite language in which he
preferred to speak; but when he found that he was not understood, then,
according to the nature of the case, he went on in two or three
different manners. When he, to whom all hearts were open, saw that the
misunderstanding was wilful, that it arose out of a disposition glad to
find an excuse, in his pretended obscurity, for not listening to him and
obeying him, then, instead of explaining his language, he made it more
and more figurative; more likely to be misunderstood, or to offend those
whom he knew to be disposed beforehand to misunderstand and to be
offended. A famous example of this may be seen in the sixth chapter of
St. John; there he first calls himself the Bread of Life, and says, that
whosoever should eat of that bread should live for ever: but when he
found that the Jews cavilled at this language, instead of explaining it,
he only added expressions yet more strongly parabolical; "Except ye eat
the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in
you:" and he dwells on this image so long, that we find that many of his
disciples, bent on interpreting it literally, and, in this sense,
finding it utterly shocking, went back and walked no more with him.
Again, when he found not a disposition to cavil, but yet a profound
ignorance of his meaning, arising from a state of mind wholly unused to
think of spiritual good and evil, he neither used, as to those who
wilfully misunderstood him, language that would offend them still more,
nor yet did he offer a direct explanation; but he broke off the
conversation, and adopted another method of instruction. Thus, when the
Samaritan woman, thinking only of bodily wants, answered him by saying,
"Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to
draw," he neither goes on to speak to her in the same language, nor yet
does he explain it; but at once addresses her in a different manner,
saying, "Go, call thy husband, and come hither." Thirdly, when he was
speaking to his own disciples, to whom it was given to know the
mysteries of the kingdom of God, he generally explained his meaning,--at
least so far as to prevent practical error,--when he found that they had
not understood him. Thus, when he had said to them, "Beware of the
leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod," and they thought
only of leaven and of bread in the literal sense, he upbraids them,
indeed, for their slowness, saying, "Are ye also yet without
understanding?" but he goes on to tell them in express terms that he did
not mean to speak to them of the leaven of bread. And the words of the
text are an exactly similar instance: his first address is parabolical;
that is, it is not meant to be taken to the letter; "Sleep on now, and
take your rest," meaning, "Ye can now do me no good by watching, for the
time is past, and he who betrayed me is at hand; ye might as well sleep
on now and take your rest, for I need not try you any longer." But, as
the time was really pressing, and there was a possibility that they
might have misunderstood his words, and have really continued to sleep,
he immediately added in different language, "Rise, let us be going;
behold, he is at hand that doth betray me." We must be prepared, then,
to find that our Lord's language, not only to the Jews at large, but
even to his own disciples, is commonly parabolical; the worst
interpretation which we can give to it is commonly the literal one. His
conversation with his disciples, just before he went out to the garden
of Gethsemane, as recorded in the thirteenth, and following chapters of
St. John, is a most striking proof of this. If any one looks through
them, he will find how many are the comparisons, and figurative manners
of speaking, which abound in them, and how often his disciples were at a
loss to understand his meaning, And he himself declares this, for, at
the end of the sixteenth chapter, he says expressly, "These things I
have spoken unto you in proverbs;"--that is, language not to be taken
according to the letter;--"the time is coming when I will no more speak
unto you in proverbs, but will show you plainly of the Father." And
then, when he goes on to declare, what he never, it seems, had before
told them in such express and literal language, "I came forth from the
Father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world, and go to
my Father," his disciples seem to have welcomed with joy this departure
from his usual manner of speaking, and said immediately, "Lo! now
speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb: now we know that thou
knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by
this we believe that thou earnest forth from God."

But let us observe what it is that he said: "A time is coming when I
shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but shall show you plainly of
the Father." That time came immediately. He spoke to them after his
resurrection, opening their understandings to understand the Scriptures:
he spoke yet more fully, by his Spirit, after the day of Pentecost,
leading them into all truth. And what they thus heard in the ear, they
proclaimed, according to his bidding, upon the house-tops. When the Holy
Spirit brought to their remembrance all that he had said to them, and
gave their minds a spiritual judgment, to compare what they thus had
brought before them, to see his words in their true light and their true
bearings, comparing spiritual things with spiritual, they were no
niggards of this heavenly treasure; nor did they, according to the vain
heresy of the worst corrupters of Christ's gospel, imitate and surpass
that sin which they had so heavily judged in Ananias. They kept back no
part-of that which they professed and were commanded to lay wholly and
entirely at the feet of God's church. They did not so lie to the Holy
Ghost, as to erect a wicked system of priestcraft in the place of that
holy gospel of which they were ministers. They had no reserve of a
secret doctrine for themselves and a chosen few, keeping in their own
hands the key of knowledge, and opening only half of the door; but as
they had freely received, so they freely gave; all that they knew, they
taught to all: and so, through their blessed teaching, we too can
understand our Lord's words as they were taught to understand them: and
what is parabolical, is no longer on that account obscure, but full of
light and of beauty, fulfilling the end for which it was chosen, the
most effective of all ways of teaching, because the liveliest.

I have left myself but little space to touch upon the second part of the
subject--the general lesson conveyed in our Lord's-words to his
disciples: "Sleep on now, and take your rest.--Rise; let us be going."
How truly do we deserve the reproof; how thankfully may we accept the
call. We have forfeited many opportunities which we would in vain
recover; we have been careless when we should have been watchful; and
that for which we should have watched, is now lost by our neglect; and
it is no good to watch for it any more. Let us remember this, while it
is called to-day; for how often is it particularly applicable to us
here, from the passing nature of your stay amongst us! To both you and
us too often belongs our Lord's remonstrance, "What, could ye not watch
with me one hour?" So short a time as you stay here, could we not be
watching with Christ that little period: from which, if well improved,
there might spring forth a fruit so lasting? But, alas! we too often
sleep it away: we do not all that we might do, nor do you; evil grows
instead of good, till the time is past, and you leave us; and we may as
well sleep on, and take our rest, so far as all that particular good
was concerned--the improvement, namely, of your time at this place, for
which we are alike set to watch. But are we to take the words of
reproach literally? May we really sleep on, and take our rest? Oh vain
and wilful folly, so to misunderstand! But, lest we should
misunderstand, let us hear our Lord's next words: "Rise; let us be
going," and that instantly: the time and opportunity already lost for
ever is far more than enough.--"Rise; let us be going:" so Christ calls
us; for he has still other work for us to do, for him, and with him. The
future is yet our own, though the past be lost. We have sinned greatly
and irreparably; but let us not do so yet again: other opportunities are
afforded us; the disciples would not watch with him in the garden, but
he calls them to go with him to his trial and his judgment; and one, we
know, watched by him even on his cross:--so he calls to us; so he calls
now; but he will not so call for ever. There will be a time when we
might strike out the words, "Rise; let us be going;" they will concern
us then no more. It is only said, "Sleep on now, and take your rest: all
your watching time has been wasted, and you can now watch no more;"
there remains only to sleep--to sleep that last sleep, from which we
shall then never wake to God and happiness, but in which we shall be
awake for ever to sin and to misery.


* * * * *

2 CORINTHIANS v. 17, 18.

_Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new: and all
things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ_.

I have, from time to time, spoken of that foolish misuse of the
Scriptures, by which any one opening the volume of the Bible at random,
and taking the first words which he finds, straightway applies them
either to himself or to his neighbour; and then boasts that he has the
word of God on his side, and that whosoever differs from him, is
disputing and despising the word of God. The most extreme instances of
this way of proceeding are so absurd, that they could not be noticed in
this place becomingly; and these, of course, stand palpable to all,
except to those who have allowed themselves to fall into them. But far
short of these manifest follies, great errors have been maintained on
general points, and great mistakes, whether of over presumption or of
over fear, have been committed as to men's particular state, by quoting
Scripture unadvisedly; by taking hold of its words to the neglect or
actual violation of its spirit and real meaning. This is a great and a
very common mischief, but yet there is a truth at the bottom of the
error; it is true, that the greatest questions relating to God and to
ourselves, may find their answer in the Scriptures; it is true, that if
we search for this answer wisely we may surely find it.

Consider the words of the text, and see how easily they may be
perverted, if with no more ado we take them, as said of ourselves, each
individually, and as containing to each of us a statement positive of
truth. "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
If we believe that this is God's word respecting each of us, what
violence must we do to our memory of the past, and our consciousness of
the present, if we do try to persuade ourselves that so total a change
has taken place in each of us, that what we once were, we are no longer;
that what we are, we once were not; and this not in some few particular
points, but in the main character of our minds. Again, "All things are
of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ." If we apply
these words to each of us, what exceeding presumption would they breed!
If all things in us and about us are now of God, what room can there be
for sin? If God hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, what room
can there be for fear or for danger? And thus, while we say we are
quoting and believing the word of God, we do in fact turn it into a lie;
we make it assert a falsehood as to our past state, and a falsehood as
to our future state; we make it say, that our old nature is passed away,
when it is not; that we have got a new nature when we have not; that we
are reconciled to God, and therefore in safety, when we are, in fact, in
the extremest danger.

But it is easy to see that we have no right to apply to ourselves words
written by St. Paul eighteen hundred years ago, and applied by him to
other persons. I go, then, farther; and I say, that if every member of
the church of Corinth, to which they were written, had applied them to
himself in the manner which I have shown above, the words would in many
instances have been perverted no less, and would have been made to state
what was false, and not what was true. And the same may be said of many
other passages of St. Paul's Epistles, which, having been similarly
misinterpreted, have furnished matter for endless controversies, and on
which opposite theories of doctrine have been fondly raised, each of
them alike unchristian and untrue.

Thus our present position is this:--that oftentimes by taking the
representations of Scripture as true in fact, whether of ourselves or of
others, we come to conclusions at once false and mischievous; being, as
the case may be, either presumptuous, or fearful, or uncharitable, and
claiming for each of these faults the sanction of the word of God.

A similar mistake in interpreting human compositions, has led to faults
of another kind. Assuming as before, in interpreting St. Paul's words,
that the language of our Liturgy is meant to describe, as a matter of
fact, the actual feelings and condition of those who use it, or for whom
it is used; and seeing manifestly that these feelings and condition do
not agree with the words; we do not here, as with the Scripture, do
violence to our common sense and conscience, by insisting upon it that
we agree with the words, but we find fault with the words as being at
variance with the matter of fact. Some say that the language of the
General Confession is too strong a statement of sin; that the language
of the Communion Service, of the Baptismal Service, and above all, of
the Burial Service, is too full of encouragement and of assurance; that
men are not all so bad as to require the one, 'nor so good as to deserve
the other; that in both cases it should be lowered, to agree with the
actual condition of those who use it.

Now it is worthy of notice, at any rate, that the self-same rule of
interpretation applied to the Scripture and the Liturgy is found to suit
with neither. We adhere positively to our rule: and thus, as we hold the
words of Scripture sacred, we force common sense and conscience to make
the facts agree with them; but not having the same respect for the words
of the Liturgy, we complain of them as faulty and requiring alteration,
because they do not agree with the facts.

I will not enter into the question whether the Liturgy has done wisely
or not in thus imitating the Scripture; but I do contend that, in point
of fact, there is this resemblance between them. St. Paul's Epistles, in
particular, although it is true of other parts of the Scripture also,
contain, as does the Liturgy of our Church, a great many passages which,
if taken either universally or even generally as containing a matter of
fact, will lead us into certain error. Is it, therefore, so very certain
that we do wisely in so interpreting them?

With regard to our Liturgy I need not follow up the question now; but
with regard to St. Paul, it is certain that he, in many parts of his
Epistles, chooses to represent that which ought to be as that which
actually was: he chooses to regard those to whom he is writing as being
in all respects true Christians, as being worthy of their privileges, as
answering to what God had done to them, as forming a church really
inhabited by the Holy Spirit, and therefore being a true and living body
of due proportions to Christ its Divine head. Nor does he trust
exclusively to the common sense and conscience of those to whom he was
writing to interpret his language correctly. He might Lave thought
indeed that if he wrote to them as redeemed, justified, sanctified, as
having all things new, as being the children of God, and the heirs of
God, and the temples of the Holy Ghost, any individual who felt that he
was none of these things, that sin was still mighty within him, and that
he was sin's slave, would neither deny his own conscience, nor yet call
St. Paul a deceiver; but would read in the difference between St. Paul's
description of him and the reality, the exact measure of his own sin,
and need of repentance and watchfulness. But he does not rely on this
only: he notices sins as actually existing; he mingles the language of
reproof and of anxiety, so as to make it quite clear that he did not
mean his descriptions of their holiness and blessedness to apply to them
all necessarily; he knew full well that they did not: but yet he knew
also that, considering what God had done for them, it was monstrous that
they should not be truly applicable.

But why then, you will say, did he use such language? why did he call
men forgiven, redeemed, saved, justified, sanctified?--he uses all these
terms often as applicable generally to those to whom he was
writing;--why did he call them so, when in fact they were not so? He
called them so for the same reason which, made prophecy foretell
blessings upon Israel of old, and on the Christian church afterwards,
which were fulfilled on neither:--in order to declare, and keep ever
before us, what God has done and is willing to do for us: what he fain
would do for us, if we would but suffer him; what divine powers are
offered to us, and we will not use them; what divine happiness is
designed for us, and we will not enter into it. Let us ponder all the
magnificence of the scriptural language,--the words of the text for
example, not as describing what we are when we are full of sin; nor yet
as mere exaggerated language, which must be brought down to the level of
our present reality. Let us consider it as containing the words of
truth and soberness; not one jot or one tittle needs to be abated; it
must not be lowered to us, but we rather raised to it. It is a truth, it
is the word of God, it is the seal of our assurance: it is that which
good men of old would have welcomed with the deepest joy; which, to good
men now is a source of comfort unspeakable. For it tells us that God has
done for us, is doing, will do, all that we need; it tells us that the
price of our redemption has been paid, the kingdom of heaven has been
set open, the power to walk as God's children has been given: that so
far as God is concerned we are redeemed, we are saved, we are
sanctified; it is but our own fault merely that we are not all of these
actually and surely.

This is not a little matter to be persuaded of; if it be true, as I fear
it is, that too many of us do not love God, is it not quite as true that
we cannot believe that God loves us? Have we any thing like a distinct
sense of the words of St. John, "We love God because he first loved us?"
We believe in the love of our earthly friends; those who have so lately
left their homes have no manner of doubt that their parents are
interested in their welfare, though absent; that they will often think
of them; and that, as far as it is possible at a distance from them,
they are watching over their good, and anxious to promote it. The very
name home implies all this; it implies that it is a place where those
live who love us; and I do not question that the consciousness of
possessing this love does, amidst all your faults and forgetfulnesses,
rise not unfrequently within your minds, and restrain you from making
yourselves altogether unworthy of it. Now, I say, that the words of the
text, and hundreds of similar passages, are our assurance, if we would
but believe them, that we have another home and another parent, by whom
we are loved constantly and earnestly, who has done far more for us
than our earthly parents can do. I grant that it is hard to believe this
really; so infinite is the distance between God and us, that we cannot
fancy that he cares for us; he may make laws for a world, or for a
system, but what can he think or feel for us? It is, indeed, a thought
absolutely overpowering to the mind; it may well seem incredible to us,
judging either from our own littleness or our own forgetfulness; so hard
as we find it to think enough of those to whom we are most nearly bound,
how can the Most High. God think of us? But if there be any one particle
of truth in Christianity, we are warranted in saying that God does love
us; strange as it may seem, He, whom neither word nor thought of created
being can compass; He, who made us and ten thousand worlds, loves each
one of us individually; "the very hairs of our heads are all numbered."
He so loved us, that he gave his only-begotten Son to die for us; and
St. Paul well asks, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him
up for us all, will he not also with him freely give us all things?"

Believe me, you could have no better charm to keep you safe through, the
temptations of the coming half year, than this most true persuasion that
God loves you. The oldest and the youngest of us may alike repeat to
himself the blessed words, "God loves me;" "God loves me; God has
redeemed me: God would dwell in my heart, that I might dwell in him: God
has placed me in his church, has made me a member of Christ his own Son,
has made me an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven." I might multiply
words, but that one little sentence is, perhaps, more than all, "God
loves me." Oh that you would believe him when he assures you of it, for
then surely you would not fail to love him. But whether you believe it
or not, still it is so: God loves every one of us; he loves each one of
us as belonging to Christ his Son. He does love each, of us; let us not
cast his love away from us, and refuse to love him in return; he does
love each of us now, but there may be a time to each of us,--there will
be, assuredly, if we will not believe that he loves us, when he will
love us no more for ever.


* * * * *

EZEKIEL xx. 49.

_Then said I, Ah, Lord God I they say of me, Doth he not speak

Nothing is more disheartening, if we must believe it to be true, than
the language in which some persons talk of the difficulty of the
Scriptures, and the absolute certainty that different men will ever
continue to understand them differently. It is not, we are told, with
the knowledge of Scripture as with that of outward nature: in the
knowledge of nature, discoveries are from time to time made which set
error on the one side, and truth on the other, absolutely beyond
dispute; there the ground when gained is clearly seen to be so; and as
fresh sources of knowledge are continually opening to us, it is not
beyond hope that we may in time arrive infinitely near to the enjoyment
of truth,--truth certain in itself, and acknowledged by all unanimously.
But with Scripture, it is said, the case is far otherwise; discoveries
are not to be expected here, nor does a later generation derive from,
its additional experience any greater insight into the things of God
than was enjoyed by the generations before it. And when we see that
actually the complete Scriptures have been in the world not much less
than eighteen hundred years; that within that period no other book has
been so much studied; and yet that differences of opinion as to the
matters spoken of in it have ever existed, and exist now as much as
ever, what reasonable prospect is there, it is asked, of future harmony
or of clearer demonstrations of divine truth; and will not the good on
these points ever continue to differ from the good, and the wise to
differ from the wise?

This language, so discouraging as it is, may be heard from two very
opposite parties, so that their agreement may appear to give it the more
weight: it is used by men who are indifferent to religious truth, as an
excuse for their taking no pains to discover what the truth really is;
it is echoed back quite as strongly by another set of persons who wish
to magnify the uncertainties of the Scripture in order to recommend more
plausibly the guidance of some supposed authoritative interpreter of it.
But yet it ought to be at any rate a painful work to any serious mind to
be obliged to dwell not only on the obscurities of God's word, but on
its perpetual and invincible obscurities; and, though an interpreter may
be necessary if we know not the language of those with whom we are
conversing, yet how much better would it be that we should ourselves
know it: nay, and if we are told that we cannot know it, that our best
endeavours will be unable to master it, the suspicion inevitably arises
in our minds, that our pretended interpreter may be ignorant of it also;
that he is not in truth better acquainted with it than we, but only more
presumptuous or more dishonest.

Still a statement may be painful, but at the same time true. There is
undoubtedly something in such language as I have been alluding to, which
appears to be confirmed by experience. There is no denying the fact,
that the Scriptures have been a long time in the world; that they have
been very generally and carefully read; and yet that men do differ
exceedingly as to religious truth, and these differences do not seem to
be tending towards agreement. It seems to me, there fore, desirable
that every student of the Scriptures should know, as well as may be,
what the exact state of the question is; for if the subject of his
studies is really so hopelessly uncertain, it is scarcely possible that
his zeal in studying it should not be abated; nay, could we wisely
encourage him to bestow his pains on a hopeless labour?

Now, in the very outset, there is this consideration which many of us
here are well able to appreciate. We read many books written in dead
languages, most of them more ancient than any part of the New Testament,
some of them older than several of the books of the Old. We know well
enough that these ancient books are not without their difficulties; that
time, and thought, and knowledge are required to master them; but still
we do not doubt that, with the exception of particular-passages here and
there, the true meaning of these books may be discovered with undoubted
certainty. We know, too, that this certainty has increased; that
interpretations, which, were maintained some years ago, have been set
aside by our improved knowledge of the languages and condition of the
ancient world, quite as certainly as old errors in physical science have
been laid to rest by later discoveries. Farther, our improved knowledge
has taught us to distinguish what may be known from what may be probably
concluded, and what is probable from what can merely be guessed at. When
we come to points of this last sort, to passages which cannot be
interpreted or understood, we leave them at once as a blank; but we
enjoy no less, and understand with no less certainty, the greatest
portions of the book which, contain them. And this experience, with
regard to the works of heathen antiquity, makes it a startling
proposition at the very outset, when we are told that with the works of
Christian antiquity the case is otherwise.

We thus approach the statement as to the hopless difficulty of
Scripture, confirmed, as we are told it is, by the actual fact of the
great disagreements among Christians, with a well-grounded mistrust of
its soundness; we feel sure that there is something in it which is
confused or sophistical. And considering the fact which appears to
confirm it, I mean the actual differences between Christians and
Christians, it soon appears by no means to bear out its supposed
conclusion. For the differences between Christians and Christians by no
means arise generally from the difficulty of understanding the Scripture
aright, but from disagreement as to some other point, quite independent
of the interpretation of the Scriptures. For example, the great
questions at issue between us and the Roman Catholics turn upon two
points,--Whether there is not another authority, in matters of
Christianity, distinct from and equal to the Scriptures,--and whether
certain interpretations of Scripture are not to be received as true, for
the sake of the authority of the interpreter. Now, suppose for a moment,
that the works of Plato or Aristotle were to us in the place of the
Scriptures; and that the question was, whether these works of theirs
could be understood with certainty; it would prove nothing against our
being able to understand them, if, whilst we look to them alone, another
man were to say, that, to his judgment, the works of other philosophers
were no less authoritative; or, if he were to insist upon it, that the
interpretations given by the scholiasts were always sure to be correct,
because the scholiasts were the authorized interpreters of the text. No
doubt our philosophical opinions and our practice might differ widely
from such a man's; but the difference would prove nothing as to the
obscurity of Plato's or Aristotle's text, because another standard had
been brought in, distinct from their works, and from the acknowledged
principles of interpretation, and thus led unavoidably to a
different result.

The same also is the case as to the questions at issue between the
Church of England and many of the Dissenters. In these disputes it is
notorious that the practice and authority of the church are continually
appealed to, or, it may be, considerations of another kind, as to the
inherent reasonableness of a doctrine; all which are, again, a distinct
matter from the interpretation of Scripture. One of the greatest men of
our time has declared, that, in the early part of his life, he did not
believe in the divinity of our Lord; but he has stated expressly, that
he never for a moment persuaded himself that St. Paul or St. John did
not believe it; their language he thought was clear enough, upon the
point; but the notion appeared to him so unreasonable in itself, that he
disbelieved it in spite of their authority. It is manifest, that, in
this case, great as the difference was between this great man's early
belief and his later, yet it in no way arose from the obscurity of the
Scripture. The language of the Scripture was as clear to him at first as
it was afterwards; but in his early life he disbelieved it, while, in
his latter life, he embraced it with all his heart and soul.

It must not be denied, however, that we are here arrived at one of the
causes which are likely, for a long time, to keep alive a false
interpretation of Scripture, and which do not affect our interpretation
of heathen writings. For most men, in such a case as I have referred to,
when they do not believe the language of the Scripture, but wish to
alter it, whether by omission or addition, do not deal so fairly with it
as that great man did to whom I have alluded. They have neither his
knowledge nor his honesty; a false interpretation is more easily
disguised from them, owing to their ignorance, and they let their wishes
more readily warp their judgment. Thus, they will not say as he did,
"The Scripture clearly says so and so, but I cannot believe it;" they
rather say, "This is very unreasonable and shocking, the Scripture
cannot mean to say this;" or, "This is very pious and very ancient, the
Scripture cannot but sanction this." And certainly, if men will so deal
with it, there remains no certainty of interpretation then. But this is
not the way that we deal with other ancient writings; and its unfairness
and foolishness, if ever attempted to be practised there, are so
palpable as to be ridiculous. No doubt it is difficult to convince men
against their will; nevertheless, there is a good hope, that, as sound
principles of interpretation are more generally known, they will put to
shame a flagrant departure from them; and that those who try to make the
Scripture say more or less than it has said, will be gradually driven to
confess that Scripture is not their real authority; that their own
notions in the one case, and the authority of the Church in the other
case, have been the real grounds of their belief, to which they strove
to make the Scriptures conform.

Nothing that I have said is, in any degree, meant to countenance the
opinions of those who talk of the Bible,--or rather, our translation of
it,--being its own interpreter; meaning, that if you give a Bible to any
one who can read, he will be able to understand it rightly. Even in this
extravagance, there is indeed something of a truth. If a man were so to
read the Bible, much he would, unquestionably, be able to understand;
enough, I well believe, if honestly and devoutly used, to give him, if
living in a desert island by himself, the knowledge of salvation. But
when we talk of understanding the Bible, so as to be guided by it
amidst the infinite varieties of opinion and practice which beset us on
every side, it is the wildest folly to talk of it as being, in this
sense, its own interpreter. Our comfort is, not that it can be
understood without study, but with it; that the same pains which, enable
us to understand heathen writings, whose meaning is of infinitely less
value to us, will enable us, with God's blessing, to understand the
Scriptures also. Neither do I mean, that mere intellectual study would
make them clear to the careless or the undevout; but, supposing us to
seek honestly to know God's will, and to pray devoutly for his help to
guide us to it, then our study is not vain nor uncertain; the mind of
the Scriptures may be discovered; we may distinguish plainly between
what is clear, and what is not clear; and what is not clear will be
found far less in amount, and infinitely less in importance, than what
is clear. I do not say, that a true understanding of the Scriptures will
settle at once all religious differences;--manifestly, it cannot; for,
although I may understand them well, yet if a man maintains an opinion,
or a practice, upon some other authority than theirs, we cannot agree
together. Nevertheless, we may be allowed to hope and believe, that in
time, if men could be hindered from misinterpreting the Scripture in
behalf of their own opinions, their opinions themselves would find fewer
supporters; for, as Christianity must come, after all, from our blessed
Lord and his apostles, men will shrink from saying that that is no truth
of Christianity which Christ and his apostles have clearly taught, or
that that is a truth of Christianity, however ancient, and by whatever
long line of venerable names supported, which they have as clearly, in
our sole authentic records of them, not taught. It is not, therefore,
without great and reasonable hope, that we may devote ourselves to the
study of the Scriptures; and those habits of study which are cultivated
here, and in other places of the same kind, are the best ordinary means
of arriving at the truth. We are constantly engaged in extracting the
meaning of those who have written in times past, and in a dead language.
We do this according to certain rules, acknowledged as universally as
the laws of physical science: these rules are developed gradually,--from
the simple grammar which forms our earliest lessons, to the rules of
higher criticism, still no less acknowledged, which are understood by
those of a more advanced age. And we do this for heathen writings; but
the process is exactly the same--and we continually apply it, also, for
that very purpose--with what is required to interpret the Word of God.
After all is done, we shall still, no doubt, find that the Scripture has
its parables, its passages which cannot now be understood; but we shall
find, also, that by much the larger portion of it may be clearly and
certainly known; enough to be, in all points which really concern our
faith and practice, a lantern to our feet, and an enlightener to
our souls.


* * * * *


_Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his

Whatever difficulties we may find in understanding and applying many
parts of the prophetical Scriptures, yet every thinking person could
follow readily enough, I suppose, the chapter from which these words are
taken, as it was read in the course of this morning's service; and he
would feel, while understanding it as said, immediately and in the first
instance, of the Jewish Church or nation, seven centuries and a half
before the birth of our Lord, that it was no less applicable to this
Christian church and nation at the present period. We cannot, indeed,
expect to find a minute agreement in particular points between ourselves
and the Jews of old; the difference of times and circumstances renders
this impossible; both they and we stand, on the one hand, in so nearly
the same relation to God, and we both so share, on the other hand, in
the same sinful human nature, that the complaints, and remonstrances of
the prophets of old may often, be repeated, even in the very same words,
by the Christian preacher now.

If this be so, then the language of various parts of the service of the
Church in this season of Advent ought to excite in us no small
apprehension; for whilst the lessons from the Old Testament describe
the evil state of the Jewish people in the eighth century before Christ,
and threaten it with destruction, so the gospels for this day, and for
last Sunday, speak of the evil state of the same people when our Lord
was upon earth; and the chapter from which the gospel of this day is
taken, contains, as we know, a full prophecy of the destruction that
was, for the second time, going to overwhelm the earthly Jerusalem. We
cannot but fear, therefore, that if our state now be like that of God's
people of old, eight centuries before our Lord's coming, and again like
their state at his coming: and if, after the first period, their city
and temple were burnt, and they were carried captive to Babylon,--and
again, after the second period, the city and temple were burnt again,
and the people were dispersed, even to this day,--that, as the
punishment has twice surely followed the sin, so it will not fail to
find it out in this third case also.

And be it remembered that the people, or church of God, as such, can
receive their punishment only in this world: for, taken as a body, it is
an institution for this world only. We each of us, no doubt, shall have
our own separate individual judgment after death; and, in the mean time,
our fortunes and our character often bear no just correspondence with
each other. But nations and churches have their judgments here: and
although God's long-suffering so suspends it for many generations that
it may seem as if it would never fall, yet does it come surely at the
last; and almost always we can ourselves trace the connexion between the
sin and the punishment, and can see that the one was clearly the
consequence of the other. And thus our church and nation may feel their
national judgments in this world quite independently of the several
personal judgments which will be passed upon us each hereafter
individually, when we stand before Christ's judgment seat.

I have thus ventured to bring the condition of the church as a body
before our minds, although well knowing how much more we are concerned
with the state of our own souls individually. Yet still the more general
view is not without great use; and indeed it bears directly upon our
individual state: our actions and our feelings having often a close
connexion with, general church matters; and these actions and feelings
being necessarily good or bad, according to the soundness of our
judgment on the matter which occasions them. Besides which, it seems to
me that general views, rather than what relates to particular faults,
may be with most propriety dwelt on by those who have no direct
connexion with the congregation which they are addressing.

In the first place, then, whenever we think of the state and prospects
of Christ's church, whether for good or for evil, it is most desirable
that we should rightly understand our own relations to it. "The vineyard
of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel;" or, in the language of the
New Testament, "Christ is the vine, and we are the branches." Men
continually seem to forget that they are members of the church;
citizens, to use St. Paul's expression, of Christ's kingdom, as much as
ever they are citizens of their earthly country. But they speak of the
church as they might speak of any useful institution or society in their
neighbourhood, whose object they approved of, and which they were glad
to encourage, but without becoming members of it, or identifying
themselves with its success or failure. For example, they speak of the
church as they might speak of the universities, which indeed are
institutions of great importance to the whole country, but yet they are
manifestly distinct from the mass of the community: they have their own
members, their own laws, and their own government, with which, people in
general have nothing to do. And so many persons speak and feel of the
church, regarding it evidently as consisting only of the clergy: our
common language, no doubt, helping this confusion, because we often
speak of a man's going into the church when he enters into holy orders,
just as if ordination were the admission into the church, and not
baptism. Now, if the clergy did indeed constitute the church, then it
would very much resemble the condition of the universities: for it would
then be indeed a society very important to the welfare of the whole
country, but yet one that was completely distinct, and which had its
members, laws, and government quite apart: for men in general do not
belong to the clergy, nor are they concerned directly in such canons as
relate to the peculiar business of the clergy, nor does the bishop's
superintendence, as commonly exercised, extend at all to them. But God
designed for his church far more than that it should contain one order
of men only, or that it should comprise commonly but one single
individual in a parish, preaching to and teaching the rest of the
inhabitants, like a missionary amongst a population of heathens. Look at
St. Paul's account of the church of Corinth, in the 12th chapter of his
1st epistle to the Corinthians, and see if any two things can be more
different than his notion of a church, and that which many people seem
to entertain amongst us. Compare the living body there described, made
up of so many various members, each having its separate office, yet each
useful to and needed by the others and by the body,--and our notion of a
parish committed to the charge of a single individual: as if all the
manifold gifts which the church requires could by possibility be
comprised in the person of any one Christian; as if the whole burden
were to rest upon his shoulders, and the other inhabitants might regard
the welfare of the church as his concern only, and not theirs.

But not only is the church too often confined in men's notions to the
single class or profession of the clergy, but it has been narrowed still
farther by the practical extinction of one of the orders of the clergy
itself. Where the laity have come to regard their own share in the
concerns of the church as next to nothing, the order of deacons,
forming, as it were, a link between the clergy and the laity, becomes
proportionably of still greater importance. The business of the deacons,
as we well know, was in an especial manner to look after the relief of
the poor; and by combining this charge with the power of baptizing, of
reading the Scriptures, and of preaching also, when authorized by the
bishop, they exhibited the peculiar character of Christianity, that of
sanctifying the business of this world by doing everything in the name
of the Lord Jesus. No church, so far as we know, certainly no church in
any town, existed without its deacons: they were as essential to its
completeness as its bishop and its presbyters.

Take any one of our large towns now, and what do we find? A bishop, not
of that single town only, but of fifty others besides: one presbyter in
each, church, and no deacons! Practically, and according to its proper
character, the order of deacons is extinct; and those who now bear the
name are most commonly found exercising the functions of presbyters;
that is, instead of acting as the assistants of a presbyter, they are
often the sole ministers of their respective parishes; they alone
baptize; alone offer up the prayers of the church, alone preach the
word: nothing marks their original character, except their inability to
administer the communion; and thus, by a strange anomaly, the church in
such parishes is actually left without any power of celebrating its
highest act, that of commemorating the death, of Christ in the Lord's
supper; and if it were not for another great evil, the unfrequent
celebration of the Communion, the system could not go on: because the
deacon would be so often obliged to apply to other ministers to perform
that duty for him, that the inconvenience, as well as the unfitness, of
the actual practice, would be manifest to every one.

Again, what has become of church discipline? That it has perished, we
all well know: but its loss is the consequence of that fatal error which
makes the clergy alone constitute the church. It is quite certain that
men will not allow the members of a single profession to exercise the
authority of society; to create and define offences; to determine their
punishment, and to be the judges of each particular offender. As long as
the clergy are supposed to constitute the whole church, church
discipline would be nothing but priestly tyranny. And yet the absence of
discipline is a most grievous evil; and there is no doubt that, although
it must be vain when opposed to public opinion, yet, when it is the
expression of that opinion, there is nothing which it cannot achieve.
But public opinion cannot enforce church discipline now, because that
discipline would not be now the expression of the voice of the church,
but simply of a small part of the church, of the clergy only.

So deeply has this fatal error of regarding the clergy as the church
extended itself, that at this moment a man's having been baptized is no
security for his being so much as a believer in the truth of
Christianity: no matter that he was made in his baptism a member of
Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven; no
matter that at a more advanced period of his life he was confirmed, and
entered into the church by his own act and deed; still the church
belongs to the clergy; they may hold such and such, language, and teach
such and such doctrine; it would be very improper in them to do
otherwise; and he has a great respect for the church, and would
strenuously resist all its enemies, but truly, as for his own belief and
his own conduct, these he will guide according to other principles, as
imperative upon him as the rules of the church upon churchmen. Well
indeed, do such men bear witness that they are not of the church,

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