Like newborn infants, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,
I. THE TRUE FOOD OF THE CHRISTIAN SOUL IN ALL STAGES. It is impossible to preserve the force of the Greek in an English translation. The two adjectives which qualify "milk" are both ambiguous. That rendered "sincere" in the Authorized and "without guile" in the Revised Version is evidently suggested by the mention of guile in the previous verse, and may either mean "guileless" in the sense of having no by-ends to serve, or more probably "unadulterated." The other epithet may either mean "belonging to a word," or (as it means in Romans 12:1) "spiritual," that is, figurative, not material. The latter is no doubt its meaning here. But that spiritual, unadulterated milk is certainly the Word of God, and probably the expression was chosen because of the very ambiguity. At all events, Peter's thought is plainly that the Christian soul's true food is the Word, which is at once the instrument of regeneration and the support of life. Of course, he intends by "the Word" the truths which that Word brings to men. We are more accustomed to speak of Christ as being the Food of the soul. Is it possible that Peter here is speaking as his brother John would have spoken, and has floating before his mind in this context the thought of that Incarnate Word who liveth for ever, and in his holy humanity was without guile. This is improbable, and not necessary in order to give full force to the text. "The Word of the truth of the gospel" is the life of our souls, because it proclaims and brings to us Christ, who is truly their Life. The only way by which he can enter the soul to give and to sustain a better being is by means of the truth concerning him received and meditated on. Physiologists tell us that milk contains all the constituents needed for healthy life. The truth as it is in Jesus has no admixture of deleterious matters, is unspoiled by men's errors, and has in it all which the soul needs. As much cannot be said of any other "word."
II. THE APPETITE WHICH ALL CHRISTIANS SHOULD CULTIVATE. "Long for" is nearer the intensity of the original than "desire." There is no bodily craving more vehement and tyrannous than that of hunger. We all know how an infant cries for food. Such keenness of appetite ought to mark every Christian. But the very fact that this hunger has to be enjoined is a sad confession. "Infants do not need to be told to seek the mother's breast." But we, alas! have to acknowledge languid indifference and often positive distaste for the wholesome food which God gives. So this appetite has to be cultivated. And that it may, other appetites have to be restrained and starved. We are like children who eat sweetmeats, and so do not care for our meals. If we gorge ourselves on the sugared delights of earth, or on the rank "leeks and garlic" of Egypt, how can the manna but taste insipid to our palates! Therefore abstinence from these, and a tight hand on our desires and passions, are essential if we are to have any healthy hunger for wholesome food. Again, the appetite will in this case secure its being satisfied. This hunger is unlike all other hunger, in that it will certainly be filled. So the apostle does not even say drink, but he only says desire. For he knows that if there be the longing there will be the fruition, as certainly as the air flows into expanded lungs, or the sunshine into opened eyes. Other longings are often pain, and often vain. This is blessed in itself, and blessed in its sure fulfillment. He who can say, "I long for thy Word," will always be able to say," I did eat it, and it was the joy and rejoicing of my heart." Is this eager appetite for the Word of God the characteristic of our Christianity? Does the neglect of Scripture, the preference of almost any book to the Bible, which so many of us must confess, look like it? Does the utter disuse of meditation by such multitudes of professing Christians look like it? Can anybody suppose that people who scarcely ever occupy their minds with Divine truth, except when they languidly sit out a sermon, are thirsting for the pure milk of the Word?
III. THE GROWTH. "Unto salvation" is now usually admitted, as in the Revised Version, at the close of the verse. Of course, that word is here used, as it is in ver. 9 of the previous chapter, for the complete deliverance from evil and investiture with good, which waits the believer in heaven. The whole Christian life on earth, then, is to be a continuous growth. Here we are all but as infants at the best, and we only come to maturity in another life. Salvation is the possession of "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." It is not, as some caricature the Christian doctrine, a mere escape from an outward hell, but is the attainment of the full height of manhood made God-like. That is the goal set before the Christian - an ever-progressive approximation to the unreachable God, an ever-increasing appropriation of infinite perfection into his indefinitely expanding being. And towards that endless growth and eternally increasing knowledge of and likeness to the revealed God in Christ, we may be steadily advancing here. If we will only use the amply adequate means provided for us, and let our souls feed on the Word of God, we shall grow as certainly as the child passes from infancy to boyhood and adolescence. But in order to feeding on that Word there must be rigid self-restraint, and many a struggle with lower appetites. Christian growth is no natural process. The painless, unconscious, spontaneous growth of the infant at the breast, or of the corn in the field, does not tell us all the facts. There are other symbols of Christian progress. It is a pilgrimage often to be trodden with bleeding feet. It is a building which does not "rise like an exhalation," but tasks strength and skill to lay its courses. It is a fight often desperate, always real, and in which that Word of God which is milk for the growing babe, is the sword for the warrior-hand. We have to fight that we may have room to grow; and of our conflict and of our growth the instrument is the Word of God. - A.M.
Servants, be subject to your masters.
I. THEIR DUTY.
1. "Servants, be subject to your masters in all fear." Let not the service you render be constrained and forced, but ready and joyous, remembering that, however humble, it is ennobled by religion.
2. But to what extent are they to submit? Has God placed you under a master who is exacting and ungenerous? act worthily of your profession, and show that master that there is something real in religion.
3. A cogent reason is assigned. "For this is thank-worthy" — literally grace — "if a man for consciousness of God endure grief, suffering wrongfully."
II. THE EXAMPLE of the Lord Jesus is set before us as the ground on which the submission should be practised.
(Thornley Smith.)I. THEIR DUTY. Be subject. Keep your order and station under your masters, and that "with fear" and inward reverence of mind and respect to them, for that is the very life of all obedience. Do faithfully to your utmost that which is entrusted to you and obey all their just commands, and suffer patiently even their unjust severities. But, on the other side, this does not justify nor excuse the unmerciful austerities of masters. It is still a perverseness in them, as the original word is here, and must have its own name, and shall have its proper reward from the sovereign Master and Lord of all the world.
II. THE DUE EXTENT OF THIS DUTY. "To the froward." It is a more deformed thing to have a distorted, crooked mind, or a froward spirit, than any crookedness of the body. How can he that hath servants under him expect their obedience when he cannot command his own passion, but is a slave to it? And unless much conscience of duty possess servants, more than is commonly to be found with them, it cannot but work a master into much disesteem with them when he is of a turbulent spirit, a troubler of his own house. The Christian servant, however, who falls into the hands of a froward master will not be beaten out of his station and duty of obedience by all the hard and wrongful usage he meets with, but will take that as an opportunity of exercising the more obedience and patience, and will be the more cheerfully patient because of his innocence, as the apostle here exhorts. All men desire glory, but they know neither what it is nor how it is to be sought. He is upon the only right bargain of this kind "whose praise is not of men, but of God." If men commend him not he accounts it no loss, nor any gain if they do, for he is bound for a country where that coin goes not, and whither he cannot carry it, and therefore he gathers it not. That which he seeks in all is that he may be approved and accepted of God, whose thanks are no less to the least of those he accepts than a crown of unfading glory. Not a poor servant that fears His name and is obedient and patient for His sake but shall be so rewarded.
III. THE PRINCIPLE OF THIS OBEDIENCE AND PATIENCE. "For conscience towards God." This imports, first, the knowledge of God and of His will in some due measure, and then a conscientious respect unto Him and His will so known, taking it for the only rule in doing and suffering.
1. This declares to us the freeness of the grace of God in regard to men's outward quality, that He doth often bestow the riches of His grace upon persons of mean condition. He hath all to choose from, and yet chooses where men would least imagine (Matthew 11:25; 1 Corinthians 1:27).
2. Grace finds a way to exert itself in every estate where it exists, and regulates the soul according to the particular duties of that estate. A skilful engraver makes you a statue indifferently of wood or stone or marble, as they are put into his hand; so grace forms a man to a Christian way of walking in any estate. There is way for him in the meanest condition to glorify God and to adorn the profession of religion; no estate so low as to be shut out from this; and a rightly informed and rightly affected conscience towards God shows a man that way and causes him to walk in it.
3. As a corrupt mind debaseth the best and most excellent callings and actions, so the lowest are raised above themselves and ennobled by a spiritual mind.An eagle may fly high and yet have its eye down upon some carrion on the earth; even so a man may be standing on the earth, and on some low part of it, and yet have his eye upon heaven and be contemplating it. "For conscience."
1. In this there is, first, a reverential compliance with God's disposal, both in allotting to them that condition of life, and in particularly choosing their master for them, though possibly not the mildest and pleasantest, yet the fittest for their good.
2. In this there is, secondly, a religious and observant respect to the rule which God hath set men to walk by in that condition, so that their obedience depends not upon any external inducement, failing when that fails, but flows from an inward impression of the law of God upon the heart.
3. In this there is a tender care of the glory of God and the adornment of religion.
4. There is, lastly, the comfortable persuasion of God's approbation, as is expressed in the following verse, and the hope of that reward He hath promised. "Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the inheritance, for ye serve the Lord Christ" (Colossians 3:24).
(Abp. Leighton.)I. RELIGION BROUGHT INTO THE LITTLE THINGS OF LIFE. It does not merely include duties unto kings, but duty towards lesser lords. We may learn from this —
1. That religion applies to all classes and conditions of men. Each state of life has its own little kingdom, its own little world.
2. That nothing is too insignificant to be brought under the power of Divine direction.
II. PRINCIPLE SUPERSEDING COMPULSION. In this verse the apostle establishes one of the most important principles of morality — that our obligations to relative duties are not to be gauged by the character of the person to whom they are performed.
1. It is not utility that should regulate our conduct. The will of the world is to discard that which is not useful or profitable.
2. It is not comfort that is to direct our lives.
3. It is not force that is to drive.
4. It is neither the fear nor the love of man that moves.
III. OBEDIENCE INDEPENDENT OF CIRCUMSTANCES. Masters, like kings, differ. Some are reasonable and kind, others are unreasonable and bitter. Is a servant only to serve them who are fair and kind? By no means. The reason is explained when we come to realise that the present is of very little moment to show who serve Christ.
(J. J. S. Bird.)
Suffering wrongfully1 Peter 2:23). Nothing that has been said will be so greatly misconstrued as to be taken to imply that cruelty, tyranny, oppression, can be agreeable to the mind of God. He permits these things among men from time to time, just as He permits much else that is evil for His own wise ends. He brings good out of them, yet He condemns them. By and by He will punish them. Nowhere is it implied in the Bible that the systems involving the oppression of man by man have vested rights in the moral universe, or that the circumstances which permit it are even tolerable, unless they are perpetuated for very different purposes indeed. The days will come when Englishmen will look back to the abolition of the slave trade by the English Parliament as a greater title to glory than was Trafalgar or Waterloo; as among the very greatest in the course of our history. Wilberforce and Clarkson will rank even before those celebrated commanders, to whose courage and genius, under God, we owe the independence of our country. Among yourselves there are probably some who, for conscience toward God, endure grief, suffering wrongfully. There are no slaves, thank God, on English soil, but there are multitudes of persons in positions of dependence whose lives can easily be made miserable by the cruel ingenuity of their betters, and too often for no worse crime than that of obeying a higher sense of right. Every rank in society has its petty tyrants and its secret confessorships; to suffer wrongfully for conscience toward God is the monopoly of no one class. Here is a cadet of a noble family who will not consent to a transaction which he knows to be unjust, and he is cut off with a shilling. There is an apprentice or clerk in a large city house who will not abandon the duties or restraints of a Christian life in deference to pressure or abuse or ridicule from his companions, and he has a hard time of it. Yonder is a governess who has learnt a higher estimate of life and duty than her wealthy and ostentatious employer; or a clergyman who feels too keenly the real character of Divine revelation and the tremendous issues of life and death to acquiesce in some popular but shallow misrepresentation of the gospel which makes his people comfortable without bringing them nearer to God. These, and such as these, must, "for conscience toward God, endure grief, suffering wrongfully." Law can do but little for them; the province of law lies outside the spheres of the heart and the conscience; the whole world of motive is beyond it. But religion can do much, or rather everything, by pointing to the crucified and risen Prince of that vast company in all ages who have cared less to avoid discomfort than to be true to known truth and duty; by pointing to the unapproached bitterness of His sorrow, and to the completeness and splendour of His triumph.
1. That man has a conscience.
2. That conscience sometimes leads to suffering.
3. That sufferings that spring from the following out of a good conscience are reasons for gratitude. "This is thank worthy."
I. Because THEY INVOLVE THE HIGHEST MORAL TRIUMPH. It is a triumph —
1. Of the spiritual over the material.
2. Of the right over the expedient.
3. Of the Christly over the selfish.
II. Because THEY OPEN UP WITHIN THE MAN THE HIGHEST SOURCES OF HAPPINESS.
III. BECAUSE IT IDENTIFIES THE SUFFERER WITH THE ILLUSTRIOUS MEN OF ALL TIMES.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
Ye take it patiently
(E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
(Crown Liddon.)I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IS THIS DUTY.
1. The not entertaining the impression of injuries with acrimony of thought and internal resentment.
2. The not venting any such resentment in virulent vindictive language.
II. WHENCE IT IS THAT THIS DUTY COMES TO BE SO EXCEEDINGLY DIFFICULT.
1. From the peculiar provoking quality of ill language.
2. Because nature has deeply planted in every man a strange tenderness of his good name, which, in the rank of worldly enjoyments, the wisest of men has placed before life itself. For, indeed, it is a more enlarged and diffused life, kept up by many more breaths than our own.
III. BY WHAT MEANS A MAN MAY WORK HIMSELF TO SUCH A COMPOSURE AND TEMPER OF SPIRIT, AS TO BE ABLE TO OBSERVE THIS GREAT AND EXCELLENT DUTY. And here, when we consider what obstructions are to be conquered and removed, we must acknowledge that nothing under an omnipotent grace can subdue the heart to such a frame. To discommend this, of returning railing for railing, slander for slander, both to our practice and affection, I shall fasten only upon this one consideration; namely, that it is utterly useless to all rational intents and purposes.
1. The first reason that would induce a man, upon provocation, to do a violent action by way of return, should be to remove the cause of that provocation. But the cause that usually provokes men to revile, are words and speeches; that is, such things as are irrevocable. Such a one vilified me; but can I, by railing, make that which was spoken, not to have been spoken? Are words and talk to be reversed? Or can I make a slander to be forgot, by rubbing up the memory of those that heard it with a reply?
2. Another end, inducing a man to return reviling for reviling, may be by this means to confute the calumny, and to discredit the truth of it. But this course is so far from having such an effect, that it is the only thing that gives it colour and credibility; all people being prone to judge, that a high resentment of a calumny proceeds from concernment, and that from guilt; which makes the sore place tender and untractable.
3. A third end for which a man may pretend to give himself this liberty is because in so doing he thinks he takes a full and proper revenge of him that first reviled him. But certainly there is no kind of revenge so poor and pitiful; for every dog can bark, and he that rails makes another noise indeed, but not a better.
(R. South, D. D.)
I. PATIENCE, THEN, IS THAT VIRTUE WHICH QUALIFIETH US TO BEAR ALL CONDITIONS AND ALL EVENTS BY GOD'S DISPOSAL INCIDENT TO US, WITH SUCH APPREHENSIONS AND PERSUASIONS OF MIND, SUCH DISPOSITIONS AND AFFECTIONS OF HEART, SUCH EXTERNAL DEPORTMENTS AND PRACTICES OF LIFE AS GOD REQUIRETH AND GOOD REASON DIRECTETH. Its nature will, I conceive, be understood best by considering the chief acts which it produceth, and wherein especially the practice thereof consisteth; the which briefly are these:
1. A thorough persuasion, that nothing befalleth us by fate, or by chance, or by the mere agency of inferior causes, but that all proceedeth from the dispensation or with the allowance of God.
2. A firm belief that all occurrences, however adverse and cross to our desires, are well consistent with the justice, wisdom, and goodness of God.
3. A full satisfaction of mind that all (even the most bitter and sad accidents) do (according to God's purpose) tend and conduce to our good.
4. An entire submission and resignation of our wills to the will of God, suppressing all rebellious insurrections and grievous resentments of heart against His providence.
5. Bearing adversities calmly, cheerfully, and courageously, so as not to be discomposed with anger or grief; not to be put out of humour, not to be dejected or disheartened; but in our disposition of mind to resemble the primitive saints who "took joyfully the spoiling of their goods," who "accounted it all joy when they fell into divers tribulations."
6. A hopeful confidence in God for the removal or easement of our afflictions, and for His gracious aid to support them well; agreeable to those good rules and precepts: "It is good that a man should both hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord"; "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him"; "Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart."
7. A willingness to continue, during God's pleasure, in our afflicted state, without weariness or irksome longings for alteration.
8. A lowly frame of mind (that is, being sober in our conceits of ourselves, sensible of our manifold defects and miscarriages; being meek and gentle, tender and pliable in our temper and frame of spirit; being deeply affected with reverence and dread toward the awful majesty, mighty power, perfect justice and sanctity of God; all this wrought by our adversity, effectually, according to its design, softening our hard hearts, mitigating our peevish humours.
9. Restraining our tongues from all discontentful complaints and murmurings, all profane, harsh expressions, importing displeasure or dissatisfaction in God's dealings toward us, arguing desperation or distrust in Him.
10. Blessing and praising God (that is, declaring our hearty satisfaction in God's proceedings with us, acknowledging His wisdom, justice, and goodness therein, expressing a grateful sense thereof, as wholesome and beneficial to us) in conformity to Job, who, on the loss of all his comforts, did thus vent his mind: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
11. Abstaining from all irregular and unworthy courses toward the removal or redress of our crosses; choosing rather to abide quietly under their pressure, than by any unwarrantable means to relieve or relax ourselves.
12. A fair behaviour toward the instruments and abettors of our affliction; those who brought us into it, or who detain us under it, by keeping off relief, or sparing to yield the succour which we might expect; the forbearing to express any wrath or displeasure, to exercise any revenge, to retain any grudge or enmity toward them; but rather even on that score bearing goodwill, and showing kindness unto them.
13. Particularly in regard to those who, by injurious and offensive usage, do provoke us, patience importeth —(1) That we be not hastily, over easily, not immoderately, not pertinaciously incensed with anger toward them.(2) That we do not in our hearts harbour any ill will, or ill wishes, or ill designs toward them, but that we truly desire their good, and purpose to farther it as we shall have ability and occasion.(3) That in effect we do not execute any revenge, or for requital do any mischief to them, either in word or deed; but for their reproaches exchange blessings (or good words and wishes), for their outrages repay benefits and good turns.
14. In fine, patience doth include and produce a general meekness and kindness of affection, together with an enlarged sweetness and pleasantness in conversation and carriage toward all men; implying that how hard soever our case, how sorry or sad our condition is, we are not therefore angry with the world, because we do not thrive or flourish in it; that we are not dissatisfied or disgusted with the prosperous estate of other men; that we are not become sullen or froward toward any man because his fortune excelleth ours, but that rather we do "rejoice with them that rejoice"; we do find complacence and delight in their good success; we borrow satisfaction and pleasure from their enjoyments.
II. THE EXAMPLE OF OUR LORD WAS INDEED IN THIS KIND THE MOST REMARKABLE THAT EVER WAS PRESENTED, the most perfect that can be imagined; He was, above all expression, "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief"; He did undertake, as to perform the best works, so to endure the worst accidents to which human nature is subject; His whole life being no other than one continual exercise of patience and meekness, in all the parts and to the utmost degrees of them.
(Isaac Barrow, D. D.)I. THE SPECIAL BEAUTY OF CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOUR. "This is the grace or beauty."
1. The disciple of Christ does not act from motives of expediency, but from principle.
2. The disciple of Christ does not pursue pleasure or ease, but duty.
II. THE EXCITING MOTIVE WHICH PROMPTS THE ATTAINMENT OF THIS CHARACTER. He will know that he is pleasing God. He will realise that God is the avenger.
III. THE NATURAL ARGUMENT TO BE SPECIALLY CONSIDERED. "For what glory is it," etc. This is an urgent and important warning and caution. It urges discrimination and self-examination with regard to our sufferings.
(J. J. S. Bird.)
Acceptable with God
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Even hereunto were ye called.
1. We must not think the worse of any because of their afflictions, or conclude them to be bad men and hypocrites, which was the fault of Job's friends.
2. We must not think the better of ourselves for prosperity. God can afford the dogs the bones, the things of this world.
3. We must not dislike ourselves for our afflictions. It is an argument of God's love, not of His hatred (Hebrews 12:6). To have afflictions and to profit thereby is the sign of a happy man.
4. We must prepare for afflictions, not dreaming for ease; they are the better borne when looked for.
5. We must bear them patiently, as being of God.
6. We must bear them thankfully, as whereby we are furthered in holiness.
7. We must bear them joyfully, in respect of the eternal happiness and immortal glory we shall be shortly brought to.
Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example
I. THE INTENSITY OF THOSE SUFFERINGS which our Saviour experienced in the garden of Gethsemane; and,
II. WHAT HIS CONDUCT UNDER THOSE SUFFERINGS OUGHT TO TEACH US. There is, perhaps, no circumstance of the gospel at which our reason is so inclined to cavil, as the affliction which our Saviour then experienced. We cannot understand how it is possible that the Messiah, who is "one with the Father," should be thus liable to grief, and thus deeply moved at the prospect of His approaching persecutions. Our difficulty here results from our utter inability of forming any notion of the infinite magnitude of the Divine power, We can understand that in the Majesty of the Deity, He should hold pain and sorrow as His subjects; but we cannot understand His rendering Himself subject to them. We are unable to conceive that exercise of His power by which He manifested Himself as entire a master of His own infinite attributes, and withdrew Himself, as it were, from the sustaining succours of His eternal Godhead, that, as a man, He might suffer for our redemption. Yet this is what our Saviour did. If we were merely to confine ourselves to temporal views, and exclude all consideration of the spiritual cause of our Lord's sufferings, it may even then be with truth affirmed that such an accumulation of woes was never brought to bear at one moment on one man. He knew to a certainty that He had no deliverance to look for; that Judas, His companion, would betray Him; that the princes and rulers would condemn Him; that the people would reject Him and save Barabbas; and that His enemies would heap their persecutions upon Him to the last. In the mere anticipation of what He was about to undergo, our Redeemer had full cause for the agony which He experienced and expressed in the garden of Gethsemane. But, with such aggravations suggested by His own prophetic spirit as no other man ever knew, Jesus was cut off by the very sublimity and holiness of His character, from a source of succour which, under similar circumstances, has often afforded relief to other men. If they do not actually extract the sting of human suffering, they serve to divert the thoughts, and thus to allay the pain of it. But what are those passions? They are either a sullen pride which will not allow the afflicted under any circumstances to confess themselves subdued; or a fierce resentment which induces them to baffle the malice of their enemies by opposing a mask of obstinate insensibility to every attack; or an empty vanity which leads them in the lowest depths of wretchedness, and on the very borders of the grave, to angle for the applauses of the world by putting on a light appearance of unconcern. But whatever support such feelings might afford to others, they could have afforded none to Jesus in the hour of His agony. They are repugnant to the dispositions by which His gentle heart was animated. But it may be conceived that Jesus, under all His troubles, might still have found relief in the consciousness of His innocence. If there are occasions when this reflection may prove a source of secret comfort to the sufferer; there are others when it serves as the severest aggravation to his misery. If an elder brother who had mercifully interposed to save the children of their common parents from destitution, who had succeeded in placing them in a prosperous condition, should, after all, detect them conspiring with his enemies to malign and ruin him, would it be any consolation to reflect that he had not deserved such treatment at their hands? Even so must the consciousness of His innocence have affected the heart of Jesus. It must have been the most galling addition to the weight of those oppressions which were heaped upon Him by His countrymen. The consideration that they, who would be the authors of His oppressions, ought to have been bound together by the remembrance of His loving kindnesses, as His firm protectors, must have struck far deeper into His heart than ever the soldier's spear wound in His side could pierce. But not only on His own account: His compassionate nature would grieve for others; for His disciples, whom the profession of the faith in His name should render obnoxious to the enmity of their friends, and expose to persecution. But, as yet, we have only surveyed our Saviour's agony in the garden as resulting from human feelings. We will now proceed to regard it as affected by those views which would have been suggested by the religious aim of His approaching passion. Our Saviour, by His death upon the Cross, was about to pay the price of the transgressions of the whole world. He was about to suffer for our sins; and those sins for which His death was demanded, would naturally engage His contemplations. He would now see before Him the multitude of those offences for which a sacrifice was to be offered; the heinousness of them; the outrage that they were against the majesty of God; the ruin, the destitution which they had spread over the face of the earth; and the weight of the punishment they deserved. The bare idea of any one of those wicked acts which are daily committed by the cruel or the impure, is hateful to every innocent mind. What horror then must necessarily have filled the soul of our Saviour when, not singly, but in their aggregate amount, those mortal offences were brought before His holy view, as He estimated the extent of the ransom which was due, and which He had Himself undertaken to discharge? But our Lord thus "suffered for us," says St. Peter in my text, "leaving us an example that we should follow His steps." The lessons which His sufferings ought to teach us:
1. We should learn from them to submit ourselves in every condition of life with an unreserved obedience to the will of the Almighty.
2. We should learn from our Lord's conduct never to despair of the loving kindness of our Heavenly Father, but to rely upon His unfailing goodness; to look to Him for succour and relief; and to feel assured that, if He see not fit to remove our cause of sorrow, He will, in His infinite mercy, answer our prayers for assistance, by vouchsafing to our souls the ability to support it.
3. We should learn humility from the example of our Saviour's sufferings.
4. We should learn from our Lord's example the extent of that Christian love which, as His disciples, we are bound to bear our fellow creatures. Our Lord suffered for us. He exhibited, in dying for us, the fulness of that brotherly charity with which our hearts should glow towards each other. He condemned every affection which emanates from a selfish and ungenerous source, by His willing immolation of Himself for the sins of the world that had condemned Him. His thus dying for us teaches us not only the value we ought to set upon our own salvation, but the value we ought to set upon the salvation of others.
(W. Harness, M. A.)
I. WHY WE NEED SUCH AN EXAMPLE AT ALL. Let us ask ourselves what it is which makes human nature radically different from that of any of the creatures that surround us. The great characteristic of man is the possession of free will. The growth of the human body indeed is as little within man's control as is that of an animal. But human character, and so much of the bodily life as bears on character, is as much under our control as are the canvas and the colours under that of a painter. Our passions, our inclinations, our thoughts, our sympathies, our antipathies, our habits, are at the disposal of our wills; we are what we have gradually made ourselves. Man, then, is an artist. And as an artist he needs not merely the material out of which to mould some expression of thought, but an example, an ideal, to copy. It may indeed be asked whether it will not do as well to obey a precept as to copy an example. Example, it is said, is vague; precept is explicit. Precept is active; it seeks you out and addresses you. Example is passive; it lets you imitate if you will. Example merely says, "This may be done because it has been done." Precept says, "Do it." No, you especially who, as parents or masters, are responsible for influence on others; assuredly, no. Example goes further than precept. Precept leads us to the foot of a precipitous mountain, and it cries, "Scale that height." But example whispers: "Mark what I do, and then do it; it cannot be hard for you since it is easy for me, Look how I step over that crevice, and rest on this projecting foothold, and tread lightly and quickly along that insecure bit of the path. Watch me; keep close to me. Then all will be well in the end."
II. We do then need an example, and OUR LORD HAS SATISFIED THIS NEED OF OUR NATURE AND COMPLETELY. In Him we have before us an example which is unique. He passed through life in the humblest circumstances: yet He belongs to the human race. He alone in the world is the universal man; He is the one man who corresponds to that ideal of humanity of which there are traces in the minds of all of us; He is the great example.
1. That which strikes us, first of all, in the example which He has left us, is its faultlessness. We are startled by His own sense of this. He never utters one word to the Father or to man which implies the consciousness of a defect. "I do always those things that please the Father." "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me." Was this an illusion, or did it correspond with the fact? He was surrounded by jealous observers. He could reckon on no forbearance, no generosity, no equity, in His opponents. Yet He passed their criticism unscathed. "Which of you," He could say, "convinceth Me of sin?" And there was silence. In this sinlessness He is, although our model, yet beyond our full reach of imitation. The best of men knows that in his best moments he is beset by motives, or thoughts, or inclinations, from which Christ was utterly free. But this does not destroy, it rather enhances, the value of our Lord's example. In all departments of thought and work, the ideal is, strictly speaking, unattainable by man; yet man should never lose sight of it.
2. We are struck by the balance and proportion of excellences in our Lord's human character. As a rule, if a man possesses some one excellence in an unusual degree, he will be found to exhibit some fault or shortcoming in an opposite direction. Our finite and fallen nature exhausts itself by an effort in a single direction; it would almost seem bound to atone for a temporary success by some compensating failure. Of this want of balance in excellence, of this exaggeration in particular forms of excellence which entails an accompanying defect, there is no trace in our Lord. Read His life over and over again, with this point in view; and nothing will strike you more than its faultless proportions. In so vast a field, take one illustration out of many: the balance which He keeps between severity and tenderness.
3. Consider again a feature which runs through His whole character: its simplicity. In nothing that He says or does can we detect any trace of contrivance or of aiming at effect. He takes the illustrations which come ready to His hand, or which meet His eye: the birds of the air, the rain, the red and lowering sky, the lily, the grain of mustard seed, the corn, the ruined tower of Siloam. On these He grafts this or that fragment of eternal truth. We cannot enrich His teaching by any additions. Our crude efforts could not but disfigure its incomparable beauty. As with His words, so is it with His actions. He acts with a view to the glory of God the Father, and with a view to nothing else. Hence a directness and transparency in His conduct, which we feel in every detail of it.
4. One further point to be remarked in our Lord's example is the stress which it lays upon those forms of excellence which make no great show, such as patience, humility, meekness, and the like. As we read the gospels, we are led to see that the highest type of human excellence consists less in acting well than in suffering well. It is this side of His example of which St. Peter is thinking as being so useful to the Christian slaves to whom for the moment he is writing (ver 23). Christ had before Him a purpose of infinite beneficence; that of recovering man to God and to endless happiness. Yet in carrying it out He met with scorn, resistance, hatred, persecution. Yet no unkind or impatient word falls from Him. He bears in silence the contradiction of sinners against Himself. He prays, "Father, forgive them." He is obedient unto death. "Leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps." "Yes," it is said, "it is a beautiful, a transcendental picture; and if Christ were merely man, we might perhaps imitate Him! But then He is God as well as man; and this seems to remove Him from the category of beings whom man can imitate. His theological glory in the fourth gospel is fatal to His moral value as a human model in the first three." The difference between Jesus Christ and ourselves is indeed infinite; it is the difference between the Creator and the creature. And yet He is also truly man; and for the purposes of imitation the truth of His manhood secures all that we require. For the purposes of imitation, He is practically not more out of our reach than is a father of great genius and goodness out of the reach of his child. Certainly we cannot imitate Jesus Christ when He heals the sick, or raises the dead. But we can enter into and cherish the spirit of those high works of mercy. We can do the natural kindnesses which are akin to them. And there are deeds and words of His which we can copy in the letter as well as the spirit. Indeed, the objection has been already solved by the experience of eighteen centuries. The imitation of Christ is the perpetual source of saintly effort in the Church of Christ. Generation follows generation, looking unto Jesus. One man says, I will imitate His patience; and another, I will copy His humility; and a third, I would practise, though afar off, His obedience; and a fourth, His love for men; and another, His simplicity; and another, His benevolence; and another, His perpetual communion with the Father; and another, His renunciation of His Own will. When one point is gained, others follow. Thus, little by little, "Christ is formed," in the characters of His servants. This imitation of our Lord is not a duty which we are free to accept or decline. "The elect," says St. Paul, "are predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son of God." If there is no effort at conformity, there is no true note of predestination. A devoted layman of the Church of England said on his deathbed, that, on reviewing his life, the omission which he chiefly deplored was that he had not made a daily effort to study and imitate Jesus Christ as He is described in the gospels. Is not this a common omission even with serious Christians? Should we not do what we may, while yet we may, thus to follow in the footsteps of the Perfect Man?
I. AN UNCONSCIOUS AND INDIRECT EVIDENCE OF THIS IS THE FREQUENT USE OF THE TERM "CHRISTLIKE" AS AN EPITHET DESCRIPTIVE OF THE NOBLEST TYPE OF HUMAN CHARACTER.
II. THE ESSENTIAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE MORALITY WHICH THE WORLD PROFESSES TO HONOUR AND THAT OF THE GOSPEL, IS TO BE FOUND IN THE ENDEAVOUR OF THE LATTER TO REFLECT THE MIND OF CHRIST AS IT ACTUALLY EXISTS. I do not mean, of course, the morality of pure selfishness — if it be worthy the name of morality at all — which is all that numbers would acknowledge, but that which is cultivated by those who would develop a character higher than the Christian — the morality of the "Religion of Humanity," and of those who hang on its outskirts, approaching more or less nearly to its ideas. What is it, and how does it differ from that which the Church of Christ commends to the acceptance of men? It is clear that up to a certain point there is no outward difference. The law of truth, righteousness, sobriety is common to both. Further, the morality outside the Church is different from that which was in the world before the gospel, in that it has incorporated with its precept that law of gentleness, mercy, self-forgetfulness which was first set before men in the life of the Lord Jesus. Here, then, is likeness so great, that there are some only too eager to conclude that they are the same. These are the graces for which we seek lofty aims, pure desires, gentle thoughts, loving deeds. What can Christianity do more? Alas! has it not failed even to do as much? Without entering at length into the controversy here, it is at all events clear to those who will look beneath the surface, that this is not Christianity. The characteristic of the Lord was that the zeal of God's house had eaten Him up. In other words, the central idea of His life was to please God. It would be misleading in the very highest degree to describe a life out of which this ruling idea of the Saviour's conduct, this inspiration of His whole being, was omitted as Christlike. The difference is an essential one. It goes to the root of the whole being, affects every motive, touches every principle, regulates the whole ambition of the soul.
III. ONE OF THE FIRST AND MOST FREQUENT CHARGES AGAINST THE TEACHING OF THE CHURCH IS, THAT IT ENCOURAGES A SELFISH TYPE OF RELIGION. A grave impeachment this, and one which, if sustained, certainly indicates a separation from the spirit of Christ. It is a mere truism to say that there is no feature more prominent in His entire ministry than that of unselfishness. The one ruling thought of His life on earth was the salvation of others, and the sacrifice of Himself for this end. And as with His life, so with His teaching; it was full of emphatic warnings repeated against selfishness. This certainly, is lost sight of in too many of the current representations as to the nature of salvation. How often is the stress of exhortation laid upon happiness, whether here or hereafter, rather than upon holiness as the supreme object of Christian endeavour! Nay, how often is the idea of salvation almost restricted to this one point of deliverance from the wrath of God and the sentence of the law!
IV. IN THE DISTINCTNESS AND PROMINENCE GIVEN TO THE THOUGHT, THAT THE OBJECT OF THE GOSPEL IS TO CHANGE THE CONDITION OF MEN ONLY BY A CHANGE AMOUNTING TO AN ENTIRE RENEWAL OF HEART IN THE MEN THEMSELVES, IS TO BE SOUGHT THE TRUE ANSWER TO THE SUGGESTION THAT THE CHURCH IS ONLY FOSTERING A HIGHER TYPE OF SELFISHNESS. Looked at thus, salvation is the richest blessing which can be conferred upon man. It means salvation from himself — from the evil heart of unbelief which makes him depart from the living God; but which also places him in selfish antagonism to his fellowmen; from the sway of passions which scorn all restraints of right and duty; from the curse of a restless, discontented, repining, ambitious heart. The effect of a work like that can be only to purify and ennoble the character. Its polar star is no longer happiness but duty, and duty defined for it by its understanding of the will of God.
V. THE QUESTION WHICH IS OF GRAVE AND CRITICAL IMPORTANCE, IS WHETHER THE CHURCH IS EARNESTLY WORKING TO THIS IDEAL, AND SEEKING TO ENFORCE IT UPON MEN. It is not to be denied that there are those whose only desire is for safety, and who wish to secure even that at the least possible cost, and that they do very much to awaken the prejudices of men by the representation they give of Christian life. It is, in truth, little better than a ghastly caricature. They are not distinguished from others by nobility of character, generosity of spirit, tenderness of heart, active and sympathetic charity. They are not courageous in their assertion of principle, still less are they foremost in the exposure and condemnation of wrong. They have not keen instincts of justice, still less have they strong impulses of benevolence. If they try to reach the average standard of service, they never exhibit a spirit of self-denying devotion. Yet with all this there may be unctuous words on their lips, and occasionally an apparent spiritual excitement. But the conscience is not sensitive; the heart is not tender; perhaps there is not an intelligent conception of what religion ought to be. If we could probe their principles and motives, we should probably find that they had accepted the selfish conception of religion. They want to be sure for eternity, and they endeavour to obtain this assurance by a rigid conformity to their ideas of the Divine requirements. It is from professors of this type, who are not so uncommon as we should desire, that unbelievers take their conceptions of the Christian ideal. "These," they would say, "are your saints. In what are they better than those whom they would describe as sinners? They may seek a different kind of happiness, but the one class is as selfish in its views and aims as the other. If this be Christianity, there is in it nothing to awaken our reverence or constrain our faith." The only answer that can be found is the exhibition of a different spirit. It is for us to meet, by publishing the gospel of the kingdom that Christ died, rose, and lives again, that He may be the Lord both of the dead and living; that they only eat of the tree of life who keep His commandments; that the test of discipleship is obedience, conformity to the example He has given, that we may follow in His steps.
(J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
1. I begin with the general observation, that real greatness of character, greatness of the highest order, far from being repulsive and discouraging, is singularly accessible and imitable, and, instead of severing a being from others, fits him to be their friend and model. Greatness is not a secret, solitary principle, working by itself and refusing participation, but frank and open hearted, so large in its views, so liberal in its feelings, so expansive in its purposes, so beneficent in its labours, as naturally and necessarily to attract sympathy and cooperation. It is selfishness that repels men; and true greatness has not a stronger characteristic than its freedom from every selfish taint. A superior mind, enlightened and kindled by just views of God and of the creation, regards its gifts and powers as so many bonds of union with other beings, as given it, not to nourish self-elation, but to be employed for others, and still more to be communicated to others. I know not in history an individual so easily comprehended as Jesus Christ, for nothing is so intelligible as sincere, disinterested love. I know not any being who is so fitted to take hold on all orders of minds; and accordingly He drew after Him the unenlightened, the publican, and the sinner. It is a sad mistake, then, that Jesus Christ is too great to allow us to think of intimacy with Him, and to think of making Him our standard.
2. Let me confirm this truth by another order of reflections. You tell me that Jesus Christ is so high that He cannot be your model; I grant the exaltation of His character. I believe Him to be a more than human being. But on this account He is not less a standard, nor is He to discourage us, but on the contrary to breathe into us a more exhilarating hope; for though so far above us, He is still one of us, and is only an illustration of the capacities which we all possess. This is a great truth. Let me strive to unfold it. Perhaps I cannot better express my views, than by saying that I regard all minds as of one family. When we speak of higher orders of beings, of angels and archangels, we are apt to conceive of distinct kinds or races of beings, separated from us and from each other by impassable barriers. But it is not so. There is no such partition in the spiritual world as you see in the material. All minds are essentially of one origin, one nature, kindled from one Divine flame, and are all tending to one centre, one happiness. I am not only one of the human race; I am one of the great intellectual family of God. There is no spirit so exalted, with which I have not common thoughts and feelings. That conception, which I have gained, of one universal Father, whose love is the fountain and centre of all things, is the dawn of the highest and most magnificent views in the universe; and if I look up to this being with filial love, I have the spring and beginning of the noblest sentiments and joys which are known in the universe. No greatness therefore of a being separates me from Him, or makes Him unapproachable by me. The mind of Jesus Christ and your mind are of one family; nor was there anything in His, of which you have not the principle, the capacity, the promise in yourself. This is the very impression which He intends to give. The relation which He came to establish between Himself and mankind, was not that of master and slave, but that of friends. We read too these remarkable words in His prayer for His disciples, "I have given to them the glory Thou gavest Me"; and I am persuaded that there is not a glory, a virtue, a power, a joy, possessed by Jesus Christ, to which His disciples will not successively rise. In the spirit of these remarks, the apostle says, "Let the same mind be in you which was also in Christ." I have said that, all minds being of one family, the greatness of the mind of Christ is no discouragement to our adoption of Him as our model. I now observe, that there is one attribute of mind, to which I have alluded, that should particularly animate us to propose to ourselves a sublime standard, as sublime as Jesus Christ. I refer to the principle of growth in human nature. Our faculties are germs, and given for an expansion, to which nothing authorises us to set bounds. The soul bears the impress of illimitableness, in the unquenchable thirst, which it brings with it into being, for a power, knowledge, happiness, which it never gains, and which always carry it forward into futurity. When I consider this principle or capacity of the human soul, I cannot restrain the hope which it awakens. The partition walls which imagination has reared between men and higher orders of beings vanish. I no longer see aught to prevent our becoming whatever was good and great in Jesus on earth. In truth I feel my utter inability to conceive what a mind is to attain which is to advance forever. To encourage these thoughts and hopes, our Creator has set before us delightful exemplifications, even now, of this principle of growth both in outward nature and in the human mind. We meet them in nature. Suppose you were to carry a man, wholly unacquainted with vegetation, to the most majestic tree in our forests, and, whilst he was admiring its extent and proportions, suppose you should take from the earth at its root a little downy substance, which breath might blow away, and say to him, that tree was once such a seed as this; it was wrapt up here; it once lived only within these delicate fibres, this narrow compass. With what incredulous wonder would he regard you. Such growth we witness in nature. A nobler hope we Christians are to cherish; and still more striking examples of the growth of mind are set before us in human history. We wonder, indeed, when we are told that one day we shall be as the angels of God. I apprehend that as great a wonder has been realised already on the earth. I apprehend that the distance between the mind of Newton and of a Hottentot may have been as great as between Newton and an angel. There is another view still more striking. This Newton, who lifted his calm, sublime eye to the heavens, and read, among the planets and the stars, the great law of the material universe, was, forty or fifty years before, an infant, without one clear perception, and unable to distinguish his nurse's arm from the pillow on which he slept. Has not man already traversed as wide a space as separates him from angels? And why must he stop? There is no extravagance in the boldest anticipation. We may truly become one with Christ, a partaker of that celestial mind. Let us make Him our constant model. I know not that the doctrine, now laid down, is liable but to one abuse. It may unduly excite susceptible minds, and impel to a vehemence of hope and exertion, unfavourable in the end to the very progress which is proposed. To such I would say, hasten to conform yourselves to Christ, but hasten according to the laws of your nature. As the body cannot, by the concentration of its whole strength into one bound, scale the height of a mountain, neither can the mind free every obstacle and achieve perfection by an agony of the will. Continuous, patient effort, guided by wise deliberation, is the true means of spiritual progress. In religion, as in common life, mere force or vehemence will prove a fallacious substitute for the sobriety of wisdom.
3. The doctrine which I have chiefly laboured to maintain in this discourse, that minds are all of one family, are all brethren, and may be more and more nearly united to God, seems to me to have been felt peculiarly by Jesus Christ; and if I were to point out the distinction of His greatness, I should say it lay in this. He felt His superiority, but He never felt as if it separated Him from mankind, He saw in every human being a mind which might wear His own brightest glory. I insist on this view of His character, not only to encourage us to aspire after a likeness to Jesus; I consider it as peculiarly fitted to call forth love towards Him. With these views I feel that, though ascended to heaven, He is not gone beyond the reach of our hearts; that He has now the same interest in mankind as when He entered their dwellings; and that there is no being so approachable, none with whom such unreserved intercourse is to be enjoyed in the future world. I exhort you with calmness, but earnestness, to adopt Jesus Christ as your example, with the whole energy of your wills. Let not the false views of Christianity which prevail in the world, seduce you into the belief that Christ can bless you in any other way than by assimilating you to His own virtue, than by breathing into you His own mind. Do not imagine that any faith or love towards Jesus can avail you, but that which quickens you to conform yourselves to His spotless purity and unconquerable rectitude. Settle it as an immovable truth, that neither in this world nor in the next can you be happy, but in proportion to the sanctity and elevation of your characters.
(W. E. Channing.)
1. Of one end of Christ in suffering: that He might leave us an example.
2. They were remarkable steps that Christ took when He was here in the days of His flesh. And among them all He did not take one wrong one.
3. The steps of Christ are to be followed. Our Lord did whatsoever became Him, and exactly "fulfilled all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15).
4. Here is a special intimation of a Christian's duty patiently to bear injuries, and to take up the Cross.
5. The sufferings of Christ and His example being joined together in the text, here is a signification that by His death He has purchased grace to enable us to follow His example.
I. PREMISE SOME THINGS BY WAY OF CAUTION.
1. Think not, as long as you remain in this world, to be altogether free from sin as Christ was.
2. Think not that Christ in all His actions is to be imitated. There are royalties belonging to Him, which none must invade. He alone is judge and lawgiver in Zion.
3. Think not that your obedience can be meritorious, as Christ's was.
4. Think not that your greatest sufferings for the sake of righteousness are in the least expiatory of sin, as Christ's were.
II. IN WHAT RESPECTS CHRIST IS AN EXAMPLE TO BE FOLLOWED.
3. In His resisting and overcoming the prince of dark ness (Matthew 4:1-11).
4. In His contempt of the world's glory, and contentment with a mean and low estate in it (Luke 4:5, 6).
10. In His sufferings and death (Hebrews 12:2).
III. SOME ARGUMENTS TO PERSUADE TO THE IMITATION OF OUR LORD JESUS.
2. Remember the relation wherein you that are saints do stand unto the Lord Jesus. "You are members of His body" (Ephesians 5:30). There fore you "should grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ" (Ephesians 4:15).
3. Consider that God did foreordain you that are believers m a conformity to the Lord Jesus (Romans 8:29).
5. Your following the example of Christ very much honours Him, and credits Christianity (Colossians 3:1).
IV. SOME DIRECTIONS HOW YOU MAY BE ABLE TO FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF OUR LORD JESUS.
1. Let your unlikeness to Christ be matter of your great humiliation.
2. Study more the admirable excellency and fairness of the copy which Christ has set you, and how desirable it is still to be growing up more and more into Him in all things.
4. Give up yourselves to the conduct of Christ's own Spirit (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29).
(N. Vincent, M. A.)I. THE LIFE OF OUR BLESSED SAVIOUR IS A MOST ABSOLUTE AND PERFECT PATTERN OF HOLINESS AND GOODNESS, complete and entire in all its parts, and perfect to the utmost degree, in the following whereof there is no danger of being misguided, whereas all other examples of mortal men are fallible and uncertain guides.
II. As the life of our blessed Saviour is a most perfect, so likewise IT IS A FAMILIAR AND EASY EXAMPLE. The Divine nature is the great pattern of perfection; but that is too remote from us, and above our sight; therefore God hath been pleased to condescend so far to our weakness, as to give us a visible example of those virtues He requires of us in "His own Son, appearing in the likeness of sinful flesh," practised in such instances, and upon such occasions as do frequently happen in human life.
III. The life of our blessed Saviour is likewise AN ENCOURAGING EXAMPLE. It cannot but give great life to all good resolutions and endeavours, to see all that which God requires of us performed by one in our nature, by a man like ourselves.
IV. IT IS AN UNIVERSAL PATTERN. As the doctrine of our Saviour, so His example was of an universal nature and design, calculated for all times and places.
1. It is a pattern of the greatest and most substantial virtues: piety, obedience, purity and innocence, universal charity.
2. He was a pattern of the most rare and unusual virtues: sincerity, humility, contempt of the world, kindness and benignity.
3. The life of our blessed Saviour is likewise a pattern of such virtues as are most useful and beneficial to others. In His readiness to do good to all persons and all kinds; by instructing their ignorance, and supplying their wants, spiritual and temporal; by resolving their doubts, and comforting them in their sorrows. And then in His seeking opportunities for it, not content with those that offered themselves, and in His unwearied diligence in this work.
4. Our Saviour is likewise a pattern to us of such virtues as are most hard and difficult to be practised, such as are most against the grain of our corrupt nature, and most contrary to flesh and blood. Christ denied His own life, and gave up Himself wholly to the will of God (John 5:33; John 6:38; Matthew 26:39, 42). He denied His own will also in condescension to the prejudices and infirmities of men for their edification and good (Romans 15:2, 3). He denied Himself, in the lawful pleasures and satisfactions, in the ease and accommodations of life: He lived meanly, and fared hardly. And He denied Himself likewise in one of the dearest things in the world, to the greatest minds, I mean in point of reputation: "He made Himself of no reputation" (Philippians 2:7). But that which I shall particularly take notice of, under this head, is His great meekness.
5. Our Saviour is likewise a pattern to us of the most needful virtues, and for the practice whereof there is the greatest and most frequent occasion in human life.(1) The great humanity of His carriage and deportment, of which He gave manifold instances, in His free and familiar conversation with all sorts of people. He did not despise the meanest.(2) Another very needful virtue, and for which our Lord was very eminent, was His disregard of the opinion of men, in comparison of His duty.(3) Another virtue for which there is great occasion in human life, and for which our Lord was very remarkable, was His contentedness in a mean and poor condition; and such was His condition to the very lowest degree.(4) The last virtue I shall instance in, and for the exercise whereof there is very great and frequent occasion in human life, is patience under sufferings, and such a perfect resignation of ourselves to the will of God, that whatever pleaseth Him should please us, how distasteful and grievous soever it be. And of this virtue our blessed Saviour was the greatest example that ever was.
V. OUR LORD'S EXAMPLE IS IN THE NATURE OF IT VERY POWERFUL, TO ENGAGE AND OBLIGE ALL MEN TO THE IMITATION OF IT. It is almost equally calculated for persons of all capacities and conditions, for the wise and the weak, for those of high and low degree; for all men are alike concerned to be happy. And the imitation of this example is the most effectual means we can use to compass this great and universal end; nay, it is not only the means, but the end, the best and most essential part of it. To be like our Lord, is to be as good as it is possible for men to be; and goodness is the highest perfection that any being is capable of; and the perfection of every being is its happiness. His life was even and of one tenour, quiet, and without noise and tumult, always employed about the same work, in doing the things which pleased God, and were of greatest benefit and advantage to men. Who would not write after such a copy. This pattern, which our religion proposeth to us, is the example of one whom we ought to reverence, and whom we have reason to love above any person in the world. Yet farther, it is the example of our best friend and greatest benefactor.
(Abp. Tillotson.)1. In the object of His life.
2. In the standard of His practice.
3. In His commerce and connection with the world.
4. In His condition of life.
5. In His sorrows and joys.
(J. Cumming, D. D.)1. Wholly.
(J. Cumming, D. D.)1. It is worthy of observation that in the public services of our church we offer petitions for the literal granting of which we can scarcely dare took. We desire of God, for example, "that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger"; and again, we beseech of Him to "vouchsafe to keep us this day without sin"; but there is not one of us who will presume to say that he ever passes a day without sin. It would argue the want of a real hatred of sin, and would therefore be highly dishonouring to God, to pray to be kept only from a certain degree of transgression, just as though any other degree might be allowed or overlooked. Besides, we cannot be ignorant that humility is at the root of all Christian graces, and that what encourages pride is most injurious to piety. Suppose, then, we were required to imitate a pattern which might be equalled, and is it not certain that as the resemblance seemed to grow, we should feel increasing self-complacency? The fine result of copying an imitable model is, that the vast distance at which we stand from perfection forbids our feeling proud of success. The advance appears nothing, when compared with the space which yet remains to be traversed. Oh! it is practically one of the most splendid things in Christianity, that it fixes our efforts on a model so immeasurably above us, that we have never time to calculate whether or not others are beneath us. We can never repose complacently on what we are; we must always find cause of humiliation in what we are not.
2. We have to go somewhat farther. You may say that whatever the evil consequences of erecting a low standard, there must be much that is disheartening in the copying a model which is confessedly inimitable. On the contrary, we argue, in the second place, that there is everything to encourage us in the fact that the standard cannot be reached; for it certainly is not essential to the suitableness of our example, that it is one whose excellence we may hope to overtake. This would be making our power of imitation, and not noble and beautiful qualities, the guide in selecting an example. It will not be questioned that a faultless work of art, if such there could be, can be only the best model for an artist, and yet the artist may not expect to produce what is faultless. Why is there to be introduced any different rule into the nobler science of moral imitation? Encouragement will depend mainly on the probability of improvement; and this probability being greater with a perfect than with an imperfect model, it follows that we have more cause to feel encouraged in imitating Christ, whom we cannot reach, than one of our fellow men, whom we might perhaps surpass. What the painter seeks is improvement in painting; what the orator seeks is improvement in oratory, and therefore each is anxious to study the prime master in the art. What the Christian seeks is improvement in spiritual graces, and he will gain more from copying Christ, in whom those graces were perfect, than by imitating any saint in whom they were necessarily defective. I know indeed what you may urge in objection to our statement. You may tell us that our illustrations are at fault; that the painter and the orator cherish a secret hope of equalling their models, and that hence they have an encouragement which is not afforded to the Christian. The Christian is not, then, sustained as is the painter or the orator, by the hope, however vague, of reaching, if not exceeding the standard; and the want, you say, of this stimulus, forbids our illustrating the one case by the other. But even if we allow that thorough accuracy of resemblance ought not at least to appear hopeless, we can still plead for the advantageousness of our being set to imitate Christ. Accuracy of resemblance is not hopeless. "Beloved," said St. John, "now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." "As, then, we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." So that as a Christian looks onward to the future he has more to encourage him than the dim possibility which you appeal to as stimulating the painter or the orator. His is the noble, the inspiring certainty, that however slowly, and however painfully goes forward now the imitative work, a day has to dawn, when, fashioned into perfect conformity to the model, he shall be presented unto God "without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing." He labours, therefore, as one who knows that his labour is "not in vain in the Lord." We exhort you, then, to the imitation of Christ, assuring you, that the more you strive to acquire the resemblance, the more will you make sure of your calling and election, and the more frequent and delightful will be your foretastes of the joys which shall hereafter be awarded to the faithful. It is not indeed by your own skill or by your own energy that you may look to effect conformity to Jesus; but by the Holy Ghost, that Divine Agent whose special office it is to renew man after the lost image of his Maker.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
1. A perfect example must be sinless. Christ is not a mere fragment of a man. Men have peered into the life of Christ, bringing microscopic criticism to bear upon its minutest details, but have failed to discover a single fault. Voltaire tried, and failed; Strauss has tried, and Renan. They have all failed, and many of them were men whose genius was sufficiently creative in its character to discover faults where there were no faults; but in the case of Christ they found no sin. And yet Christ was no recluse.
2. It was not sufficient that the life be a sinless one — difficulties must be overcome; that must be a characteristic of the perfect man, the great example of humanity. Now, there are the angels. An angel is perfect, but has not overcome difficulties. Could anyone conceive of any combination of circumstances in which the anguish could be so keen, in which the suffering could be so intense, difficulties so insuperable as those which Christ experienced and overcame?
3. A perfect example must be more than an example: it must hold out pardon for the past. We cannot forgive ourselves. Our past is so sinful that we falter before it. Robertson has said that man can afford to forgive himself if Jesus Christ can afford to forgive him! That is right; that is true. It is possible to break the links connecting the man with the old life and to restart in a heavenly direction by the aid of the Holy Spirit of God.
4. The Christ of the gospel is a living Christ. That is the foundation of the gospel. It would not pay me to preach philosophy to you, if I could do so. I would not preach poetry without a living Christ; I would not preach doctrine to you without a living Christ. The Bible would not be worth anything for the purpose of preaching but that it contains a living Christ. The atonement would be valueless except for a living Christ.
(T. C. Edwards.)I. THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST ARE AN EXAMPLE TO HIS FOLLOWERS, AS THEY WERE AN ILLUSTRATION OF HIS INNOCENCE.
II. THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST ARE AN EXAMPLE TO HIS FOLLOWERS, AS THEY WERE A DISPLAY OF PATIENCE AND MAGNANIMITY.
III. THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST ARE AN EXAMPLE TO HIS FOLLOWERS, AS THEY WERE A DISPLAY OF PIETY.
IV. THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST ARE AN EXAMPLE TO HIS FOLLOWERS, AS THEY WERE A DISPLAY OF GOOD AFFECTIONS.
(G. Hill, D. D.)
(C. R. Maturin.)
1. The first feature of this kind which we take notice of is His piety to God. His temper was ever calm and peaceful, such as might naturally be expected within a mind rejoicing in those blessed exercises whose natural effect is not to sour and corrupt the heart, but to improve its most excellent feelings, to mould it to the image and likeness of that God whom we adore, to render it merciful, and generous, and humane, like Him who is the great source of love.
2. Another very capital feature in the character of the Redeemer was His contempt of the pomp and vanities of life. Put on His humility, and it shall clothe thee.
3. Another most important feature in this illustrious character was the ardour of His benevolence. From Him no calamity departed unrelieved, no suppliant who did not receive the requested boon.
4. The last feature of His great character which we take notice of at present was His meekness and patience. If His character is not distinguished by those specious and dazzling qualities which are often most dangerous and detrimental to the world, but which excite the wonder of unthinking men, it exhibits ornaments infinitely more real, and recommends to our imitation qualities more truly great and generous.
(John Main, D. D.)
Homilist.I. CHRIST THE PERFECT IDEAL OF SUBMISSION, AMIDST THE MOST APPALLING CONFLICTS OF LIFE.
II. CHRIST THE PERFECT IDEAL OF OBEDIENCE TO DUTY, AMIDST THE STRONGEST COUNTER INFLUENCES.
III. CHRIST THE PERFECT IDEAL OF UNSELFISH LOVE, AMIDST INTENSEST SELFISHNESS. The mother, pale with incessant vigils by the bedside of a sick child, exhibits unselfish love. Howard, dying of fever caught in dungeons where he was following after his Divine ideal, presents to us a picture of love. But it would be easier to measure the heavens with a span, or weigh the mountains in scales, than to fully portray Christ's love.
(Homilist.)I. MISTAKES MADE CONNECTED WITH IT. Imitating the out ward actions only. Failing to see the essential connection between the outward act and the inward principle. What is visible is but a portion of the deed. Some try to imitate Christ to procure a justifying righteousness. Others endeavour to imitate Christ to become like Him. To walk in Christ's steps we must be possessed by Christ's spirit.
II. IMITATE HIM IS THE RENUNCIATION OF SELF.
III. IMITATE HIM IN HIS CONSECRATION TO GOD.
IV. IMITATE HIM IN HIS DEPENDENCE UPON HIS FATHER.
(E. H. Hopkins.)I. THE TEXT FIXES THE ABSOLUTE STANDARD FOR THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. Christ is the Christian's example. The word translated "example," found nowhere else in the New Testament, means, first of all, a writing copy such as is given to a child learning to write. The standard for the measurement and aim of the Christian life is therefore —
1. Christ, and not the best human life.
2. Christ, and not distorted representations of Him. Christ as revealed in the simple clearness of the Gospels.
3. Christ, and not the high tide mark of present day Christianity. A subtle evil, into which all are in danger of falling, is to feel that to be as good as others is to be good enough.
II. THE TEXT POINTS OUT THE PRACTICAL MEANING OF CHRIST'S LIFE FOR US. The word "example" — copy — appeals to the universal faculty of imitation. A great factor in all education. Christ did not live for the purpose of winning admiration or applause. To imitate is more than to adore.
III. STRENGTH FOR AND PROGRESS IN THIS IMITATION OF CHRIST WILL COME TO THOSE WHO ARE CONSTANTLY IN HIS PRESENCE. Where the child puts its copy before it, there we may put Christ. In His presence we get strength to become like Him. Things in contact assimilate, the stronger predominating. Things in touch are reliant, the weaker on the stronger.
(J. D. Thomas.)
1. One reason for this is that God does not bestow upon all His children the same gifts, the same natural qualities. Life is not minted as gold is. Grace does not transform Peter into a John, nor Paul into a Barnabas, nor Luther into a Melancthon. It makes them all like Christ in holiness, but it does not touch those features which give to each his personal identity. You drop twenty different seeds in the same garden bed, and they spring up into twenty different kinds of plants, from the delicate mignonette to the flaunting sunflower. In like manner each believer grows up into his own peculiar self. Regeneration neither adds to nor takes from our natural gifts.
2. Another reason for this diversity among Christians is because even the best and holiest saints realise but a little of the image of Christ, have only one little fragment of His likeness in their souls. The reason is that the character of Christ is so great, so majestic, that it is impossible to copy all of it into any one little human life; and again, each human character is so imperfect and limited that it cannot reach out in all directions after the infinite character of Christ. It is as if a great company of artists were sent to paint each one a picture of the Alps. Each chooses his own point of observation, and selects the particular feature of the Alps he desires to paint. They all bring back their pictures; but lo! no two of them are alike. The truth is, the Alps as a whole are too varied, too vast, for any one artist to take into his perspective, and paint upon his canvas. The best he can do is to portray some one or two features — the features his eye can see from where he stands. And Christ is too great in His infinite perfection, in the many sidedness of His beauty, for any one of His finite followers to copy the whole of His image into his own little life. The most that any of us can do is to get into our own soul one little fragment of the wonderful likeness of our Lord.
(J. R. Miller, D. D.)
1. An ideal must be definite. Many men mistake an idea for an ideal. And many lives are wasted because they are lived running after ideas which evade their grasp, and slip from their hold, and lack definiteness.
2. An ideal must be universal. This is what humanity craves. An ideal ought to be a bond of union. Alas! too often an ideal separates. Men choose each his own ideal and go their way, too busy to think of, or care for, or help their struggling comrades.
3. An ideal must be perfect. It is in this the danger of ideals consists. The man must have an ideal, and in his haste and lack of right judgment he oftentimes selects that which is unworthy. What is the consequence? It drags down the man.
4. And therefore an ideal, just in proportion as it possesses these qualifications, must be final. The restlessness within the man is calmed down and dies away before such an ideal.And in the Christian ideal all these requirements are found brought together. Is it not so?
1. The Christian ideal is definite. It stands out like a snow-capped mountain against the blue sky, its outline distinctly defined, each peak and crag, each chasm and precipice clearly mapped out. The life of the Christ has been lived before men. It is beautifully portrayed for us in the four Gospels. Each inspired artist has viewed it from a somewhat different aspect; each dwells on that part which comes most closely home to him; each puts the Christ before us as he best knew and understood Him. But there is no contradiction. Christ is a reality, not a fancy, a history, not a fiction, a substance, not a shadow. His deeds are familiar to us; His words are recorded for us. Now it is holiness — "Like as He which called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living." Now it is charity — "Walk in love, as Christ also loved you." Now it is patience — "Consider Him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against Himself, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls." Now it is self-denial — "Let each one of us please his neighbour for that which is good, to edifying, for Christ pleased not Himself." Now it is Forgiveness — "Forbearing one another and forgiving each other, even as Christ forgave you."
2. The Christian's ideal is universal. It is not an esoteric religion, such as is the fashion of the day, whose chief recommendation is that it is unintelligible to the many, suited only to the select few, a small circle; it is for all, not for some. Christ is the ideal of all nations. But no people was ever so strong in this sense of nationality as the Jew. And Jesus was a Jew, born of a Jewish mother, brought up in a Jewish home; His environment all through His life was Jewish. Take the picture out of its Jewish frame, place it in Gentile surroundings, and though the frame is changed, the picture is just as attractive and soul inspiring. He is the ideal for all. He is the universal pattern as He is the universal Saviour. Christ is the ideal for all men. He lived the ordinary life of ordinary men and women. Christ is the ideal for all sorts and conditions of men. He was rich — yea, who so rich as He? He was poor, for though He was rich, for our sakes He became poor — yea, He had not where to lay His head. He was learned above the most intellectual of men, for He was the Wisdom of the Father, and they who heard Him were astonished, for He taught as one having authority. He was unlearned, for did they not say of Him, "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" Christ is the ideal for all men in all circumstances of life. We see Him in solitude, in the home, in society. Christ is the ideal for all ages. The child, the boy, the young man just entering life's arena, the matured in body and mind, all find in Him their ideal.
3. The Christian ideal is perfect. Where else shall we find an ideal that can pretend to lay claim to perfection? Not in the heroes of classic times. Not in Socrates, with his grave moral blemishes, Cicero, with his childish vanity, Seneca, with his miserable avarice and cowardice. We shall not find it among the great and good men of Old Testament times. He is perfect, for all virtues are concentrated in Him. He is perfect. This is the well nigh universal testimony of men. And therefore the Christian's ideal is final. We cannot sum it up better than in the pithy words of Renan, "After Jesus there is nothing more but to fructify and develop," or, as a great lay writer says of it, "It comprehends all future history. The moral efforts of all ages will be efforts to realise this character and make it actually as it is potentially universal. Humanity as it advances in excellence will only be approximating to the Christian type. Any divergence from that will not be progress, but debasement and corruption." How shall we explain this perfection? What does this character of the Christ mean? Let these men solve the difficulty if they can, who while they bear witness to His perfection refuse to accept His teaching, or else explain away His words. Our answer rings forth in the words of the Nicene Creed, "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God," or as we sing, "Perfect God and perfect man." This, then, is the Christian's ideal. It is the Christian's duty and privilege to follow and imitate Christ. It is hard, for no mere external resemblance will suffice. Christ is not a model, but an ideal, as has well been said. If He were a model it might be enough for us to copy its outline; but if He be an ideal we must imitate His spirit. It is hard, for the ideal is perfect, and therefore far above out of our reach. The higher we climb, the further the summit seems to be lost in the clouds of eternal perfection. It is hard, but it is not impossible. We can walk in the steps of our great example. How shall this likeness be ours? Little by little, through patience and perseverance. Little by little, for it is nothing less than the formation of character, and the formation of character is always slow and gradual. It is like the growth of a tree with its hard knots, its twisted branches, its smooth twigs. How gradually it has become what it is! How slow the process by which the twig of one year becomes the branch of next year! How shall this likeness be ours? Answer me another question and I will tell you. What is the lever power of the world? It is love, you say. And has love no place in the Christian's efforts to be like Christ? Surely, yes. Think again of that pale, anxious student. He is copying a lifeless face. From the picture there comes no power to inspirit him in his toil. But we are imitating a living, loving Christ. Gaze on His features. Remember He is our sacrifice as well as our ideal.
(C. J. Ridgeway, M. A.)
Reviled not again
Bengel's Life.A person expressing to Bengel his sympathy for him at being so virulently written against, he replied, "You will not regret this when I tell you that such very trials teach me only the better how to gather up and strengthen the testimony of my conscience. I have learnt a good method of cheerfully enduring reproach. I think of the reproachings and revilings which the Son of God has been receiving from the Jews for 1,700 years, and of His wonderful long suffering with them all this while. Thus I learn not to fret at a few relics of the same which may be thrown at me."
Who did no sin, neither was guile found
I. THE MORAL PERFECTION HERE ATTRIBUTED TO CHRIST. Christ "did no sin." This phrase, according to its original conception, means nothing more than harmlessness; and is not understood to comprehend any positive or superior excellence. But as applied to Christ it means a great deal more; and, indeed, it should in every case mean a great deal more, considering what the Divine law prescribes, and what sin is in reference to it. Sin essentially consists in transgressing or refusing obedience to the Divine law. And the law does not merely prohibit many things which we are accustomed to call sinful, it also enjoins many things which we are accustomed to call holy. The injunctions are as much a part of the law as the prohibitions. He who will not relieve the distress of his neighbour when he has it in his power, is as really a sinner as he who wantonly inflicted the injury which called for this expression of kindness. It is only when a moral agent performs every deed which is commanded as well as abstains from every deed which is forbidden, that he can properly be said to have "done no sin." Now, it is in this strict and elevated sense that Christ "did no sin." All the requirements of the law were fulfilled in His character. Nor can the eye of the most scrutinising observer discover in it one feature of nonconformity, or one act of opposition to the will of Him who ruleth over all. There may be particular virtues, or particular modifications and degrees of virtue, of which His life will afford you no instance. These are wanting, however, only for this reason — that in the execution of His appointed work, and in the peculiar sphere in which He was destined to move, no opportunities occurred for practising them. The path of obedience which was assigned to Him was a long and a rugged one, and He walked in it with undeviating steady fastness, and He walked in it to the very end — manifesting from the very commencement to the very termination of His progress an unreserved acquiescence in the demands of God's law. In speaking with approbation of our fellow mortals, we are generally necessitated to fix upon some one leading virtue by which they have distinguished themselves; but with regard to Christ we perceive all the virtues adorning His character, and we feel at a loss in determining to which of them we should give the preeminence. In speaking with approbation of our fellow mortals we are frequently obliged to dwell upon the excellence of their external conduct, and to conceal the principles and motives by which they were influenced. But with regard to Christ, so far as they have been developed to us, the principles on which He proceeded were as Divine, and the motives which impelled Him as disinterested and worthy as the actions themselves. In speaking with approbation of our fellow mortals we must always accompany our eulogium with certain exceptions to their disadvantage — certain shortcomings which detract from the splendour or from the value of the good qualities for which we commend them, or certain vices which counterbalance them and render our commendations less cordial. But with regard to Christ we can discern no such imperfection or demerit. In speaking with approbation of our fellow mortals we are always supposed, even when our laudatory language is most unbounded, to allow that we wish not to be strictly apprehended, and to leave it to be understood that there is need for that charity which seeks not to detect the failings of humanity, and tries to cover them when they are known: but with regard to Christ this charity has no room to operate. Nor is this moral perfection either an imaginary or an exaggerated attribute of Christ. As certainly as we know that He lived and died, so certainly do we know that in His life and in His death He was without sin. For this we have every degree of evidence of which the case admits, or which can be desired to satisfy our minds.
II. LET US NOW MAKE OUR APPLICATION OF THIS TRUTH. It is applicable, as we formerly stated, to various useful purposes.
1. And it serves to confirm our belief in the truth of Christ's mission. This effect is produced in some degree simply by viewing Christ in the light of a person of good principle and of excellent character. He holds Himself out as a witness. It is to the truth of revelation that He gives His testimony, or rather it is His own Divine origin and embassy that He certifies. And therefore in proportion to the confidence that we repose in His general worth will be the credit that we give to what He says respecting Himself, and to the message which He brings from heaven. But the argument comes still closer to us than this. Had the Author of Christianity been an impostor, it is impossible to conceive that He should have been of such holy and unblemished character as we find Him to have been. The depravity of heart which gave birth to such a system of artifice, as in this view He must be supposed to have contrived and published, could not fail to have given birth also to a great variety of crimes and vices. On the supposition that Christ was an impostor, it was no ordinary or harmless deception that He was playing off upon mankind. It was founded on the assumption of Divine power; it pretended to aim at the Divine glory; it affected to promulgate the Divine will; it invoked a solemn and visible manifestation of the Divine presence. And while it thus blasphemed against God, it trifled with the understanding and the affections of man. It called upon him to believe what was not true. Now I ask you if it be possible to reconcile such impiety towards God, and such unfeelingness towards men, with that reverence for God, and that tender compassion towards men by which our Lord was so eminently characterised in every other instance? I ask you, if such light and such darkness, such righteousness and such unrighteousness could possibly dwell together, and operate together, in the mind and in the conduct of the same individual? The answer to all these questions must necessarily be in the negative. Christ cannot be a deceiver as to His gospel, and yet in all other respects without sin. You must either give up the one proposition or the other. There is yet another view to be taken of this point. Christ did more than hold Himself out as a Divine messenger — He held Himself out as standing in a peculiar relation to God, as being His only begotten Son, as having the attributes of Deity, as being one with the Father. With these pretensions His sinfulness, even His commission of one sin, would have been completely inconsistent, and would have rendered them utterly false and groundless. His perfect freedom from sin, therefore, is essential to the proof of His Divine mission. It does hot prove that He was God, for He might have been a creature and yet have been preserved from all unrighteousness by God's almighty power. But as He claimed the honour and asserted the possession of supreme Deity, it was necessary that no unrighteousness should cleave to Him. I have still further to observe that the sinlessness of Christ is to be viewed as a miracle, which establishes the truth of His mission as much as any of the miracles which are usually resorted to for this purpose. And it was not possible for Him to be thus sinless, except by the special interposition of heaven. The laws which govern human nature and human condition were here suspended, as it were, for producing that effect. A person wearing the form of fallen humanity exhibited not a vestige of the weakness and the wickedness by which, in every other case, fallen humanity has been characterised.
2. Let us apply the subject for the purpose of encouraging our dependence upon Christ as the foundation of our hope. The law of God has demands upon us that must be fully satisfied before we can obtain His forgiveness and enjoy His favour, and be admitted into His heavenly presence. It demands punishment, and it demands obedience; and we must suffer the one and yield the other, either in our own persons or by a substitute. We are very apt indeed to trust in our own strength for the justification of which as sinners we stand in need. But a little consideration of what our own strength is, and of the achievement to which we propose to apply it, must satisfy us that such a trust is vain. Our only refuge, then, is in a substitute; and it is the great business of the gospel to reveal this substitute as both willing and able to do for us what we are incompetent to do for ourselves. Now, in order that our faith in Him as our surety, who is to redeem us by His vicarious obedience, may be justified, we must have clear demonstrations of His sufficiency for sustaining that important character. It is with this view especially that Christ is represented so distinctly, and declared so frequently, to be without sin. For supposing Him to have been otherwise, then our belief in His adequacy to the undertaking He had engaged in would have been shaken or destroyed. Let this truth be always present to your minds when you think of Christ as the ground of your acceptance; and especially when you look to His death as the sacrifice of atonement which He offered up for your iniquities, and as the finishing act of that obedience which in your stead He rendered to the law of God. Be not faithless but believing. Let not a sense of your unworthiness and guilt fill your souls with desponding fears and apprehensions. But place unlimited confidence in "the holy one and the just." His sacrifice is faultless. His merit is infinite. His work is perfect.
3. Finally, let us apply the subject for one direction in that course of life which we must pursue as candidates for heaven. Though Christ by His unspotted sacrifice and perfect obedience has renewed our title to life and immortality, yet it is still true that without personal holiness we cannot see the Lord. This character is pointed out to us by the precepts and maxims of the gospel. But we have the additional advantage of having it illustrated and enforced by the example of our Saviour. The exhibition of this example was one, though a subordinate, purpose of His incarnation. He has left it upon record expressly and authoritatively, "that we should follow His steps."
(A. Thomson, D. D.)I. His CONDUCT. "Did no sin."
1. Though tempted severely and continually.
2. Though surrounded by sinful men.
3. Though exposed to poverty of the deepest kind.
4. Though wearing a body subject to infirmities.
II. His CONVERSE. "Neither was guile found."
1. He never disguised His abhorrence of falsehood.
2. He did not promise more than He intended to perform.
3. He did not hide from His followers the consequences of their position.Application: —
1. The purity of Jesus in word and deed should be sought by us.
2. Hereafter we shall be as He was and is.
3. This purity can never be congenial to us until our hearts are regenerated.
(R. A. Griffin.)
Bore our sins in His own body
I. THE BEARING OF ERR SINS by our Lord. Jesus did really bear the sins of His people.
1. How literal is the language! Words mean nothing if substitution is not stated here.
2. Note how personal are the terms here employed! "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body." It was not by delegation, but "His own self," and it was not in imagination, but "in His own body." Observe also the personality from our side of the question, He "bare our sins," that is to say, my sins and your sins. As surely as it was Christ's own self that suffered on the Cross, so truly was it our own sins that Jesus bore in His own body on the tree.
3. This sin bearing on our Lord's part was continual. The passage before us has been forced beyond its teaching by being made to assert that our Lord Jesus bore our sins nowhere but on the Cross, which the words do not say. "The tree" was the place where beyond all other places we see our Lord bearing the chastisement due to our sins; but before this He had felt the weight of the enormous load. The marginal reading, which is perfectly correct, is "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body to the tree." Our Lord carried the burden of our sins up to the tree, and there and then He made an end of it.
4. This sin bearing is final. He bore our sins in His own body on the tree, but He bears them now no more. The sinner and the sinner's Surety are both free, for the law is vindicated, the honour of government is cleared, the substitutionary sacrifice is complete.
II. THE CHANGE IN OUR CONDITION, which the text describes as coming out of the Lord's bearing of our sins. "That we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness."
1. We are henceforth legally dead to the punishment of sin. What a wonderful deliverance for us! Bless the Lord, O my soul!
2. But Peter also means to remind us that, by and through the influence of Christ's death upon our hearts, the Holy Ghost has made us now to be actually "dead to sins": that is to say, we no longer love them, and they have ceased to hold dominion over us. The newborn life within us has no dealings with sin; it is dead to sin. The Greek word here used cannot be fully rendered into English — it signifies "being unborn to sins." We were born in sin, but by the death of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit upon us, that birth is undone, "we are unborn to sins."
3. But our Lord's sin bearing has also brought us into life. Dead to evil according to law, we also live in newness of life in the kingdom of grace. Our Lord's object is "that we should live unto righteousness." Not only are our lives to be righteous, which I trust they are, but we are quickened and made sensitive and vigorous unto righteousness; through our Lord's death we are made quick of eye, and quick of thought, and quick of lip, and quick of heart unto righteousness. Certainly, if the doctrine of His atoning sacrifice does not vivify us, nothing will.
III. THE HEALING OF OUR DISEASES by this death. We were healed, and we remain so. It is not a thing to be done in the future; it has been wrought. Peter describes our disease in the words which compose ver. 25. What was it, then?
1. First, it was brutishness. "Ye were as sheep." Sin has made us so that we are only fit to be compared to beasts, and to those of the least intelligence. We "were as sheep," but we are now men redeemed unto God.
2. We are cured also of the proneness to wander which is so remarkable in sheep. "Ye were as sheep going astray," always going astray, loving to go astray, delighting in it. We wander still, but not as sheep wander; we now seek the right way, and desire to follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. If we wander it is through ignorance or temptation. We can truly say, "My soul followeth hard after Thee."
3. Another disease of ours was inability to return: "Ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned." Dogs and even swine are more likely to return home than wandering sheep. But now, though we wandered we have returned, and do still return to our Shepherd. Our soul cries, "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee." Thus, by the virtue of our Lord's death an immortal love is created in us, which leads us to seek His face, and renew our fellowship with Him.
4. Our Lord's death has also cured us of our readiness to follow other leaders. Faith in Jesus creates a sacred independence of mind. We have learned so entire a dependence upon our crucified Lord that we have none to spare for men.
5. Finally, when we were wandering we were like sheep exposed to wolves, but we are delivered from this by being near the Shepherd. We were in danger of death, in danger from the devil, in danger from a thousand temptations, which, like ravenous beasts, prowled around us. Having ended our wandering, we are now in a place of safety.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. OUR LORD'S DEATH FOR SIN. And here, ere we approach to behold the great sight, let us put off our shoes from off our feet, and bow down in lowliest reverence of repenting grief, for, remember, if Jesus had not died for sins, we must have died, and died eternally too. Oh, the bitterness of our souls had we been in such a state!
1. There was a substitution for our sins, and by that substitution believers are saved. It was not merely a transfer of punishment from one to another, but there was a transfer of sin in some deep sense, or else the Scripture speaketh not what it meaneth: "He bare our sins in His own body on the tree."
2. Now I want you to pause, having noted the fact of substitution, to consider the substitute. "He His own self bare our sins." And who was "He"? I want you to feel a personal love to our dear Lord and Master. I want your souls at this moment to realise the actual character of His existence and His true personality. Though thus God over all, He became a man like unto ourselves. And He, in that double nature but united person, was Jesus, Son of God and Son of the Virgin; He it was who "bare our sins in His own body on the tree."
3. Here we call to your remembrance the fact stated in the text so positively, that the substitution of Christ was carried out by Him personally, not by proxy. The priest of old brought a substitution, but it was a lamb. He struck the knife and the warm blood flowed adown it, but our Lord Jesus Christ had no substitute for Himself, He "His own self bare our sins in His own body."
4. Notice, also, that the substitution of Christ is described in our text in a way which suggests consciousness, willinghood, and great pain. "He His own self bare our sins." They were upon Him, they pressed Him. The Greek word for "bare" suggests the idea of a great weight, "He bare our sins" — stooped under them, as it were; they were a load to Him.
5. And He bore those sins manifestly. I think that is the mind of the Spirit; when He says "in His own body," He means to give vividness to the thought. We are so constituted that we do not think so forcibly of mental and spiritual things as we do of bodily things; but our Lord bare our sins "in His own body." "His visage was more marred than that of any man, and His form more than the sons of men." Remember another text — "Yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God." Mark the "tree" or Cross for a moment with much attention.(1) It was the place of pain. No death could be more full of agony than that of crucifixion. Blessed be Thy love, O Jesus, that Thou couldest bear pain and death for us.(2) But the Cross was not the place of pain merely; it was the place of scorn. To be fastened to the Cross! Why, they would not put the meanest Roman thereon, though he committed murder; it was a death for slaves and menials. To be laughed at when you suffer is to suffer sevenfold.(3) But more, it was the place of the curse, for "cursed is every one that hangeth on the tree," and the Word has told us that "He was made a curse for us."(4) Last of all, it was the place of death.
II. OUR DEATH TO SIN. "That we, being dead to sin, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed." Now, observe right well that we are dead to the condemning power of sin. Henceforth I have nothing to do but to live as a righteous man, accepted in the Beloved, to live by His righteousness and rejoice in it, blessing and magnifying His holy name. As many of you as have looked to Jesus Christ bearing your sins in His own body on the tree, are dead to sin as to its reigning power.
1. Dead, first, because we have seen its detestable nature. It had its charms, but now we have perceived its hypocrisies. The false prophet Mokanna, who wore the silver veil upon his brow, deceived many, for he said that should that veil be lifted, the light which would gleam from under it would strike men blind, the glory was so great; but when one had once perceived that the man was leprous, and that on his brow instead of brightness there were the white scales of a leper, nobody would become his disciple; and so, O sin, at the Cross I see thy silver veil removed, and I mark the desperate leprosy that is on thee. I cannot harbour thee in my heart.
2. We are dead to sin, again, because another passion has absorbed all the forces of our life.
3. And yet again, sin appears to us now to be too mean and trivial a thing for us to care about. We have lost now, by God's grace, the faculty which once was gratified with these things. They tell us we deny ourselves many pleasures. Oh, there is a sense in which a Christian lives a self-denying life, but there is another sense in which he practises no self-denial at all, for he only denies himself what he does not want, what he would not have if he could. If you could force it upon him it would be misery to him, his views and tastes are now so changed. Let these eyes be forever sightless as the eyes of night, and let these ears be forever deaf as silence, rather than sin should have a charm for me, or anything should take up my spirit save the Lord of love, who bled Himself to death that He might redeem me unto Himself. This is the royal road to sanctification.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(W. L. Watkinson.)
By whose stripes ye were healedI. CONSIDER SIN AS DESTROYING THE HEALTH OF THE SOUL.
1. Bodily distempers are very often conveyed by descent from others. So the sin of our first parents has spread a fatal corruption through the whole human race. Man is not only liable to many bodily distempers from inheritance, he brings many upon himself by imprudence and by sinful gratifications. In like manner, besides what is called original sin, we are chargeable with many actual transgressions.
2. Having spoken of the origin of sin, let us now trace the manner of its progress.(1) Vices, like diseases, steal upon us by slow degrees. Their first attack is often imperceptible.(2) As bodily distempers are frequently most dangerous when the patient is least sensible of them, so it is a bad symptom of the soul when it has not a just sense of the evil of iniquity.
3. Having considered sin as to its source and progress, we shall also take a view of its effects.(1) Sickness weakens the body, debilitates the nerves, and unfits mankind so long as it continues for enjoying and discharging the affairs of human life. Sin also enfeebles the mind by curbing and confusing the reasoning powers.(2) Nor is this the only effect; for as sickness often brings much pain, so sin also is accompanied, or will be followed, by sorrow and sufferings.(3) As diseases produce the death of the body, so sin, if unpardoned and unremoved, will destroy the soul.
II. THE NATURE OF THE REMEDIES PRESCRIBED, AND THE CAPACITY OF THE PHYSICIAN WHO DIRECTS AND ALSO APPLIES THEM.
1. Jesus Christ is the Physician, and the means prescribed are His Word, His ordinances, and His providences, made effectual by the Spirit.(1) His Word is medicinal. A text of the Bible, well applied and directed to the heart by the Holy Spirit, has produced very valuable effects.(2) The ordinances of Christ, under which are included all acts of worship, prayer, praise, and the Lord's Supper, are designed to increase our hatred of sin and love for holiness.(3) All events are in the hand of God. Providential dispensations are employed to reclaim and reform sinners. Sometimes more awful, sometimes more mild exertions are requisite.(4) The office of the Holy Spirit is another of the means promised and prescribed by the mercy of God for the recovery of the health of souls. He is the Divine Agent who gives efficacy to the other means.
2. The character and capacity of Jesus Christ, our glorious Physician, shall now be a little considered.(1) His knowledge and capacity are infinitely great.(2) Our blessed Saviour is not only able and skilful, He is also friendly and compassionate.(3) Our blessed Redeemer is very humble and condescending.(4) The Son of God is a Physician to whom you may have access in all places and at all times.Application:
1. As we derive by our birth a weak and depraved nature, and are daily increasing the number of our offences, what strong reasons are these, not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think soberly!
2. The progress of vice, as above considered, should excite in us the greatest jealousy and circumspection.
3. The effects of sin, formerly mentioned, show that vice is, of all evils, the most formidable to mankind.
4. It is our duty to follow exactly the prescriptions for spiritual health which Jesus Christ has been pleased to direct.
5. Remember that it is by a believing reliance on the blood of Jesus Christ that the remedies in the gospel prove means of spiritual health.
I. First, THIS CONCEPTION OF SIN REMINDS US THAT IT IS SOMETHING ABNORMAL OR UNNATURAL. It is an infliction that has disturbed the harmony of our nature and thrown it out of gear. In the case of disease this is shown by the fact that we invariably protest against it, and endeavour to throw it off. When we fail to do this, it is either owing to our being unconscious of its presence, or to its having reached such an advanced stage in its development that it has paralysed our powers of resistance. It is the same also with sin. The religions of the world, with their crude and often revolting methods of sacrifice, bear pathetic witness to the unrest of conscience, and the conviction that something is wrong between man and the powers above him. And wherever the instincts of human nature have been healthiest, and the moral sense has been most widely awake, the efforts made to pacify the offended Deity have been most earnest and sustained. And there are the same attempts to avert a menacing future, not, it may be, by the offering of sacrifice, but by more refined and subtle efforts at atonement — the religion of many dissolving itself into a mere lifelong effort to put themselves right with God. And how are we to explain this dislocation? What has been its cause? What, but that we have all violated the eternal law of righteousness, and placed ourselves at variance with God? And no one can break that law and remain unreconciled to Him without suffering. It would be infinitely worse for us if we could.
II. Secondly, DISEASE DISABLES US BY IMPAIRING OUR STRENGTH. What we can undertake in health we cannot undertake when health has failed. Some things we must give up entirely; others we can only do partially, if we do them at all. Perhaps we hardly realise the enormous waste for which sin is responsible, and how far short humanity falls of its possible attainments. Our proudest and most brilliant achievements, what are they but solitary and occasional flowers which show what the wilderness might have been?
III. In the third place, WE KNOW THAT THE NATURAL END OF DISEASE IS DEATH. It can be checked. Its violence can be reduced. It may be entirely overcome. But treat it as though it did not exist, and allow it to take its way, then, however trifling its beginnings and fitful its progress, it will set up a trouble and disturbance in the whole system that will certainly lead to its ultimate destruction. So the wages of sin is death. There can be no doubt about this. The connection between the two is invariable. And as every sickness can be most easily cured in its initial stage, or, at least, before neglect has complicated the symptoms, so it is with sin. Trifle with it, indulge it, let it go on, and it will rivet its hold, and infect your moral nature till the will is hopelessly enslaved and the only termination is death. And what is the death that comes as sin's terrible wages? Is it the death of the body? Is it exhausted and done with when the last debt of nature has been paid? No. For sin is not resident in the body, so that we can lay it aside when we shuffle off this mortal coil. It is a spiritual act, the result of a certain spiritual condition. And this spiritual condition is not changed by the mere fact of physical death. That, indeed, separates the soul from the body, and hands over the latter to the powers of dissolution. But the former remains as it was. And if it has not renounced its sin, and been quickened by the life that wages a perpetual warfare against it, death will not sever it from its ruinous ally. It will simply introduce it to that final and hopeless separation from God which is the essence of spiritual death. For it will no longer be surrounded by what here alleviates and conceals the awfulness of such a state. We have now to consider the aspect under which the removal of sin is here presented. It is described as a healing or making whole, and it is effected by the stripes of Christ. "By His stripes we are healed." That is, by what Christ suffered our sufferings are brought to an end; their source or fountain is staunched. But how are we to understand this? It is true in a sense that all suffering, when it becomes severe, can only be cured by the suffering of others. It imposes this penalty to some extent on those who undertake to relieve it. The strength and skill of the physician are often heavily taxed to save his patient. And the same remark is true in a still higher degree in the treatment of moral evil. To check even venial faults, so as to help the defaulter to renounce them, requires a patient tact and affection which are rarely found combined. There can be no doubt that in dealing with us Jesus suffers in this way infinitely more acutely than we do, in proportion to His deeper hatred of sin and deeper love of holiness. But however great the sufferings of Christ in this sense may have been and still are, it is not to such the apostle here refers. He is thinking not of what Christ may still endure from the perversity and faithlessness of men, but of something which He endured once, and endures no longer. The very word he uses leads us in this direction. It neither suggests the suffering involved in the doing of good, nor the strain which a loving sympathy has to bear in sharing the sorrows of its fellows. Stripes are imposed by some one else. They indicate the infliction of a pain which is not the direct consequence of our own action, but to which we are subjected by the action of others. Moreover, they necessarily suggest the idea of punishment. They are a chastisement, and mark the man who receives them as obnoxious to justice and dealt with accordingly. Now, it is by the sufferings of Christ so understood the apostle says we are healed. They were stripes. And they were stripes, not for His own sin, because He had none, but for ours. "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin." "By His stripes we are healed." Yes, by His stripes. For all sin is due to our separation from God. It marks the ebb of life, the lowering of vital force, the feverishness that ensues from this fatal severance. And what hinders the healing of the breach is just the fact that this sin is the violation of a righteous law which refuses to be at peace with us till its claims are satisfied. And these claims are met by the sacrifice of Christ. "God was in Him, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing unto men their trespasses." The streams of life have begun to flow into its wasted framework, and wherever they reach the ravages of sin are checked. Peace comes in place of restlessness, content for dissatisfaction, hope for despair, and the spectre of fear is banished. Slowly but surely the love of goodness is developed. And Christ's healing relieves from a pain and apprehension that can scarcely be uttered. It triumphs over an unworthiness that is deeper than words. It brings a hope and gladness that transfigures life, and opens a fountain of new inspiration. What labour is then too great, what enterprise too forlorn, when His grace has healed us, and bound up our painful wounds? There was no foe which could not be conquered, no misery which could not be relieved. The tide had turned. The watchword was, "Forward!" — "forgetting the things that are behind." Messengers of peace and goodwill hastened abroad. Right struggled to subordinate the power of might, and has never given up the fight. Philanthropy arose, and the echo of her footsteps was heard in the waste and desolate places of the earth. And what is our magnificent array of modern Charities, our agencies of help that reach out a hand of succour to every soul depressed below the general level of comfort or advantage? What are the labours of the economist, the statesman, the physician, as they push their way into the problems before them with a sure triumphant conviction of ultimate victory, but the fruits of that great healing of Christ that has turned darkness into light, and the dull wretchedness of despair into bright and keen-eyed hope? "By His stripes we are healed." Have you received this healing of Christ?
(C. Moinet, M. A.)
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
Ye were as sheep going astrayI. Let me, then, call upon believers in Christ SERIOUSLY TO REVIEW THEIR FORMER CONDITION, when they, as well as others, were as sheep going astray. The fitness of this similitude to exhibit the natural state of mankind may justly be inferred from the frequent use that is made of it in the sacred writings. Thus a sheep that has forsaken the good pasture and strayed into the barren wilderness presents to us, in the most affecting light, an emblem of indigence, perplexity, and disappointment. Again, this figurative representation denotes a state of danger as well as of indigence and dissatisfaction. Few animals are beset with more enemies than sheep; and perhaps none are possessed of less cunning to elude or of less courage to resist them. With what awful precision doth this part of the similitude exhibit to us the state of unconverted sinners! Their spiritual enemies are both numerous and mighty. Once more: though sheep are not the only creatures that are prone to wander, yet they of all others discover least sagacity in finding the way back to the place from whence they strayed; so that in them we likewise behold a most descriptive emblem of man's helpless state by nature, and of his utter inability by any efforts of his own to regain his primeval happiness and glory. But still there remains one other ingredient in man's apostasy from God to which the similitude, comprehensive as it is, cannot be extended; the fatal ingredient I mean is guilt. A sheep gone astray is an object of pity rather than of blame. Man's apostasy was the effect not of weakness, but of wilfulness; the guilt that lieth upon us is nothing less than proud and obstinate rebellion — rebellion blackened with the vilest ingratitude.
II. "YE ARE NOW RETURNED UNTO THE SHEPHERD AND BISHOP OF YOUR SOULS." Ye are returned to Him who came from heaven to earth "to seek and to save that which was lost"; who, though infinitely offended by your criminal apostasy, hath Himself made atonement for your past wanderings, and expiated your guilt with His own precious blood. Ye are returned to Him who will henceforth watch over you with peculiar care, and guard you as His property which He purchased with His blood. Ye are returned to Him who hath not only almighty power to guard you against danger, but infinite compassion likewise to sympathise with you in all your distresses, and to comfort you in all your sorrows.
III. What they were by nature, and what they are by grace may suffice TO DIRECT US TO THAT TEMPER OF HEART WITH WHICH WE OUGHT TO APPROACH THE TABLE OF THE LORD. And it is obvious —
1. That we should do it with the deepest humility. Are we sanctified? once we were impure. Are we found? once we were lost. Are we made alive? lately we were dead; it was God who quickened us, and not we ourselves. Surely, then, pride was not made for man.
2. We should perform this service with the warmest emotions of gratitude and love, giving thanks to the Father who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him to be a sacrifice and sin offering for us.
3. Godly sorrow for past offences, and holy purposes to offend no more, should likewise attend us to the table of the Lord.
4. These purposes must ever be accompanied with a sense of our own weakness, and of our absolute need of aid from above. Even after we are returned to the Bishop of our souls, if left to ourselves we should quickly stumble and fall.
5. This diffidence of ourselves ought always to be qualified with a steadfast trust, an unsuspecting confidence in the power and faithfulness of our great Redeemer.
(C. Stanford, D. D.)
Are now returned
(H. W. Beecher.)
Homilist.It is well to look back sometimes.
I. ESTRANGEMENT. "For ye were as sheep going astray." "All we like sheep have gone astray." There is a depth of meaning in the expression "going astray" which very fittingly represents the condition of man with regard to Divine things. It implies —
1. A state of dissatisfaction. Neither men nor animals, as a rule, leave that which gives them satisfaction and enjoyment. With regard to man and God the word very far from expresses the real state. Man is more than dissatisfied. He abhors the necessities which the Divine fold entails. He hates the restraint, the associations, the duties.
2. A state of unrest. It is a constant wandering; a going hither and thither without a settled purpose; a drifting on the sea without an aim; going whither chance or the whim of the moment may lead.
3. A state of danger.
II. RECONCILIATION. "But are now returned." There is something very pleasant in the word "return." It speaks of old associations renewed, severed connections reunited. It means something so different to a new breaking of the ground. The reunion with old familiar places, persons, or things has a charm which has in itself the spirit of poetry and the reality of prose. The sheep returning to the fold goes back to the familiar ways, familiar surroundings, and the familiar voice of the shepherd. And so the soul going to God is only returning to its normal condition. Don't let us forget that the coming to the fold of Christ is a return. An important point concerning this return is that it is not natural. It is not easy or pleasant to retrace our steps, to acknowledge our folly.
III. SAFETY. "Return to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." Here is ample protection, security, and supply.
The Shepherd and Bishop of your souls
I. The first is THE ASPECT OF INFINITE LOVE, AS REVEALED IN THE OFFICE AND FUNCTION OF A SHEPHERD; and the second is THE WEAKNESS AND HELPLESSNESS OF HUMAN SOULS, as revealed in the figure of a flock. And these are expanded by the additional idea of our Lord's episcopate as the Bishop of souls, and the implied necessity of a fold where there is a flock. And then, as the shadow of sin must ever rest upon our brightest hope, and the wail of penitence mingle with our highest song of praise, there is the reminder of the fact, that from the care of this eternal Shepherd, and the safety of this Divine fold, there are those who are going astray. What, then, does this word teach us of Christ's care for His people? Now, the vocation of a shepherd has always been the symbol of the most tender and vigilant watchfulness. The ruling idea of the shepherd's vocation was that he was the appointed defender of his flock, and their safety was committed to him. When the lion and the bear came upon the flock which the youthful David was tending, he slew them both, and delivered the lamb, even at the peril of his own life. And yet, bold as the shepherd was to all that would assail his flock, to the flock itself he was the embodiment of tenderness and care. His authority was the power of love. His only emblem of authority was the pastoral crook; the well-known tones of his voice were the guiding power; and, going before his flock, he led them through green pastures, calling them all by their names, and carrying the lambs in his bosom. In this day of intenser activities, we can hardly appreciate all that is meant by such a metaphor. But these are the hints which the symbol gives us, of the tender watch care of the great Shepherd of souls over His flock, as He first rescues them from the devil going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, and then folds them safely within the sacred enclosure of His Church, and then watches over them in every pathway of their daily life. The symbol of a flock suggests the complementary truth, and teaches us the lesson of trust and reciprocal duty. For it defines our relation to Him, and the obligations involved in that relation. Within the fold of Christ we are not compared to cattle, to be driven by force or fear; we are not as swine, to wallow in the mire and filth of sin; but we are sheep, to follow a Divine Shepherd's voice. If the tenderness and love of Christ be not a sufficient power to make us obedient, He will use no force. If the constraining power of the Cross fails to guide our wayward feet, then we will not be guided by Him at all. And the severest penalty of our disobedience will be our own going astray; our self-exclusion from the fold of Christ; our loss of His watchful care, and our exposure to the power of the adversary. And then, as if to interpret for all time the fulness of this office of our Lord, another word is added, whose meaning was destined to be permanently fresh in every age. The pastoral life of Oriental lands might lose its meaning when transplanted to other lands and centuries; but the office and function of a bishop is preserved forever from oblivion by its inherent position in the organisation of the Church. And this word the apostle places side by side with the other word of local significance, that both might go down the ages together, and each interpret the meaning of the other. And so the Good Shepherd is also the Bishop of souls. The title, in its comprehensive significance, lifts our thoughts to that Divine episcopate whose cathedral is the temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; whose diocese is the universe of souls, and whose affairs are administered today from the right hand of the Majesty on high. The collective pastorate of the Church on earth, acting in His name, is 'but the representative of the infinite care and ominiscient watchfulness of the great Shepherd above.
(W. A. Snively, D. D.)
Homilist.I. THAT MEN HAVE SOULS. First, the fact is the most demonstrable fact to man.
1. All the evidence that we have both for the existence of matter and mind is derived from phenomena. The essence of both is hidden.
2. The essence whose phenomena come most powerfully under consciousness is most demonstrated.
3. The phenomena of mind come far more powerfully under consciousness than that of matter. Thought, feeling, volition, we are conscious of these. Secondly, the fact is the most important fact to man. Consider the capacities, relations, influence, deathlessness of a soul. Thirdly, the fact is the most practically disbelieved fact by man. Most men profess to believe it, but few men really do so.
II. THAT MEN'S SOULS REQUIRE A GUARDIAN; an ἐπισκοπος, an overseer. This is clear from three things. First, from the natural fallibility of souls. No finite intelligence, however holy and exalted, can do without a guardian. Secondly, from the fallen condition of souls. They "have gone astray." Look at the mistakes they make about the chief good, worship, etc. Thirdly, from the natural instincts of souls. Souls through all ages have been crying out for guardians.
III. THAT CHRIST IS THE ONE GUARDIAN OF HUMAN SOULS. He is the Bishop. What should be the qualification of him who can take care of human souls? He that would do so should at least have four things. First, immense knowledge. He should know the nature of souls, the moral situation of souls, the right way of influencing souls. Secondly, unbounded love and forbearance. The waywardness, the insults, the rebellion of souls would soon exhaust any finite amount of love and patience. Thirdly, ever increasing charms. Souls are to be drawn, not driven. Fourthly, inexhaustible power. Power to extricate from present difficulties, to guard against future, and to lead on through interminable ages. Christ has all these qualifications, and more. Let Him, then, be my overseer.
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