Great Texts of the Bible
Christ in the Heart
I bow my knees unto the Father, … that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.—Ephesians 3:17.
1. This is the central petition of the Apostle’s prayer—“that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” We may be inspired by the memory of Christ, to determine that we will be more lowly, more earnest, more faithful, more fervent in spirit; that we will strive to be more like Him, kind and forgiving to others, trying to bless and do them good, and we may succeed and get a great deal of happiness from our resolve and endeavour. But we have not reached the centre of Christian joy and hope and strength until Christ dwells in our hearts by faith; that is, until He becomes a living reality to us, and not only a living reality but a close reality; until we can say in our measure, what the writer of this letter says in another place, “Christ liveth in me”; until our rejoicing is not over One who was born and lived and died, and the influence of whose life and work has blessed mankind beyond all measure, not over One who triumphed over His enemies and is raised to a throne of glory, but over One who, in addition to all these, lives near us and in us, sharing our burdens and joys, and ruling our lives with His living will.
The indwelling Christ was a far greater and more wonderful thing to Paul than the birth at Bethlehem. He is never lost in wonder at that, he says very little about it. He seems to be lost in the far greater wonder that the Babe of Bethlehem and the Man of Nazareth lives and speaks to men and rules their spirit with His, and is so near to them that His person is more real than their own, and they are more conscious of Christ than of themselves. So this man said, “I no longer live, Christ liveth in me, my will is merged in His, and my whole being is enveloped in His.”1 [Note: C. Brown, God and Man, 55.]
Let us examine our faith in Christ by this text. Does He dwell in us by our faith? If He does not, our faith is vain. It will not benefit us to call Him Lord, Lord, if He does not rule as Lord over the inward man. He is truly the Saviour of men; but He has no other way of saving men than by acquiring whole and sole dominion in the house of the soul. If another spirit of life than His reigns within us, we may call Him Saviour, but He is not our Saviour. The only salvation which we want is salvation from the spirit of our own life, for we are exposed to hell, only because another spirit than that of God’s only Son prevails in us, and no one can live in Heaven, unless the Son of God be his life. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”1 [Note: John Pulsford, Christ and His Seed, 116.]
If thou couldst empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the Ocean shelf,
And say—“This is not dead,”
And fill thee with Himself instead.
But thou art all replete with very thou,
And hast such shrewd activity,
That, when He comes, He says—“This is enow
Unto itself—’Twere better let it be:
It is so small and full, there is no room for Me.”2 [Note: T. E. Brown, Old John and Other Poems, 151.]
2. In these central words of his great prayer, the Apostle teaches his Ephesian converts that the Gospel is to be found not in outward observances, but in the purity and Christlike holiness of the inward spiritual life. In every age this spiritual life has been in danger of extinction through the pressure of material influences swathing and crushing it with the coarse sensual bonds of outward forms; sometimes in the shape of superstition, sometimes in that of gross carnality, sometimes—and more especially in days like ours—in the shape of mere personal self-indulgence and comfort. It is always the tendency of ordinary men to turn away from the more refined and subtle beauty of the spiritual life and seek refuge in the tangible, the visible, the material, too often adopting, as the outward form, the product of some false extraneous idolatry, borrowed from a world that could no longer retain God in its thoughts. The Jews were in constant danger of yielding to idolatry and sensuality through the pressure and bad example of surrounding nations, against which they were not firm enough to maintain the pure faith of their father Abraham. Pass into Church history, and you will find that the Christian Church has been constantly exposed to the full force of the same temptations. At this very day there are old pagan superstitions which linger in many parts of Christendom, and veil their real heathen character under the pretext of some Christian sense or application. Too often the historians of the Church have found it almost impossible to trace out the hidden stream of spiritual life, overshadowed as it was by the oppressive influence of a vast external system, which occupied the eye and filled the attention, yet destroyed religion by its fatal combination of an elaborate ceremonial with lamentable sensuality, amidst which purity of life and the spirit of self-sacrifice were blotted out and forgotten. When such times were at the worst God sent the reformer; and the message of all reformers who are worthy of the name has always been to proclaim that the spirit is incomparably more important than the framework, that it is a fatal mistake to sacrifice the end to the means, and that faith and holiness are the proper objects and the true characteristics of the Christian. Such declarations have in darker ages seemed like fresh epiphanies of Christ, bringing men back from the oppressive weight of an immoral religion to a new and keen sense of those eternal realities—faith in Christ, trust in His mercy, purity of heart, and righteousness of conduct.
There are at least three kinds of external or material influences by which the life of the spirit may be stifled and destroyed; superstition, sensuality, and worldly self-indulgence. These three causes of mischief may mix and intertwine with a wonderful complexity. It is one of the favourite devices of sensuality to try to silence the voice of conscience by the use of superstitious observances. Superstition cannot save its votaries from carnal tendencies. There is a dangerous attractiveness in easy lives of calm enjoyment and self-satisfied comfort which is most injurious to the religious character, and may destroy any good resolutions we have formed to serve God faithfully at all costs and hazards, and to be tempted aside by nothing whatever that would interfere with the service of God.
(1) Superstition.—Superstition is a vice of many forms, and may be found where its presence is least suspected. For instance, what shall we call the watchwords and shibboleths of parties? Idolatry means the substitution of the image for the reality. It denotes worship rendered to the creature instead of the Creator. Is it not idolatry, then, to put such trust as amounts to a kind of worship in mere forms of words of man’s devising, the dead phrases which were once the war-cries of great contests, but are now mere excuses for a self-delusion which substitutes the worthless profession of the lips for the living faith of Christ dwelling in our hearts? But the error goes beyond the words of man’s devising. We may turn the inspired words of Scripture itself into idols, if we use them as the symbols of a party, like the colours of a regiment, or the white and red rose of the old English wars. This very word faith, to which the Apostle rightly gives such pre-eminent importance, has been often so treated as to be an instance of superstition. The word itself is Divine and sacred; the habit which it describes is the blessed result of the Divine grace received in the obedient heart. But sometimes people turn faith itself into a work of man; they treat it as something which they are to do, and which shows a kind of merit in the doing. The word then ceases to describe the habit and the attitude of humble trust, whereby Christ will dwell in our hearts, through the willing welcome of our own submission; and it denotes a supposed meritorious form of human exertion, so that faith itself becomes an idol, and its worship is a form of superstition.
People, in their struggle with lies and superstitions, frequently find consolation in the number of superstitions which they have destroyed. That is not correct. It is impossible to find consolation until everything is destroyed which contradicts reason and demands faith. Superstition is like cancer—everything must be cleaned out, if an operation is to be undertaken. Leave a small particle, and everything will grow out again.1 [Note: Tolstoy, Miscellaneous Letters and Essays, 525.]
It were better to have no opinion of God at all; than such an opinion, as is unworthy of Him; for the one is unbelief, the other is contumely: and certainly superstition is the reproach of the Deity.… Atheism leaves a man to sense; to philosophy; to natural piety; to laws; to reputation—all which may be guides to an outward moral virtue, though religion were not; but superstition dismounts all these, and erecteth an absolute monarchy, in the minds of men. Superstition, without a veil, is a deformed thing; for, as it addeth deformity to an ape, to be so like a man; so the similitude of superstition to religion, makes it the more deformed. And as wholesome meat corrupteth to little worms; so good forms and orders, corrupt into a number of petty observances. There is a superstition, in avoiding superstition; when men think to do best, if they go furthest from the superstition formerly received. Therefore care would be had, that (as it fareth in ill purgings), the good be not taken away, with the bad; which commonly is done, when the people is the reformer.1 [Note: Bacon, Essays, “Of Superstition.”]
(2) Sensuality.—Perhaps we boast of our freedom from the coarser vices. It is a most blessed thing if we can do so. Let us thank God heartily, if we can, for His most precious gift of a pure heart and unstained conscience. But the world is very near us, and its temptations are abundant; and we shall never be quite safe till our bodies have passed through the grave, and we have been raised again to put on the pure likeness of Christ. And there are too many who will scarcely venture to boast of their freedom from compliance with sensual temptations. If there is nothing worse, men will too often read books of doubtful morality, or perhaps of very undoubted immorality. They will gaze with interest on spectacles of very doubtful purity. They will indulge in pursuits which will bring them very close into the neighbourhood of open sin. In such cases it is very hard indeed to assure ourselves that Christ is dwelling in our hearts by faith.
Samson, who fell a victim to his own licentiousness, is a type of the sensualist. Physically strong, but morally weak, woefully deficient in self-restraint, he stands for ever as a warning beacon to young men. Our sensual nature we share with the brutes. Our measure as a man is the height of our moral and spiritual nature. There is something unspeakably pathetic in the record of the strong man going out, as he was wont, to shake himself, and knowing not that his strength had departed.2 [Note: David Watson, The Heritage of Youth, 90.]
(3) Self-indulgence.—Those who think too much of their mere comfort are exposed to the subtle temptation of forgetting the law of duty, the law of self-sacrifice, obedience to which is the proof and token that Christ is dwelling in our hearts by faith. Now, of all the idols men can worship, there is scarcely a meaner than the idol of mere ease and comfort; there is scarcely a tendency that is more destructive of lofty aims and worthy efforts; there is scarcely one that is more unlike the Gospel image of our Saviour, who had not where to lay His head, or more at variance with the spirit that would pray, with the Apostle, that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith.
Oh I could go through all life’s troubles singing,
Turning earth’s night to day,
If self were not so fast around me, clinging
To all I do or say.
My very thoughts are selfish, always building
Mean castles in the air;
I use my love of others for a gilding
To make myself look fair.
I fancy all the world engrossed with judging
My merit or my blame;
Its warmest praise seems an ungracious grudging
Of praise which I might claim.
In youth, or age, by city, wood, or mountain,
Self is forgotten never;
Where’er we tread, it gushes like a fountain,
And its waters flow for ever.
Alas! no speed in life can snatch us wholly
Out of self’s hateful sight;
And it keeps step, whene’er we travel slowly,
And sleeps with us at night.
O miserable omnipresence, stretching
Over all time and space,
How have I run from thee, yet found thee reaching
The goal in every race.
The opiate balms of grace may haply still thee,
Deep in my nature lying;
For I may hardly hope, alas! to kill thee,
Save by the act of dying.
O Lord! that I could waste my life for others,
With no ends of my own,
That I could pour myself into my brothers,
And live for them alone!
Such was the life Thou livedst; self abjuring,
Thine own pains never easing,
Our burdens bearing, our just doom enduring,
A life without self-pleasing!1 [Note: F. W. Faber.]
1. During the days of His ministry on earth our Lord promised, “If a man love me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). Again, it is said in Revelation 3:20, in that affecting invitation given by the “Amen, the faithful and true witness”—“Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” This is the invitation and this the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ; and we find Him fulfilling this engagement in various portions of His history. When He came to the city of Jericho for the conversion of Zacchæus, we find Him saying, “Zacchæus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house” (Luke 19:5). We are informed also that, in the journey of the two disciples to Emmaus, they constrained the Lord to come into their house, saying, “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent”: and He was prevailed on by their entreating fervency, and “he went in to tarry with them.” Now, it is a fact, that when the soul comes to the true knowledge of God, through the teaching of His Holy Spirit, and is enabled to lay hold on the Divine promises, which are all yea and amen in Christ Jesus, the Saviour enters into this soul and dwells there.
Go not, my soul, in search of Him,
Thou wilt not find Him there,—
Or in the depths of shadow dim,
Or heights of upper air.
For not in far-off realms of space
The Spirit hath its throne;
In every heart it findeth place
And waiteth to be known.
Thought answereth alone to thought,
And Soul with soul hath kin;
The outward God he findeth not,
Who finds not God within.
And if the vision come to thee
Revealed by inward sign,
Earth will be full of Deity
And with His glory shine!
Thou shalt not want for company,
Nor pitch thy tent alone;
The indwelling God will go with thee,
And show thee of His own.
O gift of gifts, O grace of grace
That God should condescend
To make thy heart His dwelling-place,
And be thy daily Friend!
Then go not thou in search of Him,
But to thyself repair;
Wait thou within the silence dim,
And thou shalt find Him there.1 [Note: F. L. Hosmer.]
2. The dwelling of Christ in the heart is to be regarded as being a plain literal fact. To a man who does not believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, that is, of course, nonsense; but to those who see in Him the manifested incarnate God, there ought to be no difficulty in accepting this as the simple literal force of the words before us, that in every soul where faith, however feeble, has been exercised, there Jesus Christ does verily abide. It is not to be weakened down into any notion of participation in His likeness, sympathy with His character, submission to His influence, following His example, listening to His instruction, or the like. A dead Plato may so influence his followers, but that is not how a living Christ influences His disciples. What is meant is no mere influence derived but separable from Him, however blessed and gracious that influence might be; it is the presence of His own self, exercising influences which are inseparable from His presence, and to be realized only when He dwells in us.
We are called “mystics” when we preach Christ in the heart. Ah! brother, unless your Christianity be in the good deep sense of the word “mystical,” it is mechanical, which is worse. I preach, and rejoice that I have to preach, a “Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again; who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Nor do I stop there; I preach a Christ that is in us, dwelling in our hearts if we be His at all.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, 17.]
3. When Paul prayed that Christ might “dwell” in the hearts of the Christians at Ephesus he was thinking of something far greater than that kind of union with Christ which is the condition of even the lowest forms of spiritual life. The whole emphasis of the clause is thrown on the word “dwell.” There is an abiding presence of Christ in the heart which is a perpetual manifestation of the infinite love of God, and brings with it the very righteousness and blessedness of heaven, a presence which fills the whole life with a glory unbroken by clouds, and which does not change with rising and setting suns, but is like the glory of the city of God of which it is said that “there is no night there.” This presence is possible only where there is a great faith, and for a great faith there must be a great strength, a strength which is given to the inward man through the power of the Divine Spirit.
St. Paul asks that “the Christ may take up his abode,—may settle in your hearts.” The word signifies to set up one’s house or make one’s home in a place, by way of contrast with a temporary and uncertain sojourn (comp. Ephesians 2:19). The same verb in Colossians 2:9 asserts that in Christ “dwells all the fulness of the Godhead”; and in Colossians 1:19 it declares, used in the same tense as here, that it was God’s “pleasure that all the fulness should make its dwelling in him” now raised from the dead, who had emptied and humbled Himself to fulfil the purpose of the Father’s love. So it is desired that Christ should take His seat within us. He is never again to stand at the door and knock, nor to have a doubtful and disputed footing in the house. Let the Master come in, and claim His own. Let Him become the heart’s fixed tenant and full occupier.1 [Note: G. G. Findlay, The Epistle to the Ephesians, 189.]
We all know how having certain persons with us changes the spirit-atmosphere by which we are surrounded and affected. Certain things you might do when alone you would not think of doing in the presence of these friends. Your speech is restrained by the presence of some; it is made to flow more freely by the presence of others.
The presence of Christ may become in a very real and practical sense the atmosphere of the life. He is with us. He is unseen by these outer eyes. That is true. But He is far more real than these outer things which I can touch and see and smell. The sense of His presence can be cultivated. It should not be thought of as a day-dreamy, visionary sort of thing, a using of certain religious phraseology constantly. It may be a real, practical, sane, sensible living as in His presence, in such a way as to give a wholesome sweetness and sanity to all of one’s life.
That wondrous presence of His so recognized, and in growing degree realized, will change all the life subtly but tremendously. He will become a Host in the home, reshaping its usage and life, until by and by it will be permeated by His spirit, and take on the shape of His personality. He will affect one’s social intercourse, the conversation, and the prevailing spirit and motive under the conversation. He will shape one’s business transactions, shutting some things wholly out, bringing other considerations in to guide and decide, and making a new standard by which all will be measured and controlled.
He will control the whole life. There will be sacrifice of a real cutting sort. It need not be sought for. It comes of itself in the path of obedience. It is sin that makes sacrifice. Sin put a cross in the Saviour’s path, and will see to it that a cross is as surely put in the path of every follower of the Saviour.
And there is yet more, so much more that all this seems scarcely like a beginning. He reveals Himself. There is a peace, a gladness, a joy that must sing; there is a fragrance in the spirit air, the fragrance of His presence. There is fighting, sometimes thick and hard, with moist brow, clenched hand and tight breathing. But there is victory. It is victory through fighting. It is all the sweeter for that.2 [Note: S. D. Gordon, The Crowded Inn, 59.]
In the Heart
1. “The heart,” in the language of the Bible, never denotes the emotional nature by itself. The antithesis of “heart and head,” the divorce of feeling and understanding in our modern speech, is foreign to Scripture. The heart is our interior, conscious self, thought, feeling, will, in their personal unity. It needs the whole Christ to fill and rule the whole heart, a Christ who is the Lord of the intellect, the Light of the reason, no less than the Master of the feelings and desires.
That He may dwell in your hearts, that best room of the house of manhood; not in your thoughts alone, but in your affections; not merely have Him in your minds, but have Him in your loves. Paul wants you to have a love to Christ of a most abiding character, not a love that flames up under an earnest sermon, and then dies out into the darkness of a few embers, but a constant flame, the abiding love of Jesus in your hearts, both day and night, like the flame upon the altar which never went out.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
I was reading lately Montalembert’s Memoir of Lacordaire, and could not but feel that there was, and I hope is, high, principle among some of the Roman Catholics of France. Here are one or two sayings of Lacordaire:—
“I will never believe that the heart can wear out, and I feel every day that it becomes stronger, more tender, more detached from the ties of the body, in proportion as life and reflection neutralize the covering in which it is stifled.”
“I am sad betimes; but who is there that is not so? It is a dart which we must always carry in the soul; we must try not to lean on the side where it is. It is the javelin of Mantinea in the breast of Epaminondas; it is extracted only by death and entrance into eternity.”
“I desire, like Mary Magdalene, the day but one before the Passion, to break at the feet of Jesus Christ this frail vessel of my thought.”
Among his last words were, “I am unable to pray to Him, but I look upon Him”; his very last, “My God! open to me, open to me!”2 [Note: Letters of John Ker, 147.]
2. The indwelling of Christ in us is not like that of a man who, abiding in a house, is nevertheless in no sense identified with it. No; His indwelling is a possession of our hearts that is truly Divine, quickening and penetrating their inmost being with His life. The Father strengthens us inwardly with might by His Spirit, so that the Spirit animates our will and brings it, like the will of Jesus, into entire sympathy with His own. The result is that our heart then, like the heart of Jesus, bows before Him in humility and surrender; our life seeks only His honour; and our whole soul thrills with desire and love for Jesus. This inward renewal makes the heart fit to be a dwelling-place of the Lord. By the Spirit He is revealed within us and we come to know that He is actually in us as our life, in a deep, Divine unity, One with us.
Be good at the depths of you, and you will discover that those who surround you will be good even to the same depths. Nothing responds more infallibly to the secret cry of goodness than the secret cry of goodness that is near. While you are actively good in the invisible, all those who approach you will unconsciously do things that they could not do by the side of any other man. Therein lies a force that has no name; a spiritual rivalry that knows no resistance. It is as though this were the actual place where is the sensitive spot of our soul; for there are souls that seem to have forgotten their existence and to have renounced everything that enables the being to rise; but, once touched here, they all draw themselves erect; and in the Divine plains of the secret goodness, the most humble of souls cannot endure defeat.1 [Note: Maeterlinck, The Treasure of the Humble, 166.]
But if we remain wholly in ourselves, separated from God, we shall be miserable and unsaved; and so we ought to feel ourselves living wholly in God and wholly in ourselves, and between these two sensations we shall find nothing but the grace of God and the exercises of our love. For from the height of our highest sensation, the splendour of God shines upon us, and it teaches us truth and impels us towards all virtues into the eternal love of God. Without interruption we follow this splendour on to the source from which it flows, and there we feel that our spirits are stripped of all things and bathed beyond thought of rising in the pure and infinite ocean of love.2 [Note: Maeterlinck, Ruysbroeck and the Mystics, 91.]
Speak to me, my God;
And let me know the living Father cares
For me, even me; for this one of His children,—
Hast Thou no word for me? I am Thy thought.
God, let Thy mighty heart beat into mine,
And let mine answer as a pulse to Thine.
See, I am low; yea, very low; but Thou
Art high, and Thou canst lift me up to Thee.
I am a child, a fool before Thee, God;
But Thou hast made my weakness as my strength.
I am an emptiness for Thee to fill;
My soul, a cavern for Thy sea.1 [Note: George MacDonald, “Within and Without” (Poetical Works, i. 10).]
1. All Bible students are aware of the prominence given to faith in Holy Scripture. Indeed, it is frequently alleged that this prominence is unwholesome and mischievous, that it attaches a false and exaggerated importance to belief, since “what really matters is not a man’s creed, but his character and conduct.” And students are familiar with the simple and effective answer to this objection, viz., that creed forms conduct, and so builds up character, and that “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” But whether men approve of it or not, this is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Gospel of Christ, that it proclaims “salvation by grace, through faith”; not by merit, through character. So we read that the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,” “Whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins,” “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” The seed is snatched away from the hearts of the wayside hearers, “lest they should believe, and be saved.” The whole Gospel can be summed up in the one sentence, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
2. And this is equally true of all the later stages of the Christian life. All growth and progress, all perfection of character, all victory and fruitfulness, are by faith. The promise of the Spirit is received by faith. Christ dwells “in our hearts by faith.” Christ is not an object of sight or sense to us. We know Him only by believing in Him. From first to last, faith is the instrument and medium of all our union and fellowship with Him. Faith alone brings Him into the soul; and faith alone keeps Him there. By faith alone we find His presence, and by faith alone we continue to realize it. By faith we make Him ours, by faith love Him, and by faith live unto Him. “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” We have no eye but that of faith whereby to see, no ear but that of faith whereby to hear, no hand but that of faith whereby to apprehend, and no heart but that of faith whereby to embrace Christ. Thus faith lies at the very foundation of all personal religion, and must be the pervading element of all. We are true Christians in so far as we have true faith. We walk to heaven by faith, and live in God by faith.
3. But what is faith? It is a certain state and condition of the whole inward man, a certain aspect of the whole mind, and heart, and soul towards God in Christ. Christ Himself, and not merely a particular set of facts, or events, or propositions, is the object of it. We believe in Him, we trust Him, we apprehend His presence, we have confidence in His word of promise, we rely on His love, His goodness, His power, we cleave in spirit to Him, we rejoice in Him, and commune with Him. This is faith, and by this Christ dwells in our heart. It is peculiar to Christians who are such not in name only, but in deed and in truth; it is peculiar to those who are partakers of the Spirit, who have the life of religion within them. As soon as ever a soul has this faith, Christ is in him. As long as ever he has it, Christ dwells in him.
Is it paradoxical, this mighty power of faith? Not more so than the mighty power of lips and throat when the strong meat, or reviving cordial, is taken into the exhausted body. The “mighty power” is not really in lips and throat, but in what they, and only they, can receive and do receive. The “mighty power” is not properly in the faith, but in Him whom it lets into the weary being, that He may do there a work which He, not faith, does; Himself making our weakness strength and our pollution purity.1 [Note: H. C. G. Moule, The Pledges of His Love, 70.]
My enemies (at Tanna) seldom slackened their hateful designs against my life, however calmed or baffled for the moment. Life in such circumstances led me to cling very near to the Lord Jesus; I knew not, for one brief hour, when or how attack might be made; and yet, with my trembling hand clasped in the hand once nailed on Calvary, and now swaying the sceptre of the Universe, calmness and peace and resignation abode in my soul. Next day, a wild chief followed me about for four hours with his loaded musket, and, though often directed towards me, God restrained his hand. I spoke kindly to him, and attended to my work as if he had not been there, fully persuaded that my God had placed me there, and would protect me till my allotted task was finished. Looking up in unceasing prayer to our dear Lord Jesus, I left all in His hands, and felt immortal till my work was done. Trials and hairbreadth escapes strengthened my faith, and seemed only to nerve me for more to follow; and they did tread swiftly upon each other’s heels. Without that abiding consciousness of the presence and power of my dear Lord and Saviour, nothing else in all the world could have preserved me from losing my reason and perishing miserably. His words, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,” became to me so real that it would not have startled me to behold Him, as Stephen did, gazing down upon the scene. I felt His supporting power, as did St. Paul, when he cried, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” It is the sober truth, and it comes back to me sweetly after twenty years, that I had my nearest and dearest glimpses of the face and smile of my blessed Lord in those dread moments when musket, club, or spear was being levelled at my life. Oh the bliss of living and enduring, as seeing Him who is invisible!1 [Note: John G. Paton, i. 119.]
(1) Faith is trust.—And trust which is faith is self-distrust. “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.” Rivers do not run on the mountain tops, but down in the valleys. So the heart that is lifted up and self-complacent has no dew of His blessing resting upon it, but has the curse of Gilboa adhering to its barrenness; but the low lands, the humble and the lowly hearts, are they in which the waters that go softly, scoop their course, and diffuse their blessings. Faith is self-distrust. Self-distrust brings the Christ.
My own idea of trust is as illimitable as the word indicates. Whatever happens, to believe it is a part of the Divine plan. However unpleasant, however painful, however disagreeable may be that happening or circumstance, to determine upon finding its good meaning, and to turn it to the soul’s account and make it a means of character building. Trust does not, in my interpretation of the word, include placid acceptance of conditions or events. It means using these things as stepping-stones to deliverance. When our environment is not to our liking, when we are annoyed and hurt by events, the first thing to do is to discover if we ourselves have not been the cause of these troubles. If we realize on careful analysis that we are the cause, then trust the Divine forces to show us the way out. If we find we are blameless, and the troubles come through what we call Fate, then again trust in Divine power, within ourselves and beyond ourselves, to deliver us. Meanwhile let us go upon our way doing the duty which lies nearest, with absolute trust in the heart that we are treading the path to power.1 [Note: Ella Wheeler Wilcox, New Thought Common Sense, 233.]
(2) Faith is desire.—Never in the history of the world has it been or can it be that a longing towards Him shall be a longing thrown back unsatisfied upon itself. We have but to trust, and we possess. We open the door for the entrance of Christ by the simple act of faith, and, blessed be His name! He can squeeze Himself through a very little chink, and He does not require that the gates should be flung wide open in order that, with some of His blessings, He may come in.
It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them. How can we ever be satisfied without them until our feelings are deadened?2 [Note: George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss.]
The soul possesses a native yearning for intercourse and companionship, which takes it to God as naturally as the home instinct of the pigeon takes it to the place of its birth. There is in every normal soul a spontaneous outreach, a free play of spirit which gives it onward yearning of unstilled desire. It is no mere subjective instinct. If it met no response it would soon be weeded out of the race. It would shrivel like the functionless organ. We could not long continue to pray in faith, if we lost the assurance that there is a Person who cares, and who actually corresponds with us. In fact, the very desire to pray is in itself prophetic of a Heavenly Friend—a Divine Companion.3 [Note: Rufus Jones.]
With Thee a moment! Then what dreams have play!
Traditions of eternal toil arise,
Search for the high, austere, and lonely way
The Spirit moves in through Eternities.
Ah, in the soul what memories arise!
And with what yearning inexpressible,
Rising from long forgetfulness, I turn
To Thee invisible, unrumoured, still:
White for Thy whiteness all desires burn.
Ah, with what longing once again I turn.1 [Note: “A. E.”]
4. What do we gain by the indwelling of Christ in the heart through faith?
(1) Constancy.—We are ready to say again and again: “Oh, that I were always what I am sometimes!” Is not one of the greatest needs of our spiritual life constancy—strength to enable us to continue?—“Patient continuance in well doing.” There is no such token of strength or proof of power as being able to continue. That quality is lacking in us to-day. How is the defect to be met? Christ is “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever”; and if He dwell in us He will impart to us that element of stability, He will make us strong by His indwelling presence that never fails.
When Mr. Browning wrote to Miss Haworth, in 1861, he had said: “I shall still grow, I hope; but my root is taken, and remains.” He was then alluding to a special offshoot of feeling and association, on the permanence of which it is not now necessary to dwell; but it is certain that he continued growing up to a late age, and that the development was limited only by those general roots, those fixed conditions of his being, which had predetermined its form. This progressive intellectual vitality is amply represented in his works; it also reveals itself in his letters in so far as they remain and are accessible. I only refer to it to give emphasis to a contrasted or corresponding characteristic: his aversion to every thought of change. I have spoken of his constancy to all degrees of friendship and love. What he loved once he loved always, from the dearest man or woman to whom his allegiance had been given to the humblest piece of furniture which had served him.2 [Note: Mrs. Sutherland Orr, Life and Letters of Robert Browning, 349.]
It is strange that of all the pieces of the Bible which my mother thus taught me, that which cost me most to learn, and which was, to my child’s mind, chiefly repulsive—the 119th Psalm—has now become of all the most precious to me, in its overflowing and glorious passion of love for the Law of God, in opposition to the abuse of it by modern preachers of what they imagine to be His gospel.
But it is only by deliberate effort that I recall the long morning hours of toil, as regular as sunrise—toil on both sides equal—by which, year after year, my mother forced me to learn these fine old Scottish Paraphrases, and chapters (the eighth of 1st Kings being one—try it, good reader, in a leisure hour!), allowing not so much as a syllable to be missed or misplaced; while every sentence was required to be said over and over again till she was satisfied with the accent of it. I recollect a struggle between us of about three weeks, concerning the accent of the “of” in the lines
Shall any following spring revive
The ashes of the urn?—
I insisting, partly in childish obstinacy, and partly in true instinct for rhythm (being wholly careless on the subject both of urns and their contents), on reciting it with an accented of. It was not, I say, till after three weeks’ labour, that my mother got the accent lightened on the “of” and laid on the ashes, to her mind. But had it taken three years, she would have done it, having once undertaken to do it. And, assuredly, had she not done it,—well, there’s no knowing what would have happened; but I’m very thankful she did.1 [Note: Ruskin, Praeterita, i. 54.]
(2) Cleansing.—The thoughts of the heart are a trouble to every Christian; the secret springs of action—they are the trouble. The secret tastes and the sympathies—these are the things that go to make the essence of Christian life.
Rivers to the ocean run,
Nor stay in all their course;
Fire, ascending, seeks the sun;
Both speed them to their source;
So a soul, new-born of God,
Pants to know His glorious face,
Upwards tends to His abode,
To rest in His embrace.
(3) Catholicity.—What do we read in the Apostle’s prayer? That we “may be able to comprehend with all saints.” If Christ is in the heart, barriers and divisions melt away. We are one with our brothers. The “hand” is not going to fight with the “foot.” We all belong to the same body and we know it; we each have a secret vital link with every other member of the mystical body of Christ. Whatever differences there are on minor points we say: “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.”
What profound and broad contrasts divide men from men; what gulfs separate one race from another, earlier from later ages, any one state of thought and social progress from what went before it and what follows it: and within narrower limits, what endless variety, baffling all imagination to follow, of circumstance and fortune, of capacity and character, of wealth or poverty, of strength or weakness, of inclinations and employments, of a kindly or unkindly lot. Yet for all, one life is the guiding light, and the words which express it speak to all. A life the highest conceivable, on almost the lowest conceivable stage, and recorded in the simplest form, with indifference to all outward accompaniments, attractive whether to the few or to the many, is set before us as the final and unalterable ideal of human nature. Amid all its continual and astonishing changes, differing widely as men do, Christ calls them all alike to follow Him: unspeakably great as His example is, it is for the many and the average as much as for the few; homely as is its expression, there is no other lesson for the deepest and most refined. The least were called to its high goodness: the greatest had nothing offered them but its brief-spoken plainness.1 [Note: Dean Church.]
That mystic word of Thine, O sovereign Lord,
Is all too pure, too high, too deep for me;
Weary of striving, and with longing faint,
I breathe it back again in prayer to Thee.
Abide in me, I pray, and I in Thee;
From this good hour, O, leave me never more;
Then shall the discord cease, the wound be healed,
The lifelong bleeding of the soul be o’er.
Abide in me; o’ershadow by Thy love
Each half-formed purpose and dark thought of sin;
Quench, ere it rise, each selfish, low desire,
And keep my soul as Thine, calm and divine.
As some rare perfume in a vase of clay
Pervades it with a fragrance not its own,
So, when Thou dwellest in a mortal soul,
All heaven’s own sweetness seems around it thrown.
Abide in me; there have been moments blest
When I have heard Thy voice and felt Thy power,
Then evil lost its grasp, and passion hushed,
Owned the divine enchantment of the hour.
These were but seasons, beautiful and rare;
Abide in me, and they shall ever be;
Fulfil at once Thy precept and my prayer—
Come, and abide in me, and I in Thee!1 [Note: H. B. Stowe.]
Christ in the Heart
Brown (C.), God and Man, 54.
Burrell (D. J.), The Religion of the Future, 13.
Chapin (E. H.), The Church of the Living God, 28.
Dale (R. W.), Lectures on the Ephesians, 242.
Heywood (B. O. F.), in Sermons for the People, New Ser., vi. 162.
Holland (H. S.), God’s City, 86.
Maclaren (A.), Christ in the Heart, 15.
Maclaren (A.), Creed and Conduct, 243.
Moule (H. C. G.), The Pledges of His Love, 68.
Murray (A.), The Full Blessing of Pentecost, 126.
Webster (F. S.), In Remembrance of Me, 49.
Christian World Pulpit, xiii. 88 (Gallaway); lviii. 19 (Fairbairn).
Church Pulpit Year Book, 1905, p. 249.
Churchman’s Pulpit: Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, xii. 188 (Jobson), 201 (Armstrong), 221 (Hannah), 224 (Edmondstone).
Keswick Week, 1905, p. 49 (Moore).
Literary Churchman, xxv. (1879), 380.
The Love of Christ
I bow my knees unto the Father … to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.—Ephesians 3:17-19.
1. These words, and the remarkable passage to which they belong, supply us with the keynote of the Apostle Paul’s life and letters and ministry. They show us how intensely he was permeated with and dominated by the love of Christ. It was not an idea that possessed him; neither was it a system. It was a Person, and that Person was Christ. It was not the life of Christ or the character of Christ that fascinated him; it was Christ Himself. Jesus Christ was the charm of his whole life: “To me to live is Christ.” St. Paul’s life was interpenetrated with Christ, so much so that he lost himself in Him: “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”
I hardly know anything more disheartening than to read such a passage as this, and to feel while we read it how little our own hearts and thoughts answer to it. We see how St. Paul felt and thought. The words come glowing from his soul; he is lifted up above himself with the greatness, the inconceivable greatness, of the things he is talking of. His inward eye is fixed on the love of Christ to the world—on the wonderfulness of God’s counsels to men—on the height and depth, and length and breadth, which no one can measure, of what had just been made known of God’s feelings about them, and of His purposes towards them. And from the fullness of his heart his mouth speaks. We see that he is overflowing with the feelings produced by the contemplation of what Christ is and has done. His whole mind is alive to it. He speaks not by custom, or because it is right to magnify the Lord’s greatness, but because he cannot help it—he cannot restrain what he feels and thinks.
And how differently do we read the words! There they are before us—words of fire and life, words which show that to him who spoke them the love of Christ was the most real, the nearest, the most absorbing thought in the world. Christ is not less to us than he was to St. Paul. But how often must we confess to ourselves that we have no feelings which answer to the Apostle’s manner of speaking; we cannot repeat them as the natural and unforced expression of our own feelings. There seems such a gulf between what we ought to feel and what we do fee, such a difference between the way in which the Gospel appeared to St. Paul and the way in which it appears to us. He found no difficulty in speaking worthily of his Master’s love; he passed from the outer scenes of ordinary life to the contemplation of Christ, and straightway his heart began to kindle and his tongue to speak. But we seem only able to touch, as it were, the outside shell of his words. We see, but do not feel, how excellent they are. They are such a contrast to the common thoughts of our life, they are so far above us, that we cannot enter into them.1 [Note: R. W. Church, Village Sermons, ii. 287.]
2. This constitutes the third of the petitions in this great prayer of St. Paul’s, each of which rises above, and is a consequence of, the preceding, and leads on to, and is a cause or occasion of, the subsequent one.
There are two thoughts in the petition: he prays that the Ephesians may be able to apprehend the love of Christ in its vast dimensions, and that they may have an experimental knowledge of it, though it passes knowledge. But the exposition of each clause by itself will be the best exposition of the whole text.
Rooted and Grounded in Love
These two distinct conceptions “rooted” and “grounded” are frequently united in the Scriptures (as in Psalm 144:12, and 1 Corinthians 3:9). Two cognate conceptions—one borrowed from the processes of nature, and the other from human art—are employed to indicate at once the life, the growth, the strength, and the stability of a Christian’s hope. A tree and a tower are the material objects which are used here as alphabetic letters to express a spiritual thought. More particularly, as a tree depends for life and growth upon its roots being embedded in a genial soil, and a tower depends for strength and stability upon its foundation, the Apostle desires, by means of these conceptions, to express and illustrate the corresponding features of the Christian life. If disciples are compared to living trees, love is the soil they grow in; if they are compared to a building, love is the foundation on which it stands secure.
The root is taken from the field of nature, the grounding or founding from the world of art. The root is laid in the soil to imbibe its virtues, the foundation is placed on its base to sustain the edifice. The root grows, and produces fruit, the foundation stands, and gives strength. The root needs continual supply, the foundation rests in its completeness, and abides always.1 [Note: J. Vaughan.]
1. Rooted.—We cast our affections down into the character and the Being of God; we wind them about His attributes; we strike them into His promises; we drive them deep into His faithfulness. There the roots of our affection lie. They take up, they drink in, the nature of the love they live in; they are always assimilating themselves to it, and they send up its sweet savour by little, silent threads, which are always running to the fountain of life. Our words, our actions, our whole outer being, cannot choose but mould itself to them, and take that love. Because of those secret processes of the roots which are in Christ, we love. We love simply because we are rooted in love.
Most men, when they wish to be religious, begin by trying to give up certain things, and to do certain other actions. But there must be something that goes before that, else it is just as if you planted leaves without stems, or flowers without roots. The springs of life must be in their right places. The roots must be really in God. True religion does not consist so much in this thing, or that thing, as being always in a certain tone and atmosphere. The plant takes its character from the ground; the soul, from its inmost, deepest associations. There must be that behind whereby we are always making inspirations of love.2 [Note: Ibid.]
In descending by one of the passes of the Alps into the lovely valley of the Saarnen, the traveller may notice on the right hand of the path a pine tree, growing in extraordinary circumstances. Enormous masses of hoary rock lie scattered in the bottom of the ravine. They have fallen from the crags which form its stupendous walls, and it is on the top of one of these, a bare, naked block, that the pine tree stands. No dwarf, misshapen thing, like the birch or mountain ash on an old castle wall, where the wind or passing bird had dropped the seed; it is a forest giant, with rugged trunk, and top that shoots a green pyramid to the skies. At first sight one wonders how a tree seated on the summit of a huge stone, raised above the soil, with no apparent means of living, could live at all, still more grow with such vigour as to defy the storms that sweep the pass, and the severe and long winters that reign over these solitudes. A nearer approach explains the mystery. Finding soil enough on the summit, where lichens had grown and decayed, to sustain its early age, it had thrown out roots which, while the top stretched itself to the light, lowered themselves down to the naked stone, feeling for earth and food. Touching the ground at length, they buried themselves in it to draw nourishment from its unseen but inexhaustible supplies, to feed the sapling into a giant tree.1 [Note: Thomas Guthrie.]
2. Grounded.—More than once in this Epistle to the Ephesians St. Paul uses the imagery of the foundations of a building to describe the foundations of a Christian life. Perhaps the reason was this. To any one entering Ephesus, the first object that would strike his eyes would be the splendid temple of Diana. There it stood, with its one hundred and seven pillars, each sixty feet high. All Asia had contributed to the building of it. Though its foundations were laid on marshy ground, years and years of patient labour had overcome all the natural difficulties of the place. So St. Paul, coming to Ephesus to supplant this false form of worship, felt that the Christian’s life must rest on a foundation as hidden, but as firm, as that of this heathen temple. That foundation-stone, he says, must be love.
The grand foundation or ground of everything is love, God’s love. Because “God is love,” therefore His love goes forth to sinners. Because His love went forth to sinners, He provided a way by which He could restore sinners again to happiness and to Himself; and so Jesus died for them. And since Jesus died for sinners, therefore God chose us, drew us, pardoned us, spoke peace to us. And having loved us enough to do this, what will not the same love do, what prayer will He not hear, what good thing can He withhold, what undertaking will He not make for us, for time and for eternity? That is a foundation. It will support anything—any comfort, any work, any hope we ever choose to build upon it. It is like some mathematical proposition, which cannot be assailed, and the whole problem is actually contained within it, and only wants to be worked out. It stands to the soul like solid adamant to the whole temple—a foundation.1 [Note: J. Vaughan.]
3. In love.—The soil in which the living tree is planted is love. What is the love in which the trees of righteousness are rooted? Whether is it God’s love to man, or man’s love to God and to his brother? The question admits of an answer at once easily intelligible and demonstrably true. The love in which the roots of faith strike down for nourishment is not human but Divine. It is not even that grace which is sovereign and Divine in its origin but residing and acting in a renewed human heart; it is the attribute, and even the nature, of Deity, for “God is love.” The soil which bears and nourishes the new life of man is the love of God in the gift of His Son.
It introduces an inextricable confusion of ideas to think of believers as trees rooted in their own love—an emotion that has its abode and its exercise within their own hearts. The roots of a man’s faith and hope must penetrate, not inward into the love he exercises, but outward into the love which is exercised towards him. The roots of a tree grow, not into the tree itself, but into an independent soil, which at once supports its weight and nourishes its life. In like manner a Christian’s faith does not lean and live upon anything within himself; it goes out and draws all its support from God’s love to sinners in the Gospel of His Son.
According to the Catechism of the Westminster Assembly, “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” A very comprehensive and noble definition, no doubt! Yet did it never strike you as strange that there is no mention of love here? This appears a very remarkable omission—an omission as remarkable as if an orator who undertook to describe the firmament left out the sun; or an artist, in painting the human face, made it sightless, and gave no place on the canvas to those beaming eyes which impart to the countenance its life and expression. Why did an Assembly, for piety, learning, and talents, the greatest, perhaps, that ever met in England, or anywhere else, in that catalogue of the Divine attributes assign no place to love? Unless we are to understand the term “goodness” as comprehending love, the omission may be thus explained and illustrated: Take a globe and, observing their natural order, lay upon its surface the different hues of the rainbow; give it a rapid motion round its axis; and now the blue, red, yellow, and other colours vanish. As if by magic, the whirling sphere instantly changes into purest white, presenting to our eyes a visible, and to our understanding a palpable, proof that the sunbeam is not a simple but a compound body: thread spun of various rays, which, when blended into one, form what we call light. And may it not be that these divines make no distinct mention of love, just because they held that as all the separate colours blended together form light, so all the attributes acting together make love; and that thus, because God is just, wise, powerful, holy, good, and true, of necessity, therefore, and in the express words of John, “God is love”?1 [Note: Thomas Guthrie.]
All vigorous life is a correspondence between organism and environment. If a tree is to be “rooted and grounded,” it must find, deep hidden in the soil, the materials it requires for its own substance. Otherwise, poverty in the soil will be reflected in its stunted branches, yellow leaves, and imperfect roots. Just so, if we are to be “rooted and grounded in love,” love must be the deepest ingredient in the soil in which our spiritual nature grows. The fact that men and women have become thus “rooted and grounded” that, by the exercise of faith, their characters have been “made perfect in love,” is thus the evidence of something more; it implies the presence of love in their spiritual environment.2 [Note: E. Grubb, The Personality of God, 124.]
It was manifest from her childhood, as almost invariably with those heroes and heroines of history who have been the lovers and leaders of mankind, that Florence Nightingale had special gifts and sympathies, and that she was inspired by a sacred ambition to use them for the alleviation of pain and sorrow. I remember a row of young palm-trees in Dr. Bennett’s garden at Mentone, and one of them was thrice the height of the rest. There was a tank of water five yards below, but the tree had reached it with its roots. So Florence, rooted and grounded in love, rose above her fellows.3 [Note: Dean Hole, Then and Now, 93.]
Strong to Apprehend
1. It requires strength, says Paul, to lay hold of the love of God. Some of us might, perhaps, fancy that it would have been more appropriate had he said, “weak enough to lay hold.” For faith, we have come to imagine, is a characteristic of weak rather than of strong souls—a quality by which we forgo the strength of our reason, and passively accept that which mere authority lays upon us. But we shall look in vain for any sanction in St. Paul’s thoughts for the opposition we fancy to exist between faith and reason. Their operation he never brings into contrast. What he does contrast is faith and sight. The spiritual realities, he tells us, are those that “eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man” (1 Corinthians 2:9). The exercise of faith is for him of similar quality to the vigorous use of the mind, when we are striving with all our force to master some difficult problem that confronts us. He recognizes that the love of God is hidden and elusive, that it can be “laid hold of” only by strenuous effort.
2. The word translated “ye may be strong” is found scarcely anywhere else; Paul found it hard to discover a word to express his meaning; it implies the putting forth of our best powers to do something that is extremely difficult, or almost impossible,—and doing it successfully. But, while Paul is as far as possible from suggesting that the love of God can be “laid hold of” by weak and passive acceptance of a dogma, he does, it is clear, maintain that the faith which “lays hold” is not simply identical with the use of our reasoning faculty. What is the condition of its effective exercise? He does not say, “that ye, being furnished with complete knowledge,” or “that ye, having your intelligence sharpened to the utmost,” may be strong enough to apprehend; but “that ye, being rooted and grounded in love.” The condition of the vigorous exercise of faith is, for him, not intellectual mainly, but ethical. He knew, like his Master before him, that it is the pure in heart who see; the eye that is single that is full of light; the doing of the will of God that yields knowledge about the teaching. If we are to know the love that is above us, it will be through the experience of love within us.
3. Thus there are certain conditions to be observed that we may be strong to apprehend the love of Christ in its vastness.
(1) There must be the reception of Christ into the heart by faith.—He that is rooted and grounded in love because Christ dwells in his heart will be strengthened to know the love in which he is rooted. The Christ within us will know the love of Christ. We must first “taste,” and then we shall “see” that the Lord is good, as the Psalmist puts it with deep truth. First the appropriation and feeding upon God, then the clear perception by the mind of the sweetness in the taste. First the enjoyment; then the reflection on the enjoyment. First the love; then the consciousness of the love of Christ possessed and the love to Christ experienced. The heart must be grounded in love that the man may know the love which passeth knowledge.
What is the beginning of everything? “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” There is the gate through which you and I may come, and by which we must come, if we are to come at all, into the possession and perception of Christ’s great love. Here is the path of knowledge. First of all there must be the simple historical knowledge of the facts of Christ’s life and death for us, with the Scripture teaching of their meaning and power. And then we must turn these truths from mere notions into life. It is not enough to know the love that God has to us, in that lower sense of the word “knowledge.” Many of you know that, who never got any blessing out of it all your days, and never will unless you change. Besides the “knowing” there must be the “believing” of the love. You must translate the notion into a living fact in your experience. You must pass from the simple work of understanding the Gospel to the higher act of faith. You must not be contented with knowing, you must trust. And if you have done that all the rest will follow, and the little, narrow, low doorway of humble self-distrusting faith, through which a man creeps on his knees, leaving outside all his sin and his burden, opens out into the temple palace: the large place in which Christ’s love is imparted to the soul.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, 32.]
(2) There must be meditation on the love of Christ.—We have the same knowledge that St. Paul had of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. And yet what a different thing was this love to him and to us. Is it possible for us ever to realize it as he did; ever to have the feelings towards it which in him stirred up the depths of his soul, and burst out as naturally from his lips as water does from a spring? And if it is possible—and who can doubt it?—why is it that St. Paul’s strong words seem to us so strange, so hopelessly above us? One reason is that we think so little about it. We hear, and read, and talk, but we do not think. When we hear of our Lord’s wonderful doings, we do not take the thought away with us and consider it, consider what it means and what it comes to. We never turn it about in our minds as we do the ways and doings of men among whom we live.
Love is not a thing of enthusiastic emotion. It is a rich, strong, manly, vigorous expression of the whole round Christian character,—the Christlike nature in its fullest development. To love abundantly is to live abundantly, and to love for ever is to live for ever.1 [Note: Henry Drummond.]
The joy of heaven is the joy of love. The key to it is in Christ, who for the joy that was set before Him endured all. Christ’s was the joy of self-sacrifice, of loving, of saving, of giving up His life to another. But this is no joy save to those who love.2 [Note: James Hinton.]
(3) But above everything, if we would understand and feel our Master’s love, we must have something of His Spirit.—Most truly is it said that love is the key and interpreter of love. It is difficult to sympathize with and to enter into it if we are unlike it in our heart and mind. We may for a while be charmed and overcome by some great display of nobleness and unselfishness; we may for a moment be lifted up by the admiration of it, and the wish to be like it, when we read of a man clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, tending the sick, risking his life in pestilence or shipwreck for his fellow-men. But these feelings will pass away, unless we are in reality, and not only in the moment of excitement, like those we admire. They will pass away and leave us dull, and dry, and cold, to what calls upon our love. The story of Christ’s love is too old, and too well known, and too familiar, ever to make an impression on us now, unless we have it in our hearts to wish to have something of His love in us.
If “Christ dwell in your hearts by faith,” you will be “rooted and grounded in love,” and as a consequence you will be able to comprehend spiritual things. A noble passage from the Philippians should be quoted here: “God is my witness, how greatly I long after you all in the [motherly] affections of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in full knowledge and in all perception; that you may distinguish the things which transcend.” Love, then, according to the Apostle, is the ground and mother of the perceptive faculty. Without fire there can be no effulgence or radiance. As is the fire, will be the radiance. The source of mental illumination is the Son of God in the heart. It was surely inspiration which moved Paul to pray that his friends might be rooted and grounded in love in order that they might be able to comprehend the mysteries of their faith; but it was also pure philosophy. This I pray, that more and yet more you may abound in the spirit of love; that you may advance unto the full recognition and discernment of Heavenly things. “Love is the key which opens all the secrets of faith.”1 [Note: John Pulsford, Christ and His Seed, 117.]
When the American civil war was going on, a mother received the news that her boy had been wounded in the battle of the Wilderness. She took the first train, and started for her boy; although an order had gone forth from the War Department that no more women should be admitted within the lines. But a mother’s love knows nothing about orders; so she managed by tears and entreaties to get through the lines to the Wilderness. At last she found the hospital where her boy was. Then she went to the doctor and she said: “Will you let me go to the ward and nurse my boy?”
The doctor said: “I have just got your boy to sleep: he is in a very critical state; and I am afraid if you wake him up the excitement will be so great that it will carry him off. You had better wait awhile, and remain without until I tell him that you have come, and break the news gradually to him.” The mother looked into the doctor’s face and said: “Doctor, supposing my boy does not wake up, and I should never see him alive! Let me go and sit down by his side: I won’t speak to him.” “If you will not speak to him you may do so.”
She crept to the cot and looked into the face of her boy. How she had longed to look at him. How her eyes seemed to be feasting as she gazed upon his countenance! When she got near enough she could not keep her hand off; she laid that tender, loving hand upon his brow. The moment the hand touched the forehead of her boy, he, without opening his eyes, cried out: “Mother, you have come!” He knew the touch of that loving hand. There was love and sympathy in it.2 [Note: D. L. Moody, The Way to God, 19.]
With All the Saints
1. The definition of a saint here implied is that it is one who has apprehended something, rather than one who has attained a great reputation for sanctity by asceticism or noble deeds; one whose mental conception, whose capacity for thought, has become so quickened and enlarged as to enable him to realize a great idea, which so possesses him that holiness follows naturally. And St. Paul’s prayer for his converts is that they too may in a measure possess this widened apprehension, which will link them to all saints.
2. Of what advantage is it to apprehend the extent of Christ’s love with all the saints? There are several advantages.
(1) It encourages sanctity in us.—For our knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ depends largely on our sanctity. If we are pure we shall know. If we were wholly devoted to Him we should wholly know His love to us, and in the measure in which we are pure and holy we shall know it. This heart of ours is like a reflecting telescope, the least breath upon the mirror of which will cause all the starry sublimities that it should shadow forth to fade and become dim. The slightest moisture in the atmosphere, though it be quite imperceptible where we stand, will be dense enough to shut out the fair, shining, snowy summits that girdle the horizon and to leave nothing visible but the lowliness and commonplaces of the prosaic plain.
Those who desire to walk with Christ must try to wear the white robes of a purity that goes down to the depths of the heart, must seek to bring into captivity every thought to His obedience. How can this be done? We aim at a perfect mark, and always fail to reach it. But God will not allow us to be satisfied with anything lower than perfect holiness, so we continue our efforts in spite of failure. The Word of God is severe in its demands; but, though it is a sharp sword, that cuts down and lays bare the deepest motives hidden in the heart, it is with the “merciless severity of merciful love.”1 [Note: Dora Farncomb, The Vision of His Face, 21.]
Personal holiness is the first and foremost tribute which we owe to the Holy Spirit, for the Master’s use, and we are to offer Him no other service until this be paid. Pharnaces, says the Roman historian, sent to Cæsar the present of a diadem, while he was yet rebelling against his throne. Cæsar returned it with this sententious and admonitory message, “First of all yield obedience, and then make presents.” The truth of this message is addressed by the Holy Spirit to every Christian and to every church.2 [Note: T. W. Jenkyn.]
(2) It brings us the joy of fellowship.—In two ways does Christ give man his true place. He sets him alone beside God, as a son beside his Father, and shows him the indefeasible worth of his own soul, worth potential if not actual; for do not the angels of God sing for joy over even one sinner that repenteth? But He also sets him in a fellowship. For with cords of love He has been drawing after Him, throughout the long centuries, a great multitude which no man can number; and all who are drawn of Him should have fellowship one with another. As I am bound by the tenderest ties to the God who created me for His service, and the Saviour who redeemed me, so I am bound by bonds as strong as they are invisible to all who have ever loved the Lord and shared the redemption which He wrought. It is not good, it is not possible, for man to be alone. To be alone is to die. We are born for fellowship; and our religion satisfies this deep need of our nature by bringing us into a society, a kingdom, a church. We look into the friendly faces of those who worship with us, and we are strong.
In the highest utterances of each man’s faith, or in the best moments of his life, Stanley rejoiced to find the common ground of religious feeling or spiritual aspiration. He delighted to collect instances of such expressions from the most varied quarters. It was a Spanish Roman Catholic who said, “Many are the roads by which God carries His own to heaven.” It was the venerable patriarch of German Catholic theology, Dr. Döllinger, who said that theology must “transform her mission from a mission of polemics into a mission of irenics; which, if it be worthy of the name, must become a science, not, as heretofore, for making war, but for making peace, and thus bring about that reconciliation of Churches for which the whole civilized world is longing.”
In their loftiest moods of inspiration, the Catholic Thomas à Kempis, the Puritan Milton, the Anglican Keble, rose above their peculiar tenets, and “above the limits that divide denominations, into the higher regions of a common Christianity.” It was the Baptist Bunyan who taught the world that there was “a common ground of communion, which no difference of external rites could efface.” It was the Moravian Gambold who wrote:
That could surround the sum of things, and spy
The heart of God and secrets of His empire,
Would speak but love. With love the bright result
Would change the hue of intermediate things,
And make one thing of all theology.
It was “the Bloody Advocate, Mackenzie,” who, whatever his illiberality of action, rose to true liberality of thought when he said, “I am none of those who acknowledge no temples but in their own heads. To chalk out the bordering lines of the Church militant is beyond the geography of my religion.” It was Dr. Chalmers who, in the very heat of the great Disruption of the Scottish Church in 1843, asked the question, “Who cares about any Church, but as an instrument of Christian good?” It was the Scotch Episcopalian, Archbishop Leighton, who declared that “the mode of Church government is unconstrained; but peace and concord, kindness and good-will, are indispensable.” It was the founder of Irish Presbyterianism (Edward Bryce) who insisted most on “the life of Christ in the heart, and the light of His Word and Spirit on the mind.” It was Zwinglius who loved to dwell on “the meeting in the presence of God of every blessed spirit, every holy character, every faithful soul that has existed from the beginning of the world even to the consummation thereof.” It was the “main, fundamental, overpowering principle” of Wesley’s life, not to promote particular doctrines, but to “elevate the whole Christian world in the great principles of Christian holiness and morality.” It was the solemn proclamation of a message of “unity and comprehension”—“in necessary things unity, in doubtful things liberty, in all things charity”—which Richard Baxter carried to “a stormy and divided age,” that gave the great Non-conformist leader his pre-eminence.
This was the spirit in which Stanley delighted to see men rise above the spirit of parties.1 [Note: R. E. Prothero, The Life of Dean Stanley, ii. 242.]
(3) It secures completeness of apprehension.—St. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is that they may apprehend the whole extent of the love of Christ. Individually they might see one or more aspects of that love: what they needed, what he wanted, was to see Christ as all the saints saw Him. He wanted to see with this saint the righteousness of Christ, with that saint His mercy. He wanted to see with this other saint the crucified Christ, with that other the glorified Christ. Here was a saint who saw Christ as the reformer of social things—Paul wanted to know that Christ; here was another who saw Him as the King of Glory and the Lord of heaven—Paul wished to see Christ as this. His desire for these Ephesians was that they should not have a partial Christ, but the whole Christ, What Paul seems to say is that no individual saint has apprehended the whole Christ. No single individual has been large enough to apprehend Him: else were that saint greater than Christ. No; to know what Christ is we must seek to apprehend what all the saints have known. This saint has seen this in Him, that saint has seen another aspect. To apprehend Him we must strive to know what all the saints know.
The richest individual life is poor in comparison with the manifold experience of “all the saints.” Of the Churches which call themselves catholic, what can compare in catholicity with that which includes all the saints, and places at the disposal of every struggling soul, for its guidance and inspiration, all the wise thoughts with which they have ever been visited, all the heroic endurance, even unto death, with which they have sealed their testimony, all their love, hope, faith, joy, triumph, all their vision of eternal things unseen?1 [Note: J. E. McFadyen, The Divine Pursuit, 123.]
One mighty intellect of Newton may sketch the plan of the solar system; one Laplace may demonstrate its permanent equilibrium; one Herschel map out the nebulæ of the southern sky; one Dalton unfold the laws of atomic combination; one Darwin assign the clue to the partial unfolding of the mystery of successive lives in nature. But no single soul is capable of comprehending the love of Christ, for the vision and experience of each is limited, and in morals we are members one of another. God has gifts which He bestows on the solitary students of Divine truth, and gifts which He bestows on His solitary petitioners in the closet or under the fig-tree. But, in general, the law of understanding the love of Christ is united study, united work, united conference, united prayer.2 [Note: Edward White.]
In considering Christ, His character and work, men in various ways grasp special aspects of it. They are fascinated by Him in various fashions; and when they see Christ, they often see Him in one particular way. We cannot discuss fully these various ways; all we can do is just to notify a few of them; you can add to their number. One man looks at Jesus Christ and what he especially sees is His tenderness, the sympathy He extends to sinners; his neighbour looks at Christ and what he especially sees is His righteousness; but another looks at Jesus Christ and he sees Him as a social reformer; thousands to-day see Christ especially as the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. Christians meet at the Cross; it is the centre of the Church. Christ dying for men that they might be free from the thraldom of sin and be reconciled to God fascinates them. Then there are others who, while seeing the Cross and glorying in it, pass beyond Golgotha and Olivet to the throne of God, and see Christ as the reigning Lord of heaven and earth under the Father, who has subjected all things to Him, and they see Him especially as the King who shall come again to rule the earth. They say: “You must not look alone upon Calvary. The Christ who hung there has ascended on high and will come again; you must see the coming as well as the dying Christ.” The future to them explains the past; and they are wondrously drawn by the vision of the returning Christ. So do men in various ways fix and fasten their attention on various aspects of Jesus Christ, of what He was and is; and to the superficial they may seem to contradict and deny each other. The one may seem to believe in a different Christ from the Christ the other believes in; but, nevertheless, it is one Christ in whom they believe.1 [Note: J. A. Davies, Seven Words of Love, 141.]
The Breadth and Length and Height and Depth
1. “The breadth and length and height and depth”—of what? Paul does not say; but the words that follow make it practically certain that what he is thinking of is the Divine personality, the Divine character, the Divine love. His thought seems to run parallel with that in the Fourth Gospel: “This is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).
2. The Apostle, then, in his prayer not only seeks that the spiritual building may be strong, divinely possessed and firmly grounded; but in his enlarged vision of what the believer may have, he teaches us to pray for an all-comprehending and experimental knowledge of the love of Christ, that ye “may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” The temple is made strong by the almighty power of the Spirit; Christ dwells in it; the foundation is settled and sure, and now he proceeds to its geometrical proportions of breadth and length, height and depth.
3. It has been said that Paul’s thought was something like this. From that old captivity of his in Rome, his mind went away, carried him to the Ægean Sea, whose blue waters lay in beauty about the yellow sands of the Ephesian shore; and, looking in thought upon the land, he seemed to see a mighty castle, a splendid fortress. It stood out above the landscape as if with conscious pride, as if it knew it was the master of the coast and country. There it was, beautiful, strong, capacious, majestic. But would all men look at it alike? Paul thought that every one looking upon it would not give the same judgment about it; not that they would disagree about any part of it, but each would be so struck by one part of it as almost to neglect the rest.
Let us imagine ourselves on board of a ship on that Ægean Sea; then, as we mix with those on board, let us go to some of them and ask them: “What do you see in that castle? What is your vision of it?” It is true that it is one castle, but, yet, what do men see in it? We go to one and we look at his mind, and we ask: “What do you see in that castle?” And he in reply says: “What magnificent breadth it has! Just look what a grand space of soil it covers! I cannot loose my mind from thinking how vast it is.” We go to another and he says: “See the length of it! Look at the front it presents to this sea! What magnificent shelter and defence against inroad from the sea!” And we go to another and he says: “See the height of its walls! Who can scale those? The houses of yonder city, compared with it, are as pigmies beside a giant!” And if you go to another, he sees the unseen. He feels the majesty of the height, but if those walls are high, they must also be deep, he thinks. Ere that castle could stand, he knows there must be firm foundations; the walls must be going down deep. It is the mystery of their depth that he is thinking of.1 [Note: J. A. Davies, Seven Words of Love, 138.]
How many men and women have sung about this temple, and have revelled in its strength and glory. Let us listen to one or two:—
O love how deep, how broad, how high!
It fills the heart with ecstasy
That Christ, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form, for mortals’ sake.
And here is another singer:—
Jesus, Thy love unbounded,
So full, so sweet, so free,
Leaves all our thoughts confounded
Whene’er we think of Thee.
And here is a word of Samuel Rutherford which he wrote to Matthew Mowat when Mowat was in great distress: “I would not wish a better stock, while salvation be my stock, than to live upon credit at Christ’s hands, daily borrowing. Surely running-over love—that vast, huge, boundless love of Christ which will try the skill of men and angels to tell—is the only thing I most fain would be in hands with. He knoweth that I have little of love beyond that love; and that I shall be happy, suppose I never get another heaven but only an eternal lasting feast on that love. Christ, all the seasons of the year, is dropping sweetness. If I had vessels I might fill them; but my old, riven and running-out dish, even when I am at the well, can bring little away.… How little of the sea can a child carry in his hand! As little do I take away of my great sea, my boundless and running-over Christ Jesus.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, Jan. 28, 1909.]
(1) The Breadth.—Think of the love of Christ in its breadth. It is broad as the necessities of the world and as the expanse of the nations of the earth. It embraces all men—both Jews and Gentiles, the inhabitants of the Old World and those of the New, and men of all ages and generations. The Lord Jesus Christ, “by the grace of God, tasted death for every man,” and His gospel is to be preached to “every creature.” The great salvation is free as the air or the sunlight. Jesus unfolded the breadth and comprehensiveness of His love when He told His townsmen in His first sermon at Nazareth what He had come into the world to do. He came to pity and help the poor, and they are the world’s sad majority in every age; He came to succour the broken-hearted, the captives, the blind, the bruised, and such-like. And does not every Gospel invitation bear upon the face of it the evidence of the boundless breadth of Jesus’ love? “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” “Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
The conception of Christ by the Church is larger than that of any specific Church. He is in each, but is fuller and finer than any one of them represents Him to be. It is the Church universal which bodies forth the Christ, which reincarnates Him. Churches have their “family-likeness.” We mean by family-likeness, that each face in a family has much in common with the others, yet its own individual character. Galton made interesting experiments with the portraits of the members of a family who had family-likeness, and found that when the portraits were cast one upon the other, so as to get a kind of “composite photograph,” the result was not a blur and a blotch, but a new face, which was like each, but different from all. Churches have their family-likeness; put them all together and you get a new face, the face of Christ, which is like each, yet finer and grander than any one of them shows Him to be. I must know what all the saints see Him to be ere I know Him.1 [Note: J. A. Davies, Seven Words of Love, 144.]
So long as I have a good conscience towards God, and have His sun to shine on me, and can hear the birds singing, I can walk across the earth with a joyful and free heart. Let them call me “broad.” I desire to be broad as the charity of Almighty God, who maketh His sun to shine on the evil and the good; who hateth no man, and who loveth the poorest Hindoo more than all their committees or all their Churches. But while I long for that breadth of charity, I desire to be narrow—narrow as God’s righteousness, which as a sharp sword can separate between eternal right and eternal wrong.2 [Note: Norman MacLeod, D.D., ii. 373.]
At Pretoria the town council has passed regulations forbidding the natives riding with white people on the trams; they must confine themselves to the occasional car which runs for coloured people only. They must not walk in the general park, or buy stamps in the general hall of the post office, or walk on the side pavements of the streets. So, you see, ordinary love has very severe limitations, and is apt to be very exclusive. Racial barriers impede it. Social barriers can check its flow. Ecclesiastical barriers can imprison it. But not so with the love of the Lord. It is not a little barricaded pool, but is like a tide, rolling in and obliterating the petty bulwarks of isolation built along the shore.3 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, Jan. 28, 1909.]
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.…
For the love of God is broader
Than the measures of man’s mind;
And the Heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.1 [Note: F. W. Faber.]
(2) The Length.—To what length will the love of Christ go? There is many a runner who is good for a hundred yards, but who fails at the mile. There is many a soldier who is good at a battle, but who fails at the campaign. There is many an oarsman who is fine at a spurt, but faints at the long spin. “Ye did run well; what did hinder you?” They failed at the length. To what length can we go in our loving? When we begin to help a man, how far can we go with him? If we take up a bit of hard social service what is our staying power? It is well to ask questions like these before we turn to the Lord. For here is the way in which “the length” is described in the Word of God: “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” “Having begun a good work in you, he will perfect it.” Whenever the love of the Lord Jesus begins a ministry He never lays it down until He can say “It is finished.”
“Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?—I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.”—So said the Christ, multiplying perfection into itself twice—two sevens and a ten—in order to express the idea of boundlessness. And the law that He laid down for His servant is the law that binds Himself. What is the length of the love of Christ? Here is one measure of it,—howsoever long drawn out my sin may be, this is longer; and the white line of His love runs out into infinity, far beyond the point where the black line of my sin stops.2 [Note: A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, 45.]
The strength of affection is a proof not of the worthiness of the object, but of the largeness of the soul which loves. Love descends, not ascends. The might of a river depends not on the quality of the soil through which it passes, but on the inexhaustibleness and depth of the spring from which it proceeds. The greater mind cleaves to the smaller with more force than the other to it. A parent loves the child more than the child loves the parent; and partly because the parent’s heart is larger, not because the child is worthier. The Saviour loved His disciples infinitely more than His disciples loved Him, because His heart was infinitely larger.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]
(3) The Height.—What is the height of His love? For love can have very small ambitions. A mother’s love for her boy may soar no higher than wealth, or power, or distinction. And her love for her girl may be nothing but a desire that she be graceful, beautiful, admired, and that she may marry well and get a comfortable home. Love’s aim always determines its height. You remember that word of Macaulay’s mother: “I must have the wisdom of my child acknowledged by the angels before an assembled world.” There is height. But turn to the height of the Lord’s love: “I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” It was the goal of His love that we should share His glory, and become “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” It is the supreme quest of His love that we should sit with Him “in heavenly places,” and partake with Him in all the fullness of grace.
What we here can know or conceive of the heights of God may be to us like an infinite mountain-peak, eternally ascending above the highest-winged flight of created holiness and power—so that angel and archangel to Him are but like eagle or bright-winged insect which behold the snowy heights, still fixedly soaring, where their pinions and their very atmosphere fail. And yet if such a parable must be dwarfed into nothingness when once our parted spirits have caught one glimpse of God as He is; then, again, St. Paul may well pray that even here we may be able to grasp something for ourselves of what that height of God is, lest we should never exclaim—“He is beyond my utmost conception; and so I ever can know Him, never can love what is so separate from me. He is to me unknowable, unthinkable. He is to me as if He were not.” Lest height should thus separate our souls from Him, He makes us know that His high Eternity is summed up, and shortly rendered in His love; and that love, though it be only ours, has a right to know love, though it be God’s; a right to appropriate it, a right to dwell in Him, and in Him to advance for ever.1 [Note: E. W. Benson, Living Theology, 7.]
(4) The Depth.—The love of Christ is profound as the uttermost abyss of human sin and wretchedness. We begin to see “the depth of the riches” of it when we reflect on the marvel that the Lord should have loved us at all. His love was not caused by anything in us, otherwise He could never have loved us. The natural condition of His people is unlovely and even loathsome in His sight. We recognize this when we look unto the rock whence we are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence we are digged. But that vast, measureless love of His has gone away down far deeper than the lowest depths of human sin, “and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Our love is so often only a narrow sentiment; we can so easily touch the bottom. It shines and shimmers like a white shore, but we can sail nothing in it. It is wanting in depth and therefore is lacking in deepness of ministry. Now turn to the Lord:
O love of God how deep and great,
Far deeper than man’s deepest hate.
Let us lay hold of that most tremendous line. Let us grip it, or, better still, let it grip us. Take our own deepest hate, or the hate of any fiercely hating man whom we have known—deep, black, secretive and malignant as hell! And God’s love is deeper than that! “He descended into hell.” Yes, and He is still doing it! Some of us would never have been found unless He had found us there. We sometimes say of a man who has lost his heritage, and who would fain fill himself with the husks that the swine do eat, “He’s got very low!” Yes, but the love of the Lord can go lower and deeper still. The vilest wretch who crawls the earth to-day may have the everlasting arms beneath him.
He came from on high to suffer and die,
To save a poor sinner like me.2 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, Jan. 28, 1909.]
The puzzle which baffles faith is, How can Christ understand and sympathize with man when He has never sinned? The monumental pile of righteousness that pillars the church and maintains social respectability may tell me what I ought to be. He may quote all the maxims and mottoes of virtue, and repeat the commandments and denounce the “exceeding sinfulness of sin,” and thank God that he is “not as other men are,” but what does he know about my conflict? His ravings about virtue do not help me; they depress and discourage and enrage me.
’Tis the weakness in strength that I cry for! My flesh, that
In the Godhead!
I seek a Saviour who knows my road, not from His study of geography, but because He has travelled it. How can Christ do this when He has never sinned? He does it by the power of love. This is the miracle love works. It enables us to enter fully into all the struggles and aspirations of those we love. It so thoroughly puts our life into accord with another’s that we are not only able to sympathize with what he suffers and enjoys, but we find it impossible not to do so. Love cannot escape this vicarious participation.1 [Note: J. I. Vance, Tendency, 71.]
To Know the Love of Christ
1. The true man desires to know, to understand, to apprehend. He is one who feels that the world is full of an attraction to his mind, to which he must yield, or forfeit his name of man. And there is nowhere a sweeter, more charming picture than that of a man who is a humble, eager student, filled with high thoughts and earnest ambitions; a man who can live “laborious days” and despise the common pleasures of the crowd; he is one who has kinship with the skies, and lives on the high places of the world.
Browning, in one of his poems, “A Grammarian’s Funeral,” gives us a wonderful picture of a man eager and heroic in his quest after knowledge, and determined to strive to the last hour of his earthly life. They are now going to bury him—where? The appropriate country for such a man is not the “unlettered plain,” but “a tall mountain, citied to the top, crowded with culture!” He belonged to the morning: his body must rest near the stars. And as the funeral cortege winds up the heights, we are given the picture of the man and his majestic quest. Men did not know him for a long time: “long he lived nameless.” We leave work for play, but he was a man who “left play for work, and grappled with the world, bent on escaping,” and when he was pitied, he “stepped on with pride over men’s pity.” Many of us begin a book, but do not read it from cover to cover; but when this man got the scroll of a bard or sage, he “straight got by heart that book to its last page.” But some one would be ready to say: “Why trouble thus over books? Why burden the soul? This is the time to taste life! Up with the curtain!” “No,” he would say; “even though I have read the crabbed text, still there is the comment. Most or least, painful or easy, these are not to be thought of by me. I must know all that books can give me.” But men said: “Time passes! Live now or never!” And yet this was his grand intent—
That before living he’d learn how to live—
No end to learning;
Earn the means first—God surely will contrive
Use for our earning.
But is not life passing? Is it not very brief? No, “Man has Forever.” And so he laboured lovingly on, his mind dragging the body after it, and in that dragging the body suffered. He was fierce as a dragon for knowledge, and believed great undertakings have slow profits. Life is too brief to see them. As the poet says:—
That low man seeks a little thing to do,
Sees it and does it;
This high man, with a great thing to pursue,
Dies ere he knows it.
And this man struggled on, was struggling at the last. When the rattle was in his throat,—
So, with the throttling hands of death at strife,
Ground he at grammar;
Still, thro’ the rattle, parts of speech were rife:
While he could stammer.
He was struggling with the unsolved problems of grammar, even though, as Browning vividly tells us, he was
Dead from the waist down.
What a zeal for knowledge had that man! What an unquenchable thirst! What an imperious hunger for knowledge! Where ought such a man to be buried? Why, on the top of the mountain; the top peak! And so Browning sings, “Here”—on the mountain top—
Here’s his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form,
Lightnings are loosened,
Stars come and go! Let joy break with the storm,
Peace let the dew send!
Lofty designs must close in like effects:
Leave him—still loftier than the world suspects,
Living and dying.1 [Note: J. A. Davies, Seven Words of Love, 134.]
2. Paul was a man who wanted to know—to know the highest things. His soul was athirst for the highest, purest knowledge, even the knowledge of Christ and His love. And, like the true scholar, he wanted others to know and to know from others. He made it his business in life, next to knowing for himself, to make others know, to be their teacher,
Some years ago—it is a good many years now—there was a lady, with a little girl of some three summers, travelling by coach in England from one town to another, and a young man got into the coach who was exceedingly clever; in fact, he thought himself so clever that he might dispense with all belief in the Bible and in God; and young as he was, he was the head of an infidel club in a certain city, whither he was then going to preside over their annual dinner that night. As the coach rolled on, the little girl became talkative, and soon she climbed up on the young man’s knee, when to amuse her he showed her his penknife, and she liked that, and became quite at home. A few minutes before the coach stopped, she looked up in his face, and in a loud, clear voice she said to him, so that every one in the coach heard it, “Does ’oo love God? Does ‘oo?” She was only three years old, remember. “Does ’oo love God?”2 [Note: G. C. Grubb, The Light of His Countenance, 32.]
3. What is this love of Christ?
(1) It is a forgiving love.—St. Paul in all his Epistles evinces extreme sensitiveness with regard to sin, and his own personal sin. He had felt its galling bondage, its crushing burden, its withering curse. He had been “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious.” He had felt himself to be “carnal, sold under sin.” He calls himself the “chief” of sinners. But now for a long time Christ had been revealed to him as his personal Saviour. His faith rested upon the “obedience unto death” of the Son of God in his stead. His conscience reposed on the righteousness of Christ, and his heart was drawn by the magnet of Christ’s love. St. Paul’s attachment to Christ was enthusiasm for a personal Redeemer. It was a sense of redemption that made the Apostle what he now was. He never forgot that he was a poor sinner saved by Divine grace, and the thought bound his heart to his Saviour. He felt that it was a wonderful love that had redeemed him, and all the currents of his soul kept flowing with tremendous energy towards his Redeemer.
I am reminded of the incident of a boy who had been tried by court-martial and ordered to be shot. The hearts of the father and mother were broken when they heard the news. In that home was a little girl. She had read the life of Abraham Lincoln, and she said: “Now, if Abraham Lincoln knew how my father and mother loved their boy, he would not let my brother be shot.” She wanted her father to go to Washington to plead for his boy. But the father said: “No; there is no use; the law must take its course. They have refused to pardon one or two who have been sentenced by that court-martial, and an order has gone forth that the President is not going to interfere again; if a man has been sentenced by court-martial he must suffer the consequences.” That father and mother had not faith to believe that their boy might be pardoned.
But the little girl was strong in hope; she got on the train away up in Vermont, and started off to Washington. When she reached the White House the soldiers refused to let her in; but she told her pitiful story, and they allowed her to pass. When she got to the Secretary’s room, where the President’s private secretary was, he refused to allow her to enter the room where the President was. But the little girl told her story, and it touched the heart of the private secretary; so he passed her in. As she went into Abraham Lincoln’s room, there were United States senators, generals, governors, and leading politicians, who were there upon important business about the war; but the President happened to see that child standing at the door. He wanted to know what she wanted, and she went right to him and told her story in her own language. He was a father, and the great tears trickled down Abraham Lincoln’s cheeks. He wrote a dispatch and sent it to the army to have that boy sent to Washington at once. When he arrived, the President pardoned him, gave him thirty days’ furlough, and sent him home with the little girl to cheer the hearts of the father and mother.1 [Note: D. L. Moody, The Way to God, 20.]
(2) It is a transforming love.—It is a love that makes all things new, for St. Paul says, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God.” God wants to transform us. Transformation gives a man a new character, a new life, a new nature, and the Gospel is a gospel of transformation, not a gospel of reformation.
At one of the missions last December there was a young man with whom the Spirit of God had been striving. Three times in one day he came up to the rectory drunk, and then we had prayer with him, and he gave himself to the Lord Jesus Christ. The next day he came up to the house in order to get a Bible, and one of the ladies who had seen him the day before came up to me and said, “Mr. Grubb, are you quite sure that that is the same man who was here yesterday?” And I said, “Yes, the same man, only he is a new creature in Christ Jesus to-day.”2 [Note: G. C. Grubb, The Light of His Countenance, 27.]
(3) It is a restoring love.—The most sorrowful condition of soul in the world is that of a backslider, for a backslider can be satisfied with nothing; he cannot be satisfied with the world; he cannot be satisfied with sin; and he is not satisfied with Jesus. He knows what Christ was once to him; he knows that at one time in his life he used to love to pray; he knows that at one time in his life the society of Jesus was a reality to him; he knows that at one time in his life the Word of God used to speak to his heart; but all that has passed; Christ is a misty shadow to him now, if, indeed, there be such a person at all. Yet God is near, watching all the while over His wayward one, yearning for his return and using means to bring him back.
Love for all! and can it be?
Can I hope it is for me?
I, who strayed so long ago,
Strayed so far, and fell so low?
I, the disobedient child,
Wayward, passionate, and wild;
I, who left my Father’s home
In forbidden ways to roam!
I, who spurned His loving hold;
I, who would not be controlled;
I, who would not hear His call;
I, the wilful prodigal.
To my Father can I go?—
At His feet myself I’ll throw:
In His house there yet may be
Place, a servant’s place, for me.
See, my Father waiting stands;
See, He reaches out His hands:
God is love! I know, I see,
There is love for me,—even me1 [Note: Samuel Longfellow,]
A Love that Passes Knowledge
1. What is it that so raises the Apostle’s soul and gives him a tongue of fire? It is nothing that is beyond the feelings and sympathy of man. It is no mystery which only a few can penetrate, and which is not for the many. It is the “love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” We can understand what love means. All can understand being touched and melted by love. True, he calls the “love of Christ” a love that passeth knowledge—a love so great and astonishing that no thought of man can embrace it in its fullness, or sound it in its depths. But though its unsearchableness adds to its wonder, it does not prevent us from understanding that it is love, love shown to us and felt for us in a way that it was never shown or felt before. This is what St. Paul is talking of, this is what sets his soul on fire.
And we have the same knowledge that he had of that “love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” We have before us continually, in one form after another, that picture of Christ loving man which moved St. Paul so deeply. We have that history of love ever open before us, to which nothing done by man for man can compare. There have been men like ourselves, who have lived—as far as man can live—only for their fellow-men; who have spent their lives in ministering to their good; who have taught them, and fed them, and healed them, and comforted them; who have spent this world’s riches in providing, not for their own pleasure, but for the welfare of numbers who would never know or thank them; men who have left home and kindred to toil in the hardest and weariest way among the lost and the unthankful. And there have been women who have left ease and comfort, and all the tenderness in which they were nurtured, to attend on the sick, to minister to the forsaken and friendless sinner, to spend days of labour and sleepless nights in hospitals. We know what love means in these. But there was One, greater than they, who did more than any of them; who fed the hungry, and healed the sick, and taught the ignorant, and called back the wanderers, and was gentle and merciful to the sinners and the forsaken, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister; whose whole life was one endless display of love without stint, love careless of self, love doing its heavenly work without thanks, without return, without comfort. We hear sometimes of men, in their generous love to others, giving up what was their own, contenting themselves with a lower place, throwing up advantages, and coming down from a worldly position, in order to do more good to their fellows. But who among men came down as Christ did? Who among men gave up what He did, that He might cast in His lot with us? Who among men has that to throw away, for the good of his fellows, which Christ surrendered, when the Lord of the worlds became for us a little child, born in the lowest rank of life, born to poverty and neglect, without even where to lay His head?
I could tell you, says one who himself was a great kinsman of the Lord, of friends who have been fifty years in Christ, and though they hold a constant jubilee in the sense of His love, yet they will tell you that they are only scholars in the lowest form, beginning to spell out the alphabet of the grace of our Lord Jesus. After fifty years in Christ, only just beginning to know, only just matriculated in the Academy of Love!1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, Jan. 28, 1909.]
2. Why does the love of Christ surpass knowledge?
(1) Because our experience of it is incomplete.—We are like the settlers on some great island continent—as, for instance, on the Australian continent for many years after its first discovery—a thin fringe of population round the seaboard here and there, and all the bosom of the land untraversed and unknown. So after all experiences of and all blessed participation in the love of Jesus Christ which come to each of us by our faith, we have but skimmed the surface, but touched the edges, but received a drop of what, if it should come upon us in fullness of flood like a Niagara of love, would overwhelm our spirits.
When St. Paul prays for the Ephesians that they may be able “to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge,” he means, not that he desires they should ever come to think that they have explored all “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” or are able to pronounce with confidence on all the reasons and modes of God’s dealings with men; but that they should, through the indwelling spirit of Christ’s own love in them, be led on to a deeper and ever deeper sense of the love with which He has loved them, to a firmer conviction that that love lies at the root of all their disciplines in life no less than of all their blessings, to a more perfect faith in it as the constant feeling, with which God’s heart is moved towards them.
They only miss
The winning of that final bliss,
Who will not count it true that love,
Blessing, not cursing, rules above,
And that in it we live and move.1 [Note: R. H. Story, Creed and Conduct, 152.]
Columbus discovered America; but what did he know about its great lakes, rivers, forests, and the Mississippi valley? He died without knowing much about what he had discovered. So, many of us have discovered something of the love of God; but there are heights, depths, and lengths of it we do not know. That Love is a great ocean; and we require to plunge into it before we really know anything of it.2 [Note: D. L. Moody, The Way to God, 9.]
(2) Because after all experience it will still be beyond our range.—It is possible for people to have, and in fact we do possess, a real, a valid, a reliable knowledge of that which is infinite, although we possess, as a matter of course, no adequate and complete knowledge of it. But we have before us in Christ’s love something which, though the understanding is not by itself able to grasp it, yet the understanding led by the heart can lay hold of, and can find in it infinite treasures. We can lay our poor hands on His love as a child might lay its tiny palm upon the base of some great cliff, and hold that love in a real grasp of a real knowledge and certitude, but we cannot put our hands round it and feel that we comprehend as well as apprehend.
The love of God is the glory of love, the most orient pearl in the crown of it. It is not mercenary, nor self-ended, nor deserved; but as a spring or fountain it freely vents or pours out itself upon its own account. And what ingenuous, truly noble, heavenly-descended heart can hold out against the power of this love? Its constancy and unchangeableness is a star of eminent magnitude in the heaven of love. It is not a fading, a wavering, an altering thing, but abides for ever. It may be eclipsed and obscured, as to its beams and influence, for a season; but changed, turned away, it cannot be. And this consideration of it renders it to the souls of the saints inestimably precious. The very thought of it is marrow to their bones and health to their souls, and makes them cry out to all that is within them to love the Lord and to live unto Him.1 [Note: John Owen, The Perseverance of the Saints.]
It passeth knowledge, that dear love of Thine,
My Saviour, Jesus: yet this soul of mine
Would of Thy love, in all its breadth and length,
Its height and depth, its everlasting strength,
Know more and more.2 [Note: Mary Shekleton.]
The Love of Christ
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British Congregationalist, Jan. 28, 1899 (Jowett).
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Churchman’s Pulpit: Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, xii. 226 (Huntington), 229 (Lloyd), 231 (Dix), 237 (Williams), 238 (Silvester).
Literary Churchman, xiv. 394.