Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.In Christ
The words 'In Christ' have been very happily termed 'Paul's Monogram'. They were first used in the text as a definite description of the child of God, and it is interesting to see how Paul gradually worked up to it. He used different prepositions concerning the Lord Jesus in the Epistle to the Romans until he wrote the wonderful word 'in'. The two words 'In Christ' gave Paul a view which never passed away, and he began only to think of himself and of others, the loved ones round about him, as 'in Christ'. Being 'in Christ' guarantees four things:—
I. 'In Christ' guarantees no judgment. 'The difference between a believer and an unbeliever,' writes Rev. Marcus Rainsford, 'is this: the unbeliever has his judgment day in front of him, the believer has his judgment day behind him.'
II. 'In Christ' guarantees no separation.
III. 'In Christ' guarantees life.
IV. 'In Christ' guarantees glory. 'And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them.'
—A. G. Brown, The Baptist, vol. lxxi. p. 538.
'There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.'—Romans viii. i.
James Smetham, in his Letters (p. 208), speaks of having read a sermon by Archbishop Manning. 'With this school of theologians there is no doubt a strong sense of the evil of sin. But it is like the sense of sin which the lost have in its fulness; Merlin with his hand on his aching heart, pacing for ever in enchanted forests, crushed, and haunted, and vexed for ever by dim unappeasable foreshadowings of doom—whispers of the inexpiable, the irretrievable, the gone, the lost....
'This is the mere enchanter's gospel. Oh, how different from the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour. I have had enough of the presentment of sin, enough of the miserable wandering in the mazes of the dark woods of moral metaphysics, enough of the terrible unrolling of the scrolls of doom. Analyse your sins? No, nail them to the cross. Weep tears of blood, sweat drops of oozing agony in secret chambers, in lonely walks? Oh no—
Jesus my salvation is;
Hence my doubts, away my fears;
Jesus is become my peace.'
References.—VIII. l.—W. J. H. Price, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 129. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1917. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 64. VIII. 1, 2.—W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p. 233. VIII. 1-11.—Bishop Gore, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 271.
The Laws of the Inner Life
Let us glance at these contending forces that ever meet in the shock of battle upon the sacred battleground of the Christian life.
I. The Law of Sin and of Death.—The Apostle means to point out by this term the existence of an active principle of evil in the life; a principle of sin and therefore, of death; for sin is death in the germ, and death is sin in the fruit Paul recognises among the principles that make up the sum-total of human life a sinister force from the world of darkness everywhere present, whose tendency it is to counteract, thwart, and reverse all the upward movement of the world. This is the law of sin and death, and there is none other. Yes, we must admit it The Apostle is guilty of asserting that antiquated conception of 'natural depravity' which has now fallen into so much discredit The grave bearing of the doctrine of 'depravity' lies in this, that, until Christ comes into the life, the 'law of sin and death' is absolute monarch of the life, and holds its citadel as well as its throne; and, unless a 'stronger than he' depose him, the depravity must at last become 'total,' and the whole life be flung into that region where even the light is darkness. This leads us to the consideration of the 'redeeming force' in the Christian life.
II. The Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus.—The most natural way of maintaining the parallel between this clause and the one we have just considered is to interpret the word 'spirit' as meaning, not the spirit of God, but the new spirit in man. The Apostle is taking us to the region of forces that pervade human life, that form part of that life, and that determine its destiny by their interactions and oppositions. The Apostle manifestly regarded this force of spiritual life as a directly supernatural gift The law of the spirit of life is the strongest of all forces, and must prevail.
—John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 135.
References.—VIII. 2.—J. Bunting, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 446. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life, p. 7.
Christ Condemning Sin
It is this last thought that I would bring before you—Christ condemning sin. I think it would be wisest on our part to take the word simply as it stands, and understand it as we would understand it if we read it in our daily newspapers tomorrow. Christ condemned sin. I suppose if you were to read in the newspapers that a judge condemned any man, there would be three thoughts which you might say entered into that one expression. (1) That that man who was condemned had done something noxious to the law of the land. (2) That he had done something harmful to the community at large. (3) That he was responsible for the thing which he did. Now these three thoughts you may apply to this our text God has been condemning sin and trying to show men that sin is not only noxious to His own law, but that sin is harmful in itself. And yet men cannot see that sin is such a bad thing, men cannot see the evil of sin. Therefore God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, and condemned sin in the flesh. How?
I. In the first place, by setting over against sin the perfect character of Jesus Christ You can sometimes never find out how crooked a line is until you put a straight line beside it, you sometimes cannot see how filthy that linen is until you stretch it out upon the clean white snow.
II. He condemned sin because by coming into this world He permitted sin to run to its very extremity. You begin to see at the cross of Christ what sin can do.
III. Jesus Christ condemned sin in the flesh by showing you that sin is unnecessary, that you need not sin. Man has sinned not so much because man is weak as because man has refused a power which will give him deliverance from the sin.
—E. A. Stuart, The One Mediator and other Sermons, vol. xi. p.185.
References.—VIII. 3.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 699, and vol. xvi. No. 932. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 33; ibid. vol. ix. p. 265; ibid. vol. x. pp. 36, 41; ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. pp. 167, 248; ibid. vol. vii. p. 43.
From the people of the law arises the gospel. The sense of duty, when awakened, awakens not only the religion of the law, but in the end the other religious intuitions which lie round about it The faith of Christendom has arisen not from a great people, but from 'the least of all people'—from the people whose anxious legalism was a noted contrast to the easy, impulsive life of pagan nations. In modern language, conscience is the converting intuition—that which turns men from the world without to the world within—from the things which are seen and the realities which are not seen. In a character like Shelley's, where this haunting, abiding, oppressive moral feeling is wanting or defective, the religious belief in an Almighty God which springs out of it is likely to be defective likewise.
References.—VIII. 3, 4.—W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p. 219. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvii. No. 2228. VIII. 4.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 181.
How prompt we are to satisfy the hunger and thirst of our bodies; how slow to satisfy the hunger and thirst of our souls! Indeed, we would-be practical folks cannot use this word without blushing, because of our infidelity, having starved this substance almost to a shadow. We feel it to be as absurd as if a man were to break forth into a eulogy on his dog, who hasn't any. An ordinary man will work every day for a year at shovelling dirt to support his body, or a family of bodies; but he is an extraordinary man who will work a whole day in a year for the support of his soul. But he alone is the truly enterprising and practical man who succeeds in maintaining his soul here. Have we not an everlasting life to get? and is not that the only excuse at last for eating, drinking, sleeping, or even carrying an umbrella when it rains?
References.—VIII. 5-9.—W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p. 249. VIII. 6.—Basil Wilberforce, Sanctification by the Truth, p. 119.
No deeper cleft divides human spirits than that which separates the faith possible to men, for whom evil means a mere negation, a mere shadow, a form of ignorance, from that which regards it as an actual existence, a real antagonism to good.... Almost all other antitheses which divide human spirits either involve or spring from this contrast.
References.—VIII. 7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 20, and vol. xxxii. No. 1878. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 121.
The Religion of Spirit
Amid many definitions of a Christian here is St. Paul's definition. The Spirit of Christ is the one essential, the sanctuary and substance of our religion. We may differ in our historical and critical theories; but here we all worship. We all recognise the Spirit of Christ as the Holy and Divine Spirit 'The Spirit of Christ.' It escapes the limits of our formulas, but we all know what it is. Can there be a doubt as to the Spirit of Christ set forth in His teaching? And clear as His teaching is, that Spirit of Christ is yet more eminent in His life.
I. The Spirit of Christ The one essential thing. We all know it, we all honour it as supreme, we all pray for it Then if the Spirit of Christ is all, the one essential thing, what right have we to speak or act as though we knew certain other essential things? What right have we to limit it and define His discipleship by any intellectual or ecclesiastical demands soever? None of us can imagine our Lord rejecting a man as His disciple because of an imperfect estimate of Himself. He bade His disciples count as friends all who were working in His spirit 'Forbid him not.' Are we to draw lines that the Master never drew? There must be differences in our ways of apprehending the facts of life and the truth of God. Let each bear his own testimony, let each hold the truth in the way that helps him to be a true man, let each love the truth that makes his heart burn within him. The Church of Christ is large enough to hold us all at our full stature. Only this I pray you remember, that however proud you may be of your orthodoxy or your heterodoxy, you are not saved by your changing beliefs, but by the unchanging love of God; not by your feeble hold of Him, but by His almighty grasp of you.
II. Our relationship to Christ is shown, not by our claims of intimate discipleship, not by reiterated 'Lord, Lords,' but by the tone and temper of our lives. What makes us Christian is the Spirit of Christ in us. Our discipleship is shown by the fruits of the Spirit of Christ, 'love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control.'
—B. J. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. p. 280.
References.—VIII. 9.—Bishop Bickersteth, Sermons, p. 93. G. Campbell Morgan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 377. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1133. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 93. VIII. 9-11.—Ibid. vol. iv. p. 432. VIII. 10.—T. Arnold, Christian Life: Its Hopes, p. 131. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 41; ibid. vol. viii. p. 433. VIII. 10, 11.—Ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 437. VIII. 10-23.—W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p. 261. VIII. 11.—E. Bayley, Sermons on the Work and Person of the Holy Spirit, p. 87. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, A Mission of the Spirit, p. 217. J. B. Brown, The Divine Life in Man, p. 214. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. pp. 110, 280; ibid. vol. ix. p. 90; ibid. vol. x. p. 105. VIII. 11-26.—Ibid. (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 350. VIII. 12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii. No. 96. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 128. Archbishop Magee, The Gospel and the Age, p. 115. H. W. Webb-Peploe, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 800. VIII. 12, 13.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 189. VIII. 12-17.—Bishop Gore, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 288. VIII. 13.—H. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 117. W. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches (2nd Series), p. 82. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. pp. 203-205; ibid. (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 191.
I. The Holy Ghost is the Fount and Spring, as He is also the Teacher, of Truth; He it is Who enables us to see the end of our being; to hear of a 'shedding of blood 'that can take away sin; of a 'House not made with hands, eternal in the heavens'; of a God Who is 'very pitiful, and of tender mercy'; and of things passing our power to conceive, 'which He has prepared for them that love Him'. It is He Who first taught Christians those truths and that language which many who are not Christians, save in name, venture to use If He had never been sent by Christ from the Father, no living man would have 'known the mind of the Lord,' or be able to speak of things which are freely given us of God. This, then, is the Christian's privilege—the advantage of the spiritual over the natural man—to feel that God is His Father, and that He is enabling Him surely, if slowly, to overcome the world by the renewing influence of the Holy Ghost which He has shed on him abundantly in Jesus Christ our Lord.
II. These burning words the Bible puts into the mouth of every Christian. Whatever might have been the influence of the Gospel in Apostolic times, it plainly is not of this transforming and renewing power now. Not that the power of the Gospel itself is less, but that our hearts seem harder and our ears more dull of hearing. We listen to the same unchanging message of God's love to fallen man, of Christ's Redemption, of the means of grace, of faith, of Christian duty, but these things sound to many as 'idle tales'. They cease to stir the ground of men's hearts. Thus only the true Christian can dare to apply to himself that blessed language in which St. Paul and St. John describe the strength of the believer, the privileges of the regenerate, the comforts of the justified, the liberty of the redeemed, the assurance of the elect.
III. The Holy Spirit will not abide in a defiled or a neglected temple. He will go and seek another home if He be not welcomed in ours. He will only abide in a holy place, 'with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit; to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones'. He cannot put up with 'proud looks and a high stomach,' with men who say, 'We are they that ought to speak; who is Lord over us?' It must be a pure and upright heart, a heart weaned from the world, with 'affections set on things above'.
IV. The presence of that Holy Spirit is revealed by His fruits: 'Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance'. 'Against these there is no law'; indeed, they render all law superfluous. Their animating motive is not fear, but love—the love of Him 'Who first loved us'; an obedience issuing from the pure devotion of the heart toward a kind Benefactor, a Divine Being, Who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. These fruits must be manifested in each one of us: 'We have received the Spirit of adoption,' been made the sons of God, chosen out of the world, that we should 'show forth the praises of Him Who hath called us out of darkness into His marvellous.
V. Be sure, if His light is not burning in your souls, it ought to be. If you have not found Him 'a very present help in trouble,' it is because you have sought after other comforters. If He bears not 'His witness with our spirit that we are the children of God,' it is because worldliness and disobedience have made us strangers to the feeling, as well as forfeited the title of 'sons'.
—Bishop Fraser, Parochial Sermons.
References.—VIII. 14.—E. H. Eland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 390. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 309. C. Perren, Outline Sermons, p. 251. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. 56. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches, p. 150. Bishop Winnington- Ingram, A Mission of the Spirit, p. 72. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1220. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 196; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 35.
The Fatherhood of God
I. 'Whereby we cry, "Abba, Father!" 'Here is a great conception: this whole world is the family of God. He made it; He loves it;. He watches over it. We are elevated by its beauty, amazed at its resources. We listen to the great Benedicite ever rising up from all Creation to the Throne of God.
We watch the evolution of history; we see the tide of events in its ebb and flow, and yet silently and surely advancing towards an ordered end. Man finds constraining fingers placed upon his freedom, and in terror he cries out 'fate!' He is calmed and soothed, and murmurs 'Providence'. Man is for ever finding out new and unexpected treasures, and he builds his house where he hopes to stay and enjoy the good things he has found. But he has speedily to pass away, he is but an actor on the scene. He has to make way for others.
It is a beautiful world, as it lies palpitating with life, full of the presence and love of God.
And then we are conscious of shadows and disappointments, of blight and failure and shattered hopes, of remedies which mean pain, of correction which means frustration of purpose; and we are conscious here, too, of a beneficent Fatherhood, which knows how to meet failure and avert the consequences of sin. God is the Father of earth viewed as a Paradise; He is the Father of a world paralysed by the Fall. We move and live amidst the interlacing intricacies of Divine, creative love. We move also sustained and helped by the beneficence which knows how to turn evil into good, sorrow into joy, pain into pleasure, and by all the tortuous mechanism of man's misdeeds to work out the destiny of the great family, which he loves as a Father, heals as a Saviour, and strengthens as the Comforter.
II. If we could accept this estimate of the world as the family of God all would be well for us. Day by day asking ourselves the great questions: 'Whence do I come?' 'Whither am I going?' 'How do I go?' and answering them all by 'God,' all would be well for us.
But here the perversion of our life manifests itself. God is my Father, therefore He will not be hard upon me. I can take my ease, eat, drink, and be merry. He has given me all things richly to enjoy, as I saunter along the paths of life, careless of tomorrow, gathering rosebuds while I may. Joyous as the careless Greek amidst the sunny groves. If I sin, that is, if I follow too unreservedly the guidings of my nature, He will forgive me. There is no judgment, no hell, no fear. I shall stumble in some way or another into the right path. God is my Father, and life is sweet It is a blessed thing to live; let me eat and drink, for tomorrow I die.
How quickly we learn to bend toward ourselves, as if they existed for us alone, all the powers with which God has surrounded us. We make ourselves the centre on which all things converge. If the sun shines, it is for our pleasure; if it is gloomy, it is to our annoyance. If God gives us health, it is for our greater amusement. Friends and opportunities as they come across our path are like ships freighted with treasures, which are bound for the harbour of our gratification. We may even take religion itself and look upon all its provisions as a sort of life insurance. It will all be well with us at the last, in spite of all catastrophes.
If God is your Father He earnestly longs for your salvation and help. But the compassion of God is wider than your needs. There are men and women who are devoting their lives to rescue the fallen and bring back the lost sheep of His fold, and they do ask you for a trifle, which is to help them to carry out their anxious work, and they cannot get it Men and women who say that God is their Father will not own that that poor lost one is their sister, or this prodigal their brother. They will minister as far as they dare to the carelessness and sin which is responsible for their falls; but they will not help the fallen. In vain do we call ourselves the sons of God if we are doing nothing to fill up those vacant seats in the family circle, where angels wait with longing eyes, and heaven itself feels a missing note in the harmony of its joy, because of the sons and daughters of God, whom the elder brother selfishly forgets, or more selfishly still, repels from his care.
III. The family of God! We are hearing much at the present time about unity. And when we remember Who it was Who prayed that 'they all may be one,' we feel that we may well thank God that He has put it into our hearts to wish for unity—and yet we must remember that the unity which Christ prayed for was unity of a very solemn kind, a unity which was real, and which would be lasting because it was real; 'that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in us'. We may unite on a false basis, on an artificial basis, on a basis which will dissolve under the stress of the first storm. But if we believe that this world was designed to be God's family, if we believe that this conception was damaged by the Fall, and is now further injured by man's selfishness, let us aim at making real once more the purpose of God. If once we can realise the conception of the family knit together by love of the great Father, unity will come as a matter of course.—
—W. C. E. Newbolt, Church Times, 14th August, 1908.
References.—VIII. 15.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. pp. 266, 276; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 384. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. ii. p. 117. W. M. Sinclair, Words from St. Paul's, p. 86. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 30. A. M. Fairbairn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 232. J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays After Trinity, pt. i. p. 265. Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiii. p. 369.
Children of God
St. Paul, in the earlier verses of the passage from which our Epistle today is taken, has been instituting a comparison between two conditions, the two conditions in which men can live—the condition of a self-governed life, or the condition of a spirit-governed life. And then he passes to speak of the obligation of the high destiny of the Christian, 'If children, then heirs'.
I. A Realisation of our Destiny as Sons of God, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, ought to give to us a standing, a bearing which is not to be seen in a man of the world. You, St. Paul says, first of all, owe nothing to the flesh. As a matter of fact, St. Paul is so anxious about that point that he never finishes it He never comes back to say that you are debtors to the spirit. He takes that for granted. Then he goes on to consider what he means by sons of God. And when we consider that, we find ourselves compelled to ask, 'What does it mean to be a son of God?' and to look for our answer to the example of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. All Christ's life was lived in a very constant sense of filial relation to God. The most constant expression on His lips were the words, 'My Father'. Despite all the disorder of sin, and the evil wills of men that seemed as though they raged around Him, in Him, the centre of it all, there is perfect peace, the perfect peace that comes of a consciousness of harmony and union with the will of God. He lived in perfect filial reverential obedience to the will of God the Father, so that He could continually speak of His great possession, 'My peace'. That is what is meant by filial relation for the Christian, the consciousness that God—come what may, it matters not—is one with us and we with Him, and then there may be that peace which can never be disturbed.
II. That brings us to a very much Discussed Question, 'Have we a right to demand, may we expect, that we shall have what is called assurance?' It would be natural to admit that it is to be expected, for an unrealised relationship would be inoperative. For instance, it would seem of very little advantage to us if we were blind that there were many beauties of Nature all around us. To be operative for us, to be of benefit to us, there must be in us the power to perceive these things, and so it is reasonable to expect at the outset that, if this glorious relationship of which I have been speaking is really ours, we should have some consciousness of it which should fill us with joy. But, on the other hand, we should be careful that we should not demand the realisation of consciousness simply as a luxury of feeling. Gradually, possibly even at first, if we really grasp what it means to enter into the filial relationship to God which is here spoken of, the unity of the Spirit may bring to us a very signal joy and assurance of our sonship; but the adoption of the sonship of God may have its realisation in other ways.
III. The Perception of Spiritual Things is a Growth with most of us.—It does not come naturally to us to perceive spiritual things. The material seems far more real, but at the same time the spiritual will become more and more with us as we seek more to live in harmony with the will of God. One of the best things for educating the feeling is prayer—not simply the prayer of asking for things, but rather the prayer of real communion with God. That will bring about a sense of sonship as nothing else can. But, whatever be your feeling about it, lay hold of this great truth, that, however we feel, this at any rate is true, 'As many as received Him, to them gave He power'. This is your right, your authority; and not the powers of hell, or earth, or darkness, can deny it to you if only you receive Him. Lay hold of the fact, and let nothing whatever disturb your grip of it. So increasingly the Spirit of God will reveal it to you, bearing witness that you are the sons of God. 'If children, then heirs.' But I cannot conclude without drawing your attention to the subtle suggestion conveyed there, 'if children'. It is not only by creation that we are sons of God, but rather by that adoption that comes to us through having received Him. That is the only way in which we can have the authority to be called sons of God, but then, 'If children, then heirs'. If I had the tongue of a Chrysostom I could not tell you all that that means. 'Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.'
References.—VIII. 15, 16.—T. B. Strong, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 65. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1759. VIII. 15-17.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 274.
The Witness of the Spirit
There are few texts, perhaps, that are a greater perplexity to many earnest persons than this. I am constantly asked, What is the witness of the Spirit? I would set myself to answer this question as simply and honestly as I know how.
I. To whom is this witness given? These words set before us the great truth that we need constantly to be reminded of, that true religion is the action of the Spirit of God upon our spirits. The only religion that can satisfy is the work of the Spirit of God in our spirits. Be sure of this, that creeds, however true, and forms of worship, however solemn or impressive or earnest, can never give you the religious life. We must be born of the Spirit. But note further that although this life is begotten of the Spirit of God, yet is He to be willingly received and submitted to.
II. And now in turning to see what this witness of the Spirit is, let us be very simple. There is much significance here in the emphatic assurance with which St. Paul speaks. 'The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ Jesus.' He bids us take it for granted and be quite sure that if we are the children of God this witness of the Spirit is ours. Since the realm of the religious life is in the Spirit, do not let us be always dragging it up into the region of the intellect, analysing and defining and perplexing ourselves about all sorts of mysteries. The witness of the Spirit is not to our spirits that we are the children of God. It is with our spirits that God is our Father. Not within is the gaze turned, but without—not downward at self, but upwards at the Saviour. This is the great truth to which the Holy Spirit witnesses; not to our goodness, not to our superiority, but to the love and glory of Jesus Christ; to the greatness and fulness of His salvation; to the infinite loving kindness of our Father.
III. In thinking of this witness of the Spirit let us remember that it is no less Divine because it moves on the ordinary and natural lines of spiritual influence. There are men and women who by their contact do help to create within us a new experience. Rest, peace, truth, love, hope are often imparted to us by contact with others. Their influence is at once distinct, yet indistinguishable. We cannot mark exactly the influence, how it came and how it wrought. Now it is in this quiet and natural way, for the most part, that the witness of the Spirit is given.
—M. G. Pearse, Naaman the Syrian and other Sermons, p. 122.
Now we must with sorrow confess that this doctrine of the Spirit's dwelling in the heart of God's servants, is much discountenanced of late.... But what if the apes in India, finding a glow-worm, mistook it to be true fire, and heaping much combustible matter about it, hoped by their blowing of it, thence to kindle a flame; I say, what if that laughter-causing animal, that mirth-making animal, deceived itself, doth it thence follow that there is no true fire at all? And what if some fanatics by usurpation have entitled their brain-sick fancies to be so many illuminations of the Spirit, must we presently turn Sadducees in this point, and deny that there is any Spirit at all? God forbid!
References.—VIII. 16.—A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. iii. p. 32. H. D. Rawnsley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 155. J. Keble, Sermons for Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 259. E. Bayley, Sermons on the Work and Person of the Holy Spirit, p. 51. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 17. VIII. 16, 17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 339.
At this time also I saw more in these words, Heirs of God, than ever I shall be able to express while I live in this world. Heirs of God! God Himself is the portion of the Saints. This I saw and wondered at, but cannot tell you what I saw.
—Bunyan, Grace Abounding, p. 259.
References.—VIII. 17.—J. Bunting, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 463. R. Glover, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 54. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 402, and vol. li. No. 2961.
The Sufferings and the Glory
If these words were spoken to me anonymously, I should say, Whose words are they? Sometimes the personality determines the value of the speech. Is this a rhetorician who in his opening sentence gives notice of the final thunder? Is he writing for a rhetoric book? Is this a poet, a maker of measured lines, who is setting his triumph, and his triumph over grief, to pentameters, and resorting to the poor trick of scanning? Who is this man, what right has he to speak? Is this one of the gang that set the Lord's agony to catgut, and mimic the grief of Gethsemane? Who is this man? Some men ought to vindicate their right to speak at all, and especially to speak on great tender subjects that plough the heart to its very depths. Read the text again; it is the sermon, it is the all, there is nothing outside of it. 'I reckon'—I like that word. This man is going to speak considerately, he is going to calculate, he is going to put things together. Go on—'that the sufferings'. Then they are sufferings? Yes. You know they are sufferings; you are not treating them lightly, you are not passing over them as mere demisemiquavers, flashed from the fingers of an artist. No, they are sufferings, poor brother, O poor grieved soul. I know they are sufferings, I know that the blood is coming, I know that the nerves are quaking; yes, they are sufferings. I like this man; he reckons, and he reckons the right quantities and qualities of things. 'Of this present time.' What a fine contempt, what a remarkable reduction of the days and the centuries, and what we call the ages I He grasps them altogether, crushes them into a thimble, and throws the thimble away—'This present time,' this immediate throb, this poor punctuated piece of literature, that hardly is long enough to be literature, so little of it that it does not rise to the dignity of real and true speech, or grace.
'I reckon,' good, 'that the sufferings,' good, 'of this present time are not worthy to be compared.' There are some things you cannot compare. Do you know—let me tell you this: there are some people who deliver long lectures on comparative religions. There are comparative religions, but the religion of the Cross is not one of them. I will not have my Lord's sufferings dragged into some place of weighing, where against the speculations of a thinker I have to put the sufferings of a God. I will not have it. 'With the glory which shall be revealed.' What is glory? Light. Yes. Morning. Yes, if in the summer-time. Splendour. Yes, yes. But that is a poor talking. Knowest thou that there is a light above the brightness of the sun. Paint that; come, you are great at painting; you do a little in water-colours—paint the light that is above the brightness of the sun. You cannot. No man can imagine light. 'Oh,' you say, 'this will be a beautiful landscape in the summer-time; I can imagine the light upon this.' No you cannot; no man can imagine all the possibilities of light, all the possibilities of colour, all the possibilities of music. 'Not worthy to be compared.' They cannot be compared. I dare say if the man were gifted enough in analysis and in the science of numbers there might be some comparison between a dewdrop trembling on the petal of a rose, and a great wild Atlantic about which we have been praying; there might be just some proportion between the little white jewel of a dewdrop and that great, great imprisoned storm. But there is no comparison between anything thinkable and eternity. Pile together, if you will, ages and centuries and millenniums, and millions of millenniums, and when the last moment had ticked itself off you have not begun eternity. Eternity you cannot begin. Oh that transcendental 'cannot'. It gets away from the mere grammar and leads you into paths which the eagle's eye hath not seen.
That is the text. Read it again, and often. It is a refrain. 'I reckon that the sufferings of this present time,'—why, you have had none. I want to test that, I have marked the passages; let me see if that accusation is right. Now what right has this man to speak about sufferings? 'We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed'—crisscrossed, all the roads come upon one another like so much confusion, and we cannot tell which is which—'but not in despair; persecuted, cast down, always bearing about in the body the brand of the Lord Jesus, the infinite scorching of His pain'. Ah, that throws light upon the text, 'I reckon'. The man who has been through all this reckons. He has right to reckon, he vindicates his position. 'I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared.' But who are you? what have you done;' (I speak as a fool), in labours more abundant than anybody, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.... I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared.' Well, you have a right to reckon so. 'Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes, save one, thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep. 'Give it up, Paul! 'No, I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with what is coming—the glory, the revealed glory.' Well, I dare not stop you; go on. 'In journeyings often, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren.' Oh, cease it! Thou dost make me ashamed in my very heart; my heart reddens, reddens with a deeper crimson when I think that I have hardly ever had a peril at all. Oh, ye great men, ye heroes of the faith, what say you? They all say the same thing. What is that? 'I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared.' 'In weariness, painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, fastings often, in cold and nakedness.' And why did he go on? 'The love of Christ constraineth us.' We see Christ, we see the cross, we see the glory, we see the resultant heavens.
These are the men that I want to hear speak about religion; I do not want to hear the opinions of men who never had any religion. Who will you believe, the man who has been there, or the man who never walked one step in the direction of being there? Do not insult your best history, do not turn the sacred reminiscences of the Church into new blasphemies. You young hearts, I want you to take up your position, as God may enable you, with the heroes and the great men, and not with the people, of whom I have often spoken to you, whose faith is always sitting in a draught and catching cold. I want you to go out, to find your faith in the mission field, in heathenism, in the necessity and cruel pain of disappointed and weary lives. I love this testimony because it is the testimony of experience. I do not want a man to lecture to me about the Gospel; I do not want a new guide, I want the old Gospel, and the old Gospel spoken after it has passed through the blood of souls, and that passage we call experience. Oh, you young intellectuals—you are no intellectuals at all if you do the thing I am going to speak about—mock at what used to be called experience meetings. If an experience meeting is genuine, if it be built on apostolic lines, it is the grandest apology for Christianity that can be found. This man felt it, knew it, and he says, 'Come, all ye that fear God, and I will declare unto you what he hath done for my soul'. The personality is the power.
So I come back to my first statement, 'I reckon'.
I. This is deliberate, this is a calculation, this is not a climax with nothing in it, it is a climax that sums up a life. This grand Apostle seems to have a slate in his hand, and to be taking a pencil and putting down on the one side the suffering, and on the other—one line—the glory; the one in the plural, which is weakness, and the other in the singular, which is massiveness, which is strength, which is God. 'The glory.' This man is not speaking rhetorically, in transports of rapture, he is not a rhetorician, sacrificing everything to his three members. He is an accountant; yea, I would today call him a chartered accountant He has got the balance-sheet before him, and he has looked into all the vouchers, and he has signed the audit. He says, 'This is correct'. What is correct? That 'the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed'.
II. This is a judicial statement He compares things, and then declares they are not worthy of comparison; he uses them, he does not abuse them. He sets against the great grace of God all the little aches and pains of this mortal sphere, and says they cannot touch that grace which is but concealed glory; that grace which is latent in summer, latent heaven.
III. This is also, thirdly, a corroborated statement He did not say this once for all; he said the same thing before. He said, 'Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory'. He will not let that word 'glory' go; there were times when he needed it all, every flash and sparkle of that morning he needed in some of the crises of his strenuous life. 'While we look not at the things which are seen.' What are the things that are seen? Miserable things, weighable things—'but at the things which are not seen,' with these poor eyes, 'for the things which are seen are of the nature of time, temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal'. He says the same thing over and over again; he lived upon it. Why, once he said, 'We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God'. You could not make that man poor, his riches were not to be handled by any possible thief. They were riches stored up in God.
References.—VIII. 18.—R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 369. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 374. W. M. Sinclair, Christ and our Times, p. 195. R. J. Campbell, A Faith for To-day, p. 137. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 382. VIII. 18-23.—Ibid. vol. iv. p. 186. VIII. 18-30.—Bishop Gore, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 298.
The Sons of God Revealed
Our text intimates, that at some future period in the history of the human race, there will be a public manifestation of the sons of God.
I. When shall this Revelation take Place?—The Bible teaches that, at the close of this dispensation of grace, there will be a gathering together of the whole human race, of all the ages, of all the nations, of all the countries on the face of the earth. Such a gathering has never taken place before, and will never take place again. They are to be divided into two classes, with an impassable gulf fixed between them for ever (Matthew 25:31; Matthew 25:34; Matthew 25:41). The great question which is of infinite and eternal concern to you and me is—Where shall I be?
II. What will be the Nature of the Manifestation?—(1) It will then be revealed—Who are the sons of God. (2) In that day there will be a revelation of what they are, as well as who they are. (3)
The sons of God will be revealed in all their completeness.
III. Why wait until the Resurrection for the Manifestation of the Sons of God?—The covenant of redemption into which the Son of God entered with the Divine Father, included definitely three things: the salvation of every believing soul from all sin; the salvation of the body from the corruption of the grave; the reunion of the soul with its identical body when raised incorruptible and deathless. This is repeatedly affirmed, and pledged in covenant by Jesus Christ to every one that believeth (St. John 6:39-40; John 6:44). When every saint is perfected, when the Lord Jesus shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, and conform it to the body of His glory, when He shall unite the imperishable body to the spirit to which it belonged, when His redeemed Church in all her completeness is gathered together, not one member wanting, He will exhibit her to a witnessing universe as the masterpiece of His handiwork, and as the noblest achievement of His infinite love. The great ultimate purpose of the Incarnation, of the Mediatorial system, was to form a spotless Church from among the children of men, to the praise and glory of God's grace. In the great day for the winding up of the economy of redemption, without this spotless Church the Redeemer would be incomplete.
IV. Where will this Manifestation take Place?—Many passages of Holy Scripture indicate that the solemn transactions of that great day will take place somewhere in space, over and above the earth, in the vicinity, and within sight of the world inhabited by man and redeemed by Christ. (1) The judgment is for man, for the human race. (2) The redemption of mankind has rendered necessary the day of judgment. (3) The Redeemer Himself will be the judge.
—Richard Roberts, My Jewels, p. 226.
References.—VIII. 19.—C. Durward, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 197. E. Medley, ibid. vol. xlvii. p. 216. John Thomas, ibid. vol. 1. p. 4. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. pp. 179, 313.
It was an ancient saying of the Persians, that the waters rush from the mountains and hurry forth into all the lands to find the Lord of the Earth; and the flame of the fire, when it awakes, gazes no more upon the ground, but mounts heavenward to seek the Lord of Heaven; and here and there the Earth has built great watch-towers of the mountains, and they lift their heads far into the sky, and gaze ever upward and around, to see if the Judge of the World comes not Thus in Nature herself, without man, there lies a waiting and hoping, a looking and yearning, after an unknown something. Yes; when above there, where the mountain lifts its head above all others, that it may be alone with the clouds and storms of heaven, the lonely eagle looks forth into the grey dawn, to see if the day comes not; when by the mountain torrent the brooding raven listens to hear if the chamois is returning from his nightly pasture in the valley; and when the soon uprising sun calls out the spicy odours of the thousand flowers—the Alpine flowers, with heaven's deep blue, and the blush of sunset on their leaves—then there awake in Nature, and the soul of man can see and comprehend them, an expectation and a longing for a future revelation of God's majesty.
—From Longfellow's Hyperion, vi.
References.—VIII. 19-21.—Basil Wilberforce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 104. Lyman Abbott, ibid. vol. xlvi. p. 6. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 264; ibid. (6th Series), p. 52. VIII. 19-22.—Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 80.
Animal Sunday (On the Fourth Sunday after Trinity)
As the months pass, bringing with them the various Sundays of the Christian year, it is difficult on this particular Sunday, the Fourth after Trinity, to refrain from speaking upon that theme of which the appointed Epistle is full, I mean the mystery of creation.
I. Consider the Relation which Binds Man to his Environment.—'The creature,' says St. Paul, was made subject to vanity.' It is hardly necessary to say that the creature is creation, as indeed the Revised Version puts it—this world in which man lives out his little life; and when St. Paul says the creation was made subject to vanity, he implies that to the reverend mind or heart there is in creation a certain element of failure, there is a streak of evil in the face of the good. It is just that sense of failure, of something which might have been, and yet is not, that creates for man his peculiar relation to the world in which he is situated. For indeed it might have happened that man would not be conscious of anything which binds him to the world at large. He might not have found outside in the world any reflection of the character which he discerns in himself, and yet the very expressions which we use of nature and of life are witnesses to the essential sympathy which is itself, we may reverently suppose, the evidence of the one Divine authorship. There is in life the brightness and the shadow, the calm and the storm, as there is in nature. The life of man, as the life of natural objects, passes from birth to maturity, to decay and death. The seasons of the natural world, spring, summer, autumn, winter, find their correspondence in the experiences of human life, but all these would not of themselves, as I think, create that peculiar sympathy of which the highest minds and the best are conscious in their relations to nature. There is in nature something which St Paul calls vanity, something of failure, something of falling below the ideal which seems set before it For the moment, the natural world, its beauty, its order, its beneficence, suggests the Divine that made it; and yet what storms and tempests, and what plagues and famines, what horrors and cataclysms, do from time to time mar the fair aspect of the natural world! It seems that the promise, so high, so great, is not fulfilled. I know not what account can be given of this contradiction other than St Paul's in the text, 'The creature was made subject to vanity'.
II. What is Strange in Human Nature is not that it is so good or so bad, but that it is so good and so bad, capable of an elevation so sublime, and a degradation so abject Nature seems to speak, however silently, of something which has defeated her natural God-given object. The reason why the discords of creation touch us so powerfully is, that we feel them to be images of our moral condition. A great theologian of our own time has said that when he looks upon human nature in its height and in its depth he feels just as if he saw a boy of noble ancestry being brought up in surroundings which lowered him far below his natural level. Something has gone wrong with that boy. There is a flaw which has occurred in his life's story, and the flaw and that defect are the inherent sympathy between man and his environment. So St Paul uses the very same language about human nature and the natural world. 'The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.' Nay more, as St Paul sees the looking forward to the promise of redemption for man, so he sees also the promise of redemption for the natural world. 'The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain,' but it is waiting for the restitution of all things, for the redemption which shall unite it to the sons of God.
III. Note now Man's Relation to those Creatures which Live so close to Him, and are so far Removed from Him—the animals. Cardinal Newman has said in a well-known passage, 'The mystery of the animal creation is so profound that the animals themselves are hardly better known to man than the angels'. Is it not a fact, amazing, almost overwhelming, that the meanest, poorest, basest of mankind exercises wellnigh unlimited sovereignty over the noblest of those creatures, and yet that in all the ages the wisest of men have seemed to come hardly nearer to them in understanding of their nature than the veriest child. What do we know of their language, their means of communication, so much stronger than is ordinarily recognised; what of their conscience, for the germs of conscience beyond doubt lie within them; what of their future, whether they, like ourselves, shall be inheritors of the immortality which God reserves for His creatures? There is no doubt we owe them a vast responsibility. There is hardly any higher test of the dignity, the elevation of a people, than its attitude towards the animal creation.
IV. The Creatures Living at our Doors are God's Creatures as we are ourselves. It is the safe and sacred rule of life, as far as may be, 'Never to blend our pleasure or our pride with sorrow of the meanest thing that feels'. We shall not be guilty of any of that want of thought which does more harm than deliberate evil purpose if we realise that all nature is the expression of the Divine Almighty Mind. There are mysteries, and there must be mysteries, because the human intellect is finite and God is infinite. Let us go our way in faith and hope and love, acting upon our duty so far as it is plain now, looking for the fresh revelations which shall spring in the coming years from the Word of God Himself.
All liberty is not liberty; there are blessed chains which we must know how to wear lovingly, and which, when once they are broken, leave the soul in a fatal and desolating freedom. No, our mind is not made to think without control and without measure; our heart is not made to love without limits here on earth. We must wait for our full freedom till that happy time comes when our will shall be firmly fixed upon goodness, without the fear of wandering from it ever again.
Until then, Lord, I give Thee back my liberty; I entrust it to Thy care. Do Thou Thyself appoint its limits. Give me chains. I desire them, I accept them, I love them since they come from Thy hand. I wish to be Thy captive. I wish to be the bondman of Jesus Christ—ego vinctus in Domino. That means that I shall be chained to goodness, to peace, to the bitter joys of sacrifice here below, but to the immortal hope of better days to come.
—Lettres de l'Abbé Perreyve, p. 385.
References.—VIII. 21.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 202; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 493.
The Pain of the World
There can be little doubt that the pain of the world is one of the great standing difficulties in the way of a belief in a good God. It is useless to deny that there is a great mystery in pain and suffering, and a mystery which in this world we never shall fully understand.
I. The first thing for us all to realise is that the thing which we quarrel with is not pain at all, but what pain produces. Pain is the great life-preserver of the world. But the real fact which, we sometimes think, makes it impossible for us to believe in the love of God, is not the pain, but what produces the pain—the mortality of the body, old age, and gradual death. And so we must ask whether the presence of decay, old age, infirmity, and death does really demonstrate the carelessness or the callousness of God? And to answer that, we must ask one question more: Why was the world created at all? He created in order to produce more happiness, out of a pure and spontaneous desire to have more thousands and millions of happy people. If there were no decay and death, and no mortality, there would be a thousand times less happiness in the world than there is. We who have had to bury our fathers with lamentation still know that God's arrangement is for the best; that as the outward man decays, so the inward man is being renewed day by day, and that the happiest moment of the soul shall be when the new man receives the crown of perfection after the training of the rest of Paradise.
II. And, if that is our answer to the theory that decay and death are an argument against the goodness of God, what shall we say to pain? Here also the answer is at hand. How were you warned and directed throughout the last illness? What was the best nurse you had all through that time? It was pain. And who gave it you? God gave it you. Pain was one of the guardian angels for your physical life, as we believe you have other guardian angels for your soul.
III. See what a marvellous effect pain has upon the moral being.
IV. Now let us consider what our religion can give us, not only in our own hours of pain, but in the hour of watching the pain of those whom we love. (1) It reveals to us the object which pain serves. (2) The knowledge of companionship in pain.
V. But we should indeed misunderstand the Christian teaching about pain if we thought that because of these uses, because of this work of pain, we are to leave it unrelieved. One of the most blessed works of pain is to produce sympathy.
—Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Under the Dome, p. 128.
St. Paul was no mean man. If ever a strong man lived, that man was St. Paul. And, more than that, he was a man who had sacrificed a great deal for what he had believed. Brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, Pharisee of the Pharisees, he lost all for the sake of Christ. Nor was he a mere enthusiast. For thirty years that man lived suffering all kinds of persecutions for his faith. And he was a man of no mean experience. He was converted by Christ Himself—the only one after the thief. He was caught up into the seventh, heaven, and heard unspeakable things. And he could raise the dead. That is the man he was—sure about his faith.
I. He Knew Whom he had Believed.—It is not enough that a man should know of his salvation, but you should know the grounds of your salvation. They do not rest upon us. You need not go searching within you to find the grounds upon which you believe your salvation. They are in Christ. We know of our salvation, and we know that our salvation rests simply and merely upon Christ. This is the grace of God given to us through faith in Jesus Christ—the first thread which makes up the cord. St. Paul knew, not only of his salvation, but he knew upon what his salvation rested—upon Christ.
II. He Knew that all Things work together for Good to them that Love God.—That amid all the provisions of life, however strange they may be, however unintelligible, through all the darkness and difficulty, and trouble, and pain, and through the tears, He sees all. There is a certainty for you! 'I know that all things work together for good to them that love God.' Go out into the world with that amid all the uncertainties of your life. You know not what a day may bring forth. What does it matter, if behind it all there is God and His love?
III. He Knew that 'if our Earthly House of this Tabernacle were Dissolved, we have a Building of God, an House not made with Hands'.—There is the third one, seeing right beyond into death. Do you know that if you die you have a habitation with God in the heavens, not made with hands? Did not the Lord Jesus say, 'I go to prepare a place for you'? And do you think that at the end of your life there awaits you annihilation, or that because, as they tell us nowadays, the brain ceases to act, the soul exists not—the modern philosophy? Listen to St. Paul: 'We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands'. There is a threefold cord to bind you by faith to God!
IV. This Threefold Cord helps us in the three Great Troubles of Life.
(a) Sin. We have got to face our sins. Here is the Saviour. 'I know Whom I believe.' And the Holy Ghost, Who shows us our sins, shows us at the same time our Saviour, so that, when the sense of sin would weigh us down, we should look to the Saviour, and being lost to ourselves be found again in Him—happy in your Saviour.
(b) Trouble. And then see how the second part of the cord is the remedy for all the troubles of life. It is all ordered for good to those who love God.
(c) Death. And there is yet one more misery—death. You have thought it possible, before long you may be dead and gone. You may be. There is always the shadow of the skeleton. We may be. Who knows? Ah, who knows? But what does it matter, if you know you have a habitation not made with hands, eternal in the heavens? If you know it, you can smile down into the grave. It has lost its terror.
Mazzini, in his essay on Carlyle, uses this verse thus:—'Whatever we may do, the words, The whole creation groaneth, of the Apostle whom I love to quote, will be verified most forcibly in the choicest intellects, whensoever an entire order of things and ideas shall be exhausted; whensoever, in Mr. Carlyle's phrase, there shall exist no longer any social faith.'
See Keble's lines on 'The Fourth Sunday after Trinity'.
In this cottage opposite the violet bank they had smallpox once, the only case I recollect in the hamlet—the old men used to say everybody had it when they were young; this was the only case in my time, and they recovered quickly without any loss, nor did the disease spread.... That terrible disease, however, seemed to quite spoil the violet bank opposite, and I never picked one there afterwards. There is something in disease so destructive, as it were, to flowers.
The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together. It is the common and the godlike law of life. The browsers, the biters, the barkers, the hairy coats of field and forest, the squirrel in the oak, the thousand-footed creeper in the dust, as they share with us the gift of life, share with us the love of an ideal; strive like us—like us are tempted to grow weary of the struggle—to do well; like us receive at times unmerited refreshment, visitings of support, return of courage; and are condemned like us to be crucified between that double law of the members and the will.... And as we dwell, we living things, in our isle of tenor under the imminent hand of death, God forbid it should be man the erected, the reasoner, the wise in his own eyes—God forbid it should be man that wearies in well-doing, that despairs of unrewarded effort, or utters the language of complaint. Let it be enough for faith, that the whole creation groans in mortal frailty, strives with unconquerable constancy: surely not all in vain.
—R. L. Stevenson, Pulvis et Umbra.
References.—VIII. 22.—R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 369; ibid. A Faith for To-day, p. 137. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 39. VIII. 22, 23.—T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i. p. 94. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 788.
It is not merely what we have done—not merely the posthumous fruit of our activity which entitles us to honourable recognition after death, but also our striving itself, and especially our unsuccessful striving—the shipwrecked, fruitless, but great-souled tout to do.
On this validity and value of aspiration, see also Browning's lines in Rabbi Ben Ezra, beginning, 'Not on the vulgar mass'.
How happy is their condition who have God for their interpreter! who not only understands what they do, but what they would say. Daniel could tell the meaning of the dream which Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten. God knows the meaning of these groans which never as yet knew their own meaning, and understands the sense of these sighs which never understood themselves.
References.—VIII. 23.—F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi. p. 179. Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 260. J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 185. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 361; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 278; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi p. 88.
St. Paul says that there are three things which abide, three things, that is, which last under all the changes of fashion and of custom, and of the varying schemes of different generations—three things which remain as the abiding strands of the human character, and of those the first is faith, and the second is hope. When we consider hope we are brought face to face with this—that hope differs from faith inasmuch as it suffers from not being taken seriously, as faith is. Even those who feel most their lack of faith know that faith is an essential: they know that without faith it is impossible to please God. But with Hope it is all different We look upon Hope, do we not? as a kind of beautiful fairy queen, and where Hope is so beautiful we are apt to think she can do no useful work. It is a calumny on Hope to look on her as a merely beautiful fairy queen. Hope is a nurse. Hope is a worker. Hope is a most delightful and sustaining intellectual friend. What, then, is the peculiar power of Hope?
I. The first thing which we notice about Hope—and she wants watching to find out the peculiar magic of her power—is that she purifies the human character. 'He that hath this hope,' says St John, 'purifies himself even as Christ is pure.'
II. Or, again, not only has Hope this purifying power, not only will it make us believe that we are meant to live with angels and not herd with animals, not only will it lift a man into a different state of mind altogether, and purify his character, but also Hope is the strongest influence that we can exert over other people. Have Hope in the schoolroom, have Hope in the drawing-room, have Hope in the workshop, and Hope, you will find, will draw out all that is best in those you love, and mould them by her wonderful power into your ideal of them.
III. Hope is the greatest inspirer of corporate work. You have seen sometimes the summer breeze sway down the cornstalks in a great field, they all bow beneath its magic power; that is how souls are bowed down by the influence of Hope. One hopeful man will save a garrison; one hopeful woman will inspire a parish. What we want in all our work, in all our corporate work, is not less hope, but more hope.
—Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Banners of the Christian Faith, p. 18.
References.—VIII. 24.—6. F. Pentecost, Marylebone Presbyterian Church Pulpit, pp. 5 and 19. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 50. J. B. Mozley, University Sermons, p. 52. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 97. VIII. 24, 25.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1616. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 113. VIII. 24-39.—W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p. 277.
God the Offerer of Prayer
It may well be, as Dr. Stanford has suggested, that the disciples once overheard the Son of Man praying to His Father. The pilgrims, when almost at the end of the ground, perceived that 'a little before them was a solemn noise as of one that was much concerned. So they went on and looked before them, and behold, they saw, as they thought, a man upon his knees with hands and eyes lift up, and speaking, as they thought, earnestly to one that was above.' So once in the morning the disciples may have gone out to meet their Lord as He returned from a night of pleading, and pushing up through the dewy leaves and round by the boulder, may have come upon Him lifting His soul to God. And they said when He ceased, 'Lord, teach us to pray'.
I. Prayer is at once the easiest and the hardest of spiritual exercises. At the beginning the path is straight and clear. Even then we ask for words, and they are given us. As the soul lifts itself to the Eternal, it craves for the subtle and unsleeping ministry of the Holy Ghost. It seeks an atmosphere in which prayer may utter itself. At last—such is the marvel and mystery of supplication—it seeks that God should speak to God. It is not satisfied any more with being taught to pray. It asks to be the shrine in which prayer is presented, rather than the priest who pleads. More than the presence of the Son of God praying by our side is the presence of the Holy Spirit praying within. 'The Spirit maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.' As Christ stood for us our substitute in death, so the Holy Spirit stands for us our substitute in prayer. The heart is quiet in that hour of deep consent—with the peace of the river that has found the sea, of the bird homed in the nest with tired wings folded. It shares the secret of the Divine purpose, and is one in every point with the holy and prevailing Will. The redeemed heart moves forward like the first of all days, from the evening to the morning—from the Old Covenant to the New—till it touches, in the intercession of the Holy Ghost within the believer, that moment of intense yearning which signs and crowns the last experience of grace.
II. There is then One stronger than the strong—a power working for holiness and justice which is never discouraged, never stayed, never ultimately defeated. Perhaps this assurance was never more needed than now. The actual, penetrating, tremendous strength of evil was never more visible. Whether it spreads its infection subtly or takes arrogant and insistent shape—we cannot but everywhere see it in results fatal alike to the life of the society and the individual. But the wakeful Spirit is still brooding and ruling. A holy Power is at the roots of life—measuring itself with flesh and blood and the rulers of darkness. God is not a mere spectator: He is present in this clash of spiritual armies, His life is everywhere at work counteracting death. His ministry in the deepest places of the redeemed soul goes ceaselessly forward, and thereby He revives within His people the ever-fading sense of His kingdom and power and glory.
III. The sorrow of the Divine Spirit is a sign of the peril as well as of the misery of souls. It is, as Mr. Selby has finely pointed out, a counterpart to the soul-travail and strong crying and tears of Him who bore our nature. The sense of our need which inspired Christ's work appears in the Spirit who succeeded Him in the direct guardianship of the Church. The unutterable groanings of the Holy Ghost echo the pleadings of the High Priest within the veil.
The unutterable groanings of the Holy Ghost mean that the heart craves for the unutterable. Our desires go forward above every earthly good. Struggle, pain, weariness, darkness—we pass through them knowing they are but for a little time. We are helped in our infirmity by the clasping, supporting hand of the Spirit. But immunity from sorrow will not suffice us. Our Divine Friend has prayed for us the unutterable prayer and stirred within us the unspeakable desire, and the finite seeks the Infinite. The meaning of our true end comes breaking through the years. The believing heart even now plunges into the depths of the Divine, where the reason cannot follow. As God is the Offerer of prayer, so must God be the Answer to Prayer.
—W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 19.
The Holy Spirit As a Factor in Our Prayers
I. First of all let us note the description here given of our infirmity in prayer: 'We know not what we should pray for as we ought'. This clause comprehends, as you clearly see, both the matter and the manner of our prayers; both what we should ask, and how we should ask it. And which of us is not conscious that the statement of the Apostle here is true? In our shortsightedness, we may ask for things that would be anything but for our good; and so very often we find 'profit by losing of our prayers'. Then we know not how to pray as we ought True, the Lord Jesus has given us a model here, and has said: 'After this manner pray ye'. But you have only to take up that prayer which He so prefaced, and which is so frequently on our lips, and ponder it word by word and clause by clause, to see how difficult, how utterly impossible it is for us, without the aid of the Holy Spirit, to offer our supplications after its manner.
II. This leads me to the consideration of the great truth that the Holy Spirit 'helpeth' our prayers; and that requires us to answer the question how and in what respects He maketh intercession for us according to the will of God. (1) Now here in the first place it is pertinent to say that the Holy Spirit rectifies our prayers. We ask what we desire; but through His intercession, that is transmuted into what we need, and we get that from God. But if that be really the case, so far from being discouraged from praying by the fact that we know not what we should pray for as we ought, we are the rather encouraged to offer up petitions for all that we desire; because we know that our errors of ignorance, or impulsiveness, or excitement, will be rectified by Him who dwelleth in us and maketh there intercession for us, according to the will of God. Then, again, if we have rightly represented the case, you will see how it comes that our prayers are not always answered in the way in which we desired and asked that they should be. (2) But passing to another thought, I remark that the Holy Spirit helps our prayers by interpreting them. We do not see or know all that is implied in the words we are using, even when we are praying for things agreeable to God's will; this is especially the case when, as so frequently happens, we use the words of Holy Scripture, and turn God's promises into petitions. (3) But now, finally, the Spirit helps us in prayer by giving significance to that which we find to be unutterable. Be not unjust to yourselves, when either in your joys or your sorrows you get to a place where you cannot speak, even to God, either in praise or prayer. If you are a real child of His, that silence is the truest devotion, and the Holy Spirit will make it so expressive unto God that He will shower His richest blessings on your head.
References.—VIII. 26.—W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 233. R. Allen, The Words of Christ, p. 186. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 281.
And on another night, I know not, God knows, whether in me or near me, with most eloquent words which I heard, and could not understand, except at the end of the speech, one spoke as follows: 'He who gave His life for thee is He who speaks in thee'; and so I awoke full of joy. And again I saw Him praying in me, and He was as it were within my body and I heard above me, that is, above the inner man, and there He was praying mightily with groanings. And meanwhile I was stupefied and astonished, and pondered who it could be that was praying in me. But at the end of the prayer He so spoke as if He were the Spirit. And so I awoke and remembered that the Apostle says, 'The Spirit helps the infirmities of our prayers. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.'
—St. Patrick's Confessions.
Reference.—VIII. 26, 27.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1532.
In prayer we need not ask whether our words convey a correct theological conception. They are not meant to be heard of men. 'He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the spirit.' So long as our prayers express the effort after a higher life recognised as proceeding from, and only to be satisfied by, the grace of God, the theological formulae on which they are clothed are of little importance.
—T. H. Green.
Reference.—VIII. 27.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 404.
The True Optimism
I. This cheerful outlook of St. Paul was confined to the godly and the God-loving. He was a decided optimist, if we may use the word which has now become one of our stock terms and taken its place in the language of the streets; but his optimism was built up on morality and God. There are certain amiable dreamers who leave out that moral element. The philosophical optimist paints everything with gold and rose-colour. He thinks that everything is just as good as it can be in the best possible world. He thinks that what we call sin, and guilt, and strife, and hatred are just a lower form of good; that wrong is right, and darkness light, and that all things are working to produce the greatest amount of happiness for everybody in some coming time. 'Let things alone,' he says, 'and out of the hissing, roaring furnace of sin and trouble, pain and chaos, the pure gold will emerge and make all creatures rich.' St. Paul's optimism was not an indolent, sentimental dream of that sort. He believed in the eternal distinction between wrong and right, between good and evil. He believed that there was a huge mass of sin in the world which was hateful to the Creator of the world, and which was producing nothing but misery and death for those who continued to indulge in it.
II. Further, when the Apostle declared that all things worked for good, he was thinking of good in God's sense of that word. Happiness is one thing, good is another and very different thing. Goodness, in the long-run, will no doubt bring in its turn perfect blessedness; it will bring unsullied and unmixed joy; but goodness is not happiness, goodness is not freedom from strife, care, and pain. Those who are called after God's purpose are called for this—to be conformed to the image of Christ And St. Paul was thinking of this end, and of this end only, when he used the words, 'All things work together for good to them that love God'.
III. And now, thirdly, if you bear this purpose in mind you will see at once that St. Paul's assertion is not so extravagant as it seems. In fact, it is not extravagant at all; it is borne out by the whole history of the world, and even by common experience. All things do work together to bring out and perfect the best in the God-loving men and women. It is not only the sorrow of the world, but the very sin of the world that disciplines and develops into goodness those who strive, and labour, and suffer with their faces uplifted towards God.
Really there would be no high types of goodness in the world without the sin and suffering which are elements in producing them. There is no pure gold without the blood-crimson setting, there is no glory without the cross. And even now the bad and distressing things in the world, and in our own lives, have the greatest part, next to the Spirit of God, in producing all that is best and most Godlike in ourselves: the patience, the forbearance, the unselfish thought and care for others, the prayerfulness and trust in God, the strength to bear, the quenchless hope of better things, the pity, the sympathy, the kindliest tears, the dearest affections, the willingness to forgive. And that, I think, was mainly what St. Paul meant: 'We know that all things work together for good to them that love God'.
—J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 165.
Of the Chief Good
I. What was the good toward which everything is here declared to co-operate. Though the expression may be indefinite in itself it was quite plain to those to whom St. Paul was writing, and no one can be much at a loss to understand what he means. What is good to a Christian can only be what Christ has pronounced such, or in other words, what contributes to our becoming what He wishes us to be. This latter is the supreme, or highest good; and it is defined in a single phrase in the verse that follows, as likeness to Himself, that we should be conformed to the image of God's Son. Christ has shown us human nature as it ought to be. He is God's conception of manhood realised. In Him there was no inward contradiction, no strife of lawless desires, no root of bitterness, no want which filled His heart with a continual ache. To be truly blessed is to be like Him, and there is no other blessedness conceivable for us.
II. Let us consider the assertion that all things combine to produce in Christians conformity to Christ. It is a broad and unqualified statement, and marks the complete transformation which Christianity works in our conception of life. Life itself, so far as its outward framework is concerned, remains exactly as before. It develops anxieties and reverses, sickness and sorrow, loss and disappointment. But Christianity shows us all these things subjected to a will that regulates and guides them so as to subserve its own purpose. Each contributes in its own imperceptible, it may be, but nevertheless effectual way to the desired result. And it is just because we lose sight of this result and fail to realise it in its fulness, we often find the words of my text so hard to believe.
III. Let us look a little more closely at the condition on which this working together of all things for good is based. The condition is that we love God. Our will be in harmony with His. But there is more than this implied in loving God. It describes that attitude towards Him in which our filial relationship attains its most confiding and affectionate expression, that clinging to God as a child clings to his father, especially at the approach of peril, and which, even at the time of chastisement, never dreams of questioning His love. And lest at any time you should be shaken in your conviction of the blessed end of God's dealing, by the fear that you do not satisfy the condition of loving Him, then remember that this love is not so much a feeling as a posture or habit of the soul. The closing words of the verse—'to them who are the called according to His purpose'—are not a limitation of the previous definition 'to them that love God.' They rather contain the Divine guarantee for the working of all things together for their good.
—C. Moinet, The Great Alternative and other Sermons, p. 263.
If a man loves God truly, and has no will except to do God's will, the whole force of the Rhine river may rush at him and yet will not disturb him or interrupt his peace.
A few days before his death, Amiel wrote in his journal: 'Destiny has two ways of crushing us—by refusing our wishes and by fulfilling them. But he who only wills what God wills, escapes both catastrophes. "All things work together for his good."'
The saints seem to have the worst of it (for apprehension can make a lie of Christ and His love); but it is not so. Providence is not rolled upon unequal and crooked wheels; all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Ere it be long, we shall see the white side of God's providence.
References.—VIII. 28.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 36. J. D. Jones, Elims of Life, p. 220. C. D. Bell, The Name Above Every Name, p. 124. R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv i. p. 298. W. H. Evans, Short Sermons for the Seasons, p. 161. E. J. Boyce, Parochial Sermons, p. 320. W. Norton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 294. J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima to Ash-Wednesday, p. 43. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 159. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 146. C. E. L. Gardner, A Book of Lay Sermons, p. 181. VIII. 29.—F. B. Woodward, Selected Sermons, p. 111. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 355, and vol. xviii. No. 1043. F. B. Woodward, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 249. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 90; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 101.
Foreknowledge and Predestination
One rarely ventures, or even dares, to preach from this text now, though he may have been preaching half a lifetime. And that itself is an indication of the change which has passed over religious thought, and of the transference of our affections from speculative doctrines to things more practical. The texts which our fathers loved, which they regarded as the very cream, honey, and gold of the Gospel, have been wellnigh banished from the pulpit. The themes on which they meditated and conversed with inexhaustible curiosity and delight would provoke nothing but drowsiness and impatience in a modern congregation.
Moreover, we are decidedly shy of such texts as this, because they were once made the battleground of hostile creeds, and wrangled over by Calvinist and Arminian until all the sweet life-blood was let out of them, and their true meaning hidden in the blinding dust which the strife stirred up. That strife is dead now, wellnigh as dead as an Egyptian mummy, and we have almost buried the texts which supplied its weapons in the grave thereof. Yet surely St. Paul had a noble thought in these words if we could only read it with fresh, unbiassed minds, and deliver it from all the hard and unlovely misconceptions with which it has been loaded.
I. 'For whom he did foreknow, He also did predestinate.' It was an awful doctrine which our fathers found in these words: that a privileged few were foreordained from all eternity to enjoy the favour of God and the raptures of heaven for ever, and that all the rest, the vast majority, were created and sent into the world with their terrible destiny fixed by unchangeable decree, pre-doomed to reprobation and everlasting pains. It seems inconceivable to us that such a thought of God could be held, as it was, by good and tender-hearted men who had sat at the feet of Jesus, and saw the pity and love-light in His eyes. It would hardly be possible to name it now without producing a shudder, and a fierce revolt of indignant emotion against the monstrous injustice and cruelty of the thing. It has gone for ever, driver, out, slain, and extinguished by the gentler thoughts of a nobler and more Christlike faith.
Whatever St Paul meant, we feel that he could not mean that, and even if he did we should decline to follow him. We should hold to the justice and mercy of God, in spite of all. But what the great Apostle bad in mind was something vastly different from that He declares here that God, from the first, had a vision of a nobler race of men, who would be sons of God indeed, who would be chosen and called to share the mind of Christ and be His witnesses among men. God, who foresaw and predestined the Incarnation, the gift of His well-beloved Son to the world, and that life of spotless purity and matchless sorrow, foresaw and predestined also that there should gather round this Christ men after His own heart, swayed with the same purpose, who should be themselves Christs on a smaller scale, so that, instead of one Son of God, there should be many, and that He, the great Forerunner, should be as the Firstborn among many brethren. That is St. Paul's idea of election, and the Divine idea of election which runs through all the sacred writings; and every other idea of election is but a travesty and a caricature of that. There is no mention here of a favouritism which sets a few apart for the enjoyment of heavenly bliss. That may be implied as an after-result, but if St Paul was thinking of that at all it was quite a secondary thought.
II. The purpose of the predestination was to shape men in the image of Jesus Christ, for toil and work and patient endurance in this world, and to bestow upon them spiritual gifts and graces, that they might labour and suffer for, and guide and lead, their fellow-men as He did. 'Predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ.'
III. He called them out, says the Apostle, to be made like Christ, and then He justified them; and, finally, those whom He justified He also glorified. And if we were here to follow the old lines of thought, we would have to talk about effectual and final calling, and justification by faith, and imputed righteousness, and complete sanctification, and the crowns of glory which are reserved for the elect. But I would rather get behind all that doctrinal phraseology to the simpler and far greater thoughts which were passing through the Apostle's mind. Surely he meant that the men who are formed in the image of Christ and called out to do the works of Christ are justified by God, though the world perhaps does them no justice at all. Scant justice did the Lord of all get save from the Father who sent Him and the few disciples who believed in Him. He was tried at Pilate's bar and the world's bar, and convicted of madness, foolishness, and even crime. Scant justice did those who followed Him get from princes and rulers, and the blind multitude who were swayed by those rulers. We read often that they were denounced as madmen, hunted as criminals, despised, hated, and cast out as the off-scouring of the earth. No wonder St. Paul fell back, as his Master had done, on the larger justification of unerring wisdom and love: 'Whom He called, them He also justified'.
Every sufferer for righteousness, every holy martyr, every patient saint, every earnest life spent in tearful services and in works of love, is gradually revealed. They cannot be hidden always. They may be covered for a while by prejudice and pride, calumny and rejection, but the soul that is beautiful in God's sight becomes beautiful at length in the eyes of all men. 'Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him. He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.'
And so these words of St. Paul, which have been made to do such ill service by men who fought over the body and shell of them and lost the spirit—these words come again to us with all their sweet significance and present-day application: 'Whom He predestinated, them He also called, and justified, and glorified'.
—J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 180.
Reference.—VIII. 30.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 241, and vol. xi. No. 627.
When Henri Perreyve was on his death-bed, he asked his friend Abbè Bernard to 'read the eighth chapter of Romans to him, a passage of Holy Scripture in which he had been wont to delight to meditate at the foot of the Cross in the Coliseum at Rome. Just before, without any further explanation of what was troubling him, he had indicated some inward trial by praying audibly before me, Lord, increase our faith. Doubtless it was with the object of soothing this trouble of his soul that Henri sought to hear anew St. Paul's glorious words of immortal hope for those whose whole faith is in Jesus Christ... At the words, Whom He did predestinate, them He also called, and whom, He called, them He also justified, and whom He justified, them He also glorified, I looked up at my friend to see what impression these words, which stirred my soul to its very depth, were making upon his soul. Our eyes met, tears filled those of both; we pressed one another's hand silently, and I went on. But each word fed the strong emotion which wellnigh overcame us. Jesus Christ was indeed with us. He was speaking to us, and our hearts burned within us. I could scarcely go on reading the sacred words; Henri cried quietly. But at the last words, Neither life nor death... shall be able to separate us from the love of God, our hitherto repressed feeling broke forth; our tears became sobs, and Henri, squeezing my hand, said, "Oh, leave me alone with God! à demain".'
If at any time unbelief steals over your heart—if you forget the hand of the all-tender gracious Father of Jesus, and of your soul—you will be crying out, All these things are against me. But ah! how soon you will find that everything in your history, except sin, has been for you. Every wave of trouble has been wafting you to the sunny shores of a sinless eternity. Only believe Give unlimited credit to our God.
—M'Cheyne, in a private letter.
There is nothing so crushing to moral effort, as the suspicion that however we may strive to live rightly, the great forces of the universe may be after all against us. But here the Atonement and the Resurrection come in. They tell us that this suspicion is groundless—that God is not against us, but on our side, that the faintest desire to be better He sympathises with, and will help; that even on the heart where no such desire is yet stirring, He still looks tenderly, that He wills its salvation, and has proved that He really and deeply wills it by a self-sacrificing love great beyond imagination. Can any strength for moral improvement be imagined equal to this?
John Wesley quoted this text in his dying message to Wilberforce. 'Encouraging the young statesman to be an "Athanasius contra mundum," the aged saint adjured him to be not weary in well-doing. "If God be for you, who can be against you?" Go in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery, the vilest that ever saw the sun, shall vanish before it. That He who has guided you from your youth up, may continue to strengthen you in this and all things, is the prayer of your affectionate servant, John Wesley.'
References.—VIII. 31.—J. W. Houchin, The Vision of God, p. 39. J. C. M. Bellew, Christ in Life: Life in Christ, p. 79. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 65. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 580. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 277. VIII. 31-39.—Bishop Gore, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 321. VIII. 32.—J. Bunting, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 389. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 869. VIII. 33.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 265. VIII. 33, 34.—J. Keble, Sermons for Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 63. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. li. No. 2932. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iii. pp. 380, 389. VIII. 34.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 256; vol. xxi. No. 1223; and vol. xxxviii. No. 2240. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 468; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 27; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 427.
We are apt to speak as if it were the natural body which separates the human spirit from its Maker... Many things may hide God from us, one thing only can separate us from Him—unresisted, unrepented sin.
'Ye have now, madam,' wrote Samuel Rutherford to Lady Kenmure, 'a sickness before you; and also after that a death. God give you eyes to see through sickness and death, and to see something beyond death. I doubt not but that if hell were betwixt you and Christ, as a river which ye behoved to cross ere ye could come at Him, ye would willingly put in your foot, and make through to be at Him, upon hope that He would come in Himself, in the deepest of the river, and lend you His hand. Now, I believe your hell is dried up, and ye have only these two shallow brooks, sickness and death, to pass through; and ye have also a promise that Christ shall do more than meet you, even that He shall come Himself, and go with you foot for foot, yea, and bear you in His arms. O then! O then! for the joy that is set before you; for the love of the Man (who is also "God over all, blessed for ever") that is standing upon the shore to welcome you, run your race with patience.'
The Supreme Conquest
Romans 8:35; Romans 8:39
I. The Love of which the Apostle Speaks.—(1) He certainly intends the love of God to us: 'Who shall separate us from the love of God?' In the argument of this Epistle the reality of God's love is confidently assumed. The universality of God's love is just as distinctly taught. Finally, the persistence of the Divine love is vindicated. (2) But the Apostle intends also the Christian's love to God: 'Who shall separate us from the love of God?' Cynics speak scornfully of love; yet we may remember that it is the sublime element in our nature which most clearly reflects the Divine and eternal. It is indifferent to environment. It is unaffected by distance. Duration does not weaken it On receipt of his mother's portrait Cowper wrote: 'It is fifty-two years since I saw her last, but I have never ceased to love her'. Death does not quench love. Mutuality is of the essence of love. Very sorrowful is the lament of Scherer: 'Alas! no faith is so deeply rooted in the human soul that it is not shaken at last'. He is mistaken; there is a faith so deeply rooted in the human soul that it survives all tragedies—the confidence of the man of God in the love of God. (3) Observe the ground on which the Apostle rests this absolute and loving confidence in the love of God: 'Which is in Christ Jesus our Lord'. The world is a paradox: sometimes we construe it to signify joy and hope, when once more it seems to justify only misery and despair. Here, then, comes in the mission of the Christian Church—to affirm the love of God in Christ Jesus to all mankind.
II. The Victory of Life Wrought out in the Consciousness of this Love.—(1) Realising the love of God in Jesus Christ, we more than triumph over all the mystery of life. So far from the mystery of life blinding us, it shall work in us a strange purging and perfecting of vision. (2) In the consciousness of the Divine love we more than triumph over all the suffering of life. The sorrow of life does not harm. The soul can no wound receive, 'no more than can the fluid air'. When shall we once understand this glorious truth, that life's strife is evoking the latent faculties of the soul, bringing out its strength and beauty, making it fit for sublime flights and felicities which dreams cannot picture?
—W. L. Watkinson, The Supreme Conquest, p. 1.
References.—VIII. 35.—C. Bradley, The Christian Life, p. 425. Bishop Matthews, Christian World Pulpit, vol. - lv. p. 235.
The Further Side of Victory
No metaphor is more popular than that which represents life as a battle, nor is any exhortation more certain to stir our blood than the call to victory. Yet conquest is not the Christian ideal. It is a richer promise which Christ offers:—
And there the sunset skies unseal'd,
Like lands he never knew,
Beyond tomorrow's battlefield,
Lay open out to view
To ride into.
All conquerors, in fact, are bound to be more than conquerors. Those who do not accept the stern condition will soon lose even that which they have gained. After conquest come higher responsibilities, for in the battle with evil either within our souls or around us, we must redeem that which we have overcome. It is not enough to make a desolation and call it peace. Life must cease to be our enemy and become our friend. So the true Christian conqueror is not merely a man with a brilliant deed behind him: he is one who has entered into a new and wonderful world, full of the rich fruits of victory.
I. Beyond conquest, the first fruit of it is peace. There is a noisy victory that is as restless almost as the battle was. But this conquest is a thing which ought to quiet the life, giving it a silent grandeur of repose. The rapture of release is natural at first, but it should soon pass into a settled confidence in which faith and character will grow and ripen.
II. Gladness also is offered to the Christian victor. Not only shall he be able to keep the enemies of the soul at bay, but with strong hand to suppress them. Freshness and vitality of spirit are with him also, both to enjoy his own life and to gladden others. The man who wrote this text was one who would undertake to rejoice in anything whatsoever. He rejoiced in hope and he rejoiced in tribulation. He was, in the quaint, exhilarating phrase of an old commentator, 'well, and merry, and going to heaven'. We owe it to God, to ourselves, and to those around us, that we shall not only be strong but rejoicing, men who 'had faced life and were glad'.
III. Love is a still richer spoil of victory. Conquest is apt to be loveless enough. Fighting tends to harden, and many a victor over life can only be said to tolerate the life he has mastered. He is master of himself, but the old illusions are gone. But this is not the typical victory of faith. If the Christian has conquered, he has also loved. He has seen a love that overcame all things and subdued the world, and his own heart beats faster as he remembers that he too is 'a man greatly beloved'. So he has conquered in a heat of generous affection, and the wonder of that love remains, glorifying the life beyond the battlefield.
—John Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, p. 301.
'Victory is not a name strong enough for such a scene '(Nelson, on the Battle of the Nile). Be inspired with the belief that life is a great and noble calling; not a mean and grovelling thing that we are to shuffle through, as we can, but an elevated and noble destiny.
References.—VIII. 37.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 761. J. W. Keyworth, Preacher's Magazine, vol. x. p. 317. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 193.
The Inseparable Love of God
We always think of this chapter as St. Paul's finest composition, and perhaps the most precious legacy which he bequeathed to the Church. It is a noble piece of literary work, full of choice language and deep philosophic thought, and, as a picture of the Christian life and its possessions and hopes, it reaches a sublime elevation which is nowhere else attained except in the lofty sayings of Jesus. And the best of it is kept to the last. The climax and peroration are where they ought to be. They form the grand Hallelujah Chorus which brings the oratorio to a close. The spirit rises above its cumbersome body and all its carnal environment. It mounts on wings of faith to the heavenly blue. It moves as a conqueror in the light and joy and eternal love of God. The whole chapter is on the ascending scale of elate gratitude and confident exultation, until the climax is reached in this exclamation of rapturous certainty:
'I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life,... nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord'.
Now the man who could say that, and feel it, had insured his life against all disturbances and alarms. He boldly asserts that nowhere, either in this vale of tears and parting, or in the dark, unknown immensity beyond, will any power be found that can wrench or weaken the hold upon us of that love of God which has been revealed to us in Christ Jesus.
I. First, then, we need to be persuaded that we have each a place and share in the changeless love of God. That is the greatest article of faith, without which all the others amount to little or nothing. There is only one truth in Jesus Christ, for everything else which He taught was implied in that, the truth of which St. Paul bears witness here—that God cares for and loves each one of us and deems us worthy of His love and holds on to us for ever. That is the battleground of every man's faith. If he believes that, he believes everything. If he is victor there, he is more than conqueror everywhere. 'I am persuaded, that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
II. We are to believe in the inseparable, unchangeable, indestructible love of God. That is the one solid fact in our lives which nothing can dissolve, which laughs at destruction and triumphs over death.
Life is made up of the things from which we get separated in the course of years. It is made up of guests which come and go. It is made up of greetings and farewells, meetings and partings, first kisses and last kisses, treasures and friendships hardly won and easily lost; and at every stage of the journey is a finger-post which speaks of separation. You recognize it when you make your will. All that you have piled up with so much slavish labour and devotion must go then, if it does not go before. Yes, the very wedding vow contemplates the dread separation, 'Until death us do part'. You can never look beyond that in human things. These words, separation and parting, are written everywhere save on that rock where the Apostle stood, and where I trust we all stand. They are written everywhere save on that flag which we hold aloft above the transitory world—that banner of God's love which is over us for ever. There the words of everlasting promise are written; there human fickleness and frailty are swallowed up in God's faithfulness and constancy. We may forget and change, but He cannot forget. We may even try to fling Him off, but still He holds on, and no power can wrench us from the grasp of His love. 'I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come,... shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
III. We are assured that this love is grandly independent of our feelings and moods, changes, frettings, and infidelities. It does not fluctuate with our fluctuations. If it did, we should despair of it some twenty times a day. It does not depend upon the constancy of our love at all. Were His love to grow cold every time our love is frozen, it would long since have been changed to winter. Alas for us were His kisses only offered when we return them! Think how uncertain is the flame of love in us. It burns intensely in the occasional hours of impassioned devotion, and then sinks down into chill, white ashes. We are creatures of moods. We are thermometers, changing suddenly from boiling-point to zero. Hundreds of times, if you were suddenly asked, 'Do you love Him,?' you would be ashamed to say 'No' and afraid to say 'Yes'. We should lose Him altogether if He were affected by our affections. In Him the fire burns on steadily; no coldness in us can quench or cool down the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
—J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 47.
The Never-failing Love of God
It is told of Robert Bruce—not the Scottish king but the old Scottish minister in the generation succeeding the Reformation—that, as he lay a-dying, attended by his daughter, he suddenly exclaimed: 'Hold, daughter, my Master calls me'; and then he bade her fetch the Bible. 'Cast me up,' he said, 'the eighth chapter of Romans, and place my finger on these words," I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord".' And thus he died, with his finger there and his heart there too.
—David Smith, Man's Need of God, p. 266.
The Christ of the Boundless Future
I. When the Apostle tell us that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ, it is important to note, in the first place, what his conception is of the possible unfolding of the future. If we are to understand and follow the Apostle, we must lay hold of his hand and leap with him into the shining future. That is why he begins with death. For this is the portal through which we pass into the great unknown. So Paul commences with the victorious announcement that death cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Granting, then, that He is able to lead us through the portals of death, can He come with us any farther? For after the mystery of death comes the greater mystery of a new life. Let the change from this life below to the life eternal be ever so complete and all-transforming, the Lord of the life on earth is also the Lord of that transfigured life to which the portals of death shall introduce us. The vastest transformation that can be conceived, even if it meant the re-moulding of the whole creation, would still leave the love of the cross untouched, and the children of that love in their eternal place of honour.
II. A few words must now suffice concerning the unuttered questions that underlie this magnificent proclamation of the Apostle. The first question, which we have already anticipated, is—Is the arm of Christ strong enough, and is He great enough to be with us, and to carry us through all the unfold ings of eternal æons? To answer this question in the affirmative is to ascribe to the Christ the infinite glory and power of the Godhead. The next question which underlies the Apostle's proclamation is—Is man strong and noble enough to retain, under all circumstances, the glad and exalted position which he occupies on earth in relation to the Son of God? That this question can be answered in the affirmative is wonderful. Another question is—Is the hand of man strong enough to retain its grip on the Saviour amid all the mighty strain which the Apostle pictures? For the grip of salvation is twofold. To the clasp of the Saviour there must respond the trustful clasp of man. The power which comes into the human heart from the cross of Christ is all-sufficient for every strain.
III. It is clear that if all this vast development cannot separate the children of the cross from their Saviour, it must have some other effect of great magnitude. If we pass through the fire and are not burned, we shall be purified and transfigured. If we bear the heavy burden and are not overcome by it, we shall gain strength and endurance for our life. See! Death is but the beginning of our heavenly brightness. The glory beyond rolls on and grows for ever. Hark! The music grows louder and louder as the ages move upward. Let us, too, sing a louder song to our increasing vision.
—John Thomas, Concerning the King, p. 217.
The refutation of those critics who, in their analysis of the power of literature, make much of music and picture, is contained in the most moving passages that have found utterance from man. Consider the intensity of a saying like that of St. Paul: 'For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord'. Do these verses draw their power from a skilful arrangement of vowel and consonant? But they are quoted from a translation, and can be translated otherwise, well, or or ill, or indifferently, without losing more than a little of their virtue. Do they impress the eye by opening before it a prospect of vast extent, peopled by vague shapes? On the contrary, the visual embodiment of the ideas suggested kills the sense of the passage, by lowering the cope of the starry heavens to the measure of a poplar-tree. Death and life, height and depth, are conceived by the Apostle, and creation thrown in like a trinket, only that they may lend emphasis to the denial that is the soul of his pupose. Other arts can affirm, or seem to affirm, with all due wealth of circumstance and detail... literature alone can deny, and honour the denial with the last resources of a power that has the universe for its treasury.
—W. Raleigh, Style, pp. 17, 18.
References.—VIII. 38, 39.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2492. J. C. Lees, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 67. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxi. p. 27. J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 47.
'Then,' says Bunyan (Grace Abounding, sec. 92), describing one of his brighter moments, 'I began to give place to the Word, which, with power, did over and over make this joyful sound within my soul, Thou art my Love, thou art my Love; and nothing shall separate me from, my Love; and with that Romans 8:39 came into my mind. Now was my heart filled full of comfort and hope, and now I could believe that my sins should be forgiven me; yea, I was now so taken with the love and mercy of God, that I remember I could not tell how to contain till I got home. I thought I could have spoken of His love, and have told of His mercy to me, even to the very crows that sat upon the ploughed lands before me, had they been capable to have understood me.'
References.—VIII. 39.—S. Cox, Expositions, p. 91. J. Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, p. 319. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 360. IX. 1-5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1425. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 288.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.
Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.