Great Texts of the Bible
The Unfolding of Character
Yea, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply virtue; and in your virtue knowledge; and in your knowledge temperance; and in your temperance patience; and in your patience godliness; and in your godliness love of the brethren; and in your love of the brethren love.—2 Peter 1:5-7.
The writer had set forth in the previous verses the great doctrine that God has given to us in Christ Jesus all things pertaining to life and godliness, and that the form in which this is given is that of exceeding great and precious promises, in order that by these we should be partakers of the Divine nature. After having set forth the things revealed in Christ, he considers how it is, in what particular condition of living it is, that we become partakers of these. The fulness that is in Christ is one thing; the actual enjoyment of that fulness by us personally is another. The 5th, 6th, and 7th verses contain an exhortation by complying with which we shall receive of that fulness.
1. “Giving all diligence.” The first thing on which our attention is fixed is this, that the Christian life is an active life—one which contains in it a continual call for watchfulness and activity. It is not a condition of mere repose or of simple receiving; but there will be a continued activity connected with that receiving. A demand upon the whole man, upon the whole time of the whole man, is implied in the word “all”—“giving all diligence.”
It is a demand for business vigilance in the realm of the Spirit. We are not to close our eyes and to allow our limbs to hang limp in the expectancy that the Lord will carry us like blind logs. He “made us of clay,” but He “formed us men,” and as men He purposes that we shall live and move and have our being. And so He calls for “diligence.” It is a word which elsewhere is translated haste, carefulness, business. It is very wonderful how frequently the New Testament takes its similes from the commercial world. “Trade ye herewith till I come.” “Look therefore carefully how ye walk, buying up the opportunity.” “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman.” In all these varied passages there is a common emphasis upon the necessity of businesslike qualities in our spiritual life. We are called upon to manifest the same earnestness, the same intensity, the same strenuousness in the realm of spiritual enterprise as we do in the search for daily bread.
We must bring method into our religion. We must find out the best means of kindling the spirit of praise, and of engaging in quick and ceaseless communion with God, and then we must steadily adhere to these as a business man adheres to well-tested systems in commercial life. We must bring alertness into our religion; we must watch with all the keenness of an open-eyed speculator, and we must be intent upon “buying up every opportunity for the Lord.” We must bring promptness into our religion. When some fervent impulse is glowing in our spirits we must not play with the treasured moment; we must strike while the iron is hot. “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” We must bring boldness into our religion. Timid men make no fine ventures. In the realm of religion it is he who ventures most who acquires most. Our weakness lies in our timidity. Great worlds are waiting for us if only we had the courage to go in and possess them. “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” And we must bring persistence into our religion. We must not sit down and wail some doleful complaint because the seed sown in the morning did not bring the harvest at night. We must not encourage a spirit of pessimism because our difficulties appear insuperable. We must go steadily on, and wear down every resistance in the grace-fed expectancy that we shall assuredly win if we faint not. Such are the characteristics of common diligence which we are to bring into co-operative fellowship with the forces of grace. “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The Examiner, Sept. 21, 1905.]
2. “Add to your faith virtue” (A.V.). There are various kinds of addition in the world. You may fling a heap of stones together, without an aim and without a plan, and they fall into some sort of shape under the influence of the law of gravitation. The stones are simply flung together, and no thought is needed to dispose of them; they fall into a certain shape, of necessity. But that is not the addition meant here. There is another kind of addition, when you lay stone to stone according to a plan, when you dress the stones and fit them together for your own purpose, and make for yourselves a home to dwell in, a place to work in, or a building in which you may worship God. That is nearer the meaning of the text, but there is something more than the mere fulfilment of a plan and purpose in the addition of the text. There is the addition which a tree makes to itself year by year, till it expands from the seed to the full majesty of perfect treehood. That addition is determined from within, not merely an addition from without and by an external agency. It is an unfolding from within, it is an addition by which the tree has mastered material once external to itself, transformed it, lifted it to a higher level and made it part of itself. That is nearer the meaning of our text. Yet one more attempt to find the full meaning of this addition. It is like that which boys and girls make to themselves from the day of their birth till they come to the fulness of the stature of perfect manhood and womanhood. They grow by striving, by winning the victory over external matter; they grow till they attain to fulness of bodily stature. But they grow also by feeling, wishing, desiring, by willing and acting, by foreseeing ends and taking means to realize them. They grow by feeling, thinking, willing. And to this kind of growth there is no limit.
(1) The older version has the preposition “to” throughout—“add to your faith virtue,” and the rest; so that virtue, knowledge, and temperance were made to appear as separate, detached things, each of which could be tied or stuck on to the others. “In your faith supply virtue” means something different. It means that faith is the root from which virtue grows up. These graces, in short, are not ready-made articles, which we can appropriate and use mechanically, like the dressed and polished blocks of stone one sees in a builder’s yard. Instead, they are as closely related as the members of a living body. They flourish together, and they decay together, so near is the affinity and sympathy between them.
Every added virtue strengthens and transfigures every other virtue. Every addition to character affects the colour of the entire character. Ruskin, in his great work, Modern Painters, devotes one chapter to what he calls “The Law of Help.” And here is the paragraph in which he defines the law. “In true composition, everything not only helps everything else a little, but helps with its utmost power. Every atom is in full energy; and all that energy is kind. Not a line, nor spark of colour, but is doing its very best, and that best is aid.” It is even so in the composition of character. Every addition I make to my character adds to the general enrichment. The principle has its reverse application. To withdraw a single grace is to impoverish every element in the religious life. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The Examiner, Sept. 21, 1905.]
(2) “In your faith supply (or furnish) virtue.” Now the Greek word translated “supply” is a very full and suggestive one. It is a word with a history. It takes us back to the days in old Athens when it was reckoned a high honour by a citizen to be asked to defray the expenses of a public ceremony. It means to furnish the chorus for the theatre; so that to the minds of many of those to whom the words were first addressed, the thought might have been suggested that these graces would come into the life like a chorus. They would come singing and dancing into it, filling it with joy and loveliest music. A saint of old thus carolled: “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” And here in the New Testament we have the Christian graces introduced as a chorus into life, which would be dull and fiat and discordant without them.
Have we not often wondered how endless the variety of music that can be won from the simple scale of seven with its octaves? As endless is the variety of soul-music that will flow from this simple scale of grace. And nothing but music will come from it. From a musical instrument quite correctly tuned, and on which the scale is faultless, the most discordant noises may be produced; but this cannot be in the spiritual sphere. Given the gamut of graces, all discord is banished from the life. Life will become one continual song, not always in the major mode, but perhaps moat beautiful of all when it modulates into the minor in life’s dark days; but a song it shall be from beginning to end, from the keynote and starting-point of Faith swelling onward and forward till it closes in the grand finale of the upper octave Love.1 [Note: J. M. Gibson, The Glory of Life, 65.]
Architecture is said to be “frozen music.” This is true of the commonest wayside wall. What is it that makes the sight of a well-built wall so pleasing to the eye? What is it that makes building a wall such an interesting employment that children take instinctively to it when they are in a suitable place, and have suitable materials at hand? Is it not the love of symmetry, the delight in shaping large and small, rough and smooth, pieces of stone, adapting them one to the other, and placing them in such a way that together they make a symmetrical structure? Every wall, be it rude as a moorland dyke, represents the love of order and the difficulties that have been overcome in making the stones of the wall to harmonize with one another. And if we see this curious harmony in the humblest rustic building, how grandly does it come out in the magnificent Gothic cathedral, where every part blends faultlessly with every other part, and carries out the design of the architect; and clustered pillar, and aerial arch, and groined roof soar up in matchless symmetry, and the soul is held spellbound by the poetry which speaks through the entire structure.2 [Note: H. Macmillan, The Mystery of Grace, 103.]
The direction, “Add to your faith virtue,” or as the Revised Version has it, “In your faith supply virtue,” does not recognize faith as co-ordinate with these other virtues, but derives from faith the various excellences of character which are named. In naming each and all, it presupposes faith as the root from which all proceed. In this sense the Christian ideal of living begins with and presupposes a religion or a personal trust and love towards Christ as the object of love and confidence. It binds us to Him by an act of allegiance, in which are blended honour and gratitude, love and hope.
1. It must not be forgotten that this whole passage, with all the mighty possibilities which the sweep of its circle includes, proceeds on the assumption that certain great preliminary and vital transactions have taken place between the soul and God. Preparatory to this rich evolution there had to be an adequate involution. This is not merely assumed by the Apostle. It is stated. Look at 2 Peter 1:1-3. “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained a like precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that his divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and virtue.” Here, then, everything has been preceded by a process of moral adjustment, the harmonization of the individual will with the universal, and the insertion of a new life-principle which holds in its close-shut hand the promise and the potency of endless spiritual progression, of ever-growing similarity to God.
The writer, then, is not “preaching the Gospel”; he is not making known to the ignorant what they have not heard, or urging on the wicked and impenitent what they have neglected; he is not proclaiming pardon, mercy, reconciliation, and so on, to the miserable and the lost; he is contemplating persons of another sort, and doing a different kind of thing altogether. He assumes that the persons he addresses are believers—that they have faith, “like precious faith” with himself. They do not need, therefore, to have the Gospel “preached” to them, made known, pressed on their acceptance, or to be themselves “besought” and entreated “to be reconciled to God.” They are past all that. They have heard the Gospel; have believed it; and are recognized as partakers of that faith in “the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ,” to which, in Scripture, the justification of the sinner is attached. Hence, you will observe, they are not exhorted to have faith,—or to “add” faith to anything. They have it; and, as having it, they are exhorted to “add” to it all the other things.
If you want flowers, you must have roots, and the roots must be placed in a favourable soil. Any gardener will tell you that certain plants need a particular kind of mould if they are ever to be anything better than sickly-looking weeds; and people who neglect these precautions, or try to coerce nature into their methods, have to pay for it next summer by having no flowers. Just so there is one soil, and only one, in which temperance and patience and godliness will take root and flourish, and that is a heart that has trusted Christ as Redeemer and bowed to Him as King and Lord.1 [Note: H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God’s Plan, 231.]
2. By faith, the writer means faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The trustful apprehension of God’s unspeakable gift, of the mercy which rose over the world like a bright dawn when the Redeemer came—that is what he intends by the word. This is worth mentioning; for it is not uncommon to speak of faith abstractly, as no more than a hopeful, positive, serious way of regarding life. But when the New Testament writers say “faith” they mean, quite definitely, faith in contact with its proper object, Christ, and becoming through that contact a strong triumphant thing.
This faith is more than an intellectual assent to a speculative truth or an historical fact. It is more than credit to any fact, or assent to any truth. It is an act of loving devotion to a person in answer to His claims upon the heart, the response to His manifold love of grateful devotion, the reception of His offered pardon with renunciation of the forgiven sin, the consecration of the life to His cause, and a steadfast and open avowal of discipleship. Such a faith by no means excludes definite views of Christ’s nature and work,—whence He came and whither He goes; what He must be as Divine or as human,—but it enters into the human soul and into human society as a living power, by its joyful and loving realization of Christ as the master of the heart who, though He was dead, yet lives, and, behold! is alive for evermore; but who is yet as near and as sympathizing to every disciple as when He spoke words of personal tenderness to the weakest and the most disconsolate, or wept tears of sympathy at Lazarus’ grave.
On January 16, 1894, Dr. Temple (then Bishop of London) gave a striking lecture to the clergy of the diocese at Sion College on “Faith.” He began by referring at some length to a conversation upon Justification by Faith which he, when a young scholar at Balliol, once had with “Ideal” Ward, then a Fellow of the College and considerably his senior. Ward quoted the definition of faith given by Coleridge in the beginning of his Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit: “Faith subsists in the synthesis of the reason and the individual will,” a definition which the Bishop took as the text of his lecture.
It was not (he owned) a definition that would have been accepted in the last century, nor one which was generally to be found in the writers of Christian evidences; but, while it had been assumed that faith was the act of the intellect only, he contended that to make it merely an intellectual act would be to lower the nature of faith itself. Such a theory was, he said, inconsistent with the nature of man, between whose various faculties and powers a sharp distinction could not really be drawn. The tendency to separate the intellectual and the will forces was, he felt sure, a mistaken one. The intellect could not act in its fulness without the will, nor could the will act in its fulness without the intellect, nor indeed could either act without the affections. But, still further, the tendency of this attempted separation of the intellect from the will, and the assigning of faith to the intellect entirely, was always towards laying the whole stress of faith upon external evidence. The intellect taken by itself dealt with external evidence more easily than any other, and consequently, wherever that notion of faith had either consciously or unconsciously prevailed, there had been always a tendency to base faith entirely upon miracles, and to make them the one conclusive proof of the truth of God’s revelation, or especially of that part of His revelation from which we derived our Christian knowledge. That, however, was no sure foundation; for it was a resting, not upon miracles as the real basis, but upon the historical evidence of those miracles; and there, of course, there necessarily came in the fact that the judgment upon miracles belonged entirely to the ordinary intellect. The man who was the best judge of such evidence was not necessarily a good man or a spiritual man; he was simply an intellectual man who could balance one kind of testimony against another.
The Bishop then said that faith might begin in various ways. It might begin within or without; but if it was to be a permanent thing, if it was to be supreme over life, then it must find its root at last within the soul. Faith must be a total, not a partial—a continuous, not a desultory—energy. Faith must be light, a form of knowing, a beholding of truth. The anchor of faith was a true belief in the moral law, and the moral law must necessarily have a supreme personality. It was the voice which governed the man from within, and at the same time asserted its supremacy over everything else.
This analysis of faith was then applied by the Bishop to the Christian Faith.
“The acceptance of God, the acceptance of Christ, the acceptance of the Bible, the acceptance of the doctrines taught in the Bible, and the acceptance of those facts which were bound up with those doctrines—that was the faith alike of the great divine and the uneducated peasant. The one might be able to see the reasons of his faith, and the other might not; but both alike had real evidence upon which their faith rested, in that absolute firm foundation which God had given to every man in his own soul.”1 [Note: Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, ii. 70.]
3. But, always remembering that faith is faith in Christ, let us take “faith” in all the breadth and depth of its Scripture meaning. We are so apt to make narrow what the Scriptures have not made narrow, and to make wide what the Scriptures have not made wide. When faith unfolds itself, it is not a process similar to that by which a house is built. It is not as if we were adding something to something in an external manner. No doubt there is some truth in that thought, for “ye are God’s building.” But “ye are also God’s husbandry.” We are so ready to make faith mean only the faith that justifies, to limit it to one function, and to fail to recognize its universal character and its great function. It is true that the receiving and resting on Jesus Christ for salvation is one of the great characteristics of faith, but the meaning of faith is wider than that. It is that which makes us at home in God’s eternal world; it is that which enables us to endure as seeing Him who is invisible; it is that which enables us to grasp with firm, unwavering hand the realities of God’s eternal world, and to feel at home in His unseen presence. It gives us power to grasp the eternal principles of the righteousness, truth, and love of God.
Faith to Dr. John Watson was that knowledge of God and that discipline of the soul, together with that service of man which from the beginning have affected the more spiritual minds of the race and created saints, whose literature is contained in the writings of prophets, apostles, theologians, mystics, whose children have been the missionary, the martyr, the evangelist, the philanthropist, whose renaissance has been those revivals of religion which have renewed the face of society.2 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll, Ian Maclaren, 276.]
4. Observe now the connexion that exists between faith and the virtues. “Add to your faith.” This is the root, the living principle. All true morality is born of spirituality, and all complete morality is born of the spirituality created and maintained by Christian faith.
(1) Faith means vision, and the faith of Christ means the vision of the perfect One. In Christ was the blending of all excellences. As a modern writer says: “No one can tell what was Christ’s predominant virtue.” As we live a life of faith in the Son of God we live in the presence of absolute beauty and perfection.
(2) Faith means aspiration, and the faith of Christ means not only the sight of perfection, but also a passion for it. As the worldly man covets property, and restlessly adds field to field and house to house; as the intellectual man thirsts for knowledge, and is ever stretching out to new horizons and cataloguing new stars,—so the spiritual man rejoices in the goodness that restlessly longs to complete itself. Nothing short of the beauty of the Lord satisfies a true believer.
(3) Faith means transformation—we are changed into the likeness of that on which we passionately gaze; and faith in Christ means that we are changed from glory into glory until we are complete, lacking nothing. Faith in God, in the higher universe, in the glorious future; faith in Christ as our Redeemer, in the grace of the Holy Spirit, in the crown that fadeth not away—this is the faith by which the just live and fulfil the whole law. Faith is the root whence spring all the fruits of righteousness, the stem whence radiate the seven branches of the golden candlestick. All colours are in the light of the sun, and all moral beauty is in Christian faith, revealing evermore its changing hues according to time, place, and circumstance.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson, Studies in Christian Character, ii. 77.]
1. The word “virtue” cannot be taken here in the sense which it bears in ordinary use. As a general term it is employed to designate all excellence;—here, it is only one excellence out of many. It must stand, therefore, for something distinct and specific. It does so. It stands, according to the exact import of the original term, for “force,” “energy,” “manly strength.” It describes a readiness for action and effort, the disposition and the power of strenuous achievement.
The Latin word vir meant a man, or a hero; and the Latin word virtus meant the special quality of the man or the hero. Virtue, to the Latins, meant, thus, the quality of manhood, or heroism. It was the special quality of life, without which a man was merely a creature, an animal. It gave tone, and dignity, and force to men. Virtue and manliness were almost synonymous words. To be manly was to be virtuous; to be virtuous was to be manly. And it is in this sense that the word is used in our text. For the Greek word conveys just this conception of manly virtue. We associate with it the idea of courage, robustness, manhood.
In some ways “virtue” is the proper translation of the Greek word, but the Christian should remember that the meaning of human nature has been deepened and widened beyond reckoning since the Word became flesh and dwelt among men. Christ Jesus is a revelation of the possibility of human nature, and it has become a new thing since He took our nature on Himself. So when we speak of manliness in the Christian sense we mean manliness after the type introduced into life by Jesus Christ. It is not the Greek or Roman type of character that is here meant, not the life of self-assertion, of mere courage, or of that tendency which says the race is to the swift, and the battle to the strong; but the kind of life which realizes itself in service, which spends itself in saving others, which has as its ideal the life of Him who when He was reviled, reviled not again, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.
2. We may take “virtue” in various senses, not excluding one another, but each contributing something to the whole meaning.
(1) First of all it is efficacy. It is faith in energetic action. We often employ the word in this sense. We speak of there being virtue in a medicine to cure a particular disease. We also talk of one thing happening “in virtue of” another, i.e. the one is the cause of the other, the power which produces the other. And the term is often used with this meaning in Scripture. Thus, in the case of the woman who came secretly among the crowd and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, it is said Jesus knew that virtue had gone out of Him. That is to say, Jesus was conscious of having put forth an efficacious power to heal the woman. And on another occasion, when Jesus came down from the mount, where He had all night been engaged in prayer, we are told, “the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all.”
Elsewhere this same writer has the word twice, but then he must be using it in quite a special and not the ordinary sense, for it is to God that he applies it. He speaks of “shewing forth the virtues of God”; and again, just before the text, he speaks, if we take the true reading, of God calling us “by his own glory and virtue.” Well, this last passage will give us a clue to what St. Peter means in the text. For when he speaks of God’s virtue, he means, we are clear, the energy and power which God exercises on those whom He calls; the strong, constraining force with which His arm draws us nearer to Himself. There you have it—the energy, the power, the effectiveness of God, or, if the case be so, of man; that is what St. Peter means by “virtue.” This is what we have to equip our faith with—energy, power, earnestness, effectiveness.
Just as the optic nerve feeds the brain with images of the physical order, so the faith-nerve feeds the soul with visions of the spiritual order. The amount of will-power poured into our faith will determine the measure of its efficiency and the richness of its result. It is the same in every other department of life. Concentration, the power to focus the scattered forces of the mind on one point of observation, and the faculty of cutting out all disturbing and distracting factors, will ever be the measure of man’s success. Deficient will-power is an all-sufficient explanation of failure, whether in law, medicine, literature, commerce, or trade. If you saw a young fellow of splendid ability failing on this account, you would say, “In your faculty supply will.” Just as you have seen business men fall out of the running through lack of this element, so St. Peter had seen Christian men falling out of the Christian race. From this failure he is anxious to save them. Hence his rallying word at the close of this passage,” If ye do these things ye shall never stumble.” We live by correspondence with our surroundings. Indeed, life has been defined by Herbert Spencer as “correspondence with environment.” Now, the method of correspondence between the soul and the environing God is prayer; but prayer requires a conductor, and that conductor or line of communication is faith. That is why we read, “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” But the faith-line must not be a dead wire. It must quiver with the current of living will. Only thus can it become the conveying medium of our communication, and give carrying power to our prayers.1 [Note: H. Howard, The Summits of the Soul, 11.]
(2) The term is often fairly enough translated “courage.” But the word “courage,” again, is rather narrow. It is only at times that courage is called into request, whereas the virtue the Apostle has in view is always in request. It is that practical energy which resides in the will, and which is necessary to carry faith into action. We may, for convenience, call it the grace of doing. “Faith cometh by hearing”; but there are many who hear and fail to do, for want of this practical energy, this determination which leads on to action. It is the practical, as distinguished from the speculative or the sentimental spirit.
There was a moment in the French Revolution when the Republic was ringed round with enemies. The Prussians were on the Rhine, the Piedmontese in the Alps, the English in the Netherlands—La Vendée had rebelled in the west, and Lyons in the east. But Danton cried, “We need audacity, and again audacity, and always audacity.” It is what I must have in the Holy War—a sanctified audacity that will dare anything and everything on Christ’s behalf.2 [Note: A. Smellie, In the Hour of Silence, 312.]
Once in Northern India a detachment of soldiers were led against a band of robbers who had entrenched themselves in a strong position at the head of a narrow gorge. The troops were marching along the valley between the steep sides, when a sergeant and eleven men separated from the rest by taking the wrong side of the ravine. The officer in command signalled them to return. They, however, mistook the signal for a command to charge. For a moment they looked up the rocky heights, and saw their enemies above the ramparts. Then with a ringing cheer they clambered up the steep side. At the top were seventy robbers sheltered behind a breastwork. It was a desperate encounter, but against such odds it could not last long. Six fell on the spot—the rest were hurled backward into the depths below. Now it was a custom in that nation when any of their bravest fell in battle to distinguish the most valiant by a thread tied round the wrist—a thread of red or green silk, red denoting the greatest courage. Some little time afterwards the English troops found the twelve bodies stark and gashed, but round the wrist of each was tied the scarlet thread—the distinction of the hero. So, even amongst a wild and savage robber horde, bravery, the bravery of an enemy, is a thing to be reverenced and honoured. I ask you to-day to come and pledge yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ, because it does need courage.1 [Note: M. G. Pearse, Short Talks for the Times, 98]
(3) Among the Romans “virtue” meant especially a manly courage in the field. How they hated cunning and artifice and guile! It was part of the true combatant that he would never take unfair advantage of his adversary. He would beat him in fair contest, or not at all. There was a true chivalry about these old-world heroes. They would not stoop to trickery and deceit and evasion. They relied on strength and skill and endurance; on force of hand and head and heart. They knew how to take punishment like men, and to use victory with magnanimity. And their whole idea of this true bearing, this brave and open spirit entered into the word “virtue.”
It takes more of real manhood to confess oneself in the wrong than to forgive and forget an offence. It is easier to be generous than to be just. He was not losing his manliness, but just gaining it again, who said “Father, I have sinned.” And neither the individual nor the Church is losing manliness, but gaining it, that can be great enough to say “I am wrong.” J. H. Green says that few scenes in English history are more touching than the one which closed the long struggle between Edward I. and the barons over the Charter, “when Edward stood face to face with his people in Westminster Hall, and, with a sudden burst of tears, owned himself frankly in the wrong.” Aye, they were kingly tears! and it was the confession of a king!2 [Note: C. Silvester Horne, Sermons and Addresses, 146.]
3. We need this “virtue” in our faith. That is to say, we want to believe in an honest, robust, straightforward, manly way. Our convictions are to be held in a way becoming a man—frankly and manfully confessed, and based on a thoughtful and candid consideration of the various problems that we have to face. In other words, behind our beliefs, penetrating and informing them, is to be our own true and manly spirit. We may believe what is wrong—for as long as man lives it will be human to err—but, at least, we must be true. The real truth and sincerity of our mind and heart must never be in doubt. God has nowhere promised that He will keep our minds from error. To exercise the mind in discrimination, in discovery, in analysis and synthesis, this is our business—the task committed to us by the Infinite God. But God has promised to keep our hearts true.
Every one remembers the well-worn tale of the pious lady of Vermont in the United States, the view from whose window was blocked by a rocky hill, and who determined to test the promise to faith that it should be removed and cast into the sea. And, according to her lights, she prayed and prayed the night through, till the dawn peeped in at the window, and there was the hill unmoved. “Ah!” she said, “just as I expected!” But there came along that way a prospecting engineer, with his instruments and chain measures and dumpy leveller, and examined that hill and accurately measured it. It was in the way of a new railroad, and he expressed his firm faith that it could be removed. The Company at his back adopted his faith, and he added to his faith virtue in the shape of two thousand navvies, and in a few months that hill was removed. If he had had no faith, he would not have put on the navvies; and if he had not put on the navvies his faith would have been uninfluential and inactive. He added to his faith virtue; he added to his orthodoxy activity; he added to his creed conduct; he added to his conviction action. His faith was as the grain of mustard seed, which, when the life or substance is awakened within, moves what, in comparison with its size, are literally mountains. And so the engineer removed the mountain that resisted the prayer, unmixed with action, of the Christian lady of Vermont.1 [Note: B. Wilberforce, Sanctification by the Truth, 134.]
There is always danger lest zeal should be misdirected; lest it should be employed in the accomplishment of a wrong object, or lest it should adopt wrong means to attain even a good object. There is danger too of zeal becoming a wild fanaticism. Hence, virtue must have in it a supply of knowledge. The Christian possessing zeal, but without knowledge to guide it, is like a ship without a pilot, in danger of splitting on the rocks. St. Paul was constitutionally an earnest and whole-hearted man, in whatever cause he undertook. The zeal which led Saul of Tarsus to persecute from city to city those who called on the name of the Lord Jesus was just as intense as that which led him afterwards, when he had become the great Apostle of the Gentiles, to exclaim, “I am ready to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.” In the former case, however, his zeal was without knowledge. He did it, as he himself said, “in ignorance.”
Faith without knowledge is a wilful and unmeaning thing, which can never guide men into light and truth. It will pervert their notions of God; it will transfer them from one religion to another; it may undermine and often has undermined their sense of right and wrong. It has no experience of life or of history, no power of understanding or foreseeing the nature of the struggle which is going on in the human heart or the movements which affect Churches, and which, as ecclesiastical history shows, always have been, and will be again. It is apt to rest on some misapplied quotation from Scripture, and to claim for its own creed, theories, and fancies, the authority of inspiration. It is ready to assent to anything, or at least to anything that is in accordance with its own religious feeling, and it has no sense of falsehood or truth. It is fatal to the bringing up of children, because it never takes the right means to its ends, and has never learned to discern differences of character. It never perceives where it is in this world. It is narrowed to its own faith and the articles of its creed, and has no power of embracing all men in the arms of love, or in the purposes of God. It is an element of division among mankind, and not of union. It might be compared to a fire, which gives warmth but not life or growth—which, instead of training or cherishing the tender plants, dries them up, and takes away their spring of youth.
Manliness, that which colloquially we call pluck, without knowledge is practically useless, except perhaps to a bulldog. The man who knows is always bead and shoulders above the man who does not know, though the latter may be the superior of the former in vigour and endurance. What is the justification for the millions we spend annually in secular education? It is that ignorance is the mother of degradation; knowledge is the road to moral and social improvement. Plato says: “Better be unborn than untaught, for ignorance is the root of misfortune.”1 [Note: B. Wilberforce, Sanctification by the Truth, 138.]
1. This knowledge covers the three great relations of life—God, self, and fellow-man. As surely as faith is translated into character will character result in richer and fuller accessions to our knowledge of God. Over against our spiritual faculties, and answering to them, is a world of spiritual being—a world with sights more beautiful, harmonies more sweet, relationships more enduring, and joys more deep and full than those of earth and time. With the growth and development of the spiritual life there will come a fuller and more accurate knowledge, not only of the spiritual world without, but also of that within. A deeper knowledge of God will result in a fuller knowledge of self, and a clearer perception of duty; for all duty springs necessarily out of the relations subsisting between the human and the Divine. And this knowledge of God and duty is not merely an intellectual acquisition to be enjoyed, but a moral dynamic to be expressed in life and turned to practical ends. If we are taken up into this Mount of Transfiguration, it is not that we may abide there in rapt contemplation, but that we may descend with increased power to dispossess the demons of the plain.
Two ordination candidates, on one occasion at the Fulham dinner-table, were evidently anxious to impress him with the fact that they were total abstainers, and took occasion to boast of their profound ignorance of wines and spirituous liquors of every kind; whereupon, to their astonishment, the Bishop entered upon an exhaustive disquisition on Vintages of Port, mentioning the various years in which the grape harvest had failed or succeeded and other factors that determined the quality and quantity of the yield of wine. The youths were overheard exclaiming to each other in pious horror, as they left the hall, “Who’d have thought it from him! He talked like a wine merchant.”2 [Note: Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, ii. 36.]
But it was his knowledge that gave Dr. Temple’s enthusiasm in the cause of temperance its power.
2. Again, knowledge here does not so much mean enlarged apprehensions of spiritual truth; the reason—exalted and purified by the light flowing and falling upon it from revealed objective realities—“comprehending” more and more the meaning of the “mystery” “in which are hid,” or deposited, “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” It does not mean this, but rather the instruction and culture of the understanding, which has to do with terrene and tangible matters; the proper apprehension of the possible and the right; and the wise adaptation of means to ends. Strength and force, resolute purpose and daring energy, are to be presided over and directed by large knowledge. Without this, with the best intentions a man may blunder in all he does; may waste his powers in attempting the impossible, and be distinguished for nothing but for indiscreet and undiscriminating zeal. Ignorance is neither the mother of devotion, nor a skilful and effective doer of work. As contemplation and action must go together, so also must action and intelligence. “With all thy getting, therefore, get understanding.”
Any zeal is proper for religion, but the zeal of the sword and the zeal of anger; this is the bitterness of zeal, and it is a certain temptation to every man against his duty; for if the sword turns preacher, and dictates propositions by empire instead of arguments, and engraves them in men’s hearts with a poignard, that it shall be death to believe what I innocently and ignorantly am persuaded of, it must needs be unsafe to try the spirits, to try all things, to make inquiry; and yet, without this liberty, no man can justify himself before God or man, nor confidently say that his religion is best. This is inordination of zeal; for Christ, by reproving St. Peter drawing his sword even in the cause of Christ, for His sacred and yet injured person, teaches us not to use the sword, though in the cause of God or for God Himself.
When Abraham sat at his tent door, according to his custom, waiting to entertain strangers, he espied an old man, stooping and leaning on his staff, weary with age and travail, coming towards him, who was a hundred years of age. He received him kindly, washed his feet, provided supper, caused him to sit down; but observing that the old man prayed not nor begged a blessing on his meat, he asked him why he did not worship the God of heaven. The old man told him that he worshipped the fire only, and acknowledged no other God. At which answer Abraham grew so zealously angry that he thrust the old man out of his tent, and exposed him to all the evils of the night and an unguarded condition. When the old man was gone, God called to Abraham and asked him where the stranger was? He replied, I thrust him away because he did not worship Thee. God answered him, “I have suffered him these hundred years, although he dishonoured me: and couldst not thou endure him one night?”1 [Note: Jeremy Taylor.]
3. It is a knowledge that grows out of life. It reflects and tries to understand something of its way of living, its way of acting, and strives to think out the principles of its life and action. The rugged maxims hewn out of life, and polished to roundness and smoothness by frequent action, grow into fixed and definite knowledge. It is the usual and fruitful way of human knowledge in general. It begins at the right end. It is simply thinking out into clearness the principles on which human life is based, and stating them clearly and making them the basis of further action. We are coming to understand something of this principle, and we are beginning to teach our children knowledge, and to make them see how knowledge grows out of action. Not abstract principles first, but concrete practice, and then the principles that grow out of practice. Such knowledge as the blacksmith has of iron, as the joiner has of wood, as any man has of the material of his work—such is the knowledge commended here. Faith is the proof that a man is living; faith has its results in the new character, in the new humanity, and knowledge reflecting on life and on the new character comes to know itself and its principles of action, and so leads on to more assured action. There is no limit to thinking and to the progress which comes from thinking, only thinking must always keep hold of life, must never forget that after all thinking is only a form of living. Out of manliness knowledge.
And what we know not now, we then shall know,
When from the heights of the eternal hills
We shall look back on time, interpreting
Old dreams, unravelling the tangled coil
Of life, and knowing even as we are known.
All after-thoughts belong to man, with all
The doubts that hang around us here; to God
Pertains the eternal forethought, and pure light
That knows no shadow or a shade: to Him
All space, all time, are ever, ever clear;
Himself the present, and Himself the future,
Himself the First and Last, the All in All.2 [Note: Horatius Bonar.]
The word “temperance” has in modern times become narrowed, just as the word “virtue” has become extended in meaning. Most people understand it now in relation to one sin, which is called “the sin of intemperance,” viz. drunkenness; but it need scarcely be said that while of course it applies to that sin, it does not apply to it alone; it is temperance in all things. The best word perhaps is self-control. It is the grace of abstaining from all kinds of evil to which we are tempted; of holding back when lust urges us to go forward. And certainly we all find it hard enough in some direction or other. It may be very easy for us to “hold back” from the use of intoxicating drinks if we have no temptation in that direction. It does not follow that it is easy to abstain from hasty words or from angry feelings. But to give way to the latter would be just as much a breach of self-control as to yield to the former.
1. Temperance, then, is self-control. It implies that the man truly temperate has the faculties of his mind, as well as his constitutional propensities, under the completest command. Like the managed steed in the hand of the rider, like the helm in the hand of a steersman strong and steady, his tongue, his temper, his very thoughts, are under authority, and instead of being run away with and rendered ridiculous by his own wayward passions, his strong will—strong in Another’s strength—is ever able to subdue the whole body. Temperate in all things, he is able to look without envy on the pleasures of sin, and in his farewell to Egypt he feels no pang for the flesh-pots. Amidst provocation still calm, and never frustrating by intemperate language well-intended reproof or remonstrance, he gains in momentum the force which others waste in fluster and fury; and crowns the whole by the elastic promptitude with which he is able to transfer from one theme to another all the powers of his mind, or make the instant transition from needful repose or congenial pursuits to duties stern and imperious.
“Knowledge puffeth up.” It has a tendency to foster a spirit of self-sufficiency, and to lead us to become proud, boastful, self-confident. We begin to think our wisdom will preserve us from all danger and enable us to overcome all temptation. We forget that the flesh is strong, that the world is alluring, and that the devil, like a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. We forget that the Christian life is a struggle, and that it is no easy matter to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts. And so the Apostle says, “In your knowledge let there be a supply of temperance,” i.e. of self-control. Let there be a crucifixion of the flesh; a keeping of the body under; a control of all evil passions, whether of the temper, of the appetite, or of the tongue. You must not only know what to do, but also have firmness and determination to do it. Solomon had wisdom, but he lacked temperance. He who would gain the mastery must be temperate in all things. He must endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Difficulties will stand in the Christian’s way, and no matter how great, his knowledge may be, the Hill Difficulty must be climbed on his knees. He may often have to prostrate himself before the throne of the heavenly grace, crying for help. There may even have to be “strong crying and tears.”1 [Note: J. McIlveen, Christ and the Christian Life, 93.]
There are times when we have by effort to control ourselves; “Watch and pray,” says Christ, “that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” It is dangerous for even the saintliest man to relax his guard over himself; as the example of David warns us. There is sometimes a rapid and terrible reaction from spiritual excitement to sensual excess. Hours of temptation await the hero; in weariness and unguardedness the princely Elijah was fretful and ungenerous. There is another temptation, too, of which St. Paul tells us something; the temptation to abandon the toilsome endeavour of the Christian calling, allured to voluptuous ease. Only the habit of plying himself with lofty motive secured even St. Paul against this danger. “If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die.”2 [Note: A. Mackennal, The Life of Christian Consecration, 58.]
2. It must be said that nothing could have been further from St. Peter’s mind than the idea of self-control in a merely bodily sense. To give it this interpretation would be to give too narrow and impoverished a range to the Apostle’s thoughts. He has long ago in his thinking left this stage behind. We must look for a larger and deeper meaning in his words. Otherwise we must believe the train of his reasoning to have suddenly reversed its gear and run back to its starting-point, an assumption which is hardly to be entertained. If we look back for a moment at the sweep of his thought, we shall see that those to whom he wrote this Epistle had evolved past the stage of ordinary self-control. The fact is, that the whole passage is related to service, and keyed to the note of diligence. It is not a question of controlling the forces of the old life, but those of a new.
When Franklin discovered electricity, he introduced a new force into human history. But this new force, with all its tremendous possibilities, required to be understood before it could be safely handled. The laws of its conduction, induction, and insulation had to be ascertained, if it were to be successfully yoked to the service of man, and applied to the work of the world. So with spiritual power. Faith becomes the conductor, through which a new force passes into our lives. We have to study its laws and the conditions of its working, because we are responsible for its legitimate use. It becomes a stewardship for which we are made personally accountable. St. Peter saw the temptations to which its trustees would be exposed when faced by the awful problems of evil, and the wrongs that oppress mankind. The temptation is often strong to the social reformer to let himself go, to fling himself against the moral abuses of his time, and by unwise word and deed retard instead of hastening the Kingdom of God. Instances of misdirected zeal on the part of those whose purity of intention cannot be questioned might unfortunately be multiplied from the annals of the Christian Church. Numerous examples could be quoted to prove that even moral power, unless controlled, may work immoral ends. Elijah, John the Baptist, the Apostles James and John, and even Christ Himself, had to face this peril. The first-named had let himself go at Carmel in the slaughter of the priests of Baal; and the lesson of Horeb was intended to show, that not by the forces of wind and earthquake and fire, but by the still small voice of love, were men to be won back to loyalty. The human heart is to be subdued into allegiance, not by storm of passion and invective, but by a tenderness that never grows peevish, by a self-governing devotion that will suffer and even die that it may save.1 [Note: H. Howard, The Summits of the Soul, 27.]
When some one speaks a hard word to you, or writes some abominable thing about you in a newspaper, what do you do? Let me tell you one thing. When I was a young man at the University I learned boxing from a very skilled prize-fighter. Of course, at first he could do what he liked with me with his fists, and I remember when I got a very hard blow just in the middle of my face I hit out savagely. He put down his hands, took me aside, and taught me what I have never forgotten. He said, “Mr. Wilberforce, whenever you get a blow, don’t hit out wildly, but take a step back, and just keep your hands up, and ask yourself ‘What was I doing wrong, and why did I get that blow?’ ” Will you apply that lesson to life? I have taught it over and over again to young men, and more than one has learned to thank me for it.1 [Note: Bishop Ernest Wilberforce, 12.]
If Christ came questioning the soul of me,
(If Christ came questioning,)
I could but answer, “Lord, my little part
Has been to beat the metal of my heart,
Into the shape I thought most fit for Thee;
And at Thy feet, to cast the offering;
Shouldst Thou come questioning.
“From out the earth-fed furnace of desire,
(Ere Thou cam’st questioning,)
This formless and unfinished gift I brought,
And on life’s anvil flung it down, while hot:
A glowing thing, of selfishness and fire,
With blow on blow, I made the anvil ring;
(Ere Thou cam’st questioning).
“The hammer, Self-Control, beat hard on it;
(Ere Thou cam’st questioning,)
And with each blow, rose fiery sparks of pain;
I bear their scars, on body, soul, and brain.
Long, long I toiled; and yet, dear Lord, unfit,
And all unworthy, is the heart I bring,
To meet Thy questioning.”2 [Note: E. W. Wilcox, Poems of Experience, 37.]
1. The fact that this word occurs so late in the list of the steps of ethical attainment according to St. Peter, after faith and virtue and knowledge and self-control, suggests that in its deepest signification it is a quality appertaining only to an advanced stage of spiritual acquirement.
I do not know what you think about patience, but to me it is the rarest thing under the sun. I have never met a patient man. I have never met one whose patience did not break down somewhere. I have never read of a patient man. Moses was called the meekest of men, and no doubt he did bear up wonderfully under his many provocations; but his patience gave way more than once, for he broke the tables in his haste, and in his haste he smote the rock, when he ought simply to have spoken to it. Job has been called the most patient of men, but even Job, under the torment of his painful disease, under the wrong-headed argumentation of his friends, and under the nagging of his wife, lost self-control and cursed his day. There has never been a patient man on earth, save the Man who did all things well.1 [Note: J. Iverach, The Other Side of Greatness, 111.]
Most of us are terribly impatient with children, and yet that is worst of all impatience. Dean Stanley, in his Life of Arnold, relates how Dr. Arnold told him that in his early days as a schoolmaster he lost patience with a dull boy. The lad looked up in his face, and said: “Why do you speak angrily, sir; indeed, I am doing the best I can.” Dr. Arnold said: “I never was so ashamed in my life; that look and that speech cured me, and I don’t think I was ever impatient with a dull boy again.2 [Note: B. Wilberforce, Sanctification by the Truth, 164.]
2. There are three stages in the exercise of patience. First, it is simply submission to the will of God under disappointment or suffering. Next, it expresses itself in persistent endurance, being almost equivalent to perseverance, and then its active quality is shown in faith in God and the forward view.
(1) Submission.—What a field for patience, understood as submission to the will of God, or Christian resignation, there is in the trials of life! The Stoic is not patient, for he is past feeling; and where the pain is not perceived there is no need for patience. But the Christian is a man of feeling, and he usually feels more acutely than other people; and it is often with the tear of desolation in his eye, or the sweat of anguish on his brow, that he clasps his hands, and cries, Father, Thy will be done!
The Greek word here translated patience, means, etymologically, rather the school in which patience is learnt than actual patience. The word classically means remaining behind, either taking or being forced to take the hindermost place, being compelled to stand still when you desire to go forward; and no discipline can be imagined more severe for the average restless human character. Experience, however, is constantly proving that this “patience “is a condition, an ingredient, of real progress. For example, during that black week when we were all horrorstricken at our early reverses in South Africa, an experienced soldier assured me that these reverses would prove to be the salvation of the situation. If, he said, a few flashy successes had attended our arms at the first, we should have failed to recognize the seriousness of the undertaking. No reinforcements would have been prepared, transports and remounts would not have been forthcoming, and when our forces bad penetrated into the country far from their base, our well-armed, mobile, and perfectly prepared enemy would have surrounded us, and great disaster would have followed. I think he was right.1 [Note: B. Wilberforce, Sanctification by the Truth, 161.]
(2) Perseverance.—The relation between temperance and patience is evident here. Temperance is the grace of holding back, patience is the grace of holding on. The one holds back when lust urges on, the other holds on when vexations and annoyances threaten to move us from our equanimity or steadfastness.
Lord Kitchener’s railway to Khartoum is a conspicuous example of the result of this attitude of mind. Discouraged by every engineer he consulted, baffled by floods and sandstorms, opposed at every step by hostile bands of Dervishes, he persevered. The strength and secret of his success was that he added to his self-control patience.
(3) Faith.—Patience is not merely passive endurance; it contains also an ingredient of active service. A firm, bright, working faith in the moral government of God, and in the ultimate triumph of righteousness, girds the soul with quiet strength, and constitutes the ground of self-control; while the exercise of self-control in the very teeth of adverse circumstance issues in that reposefulness of spirit, that fine poise of disposition, which the word patience connotes.
All lovers of literature are familiar with Richter’s Dream of the Universe. You remember how, with a mighty angel for guide, he was launched without sound or farewell upon the infinite deeps of space. With the solemn flight of angel-wings they passed through Saharas of darkness, through wildernesses of death, separating worlds of life and light. On and on they flew, through starry fields and forests of gleaming suns, past rushing comets and wheeling planets and the changing splendours of a thousand waxing and waning moons. One heaven after another opened up before them as they approached, and rolled up behind them as they passed. System after system, galaxy after galaxy, constellation after constellation piled themselves up in awful altitudes, opened out into glittering corridors that dazzled the vision, and then faded into distance as they rushed on in never-ceasing flight. At length the human heart within the man was overburdened with infinity, and yearned for some narrow cell in which to hide. Turning to his attendant angel he cried, “Angel, I will go no farther, for the spirit of man acheth with this infinity. Let me lie down in the grave and hide me from the oppression of the infinite, for end I see there is none.” Then from all the listening stars that shone around issued a choral voice, “End there is none.” “Then,” to quote the dreamer’s own words, “the mighty Angel became invisible, or vanished to his home in the unseen world of spirit. I was left alone in the centre of a universe of life, and I yearned after some sympathizing being. Suddenly from the starry deeps there came floating through the ocean of light a certain planet. Upon it there stood a woman whose face was as the face of a Madonna, and by her side there stood a Child whose countenance varied not, neither was it magnified as it drew nearer. This Child was a King; for I saw He had a crown upon His head, but the crown was a crown of thorns. Then also I perceived that the planet was our unhappy earth; and as the earth drew near, this Child, who had come forth from the starry deeps to comfort me, threw upon me a look of gentlest pity and unutterable love, so that in my heart I had a sudden rapture of joy such as passes all understanding, and I woke in a tumult of happiness.”
Now, under cover of this wonderful dream, Richter conveys the truth for which we are contending. If the soul of man is to have the patience to wait and the strength to endure, it must know that eternity is something more than infinite duration, and that immeasurable space is more than a vast and vacant solitude. Only let it be sure that all time and space are suffused with a Personal Presence, with a Mind that thinks and plans, and a Heart that feels and loves, then nothing will be too great to do, nothing too hard to bear. Let it doubt this, and it has no adequate inducement to hold on. Hence, as we have seen, it is written of Moses, “he endured as seeing Him,” not “it,” but “Him” who is invisible; not a somewhat but a Some one, who upholds all things by the word of His power, but also redeems all souls by the word of His love.1 [Note: H. Howard, The Summits of the Soul, 47.]
Thou gavest unto me
No sign! I knew no loving secret, told
As oft to men beloved, and I must hold
My peace when these would speak of converse high;
Jesus, my Master, yet I would be nigh
When these would speak, and in the words rejoice
Of them who listen to the Bridegroom’s voice.
Thou gavest unto me
No goodly gift, no pearl of price untold,
No signet-ring, no ruby shut in gold,
No chain around my neck to wear for pride,
For love no token in my breast to hide;
Yea! these, perchance, from out my careless hold
Had slipped, perchance some robber shrewd and bold
Had snatched them from me! so Thou didst provide
For me, my Master kind, from day to day;
And in this world, Thine inn, Thou bad’st me stay,
And saidst,—“What thou spendest, I will pay.”
never heard Thee say,
“Bring forth the robe for this My son, the best;”
Thou gavest not to me, as unto guest
Approved, a festal mantle rich and gay;
Still singing, ever singing, in the cold
Thou leavest me, without Thy Door to stay;
Now the Night draweth on, the Day is old,
And Thou hast never said,—“Come in, My friend,”—
Yet once, yea twice, methinks Thy love did send
A secret message,—“Bless’d unto the end
Are they that love and they that still endure.”
Jesus, my Saviour, take to Thee Thy poor,
Take home Thy humble friend.2 [Note: Dora Greenwell.]
1. At first sight, the mentioning of this virtue just at this place seems hardly natural. In looking at the order in which the different attributes of character are named, and in looking for the reasons on which that order itself rests, one is rather surprised to find “godliness” put where it is. For a moment, it appears as if it would have come better at the beginning or at the end of the entire series; and the question occurs, whether indeed it is not included in that “faith” which lies at the basis of the spiritual structure. But “godliness” and “faith” are not identical; and though, in a certain general sense, the one may be said to be included in the other, seeing that “godliness” cannot exist without “faith,” yet they are not so involved as to preclude their being clearly separated and distinguished, and placed, if needs be, with some space between them in a series like this. Faith is godliness in its principle, as light in the reason: godliness is faith in its actings, as love in the heart. The one flows from and is the utterance and development of the other. Godliness is faith alive; and not only alive, but active; not only looking and thinking, but feeling, speaking, doing, and thus infusing into all outward and visible performance a moral element that makes virtue holiness.
Notice the place of godliness in the development of the Christian character. It is not one of the earliest graces, it comes in after much progress has been described. There is profound significance in this. In the beginnings of the Christian life, men are almost sure to be prayerful. The “exceeding great and precious promises” are in their hearts; the strain of penitence drives them to God; personal imperfection is bitterly felt; and they are compelled to pray for grace to live a better life. But when they have reached somewhat of excellency; when their will is disciplined, and pure desires are theirs; when they are at home in the study of the gospel; when they are self-possessed and patient; there is great danger of suffering from undevoutness. All their efforts are directed to self-culture, and they cease to pray. They have acquired power over themselves, and think less of God’s help. And from this come barrenness and weakness. Gradually a change is evident; their heart grows hard, self-consciousness and pride destroy the sweetness of their life. For want of heavenly motive they are impatient; for want of heavenly aim they are self-indulgent. Many a time we have seen some of the most excellent of men—noble, wise, self-possessed, and patient—undergoing a sad and serious change. We notice a strange lack in them, something that is not harmonious with the general elevation of their character. It is the want of devoutness. It makes them perhaps proud, or censorious, or wayward. And then begins a rapid deterioration; the want of godliness is fatal to spiritual advancement.
It is the little rift within the lute,
That by and by will make the music mute,
And ever widening slowly silence all.
The little rift within the lover’s lute,
Or little pitted speck in garner’d fruit,
That rotting inward slowly moulders all.
2. We lose the benefit of our patience, unless patience becomes a step to godliness. It is impossible to be godly without being patient; but it is quite possible to be patient without being godly: and the thing here taught is, that we are not to regard knowledge, temperance, and patience as the great things which God desires to see in us, but to know that these are to be cherished chiefly because they are the atmosphere in which godliness can exist.
Is our patience simply a stoical endurance of what cannot be cured, opening up into no sweet and blessed intercourse with the loving Father whose children we are? Then indeed are we dwarfed growths, not without life, it may be, but it is life defeated and made retrogressive by being denied completion and defrauded of its flower and crown. In the course of this evolution, it is only by evolving to the next stage that we can render secure the stages already reached. Not to move forward is thus to move back. Not to grow up is to die down. Not to work salvation to a finish is to cancel our calling. “Wherefore,” says St. Peter, “give the more diligence to making your calling and election sure.”
3. There are three words which, taken separately, will give us some idea of the fulness of the grace of godliness—reverence, loyalty, godlikeness.
(1) The root-idea of godliness is reverence.—Because, as we have seen, patience is not a sullen submission but a glad upleaping to the Divine requirement, it passes naturally and by the laws of spiritual evolution into adoration of Him from whom it derives its staying power. That which we continually draw upon, and never draw upon without satisfying response, cannot but command our grateful and adoring love. Through patience, then, thought and feeling are carried up to their highest, till they prostrate themselves in lowly reverence at the feet of Him “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
(2) The Greek conception in the word translated “godliness” is loyalty.—Thus it was understood by the Athenians centuries before it was used by the Apostle Peter. That it is charged with a deeper and fuller significance when employed in the New Testament we admit. Nevertheless this is the fundamental idea, and it signifies the adjustment of the life to a higher order, the tuning of the purpose to a loftier strain, the ranging of the affections around a new centre, and the direction of the powers to nobler and grander, because unselfish, ends. There is, then, no higher thing than duty. To it everything must bow; in its performance no human relationship, however binding, no, not even human life itself, must be taken into account. The supreme test of Christian discipleship is unquestioning loyalty to Jesus Christ, and it will be for ever true that he who loses his life for the sake of Christ and duty, will find it enlarged, enriched, and ennobled a hundredfold in the light beyond the veil.
(3) Godliness is simply godlikeness.—There are features of character which belong exclusively to God, in which man can never become like God. For God is unique. He is the Source of all power; He is eternal, He is almighty, He is present everywhere. And finite beings can never resemble Him in these respects. But the mere infinite of quantity has nothing to do with moral and spiritual attributes. We may be like God in patience, we may be like Him in love. “Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.” We may become like God in His love to men, in His patience and forbearance with men, in His hopefulness for them, and in His toil and labour for them, as He strives to win them for Himself, and to make them make themselves fit for the Kingdom of God.
This new rank carries with it new and corresponding obligations. St. Peter reminds us that we are the children of the Highest, in order that he may create within us the sense of noblesse oblige. Our conceptions of the new life, its scope and scale, its relations and responsibilities, must necessarily react on conduct. We cannot live it nobly unless we think of it grandly. We must remember our high origin if we would not fail of our great destiny. Let us challenge with the poet any philosophy of life that would lower its dignity or degrade its rank. We are not
Cunning casts in clay:
Let Science prove we are, and then
What matters Science unto men,
At least to me? I would not stay.
Let him, the wiser man who springs
Hereafter, up from childhood shape
His action like the greater ape,
But I was born to other things.1 [Note: H. Howard, The Summits of the Soul, 59.]
Brotherly-love is the love of the brotherhood, “the household of faith.” It is the fraternal or family affection of Christianity which unites together, or ought to unite, all those who profess to regard themselves as “heirs together of the grace of life.” Christians are represented as the “sons and daughters of God Almighty”; as “members one of another”;—as, “in the Lord,” “brothers” and “sisters”;—as united in Him from whom “the whole family in heaven and in earth is named”;—as constituting His “Body,” and as so pervaded by a common consciousness and a common sentiment, that “whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it, or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” The feeling that comes next to the love of God is, or ought to be, the love of godlike men.
1. In love of the brethren there are no distinctions.—This love is without partiality. In Christ, so far as thorough interest and sympathy are concerned, natural and artificial distinctions are superseded; “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” He makes each like the others by making all like Himself. He requires, therefore, mutual recognition and love—family-love, where there is family-likeness. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.” “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” “If a man love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” “Let him that saith he loves God, see to it that he love his brother also.”
Some ladies in the city had established an infant school in the district of Billingsgate, and finding themselves quite unsuccessful in persuading the people to send their children to it, applied to Irving to help them. When they came to the second house, he took the office of spokesman upon himself. “When the door was opened, he spoke in the kindest tone to the woman who opened it, and asked permission to go in. He then explained the intention of the ladies, asked how many children she had, and whether she would send them. A ready consent was the result; and the mother’s heart was completely won when the visitor took one of her little ones on his knee, and blessed her.” The city ladies were confounded. They had honestly intended to benefit the poor, very, very distantly related to them by way of Adam and the forgotten patriarchs—but the cheerful brotherhood of the man who had blessed the bread of the starving Glasgow weavers was as strange to them as if he had spoken Hebrew instead of English.1 [Note: Mrs. Oliphant, The Life of Edward Irving, i. 230.]
2. Brotherly-love may be shown by solicitude for union among all Christians—the mutual recognition and intercommunion of Churches; and by earnest endeavour to help forward whatever seems likely to secure such a result.
On his holidays he delighted to attend little chapels, and he enjoyed the homely addresses of the lay preachers. One day a farmer was preaching in a Methodist chapel where Watson often worshipped, and at the conclusion of his sermon said, “Why do I preach Sunday after Sunday? Because I cannot eat my bread alone.” Watson shook him warmly by the hand after the service, and said later, “I count that one of the greatest conclusions to a sermon I have ever heard—he could not eat his bit of bread alone.”2 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll, Ian Maclaren, 325.]
3. It is manifested hest in daily acts that involve self-denial.—It is seen in little rather than in great things—by what is the spontaneous outcome of habitual feeling rather than by acts which are done from a sense of remembered duty. It is to make itself felt as a perpetual presence; a thing cheerful and genial as light, but which is not thought of, noticed, or spoken about, unless something should suddenly disturb or interrupt it, like a dark cloud deforming the day. The Saviour, after His beautifully symbolic act of washing His disciples’ feet, hastened, lest they should lose the practical lesson in their wonder at His condescending love, to uncover and lay bare the working principle which the acted parable was intended to convey. “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, Master, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you.” Then, gathering up His whole philosophy of life into a single pregnant phrase, He said, “If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them.” It is this blending of knowing and doing that constitutes the ideal life.
There was a medical student a year or two ago, who was half way through his course, when it dawned upon him that he had lived for himself, and he decided to change and go and see if he could find any one to help. And he found an old chum who had gone to the dogs. He had fallen to pieces, given up his work and his exams., and was living aloof from other students and drinking hard. No. 1 went and found him lying on the floor drunk. He paid his debts and took him to his own rooms, gave him supper, and put him to bed. On the next day he had a talk with him. He produced a piece of paper, and they made a contract to keep them both straight:—
(1) Neither of us to go out alone.
(2) Twenty minutes only to be allowed to go to the college and return: overtime to be accounted for.
(3) One hour every night to be given over to reading other than studies.
(4) That byegones be byegones.
Both men put their names to this, and for weeks they lived, No. 1 paying and doing all he could to help No. 2. After a time No. 2 saw that the odd evening hour was spent by No. 1 in reading his Bible. No. 1 never spoke to him about it; he simply sat and read. Ay, gentlemen, I tell you that was a fine sermon. He never spoke about Religion; but he spoke Religion. He was teaching the brotherhood of man and the life of Christ. Now No. 2 was learning unconsciously to know God. Why? Because God is Love—No. 1 loved him; and Christ is Sacrifice—No. 1 sacrificed his life for him. Not a word was said. At last No. 2 changed. What he changed to I need not say. The last I heard of them was this. No. 1 is filling an appointment of great importance in London. No. 2 passed his exams, that year with the highest University distinction, and is now in private practice.1 [Note: G. A. Smith, The Life of Henry Drummond, 475.]
4. Brotherly-love is a test of character.—For the love of the brotherhood is the love of a man because he is a man in Christ. It is a great test of Christian character to be able to discern the likeness to Christ in a man, and to love that and nothing else but that in him. For there may be much in Christians that may be unattractive. Some of them may be censorious, or in other ways disagreeable. It is something to be able to neglect all these elements of repulsion, and to see the root of the matter in an imperfect Christian, and love it. Then how great a thing it is to love the brotherhood simply because of the likeness to Christ in them, and to love them the more, the more they are like Christ. No wonder though this is placed high in the unfolding of faith.
Shortly after this, I was greatly refreshed by the visit of an American whaler, the Camden Packet, under Captain Allan. He, his chief officer, and many of his double company of seamen were decided Christians—a great contrast to most of the Traders that had called at Port Resolution. The Captain cordially invited me on board to preach and conduct a religious service. That evening I enjoyed exceedingly—wells in the desert! The Captain introduced me, saying,—
“This is my ship’s company. The first officer and most of my men are real Christians, trying to love and serve Jesus Christ. We have been three years out on this voyage, and are very happy with each other. You would never hear or see worse on board of this vessel than you see now. And God has given us gratifying success.”
He afterwards told me that he had a very valuable cargo of sperm oil on board, the vessel being nearly filled up with it. He was eager to leave supplies, or do something for me, but I needed nothing that he could give. His mate, on examining my boat, found a hole in her, and several planks split and bulged in, as I had gone down on a reef with her when out on Mission work, and narrowly escaped drowning. Next morning, the Captain, of his own accord, set his carpenter to repair the boat, and left it as good as new. Not one farthing of recompense would any of them take from me; their own Christian love rewarded them, in the circumstances. I had been longing for a chance to send it to Sydney for repairs, and felt deeply thankful for such unexpected and generous aid. The Captain would not admit that the delay was any loss to him—his boats spending the day in purchasing cocoa-nuts and provisions from the Natives for his own ship. Oh, how the Christlike spirit knits together all true followers of Christ! What other earthly or human tie could have so bound that stranger to me? In the heart of Christ we met as brothers.1 [Note: John G. Paton, i. 203.]
Love here signifies philanthropy,—universal love; the love of humanity, of all mankind, as distinct from, or additional to, the peculiar domestic affection of the Church. Lest “the love of the brotherhood” should degenerate into a selfish and sectarian thing,—a narrow, exclusive, unamiable sentiment,—the Apostle directs that it is to flow beyond the walls of the sacred enclosure, or rather to have added to it another sentiment that will do this, and that thus the Christian is to acknowledge in every man one that has claims on his soul and service.
I remember when I was in Japan, on one occasion travelling along the bank of a river which had been swollen by the great floods, and there was a poor beggar who tried to cross from the other side, within reach by rope or by wading of thirty or forty strong men. I did not see him go into the river, but from my palanquin I saw in the middle of the flood an arm rising out of the water and the next a foot and the next a pile of rags, as it seemed to me, and I asked my interpreter, a cultivated and refined Japanese, what it was. “Oh,” he said, “that is a beggar!” “Well, why don’t those men help him?” “Oh, he’s only a beggar.” “Well,” I said, “what if he is, why don’t they help him?” They looked at the beggar just as you and I would look on a piece of floating wood, and they let him drown. And in a moment or two there was nothing hut a mass of rags, with now and then a hand or foot standing up, being swept down to the ocean. That was within twenty-five feet of a strong party of able-bodied men! Why didn’t they help him? Were they cruel? No. Do not the Japanese love their children? Yes. Do not they love humanity? Yes, in a certain way. But they always have this feeling that if a man is in difficulty, and there is not much chance for him, let him go, unless he is their brother or relation. If he is a beggar or a man below them they never think of helping him. Times have changed since Christianity came there. That is what I saw, and I bear witness to the truth which I believe, that the love of man, simply because he is a man, does not exist outside of Christendom. I may be mistaken, but I believe I am speaking the truth.1 [Note: W. E. Griffis.]
1. Love, then, is the final and fullest expression of spiritual force; but it is not love as a mere emotion. Hence it is independent of all reciprocity. It is a principle of beneficence, and, being a principle, is not subject to spasm or caprice. It holds on through all weathers and through all moods. This is the characteristic of a principle as distinguished from a policy. A policy changes with changing conditions; a principle holds on undeviatingly, admitting of no change. Look at the principle of honesty. It does not relax under one set of conditions and stiffen under another. It does not fluctuate with the temperature or become keener with the thermometer at 80° than at 100°. A man of business integrity does not wrong others because they wrong him. He has no preferential creditors, and is not more honest to his butcher than to his tailor. In like manner, love, as a principle of conduct, is absolutely superior to all circumstances.
Love. What shall we call it? The root of roots, the seed of seeds, the sap of saps, the juice of juices. Love is first and last. When I have love, I have everything: without love I am nothing. Love is all faith, all hope. Love is like the earth—everything comes out of her, everything returns to her again. She is the mother and nurse of all the graces. What love is, it is hard to say: for those who have it, needless to tell; for those who have it not, impossible.2 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 1.]
2. Its example, as its inspiration, is in Christ.—Christ’s love is like no other love; it goes down to those that are outside the pale of loveliness. Human love can seek only her own, can love only that which is like herself. Man seeks fellowship with him that has a kindred soul. He goes out to meet the heart that is already in sympathy with his heart, he gives back to his brother what his brother has given to him. But Divine love transcends the limits of its own sympathies. It seeks those that are not yet brethren; it goes forth to make brotherhood. It keeps not on the plain of its own being; it descends into the valleys to seek and to save that which is lost. It travels down into the depths to bring up that which as yet has no affinity to itself. It follows the prodigals afar off, it searches out the lepers amid the tombs, it gathers in the outcasts from the highways and the hedges; it seeks those who are not beautiful, that it may endow them with its beauty.
Paul says that this element in his Lord’s character passes knowledge (Ephesians 3:19), and he is never weary of exalting it. To no element in the character of Jesus does he refer so frequently, and to none does he ascribe so great importance in the work of redemption. In his thought the love of Jesus was nothing less than the love of God. To see it and know it was to see and know the very love of the invisible Father. Thus he says that God commends His love toward us in that Christ died (Romans 5:8), and that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). That is to say, in dying for the ungodly, Christ manifested the love of God for men. In Jesus, and especially in the last act of His life, we have an historical visible embodiment of the love of God the invisible.
This love is measured by the fact that Jesus laid down His life for the ungodly (Romans 5:8), and this measure is too great for any human love. The utmost that human love attains unto is to die for the righteous and good (Romans 5:7). The love of Jesus transcends the utmost of human love, in that Jesus died for the ungodly. Thus it was the cross which taught Paul that in the love of Jesus we see the very love of God. It shows the Divine character of His love, because it exhibits it as pure self-sacrifice. Jesus gave Himself in contrast to aught that He possessed. He gave Himself to suffer the utmost of pain and shame; and He gave Himself thus for His enemies. This love is none other than the love of God. Hence Paul thinks of this as the perfect standard of love for the kingdom of heaven (Ephesians 5:2; Ephesians 5:25; Ephesians 5:29). It is the ideal beyond which the human mind cannot rise. And because this love is manifested in a supreme act of sacrifice in behalf of each man, it becomes the all-controlling motive in life (Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:37).1 [Note: G. H. Gilbert, The First Interpreters of Jesus, 14.]
There are many who are drawn to Christ by His love—drawn to Him, not because they are conscious either of moral weakness which His love is eager to strengthen, or of sin which His love is willing to forgive, or of unintelligible cravings which His love is able to satisfy—but by the love itself. They are drawn to Him as if by the force of moral and spiritual gravitation. Children, especially—if I may judge from my own observation—are drawn to Christ in this way. Whether the opinion is sound which is held by very many persons just now, that in nearly all cases it is the love of Christ that originates religious thought and life, seems to me very doubtful. That the opinion should be a common one is explicable; for whatever may have first awakened religious earnestness, there must be an apprehension of the love of Christ before it is possible to have faith in Him; but this is no proof that the truths and facts which created the religious solicitude were superfluous. And yet it is certain that if we could preach about the love of Christ with the ardour, the exultation, and the rapture which it ought to inspire, there would be something contagious in our faith and joy; if we could preach about it with a tenderness like that which He Himself manifested to the weak and the sorrowful and the sinful, the hearts of men would be melted by it.2 [Note: R. W. Dale, Nine Lectures on Preaching, 208.]
3. It is full of wise discernment.—Love always distinguishes between the person and his sin, just as a doctor distinguishes between a patient and his disease. He never by any chance identifies them. He fights the disease with a vigour, a continuity, and a relentlessness that knows no cessation and gives no quarter; but he never confounds the personality of the patient with the pathology of his disease. If you could penetrate to the innermost sacrarium of even the most depraved man you would find that which would join with you in condemning his sinful courses, and take sides with you against the wrong that he has done. This separability of the sin from the sinner is clear to the eye of love, and this it is that gives hopefulness to the task of rescue and reform.
Beneath the veriest ash, there hides a spark of soul
Which, quickened by love’s breath, may yet pervade the whole.3 [Note: Browning.]
I was reading the other day a sensible and appreciative review of Mr. Lucas’s new biography of Charles Lamb. The reviewer quoted with cordial praise Mr. Lucas’s remark—referring, of course, to the gin-and-water, which casts, I fear, in my own narrow view, something of a sordid shadow over Lamb’s otherwise innocent life—“A man must be very secure in his own righteousness who would pass condemnatory judgment upon Charles Lamb’s only weakness.” I do not myself think this a sound criticism. We ought not to abstain from condemning the weakness, we must abstain from condemning Charles Lamb. His beautiful virtues, his tenderness, his extraordinary sweetness and purity of nature, far outweigh this weakness. But what are we to do? Are we to ignore, to condone, to praise the habit? Are we to think the better of Charles Lamb and love him more because he tippled? Would he not have been more lovable without it?1 [Note: A. C. Benson, From a College Window, 211.]
4. It is not merely emotional but also practical.—This love towards men—of men, as men—the entire race, as it exists immediately in the neighbourhood of the Church, or fills “the habitable parts of the earth” in all lands—is not, as a Christian sentiment, to be a bit of barren though beautiful idealism, a vague, philosophic glow of “fraternity,” a feeling that utters itself in no deeds of valiant endeavour to better the world, but only in grand, eloquent talk—talk, too, it may be, about anything but men’s highest interests, or even in flat contravention of such. It is not to be this, but a really deep, earnest, intense thing, as to its nature, and a real, effective doer of work, as to its expression.
Love, such as Christ’s law speaks of, never asks the question, “Who is my neighbour?” Love’s question, if Love asks questions at all, is, “How can I show myself neighbourly?” Love does not inquire, “Whom ought I to help?”—it inquires, “How can I best be a helper?” It does not look narrowly and grudgingly and fearfully round, trying to find out who the others are who may have claims on it. Its eyes are turned inward upon itself, saying, “What will make me more fit to serve?”2 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 104.]
Love came to me with a crown,
I took it and laid it down.
Love came to me and said,
“Wear it upon thy head.”
“’Tis too heavy, I cannot wear it,
I have not strength enough to bear it.”
Then my soul’s belovèd spake,
Saying, “Wear it for my sake.”
“When lo! the crown of love grew light,
And I wore it in all men’s sight.1 [Note: Ella Dietz.]
The Unfolding of Character
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