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IN HIS IMAGE
William Jennings Bryan
_In His Image_. James Sprunt Lectures. 12mo, cloth….$1.75
_Heart to Heart Appeals_. 12mo, cloth….$1.25
The cream of Mr. Bryan’s public utterances on Prohibition, Money, Imperialism, Trusts, Labor, Income Tax, Peace, Religion, Pan-Americanism, etc.
_The Prince of Peace_. 12mo, boards….60c.
_Messages for the Times_. 12mo, boards, each….35c.
_The First Commandment._ In simple, unaffected language, the author enlarges upon the present-day breaches of the First Commandment.
_The Message from Bethlehem_. A plea for the world-wide adoption of the spirit of the Angels’ song–“Good-will to Men.” The context and import of this great principle has never been more understandingly set forth.
_The Royal Art_. A lucid exposition of Mr. Bryan’s views concerning the aims and ideals of righteous government.
_The Making of a Man_. A faithful tracing of the main lines to be followed if the crown of manhood is to be attained.
_The Fruits of the Tree_. “Either for the reinvigoration of faith or for the dissipation of doubt, this little volume is a document of power.”–_Continent_.
In His Image
By WILLIAM JENNINGS RYAN
“_ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him_.”–GEN. 1: 27.
_Dedicated to the memory of my beloved parents_
_SILAS LILLARD RYAN_
MARIAH ELIZABETH RYAN_
_to whom I am indebted for a Christian environment in youth, during which they instilled into my mind and imprinted upon my heart the religious principles which I have set forth and applied in the lectures contained in this volume_
THE JAMES SPRUNT LECTURES
In nineteen hundred and eleven, Mr. James Sprunt of Wilmington, North Carolina, by a gift to the Trustees of Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, established a lectureship in the Seminary for the purpose of enabling the institution to secure from time to time the services of distinguished men as special lecturers on subjects connected with various departments of Christian thought and Christian work. The lecturers are chosen by the Faculty and a committee of the Board of Trustees, and the lectures are published after their delivery in accordance with a contract between the lecturer and these representatives of the institution. The lecturers up to the present have been:
REV. DAVID JAMES BURRELL, D.D., LL.D. SIR WILLIAM M. RAMSAY, D.D., LL.D.
REV. PROF. JAMES STALKER, D.D.
REV. A.F. SCHAUFFLER, D.D.
REV. HARRIS E. KIRK, D.D.
PROF. C. ALPHONSO SMITH, PH.D., LL.D. REV. A.H. MCKINNEY, D.D.
REV. G. CAMPBELL MORGAN, D.D.
REV. PROF. J. GRESHAM MACHEN, D.D. HON. WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN.
The tenth series is presented in this volume.
The invitation extended me by President Moore on behalf of Union Theological Seminary provided the opportunity for the presentation of an argument I had had in mind for years–an argument to the heart and mind of the average man, especially to the young. This purpose originated in two desires, one of which is to repay the debt of gratitude that I owe to my revered parents for having brought into my life the Christian principles upon which their own lives were builded. My appreciation of the importance of this early training has grown with the years. As those who brought me into the world, cared for me so tenderly during my early years and so conscientiously guarded and guided me during the formative period of my life, have passed to their reward, I know of no way in which this appreciation can be effectively expressed, except by transmitting these principles to others.
The second desire is to aid those who are passing from youth to maturity and grappling with problems incident to this critical age. Having spent eight years away from home, in academy, college and law school, I have reason to know the conflicts through which each individual has to pass, especially those who have the experience incident to college life. I never can be thankful enough for the fact that I became a member of the Church before I left home and therefore had the benefit of the Church, the Sunday School and Christian friends during these trying days.
In these lectures I have had in mind two thoughts, first, the confirming of the faith of men and women, especially the young, in a Creator, all-powerful, all-wise, and all-loving, in a Bible, as the very Word of a Living God and in Christ as Son of God and Saviour of the world; second, the applying of the principles of our religion to every problem in life. My purpose is to prove, not only the fact of God, but the need of God, the fact of the Bible and the need of the Bible, and the fact of Christ and the need of a Saviour.
Therefore, I have chosen “In His Image” as the title of this series of lectures, because, in my judgment, all depends upon our conception of our place in God’s plan. The Bible tells us that God made us in His image and placed us here to carry out a divine decree. He gave us the Scriptures as an authoritative guide and He gave us His Son to reveal the Father, to redeem man from sin and to furnish in His life and teachings an inspiring example by the following of which, man may grow in grace and in the knowledge of God.
“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”
I. IN THE BEGINNING–GOD
II. THE BIBLE
III. WHAT THINK YE OF CHRIST?
IV. THE ORIGIN OF MAN
V. THE LARGER LIFE
VI. THE VALUE OF THE SOUL
VII. THREE PRICELESS GIFTS
VIII. HIS GOVERNMENT AND PEACE
IX. THE SPOKEN WORD
“IN THE BEGINNING–GOD”
Religion is the relation between man and his Maker–the most important relationship into which man enters. Most of the relationships of life are voluntary; we enter into them or not as we please. Such, for illustration, are those between business partners, between stockholders in a corporation, between friends and between husband and wife. Some relationships, on the other hand, are involuntary; we enter into them because we must. Such, for illustration, are those between man and his government, between man and society, and between man and his Maker.
Tolstoy declares that morality is but the outward manifestation of religion. If this be true, as I believe it is, then religion is the most practical thing in life and the thought of God the greatest thought that can enter the human mind or heart. Tolstoy also delivers a severe rebuke to what he calls the “Cultured crowd”–those who think that religion, while good enough for the ignorant (to hold in check and restrain them), is not needed when one reaches a certain stage of intellectual development. His reply is that religion is not superstition and does not rest upon a vague fear of the unseen forces of nature, but does rest upon “man’s consciousness of his finiteness amid an infinite universe and of his sinfulness.” This consciousness, Tolstoy adds, man can never outgrow.
Evidence of the existence of an Infinite Being is to be found in the Bible, in the facts of human consciousness, and in the physical universe. Dr. Charles Hodge sets forth as follows the principal arguments used to maintain the existence of a God:
I. The _a priori_ argument which seeks to demonstrate the being of a God from certain first principles involved in the essential laws of human intelligence.
II. The cosmological argument, or that one which proceeds after the _posteriori_ fashion, from the present existence of the world as an effect, to the necessary existence of some ultimate and eternal first cause.
III. The teleological argument, or that argument which, from the evidence of design in the creation, seeks to establish the fact that the great self-existent first cause of all things is an intelligent and voluntary personal spirit.
IV. The moral argument, or that argument which, from a consideration of the phenomena of conscience in the human heart, seeks to establish the fact that the self-existent Creator is also the righteous moral Governor of the world. This argument includes the consideration of the universal feeling of dependence common to all men, which together with conscience constitutes the religious sentiment.
V. The historical argument, which involves: (1) The evident providential presence of God in the history of the human race. (2) The evidence afforded by history that the human race is not eternal, and therefore not an infinite succession of individuals, but created. (3) The universal consent of all men to the fact of His existence.
VI. The Scriptural argument, which includes: (1) The miracles and prophecies recorded in Scripture, and confirmed by testimony, proving the existence of a God. (2) The Bible itself, self-evidently a work of superhuman wisdom. (3) Revelation, developing and enlightening conscience, and relieving many of the difficulties under which natural theism labours, and thus confirming every other line of evidence.
A reasonable person searches for a reason and all reasons point to a God, all-wise, all-powerful, and all-loving. On no other theory can we account for what we see about us. It is impossible to conceive of the universe, illimitable in extent and seemingly measureless in time, as being the result of chance. The reign of law, universal and eternal, compels belief in a Law Giver.
We need not give much time to the agnostic. If he is sincere he does not _know_ and therefore cannot affirm, deny or advise. When I was a young man I wrote to Colonel Ingersoll, the leading infidel of his day, and asked his views on God and immortality. His secretary sent me a speech which quoted Colonel Ingersoll as follows: “I do not say that there is no God: I simply say I do not know. I do not say that there is no life beyond the grave: I simply say I do not know!” What pleasure could any man find in taking from a human, heart a living faith and putting in the place of it the cold and cheerless doctrine “I do not know”? Many who call themselves agnostics are really atheists; it is easier to profess ignorance than to defend atheism.
We give the atheist too much latitude; we allow him to ask all the questions and we try to answer them. I know of no reason why the Christian should take upon himself the difficult task of answering all questions and give to the atheist the easy task of asking them. Any one can ask questions, but not every question can be answered. If I am to discuss creation with an atheist it will be on condition that we ask questions about. He may ask the first one if he wishes, but he shall not ask a second one until he answers my first.
What is the first question an atheist asks a Christian? There is but one _first_ question: Where do you begin? I answer: I begin where the Bible begins. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” I begin with a Creative Cause that is sufficient for anything that can come thereafter.
Having answered the atheist’s first question, it is now my turn, and I ask my first question of the atheist: “Where do you begin?” And then his trouble begins. Did you ever hear an atheist explain creation? He cannot begin with God because he denies the existence of a God. But he must begin _somewhere_; it is just as necessary for the atheist as for the Christian to have a beginning point for his philosophy.
Where does the atheist begin? He usually starts with the nebular hypothesis. And where does that begin? “In the beginning”? No. It begins by _assuming_ that two things existed, which the theory does not try to explain. It assumes that matter and force existed, but it does not tell us how matter and force came into existence, where they came from, or why they came. The theory begins: “Let us suppose that matter and force are here,” and then, according to the theory, force working on matter, created a world. I have just as much right as the atheist to begin with an assumption, and I would rather begin with God and reason down, than begin with a piece of dirt and reason up. The difference between the Christian theory and the materialistic theory is that the Christian begins with God, while the materialist begins with dull, inanimate matter. _I know of no theory suggested as a substitute for the Bible theory that is as rational and as easy to believe._
If the atheist asks me if I can understand God, I answer that it is not necessary that my finite mind shall _comprehend_ the Infinite Mind before I admit that there _is_ an infinite mind, any more than it is necessary that I shall understand the sun before I can admit that there is a sun. We must deal with the facts about us whether we can understand them or not.
If the atheist tells me that I have no right to believe in God until I can understand Him, I will take his own logic and drive him to suicide; for, by that logic, what right has an atheist to live unless he can understand the mystery of his own life? Does the atheist understand the mystery of the life he lives? No; bring me the most learned atheist and when he has gathered all the information that this earth can give, I will have a little child lead him out and show him the grass upon the ground, the leaves upon the trees, the birds that fly in the air, and the fishes in the deep, and the little child will mock him and tell him, and tell him truly, that he, the little child, knows just as much about the mystery of life as does the most learned atheist. We have our thoughts, our hopes, our fears, and yet we know that in a moment a change may come over any one of us that will convert a living, breathing human being into a mass of lifeless clay. What is it, that, having, we live, and, having not, we are as the clod? We know as little of the mystery of life to-day as they knew in the dawn of creation and yet behold the civilization that man has wrought.
And love that makes life worth living is also a mystery. Have you ever read a scientific definition of love? You never will. Why? Because a man does not know what love is until he gets into it, and then he is not scientific until he gets out again. And even if we could understand the mysterious tie that brings two hearts together from out the multitude, and on a united life builds the home, earth’s only paradise, we still would be unable to understand that larger mystery that manifests itself when a human heart reaches out and links itself to every other heart.
And patriotism, also, is a mystery–intangible, invisible, and yet eternal. Because there has been in the past such a thing as patriotism, millions have given their lives for their country. Patriotism could command millions of lives to-day. Our country is not lacking in patriotism; we have as much as can be found anywhere else, and it is of as high a quality. There ought to be more patriotism here than elsewhere; as citizenship in the United States carries more benefits with it than citizenship in any other land, the American citizen should be willing to sacrifice more than any other citizen to make sure that the blessings of our government shall descend unimpaired to children and to children’s children. The atheist knows as little about these mysteries as the Christian does and yet he lives, he loves and he is patriotic.
But our case is even stronger: Everything with which man deals is full of mystery. The very food we eat is mysterious; sometimes man-made food becomes so mysterious that we are compelled to enact pure food laws in order that we may know what we are eating. And God-made food is as mysterious as man-made food, though we cannot compel Jehovah to make known the formula.
We encourage children to raise vegetables; a little child can learn _how_ to raise vegetables, but no grown person understands the mystery that is wrapped up in every vegetable that grows. Let me illustrate: I am fond of radishes; my good wife knows it and keeps me supplied with them when she can. I eat radishes in the morning; I eat radishes at noon; I eat radishes at night; I eat radishes between meals; I like radishes. I plant radish seed–put the little seed into the ground, and go out in a few days and find a full grown radish. The top is green, the body of the root is white and almost transparent, and around it I sometimes find a delicate pink or red. Whose hand caught the hues of a summer sunset and wrapped them around the radish’s root down there in the darkness in the ground? I cannot understand a radish; can you? If one refused to eat anything until he could understand the mystery of its growth, he would die of starvation; but mystery does not bother us in the dining-room,–it is only in the church that mystery seems to give us trouble.
In travelling around the world I found that the egg is a universal form of food. When we reached Asia the cooking was so different from ours that the boiled egg was sometimes the only home-like thing we could find on the table. I became so attached to the egg, that, when I returned to the United States, for weeks I felt like taking my hat off to every hen I met. What is more mysterious than an egg? Take a fresh egg; it is not only good food, but an important article of merchandise. But loan a fresh egg to a hen, after the hen has developed a well-settled tendency to sit, and let her keep the egg under her for a week, and, as any housewife will tell you, it loses a large part of its market value. But be patient with the hen; let her have it for two weeks more and she will give you back a chicken that you could not find in the egg. No one can understand the egg, but we all like eggs.
Water is essential to human life, and has been from the beginning, but it is only a short time ago, relatively speaking, that we learned that water is composed of gas. Two gases got mixed together and could not get apart and we call the mixture water, but it was much more important that man should have had water to drink all these years than it was to find out that water is composed of gas. And there is one thing about water that we do not yet understand, viz., why it differs from other things in this, that other things continue to contract indefinitely under the influence of cold, while water contracts until it reaches a certain temperature and then, the rule being reversed, expands under the influence of more intense cold? It does not make much difference whether we ever learn _why_ this is true, but it is important to the world to know that it is so.
Sometimes I go into a community and find a young man who has come in from the country and obtained a smattering of knowledge; then his head swells and he begins to swagger around and say that an intelligent man like himself cannot afford to have anything to do with anything that he cannot understand. Poor boy, he will be surprised to find out how few things he will be able to deal with if he adopts that rule. I feel like suggesting to him that the next time he goes home to show himself off to his parents on the farm he address himself to the first mystery that ever came under his observation, and has not yet been solved, notwithstanding the wonderful progress made by our agricultural colleges. Let him find out, if he can, why it is that a black cow can eat green grass and then give white milk with yellow butter in it? Will the mystery disturb him? No. He will enjoy the milk and the butter without worrying about the mystery in them.
And so we might take any vegetable or fruit. The blush upon the peach is in striking contrast to the serried walls of the seed within; who will explain the mystery of the apple, the queen of the orchard, or the nut with its meat, its shell, and its outer covering? Who taught the tomato vine to fling its flaming many-mansioned fruit before the gaze of the passer-by, while the potato modestly conceals its priceless gifts within the bosom of the earth?
I learned years ago that it is the mystery in the miracle that makes it a stumbling block in the way of many. If you will analyze the miracle you will find just two questions in it: _Can_ God perform a miracle? And, would He _want_ to? The first question is easily answered. A God who can make a world can do anything He wants to with it. We cannot deny that God _can_ perform a miracle, without denying that God is God. But, would God _want_ to perform a miracle? That is the question that has given the trouble, but it has only troubled those, mark you, who are unwilling to admit that the infinite mind of God may have reasons that the finite mind of man does not comprehend. If, for any reason, God desires to do so, can He not, with His infinite strength, temporarily suspend the operation of any of His laws, as man with his feeble arm overcomes the law of gravitation when he lifts a stone?
If among my readers any one has been presumptuous enough to attempt to confine the power and purpose of God by man’s puny understanding, let me persuade him to abandon this absurd position by the use of an illustration which I once found in a watermelon. I was passing through Columbus, Ohio, some years ago and stopped to eat in the restaurant in the depot. My attention was called to a slice of watermelon, and I ordered it and ate it. I was so pleased with the melon that I asked the waiter to dry some of the seeds that I might take them home and plant them in my garden. That night a thought came into my mind–I would use that watermelon as an illustration. So, the next morning when I reached Chicago, I had enough seeds weighed to learn that it would take about five thousand watermelon seeds to weigh a pound, and I estimated that the watermelon weighed about forty pounds. Then I applied mathematics to the watermelon. A few weeks before some one, I knew not who, had planted a little watermelon seed in the ground. Under the influence of sunshine and shower that little seed had taken off its coat and gone to work; it had gathered from somewhere two hundred thousand times its own weight, and forced that enormous weight through a tiny stem and built a watermelon. On the outside it had put a covering of green, within that a rind of white and within the white a core of red, and then it had scattered through the red core little seeds, each one capable of doing the same work over again. What architect drew the plan? Where did that little watermelon seed get its tremendous strength? Where did it find its flavouring extract and its colouring matter? How did it build a watermelon? Until you can explain a watermelon, do not be too sure that you can set limits to the power of the Almighty, or tell just what He would do, or how He would do it. The most learned man in the world cannot _explain_ a watermelon, but the most ignorant man can _eat_ a watermelon, and enjoy it. God has given us the things that we need, and He has given us the knowledge necessary to use those things: the truth that He has revealed to us is infinitely more important for our welfare than it would be to understand the mysteries that He has seen fit to conceal from us. So it is with religion. If you ask me whether I understand everything in the Bible, I frankly answer, No. I understand some things to-day that I did not understand ten years ago and, if I live ten years longer, I trust that some things will be clear that are now obscure. But there is something more important than understanding everything in the Bible; it is this: If we will embody in our lives that which we _do_ understand we will be kept so busy doing good that we will not have time to worry about the things that we do _not_ understand.
In “The Grave Digger,” written by Fred Emerson Brooks, there is one stanza which is in point here:
“If chance could fashion but a little flower, With perfume for each tiny thief,
And furnish it with sunshine and with shower, Then chance would be creator, with the power To build a world for unbelief.”
But chance cannot fashion even a little flower; chance cannot create a single thing that grows. Every living thing bears testimony to a living God and, if there be a God, then every human life is a part of that God’s plan. And, if this be true, then the highest duty of man, as it should be his greatest pleasure, is to try to find out God’s will concerning himself and to do it. When Job was asked, “Canst thou by searching find out God?” a negative answer was implied, but we can see manifestations of God’s power everywhere; in the suns and planets that, revolving, whirl through space, held in position by forces centripetal and centrifugal; we see it in the mountains rent asunder and upturned by a force not only superhuman but beyond the power of man to conceive. Captain Crawford, the poet-scout, in describing the mountains of the West has used a phrase which often comes into my mind: “Where the hand of God is seen.”
We see manifestation of God’s power in the ebb and flow of the tides; in the mighty “shoreless rivers of the ocean”; in the suspended water in the clouds–billions of tons, seemingly defying the law of gravitation while they await the command that sends them down in showers of blessings. We behold it in the lightning’s flash and the thunder’s roar, and in the invisible germ of life that contains within itself the power to gather its nourishment from the earth and air, fulfill its mission and propagate its kind.
We see all about us, also, conclusive proofs of the infinite intelligence and fathomless love of the Heavenly Father. On lofty mountain summits He builds His mighty reservoirs and piles high the winter snows, which, melting, furnish the water for singing brooks, for the hidden veins, and for the springs that pour out their refreshing flood through the smitten rocks. At His touch the same element that furnishes ice to cool the fevered brow furnishes also the steam to move man’s commerce on sea and land. He imprisons in roaring cataracts exhaustless energy for the service of man: He stores away in the bowels of the earth beds of coal and rivers of oil; He studs the canyon’s frowning walls with precious metals and priceless gems; He extends His magic wand, and the soil becomes rich with fertility; the early and the latter rains supply the needed moisture, and the sun, with its marvellous alchemy, transmutes base clay into golden grain. He gives us in infinite variety the fruits of the orchard, the vegetables of the garden and the, berries of the woods. He gives us the sturdy oak, the fruitful nut-tree and the graceful palm.
In compassion He makes the horse to bear our burdens and the cow to supply the dairy; and He gives us the faithful hen. He makes the fishes to scour the sea for food and then yield themselves up to the table; He sends the bee forth to gather sweets for man and birds to sing his cares away. He paints the skies with the gray of the morning and the glow of the sunset; He sets His radiant bow in the clouds and copies its colours in myriad flowers. He gives to the babe a mother’s love, to the child a father’s care, to parents the joy of children, to brothers and sisters the sweet association of the fireside, and He gives to all the friend. Well may the Psalmist exclaim, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.” Surely everything that hath breath should praise the Lord.
It would seem that a knowledge of nature would be sufficient to convince any unprejudiced mind that there is a designer back of the design, a Creator back of the creation, but, for a reason which I shall treat more fully in a future lecture, some of the scientists have become materialistic. The doctrine of evolution has closed their hearts to the plainest of spiritual truths and opened their minds to the wildest guesses made in the name of science. If they find a piece of pottery in a mound, supposed to be ancient, they will venture to estimate the degree of civilization of the designer from the rude scratches on its surface, and yet they cannot discern the evidences of design which the Creator has written upon every piece of His handiwork. They can understand how an invisible force, like gravitation, can draw all matter down to the earth but they cannot comprehend an invisible God who draws all spirits upward to His throne.
The Bible’s proof of God becomes increasingly necessary to meet the agnosticism and atheism that are the outgrowth of modern mind-worship. I shall speak of the Bible in my second lecture; I refer to it here merely for the purpose of pointing out the harmony between the spoken word and the evidence furnished by God’s handiwork throughout the universe. The wisdom of the Bible writers is more than human; the prophecies proclaim a Supreme Ruler who, though inhabiting all space, deigns to speak through the hearts and minds and tongues of His children.
The Christ of whom the Bible tells furnishes the highest evidence of the power, the wisdom, and the love of Jehovah. He is a living Christ, present to-day in the increasing influence that He exerts over the hearts of men and over the history of nations.
We not only have God in the Bible and God in nature but we have God in life and accessible to all. It is not necessary to spend time in trying to comprehend God–a task too great for the finite mind; we can “taste and see that the Lord is good.” We can test His grace and prove His presence. The negative arguments of the atheist and the indecision of the agnostic will not disturb the faith of one who daily communes with the Heavenly Father, and, by obedience, lays hold upon His promise.
Belief in God is almost universal and the effect of this belief is so vast that one is appalled at the thought of what social conditions would be if reverence for God were erased from every heart. A sense of responsibility to God for every thought and word and deed is the most potent influence that acts upon the life–for one man kept in the straight and narrow way by fear of prison walls a multitude are restrained by those invisible walls that conscience rears about us, walls that are stronger than the walls of stone.
At first the fear of God–fear that sin will bring punishment–is needed; “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But as one learns to appreciate the goodness of God and the plenitude of His mercy, love takes the place of fear and obedience becomes a pleasure; “His delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”
The paramount need of the world to-day, as it was nineteen hundred years ago, is a whole-hearted, whole-souled, whole-minded faith in the Living God. A hesitating admission that there is a God is not sufficient; Man must love with _all_ his heart, and with _all_ his soul, and with _all_ his mind, and with _all_ his strength,–and to love he must believe. Belief in God must be a conviction that controls every nerve and fibre of his being and dominates every impulse and energy of his life.
Belief in God is necessary to prayer. It is not sufficient to believe that there is an Intelligence permeating the universe; nothing less than a _personal_ God–a God interested in each one of His children and ready to give at any moment the aid that is needed–nothing less than this can lead one to communion with the Heavenly Father through prayer. Evolutionists have attempted to retain the form of prayer while denying that God answers prayer. They argue that prayer has a reflex action upon the petitioner and reconciles him to his lot. This argument might justify one in thinking prayer good enough for _others_ who believe, but it is impossible for one to be fervent in prayer himself if he is convinced that his pleas do not reach a prayer-hearing and a prayer-answering God. Prayer becomes a mockery when faith is gone, just as Christianity becomes a mere form when prayer is gone. If the words of the Bible have any meaning at all one must believe that God “_is_, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
Belief in God is necessary to that confidence in His providence which is the source of the Christian’s calmness in hours of trial. We soon reach the limitations of our strength and would despair but for our confidence in the infinite wisdom of God. David expresses this when he says, “Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness. He … shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord” (Ps. 112).
In my youth, my father often had me read to him Bryant’s “Ode to a Waterfowl” and it became my favourite poem. I know of no more comforting words outside of Holy Writ than those in the last stanza:
“He who from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight; In the long way that I must tread alone, Will lead my steps aright.”
Belief in God gives courage. The Christian believes that every word spoken in behalf of truth will have its influence and that every deed done for the right will weigh in the final account. What matters it to the believer whether his eyes behold the victory and his voice mingles in the shouts of triumph, or whether he dies in the midst of the conflict!
“Yea, tho’ thou lie upon the dust,
When they who helped thee flee in fear, Die full of hope and manly trust,
Like those who fell in battle here.
Another hand thy sword shall wield,
Another hand the standard wave,
Till from the trumpet’s mouth is pealed, The blast of triumph o’er thy grave.”
Only those who believe attempt the seemingly impossible, and, by attempting, prove that one, with God, can chase a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight. I can imagine that the early Christians, who were carried into the Coliseum to make a spectacle for spectators more cruel than the beasts, were entreated by their doubting companions not to endanger their lives. But, kneeling in the center of the arena, they prayed and sang until they were devoured. How helpless they seemed, and measured by every human rule, how hopeless was their cause! And yet within a few decades the power which they invoked proved mightier than the legions of the emperor and the faith in which they died was triumphant o’er all the land. It is said that those who went to mock at their sufferings returned asking themselves: “What is it that can enter into the heart of man and make him die as these die?” They were greater conquerors in their death than they could have been had they purchased life by a surrender of their faith.
What would have been the fate of the Church if the early Christians had had as little faith as many of our Christians of to-day? And, if the Christians of to-day had the faith of the martyrs, how long would it be before the prophecy were fulfilled–“every knee shall bow and every tongue confess”?
Belief in God is the basis of every moral code. Morality cannot be put on as a garment and taken off at will. It is a power within; it works out from the heart as a spring pours forth its flood. It is not safe for a weak Christian to associate intimately with the world because he may be influenced by others instead of influencing others. But one need not fear when his morality derives its energy from connection with the Heavenly Father. Just as the water from a hose, because it comes from a reservoir above, will cleanse a muddy pool without danger of a single drop of pollution entering the hose, so the Christian can go into infected areas and among those diseased by sin without fear of contamination so long as he is prompted by a sincere desire to serve and is filled with a heaven-born longing for souls.
Joseph gives us a splendid illustration of strength inspired by faith. Reason fails when one is punished for righteousness’ sake; only a belief in God can sustain one in such an hour of trial and make him enter a dungeon rather than surrender his integrity.
We need this belief in God in our dealings with nations as well as in the control of our own conduct; it is necessary to the establishment of justice. Without that belief one cannot understand how sin brings its own punishment. Among the beasts strength is accompanied by no sense of responsibility; only man understands–and then only when he believes in God–that he must restrain his power and respect the rights of others. Only man understands–and then only when he believes in God–that the laws of the Almighty protect the innocent by bringing upon the sinner the effects of his own sin. No nation, however great, and no group of nations, however strong, can do wrong with impunity. The very doing of wrong works the ruin of those who are guilty, no matter how powerless their victims may be to protect or avenge themselves.
Most of the crimes committed by nations are due to an attempt on the part of those in authority to establish for nations a system of morals totally different from that which is binding upon the individual. Nothing but a real belief in God and confidence in the immutability of His decrees can stay the arm of strength in individual or nation.
Belief in God is the basis of brotherhood; we are brothers because we are children of one God. We trace through the common parent of all the tie that unites the offspring in one great family. The spirit of brotherhood is impossible without faith in God, the Father, and peace, at home and abroad, is impossible without the spirit of brotherhood.
One must believe in God in order to be interested in the carrying out of the Creator’s plans. In the prayer which Christ suggested as a form for His followers, interest in the coming of God’s kingdom stands first. The petition begins with adoration of the Supreme Being and in the next sentence the heart pours out its desire in an appeal for the coming of that day when the will of God shall be done in earth as it is done in heaven. It is proof of the supreme importance of this attitude that this petition comes before the request for daily bread; it comes even before the appeal for forgiveness. How quickly the prayer would be answered if all who utter it would rise from their knees and make the hastening of God’s kingdom the uppermost thought in their minds throughout the day!
Finally, belief in God is necessary to belief in immortality. If there is no God there is no hereafter. When, therefore, one drives God out of the universe he closes the door of hope upon himself.
A belief in immortality not only consoles the individual, but it exerts a powerful influence in promoting justice between individuals. If one actually thinks that man dies as the brute dies, he will yield more easily to the temptation to do injustice to his neighbour when the circumstances are such as to promise security from detection. But if one really expects to meet again, and live eternally with those whom he knows to-day, he is restrained from evil deeds by the fear of endless remorse even when not actuated by higher motives. We do not know what rewards are in store for us or what punishments may be reserved, but if there were no other it would be no light punishment for one who deliberately wrongs another to have to live forever in the company of the person wronged and have his littleness and selfishness laid bare.
The Creator has not left us in doubt on the subject of immortality. He has given to every created thing a tongue that proclaims a life beyond the grave.
If the Father deigns to touch with divine power the cold and pulseless heart of the buried acorn and to make it burst forth from its prison walls, will He leave neglected in the earth the soul of man, made in the image of his Creator? If He stoops to give to the rose-bush, whose withered blossoms float upon the autumn breeze, the sweet assurance of another springtime, will He refuse the words of hope to the sons of men when the frosts of winter come? If matter, mute and inanimate, though changed by the forces of nature into a multitude of forms, can never die, will the imperial spirit of man suffer annihilation when it has paid a brief visit like a royal guest to this tenement of clay? No, He who, notwithstanding His apparent prodigality, created nothing without a purpose, and wasted not a single atom in all His creation, has made provision for a future life in which man’s universal longing for immortality will find its realization. I am as sure that we shall live again as I am sure that we live to-day.
In Cairo, I secured a few grains of wheat that had slumbered for more than thirty centuries in an Egyptian tomb. As I looked at them this thought came into my mind: If one of those grains had been planted on the banks of the Nile the year after it grew, and all its lineal descendants had been planted and replanted from that time until now, its progeny would to-day be sufficiently numerous to feed the teeming millions of the world. An unbroken chain of life connects the earliest grains of wheat with the grains that we sow and reap. There is in the grain of wheat an invisible something which has power to discard the body that we see, and from earth and air fashion a new body so much like the old one that we cannot tell the one from the other. If this invisible germ of life in the grain of wheat can thus pass unimpaired through three thousand resurrections, I shall not doubt that my soul has power to clothe itself with a body suited to its new existence, when this earthly frame has crumbled into dust.
Jesus Christ not only endorsed the Old Testament as authoritative, but bore witness to its eternal truth. “Think not,” He said, “that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5: 17, 18).
When one’s belief in God becomes the controlling passion of his life; when he loves God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind and with all his strength he is anxious to learn God’s will and ready to accept the Bible as the Word of God. All that he asks is sufficient evidence of its inspiration.
After so many hundreds of millions have adopted the Bible as their guide for so many centuries, the burden of proof would seem on those who reject it.
The Bible is either the word of God or the work of man. Those who regard it as a man-made book should be challenged to put their theory to the test. If man made the Bible, he is, unless he has degenerated, able to make as good a book to-day.
Judged by human standards, man is far better prepared to write a Bible now than he was when our Bible was written. The characters whose words and deeds are recorded in the Bible were members of a single race; they lived among the hills of Palestine in a territory scarcely larger than one of our counties. They did not have printing presses and they lacked the learning of the schools; they had no great libraries to consult, no steamships to carry them around the world and make them acquainted with the various centers of ancient civilization; they had no telegraph wires to bring them the news from the ends of the earth and no newspapers to spread before them each morning the doings of the day before. Science had not unlocked Nature’s door and revealed the secrets of rocks below and stars above. From what a scantily supplied storehouse of knowledge they had to draw, compared with the unlimited wealth of information at man’s command to-day! And yet these Bible characters grappled with every problem that confronts mankind, from the creation of the world to eternal life beyond the tomb. They gave us a diagram of man’s existence from the cradle to the grave and set up warning signs at every dangerous point.
The Bible gives us the story of the birth, the words, the works, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension of Him whose coming was foretold by prophecy, whose arrival was announced by angel voices, singing Peace and Good-will–the story of Him who gave to the world a code of morality superior to anything that the world had known before or has known since.
Let the atheists and the materialists produce a better Bible than ours, if they can. Let them collect the best of their school to be found among the graduates of universities–as many as they please and from every land. Let the members of this selected group travel where they will, consult such libraries as they like, and employ every modern means of swift communication. Let them glean in the fields of geology, botany, astronomy, biology, and zoology, and then roam at will wherever science has opened a way; let them take advantage of all the progress in art and in literature, in oratory and in history–let them use to the full every instrumentality that is employed in modern civilization; and when they have exhausted every source, let them embody the results of their best intelligence in a book and offer it to the world as a substitute for this Bible of ours. Have they the confidence that the prophets of Baal had in their god? Will they try? If not, what excuse will they give? Has man so fallen from his high estate, that we cannot rightfully expect as much of him now as nineteen centuries ago? Or does the Bible come to us from a source that is higher than man?
But the case is even stronger. The opponents of the Bible cannot take refuge in the plea that man is retrograding. They loudly proclaim that man has grown and that he is growing still. They boast of a world-wide advance and their claim is founded upon fact. In all matters except in the “science of how to live,” man has made wonderful progress. The mastery of the mind over the forces of nature seems almost complete, so far do we surpass the ancients in harnessing the water, the wind and the lightning.
For ages, the rivers plunged down the mountainsides and exhausted their energies without any appreciable contribution to man’s service; now they are estimated as so many units of horse-power, and we find that their fretting and foaming was merely a language which they employed to tell us of their strength and of their willingness to work for us. And, while falling water is becoming each a day a larger factor in burden-bearing, water, rising in the form of steam, is revolutionizing the transportation methods of the world.
The wind, that first whispered its secret of strength to the flapping sail, is now turning the wheel at the well, and our flying machines have taken possession of the air.
Lightning, the red demon that, from the dawn of Creation, has been rushing down its zigzag path through the clouds, as if intent only upon spreading death, metamorphosed into an errand-boy, brings us illumination from the sun and carries our messages around the globe.
Inventive genius has multiplied the power of a human arm and supplied the masses with comforts of which the rich did not dare to dream a few centuries ago. Science is ferreting out the hidden causes of disease and teaching us how to prolong life. In every line, except in the line of character-building, the world seems to have been made over, but these marvellous changes only emphasize the fact that man, too, must be born again, while they show how impotent are material things to touch the soul of man and transform him into a spiritual being. Wherever the moral standard is being lifted up–wherever life is becoming larger in the vision that directs it and richer in its fruitage, the improvement is traceable to the Bible and to the influence of the God and Christ of whom the Bible tells.
The atheist and the materialist must confess that man should be able to produce a better book to-day than man, unaided, could have produced in any previous age. The fact that they have tried, time and time again, only to fail each time more hopelessly, explains why they will not–why they cannot–accept the challenge thrown down by the Christian world to produce a book worthy to take the Bible’s place.
They have begged to their God to answer with fire–appealed to inanimate matter with an earnestness that is pathetic; they have employed in the worship of blind force a faith greater than religion requires, but their God is asleep. How long will they allow the search for strata of stone and fragments of fossil and decaying skeletons that are strewn around the house to absorb their thoughts to the exclusion of the architect who planned it all? How long will the agnostic, closing his eyes to the plainest truths, cry, “Night, night,” when the sun in his meridian splendour announces that noon is here?
Those who reject the Bible ignore its claim to inspiration. This in itself makes them enemies of the Book of books, because the Bible characters profess to speak by inspiration, and what they say bears the stamp of the supernatural. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).
Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:13-14).
Those who reject the Bible ignore the spirit that pervades it, the atmosphere that envelopes it, the harmony of its testimonies and the unity of its structure, despite the fact that it is the product of many writers during many centuries. Its parts were not arranged by man, but prearranged by the Almighty.
Those who reject the Bible also ignore the prophecies and their fulfillment–“History written in advance”–proof that appeals irresistibly to the open mind.
Those who reject the Bible even disparage the testimony which the Saviour bore to the inspiration of the Old Testament, and yet what could be more explicit than His words? “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
As Canon Liddon says:
“For Christians, it will be enough to know that our Lord, Jesus Christ, set the seal of His infallible sanction on the whole of the Old Testament. He found the Hebrew canon as we have it in our hands to-day, and He treated it as an authority which was above discussion. Nay, more; He went out of His way–if we may reverently speak thus,–to sanction not a few portions of it which modern scepticism rejects.”
Besides open enemies, the Bible has enemies who are less frank–enemies who, while claiming to be friends of Christianity, spend their time undermining faith in God, faith in the Bible, and faith in Christ. These professed friends call themselves higher critics–a title which–though explained by them as purely technical–smacks of an insufferable egotism. They assume an air of superior intelligence and look down with mingled pity and contempt upon what they regard as poor, credulous humanity. The higher critic is more dangerous than the open enemy. The atheist approaches you boldly and tries to blow out your light, but, as you know who he is, what he is trying to do and why, you can protect yourself. The higher critic, however, comes to you in the guise of a friend and politely inquires: “Isn’t the light too near your eyes? I fear it will injure your sight.” Then he moves the light away, a little at a time, until it is only a speck and then–invisible.
Some who have used the title “higher critic” have approached their subject in a reverent spirit and laboured earnestly in the vain hope of satisfying intellectual doubts, when the real trouble has been with the hearts of objectors rather than with their heads. Religion is a matter of the heart, and the impulses of the heart often seem foolish to the mind. Faith is different from, and superior to, reason. Faith is a spiritual extension of the vision–a moral sense that reaches out toward the throne of God and takes hold of verities that the mind cannot grasp. It is like “the blind leading the blind” for a higher critic, however honest, to rely on purely intellectual methods to convey truths that are “spiritually discerned.”
As a rule, however, the so-called higher critic is a man without spiritual vision, without zeal for souls and without any deep interest in the coming of God’s Kingdom. He toils not in the Master’s vineyard and yet “Solomon in all his glory” never laid claim to such wisdom as he boasts. He does not accept the Bible nor defend it; he mutilates it. He puts the Bible on the operating table and cuts out the parts that he thinks are “diseased.” When he has finished his work the Bible is no longer the Book of books: it is simply “a scrap of paper.”
The higher critic (I speak now of the rule and not of the exceptions) begins his investigations with his opinion already formed. After he has discarded the Bible because he cannot harmonize it with the doctrine of evolution, he labours to find evidence to support his preconceived notions. In matters of religion the higher critic is usually a “dyspeptic.” The Bible does not agree with him; he has not the spiritual fluids in sufficient quantity to enable him to digest the miracle and the supernatural. He is a doubter and spreads doubts.
Dr. Franklin Johnson, in Volume 2, of “Fundamentals” says (pages 55, 56, 57): “A third fallacy of the higher critics is the doctrine concerning the Scriptures which they teach. If a consistent hypothesis of evolution is made the basis of our religious thinking, the Bible will be regarded as only a product of human nature working in the field of religious literature. It will be merely a natural book.”…
Again: “Yet another fallacy of the higher critics is found in their teachings concerning the Biblical miracles. If the hypothesis of evolution is applied to the Scriptures consistently, it will lead us to deny all the miracles which they record.”…
And: “Among the higher critics who accept some of the miracles there is a notable desire to discredit the virgin birth of our Lord, and their treatment of this event presents a good example of the fallacies of reasoning by means of which they would abolish many of the other miracles.”
Professor Reeve, in a strong article in Volume 3 of “Fundamentals” (pages 98, 99) tells us of his own excursion into the fields of higher criticism, of his disappointment and of his glad return to the interpretations of the Bible that are generally accepted. Speaking of his first impressions, he says:
“The critics seemed to have the logical things on their side. The results at which they had arrived seemed inevitable. But upon closer thinking, I saw that the whole movement, with its conclusion, was the result of the adoption of the hypothesis of evolution.”…
“It became more and more obvious to me that the great movement was entirely intellectual, an attempt in reality to intellectualize all religious phenomena. I saw also that it was a partial and one-sided intellectualism, with a strong bias against the fundamental tenets of Biblical Christianity. Such a movement does not produce that intellectual humility which belongs to the Christian mind. On the contrary, it is responsible for a vast amount of intellectual pride, an aristocracy of intellect with all the snobbery which usually accompanies that term. Do they not exactly correspond to Paul’s word, ‘vainly puffed up in his fleshly mind and not holding fast the head, etc.’ They have a splendid scorn for all opinions which do not agree with theirs. Under the spell of this sublime contempt they think they can ignore anything that does not square with their evolutionary hypothesis. The center of gravity of their thinking is in the theoretical, not in the religious; in reason, not in faith. Supremely satisfied with its self-constituted authority, the mind thinks itself competent to criticize the Bible, the thinking of all the centuries, and even Jesus Christ Himself. The followers of this cult have their full share of the frailties of human nature. Rarely, if ever, can a thoroughgoing critic be an evangelist or even evangelistic; he is educational. How is it possible for a preacher to be a power of God, whose source of authority is his own reason and convictions? The Bible can scarcely contain more than good advice for such a man.”
In Volume 2 of “Fundamentals” (page 84), Sir Robert Anderson has this to say:
“The effect of this ‘Higher Criticism’ is extremely grave. For it has dethroned the Bible in the home, and the good old practice of ‘family worship’ is rapidly dying out. And great national interests also are involved. For who can doubt that the prosperity and power of the nations of the world are due to the influence of the Bible upon the character and conduct? Races of men who for generations have been taught to think for themselves in matters of the highest moment will naturally excel in every sphere of effort or of enterprise. And more than this, no one who is trained in the fear of God will fail in his duty to his neighbour, but will prove himself a good citizen. But the dethronement of the Bible leads practically to the dethronement of God; and in Germany and America, and now in England, the effects of this are declaring themselves in ways, and to an extent, well fitted to cause anxiety for the future.”
The experience of Rev. Paul Kanamori, known as the “Japanese Billy Sunday” furnishes an excellent illustration of the chilling effect of higher criticism. He was converted when a student and, after a period of preaching, became a professor in a theological seminary in Japan. Dr. Robert E. Speer, in a preface to a published sermon of Mr. Kanamori, thus describes the great evangelist’s temporary retirement from the ministry and its cause:
“He began to read upon the most recent German theology, with the result that he was completely swept off his feet by the rationalistic New Theology, Higher Criticism, etc. Not long after that he published his new views under the title, ‘The present and future of Christianity in Japan,’ and retired from the ministry…. He remained in this state of spiritual darkness for twenty years, until the death of his wife brought him and his children into great trouble, but after passing through these deep waters he came out again with a clear and firm belief in the old-fashioned gospel” (“The Three-Hour Sermon,” page 8).
Since Mr. Kanamori’s return to the ministry he has been the means of leading nearly fifty thousand Japanese to Christ–probably more than the total number of souls brought into the Church by all the higher critics combined.
Rev. T. De Witt Talmage, one of the great preachers of the last generation, thus speaks of the higher critics:
“When I see ministers of religion finding fault with the Scriptures, it makes me think of a fortress terrifically bombarded, and the men on the ramparts, instead of swabbing out and loading the guns and helping to fetch up the ammunition from the magazine, are trying with crowbars to pry out from the wall certain blocks of stone, because they did not come from the right quarry. Oh, men on the ramparts, better fight back and fight down the common enemy, instead of trying to make breaches in the wall.”
It is a deserved rebuke. The higher critics throw ink at a Book that has withstood the assaults of materialists for centuries, and are vain enough to think that they can blot out its vital truths. Although their labours against the Bible have consumed years, they expect the public to accept their conclusions at sight. If they require so much time to formulate their indictment against Holy Writ, surely the friends of the Bible should be allowed as much time for the inspection of the indictment.
The destructive higher critic is, as a rule, opposed to revivals; in fact, it is one of the tests by which he can be distinguished from other preachers. He calls the revival a “religious spasm.” He understands how one can have a spasm of anger and become a murderer, or a spasm of passion and ruin a life, or a spasm of dishonesty and rob a bank, but he cannot understand how one can be convicted of sin, and, in a spasm of repentance, be born again. That would be a miracle, and miracles are inconsistent with evolution. It shocks the higher critic to have the prodigal son come back so suddenly after going away so deliberately.
Most of the higher critics discard, because contrary to the doctrine of evolution, the virgin birth of Jesus and His resurrection, although the former is no more mysterious than our own birth–only different, and the latter no more mysterious than the origin of life. The existence of God makes both possible; and the proof is sufficient to establish both.
If the higher critic will but come into the presence of Christ and learn of Him he will express himself in the language of the father (whose son had a dumb spirit), who, as recorded in Mark (9:24), “cried out and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
If he would only mingle with humanity he might catch the spirit of the Master; if his sympathies were broad enough to take in all of God’s people, he would be so impressed with the religious needs of sinful man that he would hasten to break to him the “Bread of Life” instead of offering him a stone. The Bible, _as it is_, has led millions to repentance and, through forgiveness, into life; the Bible, as the higher critics would make it, is impotent to save.
Enemies of the Bible have been “blasting at the Rock of Ages” for nearly two thousand years but in spite of attacks of open and secret foes, God still lives, and His Book is still precious to His children.
The Bible would be the greatest book ever written if it rested on its literary merits alone, stripped of the reverence that inspiration commands; but it becomes infinitely more valuable when it is accepted as the Word of God. As a man-made book it would compel the intellectual admiration of the world; as the audible voice of the Heavenly Father it makes an irresistible appeal to the heart and writes its truths upon our lives. Its heroes teach us great lessons–they were giants when they walked by faith, but weak as we ourselves when they relied upon their own strength.
The Bible starts with a simple story of creation–just a few words, but it says all that can be said. The scientists have framed hypotheses, the philosophers have formulated theories and the speculators have guessed–some of them have darkened “counsel by words without knowledge”–but when the smoke of controversy rises we find that the first sentence of Genesis, still unshaken, comprehends the entire subject: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” No one has been able to overthrow it, or burrow under it or go around it.
And so when we set out in search of a foundation for statute law; we dig down through the loose dirt, the mould of centuries, until we strike solid rock and we find the Tables of Stone on which were written the ten commandments. All important legislation is but an elaboration of these few, brief sentences, and the elaborations are often obscuring instead of clarifying.
If we desire rules to govern our spiritual development we turn back to the Sermon on the Mount. In our educational system it takes many books on many subjects to prepare a mind for its work, but three chapters of the Bible (Matthew 5, 6 and 7) applied to life, would have more influence than all the learning of the schools in determining the happiness of the individual and his service to society.
If we want to understand the evils of arbitrary power, we have only to read Samuel’s warning to the children of Israel when they clamoured for a king (1 Sam. 8: 11, 17).
If we would form an estimate of the influence that faith can exert on a human life, and, through it, upon a world, we follow the career of Abraham, “the friend of God,” and see how his trust in Jehovah was rewarded. He founded a race, than which there has never been a greater, and established the religion through which to-day hundreds of millions worship God.
David showed us how a shepherd lad could become the “warrior king” and the “sweet singer of Israel,” with virtues so big that, in spite of his enormous sins, he is described as “a man after God’s own heart.”
And what varied instruction we draw from the life of Moses! Hidden in the bulrushes on the banks of the Nile by a mother who, by instinct or by divine suggestion, previsioned a high calling for her son; found, under Providential direction, by a daughter of Pharaoh; reared in the environment of a palace and with the advantages of the most enlightened court of his day; compelled to flee into the wilderness because of an outburst of race passion; called to a great work by a Voice that spoke to him from a bush that “burned but was not consumed”; modestly distrusting his ability yet dauntless as the spokesman of God–dispenser of plagues–wonder-working man! Born of an obscure family and buried in the Land of Moab in a sepulcher which “no man knoweth,” and yet between these two humble events he rose to a higher pinnacle than any uninspired man has ever reached–leader without comparison–lawgiver without a peer.
He teaches many lessons that, like all truths, can be applied in every generation in every land. Race sympathy made it possible for him to lead his people out of bondage–no one not of their own blood could have done it. This lesson needs to be heeded to-day. Our part in the evangelization of the world will be done through native teachers, educated here or in our missions, rather than directly. The reformer, too, finds in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart the final assurance of success; when the “fullness of time” has come and any form of bondage is ripe for overthrow, the taskmaster’s demand for “bricks without straw” gives the final impulse and opens the way.
Joseph has made the world his schoolroom. He enables us to understand the words of Solomon; “where there is no vision the people perish.” He shows how, in the hour of trial, faith can triumph over reason–how God can lead a righteous man through a dungeon to a seat by the side of the throne–how the dreamer can turn scoffing into reverence when he has the corn.
Samuel is a standing rebuke to those who think “wild oats” a necessary crop in the lives of young men. He heard the call of God when he was a child; was reared for the Father’s work and lived a life so blameless that the people proclaimed him just when his official career came to an end.
In the Proverbs of Solomon we find a rare collection of truths, beautifully expressed; in Job we find an inexhaustible patience set to music and an integrity that even Satan himself could not corrupt.
The Prophets alone would immortalize the Bible–rugged characters who dared to rebuke wickedness in high places, to reproach a nation for its sins and to warn of the coming of the wrath of God. See Elijah on Mount Carmel, mocking the worshippers of Baal; hear him thunder the Almighty’s sentence against a king who, coveting Naboth’s vineyard, broke three commandments to get a little piece of land. And yet Elijah fled from wicked Jezebel and would have despaired but for the Voice that assured him of the thousands who were still true to Israel’s God–the obscure hosts who remained loyal even when the conspicuous became faint-hearted.
Elisha was a visible link in the chain of power. He was not ashamed to wear the mantle of his great predecessor; he was willing to take up an unfinished work. He bears unimpeachable testimony to the continuity of the divine current when human conductors can be found to transmit it. It was Elisha who drew aside the veil that concealed from his affrighted servant the horses and chariots that, upon the mountain, await the hours when they are needed to supplement the strength of those who fight upon the Lord’s side; it was Elisha, too, who proved to the warriors of his day that magnanimity is more potent than violence. He conquered by self-restraint–and “the bands of Syria came no more into the lands of Israel.”
Daniel is another man in whom faith begat courage and for whom courage carved a large niche in the temple of imperishable fame. The Daniel who interpreted to the trembling Belshazzar the fateful handwriting on the wall; who, unawed by enemies, prayed with his windows open toward Jerusalem, and who, in the lions’ den, waited in patience until Darius hastened from a sleepless couch to call him forth and join him in praising Israel’s God–this Daniel was the same intrepid servant of the Most High, who in his youth refused to drink wine from the king’s table, and, demanding a test, proved that water was better–a verdict that twenty-five centuries have not disturbed.
Passing over many characters who would seem mountainlike but for the majestic peaks that overshadow them, let us turn to the immortal seer who, listening heavenward, caught the words of the song that startled the shepherds at Bethelehem and, peering through the darkness of seven centuries, saw the light that shone from Calvary. It was Isaiah who foretold more clearly and more fully than any one else the coming of the Messiah, suggested the titles which He would earn, described the sufferings which He would endure and enumerated the blessings He would bring to mankind. In chapter nine verse six we read, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
In chapter fifty-three, we learn of His vicarious atonement:
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
In chapter two, verse four, we are told of the glad day, which we are now trying to hasten, when swords shall be beaten into ploughshares, and spears into pruning-hooks–when nations shall not lift up the sword against nations or learn war any more.
If the Old Testament is so fascinating what may we expect of the New? It is day as compared with dawn; it is the morning light, with which Moses and the Prophets beat back the darkness of the night, enlarged–until we have the sun in its meridian glory. “Old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
The Old Testament gave us the law; the New Testament reveals the love upon which the law rests. John says: “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1: 17). The Old Testament restrained by a multitude of “Thou shalt nots”; the New Testament awakens the monitor within and supplies a spiritual urge that makes the individual find satisfaction in service and delight in doing good. David soothes the dying with sweet assurance: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me;” Jesus inspires them with a living hope: “I go to prepare a place for you that where I am ye may be also.”
God is the center of gravity in the New Testament as in the Old, but the drawing power of Jehovah became visible in Christ; the attributes of the Father were revealed in the Son–the supreme intelligence, the limitless power, the boundless love. Divinity surrounded itself with human associates but spiritual enthusiasm crowded out the selfish element; His presence purged their souls of dross. The characters of the New Testament are about their Father’s business all the time. If a Judas is base enough to betray the Saviour, even he is so overwhelmed with remorse that life becomes unbearable.
We are introduced to a new group of characters, beginning with a Virgin with a child and ending with her Son upon the cross–a galaxy of men and women whose words and deeds have travelled into every land. One poor widow with two mites, wisely invested, purchased more enduring fame than any rich man was ever able to buy with all his money. Another, Tabitha, by interpretation called Dorcas, drew forth as eloquent a tribute as was ever paid. In the goodness of her heart she made garments for the poor, and the recipients, exhibiting them at her death-bed, expressed their gratitude in tears. The narrative suggests an epitaph which every Christian can earn–and who could desire more? viz., the night is darker because a life has gone out; the world is not so warm because a heart is cold in death.
In John the Baptist, we have the forerunner–“the voice crying in the wilderness.” The Apostles, chosen from among the busy multitude, carried their habits of industry into their new calling; some turned from catching fish to become “fishers of men,” while Matthew employed the accuracy of a collector of customs in chronicling the life of the Master. Even the weaknesses of men were utilized: Thomas consecrated his doubts, and John, the disciple, baptized his ambition–each giving the Great Teacher an opportunity to use a fault for the enlightening of future generations. The latter became the most intimate companion of the Saviour–“the disciple whom Jesus loved” and the one who most frequently used the word love.
Peter and Paul stand out conspicuously among the exponents of early Christianity. In the case of Peter, Christ brought an impulsive nature into complete subjection and gave a steadying purpose to an emotional follower. In Paul, we see a giant intellect aflame with a holy zeal. Both were bold interpreters of Christ’s mission and both urged upon Christians the full gospel equipment.
In his second Epistle, chapter one, Peter exhorts:
And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the sixth chapter of Ephesians, Paul pleads:
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.
Peter was a rock, hewn into shape and polished by the divine hand; Paul was a “chosen vessel” to bear the Redeemer’s Name before “the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” Paul was an orator with a purpose; he was a man with a message. He was eloquent because he knew what he was talking about and meant what he said. No wonder, for he was called to service by a summons so distinct and unmistakable that he turned at once from persecuting to preaching. Paul is responsible for one of the most inspiring sentences in the Bible–“I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” It was the key to his whole life.
Love is not blind, declares Tolstoy; it sees what ought to be done and does it. So with Paul. His eyes were open to the truth and he saw it; he was sensitive to the needs of the Church and his epistles are filled with wise counsel. He encouraged the worthy, admonished the erring and strengthened the weak. Paul knew well the secret of liberality, as shown in 2 Corinthians 8: 5. The members of the Macedonian church “first gave their own selves”; giving was easy after that. Paul’s religion could not be shaken; read his vow as recorded in the eighth chapter of Romans:
For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
His sufferings developed patience and deepened devotion. They prepared him to appreciate love and to define it as no other mortal has done.
His tribute to love, contained in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, is not approached by any other utterance on this subject. (I use the old version with the word charity changed to love.)
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things; Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies they shall fail; whether there be tongues they shall cease; whether there be knowledge it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things; For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
I cannot leave the Book of Books without referring to one of the supreme moments that it describes. The Bible is full of pictures; the painter has found it an inexhaustible storehouse of suggestion. All the great climaxes of sacred history speak to us from the canvas. Moses and Pharaoh, Ruth and Naomi, Daniel at the Belshazzar Feast and in the Lions’ Den, Elijah at Mt. Carmel and before Ahab, Joseph and his brethren, David and Goliath, Mary and the Child, Jesus, the Prodigal Son, the Sower, the Good Samaritan, the Rich Young Man, the Wise and the Foolish Virgins, Jesus in the Temple, Christ Entering Jerusalem, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, and The Saviour on the Cross–these are but a few of the word pictures that have inspired the artist’s brush.
But there is another picture, unsurpassed in thrilling power and permanent interest, namely, that presented by the trial of Christ–tragedy of tragedies, triumph of triumphs!
Here, face to face, stood Pilate and Christ, the representatives of the two opposing forces that have ever contended for dominion in the world. Pilate was the personification of force; behind him was the Roman government, undisputed ruler of the then known world, supported by its invincible legions. Before Pilate stood Christ, the embodiment of love–unarmed, alone. And force triumphed; they nailed Him to the cross, and the mob that had assembled to witness His sufferings, mocked and jeered and said: “He is dead.” But from that day the power of Caesar waned and the power of Christ increased. In a few centuries the Roman government was gone and its legions forgotten, while the Apostle of Love has become the greatest fact in history and the growing figure of all time.
Who will estimate the Bible’s value to society? It is our only guide. It contains milk for the young and nourishing food for every year of life’s journey; it is manna for those who travel in the wilderness; and it provides a staff for those who are weary with age. It satisfies the heart’s longings for a knowledge of God; it gives a meaning to existence and supplies a working plan to each human being.
It holds up before us ideals that are within sight of the weakest and the lowliest, and yet so high that the best and the noblest are kept with their faces turned ever upward. It carries the call of the Saviour to the remotest corners of the earth; on its pages are written the assurances of the present and our hopes for the future.
There are three verses in the first chapter of Genesis which mean more to man than all other books outside the Bible. First; the verse, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” gives us the only account of the beginning of all things, including life. Many substitutes have been proposed for this verse but none that can be so easily understood, explained and defended.
Second: the 24th verse gives us the only law governing the continuity of life on earth. If life is to continue, reproduction must be according to law or lawless. _Reproduction according to kind_ is the basic scientific fact in the world; all the books on science combined do not state as much that is of value to man as this one verse–it is the foundation of family life and of all human calculations. No living thing has ever violated this law; even man with all his power has never been able to persuade or compel that intangible, invisible thing that we call life to cross the line of species.
Third: the 26th verse–“Let us make man in our image”–gives us the only explanation of man’s presence on earth. Without revelation no one has been able to explain the riddle of life. Man comes into the world without his own volition; he has no choice as to the age, nation, race, or family environment into which he shall be born. So far as he is concerned, he comes by chance; he goes he knows not when, and cannot insure himself for a single hour against accident, disease or death; and yet, he is supreme above all other things.
The 26th verse reveals a truth of inestimable value. When man knows that he is “the child of a King,” with the earth for an inheritance–that the Creator, after bringing all other things into existence, made him, not as other things were made, but in the image of God, and placed him here as commander-in-chief of all that is–when he understands that he is part of God’s plan and here for a purpose he finds himself. To do God’s will becomes his highest duty as well as his greatest pleasure and he learns that obedience links happiness to virtue, success to righteousness, and makes it possible for him to rise to the high plane that a loving Heavenly Father has put within the reach of man.
Where in all the books in all the libraries can one find as much that affects the welfare of man as is condensed into these three verses?
WHAT THINK YE OF CHRIST?
The question, What think ye of Christ? propounded to the Pharisees by the Saviour Himself, demands an answer from an increasing number as each year the circle of the Gospel’s influence widens. It is a question that cannot be evaded. In every civilized land an answer is made, by word or act, by each individual who is confronted by the facts of His life. It is in the hope that I may be able to assist some in answering this question that I devote this hour to the inquiry.
Was Christ an impostor? Or was He deluded? Or was He the promised Messiah, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” as He declared Himself to be?
Few have dared to accuse Him of attempting a deliberate fraud upon the public. Impostors sometimes kill others in carrying out their plans, or to escape detection, but they do not offer themselves as a sacrifice for others. Christ’s whole life gives the lie to the charge that He practiced deception. One recorded act would be sufficient to establish His honesty of purpose. In the nineteenth chapter of Matthew we read:
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God; but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honour thy father and thy mother: and Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him. If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
If Christ had been an adventurer or was interested only in gaining a following He would have welcomed this young man, who was not only rich, but, according to Luke, a ruler. And what a splendid recommendation the young man gave himself; all of the commandments he had kept from his youth up. How could one ambitious for worldly success afford to reject such an applicant? But Christ would not lower the standard a hair’s breadth even to secure the support of a rich young ruler who had led a blameless life. He demanded the _first place_ in the heart–a very reasonable demand–and, seeing in the young man’s heart the first place occupied by love of money, He demanded the throne. The young man, unwilling to purchase eternal life at that price, went away sorrowing–his heart still centered on his great possessions. Of whom but an honest person could such a story be told?
Was Christ deceived? That is the theory set forth in a little volume entitled “A Jewish View of Jesus” (published recently by the Macmillan Company). The author, H.G. Emelow, pays the following high tribute to “Jesus the Jew” (and it is the most charitable view an orthodox Jew can hold):
“Yet, these things apart, who can compute all that Jesus has meant to humanity? The love He has inspired, the solace He has given, the good He has engendered, the hope and joy He has kindled–all that is unequalled in human history. Among the great and good that the human race has produced, none has even approached Jesus in universality of appeal and sway. He has become the most fascinating figure in history. In Him is combined what is best and most enchanting and most mysterious in Israel–the eternal people whose child He was. The Jew cannot help glorying in what Jesus thus has meant to the world; nor can he help hoping that Jesus may yet serve as a bond of union between Jew and Christian, once His teaching is better known and the bane of misunderstanding is at last removed from His words and His ideal.”
But could honest delusion produce a character who, in “the love He has inspired,” “the solace He has given,” and “the hope and joy He has kindled” is “unequalled in human history”? Is it not impossible that under a _delusion_ one could (as Emelow says Jesus did) become “the most fascinating figure in history”–unapproachable in the “universality of appeal and sway”? The world has been full of delusions: have any of them produced a character like Christ? Tolstoy says that the words of Christ to His friends and pupils have had a hundred thousand times more influence over the people than all the poems, odes, elegies and elegant epistles of the authors of that age. Lecky, the historian, says that “the three short years of the active life of Jesus have done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all of the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists.” Could this be said of a man labouring under a delusion as to his real character?
What Christ _said_ and _did_ and _was_ establishes His claims. In a conversation with Peter (Matt. 16: 16), He approved that Apostle’s answer which ascribed to Him the title of “Christ” (the Greek equivalent for Messiah) “the Son of the living God.” He not only approved of the answer bestowing the title but
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” In John 10, verse 30, He declares, “I and my Father are one”; in verse 36, same chapter, He denies that it was blasphemy to call Himself the Son of God. In the presence of death He refused to deny the claim (Matt. 26: 63-64).
The deity of Christ is proven in many ways; some offering one line of proof and some another. Some are convinced by the prophecies that found their fulfillment in Christ; some give greatest weight to the manner of His birth and His resurrection. Still others lay special emphasis upon the miracles performed by Him. There is no need of comparison; all the proofs stand together and bear joint testimony to His supernatural character, but I find myself inclined to use the method of reasoning adopted by Carnegie Simpson in his book entitled, “The Fact of Christ.” Those who reject Christ reject also the miraculous proofs offered in support of His divine character, but the _fact_ of Christ cannot be denied. Christ lived; that is admitted. He taught; we have His words. He died upon the cross; that we know; and we can trace His blood by its cleansing power as it flows through the centuries. Judged by His life, His teachings, and His death, and the impression they have made upon the human race, we conclude that He was divine and that He has justified the titles bestowed upon Him. No other explanations can account for Him. Born in a manger; reared in a carpenter shop; with no access to sages living and no knowledge of the wisdom of sages dead, except as that wisdom was recorded in the Old Testament, and yet when only about thirty years of age He gave to the world a code of morality the like of which the world had never known before and has not known since. He preached a short time, gathered around Him a few disciples and was crucified; His followers were scattered and nearly all of the conspicuous ones put to death–and yet from this beginning His religion spread until thousands of millions have taken His name upon them and millions have been ready to die rather than surrender the faith that He put into their hearts. How can you explain Christ? It is easier to believe Him to be the Christ whose coming was foretold, the Jesus who was to save the people from their sins–the Son of God and Saviour of the World–than to account for Him in any other way.
To those who try to measure Him by the rules that apply to man He is incomprehensible; but take Him out of the man class and put Him in the God class and you can understand Him. He also can be measured by the work He came to perform; it was more than a man’s task. No man aspiring to be a God could have done what He did; it required a God condescending to be a man.
When once His divine character is admitted we have an explanation that clears away all the perplexities. We can believe that He was conceived of the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. We can believe that He opened the eyes of the blind when among men–we see Him to-day giving a spiritual vision of life to those who have known only the flesh and the pleasures that come through the flesh. We can believe that He wrought miracles when upon earth–we see Him so changing hearts to-day that they love the things they used to hate and hate the things they used to love. We can even believe that at His touch life was called back to the body from which it had taken its flight–we have seen Him take men who had fallen so low that their own flesh and blood had deserted them, lift them up, wash them and fill their hearts with a passion for service. A Christ who can do that _now_ could have broken the bonds of the tomb.
Volumes innumerable have been written on theological distinctions, some of which have been made the basis of sects. The doctrine of the Trinity has been one of the storm centers of discussion for centuries. It is not difficult for me to believe in the Trinity when I see three distinct entities in each human being–a physical man, a mental man and a moral man. They are so inseparable that one cannot exist here without the other, and yet they are so separate and distinct that one can be developed and the others left undeveloped. Who has not seen a splendidly developed body with an ignorant brain to think for it and a puny spiritual life within? A weak body and an impoverished soul are sometimes linked to a highly trained mind: and an exalted character is sometimes found in a frail body, and even associated with a neglected intellect. The Father, Son and Holy Ghost, three in one, present no problem that need perplex either the learned or the unlearned. We have the evidence of the Father on every hand; the proof of the Son’s growing influence is indisputable; the witness of the Holy Ghost is to be found in the heart of every believer. The three act in unison.
The fall of man is disputed by some who seem to find more satisfaction in the belief that they have risen from the brute and, therefore, are superior to their ancestors, than they do in the thought that man has fallen from a higher estate. But the facts do not support the brute theory. Even if the “missing links” could be found, it would be as reasonable–though not so flattering to man’s pride–to believe that the monkey is a degenerate man as that man is an improved monkey.
It has often been pointed out as evidence of man’s fall that he is the only created thing that does not live up to his possibilities. In plant and bird and beast there is no disobedience–all fulfill the purpose of their creation, from the flower, that puts forth its bloom as perfectly when it “wastes its sweetness on the desert air” as when in the garden its beauty calls forth expressions of delight, to the bird that wakes the echoes of trackless forests with its melody. Man, only man, mocks his Maker by prostituting to evil the powers that might lift him within sight of the throne of God.
If so many men and women fall _now_, in spite of light and love and all the incentives to noble living, is it incredible that the first pair should have fallen when the race was young? Possibility becomes probability when we remember that the conflict that rages between the mind and the heart is the one real conflict in every life. Reason versus faith is the great issue to-day as in Eden. Faith says obey; reason asks, Why? The one looks up confidingly to a Power above; the other relies on self and rejects even the authority of Jehovah unless the finite mind can comprehend the plan of the Infinite.
No one will doubt the doctrine of original sin if he will study nature and then analyze himself. In the plant, in the animal and in the physical man, the invisible thing which we call life is the only sustaining force; when it takes its flight, that which remains falls back to the earth and becomes dust. And so the spiritual in man is the only force that can give him a moral nature and preserve it from decay; when his spiritual life departs the mind as well as the body rots.
Some find a stumbling block in the doctrine of the Atonement. That one should suffer for others, shocks their sense of justice, they say, and yet that is the law of life. Each generation borrows from generations past and pays the debt to the generations that follow. A certain percentage of the mothers die in childbirth–evidence that they are God’s handiwork is found in the fact they so willingly enter the valley of the shadow of death to attain to motherhood. Many a boy has been won back to rectitude by the sorrows of a parent; we are not infrequently healed by the stripes that fall on others. In fact, great wrongs are seldom righted without the shedding of innocent blood–one dies and a multitude are saved. These do not always illustrate the voluntary laying down of life but there are enough cases of noble surrender of self for a friend or for the public to make it easy for any one to understand how Christ could take upon Himself the sins of the world and become man’s intercessor with the Father. Winning hearts through love expressed in sacrifice, is that strange? On the contrary, it is the only way. It is because the story of Jesus is a natural one that it has touched mankind. Hearts understand each other. The heart, says Pascal, has reasons that the mind does not understand because the heart is of an infinitely higher character.
The sacrificial character of Christ’s death and the atoning power of His blood are the basis of the New Testament. To discard this doctrine is to reject the plainest teachings of the Apostles and the words of Christ Himself.
Peter, than whom there is no higher human authority, says (1 Peter 2:24): “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed.”
John, the Beloved, speaks as clearly on this subject (John 3:16-17): “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” Paul was equally emphatic; he says (1 Cor. 2:2): “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” And again (1 Cor. 1:30): “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.”
But we have higher authority still–we have the words of Christ Himself. At the last supper, with His disciples about Him, He spoke of His blood being “shed for many for the remission of sins.”
It is the story of His sacrifice for others–of His blood shed that the world might through Him find forgiveness–that has been understood by the unlettered as well as by scholars and has brought millions to the foot of the cross. Even those who have not been in position to compare His code of morals with the teachings of others have been able to comprehend a plan of salvation by which one died for all and all find forgiveness in His sacrifice. It is this Gospel that has made it possible for the forgiven sinner to go forth to begin a new life, no longer under conviction of sin and remembering his past only as an incentive to service.
The presence of Judas at the Last Supper has been the cause of much speculation throughout the centuries. The indignation of Christians is stirred at the thought of a traitor being present on this solemn occasion when Christ instituted one of the great sacraments of the Church. The Saviour not only knew what Judas was about to do but called attention to it and designated the guilty one, but there was no appearance of the anger which would be natural in a mortal; He knew the plan of salvation.
But why should the betrayal have come from one of the twelve? It is not necessary to find a satisfactory answer to all the questions that may arise from the reading of the Bible, and the finite mind should not be discouraged if it fails to fathom the reasons of the Infinite Intelligence. If there are mysteries in the Bible that we cannot unravel they are not greater than the mysteries in nature with which we must deal whether we understand them or not.
But I venture to suggest one _effect_, produced by the fact that one of the twelve proved a traitor, namely, the scrutiny that it has compelled millions of Christians to turn upon themselves. “Lord, is it I?” each of the disciples anxiously inquired. Even Judas himself, coerced by the action of the others, asked, “Master, is it I?” So, to-day, there is real betrayal of the Saviour by some who take His name upon them and before the world profess to be His followers. If Judas had been an outsider and had sold for money the knowledge he had gained as a looker-on his name would not have become, as the name of Judas has, a synonym for all that is base and contemptible; and the Christian world would have been without the benefit of that glaring act of perfidy that has sounded its warning through nineteen centuries. Judas sold the Saviour for money, just as many a professing Christian since then has, for money, betrayed the Master. Who will calculate the restraint that that one question, “Lord, is it I?” has exerted upon Christ’s followers in the hour when some great temptation has made the believer hesitate upon the brink of sin?
I will not attempt to enumerate all the ways in which Christ has and can bless mankind, but the living spring has taught me one way. The spring is the best illustration of the Christian life, just as a stagnant pool is the best illustration of a selfish life. The pool receives but gives forth nothing in return and, at last, becomes the center of disease and death. There is nothing more repulsive than the stagnant pool except a life built upon that plan. The spring, on the other hand, pours forth constantly of that which refreshes and invigorates and asks for nothing. There is nothing more inspiring than a living spring except the life that it resembles.
And why is the spring a spring? Because _it is connected with a source that is higher than itself_. Christ brings man into such vital, living contact with God that the goodness of God flows out to the world through him. The frailest human being can thus become of inestimable value to society. It is only spiritual power, received from above, that counts largely. If we measure man in units of physical power he is not much above the beasts; if we measure him in units of intellectual power we soon reach his limitations, but when we measure him in units of spiritual power his strength may be beyond human calculations. If, as was the case in Wales, the prayer of a little girl could start a revival that spread over that country, resulting in the conversion of thousands, what can a life accomplish if one’s heart is full of love to God and man?
The wisdom of Christ could not have been supplied by others; there were none to supply it. There was no source but the inexhaustible fountain of the Almighty from which to draw that which He gave forth “as one having authority.” “Who among His Apostles or proselytes,” asks John Stuart Mill, “was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus or of imagining the life and character revealed in the Gospels?”
No person, less than divine, could have carried the message or rendered the service He did to mankind. How, for instance, could He have learned from His own experience or from His environment the startling proposition that He embodied in His interpretation of The Parable of the Sower? “The care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the truth,” and yet in that short sentence He gave an epitome of all human history. Reforms come up from the oppressed, not down from the oppressors–a fact which Christ explains in a word.
He announced the divine order: “Seek ye _first_ the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Duty to God comes _first_–all other things that are good for us will come in due time.
His parables stand alone in literature; they have no parallel in the expression of great truths with beauty and simplicity through object lessons taken from every-day life. These truths covered a wide range and were embedded in the language of the parable because of the unbelief of that day. They are increasingly appreciated as their practical application to all time becomes more and more manifest.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is the most beautiful story of its kind ever told and is based on an experience through which nearly every person passes, but few of whom, fortunately, carry the spirit of rebellion to the point of leaving home. At that period which marks the transition from youth to maturity–from dependence on others to self-reliance–rebelliousness is likely to be exhibited to a greater or less extent even where the parents have done everything possible for the child. Christ takes an extreme case where the wisdom and experience of the father were scorned; where a wilful son insisted upon learning for himself of the things against which the father had warned him. He was of age; parental authority could no longer be exerted for his protection. He had his way, and as long as his money lasted he found plenty of associates willing to help him spend it; the “boys” had what the wicked call “a good time.” Then came the sobering up, the repentance, the humility, the return, the father’s welcome, the very natural complaint of the other son and the parental rebuke–all so lifelike and all designed to give emphasis to the love of the Heavenly Father and the joy in Heaven when a wanderer returns. How many souls it has awakened! The thought has been beautifully translated into song by Rev. Robt. Lowry, in “Where Is My Wandering Boy To-night?” which has probably touched more hearts than any sermon delivered since the song was written in 1877.
In passing, note the contrast between the Rich Young Man and the Prodigal Son. The former, an exemplary youth, is lost because he put the love of money first–we see his back as he retires into oblivion. The latter, a reckless sinner, repentant and forgiven; we leave him at a banquet, happy with father and friends who rejoice that one who “was dead is alive again.”
The parable of The Talents has shamed a multitude into activity, while the parable of The Vineyard has been an encouragement to those who have neglected early calls to service. He used the great preservative, salt, to illustrate the saving influence His followers would exert on society and warned them not to lose this quality. He likened them to a city set on a hill and to the light that illumines the entire house.
Christ gave the world a philosophy that fits into every human need; He sounded all the depths. In the first and third of the Beatitudes He exalts humility–a virtue difficult to cultivate, and even to retain after one has cultivated it. Some one has suggested that pride is such an insidious sin that the humble sometimes become proud of their humility. Christ sets two prizes before the humble–the poor in spirit are to have the Kingdom of Heaven for their recompense while the meek are to be given the earth for their inheritance.
The mourners are to be comforted and the merciful are to obtain mercy. Righteousness is to be the reward of those who hunger and thirst after it, and the peacemakers are to be crowned with one of the most honourable of appellations, the children of God.
He devotes double space to those who are reviled and persecuted for His sake, foreseeing the fierce opposition which His Gospel would arouse. In the study of the Beatitudes one Sunday, I asked the members of an adult class which they considered first in importance. Although there was quite a wide difference in preference, the Sixth, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” received the highest vote. And what can be more important than the cleansing of the heart of all that obstructs one’s view of God? The Creator is equally near to all His creatures–He is no respecter of persons. It is man’s fault if he allows anything to come between himself and the Heavenly Father. Surely, nothing is more to be desired than the unclouded vision. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” is the first of the Commandments brought down from Sinai and its primacy is endorsed by the Saviour: the sixth Beatitude expresses the same supreme requirement. No false gods, not even self–the most popular of all the false gods–must be permitted to come between man and his Maker.
Christ put into simple words some of the great rules for the interpretation of life. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” has become a part of the language of the civilized world. “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” He asks. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” Here a great spiritual principle was announced. We must consider the _nature;_ nothing less than a change in the nature can change the fruit. A bad heart is just as sure to bring forth bad thoughts and bad deeds as the thistle is to bring forth thorns. And so the good heart is just as sure to yield good deeds as the grape-vine is to yield grapes or the fig-tree is to yield figs. Look at the _tree_, therefore; the fruit will take care of itself.
In the Sermon on the Mount, in which He embodied such a wealth of moral precept and spiritual counsel, He warned against investments in that which would divert the affections from the great purpose of life. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” It was the heart that He dealt with–always the heart, in which man does his decisive thinking and out of which are “the issues of life.”
The Master dealt with the beginnings of evil. He did not wait until the sin had been completed or the wrong accomplished. He cut out the bad purpose at its birth before it had time to develop. He says:
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell (Matt. 3: 29).