Great Texts of the Bible
Christ’s Commission to His Church
Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation.—Mark 16:15.
These are the last words recorded of all Christ’s communications to His apostles. Let us think what would be the effect on those who heard it of such a parting charge. It made all the difference to the apostles, whether they should simply be holders and possessors of truth and blessings, teachers and ministers in their own place and among their own people of the grace in which they believed, or whether they should be missionaries of it—messengers running to and fro, and never pausing, never resting in their ceaseless and unwearied wanderings, to carry the news onward and onward, farther and farther on, to ever new hearers and more and more unknown lands. So St. Paul understood it: “From Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum”—the type of all that was barbarous and uncouth—“I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”
Those parting words of Christ put the stamp on Christianity that it was to be a universal religion; a religion, not merely universal in the sense that it should be freely open to all who came to seek for it, but universal in the sense that it should go out and seek for men in their own homes; a religion of conquest and progress in all directions; a religion which should be satisfied with nothing short of having won over “the whole creation,” the tribes of men of every language and colour, from north to south, on whom the sun rises and on whom it sets, to the obedience of Christ, and to the Kingdom of His Father.
The subject therefore is a missionary topic in its widest sense. We may study it under three main headings:—
The Responsibility of the Church
The Preparation of the Missionary
The Scope of the Commission
The Responsibility of the Church
This is Christ’s last great Easter command.
1. The first thought which suggests itself is the practical duty. “Go ye and preach.” The matter was literally left in the apostles’ hands, it is literally left in ours. Jesus has returned to the throne; ere departing He announced the distinct command. There it is, and it is age-long in its application,—“Preach,” tell of the name and the work of “God manifest in the flesh.” First “evangelise,” then “disciple the nations.” Bring to Christ, then build up in Christ. There are no other orders; we must think imperially of Christ and the Church, and our anticipations of success must be world-wide in their sweep.
It used to be the fashion to laugh at Missions. You know how they are represented and talked about in the pages of Dickens and Thackeray. That time has passed away. It is no longer possible to laugh at them. The serious statesman feels that, if not the missionary, then he knows not who is to create the bond of spiritual fellowship between East and West, Africa and Europe. And he looks eagerly towards this missionary effort. People can no longer laugh. It is the biggest thing in the world that has to be done, and a great and consuming desire has seized the souls of people of all sorts and kinds. The mingling of the nations gives us our great opportunity, our great responsibility. It becomes a watchword—the evangelisation of the world in this generation. These are great desires, ideal desires. Remote, you say. You know not how they are to be realised. What is the use of bothering ourselves with things that seem so far off and unpractical? That feeling is the contrary of the Bible. The Bible always busies itself with things that are unpractical. The mark of a Saint is that he busies himself with things that are remote and unattainable.1 [Note: Bishop Gore.]
The Duke of Wellington was once asked, “Is it any use to preach the Gospel to the Hindu?” The Duke said, “What are your marching orders?” “Oh!” was the reply, “our marching orders undoubtedly are to ‘preach the gospel to every creature.’ ” “Very well,” was the withering answer, “You must obey the command. You have nothing to do with results.”2 [Note: T. Lloyd Williams.]
2. The command is accompanied with a reproof.—He upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen (Mark 16:14). Remembering that there are still millions of the human race who have never heard the Gospel, despite the fact that nineteen centuries have rolled away since the command was first given—if the Lord Jesus Christ appeared among us some happy Easter Day, should we wonder if He would upbraid us for our unbelief and the hardness of our hearts?
3. The command is addressed to all classes—to women as well as to men. It is given first in another form to Mary Magdalene: “Go unto my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and unto my God and your God” (St. John 20:17). It is repeated to the other women who had come to anoint the body of Jesus, as they were wending their way back sadly to their homes. We feel at once there is a difference between them and the Magdalene; she affords us the highest example of sorrow and love, and she is therefore first to seek Him; when she sees the angels she shows no fear, so absorbed is she in the one thought about her Lord whom she had lost. But not so the other women. True, their love was deep, their sorrow was keen; but they came more calmly, debating, “Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?” Jesus Christ would send forth as His messengers, not only those who are filled with impulsive love to Him, but the calm, the calculating, and the prudent. You who see the stone and know the difficulties in the way, you who feel the awe and sacredness of the holy message; there is need for you to go and tell; there are some who will believe your story, while they will account a Magdalene with her ecstatic love as but an enthusiastic fanatic.
The Preparation of the Missionary
In the context of the following verse, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned,” we find the fundamental principles on which the equipment of the missionary for his work is based. “Believe and be baptized,” is the watchword of New Testament teaching. What do these words mean to us?—Belief and Baptism.
1. Baptism.—Take the second first. The Catechism bids the catechist ask his pupil what it means. And the pupil is to reply: “I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given unto us, ordained by Christ Himself, as a means whereby we receive the same and a pledge to assure us thereof.” Here the thoughts specially enforced are that the Sacrament, the Baptismal rite, the Eucharistic rite, is outward and visible, a thing which touches and affects the common senses, and can serve therefore as a “sign” recognisable by them; and then that it stands related to something “inward and spiritual,” belonging to the region of the “inner man” and to the unseen and eternal life, which something is the grace of God, His free saving action and virtue for us and in us.
Further, this “sign” is what it is by virtue of the direct institution of our Lord, by whom it was “given,” “ordained” as nothing else of the outward and visible order was expressly sanctioned by Him.
Lastly, His sacred purpose in such gift and command is intimated. The “sign” is a means for the reception of the “grace,” a channel by which our being finds contact with the spiritual action and virtue of God for our salvation. It is also “a pledge to assure us thereof,” a token tangible and visible whereby we are to grasp with new certainty the fact of our possession, to be filled, as we contemplate the sign, with the animating conviction that this wonderful gift, the grace of God, is, for our future as well as for our present, “a sober certainty of waking bliss.”1 [Note: H. C. G. Moule, Faith: Its Nature and Its Work, 190.]
2. Belief.—What is belief in the Christian sense of the term? Is it not a reliance upon the intuitions rather than upon the reason? “With the heart man believes unto righteousness.” Look at the whole method of Christ’s teaching and you will see at once what this definition means. Has it ever struck you that the silences and the omissions in the teaching of Christ are remarkable? He does not attempt to prove the existence of God; He takes it for granted. He does not offer a single argument for the existence of the soul, or the prolongation of human destiny beyond the earth, or the certainty of an unseen spiritual world. He shows us a publican at prayer—that is His way of proving the existence of a soul. He shows us Dives and Lazarus—that is His way of making us aware of the immortal destinies of man, and of his relation to an unseen world. Why is Christ silent upon the arguments which make for these great convictions? Because He knows that no argument can give them cogency. They lie outside the reason. They are witnessed to by the intuitions of mankind. It is to these intuitions that Christ appeals, and His appeal was justified by the astonishing fact that while men eagerly disputed His teaching upon conduct, the worst man never disputed His fundamental assumptions of the existence of God, of the soul, and of an unseen place of judgment behind the veils of time. Christ, in His own perfection and purity of life, suggests God; the publican at prayer vindicates the soul, for mankind from the beginning of the ages has been a creature conscious of a need for prayer; the inequalities of life displayed in Dives and Lazarus suggest a spiritual universe where wrong is righted, and final justice done to mankind.
You will perhaps say that this is to beg the entire case; and so it would be, if man were no more than a rational creature. But man is an irrational as well as a rational creature, and all that is noblest in him springs from a kind of redeeming irrationality. Love, heroism, martyrdom, are all acts of sublime irrationality. Put to the test, we refuse to be governed wholly by our reason, and we refuse every day. A man who never thought or acted, save upon the full consent of his reason, would be a sorry creature, and his life would be a dismal spectacle. There is a logic of the heart which is stronger than the logic of the reason.
Harriet Martineau speaks of the real joy she found in deliverance from what she called the “decaying mythology” of the Christian religion. She took positive pleasure in the thought of its approaching annihilation. She, and those who thought with her, announced as a sort of gospel to mankind struggling in the wilderness, that the promised land was a mirage, and they expected mankind to welcome the intelligence. That was the spirit of the old materialism; the later materialism is full of incurable despair and sadness. It is no longer sure that it is right. It is no longer able to disguise the truth that there are a hundred things in heaven and earth which were not dreamed of in its philosophy. It has fired its last shot, it has announced the promised land a mirage; and yet mankind follows the pillar of cloud and fire. In the heart of the materialist of to-day there is a new yearning toward faith, an ardent wish to believe more than his reason will permit him to believe.1 [Note: W. J. Dawson.]
No logic or reason would justify George Eliot, who had repudiated Christianity as vigorously as had Harriet Martineau, in reading Thomas à Kempis all her life, and having the immortal meditations of the old monk at her bedside as she died; but the logic of the heart justified her, and we love her for submitting to it. What had she, a woman who thrust aside all the theologies as incredible, to do with a Dinah Morris preaching Christ crucified, upon a village green? Yet she does paint Dinah Morris, and through the lips of the Methodist evangelist she lets her own soul utter a message which her intellect rejected.2 [Note: Ibid.]
3. There must be a readiness to obey on the part of the missionary. “Begin at home” is an axiom of Christianity, but as an excuse for not taking part in missionary work it is futile. Begin at home means begin at your own character, for what you are will determine what you do; but beginning is not the whole. If you are resolved, in this supreme work of character-building, in this supreme work of self-conquest, to cultivate or concentrate every phase of your energy upon yourself until your individual victory is complete, then it will mean only the utterest woe of self-defeat. If we say we will not stretch out a hand to help others until there is nothing in us to prevent the question, “What lack I yet?” it will be simply that we lack the one thing without which is the lack of all.
When the proposal to evangelise the heathen was brought before the Assembly of the Scotch Church in 1796, it was met by a resolution, that “to spread abroad the knowledge of the gospel amongst barbarous and heathen nations seems to be highly preposterous, in so far as philosophy and learning must in the nature of things take the precedence, and that while there remains at home a single individual every year without the means of religious knowledge, to propagate it abroad would be improper and absurd.” And then Dr. Erskine called to the Moderator, “Rax me that Bible,” and he read the words of the great commission, which burst upon them like a clap of thunder.1 [Note: R. F. Horton.]
4. A Desire to spread the Light.—When the Christian faith, having begun its life, almost immediately began to spread itself abroad, it was doing two things. It was justifying its Lord’s prophecy, and it was realising its own nature. At the very beginning there came a moment’s pause and hesitation. We can see in those chapters of the Book of Acts how for a few years the faith could not quite believe the story of itself which was speaking at its heart. It heard the ends of the earth calling it, but it could not see beyond the narrow coasts of Judæa. But the beauty of those early days is the way in which it could not be content with that. It is not the ends of the earth calling in desperation for something which was not made to help them, which had no vast vocation, which at last started out desperately to do a work which must be done, but for which it felt no fitness in itself. The heart of the Church feels the need of going as much as the ends of the world desire that it should come. It is “deep answering to deep.”2 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]
Do we claim with a passion of desire to see the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ? When John the Baptist came, he came to create an Israel of expectation. It was of that Israel of expectation that our Lord said, “From the days of John the Baptist till now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and men of violence take it by force.” By the cryings of their desire they have forced the hand of God and brought the Kingdom of God near. So it is. God will not save us without our own correspondence. If He delays long, if we do not see so much as a glimpse of one of the days of the Son of Man, it is because we desire it so little, because we find so much acquiescence in things as they are, so much miserable contentment, so little eagerness of desire. “God gave them their desire, and sent leanness withal into their soul.” If you want little, or, rather, if your wants are small and selfish, if the things you really care about are the things that touch yourself, your own personal religion, to get a church you like and comfortable things,—things that touch your own family, your own interests, your own circle,—if your desires are narrow, and selfish and small, then, lo! God will give you your desire, and send leanness withal into your soul. You have none of the eagerness and generosity of desire which belong to the really blessed. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”1 [Note: Bishop Gore.]
The old historian, Diodorus, tells of a fire in the Pyrenees which burned off the forests and penetrated the soil until a stream of pure silver gushed forth and ran down the mountain-side. This is manifest fable. But there will be a more marvellous story to tell when the fire of God’s Spirit begins to burn in the hearts of His people.2 [Note: D. J. Burrell.]
A missionary explained how he came to enter the missionary field: “In coming home one night, driving across the west prairie, I saw my little boy hurrying to meet me; the grass was high on the prairie, and suddenly he dropped out of sight. I thought he was playing, and was simply hiding from me; but he did not appear as I expected he would. Then the thought flashed upon my mind, ‘There’s an old well there, and he has fallen in.’ I hurried up to him, reached down into the well and lifted him out; and as he looked up in my face, what do you think he said? ‘O, papa, why didn’t you hurry?’ Those words never left me, they kept ringing in my ears until God put a new and deeper meaning into them, and bade me think of others who are lost, of souls without God and without hope in this world; and the message came to me as a message from the heavenly Father: ‘Go, and work in my name’; and then from that vast throng, a pitiful, despairing cry rolled into my soul as I accepted God’s call: ‘O, why don’t you hurry?’ ”3 [Note: A. P. Hodgson.]
Time greatly short,
O time so briefly long,
Yea, time sole battleground of right and wrong:
Art thou a time for sport
And for a ?Song of Solomon 4 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]
5. A Work of Patience.—“To preach the gospel to the whole creation.” This is a work of patience. We need the patience which dominated the spirit of St. Paul so that he could write: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24). And we can find a still greater example of patience—the patience of Jesus, portrayed by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Now we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that by the grace of God he should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:8-10).
When they kindle the festival lamps round the dome of St. Peter’s at Rome, there is first a twinkling spot here and there, and gradually they multiply till they outline the whole in an unbroken ring of light. So “one by one” men will enter the Kingdom, till at last “every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
So mine are these new fruitings rich,
The simple to the common brings;
I keep the youth of souls who pitch
Their joy in this old heart of things;
Who feel the Coming young as aye,
Thrice hopeful on the ground we plough;
Alive for life, awake to die;
One voice to cheer the seedling Now.
Full lasting is the song, though he,
The singer passes; lasting too,
For souls not lent in usury,
The rapture of the forward view.2 [Note: George Meredith.]
The Scope of the Commission
Its scope will depend upon the meaning we put into the word “gospel.” “Go ye and preach the gospel.”
i. The Gospel
1. What is this “Gospel” of “Good News” which we are to preach to the whole creation? We may find the answer in the word “Atonement.” The Atonement of Christ culminated in His Resurrection and Ascension. The whole teaching of St. Paul turned round “Christ crucified, and the power of his resurrection.” “He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10). It is this “power” that is able to transform men’s lives—this is the Gospel which the Church is still called upon to preach to the heathen.
2. Perhaps our age unduly magnifies—and yet is it possible to magnify?—the love of God manifested in the great propitiation of Christ’s death. We must hold both, God’s righteousness—for what is God without righteousness?—and His love—for what is God without love for a world of sinners? There is the propitiation which sets forth hope. We cannot reconcile them, we often say; we cannot see how the same act of the Saviour can exhibit both sides of the Divine character. Perhaps we cannot. St. Paul and St. John could; they could see no inconsistency. There is no opposition; they are two sides of the same shield; we can do without neither, we need both equally, for God must be to us the supreme name for righteousness, just as He must be the supreme name for the love without which there would have been no redemption, no atonement for a lost world. We know it is sometimes said that the Eastern branch of the Church dwelt rather upon the Incarnation, and the Western upon the Redemption. But that may be pushed too far. The fact is, and we rejoice to think that it is a fact, that the whole Church, in every age, has been substantially one in the way in which it has held the central doctrine of the faith. On that doctrine there is no division; there is perfect unity in the Church.
We have an example in the hymns of the universal Church. What do they say?
Now I have found the ground wherein
Sure my soul’s anchor may remain;
The wounds of Jesus for my sin,
Before the world’s foundation slain.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
And perhaps all the doctrine of the Cross was never more simply or more perfectly stated than in Mrs. Alexander’s children’s hymn:
There is a green hill far away.1 [Note: J. S. Banks.]
3. But is there not a reactionary tendency in our immediate times,—not so much to magnify the love of God in the Atonement, as to drift away from a simple trust in the saving value of Christ’s sacrifice? Are we not now, if we may so speak, impatient of the word Atonement? It shocks our sense of justice; we want to set our lives on a moral basis for ourselves. This may be very well as a theory, the desire which prompts it may be worthy, but will it work in practice? Which of us does not say in his heart, “Oh, if I had not sinned before, I could now go on all right.” No, sin needs its remedy, as much now as it did in Christ’s day. And we can find that remedy, now as then, only at the Cross. All sacrifice is beautiful if offered in a right spirit, and Christ will not despise our poor offerings; but our greatest sacrifices can express their fullest meaning to the heart of the Eternal Father only when they are offered up in union with the Great Sacrifice of His Son.
Look, Father, look on His anointed Face,
And only look on us as found in Him:
Look not on our misusings of Thy grace,
Our prayer so languid, and our faith so dim;
For lo! between our sins and their reward
We set the Passion of Thy Son our Lord.
ii. The Words of the Commission
The universality of the commission is found in the meaning of the Gospel. But we have also the express words of Christ: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” These words unfold the whole plan of the Universality of the Kingdom—what Maclaren calls “the Divine audacity of Christianity.” Take the scene. A mere handful of men, how they must have recoiled when they heard the sweeping command, “Go ye into all the world”! It is like the apparent absurdity of Christ’s quiet word: “They need not depart; give ye them to eat,” when the only visible stock of food was “five loaves and two small fishes.” As on that occasion, so in this final command, they had to take Christ’s presence into account. “I am with you alway.” So note the obviously world-wide extent of Christ’s dominion. He had come into the world, to begin with, that “the world through him might be saved.” “If any man thirst, let him come.” The parables of the Kingdom of heaven are planned on the same grand scale—“I will draw all men unto me.” It cannot be disputed that Jesus lived in this vision of universal dominion. Here emerges the great contrast of Christianity with Judaism. Judaism was intolerant, as all merely monotheistic faiths must be—and sure of future universality, but it was not a proselytising—not a missionary faith. Nor is it so to-day. It is exclusive and unprogressive still. Muhammadanism in its fiery youth, because monotheistic, was aggressive, but it enforced outward profession only, and left the inner life untouched. So it did not scruple to persecute as well as to proselytise. Christianity is alone in calmly setting forth a universal dominion, and in seeking it by the Word alone. “Put up thy sword into its sheath.”
The missionary battle-cry of the Moravian Brotherhood is “To win for the Lamb that was slain the reward of His suffering.” They are a humble people, smallest of all in figures, but a mighty host in the word’s redemption. They have one missionary for every fifty-eight members at home. They are careful in the observance of memorial days. One of these is the Day of Prayer. On August 26, 1727, they set their great vigil going. Twenty-four brethren and twenty-four sisters decided that they would keep up a continuous circle of prayer through the twenty-four hours of the day, each brother, each sister, in their own apartments accepting by lot the hour when they would pray.1 [Note: A. P. Hodgson.] They have put their sword in its sheath, and their weapon is prayer.
1. The word “Universality” gives rise to two thoughts.
(1) It finds in the Gospel a Father for everybody. In all the world it finds not a single orphan. The sorrowing are everywhere; the thoughtless, depraved, debauched, ignorant, wretched, the sinful are everywhere. But nowhere an orphan. Whether in the jungles of Africa, the plains of Syria, the crowded cities of China, or amid the civilisations of Europe and America, the great Infinite Father Spirit broods over the spirits of men. Men may forget the Father, but He does not forget them. Into whatever desert, across whatever valley of sin, whatever slough of despond, whatever depths of despair, He follows them, wraps them about as with a garment, and whispers into their timid ears the sweet assurance, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
There came to my office one day an old lady with white hair, starved features, and tottering steps, leaning upon a cane. There was a scared, timid look on her careworn face as she sank heavily into a chair and told me her pathetic story. It was very simple. An utterly debauched and worthless son, who for thirty years had brought nothing but sorrow to the heart of his mother, had been arrested for an assault from which his victim had died. He was lying in jail awaiting trial. The bruised heart of the aged mother yearned for her boy, for he was still a boy to her. In a moment of indignation at what seemed to me outraged affection, I asked, “Why do you not leave him alone? He does not care for you.” Her eyes filled afresh with tears, her head sank lower, as she answered with infinite tenderness, “No, I know he does not care for me, but I care for him, and he cannot have a mother long.”1 [Note: G. L. Perin in Good Tidings, 139.]
(2) Universality means a cure for every form of sin, and for all the sin of the world. It does not believe in a defeated God. It is a victorious Gospel. One cannot help feeling sorry for the God whom some people believe in. He is a kind-hearted, benevolent God, who means well, but His world is too big. It has slipped away from His control and it is going to ruin at breakneck speed.
Christ, when He died,
Deceived the cross,
And on death’s side
Threw all the loss:
The captive world awaked and found
The prisoners loose, the jailor bound.
O dear and sweet dispute
’Twixt death’s and love’s far different fruit,
Different as far
As antidotes and poisons are:
By the first fatal tree
Both life and liberty
Were sold and slain;
By this they both look up and live again.
O strange mysterious strife,
Of open death and hidden life!
When on the cross my King did bleed,
Life seemed to die, death died indeed.1 [Note: Richard Crashaw.]
2. “Preach the gospel to the whole creation.” The commission according to St. Mark is all too superficially read by Christian people. “Go ye into all the world,” does not merely mean, Travel over the surface of the earth and speak to men; the term “world” (kosmos) includes man and everything beneath him. The preaching of the Gospel to individual men is the beginning of the work, but the Gospel is to be proclaimed to the whole creation. We can reach the kosmos and the whole creation with the evangel only through men. In the proportion in which men hear the evangel, and, yielding to it, are remade by the healing ministry of the Servant of God, they become instruments through which He is able to reconstruct the order of the whole creation.
Chaos created the agony of the Cross. Wherever Christ came into the midst of disorder, He suffered. He, before whose vision there flamed perpetually the glory of the Divine ideal, felt the anguish of God in the presence of the degradation of that ideal. All wounds and weariness, all sin and sorrow, not only of man, but through man in creation, surged upon His heart in waves of anguish. He called His disciples into fellowship with Himself in this suffering. The suffering of the flowers can never be cured if we do not touch them. The agony of the birds can never be ended save as we care for them. The earth can never be lifted from its dulness and deadness, and made to blossom into glorious harvest, save as it is touched by the life of renewed humanity. That is the story of the sufferings of Christ. He came into the world, Himself of the eternal Order, full of grace and truth, and in the consciousness of chaos and disorder He suffered.2 [Note: G. Campbell Morgan.]
The garden of a truly Christian man ought to be the most beautiful in the whole district. When it is not so, it is because he is not living in the full power of the risen Christ. I sometimes think that if I am to judge the Christianity of London by looking at its gardens, it is an extremely poor thing. Let us keep hold of the philosophy of the simple illustration. That conception of Christian responsibility which aims at the saving of individual men, while it is utterly careless of the groaning of creation, is entirely out of harmony with the meaning of this commission. The home of the Christian man ought to be a microcosm of the Millennial Kingdom; and all the things of God’s dear world—and how He loves it, flowers, and birds, and forces—ought to feel the touch of redeemed humanity, and be lifted into fuller life thereby.1 [Note: G. Campbell Morgan.]
There was a Power in this sweet place,
An Eve in this Eden; a ruling Grace
Which to the flowers, did they waken or dream,
Was as God is to the starry scheme.
I doubt not the flowers of that garden sweet
Rejoiced in the sound of her gentle feet;
I doubt not they felt the spirit that came
From her glowing fingers through all their frame.
She lifted their heads with her tender hands,
And sustained them with rods and osier-bands;
If the flowers had been her own infants, she
Could never have nursed them more tenderly.
And all killing insects and gnawing worms,
And things of obscene and unlovely forms,
She bore, in a basket of Indian woof,
Into the rough woods far aloof,—
In a basket, of grasses and wild-flowers full,
The freshest her gentle hands could pull
For the poor banished insects, whose intent,
Although they did ill, was innocent.2 [Note: Shelley, “The Sensitive Plant.”]
3. Man in the economy of God is king of the world, but he has lost his sceptre, has lost the key of the mysteries of the world in which he lives, and cannot govern it as he ought to govern, is unable to realise the creation that lies beneath him. Therefore the kingdom of man is a devastated kingdom, because he is a discrowned king; or in the language of Isaiah, “the earth also is polluted under the inhabitants thereof.” Man’s moral disease has permeated the material universe; or as St. Paul says, “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now … waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.” Man’s moral regeneration will permeate the material universe, and issue in its remaking.
Turning to the Book of Psalms, that wonderful literature of Hebrew expectation and hope and confidence, we hear one of the singers of Israel as he first inquires—
What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
And then, as in harmony with the original story of creation, he declares—
Thou hast put all things under his feet:
All sheep and oxen,
Yea, and the beasts of the field;
The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea,
Whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
We pass to the New Testament, and the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, a logician as well as a poet, declares, after quoting from the singer of Israel, that all the Divine intention is seen realised in Christ as representative Man. “Now we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus.” He thus affirms that while all things are not yet seen under the perfect dominion of man, Jesus is seen, the risen Christ, and the vision of Him is the assurance that the whole creation will yet be redeemed from its groaning and travailing in pain, and realise the fulness of its beauty and glory.
Perfect I call Thy plan:
Thanks that I was a man!
Maker, remake, complete,—I trust what Thou shalt do!1 [Note: R. Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra.”]
Christ’s Commission to His Church
Bramston (J. T.), Fratribus, 200.
Brooks (Phillips), The Mystery of Iniquity, 346.
Church (R. W.), Village Sermons, 3rd Ser., 194.
Dawson (W. J.), The Evangelistic Note, 273.
Hodgson (A. P.), Thoughts for the King’s Children, 199.
Jefferson (C. E.), The Character of Jesus, 121.
Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, New Ser., v. 451.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions, St. Mark ix.–xvi., 308.
Martin (S.), Rain upon the Mown Grass, 126.
Morgan (G. C.), The Missionary Manifesto, 1, 55.
Stuart (E. A.), Children of God, 45.
Williams (T. Lloyd), Thy Kingdom Come, 9.
Christian World Pulpit, lxiii. 346 (Banks); lxvii. 297 (Shepherd); lxxiii. 284 (Atkin).
Contemporary Pulpit, vii. 203 (Hardy).