Colossians 3:16
Great Texts of the Bible
The Indwelling Word

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.—Colossians 3:16.

We used to read when we were children about the magician’s wand which was waved over the hill-side, and the hill-side opened and disclosed caves full of treasures. Here is a text which might open before us as regards the origin of character and life just such a wealth of unsuspected treasure; or, rather, it might be like that hard rock from which, smitten by Moses at the command of God, there trickled, then poured, then gushed, and then flowed like a river, water which satisfied the thirst of rebellious and murmuring Israel for many a long day.

1. The passage from which the text is taken contains one of the noblest ethical exhortations in the New Testament. The subject of the Epistle is Christ. From first to last it is “Christological” in the fullest sense of the term. It is addressed to those who profess to have accepted Christ; it asserts what that profession must involve. In a very true sense the doctrine or philosophy of the Christian life, which St. Paul is convinced is the true philosophy of humanity, is summed up in one word, the word “Christ.” St. Paul seems to say: “You tell me you have accepted Christ, you profess to believe in Christ; you must therefore realize what this profession means, for it is only when you are filled with, and inspired by, an adequate conception of the doctrine of Christ that you can lead, and that you can induce others to lead, a truly Christian life.” For St. Paul knew that the life of every man and of every society must inevitably be the expression of some individual and social philosophy. If there is one book in the New Testament which more than another asserts that it does matter what we believe, and that life and conduct, both individual and social, are ultimately ruled by ideas and convictions, it is this Epistle to the Colossians.

2. Now the Apostle seeks to set forth the true idea of the Christ, as against the false conceptions that were current. He knows that the true conception of the personal Christ is expressed in the Jesus of the Gospels. In the Gospels we study His life, His work, His teaching, His atoning death, His glorious resurrection and ascension, which are all steps in the one process termed by St. John His “glorification.” In the Gospels we learn the principles which inspired Him, and of the power with which God endowed Him, for “He was raised by the glory of the Father.” At once, so urges the Apostle, follows the inevitable conclusion; the whole human race must walk (for it has received the power to walk) in newness of life.

3. But how are Christian believers to be adequately equipped to present Christ to those outside? You are, says the Apostle, members of a body with mutual obligations, but also with obligations or responsibilities to the world outside you. For the discharge of these obligations, which is of the nature of a continuous service, you must have an equipment. That equipment must satisfy two conditions. The equipment itself is the “word of the Christ,” and the first condition is that this “word”—the whole Gospel, the whole body of Messianic truth—dwell in you richly. You must be richly endowed with its contents and its meaning; your relation to it must be that of men who have made themselves masters of a rich possession, who have so thoroughly assimilated this knowledge that it has become part of themselves. This is the first condition. The second is to remember that towards this wealth you have a stewardship, whose exercise and discharge must be characterized by skill. There must be the skill which comes from intimate knowledge, coupled with constant careful practice, but which also assumes the possession and use of an intimate knowledge of the conditions and needs of those towards whom you are stewards. We must remember that knowledge is only one factor in skill. The word presumes the idea of art as well as that of science. So this practical skill is an essential part of your equipment, namely, the skill which comes from daily discipline and exercise in the use as well as in the acquisition of knowledge.

It is ideas that rule. It is ideas that influence and change the conduct both of the individual and of society. History is full of proofs of this. And “the word of the Christ” embodies the ideas of the Christ, the ideas which Jesus of Nazareth brought into the world, or upon which He laid special stress. A modern writer on sociology has shown that in lands where the doctrine of the Incarnation has either never been accepted, or where belief in it has been lost, there we find an inadequate conception both of the worth and of the possibilities of man, and that this inadequate conception has resulted in slavery, in regardlessness of the value of human life, in unnecessary human suffering, in the degradation of woman, and generally in the debasement of humanity.1 [Note: W. E. Chadwick.]


The Word of Christ

1. What are we to understand by the “word of Christ”? You might, perhaps, interpret it to mean the recorded utterances of Christ that are found in the Gospels. In that case the “word of Christ” would be the same thing as the “words of Christ.” You might understand it as meaning the New Testament, because there you have not only the record of Christ’s uttered words, but also the explanation of His work and His person and His life given by His own Apostles. You might understand it as meaning the whole of the Bible, because in some sense here the Lord Jesus Christ is for us the centre; to Him all the early books point, and from Him all the later books lead on and forward. But the “word of Christ” does not consist merely in words written upon parchment, or in any number of words printed in a book. When St. Paul said, “Let the word of Christ abide in you,” he did not mean, “Let the book abide in you.” His words are spirit, and they are life. As poetry has been defined to be the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge, so the word of Christ is the quintessence of all sacred utterance. All that it tells us concerning Himself is mind and heart. It is the book because through the book so largely comes our knowledge of Him. But it is the voice of Him who speaks through the book only to those faithful souls who come to catch His accents; and St. Paul says, “When you hear Him speak after that fashion take His word into the innermost recesses of your soul, let it dwell there, and fashion your whole character.”

At this time I wrote, on a lovely morning in April: “ ‘The Breath of Life’ seems to be in the air. On our ride Signor (G. F. Watts) begins to search for the unfound word which Professor Max Müller calls ‘The Self,’ but from which it is difficult to divest the ‘Myself’ that has so long been associated with it. ‘The Word,’ ‘The Life,’ ‘The Fire of Life,’ the ‘I Am,’ Matthew Arnold’s ‘Tendency that maketh for Righteousness,’ even our own word ‘God,’ seemed to him to contain but a fraction of what the word should convey. He tells me that he is conscious of this Presence—seeks after it and knows that in every great effort of the human mind, from Egypt to Greece, from Greece to Wordsworth, in the poetic philosophy of India and in all sacred books of the East, there is to be found a consciousness of the Presence. ‘In those Parthenon fragments, in all great art, I hear the organ tone; in my own work I am always trying for it. Yes,’ he added, answering something I had said, ‘religion is nothing unless it is the music that runs through all life, from the least thing that we can do to the greatest. After all there is very little to be said; we know we have to desire to live well, to love goodness and to aspire after it, that is for God: to live in love towards all, and to do rightly towards all, that is for man. There is only one great mystery—the Creator. We can never return to the early ideas of Him as a kind white-bearded old man. If I were ever to make a symbol of the Deity, it would be as a great vesture into which everything that exists is woven.’ ”1 [Note: Mrs. Watts, in George Frederic Watts, ii. 244.]

(1) There is now in the world, and especially in Christendom, something Christian that never came through the Scriptures—something that has come down through the ages by what may be called the tradition of souls, unwritten and almost unspoken. Jesus Christ, by His living presence in this world, and by His spoken word, generated and set in motion a spiritual force that has never died, and never will. But the rule of this force is in the Scriptures. Its explanation is the Scripture. It is not so much a tradition that could be expressed in any human language as a living influence that flows on, and must flow as long as the world lasts. But that general influence is not what, in the ordinary and intelligible sense, we can call “the word of Christ.” This is, manifestly, something which is to be apprehended by our intelligence, to be kept in our memory; which is to operate, through the understanding, upon the affections, and the conscience, and the will; which is to shape the habits and rule the life.

Some inscriptions are written in antiquated letters, in quaint and curious characters, or even in dead and obsolete tongues. But you never paint a finger-post with Saxon letters or German characters; you draw them broad and square, so that he who runs may read it in his most familiar alphabet. And Christ’s Word is not only the path but the finger-post, inscribed so broad and clear in the world’s vernacular that the wayfaring man, though a fool, need make no mistake.1 [Note: J. Hamilton, Works, vi. 24.]

The sacred word, so fraught with use,

Is bright with beauty too,

Oft startling us like blooms profuse

Upon a sudden view.

But more amazing than the bloom

Which all the trees bestuds,

See, peering from the leafy gloom,

A hundred thousand buds.

O, bud for ever, glorious tree,

O, ever blossom thus;

So shall thy good fruits plenteously

Hang ripening for us.2 [Note: T. T. Lynch, The Rivulet, 20.]

(2) The literal word of Christ is one of the most wonderful things that ever has been in the world. All at once, up in Galilee, a silent man—for He was then known only as a man—began to speak. Not from Roman rostrum, not in terms of Greek philosophy, not as a Jewish Rabbi with Targum and Cabala at hand, but simply and naturally to simple and ordinary men wherever they could be got together—in village synagogue, on the seashore, among the boats and nets, on the road, on the hill-sides—and as He spake, the words seemed literally to root themselves in the hearts of some of the hearers. There were many who heard and idly wondered and straightway forgot; there were some who heard and hated what they heard, because it seemed to make against their own power and influence. But others caught the word like living seed, and gave it living soil within them, where it grew and soon became the power of their whole life. But so it was, amid friends, and foes, and crowds of thoughtless, indifferent people, the Speaker continued to speak; and as He spake the word grew and multiplied and became increasingly a living spiritual force in the life of the whole nation.

God has given only two perfect things to this lost world. One of them is the incarnate Word, which is the Lord Jesus Christ; the other is the written Word, which is the Holy Scripture. There is a Divine element and a human element in both.1 [Note: James H. Brookes.]

Art, literature, philosophy, theology, statesmanship, science, civilization have made colossal strides forward, but Jesus stands just where He stood two thousand years ago, and the world is still at His feet. Why is it? The Gospel is an old story, the preacher’s sermon is an old message, religion is an old song, and yet the heart of the race stops to listen, and ever and anon some soul, mantling with the light of Calvary’s glory, rises up to confess that the old song has brought the new life. Christ is the same because Christ is the best. There is no progress beyond Him. He is all the heart longs for.2 [Note: J. I. Vance, Royal Manhood, 243.]

We are told that Christ spoke to men as one that had authority—not an authority like that of the Scribes and Pharisees, which is given from without, but an authority which flowed naturally from the absolute conviction of the truth of His own words. Of this too we might find imperfect examples within our own experience. For when a man is possessed with a truth and feels that he has a mission to utter it, he becomes a power in the world. So Christ, having received the truth from His Father, brought it down to men. The opinions of the world, the customs of society, the traditions of Churches—they too had an authority, but it was of another sort. They did not come immediately from God; they did not find a witness in the better mind and conscience of man—they were the words of an age and country, and might be even unmeaning or absurd in some other age or country. But the words of Christ were eternal and unchangeable; as long as human nature lasts, while the world stands—these and these alone shall never pass away.3 [Note: B. Jowett.]

Give me the Word—the Word!

Leave me, I pray, with the Word, and the Spirit alone:

Thus shall the Way, and the Truth be made known;

Thus all the depths of my soul with the life shall be stirred.

Who but Himself could tell,

Save in dead words, such a story as this that I learn

Straight from the wonderful pages that burn

Still with the light that sometime on the Mystery fell,

When He revealed His Son,

Chosen to manifest God, in unspeakable love

Linking our lives with His own life above,

Making them one, as Himself and the Father are One—

Spirit and flesh in Him—

God, the Creator, and man, whom He formed from the dust,

Meeting in Christ whom, receiving, I trust,

Seeing the Life that to wisdom and reason is dim.

Give me the Word, I say!

Let me go into its depths for the treasure I seek;

Let me be still, that the Spirit may speak,

Filling the gloom of my soul with His marvellous ray.

Give me the Word—the Word!

Leave me, I pray, with the Word and the Spirit to be:

Let the one Life flow unhindered through me;

Let the glad song of His joy in the silence be heard.1 [Note: E. H. Divall, A Believer’s Songs, 97.]

2. Let us look at some of the chief characteristics of the word.

(1) Its simplicity and wisdom.—Who that has ever really studied the words of Christ can help being struck by these characteristic features? The truths He teaches are wise and deep; they provide food for thought for men in all ages. And yet the words which convey them are so simple that he who runs may read. In a word, the teaching of Jesus is like the sea that has shallows in which a little child can wade safely, and unfathomable depths whose bottom no lead can ever touch.

Simplicity and wisdom—that is a combination which is not always, or even generally, found in teachers. Wise men are very often hard to understand when they try to teach others, and deep truths seem to be almost inseparable from difficult words and intricate sentences. Now and again, but very rarely, we come across a teacher who is head and shoulders above his fellows. And if we investigate we shall invariably find that the secret of his superiority is that he has the gift of simplicity as well as of wisdom, and so is enabled to impart to others the knowledge he has acquired and the truths he has grasped.

The excellence of Holy Scripture does not arise from a laboured and far-fetched elocution, but from a surprising mixture of simplicity and majesty, which is a double character, so difficult to be united that it is seldom to be met with in compositions merely human.1 [Note: Newman.]

The teaching of Christ is simple, but it is the simple which is always the hardest to understand; for complexity like mechanism may be puzzling, but it is never profound—patience can always unravel it; it is a compound and can readily be reduced to its elements; but simplicity is, as it were, an element in itself, and is profound with the profundity of deep clear water. The complex may be a riddle, but the simple is a mystery. The apprehension of Christ’s profound simplicity is the reward only of long and complex spiritual struggle—except, of course, in the case of those happy ones who come into it at birth as into an inheritance. It is the simplicity which can only come of experience—or genius.2 [Note: Richard Le Gallienne, The Religion of a Literary Man, 68.]

If we compare the talk of great men and women “who will cause this age to be remembered,” one element is to be found in them all—a certain directness, simplicity, and vivid reality; a gift for reaching their hearers at once, giving straight from themselves, and not in reflections from other minds; sunshine, in short, not moonshine. Perhaps something of this may be due to the habit of self-respect and self-reliance which success and strength of purpose naturally create. Many uncelebrated people have the grace of convincing simplicity, but I have never met a really great man without it. As one thinks of it one recognizes that a great man is greater than we are, because his aim (consciously or unconsciously) is juster, his strength stronger and less strained; his right is more right than ours, his certainty more certain; he shows us the best of that which concerns him, and the best of ourselves too in that which concerns us in his work or his teaching.3 [Note: Lady Thackeray Ritchie, Tennyson, Ruskin, and Browning, 73.]

Lord, with the children’s wisdom make us wise;

For to simplicity Thou dost reveal

The way unto Thyself, and dost unseal

The mysteries that baffle learning’s eyes.

We crave the knowledge that for ever lies

Deeper than words. It is enough to feel

Thy presence ever bringing hopes that heal,

Light that can lead, and love that satisfies.

Thy silence hath more meaning than our speech;

And so, beyond our wordy strife and vain,

By sorrowing and gladness, loss and gain,

Bring us into Thy quietness, and teach

Those deep simplicities that mock the brain,

Yet lie within the heart’s most easy reach.1 [Note: P. C. Ainsworth, Poems and Sonnets, 77.]

(2) Its preciousness and power.—Some words are dead logs and others are living truths; some words are like living creatures that have hands and feet; there are some words which, as you listen to them, make the blood move fast and the pulse beat rapidly, and you want to go forth then and there to do something worth doing; they are words that have life about them. Such words are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, for they are spirit and they are life. That means that if they dwell in us they minister to our life. Man does not live by bread alone, although he is perpetually trying to persuade himself that he does. What is it that we live by in the life of the spirit? Some of us have in our reading experienced the keen joy of coming across a new lifegiving thought; it is like the joy of an astronomer who, watching the skies, finds new planets come within his ken. We are like a discoverer looking out on the great Pacific ocean of truth, and in a moment there opens before us a world of truth, as by a single flash of insight. But there are no words that will do this for us like the living Word of Christ.

I have been greatly cheered by assurances which have recently reached me again and again of the blessing which God has caused to rest on my ministry in past years, and of the light and strength which, through God’s grace, some are finding in my books; but I seem to have a great deal to say that I have never said yet, and I want to say it. How wonderful the gospel of Christ is! I have been thinking about it and preaching about it for more than forty years, and yet there seem to be vast provinces of truth in it which I am only just beginning to explore.1 [Note: R. W. Dale, Life, 631.]

In the Green Room at Dresden, where for centuries the Saxon princes have gathered their gems and treasures until they have become worth millions of pounds, may be seen a silver egg, a present to one of the Saxon queens, which when you touch a spring opens and reveals a golden yolk. Within this is hid a chicken, whose wing when pressed also flies open, disclosing a splendid gold crown, studded with jewels. Nor is this all; another secret spring being touched, hidden in the centre is found a magnificent diamond ring. So it is with every truth and promise of God’s word—a treasure within a treasure; and all to enrich and bless us.2 [Note: Principal Holliday.]

To all men’s hearts the words of Christ find a way when they are rightly considered. For no one will say that to hate is better than to love, darkness better than light, impurity than holiness, falsehood better than truth. And it may very likely be the case that when all the endless books and tomes of scholastic divinity, ancient and modern, shall have ceased to interest mankind, the words of Christ, and these alone, shall prevail.3 [Note: B. Jowett.]

(3) Its gracious accent.—When a person speaks there is not only the thing he says, but the tone in which he says it. There is a dry and flippant tone which withers the sincerity out of the kindest words, and there is a full-hearted tone which will fill the most common words with a melting magic. And so there is not only Christ’s Word, but Christ’s way of speaking it. “The Word dwelt among us full of grace and truth.” What Jesus spoke was truth, the way He spoke was gracious, so gracious that all men marvelled hearing the words which proceeded out of His mouth. Christ’s tone was gracious. He spoke the truth, but He spoke the truth in love. Even when moved with indignation at hypocrisy and hardness of heart, there was love enough to make His anger far more awful, that absence of bitterness when goodness frowns on guilt—the wrath of the Lamb.

A chemist may analyse the wine of Lebanon, and he may tell you that it contains so many salts and alkalies; and you may combine all these, you may mix them in the just proportions; but chemistry will never create what the vintage yielded. To make the wine of Lebanon needs Lebanon itself—the mountain with its gushing heart and aromatic springs. A theologian may analyse the Christian doctrine. He may tell you how many truths and tenets this Bible contains; and you may combine them all. You may put the sound words together and make a system of them, but that system, however orthodox, so long as it abides alone, is not the Word of Christ. It needs Christ’s own mind, His loving heart and benignant spirit, to reproduce the truth as it is in Jesus. It needs the Evangelic truth and the Evangelic tone to go together. They are essential to one another, and it is Gospel only when they are combined.1 [Note: J. Hamilton, Works, vi. 40.]

He whom God sent into the world, to be the Light of the world, and Head of the whole Church, and the perfect example of true religion and virtue, for the imitation of all—the Shepherd whom the whole flock shall follow wherever He goes—even the Lord Jesus Christ, was a person who was remarkably of a tender and affectionate heart; and His virtue was expressed very much in the exercise of holy affections.2 [Note: Jonathan Edwards.]

The Sacred Infancy teaches us tenderness; the Passion tenderness; the Blessed Sacrament tenderness; the Sacred Heart tenderness. But look at the common life of Jesus among men, and you will see more clearly what this tenderness is like. There is first the tenderness of our Lord’s outward deportment. The narrative of Palm Sunday is an instance of it. Also His way with His disciples, His way with sinners, and His way with those in affliction or grief who threw themselves in His road. He quenched not the smoking flax nor broke the bruised reed. This was a complete picture of Him. There was tenderness in His very looks, as when He looked on the rich young man and loved Him: and St. Peter was converted by a look. His whole conversation was imbued with tenderness. The tone of His parables, the absence of terrors in His sermons, the abyss of forgiveness which His teaching opens out, all exemplify this. He is no less tender in His answer to questions, as when He was accused of being possessed, and when He was struck on the face. His very reprimands were steeped in tenderness; witness the woman taken in adultery, James and John, and the Samaritan, and Judas; nor was His zeal less tender, as was evidenced when He rebuked the brothers who would fain have called down fire from heaven upon the Samaritan villagers, and also by the sweet meekness of His divine indignation when He cleared the Temple. Now if our Lord is our model, and if His spirit is ours, it is plain that a Christian-like tenderness must make a deep impression upon our spiritual life; and indeed give it its principal tone and character. Without tenderness we can never have that spirit of generosity in which we must serve God.1 [Note: F. W. Faber.]


Our Appropriation of the Word

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you.” The word “dwell” means more than a temporary lodging. You are said to dwell in the house you inhabit; it becomes your home; you feel at ease in it; you are at liberty in it; you are welcome in it; you do as you like in it; you have authority in it. That is what is meant here. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you.” He does not say—“visit you; come to you occasionally; reside for a time with you.” No, but “inhabit, reside continually; have a home in you; be welcome to you; be at ease in you; have authority in you; do as it likes with you; regulate and dispose and arrange everything in you.”

St. Paul regards the word as an inhabitant of the soul’s chamber, so that without it the Christian character would be like a human body without a face, like a face without an eye, like one of those gaunt, untenanted dwellings that you see sometimes staring you in the face, and giving no signs of happy occupancy; it needs men and women to dwell in it to give it shape and character. He says, “Let the word of Christ be in your heart of hearts as that which will clothe and form and fashion and give significance and character to your life. Let it abide in you richly in all wisdom.”

A human life without the indwelling word of God is as empty as a landscape without human beings in it. All true landscape, whether simple or exalted, depends primarily for its interest on connexion with humanity, or with spiritual powers. Banish your heroes and nymphs from the classical landscape—its laurel shades will move you no more. Show that the dark clefts of the most romantic mountain are uninhabited and untraversed; it will cease to be romantic. Fields without shepherds and without fairies will have no gaiety in their green, nor will the noblest masses of ground or colours of cloud arrest or raise your thoughts, if the earth has no life to sustain, and the heaven none to refresh.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters, v. (Works, vii. 255).]

1. Let the word of Christ dwell in the memory.—Let it dwell in the memory, for there is the place where we should plant the seed. As the seed goes into the soil of the earth and the soil of the earth does not understand it; so the seed of the truth of Christ goes into our memory, and our memory does not understand it. But it strikes its living roots down into our thoughts, and by and by we are lifted—transfigured into the likeness of Jesus Christ. The morning, the springtime of life, is the time to sow the memory with the truth of Christ. In the springtime, when the soil is moist and warm, it takes in the seed and gives back quickly; but in the summer, after the July sun has exhausted the moisture, the seed perishes; and, if scattered over the beaten track, it is wasted. So, the time to pack the memory with the truth of Christ is in youth, before the hot sun of middle age has exhausted the soil of its ambition, thought, and imagination; before the impress of the busy world has come upon the soul.

John Ruskin, that master writer of English prose, says that when he was a boy his mother compelled him to memorize chapter after chapter of the Old Testament, particularly the Psalms, and chapter after chapter of the New Testament; and now whatever John Ruskin has written is filled with quotations from the Bible. As you can taste the June clover in the sweet country butter, so you can taste the Bible in the writings of John Ruskin.2 [Note: O. P. Gifford.]

It has been remarked by those who have had wide opportunities for observation that memory is a most important part of the basis of intellectual pre-eminence. The information we can gather regarding the early training of James Kidd bears out this high estimate that is taken of the function of memory in mental and moral development. When he was a mere child he not only read, but was able to repeat without book, the greater part of the Gospel of John. Every day his mother gave him his portion, causing him to commit to memory the passage that was read, and putting questions to him to induce him to ponder and digest what he had acquired, so that the truth entered into his growing intelligence, and was not a mere mechanical appropriation. When he was an old man, Dr. Kidd often spoke with grateful emotion of the gracious wisdom of his mother in being at such pains so to present Jesus Christ to his mind as to beget in him reverence and love that hallowed the springs of his life.1 [Note: Dr. Kidd of Aberdeen, 5.]

I have a room whereinto no one enters

Save I myself alone:

There sits a blessed memory on a throne,

There my life centres.

While winter comes and goes—oh tedious comer!—

And while its nip-wind blows;

While bloom the bloodless lily and warm rose

Of lavish summer.

If any should force entrance he might see there

One buried yet not dead,

Before whose face I no more bow my head

Or bend my knee there;

But often in my worn life’s autumn weather

I watch there with clear eyes,

And think how it will be in Paradise

When we’re together.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Poems, 334.]

2. Let the word of Christ dwell in the imagination.—Memory combined with imagination is a very marvellous power, but alone it is of very little use. A man’s memory may be packed with great principles, but they are of no use to him, because they have not entered into his life through faith. But what is faith? It is trust in a person; dependence upon the word of the person. But it is more than that; it is the imagining power of the soul. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; it is the evidence of things not seen.” Let the word of Christ dwell in your imagination. Brood over it. Give yourself to it until all doubt, all mists of obscurity pass away. Rise with it to the heavenlies where Christ sits at the right hand of God.

I had a hot march to Blonay among the vines, and between their dead stone walls; once or twice I flagged a little, and began to think it tiresome; then I put my mind into the scene, instead of suffering the body only to make report of it; and looked at it with the possession-taking grasp of the imagination—the true one; it gilded all the dead walls, and I felt a charm in every vine tendril that hung over them. It required an effort to maintain the feeling: it was poetry while it lasted, and I felt that it was only while under it that one could draw, or invent, or give glory to, any part of such a landscape. I repeated “I am in Switzerland” over and over again, till the name brought back the true group of associations, and I felt I had a soul, like my boy’s soul, once again. I have not insisted enough on this source of all great contemplative art. The whole scene without it was but sticks and stones and steep dusty road.1 [Note: Ruskin, in E. T. Cook’s Life of John Ruskin, i. 246.]

3. Let the word of Christ dwell in the affections.—Pascal said faith must be imbued with feeling or else it will always be vacillating. Of how much modern scepticism have you not there the explanation! A man does not feel deeply his faith, else he would not wave to and fro and be shaken by every wind of doctrine. The word of Christ will not dwell in a man’s mind unless it dwells in a man’s heart; it will not give the intellect contact with truth unless it graciously sways the currents of his feelings. There are some scents which are as exquisite as the breath of spring, but they are faint and evanescent, you hardly discern them in the air before they are gone; there are others that cling to us and yet never pall. So it is with sounds; there are some tunes that cling to us, that we cannot banish, and that we would not banish if we could.

I remember reading, in a book about travels in South America, about the water-vine. A traveller may be going about not knowing how to quench his thirst, but if he sees one of these plants growing his difficulties are at an end, for he has only to sever the stem and a stream of fresh cold water flows forth to quench the thirst. The reason is the plant is full of sap. The character is full of sap if the word of Christ really dwells in a man’s heart.2 [Note: W. T. Davison.]

Jesus’ idea lifts Christianity above the plane of arid discussion and places it in the region of poetry, where the emotions have full play and Faith is vision. Theology becomes the explanation of the fellowship between the soul and Jesus. Regeneration is the entrance into His life, Justification the partaking of His Cross, Sanctification the transformation into His character, Death the coming of the Lord, Heaven His unveiled Face. Doctrines will be but moods of the Christ-consciousness; parables of the Christ-life. Suffering will be the baptism of Jesus and the drinking of His cup, and if every saint has not the stigmata on his hands and feet, he will at least, like Simon the Cyrenian, have the mark of the Cross upon his shoulder. And service will be the personal tribute to Jesus, whom we shall recognize under any disguise.1 [Note: John Watson, The Mind of the Master.]

4. Let the word of Christ dwell richly in the will.—Character lies pre-eminently in the sphere of the will. He who would achieve much in the moral life must be capable of mighty endeavours. The place of will in influence is hardly less obvious. Only he who can set his goal and steadily and firmly pursue it can hope to count greatly with others.

The Great Teacher has said “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine.” It is Christ’s will that every power God has given to man shall find its full employ. It is His will that we shall have life and that we shall have it more abundantly. It is the Spirit of Power within, energizing with our spirit—the human will in its highest action. The mystery of that union of the Divine will with the human will none can ever explain. But the mystery is no greater than that of the human will energizing from the centre to the circumference of our entire being. Striving to harmonize your will with the will of God, you will learn to make the best use of this greatest and grandest of your unused powers.2 [Note: S. Fallows, Health and Happiness, 148.]

The common characteristic of the virtues lies in a state of will—a will in harmony with the good. The harmony may indeed be far from perfect; but the more nearly it is approached, the higher is the virtue. Still further, we may be only faintly conscious of the nature of the good which is being realized in our own character. By instinct and training a man may show himself brave and his own master, without thinking much of the ends thereby achieved. Yet virtue is a state of consciousness—not mere instinct. It does not, of course, require elaborate reflection upon our own motives; far less does it involve the morbid self-examination which turns life to bitterness. Its consciousness is not a consciousness of the individual self and its struggles and weaknesses so much as a contemplation of, and firm hold on, the ideal self—the good which we approach in the very act of striving after it. From this point of view, the attitude which at once apprehends and wills the good is the root of all the virtues. This may be called the Good Will.1 [Note: W. R. Sorley, The Moral Life, 65.]

Thou who mad’st the mighty clock

Of the great world go;

Mad’st its pendulum swing and rock,

Ceaseless to and fro;

Thou whose will doth push and draw

Every orb in heaven,

Help me move by higher law

In my spirit graven.

Like a planet let me swing—

With intention strong;

In my orbit rushing sing

Jubilant along;

Help me answer in my course

To my seasons due;

Lord of every stayless force,

Make my Willing true.2 [Note: George MacDonald, “Violin-Songs” (Poetical Works, i. 354).]

5. Let the word of Christ dwell richly in the whole life.—The word should manifest the rich abundance of its dwelling in men by opening their minds to receive “every kind of wisdom.” Where the gospel dwells in its power in a man’s spirit, and is intelligently meditated on and studied, it will flower in principles of thought and action applicable to all subjects, and touching the whole horizon of human life. All, and more than all, the wisdom which these false teachers promised in their mysteries, is given to the babes and the simple ones who treasure the word of Christ in their hearts, and the least among them may say, “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Thy testimonies are my meditation.” That gospel which the child may receive has “infinite riches in a narrow room,” and, like some tiny black seed, for all its humble form, has hidden in it the promise and potency of wondrous beauty of flower, and nourishment of fruit. Cultured and cared for in the heart where it is sown, it will unfold into all truth which a man can receive or God can give, concerning God and man, our nature, duties, hopes and destinies, the tasks of the moment, and the glories of eternity.

Is it possible that from such a life as Jesus lived so long ago, a life that was lived back in the very dust of history and that has come down to us in records which seem sometimes to be flecked with tradition and obscured with the distance in which they lived—is it possible that I should get from Him a guidance of my daily life here? Can Jesus really be my Teacher, my Guide, in the actual duties and perplexities of my daily life and lead me into the larger land in which I know He lives? Ah! the man knows very little about the everlasting identity of human nature, little of how the world in all these changeless ages is the same, who asks that—very little, also, of how in every largest truth there are all particulars and details of human life involved; little of how everything that a man is to-day, upon every moment, rests upon some eternal foundation and may be within the power of some everlasting law. The wonder of the life of Jesus is this—and you will find it so and you have found it so if you have ever taken your New Testament and tried to make it the rule of your daily life—that there is not a single action that you are called upon to do of which you need be, of which you will be, in any serious doubt for ten minutes as to what Jesus Christ, if He were here, would have you do under those circumstances and with the material upon which you are called to act. The soul that takes in Jesus’ word, the soul that through the words of Jesus enters into the very person of Jesus, the soul that knows Him as its daily presence and its daily law—it never hesitates. There is no single act of your life, there is no single dilemma in which you find yourself placed, in which the answer is not in Jesus Christ. I do not say that you will find some words in Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that will detail exactly the condition in which you find yourself placed; but I do say that if, with your human sympathies and your devoted love, you can feel the presence of that Jesus behind the words that He said, the personal perfectness, the Divine life manifested in the human life, there is not a single sin or temptation to sin that will not be convicted. There is where we rest when we claim that Jesus Christ is the Master of the world, that He opens the great richness and infinite distances of the human life, that He shows us what it is to be men.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks, Addresses, 109.]

The Indwelling Word


Binney (T.), Sermons in King’s Weigh-House Chapel, 1st Ser., 214.

Dixon (A. C.), The Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit, 118.

Gibbons (J.), Discourses and Sermons, 97.

Gregg (J.), Sermons Preached in Trinity Church, Dublin, ii. 131.

Hamilton (J.), Works, ii. 419.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Colossians and Philemon, 320.

Nicoll (W. R.), Ten-Minute Sermons, 259.

Plumptre (E. H.), Theology and Life, 115.

Ridgeway (C. J.), The King and His Kingdom, 101.

Sadler (M. F.), Sermon Outlines, 19.

Sauter (B.), The Sunday Epistles, 88.

Christian World Pulpit, xxix. 302 (Keghead); l. 218 (Davidson); lxxi. 11 (Chadwick).

Churchman’s Pulpit: Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, iv. 182 (Carruthers).

The Great Texts of the Bible - James Hastings

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