Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?
2 Corinthians 11:14) it was a matter of joy that he had written this letter, and he could now see God's hand very clearly in its production. Was not that Epistle a new and additional proof that he was Christ's apostle? Yet what was that Epistle, written with ink, to this "epistle of Christ," recorded on the soul, a part of itself, a part of its immortality? It was manifestly declared" that they were Christ's epistle, and it was equally clear that this epistle was due to his ministration. "Ministered by us." Had. they not given a new and striking evidence of the two facts, viz. Christ the Author of the epistle written on their hearts, and he the apostle, the ministerial agent of the work? It was a fresh motive to confidence: "Such trust have we through Christ to God-ward." Are we boasting of the late success of our Epistle - of our former successes? Nay; how can we be "sufficient of ourselves," or rely on our own wisdom and strength, when we have just confessed that we wrote to you "out of much affliction and anguish of heart, with many tears," and while the period of suspense lasted we were unfitted for our work, and at last, to rest in our spirit, we left Troas for Macedonia so as to see Titus the sooner? Nay; "our sufficiency is of God." It is he who also "hath made us able ministers of the New Testament." And wherein differs this new covenant from the old? Already he had spoken of "tables of stone" as contrasted with "fleshy tables of the heart," and the antithesis is resumed and further elaborated. The covenant is new, it is of the spirit, it is of the spirit that giveth life. Opposite in these particulars was the old covenant, the Mosaic Law, its ministers being cheifly engaged in executing a system of rules and ceremonials, adhering in all things to the exact language, and concerning themselves in no wise beyond the outward form. The external man with his interests and fortunes occupied attention. A nation was to exemplify the system, and therefore, by necessity, it largely addressed the senses, borrowing its motives and enforcing its penalties from a consideration of objects near and palpable. If we read Romans 7. we see what St. Paul meant by "the letter killeth." On the other hand, the dispensation of the spirit "giveth life." The antithesis is stated in the strongest possible form - death and life. This, accordingly, was the apostle's "sufficiency," a spiritual wisdom for enlightenment, a spiritual power for carrying out his apostolic plans, and an attained spiritual result seen in the recovery of Gentiles from the degradation of idolatry, and in the freedom of Jews from the bondage of the Mosaic Law. - L.
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we... epistles of commendation?1. The voluntary relations of men are founded upon mutual confidence, and even those which are involuntary require reciprocal reliance. The parent who does not duly trust his children will soon ruin them, and the child who does not rely upon his parents will certainly become prodigal. Distrust in a master will make him a tyrant, and want of confidence in a servant will produce miserable eye-service. The suspicious prince is always cruel, and the distrustful subject is a revolutionist; and the functions of the ministry are nullified by distrust in the Churches and in the world.
2. This confidence is easily disturbed and soon destroyed. A whisper "on 'Change" against the credit of the successful merchant will sometimes gather force and sweep him into ruin. A question addressed in an incredulous tone to a master about the fidelity of an honest servant will make him watch that servant with an eagle's eye. In like manner may the confidence of the Churches of Christ in their chosen pastors be impaired or crushed. Of the danger to which confidence in this case is exposed, these Epistles to the Corinthians afford illustration. Note —
I. THE GROUNDS OF A CHRISTIAN PASTOR'S CLAIM UPON THE CONFIDENCE OF THE CHURCHES.
1. There is a peculiar writing on the tablet of the Christian's soul. The old covenant was engraven upon slabs of stone, but the new covenant is written upon the sensitive and everlasting tablet of the heart. On this is written the good news that God so loved the world and spared not His own Son. There is other writing. Science writes. But science, beautiful writer though she be, and wise and useful, cannot write about the highest subjects, nor can she reach by her pen the fairest tablets of the human soul.
2. The writing on the tablets of the true Christian's soul is effected for Christ by the Holy Spirit.
3. In writing, the Spirit employs men — pastors and teachers — as pens.
4. Those upon whose hearts Christ has written are Christ's chief means of communicating with the outlying world. In plain language, the works of the true pastor bear witness of him, and establish his claim to loving confidence. We ask, then, firm and loving confidence for the proved ministers of Christ. To require this from their own converts is to ask a small thing. To no creature on earth or in heaven is a man so largely indebted as to the instrument of his conversion. But say that you have no such personal obligations to the true ministers of Christ, they may claim confidence for their work's sake. Give us your confidence for your own sake, for without it we cannot minister to your profit; for your children's sake, for, if they detect distrust, in vain do we try to help you bring them up; for our work's sake among the ungodly. I do not say that we cannot work without it, but I do say that we can work more hopefully with it.
II. THE GROUND OF A PASTOR'S OWN CONFIDENCE WITH RESPECT TO HIS WORK.
1. The confidence of any worker with respect to his work is essential to his success. The basis of such confidence may be either his own independent resources or the help which he obtains from those stronger than himself. The latter is the foundation of the confidence of Christ's ministers. Their sufficiency is of God. To say God is sufficient is only like saying God is God, but to declare our sufficiency is of God is to exhibit a spiritual fact which among the children of men is exceedingly rare. This is not to sit talking of the Almighty God, but to walk leaning upon God's arm, and to work, God working with us. This is to take such advantage of the Divine resources as this special work demands. Without this, a man may be scholarly, eloquent, and popular, but in the sight of God he must be a failure. The work of the true pastor can only be done as God would have it be done, as our sufficiency is of God.
2. Why, then, are we not filled with the fulness of God? It may be that we prefer the cistern to the fountain, and that we cleave to it after it has become leaky, and it may be because of our many false gods. One thing is certain — we are always half mad about something which, however good, is not God. The organisations and associations, better psalmody, more ornate architecture, a denominational press, wealth, are the false gods after which we too often have gone a-whoring. Why are we not filled with the fulness of God? It may be that we do not sufficiently recognise the mediation of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Ghost; it may be because our sins have separated us from God. One thing is certain — we could do our work with God if everything external and circumstantial which now we have were taken clean away. The first preachers and teachers had none of our appliances, and yet succeeded, because their sufficiency was of God.
3. And now let me entreat you to commend your pastors in ceaseless prayer to the help of God.
4. Our sufficiency is also yours.
(S. Martin, D. D.)
Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men. —
I. Observe THE REQUISITES FOR WRITING. The accessories must be provided, however, for a letter to be written, and let us briefly notice these — pen, ink, and paper.
1. In the third verse we have the pen: "Forasmuch as ye are declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us." Here is the instrument in the hand of God. The Church was divided, for one said, "I am of Paul," another, "I am of Cephas"; but these good men were only the pens whereby God, through His Spirit, had written upon the fleshy tables of their hearts. Among these instruments there must ever be a variety. The rough and rude can, however, be made to write well. Paul, though he was not eloquent of speech, but somewhat blunt, had power to get hold of men's hearts, and he wrote upon them, with dark, indelible lines, great truths. Apollos could speak with eloquence of diction, and finely pencil the Scripture, so that the Jews were mightily convinced that Jesus was the Christ. John was another such instrument. Soft in love, sketching in poetry the wonderful revelations he had of "the better land," he would win hearts for Jesus.
2. Then there must be the ink. The sacred fluid is the Spirit of God. "Written, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God." The mysterious influence that flows through us is not of earthly manufacture.
3. The next requisite is the paper. It is not written upon stone, but "in fleshy tables of the heart." A soft heart best absorbs the ink, a living tablet best retains impressions. Lord, write first in us, and then make us as the "pen of the ready writer," to make our mark on others.
II. THE READERS OF THE WRITING. "Known and read of all men." The writing is real — no fiction, for the author is Christ. We are the autograph letters of our Lord, and bear His signature. The writing is clear, for we are "manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ." Now, this document is a public one. Believers are the library for the world; they are a Christian literature; each saint is a volume to expound the grace of God. "Known and read of all men." We may consider the readers of this writing to be of three classes —
1. The intelligent. Many are real students of Christian character, desirous of gaining knowledge for their own good in spiritual attainments.
2. Then there are the interested readers — our friends who like to see if we make progress in Divine things. The "first series" of Christian experiences are interesting, and are studied with deep anxiety by those who love young converts.
3. The last class I have called the inquisitive. They only peruse to find fault. Ours must be so correct an epistle that fault-finders shall find it difficult to gratify their morbid taste. The schoolmaster says to his boys, "Be sure you dot your i's and cross your t's"; and we too must be mindful of little things.
(J. Denney, B. D.)
Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ. —
I. IN THE MOST LEGIBLE FORM.
II. IN THE MOST CONVINCING FORM. Books have been written on the evidences of Christianity; but one life permeated by the Christian spirit furnishes an argument that baffles all controversy.
III. IN THE MOST PERSUASIVE FORM. There is a magnetism in gospel truth embodied which you seek for in vain in any written work. When the "Word is made flesh" it is made "mighty through God."
IV. IN THE MOST ENDURING FORM. The tablet is imperishable. Paper will moulder, institutions will dissolve, marble or brass are corruptible.
V. IN THE DIVINEST FORM. The hand can inscribe it on parchment or stone, but only God can write it on the heart,
(D. Thomas, D. D.)I. THE DESIGNATION OF CHRISTIAN PEOPLE.
1. An epistle is a fact of production. No epistle is self-produced. It must have a writer. Nor is it a creation; all the elements existed before. So with the epistle of Christ.
2. An epistle is a production of intelligence. An epistle must have a direct intelligent end, must be worth reading and knowing.
3. A letter is the expression of the thoughts and purposes of the writer. So Christians are the transcript of Christ's design, morally impressed with the counterpart of His principles and character as their Exemplar.
4. A letter is a medium of communication. So what is communicated to Christians must be communicated by them to others. It must be communicated as it is; it must not be obliterated or shown partially.
II. THE WRITING AGENT, AND THE MANNER IN WHICH THE EPISTLE IS COMPOSED. "The Spirit of the living God," etc., who —
1. Works according to His own plan.
2. By the use of suitable means, and according to established laws. The act is not a thing done in some rare instances, but in the heart of all good people.
3. By the concurrence and co-operation of man himself — the object of His work. Man is an agent of his own culture and all which belongs to him in life. He is also the agent of his own salvation. If he neglects his work, no one can do it for him.
III. THE INSTRUMENTAL MEANS "ministered by us." The ministry of the gospel —
1. Brings the materials of truth and salvation to men.
2. Prepares also the pages of the soul to receive true impressions and the blessings offered in the gospel. There are stains to be erased, misconceptions to be corrected, habits and prejudices to be destroyed, before clear and true writing can be made.
3. Brings the human soul and Divine truth face to face, so by Divine light and love a photographic image is printed upon the whole soul. Whilst it is a Divine power it is a Divine art, printing upon the human heart and life a true image and right language.
4. Perpetuates the means of truth and right life.
IV. THE TABLET OF RECORD, "the fleshy tables of the heart." As the heart is the centre of our natural life, it is also, in a moral sense, the centre and base of our spiritual life.
1. The work of God in the heart is carried on quietly and secretly, but is powerful in its results, like the forces of God in nature. What more secret than thought, love, faith? but what more powerful and clear in their results? The letter is secret in the writing, but known in the reading.
2. Though unseen to sense, ii is nevertheless a matter of consciousness to the subject of it,
3. It is a process which purifies and develops human affection. The end is to make the heart belier and larger.
4. It is a process intended to govern the springs of human life. Mankind is governed through its heart. It is a happy and high state when the sentiment of the heart is one with reason.
5. Whatever is good and happy, if written on the heart, is an immediate source of life and comfort.
6. It is a thing to be highly estimated and remembered. When we wish to gain esteem, we try to reach the heart; when we desire not to be forgotten, we try to print our name on the tablet of the heart.
(T. Hughes.)I. THE CHRISTIAN IS AN EPISTLE OF CHRIST.
1. Its writer. "Christ."
2. Its purport, Christ has blotted out "guilty" and written in "no condemnation." He has erased "earthly" and supplied "heavenly." Licentiousness has given place to purity, profanity to prayerfulness, selfishness to love, etc. We judge of the authorship of an epistle, not merely by the penmanship and signature, which a clever forger might imitate, but also by its contents. A hypocrite, a false professor, is like forged letter.
3. Its design. To convey the mind of Christ to men. Men may refuse to listen to the gospel, but they cannel ignore the testimony of a consistent Christian life.
II. THE RESPONSIBILITY DEVOLVING ON THE CHRISTIAN AS AN EPISTLE OF CHRIST.
1. As a letter is written for the purpose of being seen, a Christian should let his Christianity be visible. We do not write letters merely for the sake of writing them, but that they may be read. So, if Christians do not let their Christianity be seen in their lives, they defeat one chief end which Christ had in view in making them what they are. Those who are Christians in name only are in no sense of the term epistles of Christ; ii were vain to exhort such to let what Christ has written in them be seen by men, for they have nothing to show.
2. A letter being written for the purpose of being read should be legible. A letter may be so written that it is impossible to make out the writer's meaning. Such a letter may be worse than useless, for, owing to its illegibility, it may convey a wrong meaning. When the letters of men are illegible ii is the fault of the writers, but this is not the case with Christ's epistles. He never writes illegibly. The fault lies on the side of the epistles themselves. Note one or two things which render writing illegible.(1) Indistinctness of character. One word may be mistaken for another, and thus the whole meaning of a sentence may be altered. And Christians may be illegible as epistles of Christ through the wavering, unsteady character imparted to the writing that is in them by their want of decision for Christ and their compromises with the world. What we want is boldness on the part of Christians in testifying for Christ in their everyday lives.(2) Blots. Perhaps the most important word in a sentence is completely hidden by a blot. Alas! in how many cases is the testimony of a Christian for Christ made of none effect by the unsightly blot of some gross inconsistency, some dark sin, which the eye of the world rests continually on, and refuses to see anything else.
3. A letter is written that it may be understood. What prevents letters from being intelligible?(1) Omissions. Were the little word "not," e.g., left out, the meaning of a sentence would be entirely reversed. In like manner, the lack of one essential Christian grace-charity, e.g. — if it do not render the character of a Christian unintelligible, makes it less easily understood.(2) Contradictions. We cannot possibly make out the meaning if one sentence says one thing and the next the opposite. And haw can men understand our testimony for Christ if we have one kind of conduct for the Church and another for the world?
(J. Bogue, M. A.)I. THE EPISTLE.
1. How it is written.(1) The apostle does not speak of a vague oral tradition, or of shifting impressions, but of a written epistle. The material on which this epistle is written is the heart of man. Not merely in his understanding, for he may know what is right and yet not do it; not merely in his conscience, for he may acknowledge his duty, yet neglect it; but in his heart, that it may be his desire and his delight, the very law and tendency of his being.(2) Like the pages of this book when they came from the hands of the manufacturer, the mind of man by nature is a perfect blank in regard to Christ, or rather like the material from which these pages were manufactured — filthy rags, foul, tattered, and discoloured. To become an epistle of Christ it must be prepared and written on. It must be purified, and characters traced on it.
2. Its contents. Christ is its grand and all-pervading theme. Observe —(1) Paul did not say of all the disciples, "Ye are epistles of Christ," but, "Ye are the epistle of Christ." Collectively you constitute the one epistle, just as there are many copies of the Bible in many foreign languages, but only one Bible. Different as the Laplander and the Indian may be, yet, when taught by the Spirit, they testify the same things of Christ.(2) Nor did Paul say of any individual, "Thou art the epistle of Christ." As there are many imperfect or mutilated MSS. of the Bible, and as in all there are errors of the pen or the translator, so also there are imperfect and unfinished copies of the epistle of Christ. And as it is only by collating and comparing many versions that we can say, "This is the Word of God," so also we must collate and compare many Christians ere we can say, "This is the epistle, the image, of Christ."
3. Its purpose.(1) The salvation of those in whose hearts it is written.(2) To recommend Christ to men. As samples of His work, you will be either letters of commendation or of condemnation to Him.
II. HOW WE MAY SO USE THIS EPISTLE THAT IT MAY SERVE THE PURPOSE FOR WHICH IT WAS WRITTEN. We may commend Christ —
1. With our lips. Our conversation may be an epistle to make known His praises. The circulation of the epistle written with ink — the printed Bible — is our duty. Even so it is our duty to publish the living epistle. It was intended to be an open letter, known and read of all men. How many are there with whom we daily associate who never read the written Bible, the only hope of whose salvation is that they may read or hear the living epistle! By our silence we conceal that epistle from them, and leave them to perish.
2. By our lives. It is in vain that we speak of Christ with our lips if our lives belie our words. Our actions, like a pen full of ink, trace certain characters, leave certain impressions on the mind and memory of those who see them. In beholding our actions, have men been led to say of us, "These men have been with Jesus"?
3. By our character. A man's outward manner may be in direct opposition to his inward character. To be true epistles of Christ we must reflect His image, not in word only, or in action, but in our dispositions and desires.
I. THE MATERIAL WRITTEN ON.
1. Many different substances have been employed in writing; but one feature is common to all — in their natural state they are not fit to be used as writing materials. They must undergo a process of preparation. Even the primitive material of stone must be polished ere the engraving begin. The reeds, and leaves, and skins, too, which were used by the ancients, all needed preparation. So with modern paper, of which rags are the raw material. These are torn into small pieces, washed, cast into a new form, and become a "new creature." A similar process takes place in the preparation of the material for an epistle of Christ. You might as well try to write upon the rubbish from which paper is made as to impress legible evidence for the truth and divinity of the gospel on the life of one who is still "of the earth, earthy."
2. The paper manufacturer is not nice in the choice of his materials. The clean cannot be serviceable without passing through the process, and the unclean can be made serviceable with it. Let no man think he can go into heaven because he is good; but neither let any one fear he will be kept out of it because he is evil.
II. THE WRITING. It is not Christianity printed in the creed, but Christ written in the heart. A person's character may be gathered from his letters. How eagerly the public read those of a great man printed after his death! Our Lord left no letters, yet He has not left Himself without a witness. When He desires to let the world know what He is, He points to Christians. Nay, when He would have the Father to behold His glory, He refers Him to the saved: "I am glorified in them." A Christian merchant goes to India or China. He sells manufactured goods; he buys silk and tea. But all the time he is a living epistle, sent by Christ to the heathen. A Christian boy becomes an apprentice, and is now, therefore, a letter from the Lord to all his shopmates.
III. THE WRITER. "The Spirit of the living God." Some writings are easily rubbed off by rough usage or with age. Only fast colours are truly valuable. The flowers and figures painted upon porcelain are burned in, and therefore cannot be blotted out. No writing on a human spirit is certainly durable except that which the Spirit of God lays on. In conversion there is a sort of furnace through which the new-born pass. In the widespread religious activity of the day some marks are made on the people — not made by the Spirit of God — shown by the event to have been only marks on the surface made by some passing fear or nervous sympathy.
IV. THE PEN. In photography it is the sun that makes the portrait; yet a human hand prepares the plate and adjusts the lens. A similar place is assigned to the ministry of men in the work of the Spirit. Printing nowadays is done by machines which work with a strength and regularity and silence that are enough to strike an onlooker with dismay. Yet even there a watchful human eye and alert human hand axe needed to introduce the paper into the proper place. Agents are needed even under the ministry of the Spirit — needed to watch for souls.
V. THE READERS.
1. The writing is not sealed or locked up in a desk, but exposed all the day to public view. Some who look on the letters are enemies, and some are friends. If an alien see Christ represented in a Christian, he may thereby be turned from darkness to light; but, if he see sin, self, and the world, he will probably be more hardened in his unbelief. Those who already know and love the truth are glad when they read it clearly written in a neighbour's life, are grieved when they see a false image of the Lord held up before the eyes of men.
2. Many readers, however, fail to see the meaning of the plainest letters. None so blind as those who will not see. Considering how defective most readers are either in will or skill, or both, the living epistles should be written in characters both large and fair. Some MSS. are so defectively written that none but experts can decipher them. Skilled and practised men can piece them together, and gather the sense where, to ordinary eyes, only unconnected scrawls appear. Benevolent ingenuity has produced a kind of writing that even the blind can read. Such should be the writing of Christ's mind on a Christian's conversation. It should be raised in characters so large that even the blind, who cannot see, may be compelled, by contact with Christians, to feel that Christ is passing by.
(W. Arnot, D. D.)you. Masters, your servants read you; servants, your masters read you; so will parents children, etc. Do they read in you what they ought to read? A Christian should be a Bible alive. Never mind though a man has not learned his letters; he will be able to read you fast enough. All men can read justice, mercy, and truth, or the opposite of them.
1. One day a thought flashed into my mind that I did not want to lose, and, having no paper at hand except a letter from a friend, I just wrote between the lines of it; and when I had done that the fancy struck me to read through the writing as it stood, one line of my friends and one of my own, and you cannot think what nonsense it was! Ah! there are some characters like that. I dare not say there was nothing about them that Christ had written, but they have sadly allowed the devil and the world to underline them; there is no coherency or consistency in them.
2. I remember, when I was a little boy at school, if I by any chance managed to make the smallest blot, as sure as I took the book up to my master, the first thing he looked at was the blot; and, as sure as I took it home, the first thing anybody looked at was the blot. My letters may have been made very gracefully, but nobody said a word about them; but everybody said something about the blot. Ah! I have known some people very good on the whole, but they have had sad blots — blots of temper, vanity, and worldliness. The sun himself is looked at more during the few minutes he has a black spot on his face than on all the days of the year besides. The world has an eagle glance for your spots, and if you have a spot on your character people will look more at it than at all the beautiful things that are there.
3. I got a letter one day which had been sent to a committee. For the life of them they could not read it, and they sent it to me to try to make it out. It was a difficult task, and when I had made out the words I could scarcely make out the sense. It was a letter, but a very unintelligible one. I have known some characters like that, and if I preached to such I should have to take the text, "I stand in doubt of you." These are not like the epistles spoken of in the text, "known and read of all men," Endeavour to keep clear of such a character that nobody can tell what list to put you in: avoid being so quaint and difficult that nobody can tell what to make of you. May it be said of you, as it was said as I passed the door of a godly man who had lately died, "If ever there was a Christian, that man was one."
4. I remember, just before I left my last circuit, that I looked over a great number of old letters, some of which, at the time I received them, were so precious that I put them away to preserve them, and several of these had become so creased and dirty and illegible that I was obliged to throw them into the fire, though once they were so precious to me. I should not like that any of you who had been real letters of Christ's own writing should become so careless and worldly that the writing became marred. I should not like that you should get into such a cold, backsliding state that all the beautiful letters that once were put upon you should become illegible, and that at the last Christ should say, "Cast them into the fire."
5. I was once in an assize court where a man was being tried for forgery. The individual whose writing, it was suspected, had been imitated, was dead, and so a large letter-book, full of what was known to be the writing of the deceased, was produced in court, to test the alleged forgery by it. If you are letters of Christ you will resemble His writing. The very name Christian implies that you profess to have Christ's name written upon you. But it is no use to profess to be Christ's epistle if you are not like Him. Suppose I picked up a letter which professed on the face of it to be a letter from Jesus Christ, but recommended this congregation to be worldly-minded, to love gold, to be fretful and peevish, and to be guilty of evil-speaking and slander. Of course I should know that it was no letter from Jesus Christ. I wonder whether all present who profess to be Christ's epistles ever do that which Christ would not put His name to? Are you genuine letters? A friend of mine went to the bank to pay in some money. Amongst it there was a ten-pound note. The clerk looked at it carefully, and then stamped "Forged" right across it. What a sad thing it would be if any of you who profess to be epistles of Christ now should at the last be disowned of Him, and He should say, "You are none of Mine — forged"!
(S. Coley.)I. "AN EPISTLE OF CHRIST" IS THE TITLE OF EVERY BELIEVER. In the N.T. Epistles we have the promised further revelation of Christ. We call them for convenience the epistles of Paul, or of Peter, etc.; but they are the epistles of Christ, from and concerning Him. So believers are a revelation of the Redeemer to the world; and as these apostolic letters carried light wherever they went, so the world is to read on the Christian the mind and grace of Jesus.
1. Christ's work will necessarily witness to Him. The world cannot look on any true servant of Christ without receiving an impression of the Master.
2. Christ's purpose concerning the world requires that every Christian be an epistle of Christ. With multitudes the gospel will be powerless until its truth is proved by its effects.
3. Christ's love to His people affords this usefulness to all of them. For to help others to Him is to enter into the joy of our Lord, and He would deprive none of His beloved of that. One of the Florentine princes commanded Michael Angelo to fashion a statue from the drifted snow before his palace, and the great artist, ignoring the scorn, wrought at the task as though he chiselled the enduring marble; and when it began to melt at the sun's touch, and the contemptuous prince laughed at what he thought the vanity of the toil, the sculptor solaced himself with the reflection, "The thought I threw into that snow shall stir this gazing people when their gaze is done." Our common tasks are fleeting, yet we may throw a piety into them whose memory will abide for good with those that saw it to distant years.
II. THINK OF CHRIST WRITING THIS EPISTLE.
1. There must be the erasure of the old writing. In ancient monasteries the monks would take old parchments, and, removing the writing they bore, write sacred truth on them instead; so it happened that, where before men read annals of conquest, or heathen laws, or pagan blasphemies, then they read the Word of God. Till the old heathen writing on us be removed, there is no room for the new, nor would it stand much chance of being seen. So Christ removes it. We cannot; no human skill can cleanse the blotted page of an evil character.
2. There must be the impression of His will on the character by fellowship with Him. In fellowship with Christ a subtle influence is exerted on us which must leave its mark; we cannot be with Him without acquiring a hatred of sin, without His peace possessing us, without our love and courage being inflamed, which must show themselves when we pass out to men again.
3. When He has done that there may remain the bringing out of some of His deepest writings by fire. For as great secrets have been written on that prepared surface which conceals the writing till it is exposed to heat, and then line after line of unsuspected story appears, so some of Christ's most sacred messages only steal out in the lives of His people in the hour of trial. The chamber of Christian sorrow has many a time been the place of Divine revelation.
III. Then, surely, HAVING WRITTEN HIS EPISTLE, HE SENDS IT. To write a letter without sending it were vain. The Bible is God's letter to the world; we may think of His people as supplementary letters to individuals.
1. Then He will see it comes to them. This is the meaning of many of His providential dealings with us.
2. We may expect Him to call their attention to us whom He means us to reach. He will not suffer that to be unread which He has written; His Spirit works with His providence, and turns men's eyes where He would have them look.
3. And that shows God's special mercy to some. When they have failed to read the Bible He has given them, He is so earnest for their redemption that He sends a letter to themselves.
IV. HE WHO WRITES AND SENDS THEIR WAITS THE ANSWER!
(C. New.)Ye are our epistle." Demosthenes uttered nothing finer than this, or so convincing.
I. IN WHAT RESPECTS MAY MEN RESEMBLE AN EPISTLE, KNOWN AND READ OF ALL?
1. The prime characteristic of a letter is its containing the mind of the writer. Can Christians represent the mind of Christ, as a letter contains your mind?(1) A perfect Church is not needed for this; for the Corinthian community, like a defaced epistle, was blotted with serious imperfections. Still their general conduct could exhibit such an approximation to the Spirit of Christ that the apostle could afford to spread it open before all men, asking them to read and know it. It is not, therefore, our infirmities and sins which disqualify us from being epistles of Christ. A good writer can, when pressed, write on very unpromising material. It is not the kind of paper, but the writing, which men are anxious to see.(2) The great difficulty with us all is the obstinate restlessness which keeps us from being written upon. But where this is overcome, and we present ourselves to the Lord, He will write His will concerning us so legibly that all shall acknowledge the finger of God — like the Pharisees, who "took knowledge of Peter and John, that they had been with Jesus."
2. When our Lord said, "I call you not servants but friends," He implied that they would be an epistle, the contents of which would command their intelligent sympathy. Not like a letter-carrier, who knows nothing of what he carries, but like a friend charged with a message of reconciliation in which he is warmly interested.
3. The great requisite of the epistle which we are considering is that it be manifestly from a living Writer. There are good letters whose authors are dead. Valuable; you keep them as curiosities. The religious life may present a faultless epistle of this kind — an evident regard to the will of Christ, but not to a living will. A conscientious executorship, but it is fulfilling the wishes of the dead! The life shows what Christ was, not what He is; what He said, not what He says. But we want to show letters of Christ of to-day. How different your manner when you bring me a letter on pressing business, and when you open a cabinet and produce a letter of Milton's! Now the former letter on business is what we want. Can I be the manifest epistle to others of a living Saviour? I know whether a man speaks to me as an antiquarian or as a believer, whether he comes to me with good news or to amuse me with information. You all know the difference between a lecture on Christianity and faith in a personal Redeemer; between a lecture on fire-escapes and making use of one when the house is burning. Let us speak, then, less of Christianity and more of Christ. Let Him show in us what He is. All sacrifice, all self-denial for His sake, is a most legible epistle of Christ. You know whether any one is repeating a lesson or speaking from his heart; whether he talks about business, or art, or science as from books or from experience or affection. Thus we shall show the hardly dry letter of Christ to men, or we shall show an old dry parchment copy, as we live day by day under the eye of our Lord and dwell in fellowship with Him by prayer and duty.
II. THE RECOMMENDATION OF THINGS AND PERSONS CONTAINED IN THESE LIVING EPISTLES. "Ye are our epistle." Your conduct serves as a letter of commendation — yea, better than a thousand! "Ye are my letter written in my heart." "we can prove this man to have been sent of God; our lives show what God has wrought through him. Receive him." Every Christian, every Church, is intended to be a letter of commendation. Certainly a minister is highly honoured with a good letter of introduction of this kind. An ignorant or wicked man hears a minister preaching the gospel. He says, "Why should I listen to that man? What recommends him to my confidence?" Now it is a great thing for him to read of holiness, purity, and love in the people who are associated with that minister. On the other hand, every inconsistent hearer cripples the minister, and resembles one of those Bellerophon's letters, where a person carries a letter of introduction containing a caution to beware of him. He is a public refutation of the preacher. He is a letter containing, "Do not believe a word he says." Conclusion:
1. The apostle does not say that the individual Christian is an epistle of Christ, but they are collectively declared to be so. Each is a word or sentence; all make up the letter. Sentences which are unmeaning, often in their connection make a grand meaning. Christ often makes great use of one person, as tie often uses one word or verse to console or teach. But the force of that word depends very much on its being known to be part of an inspired book. Let us all try together to form "the epistle of Christ."
2. Let people see and read the whole. Do not our passions, our selfishness, our indolence make us withhold it? Let us not incur the great sin of preventing poor sinners from seeing their Friend's own handwriting! Who can tell the effect it might have upon them?
3. But for this end we must all be in our place, like the separate words of a letter; one word blotted or missing often makes a great difference to the meaning. Keep the end of Church life in view; not comfort, but the exhibition of the letter.
(B. Kent, M. A.)
I. AN ABSENT PERSON WHO SENDS IT; for in the actual presence of friend with friend letters become unnecessary. Now Christ is for a time absent, having gone into the heavens. In His absence He does not forget the world, but communicates with it by letters written on the hearts of His saints.
II. A PERSON OR PERSONS TO WHOM IT IS SENT. There is no class to whom Christ's message is not addressed. It may be a message of warning to the unconverted, of caution to the careless, of guidance to the perplexed, of comfort to the saddened, of hope to the desponding. Shall we not take care that it is a full letter that Christ sends by us, written all over, and rich in instruction and encouragement? Shall we not see that it is a well-written and legible letter? Let the life, the character, the conduct, all be so plain and consistent that none shall doubt whose we are, and to whose grace we bear witness.
III. MESSAGES. What are those which should be read in the heart and life of a Christian?
1. The freedom of the Saviour's love towards a sinner. The characters of converted men, and their histories before they were converted, may be infinitely various. But they are all alike in that they are sinners, and sinners saved, and all of grace, from the first moment of solemn conviction till the time that they found peace. Would we see Christ's love to the sinner and His power to save? — Look at them. May it not be with many of them, as with St. Paul, that for this cause they obtained mercy, that in them first Christ .Jesus might show forth a pattern of all long-suffering? Would we know that the love of Christ is free as the air we breathe, and broad as universal man? Would we know that there is no sin so deep as to be beyond the merits of the atonement, no spiritual ruin so absolute as to be beyond the power of grace? Learn it all here in these saved sinners; read the message of the Saviour in these loving epistles of Christ, "written with the Spirit of the living God."
2. The sufficiency of Divine grace — the power of the Spirit of Christ to regenerate the heart, and to turn the proud and stubborn will to God. What the strength of sin is we know in our personal experience only too well; but we never really know till we know it by experience, just as a mall may gaze long on a swollen river as it rolls its fall waters towards the cataract below, and yet may never know its fatal strength till he is himself upon the current, vainly struggling with all his might to stem the fatal force which is hurrying him onwards to his death. I fancy that there are none, not excepting the most reckless of men, without some experience of the power of evil over them. Where, then, shall be your hope but in the Spirit of God? But how shalt thou know that the unseen Spirit is willing to help thee, or, if willing, competent to make thee a conqueror? Why, here is the epistle of Christ to assure thee of it. Look at this saved man. The whole course of his nature is changed, and flows towards God. He now loves what once he hated, hates what once he loved. He was once just like thyself.
3. The certainty of the promises and the deep inward peace and joy which are the inheritance of the children of God. Who has ever heard a Christian man say that he was disappointed in Christ, or did not find Him the precious and perfect Saviour he had believed Him to be? Ask the man of the world if he has found happiness in excitement, in wealth, iii honour and ambition, and he will frankly tell you, with a sigh, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
1. Think of it in its business aspect. What would happen if that daily sorting and stamping and carrying were but for one day intermitted? Why, the wheels of the world would be stopped by its stoppage.
2. Think of it in its family aspect. Communications passing week by week between the home and the schoolboy son, or the servant son, or the sailor or soldier son, or the colonist son, or the exile son for fault or no fault of his. You, you are ministering to these sweetest and most beautiful instincts of nature as you tread your weary round.
3. Its business aspect and its family aspect. Has not your work yet one more — its religious, its Christian, its Christlike aspect? Oh, the influence breathed by letters upon solitary, straying, tempted lives! I do not think it is always the religious letter — strictly so called and ostentatiously so labelled — which does this work of works. No; there are letters — from mother, from sister, from brother, from friend — which even name not the name of God, and yet do Him service in the heart's heart of the receiver. I need not here warn any one against corrupting by letters. "A curious thought strikes me," Dr. Johnson said, a century and more ago, to his biographer — "a curious thought strikes me — we shall receive no letters in the grave." Yes, this is one of the thoughts which make the state beyond death so bare and blank to our conception. "No letters?" Then no information (is it so?) as to the state of the survivors — their health and wealth, their prosperity or adversity, their marriages and deaths, their joys and sorrows, their falls and risings again. "We shall receive no letters in the grave." Then let us so live as not to miss them. Let us have a life quite within and above, quite independent of, and extraneous to, the life of earth and time. Let us have so read and so written our letters, while we can, as to have no remorse for them in the world beyond death.
S. S. Chronicle.A missionary in India was so feeble mentally that 'he could not learn the language, After some years he asked to be recalled, frankly saying that he had not sufficient intellect for the work. A dozen missionaries, however, petitioned his Board not to grant his request, saying that his goodness gave him a wider influence among the heathen than any other missionary at the station. A convert, when asked, "What is it to be a Christian?" replied, "It is to be like Mr. — ," naming the good missionary. He was kept in India. He never preached a sermon, but when he died hundreds of heathen, as well as many Christians, mourned him, and testified to his holy life and character.
(S. S. Chronicle.)
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