The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders,Jesus Taunted
"And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel "—not an exceptional work, but on a particular and memorable day. This was the circle within which Jesus Christ moved—namely, he taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel. A familiar word to us is the word "gospel," but not a familiar word in the four evangelists. Does Mark ever use it? Does John ever use it? Is it ever used in the Gospel according to Matthew?—but once; and that not in a direct and positive sense. But Luke cannot do without it. So it is that we choose our particular words, and men become attached to forms and expressions and ideas and methods, and their names become involved with the outworking of these, so that sometimes a feature which to others would be regarded but as transient becomes a permanent expression of an individual genius and consecration. Luke uses the word "gospel" some ten times in his narrative. When he writes the Acts of the Apostles the word "gospel" has been counted in the record in about twenty instances. The man who uses the word "gospel" most frequently after Luke is the Apostle Paul. What wonder? They were companions; they talked much with one another, and took sweet counsel together; and thus, by the action of a spiritual masonry, they came to use one another's favourite expressions. There is a plagiarism that is honest; there is a talk that is contagious; there is a way of uttering Christian experience that so commends itself to others that they must needs reproduce it. Jesus Christ taught in the temple, and evangelised, told the good news, related what men could then receive respecting the kingdom of God upon earth. And never was such talk heard by human listeners: they were spell-bound. They were not all believing: some were of a doubtful and sceptical mind; yet the spell that was upon them wrought like a divine fascination, and made immediate contradiction difficult, if not impossible. Sometimes we think we could answer an argument; but we are restrained from attempting to do so by the sweetness of the music which accompanies its utterance. The argument failed, but the music soothed. It is often so with character, consistency, beneficence. Some put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, by simply doing well; doing good, by being liberal with both hands; and tender, ineffably tender, towards all human infirmity and weakness, so that listeners say, We could not accept his argument; but it would be impossible to reject the man himself. In this way all may acquire most beneficent power, most sacred and elevating influence. It is not possible for all to be great: blessed be God, it is possible for all to be good.
As Jesus Christ was engaged in this work, "the chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders, and spake unto him, saying, Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority?" So they had their favourite word; they, too, must have their badge and pass-word, their mechanical, unsympathetic, chilling masonry. Where is thy name written? where are thy certificates? who accredits thee? open thine hand, and let us see how the thunder lies in it: we are startled and perplexed when we compare the instrument with the effect; what we know about thee does not correspond with what we see thee do and what we hear thee say: explain thyself. When a man can explain himself he is done. There are those who delight in vivisection; and in hunting for the life, they kill it. There are those who would try to make a man out and cannot do so, and they give him up as an enigma. The gospel can never be made out, in the sense of getting behind it; for it covers infinity, as it came up from eternity. The authority is in the thing that is done. If you cannot explain the metaphysic you can estimate the practical; if you cannot get behind so as to see all the secrets of God, you can get in front and see what those secrets do when they embody themselves in living character and active exertion. Christians should be the proof of Christianity. Let the men speak the praises of the Saviour who has redeemed and inspired them. Christians, too, should be inexplicable as to root and core and essence, and innermost spring of life and purpose. But there should be no mystery on the disc of their conduct, nothing evasive, shuffling, ambiguous, equivocal. Whatever mystery may attach to the spirit there must be no mystery about the conduct as to its purpose, beneficence, nobleness, charity;—let the mystery lurk in all these if you will, but let there be enough of explanation, clearness, and frankness of thought and action, to constrain confidence and elicit healthful approbation.
By what authority do you preach? By the authority of the issue. We have seen the effect of the gospel, and therefore we preach it. Others could account for preaching metaphysically; most of us can account for it practically. We have seen a man healed, we have seen a leper cleansed, we have seen a barbarian civilised, chastened, refined, ennobled; and this has all been done by Jesus Christ of Nazareth; therefore we preach, that others may be touched by the same power, renewed by the same divine energy, and brought to the same perfectness of spiritual quality, and the same dignity of moral intention. It is always forgotten that Christianity can ask questions as well as Unbelief. It seems to be thought by some that the mark of interrogation is the private property of infidels and sceptics and scribes and Pharisees, and that poor dumb Christians can only sing hymns and psalms, and never ask any questions. They are difficult men to meet in interrogation. All things are not plain on the side of unbelief, opposition, hostility. There are riddles in the open book of providence as well as in the metaphysics of divine rule. Jesus Christ could reason, inquire, discuss, and impale men with a gentleness which did not at all mitigate the agony of the impalement. If Christianity chooses rather to be positive in its action, distinctly beneficent and aggressive rather than verbally controversial, Christianity has its reasons for choosing that policy. Christianity says, Time is brief, the case is urgent; the remedy is here: instead of paltering with word-mongers, let us declare the positive redemption, the immediate, gracious, ever-present kingdom of God, and truth, and light. But the enemy always created an opportunity for the Saviour. We have already shown that we owe more to the enemy than to the friend in the New Testament. If there had been no enemy there could have been no New Testament as we have it now. All the great parables were spoken in reply to hostility. It is difficult to continue in a monotonous course of instruction, not because there is any failure of genius on the part of the teacher, but because the people so soon weary and tire. Thus opposition becomes useful, controversy becomes an ally of the pulpit, and question-asking is turned to high account by men who watch the signs of the times, and show to all who care to see how the kingdom of God is always the question of the day.
Having been thus taunted through the medium of interrogation, having been thus insulted by circumlocution—a favourite method with men who even in cruelty cannot give up politeness—Jesus Christ "spake a parable unto them." To their credit be it said, they could read between the lines. They were shrewd men; they knew what they heard. "They perceived that he had spoken this parable against them." They were, therefore, good men to preach to. The infinite "difficulty of the preacher is when the people perceive nothing. He can preach well who knows that every man is saying to himself, The preacher means me; he is hard upon me, but he will be gentle before he closes; he has now dragged me to the seat of judgment, but presently he will speak to me gospel music, and he will show me how to escape this great dilemma. It is pointless preaching that nobody applies. Preaching of this kind could be continued for ever, and the minister would acquire a reputation for being a very harmless and a very quiet, and it may be kind, sort of a man, who is finding his way down to oblivion without giving anybody any trouble. We have lost in too large a degree the courage of our convictions. The pulpit should be an institution feared by every scribe and chief priest and Pharisee. Let some pulpits find their fame in their odiousness to wicked men. Whilst others may be acquiring renown in other directions, would God some pulpits could acquire first notoriety and then solid repute as instruments that are feared by every evil-doer, every tyrant, every statesman who is playing falsely with the destinies of his country! We may do this in various ways, sometimes through the medium of parable. A great deal can be said through the agency of an active imagination. We need not always say everything directly and frankly. There are more instruments in the world than cannon-balls. The resources of civilisation are not reduced to paving-stones. Let us now and again try a parable, an image, a mirror held up to evil nature, that it may see itself and cry out, Take away that duplicate; I will look anywhere but at a visage so indicative of evil purpose, so suggestive of evil life. So Jesus Christ was a judge through parable. He could speak in all styles. Many of the beatitudes approach the conciseness of epigram; some of his retorts might be characterised as specimens of the highest wit; then as to his parables, every one of them is a judgment or a gospel, a condemnation or a reward, or a door swinging back upon all the amplitude and glory of heaven. No one minister may be able to take this range, but each of us can find out his own department, sphere, faculty, opportunity, and all can combine in a testimony the clearness and emphasis of which it would be impossible to mistake.
"By what authority doest thou these things?" By the need of the hour. The minister finds his authority in human necessity. By what authority dost thou speak against evil? Because it is evil—that is the authority. Oh, blessed halcyon days when the pulpit can look upon all manner of evil and never recognise its existence! Who would attend such a pulpit? Who would love it and desire it? Not men of justice; not strong-minded, earnest, equitable men. Sometimes even silent men are forced to speech, and the very fact of their speech being only occasional lends to it a quaint but poignant emphasis; it is known that they would not have spoken but for the pressure of the times. Wise are they who take such note of occasion and historic development as to know when they ought to speak and in what tone they ought to deliver themselves.
This is one aspect of Jesus Christ's work; another and almost totally different aspect is given in other parts of the chapter:—"Then came to him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection"; and they had a case of infinite interest to their finite minds. It was a novel case. When they collected the particulars they gloated over the anecdote as one that would upset the whole fabric of distinctively Christian revelation. Where they got the case nobody knows. Who cares to inquire into the genealogy of an anecdote? If they made it up they were clever, and if they did not make it up they were probably easily imposed upon. But the case was stated, and they waited with that patient impetuosity which can hardly hold its tongue, that wants to laugh because it is sure it has conquered. When they had told their tale, Jesus Christ answering said unto them: You are wrong at the foundation; ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures: there can be no such possibility as you indicate in reference to the resurrection; they who rise again "neither marry, nor are given in marriage; neither can they die any more; for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection." They were wrong, where all men who oppose Christ are wrong, on the base line. The error was not only in the superstructure; the sophism or the mistake was in the foundation. Jesus Christ withdrew the corner-stone, and all the Sadducees went home again, sorry that they had troubled him. It is always so with the Son of God. His answers are fundamental, and therefore inclusive. We tamper with details, and inquire into vexatious incidents, and puzzle ourselves about what we call phenomena, and when we state our case we are told that we were wrong in the first line. He only can be really sound in all thought and Christian service who is sound in the foundation, who has got hold of first principles about whose quality there is no doubt. If we are wrong in the foundation we cannot be right in the superstructure. We must know on what we are building.
Jesus Christ having disposed of these men made a grand popular appeal. "Then in the audience of all the people." Christianity is an open religion: it invites the consideration, the criticism, the judgment of the popular mind. It has its secrets, which eternity will be required to unfold; but its sublime moral appeals may be heard and answered by all. "Then in the audience of all the people he said unto his disciples, Beware of the scribes." Then he described the men, saying, "which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts; which devour widows' houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation." This is the man who uttered the beatitudes! Is that the tongue we heard on the mount, saying, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God; blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth"? What says he? "Beware of the scribes!" His voice changes; he becomes another man; he thunders, lightens, denounces, and already drives into darkness those who have opposed the commandment and counter-worked the purpose of God.
We must put all these aspects together if we would see Jesus Christ in anything like the totality of his character. We find him, in the first verse, teaching the people condescendingly, breaking up all the long words into little ones, that he might get down to all classes of mind. We find him preaching the gospel or evangelising, bidding men welcome to God's banquet, to God's forgiveness, to God's heaven, and doing it as if his whole life were, as it was in reality, involved in the issue. We find him raising his head, as it were, from the book, and looking at the chief priests and scribes. In the seventeenth verse we read, "And he beheld them." That word "beheld" is pregnant with meaning. It is not the ordinary English word which signifies he saw them, he cast a glance upon them; but it means that he fastened his gaze upon them, looked through their hypocrisy, burned them with his look, scorched them with his eyes. "He beheld them," and they fell back from that gaze as men flee from advancing fire. Then we see him for a moment interested in some poor creatures who had got together a number of impossible details for the purpose of puzzling him with a question, and we hear him saying in a tone which cannot be printed—a tone half of judgment and half of compassion—"Poor souls! you are wrong at the foundation; you do not understand the Scriptures; you have to begin the alphabet yet." Then we see him answering certain of the scribes; and then we hear him expounding by interrogation a glorious psalm; and then we see him rising into the dignity of moral indignation. It is the same Christ throughout. His voice is a voice of a tempest, yet it is the whisper of anxious love, the music of infinite pity.
This chapter, therefore, gives us an outline of the great work which the Christian ministry has to do in this and in every age; teaching the people and preaching the gospel—that is the basis work; answering objectors in a way which gives them to feel that they have approached the wrong man if they have desired to overthrow him by shallow questioning and moral impertinence; correcting men who have made great mistakes in fundamental lines, and then judging the age as represented by its chief personages. Who would dare to rebuke a Prime Minister? Are we not too eloquent in denouncing Agnostics, and too silent in reproving men who are misleading a nation? We should, if pursuing that policy of denunciation, create a great revolution in our churches. That is precisely what we want everywhere—a great expulsion of all seat-holders and an opportunity for the return of those who are really in earnest about the kingdom of God. We are always hindered by the presence of the one man, rich, or prejudiced or peculiar, the exceptional man: we wonder what he will think and what he will do. We ought not to count him; he ought not to be in the census at all, unless he finds some vague position in a great etcetera. What we have to do is to reveal a kingdom, to declare a gospel, to set forth a judgment. I am not saying on which side that judgment should be, except that it should always be a word for the helpless, the weak, the down-trodden, the friendless. It should always be thunder against iniquity, unrighteousness, cupidity, perverseness, and all meanness of soul. When he comes who will so talk he will have a hard time of it; he will be taken out to be crucified. This must be so. No man can commit himself to judgment and be allowed to die in his bed; he must, in some way or sense, be hanged by the neck until he be dead. Could I speak to young ministers I should not hesitate to foretell such a course, and to urge them to be faithful to conscience and to duty. It is not necessary that they should live, but it is necessary that they should be true and faithful and just
The God of the Living
Perhaps the text might be made more vivid in its expression by taking the words before, namely, "not a God of the dead, but of the living." This is the very thing which nobody believes. It is probably believed universally in words, but when in this connection we use the word "believes" we use it in its intensest and fullest meaning, and in that sense probably there is not a man under heaven who believes that God is the God of the living. They are not the worst atheists who openly call themselves by that dreary name; such persons are comparatively harmless: the man who is injuring God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost is the man who professes to believe in that God and yet does not. It is the Church that is killing God. If men believed that God was the God of the living, there would be no more fear, or darkness, or sorrow, or tears; nothing would come amiss, nothing would inflict upon the soul humiliating surprise; we should live in the very quietness and peace and glory of God. The kind of atheism that is ruining life is the atheism which says in words "I believe in God," and then goes away and lives as if there were no God to believe in. It is merely theoretical belief that is sowing the earth with the seed of perdition. Yet there will be many a protest against this suggestion; many a man will say, speaking for himself, that he believes that God is the God of the living: but I would press upon him the inquiry, In what sense do you believe that? Do you believe it with limitations? Do you believe it with certain qualifications which you could hardly put into words? Do you really, intensely, and unchangeably believe that God is the chief factor in the present life? Does he look in through your window every morning? Does he watch you in your sleeping hours? Does he direct you in all your ways? And do you never put on hat or boot, or take up staff to walk with, without first asking if you may? "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct thy path." Is that only a verse in the Bible, or is it a principle that rules and and elevates and guides your whole course of conduct? We have a kind of general faith, or faith in theological generalities; we are somewhat partial to propositions that have about them the haze and the dimness of old age: but what about the immediate life, the present necessity, the temper of the moment? Do we ask God when we shall lie down and when we shall get up, or do we assume ninety-nine hundredths of our life, and leave God the odd hundredth to make of it what he pleases? Let us be earnest and searching in these matters; otherwise our so-called religion will sink into superstition, and our superstition itself will sink into ruin, and ruin will bring with it moral contagion, moral pestilence, social blight and death.
Men are so prone to worship somebody else's God. This is not the spirit of Christ, this is not the dominant message of Christianity to the soul: every man must worship, so to say, his own personal God; he must not have indirect commerce with heaven, he must do immediate business with the skies. Do not receive anything intermediately, except as a kind of incidental help; open up a great, wide thoroughfare to God, and travel on that road night and day, and never be found on any other road; then you will believe that God is the living God of living men; not an Old Testament idea, or a New Testament idea, or a first century idea, but the one all-including, all-glorifying fact of creation and eternity. We do not want any books of references or any books of evidences. If a man's religion stand upon the foundation of argument, it stands upon no foundation at all. A man's religion must stand upon the ground of experience, of immediate, personal, loving intercourse with God, so that a man shall be able to say, I saw God this morning: I will refer this to my Father; having had an interview with heaven, I will give you my answer: God is behind me, before me, on my right hand, on my left hand, and he lays his hand upon me, and everything that I do seems to be of importance to my Father in heaven. When a man has to go to some book to find out what he believes, he believes nothing. You must be your faith. "The word that I speak unto him," said Christ, "shall be in him": he does not take it with him as an external article, he does not hold it in his hand, as who should say, Behold my belief is written in this paper, and if you would know what I believe read these words in black and white. That is not faith. As with faith so with preaching. A man must not have his sermon, for then he would be no preacher; he must be his sermon, and then he never can be other than eloquent. It is just here that the Church has been making its mistakes with painful consistency. It has had a library to which it has gone; it has kept God in the library. I want God kept in the living-room, wherever that is; if we live in the library, so be it. We must not keep God in the ornamental rooms, but in the place we live in, and so realising the nearness of the divine presence the humblest chamber will become as the vestibule of heaven.
It is possible to dishonour the very God that we pretend to worship. We say God is in heaven. Nothing of the kind: God is not in heaven in any sense of the word which implies distance, palatial luxury, and security and delight; God is in the field, on the highroad; God is in thee, thou poor fool, if thou wouldst open thine eyes and see him in the sanctuary of thine heart. We will have God in heaven; nothing can persuade us that he is anywhere else: we forget that wherever he is his presence is heaven. The Church will not have it so: it will have God in heaven, immeasurable number of miles away, and it will have all its arrangements formal and mechanical: immediate absorption in God would appear to the Church to be a kind of sentimental blasphemy, whereas it is the central doctrine of Christ, it is the essential principle of the Cross.
We also dishonour the very men whose memories we celebrate. Who honours the Apostle Paul? No man, except in the character of a historical personage, somebody who lived, maybe, eighteen centuries ago, somewhere, under certain circumstances detailed in some book. That is not the Paul to honour. The Paul to honour is the man who living to-day would repeat the Paul of eighteen centuries ago. Paul asks no granite stone at our hands; the mighty heroic prince of God does not ask for our memorial brass; speaking from his urn he says, If I lived amongst you nineteenth-century men, I would tear society to pieces. The revolutionist, inspired by justice and chastened by reason and ennobled by reverence, is the only man that really honours the Apostle Paul. Other honour is worthless flattery, encomium that never reaches the object of the worthless eulogy. There are those who honour, almost worshipfully, Martin Luther. Martin Luther is honoured when Lutherism is propagated. We cannot honour Martin Luther, but we can repeat Lutherism, and Lutherism is Martin Luther in his noblest form. If Luther lived to-day he would eat and drink amongst the people, he would have his music, he would sit down at the table and discourse eloquently upon all the affairs of earth; he would rise, and, shaking himself like a lion, he would condemn all evil things; he would flame and burn against all restrictions placed upon individual conscience and private judgment; he would hurl his thunders against the little popes that are trying to snub the rising genius of immediate progress.
It Martin Luther were himself to come back again, we should kill him. If Christ were to descend to the earth again, we should take him to a place called Calvary. It is not Christ in any historical sense we want, but Christianity, Christ's own deep sweet saving truth, Christ's blessed spirit of sacrifice and obedience. There are those who honour everything that is about a hundred years old as against things that are of immediate conception, and immediate purpose and use. Only give some people a tune that Wesley sang, and they think that they are as near heaven as they ever will be—which is indeed probable, now I think of it. Only give them a tune that was sung a hundred and fifty years ago, and the very fact that it was sung a hundred and fifty years ago is the only fact they care about! whereas if Wesley were here now he would be listening to the tunes on the streets. That will do! the fine old statesman would say, if that tune were baptised and consecrated it would be useful in the church: I will fit it to words. He would take the tune home and link it to worthy expression, and that tune would be sung in the church next Sunday. Why do not men see that the very things they praise as belonging to a hundred years ago were a hundred years ago quite novel? They had not at that period of time the advantage of antiquity, they were then new, they had to run the gauntlet of all kinds of opposition, and establish themselves in the confidence of the Church: and that is what we must do now. If any man can make a new tune, let him make it, and the common heart of humanity will soon pronounce upon its merits. It is possible so to use history as to debase it. There is a kind of evil disease in some men which will not allow them to believe that though Wesley is dead God lives. Theirs is a God of antiquity: ours is a God of antiquity, but also the God of the present throbbing moment. We must have no patience with persons who take the life out of God, and worship him as a mere term in ancient history. It is what God is to me at this moment that is the all-important and all-determining factor in my life. Of what avail to tell me that there was once a God called the God of Abraham? Any God that can die is no God. The only God I can worship is a living present God, who is giving me new experience, new history, new faculties, new inspirations, new tunes, always giving me new grace and new power to reveal himself. There is a novelty that is rich with an eternal secret. By what means can we get rid of the people we do not want to keep, the whining, sentimental, superstitious worshippers of something that happened a hundred and fifty years ago? Will any infidel build a church to hold such people? I would transfer them all in one letter. They are the infidels. We had better call them by their right name and put them to their right uses. They who believe that God is here, now, in all the fulness of his light and love and grace, they who believe that every step they take is ordered from heaven, if they have put their life into God's keeping, they are the believers, and they never can be argued down.
We are then called upon by this train of suggestion to believe that Providence is not something that expired long ago, but that Providence is in beneficent and detailed action now. Who can draw himself up to that stature of faith? What, God in action now! I could believe that he may have been in action five hundred years ago, but to believe that everything is under his control now, at this very present moment, baffles my imagination, and puts my religious faith to severe tests. Yet I must accept that doctrine. Appearances are sometimes against the theory that God is in action now; we are oftentimes the victims of appearances, we do not take in field enough, within whose amplitude we can judge fairly and justly of God's purposes in life. When, in a great flood that carried with it village after village, a mother put her lost child upon some driftwood, and the child said, "Mamma, you have always told me God would take care of me: will he take care of me now?" I must say there is one way of looking at that which utterly shatters our religious faith; there is another way of looking at it which may confirm the faith which is momentarily in peril. We have formed a wrong conception of death. We first of all take our logical sword and cut the filaments which connect the worlds, and then we say, Will God take care of me now? What is care? What is taking care of a little human life? All men must die, they must go out of this world by fire or flood or disease: what is, in the largest sense of the term, taking care of human life? In that case, so pathetic and so tragical, I would say, Pity the living, not the dead; pity her who has to wait a few months or years and carry all the trouble in her soul, do not pity those who by flood or fire or pestilence or disease are urged into their destiny. We must talk of such tragedies fifty years hence; time must work out its ministry of soothing and suggestion and comfort, aye, and in many a day-dream we must see from what awful possibilities they have been saved who under circumstances of violence have been detached from our side. Let those who can testify as to God's presence in their life be no longer silent. I can bear testimony that God has been with me. I have felt him. There be those who with cold pen and ink write whether we know God by some intellectual process. I know him by my feeling, by my experience, by my spiritual elevation; I know him by the view I have been enabled to take of all past things in my life: they were painful, humiliating, tormenting; they were full of disappointment and distress; yet every one of them was right. You cannot put that down by any argumentative process. This is not an affidavit in the court of intellect, it is sworn testimony in the court of conduct, character, and human feeling.
I must therefore believe, if faithful to this line of suggestion, that inspiration is now going on. Can you believe in a God who has nothing more to say to his human family? Has God quite gone from his Church? Does he never whisper to any of his sons and daughters? Does he never interpret the Scripture by some ministry of the Holy Ghost known and felt by the individual heart alone? May not God have changed the method of his inspiration without changing the fact? May not he who once inspired individual men now inspire whole communities and nations of men? May there not be a thought common to civilisation? May there not now be a tendency in movement which can only be accounted for by a sovereign action on the part of God? May he not now inspire actions, great acts of self-sacrifice and generosity; may he not now so work in the human mind that men shall keep back nothing from him, but make themselves poor every night that every morning they may go forth and reap a harvest of gold? What is your God? an antiquity, a mythologic conception, some dim nebulous impalpable thing? or is he Father, Shepherd, Friend, in you, near you, round about you? Is he the builder of your house from the basement to the roof; is he the chief guest at your table; does he keep all your account books; does he watch you with eyes of love? And has he never anything new to say to his ministers? Do they go forth Sunday after Sunday to tell something that he has not told them? Does he not now say to his servants, Arise, the time of battle has come, or seed-sowing; rise, I will go with thee, the people are waiting for us, and I will tell you in the same hour what ye shall say: put away all your own little ability and cleverness and smartness, and put away all attempts to patronise your Father in heaven; I will go with you, and fill you with the Holy Ghost, and the opening of your mouth shall be as the sounding of music, and the people will answer with a glad amen? This is the God we worship, this is the God for whose presence we pray. Unchangeableness in providential action does not mean monotony. God "spake at sundry times" and "in divers manners," We will not allow that expression "divers manners," although it is part of the very economy of heaven. God does nothing by mere repetition: he gives every man an individuality; every atom casts its own little shadow, every soul has its own momentum from God, every voice has in it a tone that no other voice can utter. Let us therefore find God's consistency in his providence, and not in the methods of it; let us find God's inspiration, not in some mechanical theory concerning it, but in the feeling that it is created round about us in the minds and hearts of men. When men say in great bodies, whether in families, municipalities or nations, Come, let us go unto the house of the Lord! that is inspiration; the wind is from heaven, rushing and mighty, and there is no dust of earth in all its sounding tempest.
We are not then to limit the Holy One of Israel. Let God work as he may. All ministers are necessary to form a ministry. No one preacher can say everything. When you say, What about the preaching of Christianity? you can say nothing about it until you have heard every preacher under heaven; the man you have not heard is the man who may contribute the completing touch. God looks upon his ministry as one: we unfortunately look upon the ministry as a series of individuals, one personality having little or no connection with another. To God it is a solidarity, not an association of atoms that have no relation to one another. So with Providence, the great movements of the world are one in purpose and in tendency; and so with inspiration, there is an inspired sentiment, and who dare say that jurisprudence to-day is not in the highest Christian countries inspired? The noble lord comes before the law, or the noble scion of a noble house, and the one who brings him before the law is some poor orphaned friendless woman: what will jurisprudence do in the highest countries? It will do right, and the noble scion of a noble house must make compensation to the life he has wronged. When that voice of judgment is heard God is heard. When our laws are good, when our judgment is impartial, when our honour is without a stain, when we speak truth and fear no consequences, let us know that God is in the tabernacle of his people, and that he is leading the civilisation of the world. What we want, then, is living character, a living Church. When we hear discussions of an ecclesiastical kind, what are they all about? Listening to these controversies about words and phrases, see how warm these men become. They smite the table. Why so hot, my little sirs? What do you know about it? Nothing—nothing. It will require eternity to settle the things you want to handle as if they were so many pennyweights of gold. What you can do is to love justice and mercy and truth; what you can do is to be honest, helpful, noble, Christlike; what you can do is to realise God in conduct. Yet how pitiable it is to see doxy versus doxy, and many clouds of words. There is a friend of yours, it may be, who settles everything by saying it. The Unitarians, he says—the blockheads! Of course the Unitarians, then, are all settled. Strauss and Renan and Wellhausen—the blockheads! That is one way of treating the case; but it is a useless way in all instances. We cannot settle metaphysics or eternal questions within the little cage of time, but this, through Jesus Christ, our dying, risen Lord, we can do, this by the power of the Cross of Christ lies within the compass of our ability—we can do justly, we can love mercy, we can walk humbly with God.