The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.Paul's Style of Preaching
Did the Apostle voluntarily deny himself the pleasure of being eloquent? Was he not an eloquent man? Not in the sense in which Apollos was eloquent, the fluent, ornate, dazzling style of eloquence, but rather suggestive, stimulating, audacious, and yet chastened with the sublimest spirit of devotion. Was Paul his very best intellectual self when he went to Corinth? He says he was not. In one sense, the Corinthians saw the poorest aspect of his manifold nature; and yet, if they had known it, they were in reality seeing the very best aspect of the man's ministry. But they were sensuous, objective, looking out for spectacle and colour, and not listening with the inner ear, which alone can hear the true music of life and speech. The Apostle had a specific reason for not being verbally eloquent: he was talking to children; he would rebuke their intellectual vanity by presenting himself under aspects that were, apparently at least, humiliating. But the reason is deeper than a mere accommodation to Corinthian infancy; the reason is given in plain terms. The Apostle went to Corinth to declare the testimony of God. That was an all-explanatory reason; in the glory of that function the worker lost all his individuality. The Apostle recognised himself to be but a vessel, an instrument, a medium; he himself being as surprised as those who heard him at the music which God sounded through his voice. It is always so with great teaching and great speaking; the speaker is as surprised as the hearer. Why? Because he yields himself to the hands of God, and he knows not what tune will be played upon the instrument of his soul. Who ever found the Apostle Paul wondering what he should say, as to the substance, the pith, and the purport of his doctrine? The Apostle Paul was an errand-bearer; he had himself nothing to say to the world; he had a testimony to deliver, and his testimony was the testimony of God. That carries the whole purpose and thought of Christian ministry. The Apostle must fill his mind with Divine messages, he must read the prophets, and peruse the life of Christ, and study the ministry of the Cross, and only tell what he himself has been told. Preachers have nothing to say; they are unfaithful when they utter any word of their own, then they steal an honour, and arrest public attention with thoughts that are not worth taking out of the dust. The sermon is nothing, the text is everything: but were this theory proceeded upon, all Corinthian congregations would be dissolved. "Excellency of speech or of wisdom" has its subtle temptations. There is a profanity of sentence-making, there is a blasphemy of rhetoric. We do not want the vessel, we want the life-giving fluid which it holds. It is not the goblet that saves us, it is the blood. Has he time to think out of what vessel he drinks who is dying of thirst? Does he take up the goblet and ask questions as to its age, as to its decoration, as to its symbolism? He sees not the vessel, he lays hold of it and drains it, because he is conscious of a fatal thirst. But the Corinthians in all this have themselves to blame that so much attention is paid to the vessel. Their criticisms are flippant, superficial, profane. There are not wanting those who speak about a "finished style"; the heavens frown on them that they should talk such folly and madness within presence of the Cross. The Apostle Paul, therefore, comes before all Christian ages as the exemplar of Christian apostolicity and Christian ministry.
The strength of the temptation may be in some degree measured by the strength of the resolution with which Paul encountered it. Read: "For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Men have to gird themselves for great occasions; sometimes men have to go into training for a long time, that they may strengthen muscle and fibre, and flesh and bone, so as to endure the conflict well, and come out of it triumphantly. No man can know how long the Apostle was in corning to this determination. His, indeed, was a swiftly acting mind; he did not hover about a subject, but fell upon it with energetic precision. Yet we have the Apostle here in various moods; trembling like a leaf wind-shaken, and standing like a rock. He was a manifold man. He cried in public, and in public he thundered. The one thing he determined to know was the all-inclusive thing. He was not content to know about Jesus Christ. Many persons are fascinated by that theme who are not Christians. There is nothing less acceptable to the Son of God than a compliment paid to his character, if the payment of that tribute be not followed by the imitation of his Spirit and the reproduction of his life. Many persons preach about Jesus Christ who never preach him. The whole difficulty lies in that word "about." They are within sight of him, they have a clear vision of his personality, his figure, his colour, his height, his bulk, his historical relations; they write learned essays about him, they paint verbal pictures of the Messiah, they turn his miracles and mighty signs and wonders into poesy, into idyllic incidents. They do not preach Christ. Sometimes they preach Christ best who never name him. Were a minister to preach upon the forgiveness of sins, he would be termed a moralist, a legalist; whereas, he is preaching the very agony of the Cross of Christ. No man can preach the forgiveness of a foe without preaching Christ, yet Christ's name may not be mentioned. We are humiliated and disgraced by bigots, who call that preaching Christ which simply names the Name without penetrating to the inner meaning, thought, and purpose of the Son of God. You cannot reconcile two enemies without preaching Christ. He who does Christ's work preaches Christ himself. Could we persuade the Church to accept this definition what charity would be developed, what nobleness, what consciousness of one man supplying what is lacking in the ministry of another, and what a grasp of the whole ministry we should secure! There must be some strong men willing to live on begged bread until they can drill this doctrine into the stony heart of a nominal but insufferable Church. Why was the Apostle not satisfied with knowing about Jesus Christ? Because Jesus Christ may be but a historical name, one of many, the brightest point in a series of brilliant points; what the Apostle would know was Jesus Christ "crucified," that word bearing all the emphasis of his meaning. Many persons fall short of the Cross; they can witness the performance of any number of miracles, and be appropriately amazed; they can listen to any number of discourses and say, "How wonderful!" All this amounts to nothing: unless a man be crucified with Christ, on Christ's Cross, he is none of Christ's. But this would cut down the Church by millions. All the proud people would have to go; all the self-satisfied people would be scattered, while all persons who have little theories and religious inventions and pious tricks of their own would have to be dispersed. Who is sufficient for these things? The man who thinks he has about him one rag of respectability would have to be driven forth, and Jesus Christ would be left with a few broken hearts, a few sinners having one only cry, "God be merciful unto me a sinner." Numerically, the Church would be small; energetically, spiritually, dynamically, it would be omnipotent. He who erases the word "crucified" erases the words "Jesus Christ."
How was the Apostle with the Corinthians? He explains his spirit and his attitude in pathetic terms:—"And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling." What a various character was Paul! Hear him on one occasion when they tell him that bonds and imprisonment await him in every city; he says, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I had received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God." Then you describe him as a mighty north wind tearing down the valleys of time, never to be resisted or turned back. At Corinth he was in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. This was not all bodily infirmity; there was a touch of another sensation in this mysterious experience. It would be curious to range on the one side all the heroic utterances of Paul, when he is giant conqueror, not a whit behind the chiefest of the Apostles; and then to put down on the opposite page all the times of his depression, when he needed cheering words from angels and from God himself; for no man so much needed cheering as the Apostle Paul. Peter had better spirits. Collate the passages in which God is obliged, so to say, by the constraint of love to come to Paul and say, "Fear not." Listen to Paul as he says: "There stood by me the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul." To no man in the Church was that word so frequently addressed; yet at other times he seemed to carry the whole Church by his strength, to hold the whole flock of Christ within the fold of his heart. Poor is the life that has only one line in it! How stricken with the disease of monotony the soul that can only sing one tune! Sometimes the Apostle could only rebuke vanity by what might appear to be excessive humility on his own side. The Apostle had to create an atmosphere in which it was impossible for any man to speak above his breath, lest he should convict himself of ostentation and self-idolatry. The mystery wrought by this apostolic action ended in a consciousness on the part of the Corinthians that they must not display themselves, if he, the greatest, was so tremulous, so self-restrained, and so consciously and lovingly subject to the chastening of the Divine Spirit. The only way in which certain blatant persons can be put down is by the silence of the men who are attacked. Paul could only rebuke the vanity of the Church by exhibiting himself in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. For not one man amongst them did he care one iota, so far as that man's intelligence or power was concerned. Every man in that Church acquired his quality and his value by his attachment to One greater than himself. This was a studied depreciation; this was a calculated abasement.
How does the Apostle describes his preaching? He says: "And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom": I never made a sermon: to make a sermon! why, that is to make an idol, a graven image, a shape in clay; and to breathe into its nostrils my own dying breath, why that were waste of life: I simply said, Thou Blessed One of the Cross, put into my heart what has to be uttered by my tongue; tell me thy word, and I will go and speak it, though every man be a lion, and every town a den of lions. "Enticing words of man's wisdom:" small inventions of man's mind; man's answers to the puzzle of the universe; man's renewed attempt to answer an unanswerable enigma; man's profession of being able to arrange the little pieces of the universe so as to get the shape of the whole; man correcting himself to-day for what he said yesterday, and begging the pardon of an audience whilst he retracts an assertion and replaces it with another which is equally devoid of truth. What we want is the burning heart, the burning tongue, the self that has no self, the heroic egotism that in the very grandeur of its passion forgets the pettiness of its individuality.
How, then, did Paul preach? "In demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." The converts might be few, but they should be good. No man should be able to say that his minister was not present, and therefore he could not defend his own religion; no one should be driven to say, If you want to know what I believe, consult my preacher: let every man have his own conviction wrought in him by God the Holy Ghost. Faith that stands in the wisdom of men may be overturned by the very energy that created it. Any man who accepts Christ as the result of controversial study may reject Christ tomorrow because some mightier controversialist has undertaken to teach a contrary doctrine. We must come to Christ through the heart. It is not the intellect that receives Christ, but when the heart lays hold upon him it takes another heart greater still to extract the infinite benediction. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." It is because the heart is not touched that we have bigotry, sectarianism, separation one from another, so that one saith, It is so, and another saith, It is not so. Men cannot be reconciled in opinion; they can be one in the ocean of love. But would not this be mere emotion? I answer, No. We should be careful how we admit the existence of any such thing as mere emotion. There may be an animal emotion, but the emotion that is spoken of in connection with the Cross of Christ is a soul-melting passion, a fire that brings into one all the various elements of life, fusing them together, and representing them in outward action as a unity strong and indissoluble.
The Apostle gathers himself together, and says, "Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect." That is to say, we can be wiser than we appear to be: whilst I was in Corinth I taught the alphabet; I could have spoken a fluent literature that would have amazed and distressed you all; but wisdom is not to be spoken in the presence of children; we speak to children in children's language; we speak the wisdom of God among them that are perfect, them that are strong, them that are spiritually-minded; men who can handle a mystery without taking the bloom off it; men who can see the meaning of a parable without being bewildered by its accidentals; men who see the spirit is greater than the word, the letter, the form. There be those clever people who examine the robe that has been brought out for the shoulders of the prodigal, and who take up his shoes and examine them, and take off the ring that they may look at it; and there be those who see no robe, nor shoes, nor ring, but join the infinite gladness because a soul has been raised from the dead. Do not waste the parables, the mysteries, the symbols of God; they teach some inner core-truth, some heart thought; seize them, and as for the drapery let it flow as it may, for God is often redundant in his gift of cloud and colour, flowers and music.
Paul is very ironical in the after parts of his discourse. It is a beautiful and profitable intellectual study to follow this man in all the gamut of his intellectual action. He looks at the Corinthians with a countenance charged with expressions they can never understand. He speaks "the wisdom of God in a mystery," in a parable, in a concealed way, in a way that is only half disclosed; "even the hidden wisdom," the wisdom that rises, floats, passes, falls out of view, returns, shines with added glory, and then dissolves in added clouds and darkness. Then the Apostle says, "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." Where is it so written? Some say in an Apocryphal book. But that is a poor answer; ten thousand other things may be written in Apocryphal books which we have never read. But it is written—where? Did any one try to find out whether this passage is inscribed in the Old Testament? We take it for granted it is written because Paul says it is written; there we are poor Papists, there we are miserable idolaters; Paul says it is written, and therefore we accept it, and never inquire where—the fact being it is not written. We should study Paul's method of quoting the Bible. When Paul seeks to establish a given doctrinal point he will give you, as it were, chapter and verse; at other times he will give you, not chapter and verse, but the whole Bible. It is lawful so to quote the Bible as to lose all sense of chapter and verse. Chapter and verse are not Divine inventions, they are not human inventions—we will not press the inquiry farther. We have been ruined by chapter and verse. We may be biblical when we have no text to quote. "Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." When did he say so? Never, and yet he never said anything else. If you ask for chapter and verse, then Jesus Christ never said these words; but if you ask for Jesus Christ's teaching you cannot have a finer, more suggestive declaration of the doctrine and purpose of his life. So "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." You find an echo of this in Isaiah, in more places than one, but not in this connection, and not in this relation; and yet the whole Old Testament simply says this. When you have read through from Genesis to Malachi, you might say the whole is comprehended in one saying, namely, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." Talk about the finality of the Book! it begins but never ends. Thus this is the teaching of Paul when he says: "But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit." There is a continual spiritual communication going on between God and the believer. We know many things by the spirit we do not know by the letter. The ear of corn has outlived the seed out of which it sprang; the flower expresses the secret of the root, and the fragrance of the flower. What shall be said of that? always giving itself away, shaking out its blessing on the wind, so that, though rich men wall in their flower-gardens, the fragrance comes over the wall and blesses the humblest little child that plays on the road. Dear little child, sniff this gift of odour, by-and-by thou shalt have a whole paradise.
Have we the spirit of interpretation and sympathy, the spirit that sees afar off? If so, we are rich, and we are never alone.
For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.A Supreme Purpose In Life
What does this mean? Perhaps you will reply that a child can answer that inquiry. Let us try first whether a man can. Say, then, what does it mean? You may answer, It means that the Apostle Paul in going to Corinth had made up his mind not to listen to anything, but to preach or teach or converse regarding Jesus Christ and him crucified. He would not speak about weather, or health, or commerce, or nature; he would close his ears against all minor topics and all meaner appeals, and would listen to nothing from sunrise to sundown but Jesus Christ and him crucified. You wonder that any one should ask what words so obvious in their significance could mean.
First then, they do not mean that. It is an awkward criticism for you. They mean largely the contrary of that. Where is the child, then, that you set in the midst of us at the first to answer the inquiry, What does this mean? Let us try to get the real meaning into our minds and hearts. It will revolutionise life; it will centralise, and dignify, and sacredly utilise all the elements, emotions, tumults, and conflicts of life. Let the paraphrase stand thus: In coming to Corinth, the only one thing I had made up my mind about was that, whatever else there might be to see and to do, and to arrange, I would fix my mind and heart on Jesus Christ and him crucified. This determination was the only determination the Apostle had formed in his mind; other objects he had left to be considered within the lines of the occasion. If there was weather to be talked about, he would refer to it; if there was health to be inquired about, he would inquire about it; if nature revealed some apocalypse of beauty which challenged the attention of the eyes, he would turn his vision upon the revelation of God. The only thing I have made up my mind about, says the Apostle, is to know Jesus Christ and him crucified; upon that my mind is fixed; that is certain, that is unchangeable; whatever else may happen, this is the only thing I have at present made up my mind about. So other objects are not excluded; the Apostle is not a mere fanatic; Paul does not say that he will do nothing whilst at Corinth but talk about Jesus Christ and him crucified; as a matter of fact, he did a great many things at Corinth, and yet everything he did is perfectly consistent with this determination. The picture is that of a man who has made up his mind to one thing; he may do fifty other things, he does not know what he will do with the other subjects; he is certain and fixed upon this one thing, and all else shall be ruled by it as gravitation rules the motions of the worlds. We perish for want of a dominating thought. We cannot get the arch together because we have no keystone. The two parts would gladly approach one another, but they cannot, because the keystone, that wondrous wedge that binds the distant and the separate, is wanting. Many a life is ruined for want of a keystone. Many a man is wandering about the world doing nothing because he is destitute of a sovereign purpose. If he could make up his mind about any one thing, that one thing being worthy of life, his whole course would be elevated, and sublimated. That is the Apostle's position.
Take the matter from a lower point of view. Say a man shall make up his mind to go to London, or to Paris to make money. He says, in effect, On that point I am certain; what I may do about other matters I cannot tell: I am going to London or to Paris to make money, and everything has got to bend to that. Will you not look at some of the museums? I may. Will you not run into the galleries of art? Possibly; all depends. Depends upon what? Upon how such things affect my main object, which is to make money. That, in the religious sense, is just the meaning of the Apostle. Will you not look at the beautiful sculpture to be found in the famous city? Possibly; all depends. Depends upon what? Depends upon the success of my mission, which is Jesus Christ and him crucified. I will certainly look on the rocks that man has not chiselled, I may look on the stone he has partially spoiled. May you not hear some of the famed orators of Greece? I may; it all depends. Depends upon what? Upon the opportunities which are offered to me, or created by me, of proclaiming Jesus Christ and him crucified. Will you not call upon your friends, and speak with them on the subjects of the day? I may; it all depends. Depends upon what? Upon how I get along with this subject; that must rule everything; the one thing I have made up my mind about is to know nothing, save Jesus Christ and him crucified; everything else must wait.
Now we understand the text. Paul's method was consistent; he always worked upon this plan. Once he said, "This one thing I do." How often is that passage misunderstood. The Apostle was not doing this one thing as the only thing he was doing, but he was doing this as the supreme motive and purpose and object of his life, and that supreme purpose ruled all minor things. Often we are exhorted by the apostolic motto to concentration of mind, saying, This one thing I do, and nothing else. The Apostle never said so. He said, Whatever else I may be doing, I am certain about doing this particular thing, namely, pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus; I may be doing innumerable other things, all partaking of the quality of this supreme purpose, but this—this—this I am certain about. Where did Paul learn this great and gracious doctrine? Where he learned everything of the nature of Christian doctrine and Christian philosophy. He learned it in the school of Jesus Christ. Does Jesus Christ lay down this rule of supremacy of purpose? Yes, he does. Where? In these words:—"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things"—trifles, baubles for children to play with—"shall be added unto you." Have a supreme purpose. Every man should have a supreme purpose in life; it will give definiteness to all his processes of thought and action. How many aimless people there are in the world! They awake in the morning without a plan, they make no programme, they draw up no scheme; they may be east or west, and it is just possible they may be north or south; they are driving without reins, without whip, and without aim. They think the horses, which they call their impulses, know the road. What does all this come to? To ruin, to disappointment, to chagrin, to despair. Whenever the Apostle Paul awoke he knew that what he had to do that day was to proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified, to make these great histories and doctrines clearer and clearer to human comprehension. Whatever else the day might ask at his hands that tribute must be paid.
Such a purpose determines the tone of a man's life. Life is not a question of separate actions. Life, in its higher interpretation, means tone, atmosphere, unexpressed but mighty music; a quality not to be named or traced etymologically. A man cannot get rid of his supreme purpose. The avaricious man has avarice painted upon his face. He cannot cover it with a smile, he cannot hide it with a frown; by many a trickster's grimace he seeks to rub out the signature, but there it is, and that projecting truth-telling chin. All his questions have avarice at the base, avarice at the top, and avarice in the middle line. He is asking about affairs, possibilities, markets; he fingers everything with the hands of a bargain-maker: what he can get out of it, is his purpose. The dreamer cannot hide his supreme purpose. He wants to create new heavens and a new earth; he longs to take the stars to pieces to see where the light comes from; he knows he saw an angel on that white-thorn hedge; he is sure that the spirit of some seer or singer was in that bird's note—"Did you not hear it?" he says, "I did." Dear soul! the world is the sweeter for his dreaming and singing: go on! The Apostle could not hide the supreme purpose of his life, nor did he ever seek to do so. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.... I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth:... I count not my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus:... I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." Heroic soul! almost the Son of God!
A supreme purpose of this kind always ennobles character. The whole range of thought is elevated. Some minds have no mountain chains running through them. They are flat; they are of the nature of table-land; they are by no means either useless or despicable, they have their own utility. Other minds are Alpine; they reach and stretch, they uplift themselves as if to find their right place in the very noonday of the sun. He who has Christ living in him lives an uplifted or elevated life all his contemplations are high, wide, radiant, noble, beneficent; all things are new. He may never preach a sermon in any formal sense, yet he never ceases to preach in a vita significance.
In this subject chosen by the Apostle Paul there is neither poverty nor monotony. This subject never runs out; it is a perennial fountain. All the little cataracts take a summer holiday: we do not know where they have gone, they are never there when we want them, they take their holiday when we take ours; we are welcome to look at the stones which they run over after snow and rain; if it will do us the least good in the world to see where they do gambol, we may spend all day in the torrent-bed, but the torrent itself is gone. Niagara never takes a holiday. Great Niagara! Who that has stood behind it has not said, Surely in a few hours that cataract must have run itself out; surely we shall not find it here in the morning. Yet it gallops with the centuries; it foams and plunges as if God had set upon it the seal of eternity. Poor is that symbol, though one of the best we can at the moment find, by which to represent the eternal rush of the redeeming, ennobling, sanctifying influence poured upon the world by the Son of God. Wherever there is anything beautiful, Christ and Christ crucified is there; wherever you find anything that is really progressive, you find Christ and him crucified; wherever you hear true singing, the joy, the gladness of the heart ruled by reason, inspired by hope you find Jesus Christ and him crucified. You find that great subject in the museum, in the art gallery, on the death-bed, in the cradle, everywhere. Without the crucified Christ the world could not live; its foundations are laid upon him, and those foundations are but the beginnings of pinnacles, for until the topstone is brought on God's creation is not finished.
Mark what distinctiveness this gave to Paul's personality and ministry. He found his subject in his character. You knew him to be a man of prayer, a man of God; you could not be long with him before he took off the key from his girdle and opened some new world of vision, some larger sphere of hope and service and rest. If you let him alone one moment he was at the Cross. You might detain him on minor subjects if you solicitously urged him to give his opinion about them, as about life upon the earth, and marriage, and service, and duty, as we define those terms; but the moment your solicitousness took its finger from him he was at Calvary. You could not keep him back from, the altar; having been there he would abide there. He might accept a tent for a night, but his abiding sanctuary was built on a Golgotha.
How easy it is to see a perversion of this purpose, or an undue limitation of its range. How easy it would be to say, This kind of purpose would fit well apostles and preachers, evangelists and ministers, or Christians of leisure who had yielded themselves to the charms of a contemplative life. I will answer you—you are wrong; you are doing injustice to the genius of the history and the doctrine. This singleness or loftiness of purpose is just as possible to the humblest man of business as to the mightiest man of eloquence, or the most favoured child of contemplation and holy dream. Often we hear it said "Business must be looked after; business must be looked after in the spirit of the business; we wish we had more time for religious contemplation: far are we from ignoring the claims of the Cross, but we must leave its deeper study, and its fuller unfoldment of meaning to men who are consecrated to sacred leisure." You are fundamentally wrong, you are wrong at the core. Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ crucified, are not subjects for contemplation. They are the most active subjects in the world. They are the factors of civilisation, they are the sovereign thought of progress. Every man may do his business, whatever it be, in the spirit of Jesus Christ and him crucified. That is what the Apostle desires to have us all attain. He would have us show pity and do justice and obey the golden rule, and it is impossible to do these things apart from Jesus Christ and him crucified. Here is the doctrine that needs prominence, enforcement, and practical glorification. A man's wages ought to be earned and paid in the spirit of Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is not a sentiment to be set among the stars and telescopically surveyed; this is a rule of conduct, this is the inspiration of life, this is the meaning of all true things. We cannot get some people to understand this. We shall never get right by socialistic theories, anarchical programmes, and a certain vulgar power of befooling the trustful classes: we can only get right by Jesus Christ and him crucified. Of course, a proposition of this kind would be received with execration by socialists and anarchists of the baser sort. He who proclaimed this doctrine would be scoffed at with certain derisive epithets, and would be honoured by the brand of certain contemptuous criticism; yet the preacher, the teacher, the Christian, must never fold his flag as if in defeat; he must unfurl it and say still more sweetly and still more loudly, The world's only hope is in Jesus Christ and him crucified.
What have we seen amongst persons who would undertake to work the economics of the age on the basis of other theories? We have seen tyranny of the worst description, selfishness that had been saturated in the very pools of corruption, narrow-mindedness that could not take in the whole of any question, an obstinacy mistaken for firmness, and a recklessness which was characterised as splendid generalship. Let us have justice on all sides, let us hear every man's case, be he great or small; the beggar in the ditch shall have all the benefactions that justice can confer upon him, and the man who thinks for the world and guides its affairs shall not be denied justice because he has acquired eminence. Do not listen to the men that want to merely mechanise life, and rule it by schedule and stipulation: the only real security of life, joy, progress, and heaven you will find in Jesus Christ and him crucified, when properly interpreted. Christ will put all business right; Christ will pay every labourer his wages; Christ will sanctify the millions of the capitalist, and keep the richest man modest and humble within the environment of his life. The world can never be pacified, the classes can never be united or reconciled, the balance of society can never be properly established, except in connection with Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is not a mere doctrine, a section of metaphysical inquiry, a dreamy sentiment that only leisurely minds can contemplate; this is the real force and the real secret of life and action.
The subject was not only Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ crucified. Many persons would get rid of the last word if they could. Paul never sought to get rid of it; he magnified it, he glorified it. He did not preach Jesus Christ the socialist, Jesus Christ the theorist, Jesus Christ the wonder, Jesus Christ either a prospective or a retrospective Aristotle, or Plato, or Socrates. Paul preached morning, noon, and night, Christ on the Cross, Christ crucified, Christ shedding his blood that men might not die. We can make no gospel out of any other word than "crucified." There are theorists who show some other aspects of Christ's sacrifice; nor are they to be derided or undervalued; they have a right motive, and some would say a right conception, and they are to be honoured for their earnestness as students: but we cannot move the world without the Crucified in another, in a deeper, in a more tragic sense. Speaking of my own ministry in this place and elsewhere, I growingly feel that power can attach to it only in proportion as it is inspired by the pathos, not of a moral example only, but of a real personal sacrifice. What it means I cannot tell: love is not to be scheduled, the Spirit of God is not to be caged in by formal or theological bars: higher than heaven, who can reach it? wider than the horizon, who may lay his fingers upon it? We can only say concerning God's rule, His mercy endureth for ever:—
It is not a thing to be explained in words, or to be defended exhaustively in mere terms; it is a passion to be felt, it is an inspiration to be accepted, it is a mystery on which we may lay down our aching lives as a little child lays down its weariness on its mother's heart.
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.Spiritual Discernment
I wish to show, by analogies and illustrations known to everybody, the reasonableness of the doctrine which is thus laid down by the Apostle Paul. There is nothing here which is not commonly acknowledged, and insisted on in the everyday walks of life. To show this may be a great help to some minds; to those, for example, who suppose that where there is no religion there is no mystery, and consequently that, if we could get clear of religion, we should get clear of all mystery. I believe that the true interpreter of God—whenever he shall arise—will be able to show that what is distinctively known as the Christian religion is only more mysterious because it is more sublime than any other part of the economy of life and nature. The one great mystery is God himself. All other mysteries are as shadows thrown by that burning light. Interpretation—the power of seeing things as they are—is not a question of culture so much as of sympathy and insight. Sympathy and insight cannot be taught in the schools. The highest gifts cannot be given to men through the medium of books; so, unless a man have the hearing ear and seeing eye as the direct gifts of God, he never can be taught to be a profound and sure interpreter. Right answers to hard questions have never been suggested by flesh and blood; they have always been given to the Peters of the world by the Father which is in heaven. God gives us the spirit of discernment, the power of seeing spiritual realities and relations. It is not a natural endowment common to the whole human species: it is a distinct and special gift of God. "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." And yet it has strangely come to pass in the study of religious problems, that some men have asserted the sufficiency of unaided reason. Strange, because the very men have in less important inquiries gladly availed themselves of all the instruments, mediums, and helps which inventive genius has supplied. I wish to show the inconsistency of the reasoning of such men; that they leave their common-sense behind them when they enter into the consideration of the elements which constitute profoundly true and successful religious inquiry.
Here, for example, is a large, brilliant diamond. You look at the stone, and it pleases you by its wondrous whiteness and lustre. You admire it, you praise it very highly. You say, "This stone is without fault of any kind—a most beautiful and precious gem." The lapidary places in your hand a magnifying glass of great power, and bids you look at the centre of the stone. You look. The lapidary inquires what you see, and you reply, "Why, there is a black spot at its very centre! I did not see that without the glass. To the naked eye the stone looked perfectly white—entirely without flaw or fault; and yet now that I look at the stone through the glass, why, I wonder that I could not have seen so great a speck as that!" The lapidary says the naked eye cannot receive it, neither can it know it, because it is microscopically discerned. And nobody arises to contest the reasoning of the lapidary; no man ventures to say to him, "Sir, you have introduced a most painful mystery into human thought and human inquiry." Such people are rather glad that a medium has been supplied by which the most hidden fault can be brought to light.
Yonder are two shining surfaces. You look at both of them and pronounce them intensely brilliant. You say, "There must be great fire there, otherwise such a glowing surface could not have presented itself." A scientific man who overhears you says, "One of those surfaces is not light at all,—has not light in itself." And you, a man of independent judgment, a free-thinker and noble-minded inquirer, turn round upon him and tell him, circuitously but yet virtually, that he's a fool: can't you believe your own eyes? what were your eyes given to you for, if you could not see such evident realities before you? And you treat the scientific man with contempt and disdain. "Now," he says, "just look through this instrument, will you?" And he brings to you the polariscope, teaches you the use of that instrument. And when you have looked according to his directions, you turn to him and beg his pardon for having so rudely contradicted him: you say that you never could have supposed that the thing was as it has really been proved to be; you could not have seen that the one surface was primary light and the other was but reflected light, until you looked at both surfaces through the crystals of the polariscope. And now the scientific man says to you, "The naked eye cannot receive it, neither know it, because it is polariscopically discerned." You thank him as a philosopher; you are obliged to him as a discoverer.
And yonder are two men who have undertaken a mineral survey. It has been supposed by some people that there is iron in the field which these men are now traversing. One of the men is a mineralogist, a man of science, who knows the limitations of his condition, and who consequently avails himself of instruments which science has supplied. The other is a grand man, who believes that if he cannot find things out with his naked eyes and his naked fingers, that nothing can be found out or shall be found out. Not at all a bigot, observe. A man of latitudinarian spirit, of all-encompassing and all-hopeful charity; belongs to no sect, to no flag, to no banner, with no passwords, and does not believe in anything that is dogmatic or defined. He goes over the field, does this latter man—he soon goes over it. Men of that kind have nothing to arrest them on the way; it is a pity they were not winged, that they might get away sooner. Having gone over the field, he says, "There is no iron there." But the scientific man is walking slowly over the same ground, holding in his hand a little box, a little crystal box, walking slowly, watching the instrument that is enclosed in that box. Presently the needle dips. The man stops there, and says, "In this place there is iron." Can you see it? No. Can you touch it? No. But in this place he repeats, "I tell you there is iron!" He walks on again. The needle is perfectly steady: yard after yard the needle is perfectly steady and still, but suddenly the needle dips. As the finger of God it points out to men the riches of the earth. The other man has gone home to tell everybody that there is no iron in that field, and of course, being an independent, free-minded, experienced man, he is instantly believed by every one. The other man says, "There is iron in that field, and in my judgment it will repay digging for." The scientific man then digs for iron and finds it, and then turns round to hear what men have to say about him and his discoveries. He says, "The naked eye, the unassisted faculty, cannot receive it, neither know it, for it is magnetically discerned." We then say that he is very clever, and tardily yield him the confidence which he has so richly deserved.
Look at this ruddy-faced boy. You cannot walk out with this boy forty yards but he challenges you to leap a five-barred gate, or to have a game at throwing stones at something, or leaping over ditches about twelve feet wide; and you, not being so boyish as he is, respectfully decline the challenge, but you say, "What a vigorous lad that is! what power, what spring he has! There will be a long life there and a happy one." A scientific man comes to your house; you talk physiology. The scientific man proposes to examine this ruddy-faced boy, your companion in the field. He applies an instrument to the region of the heart, and suddenly there is a changed expression of countenance on the part of the physician. Turning aside to you he says, "This boy will never see five-and-twenty. Has he had rheumatic fever? There is valvular affection of the heart, and before he is five-and-twenty I am afraid he will be gone." Of course you disbelieve it. You saw the boy in the field vaulting a gate, leaping a ditch, throwing stones many a yard, and you cannot disbelieve your eyes,—that would be unmanly and unworthy of the independence of manhood. The doctor says, "Apply your ear to this instrument and listen for yourself." You do so, and hear an irregularity and peculiarity of beat, which you, not being a medical man, cannot understand; and yet you know that there is a discrepancy in the pulsations. The physician says to you, "The untrained, uneducated ear cannot receive this, neither know it, because it is stethoscopically discerned." And you tardily, as in the former case, give your confidence to the adviser, and beseech him to lend you his aid under circumstances so unexpected and distressing.
Here is a piece of paper, and you hand it round to your friends, to every man amongst them, and they say, "Whatever have you handed this blank piece of paper round for? are you playing a hoax upon us? There is nothing upon this piece of paper? Have we to write something upon it?" And you take it back and say, "Is there really nothing upon the paper?" and every voice says "No, cannot we believe our own eyes? We are unanimously of opinion that there is nothing upon it." You just hold it to the fire for the space of a minute or two, and lo, it is written all over! You have developed the secret ink.
Now, in all these things, we confess our need of instruments. The unassisted faculties of nature are not enough. We must be indebted to mediums. Imagine a man who disbelieves everything he cannot see with the naked eye. Suppose that it came to pass tomorrow that everything should be taken away which cannot be read by the naked eye, or that has not been discovered by the naked eye. What will come? Shut up the heavens, for astronomy must go; and cover over the fields, for botany tells but little to the naked eye. All science, indeed, would be impoverished, insulted, degraded. Yet the man who cannot read his own mother's letter without an eye-glass insists upon reading the infinite and eternal God by his own unassisted powers,—declares that if he cannot settle this great question by natural reason, that there is nothing at all worth being settled,—says that, whatsoever is too mysterious for his natural understanding is but worthy of insult, degradation, and contempt. I charge him, in God's house and before God's face, with insulting his own common-sense and contradicting the highest experiences of mankind.
The same principle may be illustrated in spheres where instruments are not required. Here are two men listening to the same piece of music. The one man is inspired, enraptured, thrilled, and says mentally, "I would this might go on for ever! The sweetness, the purity of that wondrous tone, let it never cease! I would abide here constantly." The other man is saying mentally, "I wonder when they will be done? it seems a long time!" He looks at the programme with weary eyes, and mentally resolves that that shall be the last occasion of the kind when he will be there. The best ear cannot receive these things or know them, for they are musically discerned. There are that have ears that cannot hear, and eyes that cannot see. The one man, the musical man, would be pained, really tormented, if one note were the thousandth part of a shade wrong, he would feel it intensely, it would go right through him like a spear. But all the notes might be wrong so far as the other man was concerned. If there was only noise enough, he would think it was not so very bad after all.
Here are two men looking at the same picture. The one man is chained to the spot: it is to him an enigma, a mystery, a wonder, and a delight; he has never seen such combinations before; he has never before thrilled under such wondrous effects. A man behind him with a thick shilling catalogue says that he does not see very much in that, and hastens on to something that has got superficies, no matter what the superficies may be: only let it be extensive enough. Paint for such men with a broom!
Now, the application of all these instances is to the things of God as accessible to the spirit of man. The things of God are not naturally discerned. "If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the God of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not." There are blind minds as well as blind eyes. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." This is perfectly reasonable. If a man contends that mystery begins with the Bible, he knows not the world he is living in, or the elements by which he is surrounded. In the light of these reflections we may see the adaptation of the method of the Gospel to our human condition. What has God done in the matter of revelation? God has condescended to have a book written for us. Just as you condescended, when you were a long way from home, to sit up one whole hour to print about six lines in large hand for that little child of yours at home. And you were never so much a man, as when you were so much a child. God comes to us, knowing the dumbness and blindness of his creatures, and sets everything before us he possible can set, to appeal, in the first instance, to our lowest faculties; and then brings us on from that point until sanctuaries are no more wanted, printed Bibles are no more wanted, sun and moon are dismissed from their spheres, institutionalism goes down in spirituality—the Lamb is the light, and God is the temple.
We may see, also, the reasonableness of Divine dependence in reading the Gospel. There are many things, as we have just shown, which cannot be read without instruments and mediums. God comes and says to us, "I have something to say to you, which you never could hear by your own unaided faculties; but I will give you the faculty, I will give you the capacity to receive, and that capacity to its utmost limits." I say this is not a mystery that is opposed to reason, though it may be a mystery which is above reason. We also see in the light of these illustrations the sublimity of the truths announced by the gospel. Instruments will read the works, but instruments cannot read the Word. Only God can reveal himself. What man knoweth the things of man, save the spirit of man which is in him?—even so, mark the connecting link—the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. It is thus put upon reasonable grounds. As with men so with God. You cannot read the things that are in your brother's mind: no man can read the things that are in your mind, you alone can reveal them. The Apostle carries up the argument until he shows its bearing upon the infiniteness, the depth, the wonderfulness, the whole Godhead of God.
As ministers we are not to be discouraged and driven back in our godly work, because some people cannot understand us, and others say we are trifling with their reason or insulting their common-sense. Take it as a matter of fact, there will always be men in the world to whom your best preaching will be foolishness; simply because they have not the spiritual faculty of taking hold of what you are saying. Now, do we wish to have this discernment? "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him." "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not." Do not expect to see all things at once—the whole breadth and lustre of the Godhead at once: begin at a little point. In the first place you may, in spiritual things as in material, see men as trees walking, dim outlines, flitting shadows; but do not despise the twilight! If we already have this discernment, then surely to him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. Inspiration is not a fixed quantity, it is a variable quantity,—we may increase the volume of our inspiration by diligently, lovingly and patiently waiting upon God. "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings will God ordain praise. The first shall be last, and last shall be first. And by things that are not, will God secure great results in the world.
Do not let us therefore lose our present insight, our present power of interpretation, our present power of discernment and appreciation. Let us grow. We can only grow by prolonged intercourse with God. He who gives his days to study and his nights to prayer shall see heaven opened, and his whole life shall be a Jacob's dream: he will never, never miss that wonderful ladder which connects the worlds; that marvellous staircase of light up which the angels go, and in going bid us follow on. It doth not yet appear what we shall be. Thy home is with the humble, Lord! Have we a right spirit? God will not say anything to people who are boastful of their own wisdom, and who glorify themselves in the light of their own reason; but he never ceases talking to the child-heart that says in the dark midnight and the bright noonday, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth."
Almighty God, we bless thee that the foundation is laid, laid in Zion, and that there is a cornerstone, elect, precious, tried, a sure foundation: may we take heed how we build upon it, that our building may be in some measure worthy of the foundation upon which it rests. Quicken our eyes that we may see precisely what we are doing, what stones we are choosing, and how we are laying them. Take away from us the spirit of indolence and foolish trustfulness, and work in us the spirit of industry and keen watchfulness, that so we may do all things according to thy law, and thy will may be glorified in our industry. Thou hast so appointed our life as to make us all builders: may we take heed how we build: may it be our life care, may we think of nothing else, may we build for God, for eternity. Help us in all the toil, tell us that the day will soon be done, and that therefore, whatsoever our hand findeth to do, we should do it with our might, and therefore we should dry our tears because the toil will be followed by ineffable rest. If we have built aught in life that can stand the fire, the praise be God's; thou didst teach us how to build, thou didst show us what to choose; not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name be all the praise. Amen.