Great Texts of the Bible
In Christ a New Creation
Wherefore if any man is in Christ, there is a new creation (R. V.marg.).—2 Corinthians 5:17.
1. The word “wherefore,” with which the text begins, shows us that the words stand in close connexion with what precedes them, and that, in order to understand their meaning, we must know what is the argument that leads up to them. The Apostle has been dealing with one of his favourite themes—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and he has been arguing, as he often does, that that death upon the cross was not an end in itself, but the necessary step towards the resurrection, and that the new life which was manifested in that wonderful victory over the grave, was to be imparted to all who, through faith in Him, partook in the same experience. But, to the mind of St. Paul, this did not only mean that literal death was to be succeeded by a literal resurrection; it meant that, here and now, in the life men live in the flesh, the whole drama of the cross and of the open grave was destined to be re-enacted, and that a death to sin might mean for any man who sought it a resurrection to righteousness. For the Apostle one great effect of the resurrection of Christ was that it set free in the world a new and hitherto undreamed-of power, the power whereby, if belief made a man one with Christ, the greatest marvel might be accomplished, and all that man’s past be forgotten in a new and wonderfully altered present. And so he reaches the words we have here to consider, in which he terms such a change nothing less than a “new creation.”
2. A word on the translation. In the Authorized Version we read “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature”; and the Revisers have retained this rendering. But they give the literal translation in their margin—“there is a new creation.” That is, if any man is in Christ, a new creation is the result; a creation not less perfect or majestic than that which the prophet announces, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth”; or than that which Christ Himself proclaims, when it is said that “He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.” Thus in the case of the man that is in Christ Jesus, there is “a new creation,”—a new creation within, a new creation without,—a new creation already in part accomplished, but waiting its blessed consummation when the great Creator returns in glory to complete His handiwork within and without, in soul and in body, in heaven and in earth.
First then let us see what is meant by being “in Christ”; then let us look at the new creation which the man in Christ discovers within him, and finally at the new creation which he finds all around him.
No words of Scripture, if we except these: “God manifest in the flesh,” hold within themselves a deeper mystery than this simple formula of the Christian life, “in Christ.” Indeed, God’s taking upon Himself humanity, and yet remaining God, is hardly more inexplicable to human thought than man’s becoming a “partaker of the divine nature,” and yet remaining man. Both are of those secret things which belong wholly unto God. Yet, great as is the mystery of these words, they are the key to the whole system of doctrinal mysteries. Like the famous Rosetta stone, itself a partial hieroglyph, and thereby furnishing the long-sought clue to the Egyptian hieroglyphics, these words, by their very mystery, unlock all mysteries of the Divine life, letting us into secrets that were “hidden from ages and from generations.”
The words “in Christ” or “in Jesus Christ” occur fifty-five times in the New Testament. Fifty-four of these occasions are in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul; the fifty-fifth is in a benediction in the First Epistle of St. Peter, which is clearly influenced by St. Paul’s custom. These figures are not to be dismissed as mere statistics. If a straw shows which way the wind blows, statistics of this kind may show the channels of thought in which the Apostle’s mind most often ran. They show the Apostle as the founder of Christianity as a working, worshipping religion, built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. If we can follow St. Paul in his use of a phrase which recurs whenever he is dealing with the heart of his faith, the idea which was in his mind will take shape in ours, and we shall have a clue to what the Apostle meant when he went about Asia and Europe founding Churches in Christ.
1. The phrase is more fully explained in other parts of the Apostle’s writings to be such union with Christ as to involve our being crucified with Him, dead, buried, risen, ascended with Him. But what does all this mean? To understand these mystical terms fully, one would need to pass through the experience of which they are the expression. But something may be said by way of indicating the direction in which to look for the explanation.
It is necessary, in order to the new life of heavenly devotion, that the affections be shifted from earth to heaven, from self to God. How is it to be done? It is easy to say, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind”; but how can I do it? I cannot force myself to love anybody. I cannot even force myself to love a good man. How then can I get to love God, who seems so far away, so impalpable that I cannot grasp Him, so much offended that I dare not approach Him, and so completely out of the sphere of my ordinary life that all human ways of winning my love are impossible on account of the infinite distance between Him and me?
Now, it is perfectly true that under these conditions it is impossible that there should be awakened in any human heart love enough to God to counterbalance the earthly affection. But see how it is all met in Christ. Christ is “God manifest in the flesh,” so that He can and does come close enough to make it possible for Him to win our affection. And this He does by the beauty of His character, by the tenderness of His heart, by the constancy of His love, by His giving up everything for us, and, above all, by His agony and death for us, to take away our sin, to rescue us from death, to redeem our lives from destruction and to crown us with loving-kindness and tender mercies—thus it is that He draws His people to Him with the bonds of an affection which easily becomes paramount and supreme. Those who yield themselves to it are drawn to Him so closely that, spiritually, they are one with Him, just as the true wife is one with the husband whom she loves with all her heart, so thoroughly one with him that what the husband suffers she suffers—she is sick with him, she is pained with him, she is in agony with him, and if he die she dies with him—not literally, of course, but spiritually and really, how really let her altered life after the great crisis only too truthfully tell; and oh, how much of her heart goes after him to the heaven where he is gone!
If a man is in Christ, he must have regeneration; for how can the Head be alive, and the members dead? If a man is in Christ, he must be justified; for how can God approve the Head, and condemn the members? If a man is in Christ, he must have sanctification; for how can the spotlessly Holy remain in vital connexion with one that is unholy? If a man is in Christ, he must have redemption; for how can the Son of God be in glory, while that which He has made a part of His body lies abandoned in the grave of eternal death?1 [Note: A. J. Gordon, In Christ, 10.]
2. Thus we get a profound insight into the Divine method of salvation. God does not work upon the soul by itself; bringing to bear upon it, while yet in its alienation and isolation from Him, such discipline as shall gradually render it fit to be reunited to Him. He begins rather by reuniting it to Himself, that through this union He may communicate to it that Divine life and energy without which all discipline were utterly futile. The method of grace is precisely the reverse of the method of legalism. The latter is holiness in order to union with God; the former, union with God in order to holiness. Hence, the Incarnation, as the starting-point and prime condition of reconciliation to God; since there can be, to use Hooker’s admirable statement, “no union of God with man, without that mean between both which is both.” And hence the necessity of incorporation with Christ, that what became possible through the Incarnation may become actual and experimental in the individual soul through faith.
I wish a greater Knowledge than to attain
The knowledge of my self; a greater Gain
Than to augment my self; a greater Treasure
Than to enjoy my self; a greater Pleasure
Than to content my self; how slight and vain
Is all Self-knowledge, Pleasure, Treasure, Gain;
Unless my better Knowledge could retrieve
My Christ; unless my better Gain to thrive
In Christ; unless my better wealth grow rich
In Christ; unless my better Pleasure pitch
On Christ; or else my Knowledge will proclaim
To my own heart, how ignorant I am:
Or else my Gain, so ill improved, will shame
My trade, and shew how much declined I am:
Or else my Treasure will but blot my name
With Bankrupt, and divulge how poor I am:
Or else my Pleasures that so much inflame
My thoughts, will blab how full of sores I am:
Lord, keep me from my self, ’tis best for me,
Never to own my self, if not in Thee.1 [Note: Francis Quarles.]
3. If, then, we are Christ’s, we enter spiritually into “the fellowship of his sufferings,” so that we are crucified with Him, dead with Him, buried with Him, and rise with Him, finding it a second nature thereafter to set our affections on things above. That is what the Apostle means when, after speaking of the Risen Christ, he says: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” His agnosticism is gone; his guilt and condemnation are gone; his bondage to lust and passion is gone; his heart is set on higher things; God is now the centre of his life, and not only is he himself a new creature, but there is around him a new creation. Earth is much smaller than it used to be, and the infinities of the great universe of God begin to open out to his spirit, even as they began to open out to the intellect of the astronomers after they followed Copernicus to the new centre he had found in the sun.
Nothing is more striking than the breadth of application which this principle of union with Christ has in the gospel. Christianity obliterates no natural relationships, destroys no human obligations, makes void no moral or spiritual laws. But it lifts all these up into a new sphere, and puts upon them this seal and signature of the gospel—“in Christ.” So that while all things continue as they were from the beginning, all, by their readjustment to this Divine character and Person, become virtually new. Life is still of God, but it has this new dependency “in Christ.” “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus.” The obligation to labour remains unchanged, but a new motive and a new sanctity are given to it by its relation to Christ: “Forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” The marriage relation is stamped with this new signet, “Only in the Lord.” Filial obedience is exalted into direct connexion with the Son of God: “Children obey your parents in the Lord.” Daily life becomes “a good conversation in Christ.” Joy and sorrow, triumph and suffering, are all in Christ. Even truth, as though needing a fresh baptism, is viewed henceforth “as it is in Jesus.” Death remains, but it is robbed of its sting and crowned with a beatitude, because in Christ, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”
“In Christ!” How mighty the expression! How singular, yet how exact the description! “In Christ,” then out of the world. “In Christ,” then out of self! “In Christ,” then no more in the flesh, no more in sin, no more in vanity, no more in darkness, no more in the crooked paths of the god of this world.1 [Note: Horatius Bonar.]
4. But if we are to see how much St. Paul meant by being “in Christ,” we must get at his meaning by an induction rather than a description.
(1) “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Here “in Christ Jesus” is a sphere of freedom; and it is freedom of a well-known and recognizable type. It is the freedom by which a higher law and a more developed life-system superseded a lower and less developed one.
It used to be the proud boast of our countrymen that no slave could breathe under the British flag. By setting foot on British soil he ceased to be a slave. The law of freedom superseded the laws of slavery as by a higher right. What our fathers claimed for British rule in the sphere of personal freedom St. Paul claimed for the person of Christ in the sphere of spiritual freedom. No man, however bound in bondage of sin by lusts, passions, habits, superstitions, worldliness, or selfishness could come into Christ without finding his bonds fall from him. The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus would set him free from the law of sin and death. When Eliza, the slave-mother in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, finds that she is sold to a new owner who is going to separate her from her child, she makes a desperate effort to escape. She has been sold in Kentucky: if she can get into Ohio she will be under other laws, and her child will be her own. She slips away from the inn where the sale has been transacted down to the river bank. But there is no boat to take her across! She hides in terror till she hears the hounds baying on her track. Then, with the courage of despair, she leaps out on the floating ice floes in the river; she passes from one to another, her child in her arms, her feet cut and bleeding, till she is almost across the river; then as she nears the other shore a stranger who has watched her flight reaches out a hand and she lands in safety—a free woman. The laws that bound her do not run here. They have ceased to have any authority over her.1 [Note: D. Macfadyen, Truth in Religion, 246.]
(2) “Salute Prisca and Aquila my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus.… Salute Urbanus our fellow-worker in Christ” (Romans 16:3; Romans 16:9). “In Christ” is a sphere of work as well as a sphere of freedom. The nature of the work is tolerably clear from the connexion in which the words occur. Aquila and Priscilla had a “church in their house,” where they and others constantly endeavoured to justify the ways of God to men; and brought men to the knowledge of God through Christ. To be “in Christ” was to be a fellow-worker with St. Paul in this great endeavour. “In Christ” they found a solution of the problem of man’s relation to the unseen world. They found the “good news of God” which lifted away the uncertainties that hung like a mist over man’s destiny; and they felt the news so great that they must make it known. They became fellow-workers in the endeavour to bring men into a life which was to be a conscious fellowship with God.
Love is more often the child of service than its parent. Out of the experience of difficulties overcome, of the hearts of men answering to the word of Christ, and the minds of men responding to His Spirit, comes the confidence which is the renewal of faith. It is an old recipe for dealing with scepticism to send it to teach in a slum or a ragged-school. The worth of the spiritual element in life is never so manifest as when we come to know the meaning of life stripped bare of that element. It is then we know what it is to be “fellow-workers in Christ.”1 [Note: D. Macfadyen.]
(3) Sometimes one gets a flash of insight into St. Paul’s mind through a single casual phrase, as when he says, “I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not”; or, “minds corrupted from simplicity toward Christ.” The life of humanity as St. Paul sees it in Christ is a clean, sweet, ordered, simple life. Of late much has been said and written of the simple life. But the simple life is not life in a cottage or life in a flat, but life “in Christ.” And it is that wherever it is lived.
The talk about the simple life is a natural revolt against the complications of a cumbrous civilization which is at some points becoming too heavy for the shoulders that have to carry it. Our churches are like the Italian condottieri in the days when defensive armour had reached its highest point of development, and before guns had been introduced to make armour useless. They were so smothered in armour that when a man fell from his horse he could not rise. He might expire on the ground unless some friend came to release him. With us it is the elaborate organization of life, and the increasing demands of ecclesiastical dominion that are destroying the spontaneity of nature in the soul’s life.2 [Note: D. Macfadyen.]
(4) But the climax of St. Paul’s way of interpreting the Christian life is reached in the phrase in this text—“a new creation” in Christ. Men who live in this sphere of spiritual freedom, work in this atmosphere, and admit the force of this dynamic, undergo a new spiritual creation. The fact has its physical analogy with which every one is familiar. We may have known someone condemned to exile by the doctors. He was told that he could not live in this climate, but if he would go to South Africa or New Zealand or Australia, breathe a drier atmosphere, live in the open air, he might indefinitely prolong his life. He went, and we lost sight of him for a time, but in ten or fifteen years he came back, broad-shouldered, sun-browned, vigorous, hearty, strong. When we saw him we said instinctively, “My friend, you are a new man, one would hardly have known you.” And the phrase is true enough. The body has been rebuilt, new elements built into it, new energies stored in it, years of hope and service have now become possible for it which were once impossible.
On an early morning of February, his wife awoke, to hear that the light they had waited for more than they that watch for the morning, had risen indeed. She asked, “What have you seen?” He replied, “The Gospel.” It came to him at last, after all his thought and study, not as something reasoned out, but as an inspiration—a revelation from the mind of God Himself. The full meaning of his answer he embodied at once in a sermon on “Christ the Form of the Soul,” from the text, “Until Christ be formed in you.” The very title of this sermon expresses his spiritually illuminated conception of Christ as the indwelling, formative life of the soul, the new creating power of righteousness for humanity. And this conception was soon after more adequately set forth in his book, “God in Christ.” That he regarded this as a crisis in his spiritual life is evident from his not infrequent reference to it among his Christian friends. He regarded this experience as a “personal discovery of Christ, and of God as represented in Him.” To those about him he seemed “a new man,” or rather, the same man with a heavenly investiture. Or, as he himself explained it: “I seemed to pass a boundary. I had never been very legal in my Christian life, but now I passed from those partial seeings, glimpses, and doubts, into a clearer knowledge of God and into His inspirations, which I have never wholly lost. The change was into faith—a sense of the freeness of God, and the ease of approach to Him.”1 [Note: T. T. Munger, Horace Bushnell, 114.]
A New Creation Within
1. It is the great characteristic of the New Testament that it demands a new creation. This is its specific message. Other systems that seek to change character and society insist on education, amelioration, reformation or revolution. The New Testament has little to say about any of these, but demands the new creature—a new creation. Nothing is sufficient except a definite change in the spirit of the man—a change that is so complete and radical that it must be spoken of as a creation, an act of supernatural Divine grace, which makes the creature new, and all life new with it.
“A new creation!” Then, from the very root of being, upward throughout all its branches, a marvellous change has taken place a change which nothing can fitly describe, save the creating of all things out of nothing at the beginning, or the new-creating of this corrupted world into a glorious earth and heaven, when the Lord returns to take possession of it as His Kingdom for ever. “A new creation!”—then old feelings, old habits, old tastes, old hopes, old joys, old sorrows, old haunts, old companionships, all are gone! Old things have passed away, all things have become new. Christ in us, and we in Christ,—how thorough and profound the change must have been! “Christ formed in us,” nay, “in us the hope of glory”; and we created in Christ unto good works after the very likeness of incarnate Godhead—how inconceivably glorious the renewal, the transfiguration wrought in us; for nothing short of transfiguration is it, considered even in its general and most common aspect.
When Jenny Lind, the famous vocalist, suddenly discovered her powers as a singer, it perfectly transformed her whole outlook upon life. She has described the day of the discovery thus: “I got up that morning one creature, I went to bed another creature. I had found my power.” “On that day,” remarks her biographer, “she woke to herself, she became artistically alive: she felt the inspiration and won the sway which she now felt it was hers to have and to hold. It was a step out into a new world of dominion.”
Patrick Daley was one of the first to profess conversion in connexion with Mr. Moody’s recent evangelistic services in Boston. He had been a staunch Roman Catholic by persuasion, but a desperate drunkard by practice. With an overpowering desire to be saved from his evil habit, he so far broke through the prejudices of his religion as to go and listen to the great evangelist. There he heard with astonishment and delight that the chief of sinners and the most hopeless of drunkards might find immediate forgiveness and deliverance through surrender to Jesus Christ. He went into the inquiry-room, and trustingly accepted the Saviour, and entered into great peace and joy in believing. Several weeks after his conversion, he approached me at the close of a meeting with his story and his question.
“You see, your reverence, I know a good thing when I get it; and when I found salvation, I could not keep it to myself. Peter Murphy lived in the upper story of the same tenement with me. Murphy was a worse drunkard than me, if such a thing could be; and we had gone on many a spree together. Well, when I got saved and washed clean in the blood of Christ, I was so happy I did not know what to do with myself. So I went up to Murphy, and told him what I had got. Poor Peter! he was just getting over a spree, and was pretty sick and sore, and just ready to do anything I told him. So I got him to sign the pledge, and then told him that Jesus alone could help him keep it. Then I got him on his knees, and made him pray and surrender to the Lord, as I had done. You never see such a change in a man as there was in him for the next week. I kept watch of him, and prayed for him, and helped him on the best I could, and, sure, he was a different man. Well, come Sunday morning, Joe Healey called round to pay his usual visit. This was the worst yet; for Healey used to come to see Murphy as regular as Sunday, always bringing a bottle of whisky with him, and these two would spree it all day, till they turned the whole house into a bedlam. Well, I saw Healey coming last Sunday morning, and I was afraid it would be all up with poor Murphy if he got with him. So when I went to the door to let him in, and he said, ‘Good morning, Pat; is Murphy in?’ I said, ‘No; Murphy is out. He does not live here any longer’; and in this way I sent Healey off, and saved Murphy from temptation.”
Here was the burden of Patrick Daley’s question; for he continued: “Did I tell a lie? What I meant was that the old Murphy did not live there any more. For you know Mr. Moody told us that when a man is converted he is a new creature; old things have passed away. And I believe that Murphy is a new creature, and that the old Murphy does not live any more in that attic. That is what I meant. Did I tell a lie?”
Candid reader, what should I say? In the light of Paul’s great saying, “Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,” can it be denied that Patrick Daley was right?1 [Note: A. J. Gordon: A Biography, 97.]
2. “No such change is possible,” men say. “Character is not made in a day. All this talk about being born again—about becoming a new man—is misleading and mischievous.” Yes, it may be, if you do not understand it. Perfection of Christian character is not reached in a day. The telephone was not perfected in a day; but the idea, the essential telephone, was born in a minute. So with the Christian character. “Complete realization,” says President Harris, “lies in the future, but the type itself, in the principle and power of it, is already actual. Because the type now exists, its complete attainment is to be expected. I regard this as one of the most important considerations for Christian ethics as well as one of the most unique features of the Christian religion. It explains and combines the statements of Scripture that man is to be saved in the future and yet is saved in the present; that he will have and that he now has eternal life.”
In the life of every man has there been a day when the neavens opened of their own accord, and it is almost always from that very instant that dates his true spiritual personality. It is doubtless at that instant that are formed the invisible, eternal features that we reveal, though we know it not, to angels and to souls. But with most men it is chance alone that has caused the heavens to open; and they have not chosen the face whereby the angels know them in the infinite, nor have they understood how to ennoble and purify its features—which do indeed but owe their being to an accidental joy or sadness, an accidental thought or fear. Our veritable birth dates from the day when, for the first time, we feel at the deepest of us that there is something grave and unexpected in life. Some there are who realize suddenly that they are not alone under the sky. To others it will be brusquely revealed, while shedding a tear or giving a kiss, that “the source of all that is good and holy from the universe up to God is hidden behind a night, full of too distant stars”; a third will see a Divine hand stretched forth between his joy and his misfortune; and yet another will have understood that it is the dead who are in the right. One will have had pity, another will have admired or been afraid. Often does it need almost nothing, a word, a gesture, a little thing that is not even a thought. “Before, I loved thee as a brother, John,” says one of Shakespeare’s heroes, admiring the other’s action, “but now, I do respect thee as my soul.” On that day it is probable that a being will have come into the world. We can be born thus more than once; and each birth brings us a little nearer to our God. But most of us are content to wait till an event charged with almost irresistible radiance intrudes itself violently upon our darkness, and enlightens us, in our despite. We await I know not what happy coincidence, when it may so come about that the eyes of our soul shall be open at the very moment that something extraordinary takes place. But in everything that happens is there light; and the greatness of the greatest of men has but consisted in that they had trained their eyes to be open to every ray of this light.1 [Note: M. Maeterlinck, The Treasure of the Humble, 172.]
3. Is not a great deal of moral effort to-day spasmodic and almost fruitless because men do not take themselves in hand with thoroughness? To try to do something right here and there, while the bias of life is left in the wrong direction is a miserable piece of work; patching a rotten garment with bits of virtue; washing a hand when the whole body needs to be plunged in the cleansing fountain. We have known persons who found that their course of conduct was disastrous to them, and under compulsion they have changed it, but they are what they were though their habits have changed; the old spirit still remains, the spirit that seeks its own advantage always. That was the motive in the old habits; they have simply seen that other habits are necessary to serve their purpose. So they are not new creatures though they have new clothes. If a time came when the old habits would serve them again, they would take them on. They remind one of a fable in which the cat is transformed into a princess, but a mouse crosses her path, and in an instant the princess is a cat once more.
Christ did not come into this world to patch up an old religion, merely to mend a hole here, and beautify a spot there, and add a touch to this part or that; He came to make all things new. And when He saves a sinner, He does not propose merely to mend him up a little here and there, to cover over some bad spots in him, and to close up rents in his character by strong patches of the new cloth of grace. Gospel work is not patchwork. Christ does not sew on pieces; He weaves a new garment without seam throughout.1 [Note: J. R. Miller.]
4. This new creation involves certain facts which are worth considering.
(1) It means that we have a new standing before God.—If I am a new creation in Christ, then I stand before God, not in myself but in Christ. God sees no longer me, but only Him in whom I am—Him who represents me, Christ Jesus, my substitute and surety. In believing, I have become so identified with the Son of His love that the favour with which He regards Him passes over to me, and rests, like the sunshine of the new heavens, upon me. In Christ, and through Christ, I have acquired a new standing before the Father. I am “accepted in the beloved.” My old standing, namely that of distance, and disfavour, and condemnation, is wholly removed, and I am brought into one of nearness and acceptance and pardon; I am made to occupy a new footing, just as if my old one had never been. Old guilt, heavy as the mountain, vanishes; old dread, gloomy as midnight, passes off; old suspicion, dark as hell, gives place to the joyful confidence arising from forgiveness and reconciliation, and the complete blotting out of sin. All things are made new. I have changed my standing before God; and that simply in consequence of that oneness between me and Christ which has been established through my believing the record given concerning Him. I come to Him on a new footing, for I am “in Christ,” and in me there has been a new creation.
(2) It points to a new relationship to God.—If we are new creatures, then we no longer bear the same relationship to God. Our old connexion has been dissolved, and a new one established. We were aliens once, we are now sons; and as sons we have the privilege of closest fellowship. Every vestige of estrangement between us is gone. At every point, instead of barriers rising up to separate and repel, there are links, knitting us together in happiest, closest union. Enmity is gone on our part, displeasure on His. He calls us sons; we call Him Father. Paternal love comes down on His part, filial love goes up on ours. The most entire mutual confidence has been established between us. No more strangers and foreigners, we are become fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, every cloud being withdrawn that could cast a single shadow upon the simple gladness of our happy intercourse. There has been truly a new creation; “old things have passed away, all things have become new.” Our new relationship is for eternity. He is eternally our Father; and we are eternally His sons.
(3) It means that we have entered upon a new way of life.—For when men’s hearts are stirred by the higher love, when the spirit is possessed by the Divine impulse, when Christ has come in, man feels that the saving power has gripped him; and though a long battle may still have to be fought to subdue the whole life to the central spirit, yet that spirit having possessed the centre, there is promise of final triumph. Now this is just the difference between morality and religion, between what that man meant by character and what he meant by Christ; the one is the feeling that we are trying to win goodness, the other is the feeling that the good God has laid hold on us; in the one we have a sense of struggling to hold on to virtue, in the other we have the consciousness of being sustained in the struggle by One that is mighty. This is the need of the individual, and this is certainly the need of the Church.
5. To put it the other way, this new creation is necessary—
(1) In order to get rid of sin.—Many people talk as if it were an easy thing to get rid of that mysterious quality in our being which we distinguish as sin. They talk of turning over a new leaf. It is an easy thing to turn over a new leaf, but it is far more difficult to get free from sin.
I was reading a medical book the other day—which books, I find, open a very suggestive field to the theologian; for there is a wonderful analogy between physical and moral maladies. The subject was the sterilizing of the hands. The writer showed how impossible it was to cleanse the hands from bacteria. You wash your hands and they are worse when you have finished than before you commenced. The water has liberated the bacteria until now your hands literally swarm with these forms of life. Then the writer goes on to show that you may attempt to cleanse them with benzine or with alcohol, but when you have done your utmost the hands are still surgically infected. Before I read that book, it seemed one of the easiest things in the world to wash my hands, but now I know that it is physically impossible by any process so to cleanse the hands as to be free from the contamination of vermin and death. “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners,” says the sacred writer, “and purify your hearts ye doubleminded.” Is that an easy task?1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]
(2) In order to have peace of conscience.—Many of our great philosophers tell us that human nature can never attain content with itself. They tell us that our activity contradicts our ideal, that our carnal self is opposed to our rational self, and that our impulse dominates duty. So in the very nature of things a man cannot be at peace in himself. Thus one of the philosophers—Schopenhauer—asks this question, “Was there ever a man who was at peace with himself?”
(3) In order to obtain spiritual knowledge.—We have not brought into our life the knowledge of God; that is the secret of our discontent. We want the miracle of creation working in nature. There was a time when nature stood great and material, but there came a day (if you like to express it so) when the Spirit breathed upon its rugged greatness, and all was changed.
Botanists tell us that there was a time when all the flowers were green and rough; but there came a day when they received a spiritual touch, and in place of the full monotony of green they blossomed pink and blue, crimson and gold. That is the touch we want. Scientists tell us that there was a time when the birds did not sing (for these gentlemen inform us that music is very recent). All the birds were there, yet they had no melody nor song; but there came a strange moment for the world of birds, and they responded to the touch of the Spirit and became the songsters of morning entering the realm of music. It is a touch like that we want! There was a time, so thinkers say, when man existed in a certain shape they call the almost-man. One day the Spirit breathed upon the almost-man and he stood up as the man we know in Milton and Shakespeare, St. Paul and St. John. That is the touch we want. As these great scientists tell us, there was special breath which caused the green flowers to be decked with radiant glory, the silent birds to break out in the sweet minstrelsy of song, and the almost-man to arise to dignity, intelligence and spirituality; that is the great change which many people need. They have the material form, but they want the touch of the Spirit, which makes life higher, grander and nobler.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]
The New Creation Without
Change the man and you change his world. The new self will make all around it as good as new, though no actual change should pass on it; for, to a very wonderful extent, a man creates his own world. We project the hue of our own spirits on things outside. A bright and cheerful temper sees all things on their sunny side. A weary, uneasy mind drapes the very earth in gloom. Lift from a man his load of inward anxiety and you change the aspect of the universe to that man; for, if “to the pure all things are pure,” it is no less true that to the happy all things are happy. Especially is the world revolutionized and made new to a man by a noble and joyous passion. Any great enthusiasm which lifts a man above his average self for the time makes him like a new man, and transfigures the universe in his eyes. Even common natures know how the one pure, imaginative passion of youthful love, which to most people is the solitary enthusiasm of their life, works a temporary enchantment. All poetry and art, fastening on this as the commonest form of noble passion, have worked this vein and made us familiar with the transforming virtue of young love betwixt youth and maiden to turn the prose of life to poetry, to make the vulgar heroic, and the common-place romantic. The ideal lover moves in a world of his own. To him “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Now, this power of human nature, when exalted through high and noble emotion, to make its own world, will be realized in its profoundest form when the soul is re-created by the free Spirit of God. Let God lift us above our old selves, and inspire us with no earthly, but with the pure flame of a celestial, devotion; let Him breathe into our hearts the noblest, freest of all enthusiasms, the enthusiasm for Himself; and to us all things will become new. We shall seem to ourselves to have entered another world, where we breathe lighter air, see an intenser sunlight, and move to the impulses of a more generous spirit.
Science entirely fascinated him; his first plunge into real scientific work opened to him a new life, gave him the first sense of power and of capacity. Now he read Mr. Darwin’s books, and it is impossible to overrate the extraordinary effect they had on the young man’s mind. Something of the feeling which Keats describes in the sonnet “On looking into Chapman’s Homer” seems to have been his:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.1 [Note: The Life and Letters of George John Romanes, 8.]
It is a new world into which a man is led forth when Christ is formed in him; when his life is joined, by the bonds of a living fellowship, with the life of the Son of Man. There is a new creation; the morning stars are singing together and the sons of God are shouting for joy. No one ever knows how beautiful this world is, how fair its fields, how glorious its skies, till he has looked upon it with eyes anointed by a great affection. Under the spell of such a revelation all tasks are sweet, all burdens light. Into this liberty of the glory of the sons of God may some of you who labour and are heavy-laden be led by Him who is the Way and the Truth and the Life!1 [Note: W. Gladden, Where does the Sky Begin, 201.]
1. Christ is new.—Consider the difference between what Christ is to St. Paul now and what He was to him in the old persecuting days. In those old days Jesus of Nazareth was to him a mere atom of humanity, a single individual out of countless multitudes who had lived and suffered and died upon the earth; and not even that any longer, for He was blotted out by death, nothing remaining of Him but the mere empty name of a dead impostor, made use of by some superstitious people to attempt to overturn the time-honoured fabric of the Hebrew faith. What is He now? Atom of humanity? No: the very God. He is the sun in the heavens, the centre of all light, and life, and love, and power.
From the moment that the light above the brightness of the sun shone upon the spirit of St. Paul, he ceased to identify Christ with the flesh He had worn on earth, and now identified Him with the God over all whom in that flesh He had revealed. And in making the Christ whom he had despised the centre of his life, round which it all revolved, His will its law, His glory its aim, His smile its light, His love its motive power—if he was reproached by others with being eccentric, he was content to be able to say: “Whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God.”
New creatures; the Creator still the Same
For ever and for ever: therefore we
Win hope from God’s unsearchable decree
And glorify His still unchanging Name.
We too are still the same: and still our claim,
Our trust, our stay, is Jesus, none but He:
He still the Same regards us, and still we
Mount toward Him in old love’s accustomed flame.
We know Thy wounded Hands: and Thou dost know
Our praying hands, our hands that clasp and cling
To hold Thee fast and not to let Thee go.
All else be new then, Lord, as Thou hast said:
Since it is Thou, we dare not be afraid,
Our King of old and still our Self-same King.1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Verses, 27.]
2. God is new.—Man has seen God in Christ as man never saw God before. It is fashionable for intellectual men, or rather—for the fashion of this world’s thought changes—a few years ago it used to be in good intellectual form for men to say, “We may believe that God exists, but we cannot know anything of God.” That passing fashion of thought, however, was fatally illogical, because the very words which were in vogue in some quarters about God, such as, “He is the unknown and unknowable Power,” really affirmed something, of which we have some latent idea, about the unknown God. And we may have real though finite knowledge of infinite things. I can know what light is by a single ray in my eye, although I cannot contain in my eye the infinite flood of light which fills all space. And I may know God by a single beam of truth in my soul, although I cannot know God in His infinitude of being. To us who are capable, then of receiving truth from God because we are made in the image of God, Jesus Christ brought a new revelation of the essential and eternal character of God. And what was that revelation? Not an image of Deity for the Holy Place of the Temple, in which was no likeness of God. Not a map of the Divine attributes, as they are found in the books of the Schoolmen. Not a form of God which we may look upon and worship as a picture of Divinity in our imaginations. Jesus is never depicted pointing His disciples to the sky, as we do, when we say to our children, “God is there, Heaven is up above.” You cannot find in the teaching of Jesus one word about God’s nature which is addressed to these bodily senses. But when Philip said, “Shew us the Father,”—poor bewildered disciple, finding the truth he had been learning too great for him, and thinking, If I could only know the Father, if I could only see God as I see man,—then Jesus said, “Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” That was His revelation, His new, world-changing revelation of God. Himself, His Person, His character, His conduct—you know that; such is God. The one word which declares God is Christ. Christlikeness is what God is.
3. Man is new.—As man is discovered to us in Christ, he is found to be a new creature. Man is in Christ another man. It will make a vast difference with us whether we habitually look upon man as created in Christ, or without Christ. You go down the street, and pass some one who is to you only another of the multitude of human beings of whom there seem sometimes to be already many more than there is any use for on this earth. You do not know that man, and do not want to know him. He may be only some worthless creature who hives, with other miserables, in some tenement house which was built by the devil of greed, and has been rented to demons of vice and squalor. Only some Board of Health, or the police, have occasion to know the habitats of so much swarming and festering humanity! Or the man you meet may be respectable and honest enough, for all you know, only he exists, and must live his life, whatever it may be, in some one of those worlds which lie below the one into which you were born, and, probably enough, his name is not to be found written in your book of life. You owe him, you will admit, “equal rights,” “liberty to make contracts,” a certain humanity, and, if he should ever happen to come to your church, a seat in somebody else’s pew. Something like that, in spirit, was the old-world view of man before the birth of Christ. That is the view of him which you might take, had you not been baptized into the name of Christ, in whom our whole common humanity exists, redeemed and capable of a great salvation. But what thought Jesus Christ of humanity as He came from the Father, and met that publican in Jericho? As He went to God what said the Lord Jesus to that thief upon a cross? As Jesus’ revelation of God was vivifying, and is potential with blessing for the whole world, so also His revelation of man is wonderfully ennobling and transfiguring. Jesus brought out, perfected, and showed in His own Divine Person, the true image of humanity. Man is made to become Christlike. Man may be saved to Christlikeness.1 [Note: Newman Smyth.]
4. Life is new.—Examine the average life which is being led in a society (we will say) like our own; what is there about it that is noble or exalted? To get along comfortably; to make money; perhaps, in some cases, to make a great deal of money; to keep trouble at a distance, if possible; and to surround oneself with everything that is pleasant and agreeable; does not this—or something like this—seem to be the condition of hundreds and hundreds of the ordinary men and women with whom we are acquainted? They are respectable! They are blameless! They are kind! No one can lay any grave fault to their charge. But to say that there is anything lofty or noble or aspiring about them would be a simple misuse of language. But let Christ enter the life, and all this is changed. The commonest act is ennobled by being done for Him. Let Christ into all life; and the present—no matter what it is—reaches out and fastens itself on to the distant eternity, and becomes the germ of a never-ending existence.
Old sorrows that sat at the heart’s sealed gate
Like sentinels grim and sad,
While out in the night damp, weary and late,
The King, with a gift divinely great,
Waited to make me glad:
Old fears that hung like a changing cloud
Over a sunless day,
Old burdens that kept the spirit bowed,
Old wrongs that rankled and clamoured loud—
They have passed like a dream away.
In the world without and the world within
He maketh the old things new;
The touch of sorrow, the stain of sin,
Have fled from the gate where the King came in,
From the chill night’s damp and dew.
Anew in the heavens the sweet stars shine,
On earth new blossoms spring;
The old life lost in the Life Divine,
“Thy will be mine, my will is Thine,”
Is the new song the hearts sing.
5. And the whole universe is new.—For when the great change takes place, even the face of nature has a different look: there is a new glory in the heavens and a new beauty on the earth; the light that never was on sea or land begins to dawn.
The revolution in science which is associated with the name of Copernicus, was a similar shifting of the centre from earth to heaven; and the result of it was a new creation, a universe totally different from what had been known, or even imagined, before. Up to this time, it had been taken for granted that the earth was the centre of the universe, and on that false assumption there had been built up a vast science of astronomy (which, be it remembered, the scientific men of the time accepted as correct), a science which was no mere guess-work, for it was based on observations which had been most carefully made and diligently recorded for centuries. The intricacies of that old Ptolemaic system of the universe seem absurd enough to us now; but all its spheres, and cycles, and epicycles, and deferents had a strong foundation on exceedingly patient and careful observations of the motions of the heavenly bodies as taken from the earth. As taken from the earth—there lay the whole fallacy. But one might ask, Where else can you take them from? Erect the highest Eiffel Tower on the top of the loftiest mountain, and still you take your observations from the earth. To which Copernicus replied: Nevertheless, so long as you take your observations from the earth, you are all wrong; for it is not the centre. The true centre is the sun, and though you cannot put your observatory in the sun, you can go there by faith; you can take your station there mentally even if you cannot bodily, and then out of old chaos will at once come new order.
At the great spring Drômenon the tribe and the growing earth were renovated together: the earth arises fresh from her dead seeds, the tribe from its dead ancestors; and the whole process, charged as it is with the emotion of pressing human desire, projects its anthropomorphic god or daemon. A vegetation-spirit we call him, very inadequately; he is a divine Kouros, a Year-Daemon, a spirit that in the first stage is living, then dies with each year, then thirdly rises again from the dead, raising the whole dead world with him—the Greeks called him in this phase “the Third One,” or the “Saviour.” The renovation ceremonies were accompanied by a casting off of the old year, the old garments, and everything that is polluted by the infection of death. And not only of death; but clearly, I think, in spite of the protests of some Hellenists, of guilt or sin also. For the life of the Year-Daemon, as it seems to be reflected in Tragedy, is generally a story of Pride and Punishment. Each Year arrives, waxes great, commits the sin of Hubris, and then is slain. The death is deserved; but the slaying is a sin: hence comes the next Year as Avenger, or as the Wronged One re-risen: “they all pay retribution for their injustice one to another according to the ordinance of time.” It is this range of ideas, half suppressed during the classical period, but evidently still current among the ruder and less Hellenized peoples, which supplied St. Paul with some of his most famous and deep-reaching metaphors. “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die.” “As he was raised from the dead we may walk with him in newness of life.” And this renovation must be preceded by a casting out and killing of the old polluted life—“the old man in us must first be crucified.”1 [Note: Gilbert Murray, Four Stages of Greek Religion, 46.]
Midway down the Simplon pass the traveller pauses to read upon a stone by the wayside the single word, “Italia.” The Alpine pines cling to the mountain-sides between whose steeps the rough way winds. The snows cover the peaks, and the brooks are frozen to the precipices. The traveller wraps his cloak about him against the frost that reigns undisputed upon those ancient thrones of ice-bound rock. But at the point where that stone with the word “Italia” stands, he passes a boundary-line. From there the way begins into another world. Soon every step makes plainer how great has been the change from Switzerland to Italy. The brooks, unbound, leap laughing over the cliffs. The snows have melted from the path. The air grows warm and fragrant. The regiments of hardy pine no longer struggle in broken lines up the mountain-side. The leaves of the olive trees glisten in the sunshine. The vines follow the wayside. The sky seems near and kind. And below, embosomed in verdure, Lake Maggiore expands before him. As he rests at evening time he knows that the entrance into a new world was marked by the word “Italia” upon that stone at the summit of the pass. Humanity has crossed a boundary-line between two eras. Up to Bethlehem was one way, growing bleaker, and more barren, and colder, as man hastened on. Down from Bethlehem has been another and a happier time. The one civilization was as Switzerland shut in among its icy Alps; the other is as Lombardy’s fruitful plain.2 [Note: N. Smyth, Christian Facts and Forces, 4.]
O all-surpassing Splendour!—one alone
Of earthly race hath seen that vision fair;
The present God, the rainbow round the throne,
And the elect, descending through the air,
His Tabernacle,—He their glorious light;
For in His presence there can be no night.
“All New,”—a higher world then had been made
In the past-workings of omnipotence,
Wills without sin,—Earth’s precious stones displayed
Tell faintly some Divine magnificence.
Of that regenerate sphere, the pure abode
For sons and daughters of the Immortal God.1 [Note: W. J. Irons.]
In Christ a New Creation
Arnold (T.), Sermons, i. 10; iv. 274.
Dewey (O.), Works, 759.
Farrar (F. W.), Truths to Live By, 290.
Figgis (J. N.), Antichrist and Other Sermons, 16.
Gibson (J. M.), The Glory of Life, 35.
Gladden (W.), Where does the Sky Begin, 187.
Gordon (A. J.), In Christ, 91.
Grimley (H. N.), Tremadoc Sermons, 243.
Jerdan (C.), Manna for Young Pilgrims, 46.
Martin (G. C.), in Great Texts of the New Testament, 127.
Matheson (G.), Leaves for Quiet Hours, 210.
Moore (A. L.), in Keble College Sermons, 197.
Newman (J. H.), Parochial and Plain Sermons, v. 164.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xv. (1869), No. 881; xx. (1874), No. 1183; xxii. (1876), No. 1328.
Westcott (B. F.), The Historic Faith, 129.
Williams (F. R.), The Christ Within, 104.
Wordsworth (J.), Sermons Preached in Salisbury Cathedral Church, 97.
Christian World Pulpit, xxxv. 346 (G. Matheson); lii. 187 (T. V. Tymms); lxix. 262 (W. L. Watkinson).
Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd. Ser., viii. 93 (G. Calthrop); xiv. 12 (W. Burrows).
The New and the Old
The old things are passed away; behold, they are become new.—2 Corinthians 5:17.
1. This is a very bold and sweeping statement. We seem almost to be listening to a prophet of revolution. St. Paul, addressing the democratic Corinthians, might be regarded himself as speaking the language of democracy. His view of Christianity, it might be said, was that it was an absolute emancipation from the fetters and traditions of the past. He was an over-zealous and ardent reformer; he had no reverence for antiquity; he was full only of a new order of things which was to supersede all that had gone before. Old thoughts, old systems, old beliefs—of all these a clean sweep was to be made, and man was to start afresh on a new path of progress, of which none could see the end. And something like this is the view, no doubt, which many persons have taken of Christianity. They do regard it essentially as a democratic movement, as a class religion. They identify it with the interests of a class. To them its chief charm consists in its assertion of the freedom and the equality of all men. They see that it has emancipated the slave and defended the right of the poor, and they value it most exclusively as the prime agent in a great social revolution. It was this communistic tendency that caused it to be welcomed at first by one class and suspected by another. Hence it was that the poor and the oppressed embraced it so eagerly. Hence it was that rulers, holding it to be subversive of governments, dreaded and sought to crush it in its cradle. It is the same tendency that in later times made many hail its influence, who had no sympathy with its creed.
Yet it cannot seriously be maintained that this is the view which St. Paul took of Christianity. Much less can it be pretended that such an opinion finds any kind of countenance or support in this passage. The revolution of which St. Paul is speaking here is entirely a spiritual revolution. He has learnt, he tells us, a new estimate of things, he has learnt to give them their proper value. He no longer regards men or things by the common standards of the world. Even his appreciation of Christ as his Saviour is no longer what it then was—“after the flesh,” that is, of an external kind; it has been exchanged for a profoundly spiritual recognition of His glory. He has become the disciple of a Divine mysticism. He has a life quite distinct from the life of the senses or the life of the intellect. He can say of himself, “I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me.” St. Paul claims to have passed into a new region of spiritual life. He claims to have dispensed with a view of Christ’s work which, true no doubt in itself, still fell far short of that to which he had now attained. Looking back upon his past career, and comparing his former with his present knowledge of his Saviour, he could liken the change to nothing less than a new creation: “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new.”
2. The words of the Authorized Version do not represent accurately the original passage. The words, as written by St. Paul, are not “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,” but “Old things are passed away; behold, they are become new.” St. Paul does not speak of an obliteration of the past, but of a renewal of the past. The old things themselves have become new. The old was gone, not because it had been blotted out, but because it had reappeared under a purer, nobler, more excellent form. God’s law, as seen in the building up of the Christian life and Christian society, was the same law as might be discerned in all the work of His hands. Transformation, not destruction, is the rule of His operation.
You may trace that law, as some have thought, in that creation of which the first chapter of Genesis contains the record. The first creation fell into wasteness and crumbled into ruin; but out of its ruins was built up that world of order and beauty which we inhabit. Old things passed away; behold, they became new. You may trace that law, scientific observers will tell you, throughout the material universe. No matter perishes; no force is lost. The particles which constituted one body may be fashioned anew to constitute another. The force which we know as heat may be known under another name as motion or electricity; but the matter never perishes, the force never decays. The old has passed away; behold, it is become new. You may trace that law in the vegetable world, when the corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies only to emerge again, first in the green blade and then in the golden ear, the same and yet how different. The old has passed away; behold, it is become new. You may trace the law in that most wonderful of transformations, when the crawling, unsightly worm, whose house and world have been a leaf, bursts from its chrysalis-tomb, clothed with beauty and splendour, to spread its dazzling wings in the summer’s sun, and to feed where it will on the choicest sweets of the summer’s flowers. This eternal law shall be seen, we are assured, hereafter, when our human bodies, having turned to corruption, shall be raised anew, the same not in identity of substance but in identity of form, when that which was sown a natural body shall be raised a spiritual body, and that which was sown in corruption shall be raised in incorruption. And the change of the individual shall be repeated throughout God’s visible creation, and there shall be new heavens and a new earth, new not by destruction but by transformation, and fitted for their new and transformed inhabitants.
To those in Christ all things are not only new, but they are growing continually newer. In the old world, and with the old man, it is just the other way. Things are always getting older, until life gets to be an insufferable burden, a dreary round, a wretched repetition, and we see backs bent with nothing but pure sorrow, and heads white with none other sickness than vexation of spirit, and men brought to the grave because life was too wearisome, and time too intolerable, and existence too aimless and stale, to be supported any longer. But in the new world, and with the new man, the whole is reversed; and the new cry ever waxes more frequent and more loud. “Look, and look again, how the old is passing, how the new is coming, how things are getting new.” Every day more of the old is weeded out, more of the new is coming in. Life is “fresher and freer” and fuller of promise. There are new discoveries of the Father’s love, new revelations of Christ’s grace, new experiences of the Spirit’s comfort. Life becomes interesting, and entertaining, and significant, and splendid, and grand beyond belief. What views of life Christ’s world contains; what heavens of expansion overarch it; what hills of attainment are reared upon it; what distances of outlook are discernible from it! Yourself, Christ, God—what thoughts about them all you could never have conceived before! History, Time, Eternity—what feelings they stir in you, you never could have felt before! Purpose, Progress, Achievement—what mighty motions of the will they produce!1 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 130.]
3. Now the principle here laid down by the Apostle is one of the greatest importance when regarded as a principle of reconciliation between opposing tendencies. For both political parties and religious parties may be said, as a rule, to range themselves respectively under the banners of the past and of the future. “Old things” is the watchword of the one; “new things” is the watchword of the other. The one would try to resuscitate the past, would cherish it, even in its fossilized forms would try to galvanize it into life; the other would sweep away its every vestige, or leave it only as a subject of curious inquiry to the archæologist, or of inspiration to the poet. The one dislikes all change; the other thinks that no change can be too radical and too sweeping. The one hugs the shore or keeps to the harbour; the other riots in the tumult of winds and waves, if only a new world may be given to its eager quest and dauntless courage. But both these extreme parties are alike at war with the very constitution of the world. You cannot stereotype any phase of human existence. Change is God’s law; progress is God’s law.
The claim of a new thing to be old is, in varying degrees, a common characteristic of great movements. The Reformation professed to be a return to the Bible, the Evangelical movement in England a return to the Gospels, the High Church movement a return to the early Church. A large element, even in the French Revolution, the greatest of all breaches with the past, had for its ideal a return to the Roman republican virtue or to the simplicity of the natural man. I noticed quite lately a speech of an American Progressive leader claiming that his principles were simply those of Abraham Lincoln.2 [Note: Gilbert Murray, Four Stages of Greek Religion, 58.]
4. “The old things are passed away”; and quite rightly we are slow to see it. He has little sense of holiness who tramples on the past, or scorns the words of those whom God has taken from us. Yet the old things do pass away, and often silently. We seem to wake of a sudden to find that the old hand has lost its cunning, the old custom is turned to wrong, the old teaching emptied of its living force. Then what are we to do? We have a carnal craving for something fixed in this world, some rock of adamant on which the storms of time shall beat in vain. Meaner men simply will not take the trouble to give up the old things. The foolish mother would like her baby to be always little; the stupid politician shrinks from needful reform; the cowardly Christian looks out for a master upon earth, or hides himself among the trees of dogma, that no fresh voice from heaven may unsettle the thing he is pleased to call his faith.
All purely natural things must pass away. The beauty of our childhood fades, the proud powers of our manhood fail us, and words that were spirit and life to our fathers are empty sounds to us whom God has changed. Who cares now for the battle-cry of the Crusaders? The old things are passed away, and the glory seems departed with them from the earth. We look wistfully to the culture of Greece, the splendour of Rome, the fervour of the early Christians, the simple faith of the Middle Ages, the strong righteousness of Puritanism; but we can no more recall them than we can wake the dead. They have passed away for ever, and we must face as we best can the work of a world which without them seems cheerless and commonplace.
Passing away, saith the World, passing away:
Chances, beauty, and youth, sapped day by day:
Thy life never continueth in one stay.
Is the eye waxen dim, is the dark hair changing to grey
That hath won neither laurel nor bay?
I shall clothe myself in Spring and bud in May:
Thou, root-stricken, shalt not rebuild thy decay
On my bosom for aye.
Then I answered: Yea.
Passing away, saith my Soul, passing away:
With its burden of fear and hope, of labour and play,
Hearken what the past doth witness and say:
Rust in thy gold, a moth is in thine array,
A canker is in thy bud, thy leaf must decay.
At midnight, at cockcrow, at morning, one certain day
Lo the Bridegroom shall come and shall not delay;
Watch thou and pray.
Then I answered: Yea.
Passing away, saith my God, passing away:
Winter passeth after the long delay:
New grapes on the vine, new figs on the tender spray,
Turtle calleth turtle in Heaven’s May.
Though I tarry, wait for Me, trust Me, watch and pray:
Arise, come away, night is past and lo it is day,
My love, My sister, My spouse, thou shalt hear Me say.
Then I answered: Yea.1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Poems, 191.]
5. “The old things are passed away; behold, they are become new.” This is God’s law of change. They leave us only to return in other shapes; they vanish only to come back in nobler forms. God never takes away but that He may give us more abundantly. He takes away the innocence of childhood that He may give us the old man’s crown of glory. He takes away the fathers we leaned on and the children in whom we garnered up our love that He may be Himself the Father of the fatherless and the hope of them that are desolate. He takes away the guides we trusted, the friends who were our very life, that He may be Himself our guide and ever-living Friend. He unsettles the simple belief of ignorance that He may give us the nobler faith of them that know. He smites with emptiness the burning words which stirred our fathers that He may give us other words of deeper meaning and of yet more thrilling call. Nothing that is good can perish. Though He sift it as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth. The dross of our thoughts shall perish; but the word of our God which came to us will embody itself again in worthier forms. Through all the changing scenes of history His call remains the same—Come upward hither, and I will show thee of My glory.
But it is needful to look at God’s manner of making new Sometimes the change comes with a mighty destruction and the crack of doom. But has the old really perished? Is anything that was precious in the earth or the heaven of the old time taken clean away out of our reach? The answer lies in the Bibles which we hold in our hands. They have an Old Testament as well as a New. Adam’s earth is ours. David’s heaven is ours. Israel after the flesh has grown into Israel after the spirit. We cannot neglect the Scriptures of the Old Covenant without misreading the Scriptures of the New Covenant. It was Christ’s coming that made the law to cease, and rendered useless part at least of the office of the prophets. Yet Christ Himself said, “Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy but to fulfil.” That in them which He did seem to destroy had, in fact, already died a natural death, for its work was done; but in making all things new He brought life and immortality into the old. And even so must they in each generation strive to act who follow in His steps.
All around, in those well-ordered precincts, were quiet signs of wealth, and a noble taste—a taste, indeed, chiefly evidenced in the selection and juxtaposition of the material it had to deal with, consisting almost exclusively of the remains of older art, here arranged and harmonized, with effects, both as regards colour and form, so delicate, as to seem really derivative from a spirit fairer than any which lay within the resources of the ancient world. It was the old way of true Renaissance, the way of nature with her roses, the Divine way with the body of man, and it may be with his very soul—conceiving the new organism, by no sudden and abrupt creation, but rather by the action of a new principle upon elements all of which had indeed lived and died many times. The fragments of older architecture, the mosaics, the spiral columns, the precious corner stones of immemorial building, had put on, by such juxtaposition, a new and singular expressiveness, an air of grave thought and intellectual purpose.1 [Note: Walter Pater, Marius the Epicurean.]
(1) The principle is seen in History.—If Greece has perished, she remains a light to the world. If Rome’s eternal throne is cast down, her witness to right and law is imperishable. If the old saints are mouldered into dust, their spirit lives among us in many a patient toiler of whom the world is not worthy—more prosaic, it may be, but no way less heroic than that which dared the cross and the fire in the olden time. If Puritanism has passed away, it has left us many of the best features of English life—the sober earnestness, the civil freedom, the Sunday rest, the quiet sense of duty which labours to unloose the bands of wickedness and to undo the heavy burdens of all that suffer wrong. The more appalling the world-wide scene of change, decay and ruin, the more certainly a power of life is working upward through it all.
The great empires of the East passed away, but not before they had transmitted to the people of God the treasures of their civilization. Greece fell; Rome fell: but in other forms they survive still, Let us only think what we owe in our own intellectual life, and in the expression of our religious faith, to Greece; think what we owe in our civil and ecclesiastical organization to Rome; and perhaps we shall be inclined to confess with a new conviction that “the dead rule the living,” and recognize, humbled at once and stirred by the grandeur of our obligation, that God has placed the future in our hands.1 [Note: B. F. Westcott, Christian Aspects of Life, 89.]
(2) It is seen in the history of the Church.—Whilst it is God’s law in creation and God’s law in the history of man that old things pass away because they become new, this is true in the highest sense of the great work of human redemption. Look at the history of that redemption. When man fell, what was the Divine method? Did God blot out the rebellious race, and create another race upon the earth? No; out of the ruin of human nature a new and more glorious fabric was revealed; Christ the Son of God, the second Adam, was promised, and came in the likeness of sinful flesh. The bitter waters of the natural fountain were changed into sweet. A ruin was made the material of the new and better structure. The old became new. Mankind, which fell in the first Adam, was built up in the second Adam, Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh. And as God revealed Himself, first to patriarchs and then to Moses, the law-giver of the Old Covenant, and then to prophets who were interpreters of His will, there were elements of the earlier dispensation which were perpetuated in the next. The patriarchal nearness to God, the vision of the Almighty, did not cease when God went before His people in a pillar of cloud and in a pillar of flame. The Tabernacle was perpetuated in the Temple, the rites and ceremonies of the law were not abrogated but spiritualized by the prophets. And when St. Paul would find the great proof of his doctrine of justification by faith, he goes back to the ancient dispensation. Abraham is its great example; the prophet Habakkuk waiting upon God, when the Chaldæan armies were approaching, gives him the words which are the key-note of his gospel. But the old had become new. For Jesus Christ had come in the flesh, revealed as the great object of faith; and the true life of faith was life in union with Christ. And our Lord Himself teaches the same lesson. “Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil.” The Jewish priesthood perished, the Jewish sacrifices were abolished, the Jewish Temple was levelled with the ground, but their Divine meaning was fulfilled in Christ, and abides in Him and in His people to the present hour.
The Latin church left its work of witnessing and ministering for Christ, and made itself a judge and a divider among men. Its doctrines were all poisoned by one colossal blasphemy. It required what God has never asked even for Himself—to be believed without regard to reason, and obeyed without regard to conscience. So the yoke of Christian Pharisaism had to be broken, that men might be free to serve God in spirit and truth. The unspiritual unity of Western Europe had to be shattered in pieces, that nations might escape the tyranny of an alien and sectarian church. Above all, the idea of an infallible church holding plenary powers from an absent king had to be rooted out before men could begin to see the gradual development which is God’s word to successive generations. But an infallible church is also incorrigible: therefore He cut her in sunder, and appointed her portion with the hypocrites. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were the after-swell of the storm; and only the nineteenth was free to take up the work which the Reformation made possible even in countries where it was rejected. That work is hardly more than begun; but we can already see its character. Our losses are no doubt immense. The old social order is gone, the old conception of miracle and inspiration is overthrown, and a growing tangle of practical questions represents the growing complexity of life and thought. But is there no gain in our wider knowledge of truth? in a more strenuous and earnest life? in a quickened hatred of social wrong? in a higher tone of that national conscience which under any form of government speaks the final word? Is it nothing to know Christ as He never was known before? to see the realms of grace and nature joined in their incarnate Lord? to be made free from the horror of past ages, the inscrutable despot far off in heaven, who sought some other glory than the highest welfare of His creatures? No heavier burden has been lifted from men since the Gospel swept away the whole slavery of gods and saints and demons, and left us face to face with the risen Son of Man who hears the prayer of all flesh from His throne on high.1 [Note: H. M. Gwatkin, The Eye for Spiritual Things, 54.]
The Master stood upon the mount, and taught.
He saw a fire in His disciples’ eyes;
“The old law,” they said, “is wholly come to nought,
Behold the new world rise!”
“Was it,” the Lord then said, “with scorn ye saw
The old law observed by Scribes and Pharisees?
I say unto you, see ye keep that law
More faithfully than these!
“Too hasty heads for ordering worlds, alas!
Think not that I to annul the law have will’d;
No jot, no tittle from the law shall pass,
Till all have been fulfill’d.”
So Christ said eighteen hundred years ago.
And what then shall be said to those to-day,
Who cry aloud to lay the old world low
To clear the new world’s way?
“Religious fervours! ardour misapplied!
Hence, hence,” they cry, “ye do but keep man blind!
But keep him self-immersed, preoccupied,
And lame the active mind!”
Ah! from the old world let some one answer give:
“Scorn ye this world, their tears, their inward cares?
I say unto you, see that your souls live
A deeper life than theirs!”
Here let that voice make end; then, let a strain,
From a far lonelier distance, like the wind
Be heard, floating through heaven, and fill again
These men’s profoundest mind:
“Children of men! the unseen Power, whose eye
For ever doth accompany mankind,
Hath look’d on no religion scornfully
That men did ever find.
“Which has not taught weak wills how much they can?
Which has not fall’n on the dry heart like rain?
Which has not cried to sunk, self-weary man:
Thou must be born again!
“Children of men! not that your age excel
In pride of life the ages of your sires,
But that ye think clear, feel deep, bear fruit well,
The Friend of man desires.”1 [Note: Matthew Arnold, Poems, ii. 169.]
(3) It is seen in the life of the Individual.—That which is true of the great redemptive work of Christ in the world is true no less of His redemptive work in every soul of man. Here there is ever change, here there is ever progress; but here there is no destruction except of that which has been corrupted through sin. The grace of God in Jesus Christ is indeed a mighty power in the heart. The conversion of a sinner to God is indeed nothing less than a turning from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. But even where that change has been as marked, as sudden, as decisive as it was in St. Paul, there is no obliteration of past history or past character. New affections are not given, but the old affections are made new, because they are turned to a new object, because they are purified, strengthened, elevated. The trust which once leaned upon earthly props is now fixed upon God and His Christ; the hope which once was bounded by the narrow horizon of time is now full of immortality and embraces eternity in its arms. The love which once was idolatry of some human object has now found its legitimate satisfaction in Him whose love passeth knowledge. A new intellect is not given, but the old intellect is made new, because it now finds its highest exercise, not in science or art or literature, though it despises none of these things, but in the study of the revelation of God. A new character is not given, but the old character is sanctified to a higher use. Energy becomes devotion to God; impetuosity, zeal in His service; resolution, loyalty to Christ Jesus. And so long as life lasts, the perpetual transformation is going on.
We are slowly, very slowly, abandoning our belief in sudden and violent transitions for a surer and fuller acceptance of the doctrine of evolution; but most of us still draw a sharp line of demarcation between this world and the next, and expect a radical change in ourselves and our surroundings, a break in the chain of continuity entirely contrary to the teaching of nature and experience. In the same way we cling to the specious untruth that we can begin over and over again in this world, forgetting that while our sorrow and repentance bring sacramental gifts of grace and strength, God Himself cannot, by His own limitation, rewrite the Past. We are in our sorrow that which we have made ourselves in our sin; our temptations are there as well as the way of escape. We are in the image of God. We create our world, our undying selves, our heaven, or our hell. Qui creavit te sine te non salvabit te sine te. It is stupendous, magnificent, and most appalling. A man does not change as he crosses the threshold of the larger room. His personality remains the same, although the expression of it may be altered.1 [Note: Michael Fairless, The Roadmender, 79.]
There were some rough diamonds among the converts; but if they were rough they were diamonds still. One man, a brick-layer’s labourer, could not read a chapter of the Bible without a mistake in every line. Yet for fifteen years he attended the Sunday morning prayer-meeting at seven o’clock, often conducting it, and praying with such fervour and power that my father felt the influence of his prayers upon his ministry to be exceptional, if not unique. A woman, who in the early days of his work among the pig-feeders of Notting Dale held up in his face a quart pot of beer and laughed at him with words of scornful obscenity, was attracted to the Tabernacle, was soundly converted to Jesus Christ, and was thenceforward a living monument of the most winsome Christian goodness. It was with special reference to her that my father wrote: “I believe we had as real and noble a company of praying women as ever they had in the apostolic days.” Another woman was a member of a little colony of gypsies who often encamped upon some waste ground not far away from the Tabernacle. Herself led to the feet of Jesus by my father’s ministry, she brought several others to hear him preach, and among those of them who were converted were three brothers—the father and two uncles of the now famous evangelist, Gypsy Smith. My father baptized them—I can myself remember the scene—with peculiar and exultant joy.2 [Note: Henry Varley’s Life-Story, 69.]
In his Confessions St. Augustine has left record in literature of a profligate and shameful past, of a deep repentance and flight to God for succour, and of a grand recovery alike to moral obedience and to splendid service. The profligate of Carthage, steeped in degrading animalism, becomes in Rome the first of the four great Latin Fathers of the Church, exercising an influence on Christian thought and life second only to that of the Apostle Paul. In this case, as in many others which might be recorded, the springs of action were not lamed by the memory of a mournful past, but rather quickened into finer intensity and more strenuous endeavour. Shakespeare had dared to say:
Best men are moulded out of faults.
There is blue sky in front of us if in the memory of any guilty act we feel that we would rather die than repeat it. To have erred in the past does not condemn us to degradation in the future. The soul, though deeply stained, may be cleansed and regain its purity, if not its innocence. Again and yet again He who “knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust” takes us by the hand and says “Start afresh.” With God, and hope, and tomorrow, we may mock the counsels of despair. It is inevitable that some error should creep into our lives, for we are but human. Let the bitterness of past failure sting us into nobler action in the present, and the weakness revealed urge us to supplication for diviner strength. We have at least gained through defeat a fuller knowledge of ourselves. Our self-confidence has been rebuked, and we have learned the special perils, the besetting sins, against which we need to guard. Says Browning:
When the fight begins within himself,
A man’s worth something.
He is tried that he may triumph. He wrestles that he may be crowned.1 [Note: R. P. Downs, Beaten Gold, 148.]
The New and the Old
Arnold (T.), Sermons, i. 10; iv. 274.
Bonar (H.), Family Sermons, 435.
Calthrop (G.), in The Penny Pulpit, No. 853.
Dewey (O.), Works, 759.
Dykes (J. O.), Sermons, 249.
Gibson (J. M.), The Glory of Life, 35.
Gladden (W.), Where does the Sky Begin, 187.
Gwatkin (H. M.), The Eye for Spiritual Things, 49.
Jowett (B.), Sermons Biographical and Miscellaneous, 356.
Martin (G. C.), in Great Texts of the New Testament, 127.
Newman (J. H.), Parochial and Plain Sermons, v. 164.
Perowne (J. J. S.), Sermons, 172.
Westcott (B. F.), Christian Aspects of Life, 86.
Westcott (B. F.), The Historic Faith, 129.
Wordsworth (J.), Sermons Preached in Salisbury Cathedral Church, 97.
Christian World Pulpit; xxxv. 346 (G. Matheson); lii. 187 (T. V. Tymms); lxvii. 86 (K. Lake); lxix. 262 (W. L. Watkinson).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Easter Day and Season, vii. 342 (A. M. Mackay).
Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd. Ser., viii. 93 (G. Calthrop).