The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you:Weapons of Warfare
The last idea that occurs to some professing Christians is that Christianity or that Christian life is a warfare. It has been noticed by observing and discerning persons that almost as soon as a man joins the Church he settles down into indifference or personal and selfish enjoyment,—as if a man should enlist into the army, and then go home and sit down all the rest of his days on the sunny side of his house and in the favourite spot in his garden. What kind of enlistment is that? Do you call that a soldierly spirit and a soldierly service? Whenever the idea of soldierliness took hold of Paul's imagination he elaborated the figure with marvellous energy. We know the quality of writers and speakers by the kind of trope and metaphor they most indulge in. When Paul saw a race, a contest, as between runners, he instantly made an analogy about it respecting Christian running and prize-winning, and when the idea of soldierliness occurred to him he showed that he was a born soldier. Whatever he did he did in a soldierly way. If he wrote letters he wrote them with the point of the sword; when he stirred men up out of their laggardness, he said, "Endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ."
In addition to this the next mistake that is made is that persons who enter the Christian service imagine that all the fighting is to be done outside. You cannot fight outside until you have fought inside. The first man you have to kill is yourself. You are too much on the streets; the wonder is that you are alive, considering the number of meetings you attend for the purpose of making other people better. You are walking miracles. Where the long self-communion; where the bath into the love of God; where that self-wrestling that means public conquest? It makes one's heart ache to know how many miles some people walk who ought to have been at home. The children longed for them, the good wife felt lonely, or vice versa, as the circumstances may be. If you have no home life, no long communion with God and with one another at home, you are not soldiers, you are vagabonds, wanderers, adventurers. No sooner do some men rise in the morning than they must be out. They have had no bath in heaven, they have not been washed with the dew of loftiest, divinest fellowship. Hence they do no work that abides. By doing much they do nothing; they fail through excess of misdirected industry. On the other hand, there are those who spend such long time in silence and communion and abstention from public activity, that we begin to doubt their sincerity, their loyalty to the Cross. Christ was not slain in secret; his Cross is the most public object under heaven; nay, more, it darkens the sun! Poor indeed is the thought, and poorer still the love, that is self-communing, self-expanding, self-considering, that never goes out on the damp, dark, cold night, never searches the mountains for lost ones, never loses a night's rest that some other man may have one. So there must be no recrimination, we must know nothing about reprisals in this case; every man must judge himself and come to his own conclusion, not in the presence of other men, but in the sight of the great white throne of God. There is nothing so subtle as selfishness. Many a man supposes himself to be a philanthropist, who is the most selfish reptile on the face of the whole earth. He can be very philanthropic in public; I ask, How many sick people does he visit? how many blind people does he lead over the thoroughfare and the crowded crossing? when does he open his eyes that he may see opportunities for doing good by stealth? It is possible to be a magnificently grand philanthropist in public, and to let your own family starve for want of sympathy. On the other hand, it is possible for men to be so generous at home as to have no larger charity, not to care about those who are far off and at present unknown; possible for a man to be so pottering about his own little affairs in a little four-cornered house, as to forget that God has made constellations, universes, infinite spaces, and countless myriads multiplied by countless myriads of mankind. It is needful for the Christian teacher to explain these things and to enlarge them, that men may not run away with false ideas. We see our own side of the case best.
Are we at war? If the Church is not at war, it is unfaithful to Christ. Was Christ the Prince of Peace? Truly he was, yet the Prince of Peace, for the very reason that he was the Prince of Peace, never ceased from war. No such soldier ever lived as Christ. Your Hannibals and Alexanders and Cæsars cannot stand before him who came that he might send a sword upon the earth. Christ is against every bad thing: against foul air; against false Weights and measures and balances, against all trickery in trade, all insincerity in social life; against all show, fashion, glitter, that has not behind it the bullion of eternal truth and everlasting grace. Christ never met evil without smiting it in the face. Dare we show Christ our list of guests when we make a feast? Did we first submit the guest-list and the toast-list to the Saviour? Let us show him one of our lists. He reads it, and gives it back to us, saying, And thou, when thou makest a feast, call not the rich and the men that can have thee back again, and rival thy lavish expenditure; but call the halt and the blind, the poor, the maimed, and the friendless: they cannot recompense thee, but thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the dead. O holy Jesus, gracious Saviour! thou wast the Friend of the friendless. Such agony of sympathy must die, but must also rise again. In the Cross of Christ the resurrection is the complement of crucifixion.
Supposing the Church to be at war; has the Church the right instruments or weapons in hand? I think not. The metal is bad, the forging is faulty, the whole conception of the panoply is vicious. There are many wrong weapons in the Church. There is disputativeness. Some men will haggle over words until they be almost too late for their own burial. They are mere literalists, wordmongers; splitting hairs, and forgetting the sun, and all its wealth of summer. They could talk controversially at noonday when the sun is at its meridian; they could talk controversially, especially in a theological way, in walking up and down a garden, when June empties her lap upon the blessed spot. They must dispute, or they will not think themselves Christians. That is a miserable weapon, and never brings home any prey. It is always associated with love of victory. To call a man by a polysyllable is thought to be a kind of negative conversion of the man; to puzzle him by learned references that have not been verified is a kind of bewilderment, which they look upon as having brought him almost into a right state of mind. Some questions want to legislate men into goodness. Why does not the State take up this matter? Because the State has no right to the use of such weapons. The State is not necessarily a soldier of Christ; the State is a constable, or a stipendiary magistrate, or even a judge in one of the superior courts; but the State, as such, knows nothing about the unwritten law, the everlasting righteousness that can only be discovered by the spirit of righteousness. The State is the lamest creature that ever claimed identity. The State cannot make people sober, it can only punish them for having been drunk; the State cannot make men honest, the State can only punish men for having been thieves. The work of the State is negative. You cannot have Sunday observed by law. If the people will not rend their hearts, it is in vain that you compel them to rend their garments. If Sabbath be not kept in the soul, you cannot have it kept by Act of any reign of any monarch born or unborn.
All this, therefore, points to the necessity of something other. What is that something other? It is the spiritual element, it is the ghostly force. You can only get at men by getting at their souls. You can do little or nothing with their bodies; these you have to keep and clothe and variously preserve and defend, but the men are not yours until you have conquered their souls: and you cannot conquer men's souls by fleshly instruments or weapons, you can only get at souls through something that is of their own quality.
How will Paul, chief of the soldiers of the Cross, deport himself in this war? Hear him:—"Now I Paul myself beseech you." Is that the fighting tone? Yes, in the Church it is the only fighting tone. In other fields, gory and shameful, there is a tone of a totally opposite quality, but you must learn from the true soldiers what the true soldierly tone is; and here is the very chief commanding officer of all, who says, "Now I Paul"—the invincible, the inflexible—"I Paul myself beseech you"; I lie down at your feet and pray you, entreat you, saying with my heart and through my choking voice, Will you? Has he nothing still deeper behind this? He never concealed the fountain of his sympathy or the fountain of his power:—"I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ." Is that a soldier's tone? Why, soldiers have trumpets, they have throats of iron, lungs of steel, voices of thunder; simply because they require vulgarity with which to do vulgarity's work. But here are men who want to conquer hearts, souls; and they lie down, beseech, and make their meekness part of their panoply; and their gentleness is the very strength of their sword. Do not suppose that you can whip children into church. You may get them within the four walls, but they are not at church for all that; they are miles and miles away from your church. You must bring them there because they love to be there above every other place in the world, and you must come with them, you must be little children along with them, and if the little children are not tall enough to stand up and share your hymn book, you must sit down with them and give them full half of the page, and go along the lines with your finger, and you must all be little children together. Have you the right spirit? then you must conquer: not to-day, or tomorrow, but on the third day you will come with great prey, which the Lord hath delivered into your hands because you fought in his own spirit.
Then there is the beautiful life. What a sturdy old weapon is that! The mother converts the children without saying much to them. Her patience is an argument; her night-and-day love wins in the issue. Sometimes the sweet old mother does not know how many she has taken in war, unless such intelligence is communicated to sainted ones in the better land. Many a time a man has allowed his mother to die without owning that she had won his soul, without indeed her having done so in fact, until after she was gone; then he thought, How lovely she was; the door was then never shut in his face, the midnight was not filled with the darts of reproach; he did not know what she was until she went away from him; blessings brighten in their flight, and now he says, cursing his ungrateful past, God be merciful to me a sinner! I could not understand the theologians, but I can understand that motherly love that I once despised. Has that mother no prey? Is she not mighty to the pulling down of the strongholds of selfishness and ingratitude and rebellion of heart? Is there a man amongst us who would not love to have just one more day with his old mother, that he might make up for neglect? She won through the beautiful life.
Then there must be spiritual conviction and spiritual persuasion, and you must get a hold upon the heart. The pastor who has hold of his people's hearts can never be dethroned. People outside may speak against him, but the answer is, They do not know the man; if they had seen him as I have seen him in sorrow and trouble and difficulty, if they had heard his prayer at the bedside, they would have been his just as much as I am. Thus Christ wins, not by the blare of battle trumpets and the crash of carnal metal, but by love and tears and tenderness and sympathy and patience, so that he constrains all the great houses of history to say, His mercy endureth for ever. There is a war that is not blazoned in the gazettes of this world. Some men's war they find in regular steady work, but the world does not know such work to be of any real value; the world loves processions and banners and demonstrations. The world does not know the energy of peace. Let our war, therefore, be according to our capacity and our opportunity. Let us go steadily forward with quiet work, steady giving, constant sympathy, perpetual readiness to do the very next thing that is to be done, though it be of the very simplest character. How foolish is the Church! Only get up something romantic, and you may command any amount of attention, and any amount of response for the time being. But romance has no deepness of earth, and therefore it soon withers away. When will men be steady workers? When will they be keepers at home? When will they find in their own houses a home mission-field? When will they in their own business quietly shed about them and around them an influence, which will compel men to say, This is not earthly, this is not a matter of calculation; there is something about this policy that can only be explained by the greatest words in human language,—such as justice, love, pity, God.
Almighty God, grant unto us thy Holy Spirit, that we may know the meaning of thy word, and that we may obey the same, with all humility, diligence, and thankfulness. May thy word dwell richly in us; may we not know it in the letter only, but in the spirit; not in the part, but in the whole; and may our souls be so filled with the spirit of thy revelation that we shall not live by bread alone, but have meat to eat that the world knoweth not of. Thy word is meat, thy word is drink; may we eat and drink abundantly of thy word that our souls may be satisfied with fatness. Thine is a wonderful word to this intricate, busy, tragic life. We thank thee that thy word touches our life at every point, appeals to every necessity, offers a prize to every holy ambition, and points out to every sorrowing soul the great all-explaining, all-reconciling Beyond. We need all thy word, its doctrine, and counsel, and exhortation, and reproof, and judgment; as we are not always the same, so we need a word that varies its appeals and yet covers the whole necessity of life. May the man of God be throughly furnished unto every good work, well equipped, fortified at every point, wise in the whole circle of his mind; lest being wise in many points he be a fool in others, and thus defeat his own life and make his own prayers vacant. We thank thee for all thy goodness to us along the road; we should have seen nothing but for thine illumination; we should have heard nothing that is not of the earth, if thou hadst not touched our ear and caused us to hear music from heaven; the road would have been very long without thee, but with thee we forget the journey; we saw the city at the farther point, and were drawn to it by an ennobling fascination. Thou dost strike down whom thou wilt, and whom thou wilt thou dost spare, and none may say unto thee, What doest thou? for thou wilt not render a reason unto the children of men. We are woebegone, and dumb; we try to say, Thou didst it, and yet our unbelief outruns our prayer. But thou wilt give us time, thou wilt not drive us with great stress of energy, thou wilt not hurl upon us thy great power; thou wilt remember our frame and our origin, and thou wilt spare us, that we may recover our strength and expend that vigour in new praise. Help us to believe that all things are under God's control. They do not seem to be so; there seems to be much standing ground for the unbeliever, and even for the scoffer. Yet give us time, O God, and cut us not down when we are atheistic. In our hearts we believe in thee; our souls are sure of thy goodness; and yet the things that are round about us stagger and bewilder us, and create in our soul tremendous revolt. Help us to be quiet; give unto us the sight that sees most clearly through blinding tears, and help us to believe that in the end every sorrow will prove to be the root of a new joy. As families we come before the Lord, thanking God for the sacred household, beautiful home, deepest rest, fullest and tenderest trust,—the very gate of heaven: help us to spread this spirit abroad, and being happy ourselves to make other people glad. May no man live unto himself, or keep his wine in his own cup; let the wine of gladness overflow that they who have no cup may catch somewhat of it and thus be made at least momentarily glad. Enlarge our thought, our love, our life, and make us like Christ, pure, saintly, tender, good, beneficent, living always that somebody else may live. Make the old man young with hope; make the strong man modest because his days are measured, and though they be many, yet they may be gone in a moment; and grant unto all the little children, and all the sick and the weary, such messages as they can receive, and may a strange beauteous joy like an unknown but ever-welcome angel come into their hearts and give them some foretaste of heaven. We pity those who pity not themselves,—the ignorant, the out-of-the-way, the rebellious, the far-wandering; we know not how to approach them, they resent even the look of love; we leave them in God's hands; they are the mysteries which tax our faith, they may become contributories to our highest, deepest confidence. The Lord be round about us, in the Church, in the house, in the marketplace, and show us that as our days are dwindling our love should be increasing, and that now there is no time but for union and chivalry and nobleness and Christlikeness: may this spirit be amongst thy children all over the world and they shall show what is meant by a Church redeemed and inspired. Good Lord, come quite near to those whom no one dare now approach. Thou knowest who are sorrowing in deepest sorrow and trying to sing through their choking emotion; thou knowest who at this moment may need special realisation of thy presence and special confidence in thy sovereignty and love: the Lord come near to such, and interpret new words to them. Thou knowest how to say "Widow" that it shall not be so lonely, and "Orphan" that it shall not be so desolate. Oh, thou who didst give us Jesus and the Christ, thou wilt not withhold from souls that are darkened and burdened the only solace which they can now receive. The Lord hear us at the Cross; the Lord make Calvary to us more precious than ever; the Lord show us that our Christ is not dead; the Lord take us from Calvary to heaven, that there we may hear One saying, I was dead; but I am alive for evermore. Amen.