For we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard."
Athanasius contra mundum. We must pay no heed to the world's scorn and distrust of enthusiasm.
I. THE RELIGION OF CHRIST AGGRESSIVE BECAUSE IT IS REAL. "The things which we have seen and heard."
1. Not speculative, but simply practical; things of men's moral life, things which concern all, things of infinite importance, having their roots in eternity.
2. Not things of human systems and ecclesiastical dogmas. The apostles did not preach either against the Church of Judaism or about the Church government of Christianity, but about gospel facts which underlie all systems and must make the substance of all creeds.
3. Things of experience - "seen and heard." They spoke as witnesses; and the more we can preach as simply bearing testimony to the gospel, the more power we have. The various false religions of the world powerless to help because they appeal little to fact and experience.
II. THE UNIVERSAL OBLIGATION OF SPEAKING FOR CHRIST.
1. Speaking before men. The notion of secret discipleship utterly false. Special value of outspoken faith, both to the believer himself, in confirming, maturing, guiding, clearing the spiritual convictions themselves, and in supporting practice by the help of a solemn, recorded vow of service. The deeper and the more real the feeling, the more necessity to speak it before others.
2. Speaking to men in Christ's Name. We hearken unto God and he bids us speak. It is a power that grows with exercise. The world requires it more and more. Books can never take the place of preaching. In all ages men have looked for and trusted their spiritual leaders. The things of the gospel were not done in a corner, and they must be brought out into public life. Read the Bible in the midday light of modern thought and business enterprise; it is fitted to every stage of human advancement. "Stand up for Jesus." - R.
They taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection.
1. As to style he deals largely in quotations from the Old Testament, and shows how those quotations were fulfilled in Christ, adducing this correspondence as a proof of Messiah-ship. In respect of matter, it may be summed up in one sentence — "Whom ye have slain, but whom God hath raised up." It was not necessary for the apostles to bear witness to His death, for nobody disputed the fact. But His resurrection was not an "open" triumph. It therefore resolved itself into a matter of testimony, which testimony formed the chief burden of apostolic teaching. Reading the Epistles we cannot help observing a slight difference in tone. The atonement receives more attention, and the doctrinal significance of the resurrection more than the fact. Addressing unbelievers they dwell on the simple facts. Addressing believers they take the bare facts for granted, and expatiate on their doctrinal significance.
I. They TAUGHT. Teaching consists in(1) drawing out the mind and making it work on the object-matter presented to it;(2) presenting the object-matter to the mind, and bringing within its ken the proper materials of knowledge. The first is represented in "education," the second in "instruction." There must be power in the eye to see, and there must be light outside the eye in and on which sight may exercise itself. Eyes without light are purposeless; light without eyes is useless; good eyes and good light are necessary to clear vision.
1. Christianity educates men by teaching them to think. It leads out the mind, and develops its dormant faculties. The masses of men expend more thought upon religion than upon any other subject. The little thinking they do is chiefly in connection with the religion of Jesus Christ. And it stimulates thought not only in the vulgar, but also in the learned. Go to the British Museum; four out of every five books there discuss the problems of Christianity. There is a subtle, indescribable quality in Christianity eminently calculated to provoke thought. Just as the rising of the sun drives away slumber, the rays quietly but effectually tickling the drowsy eye into wakefulness, so Christianity pours such a flood of white radiance on the eyes that it feels constrained to open them. The presentation of Christianity to the mind constrains thought; and in the exercise of thought the world learns to think. The angel Uriel came down to Eden in search of the devil, and noticing a toad crouching at Eve's ear, he touched it with his mystic wand and up sprang an angel. A fallen one, it is true, but an angel still. Christianity possesses similar powers of transformation. If it only touch the rude, unlettered boor, there gradually will be unfolded a holy angel, glowing with enthusiasm for all that is noble and divine. The foremost nations are those which have come most largely under the influences of Christianity. The religions of the heathen are the greatest obstruction to their progress. Philosophy taught the learned to think, but Christianity aims at making every man a thinker, and man, to be a man, must be a thinker.
2. Christianity teaches men to know. That is the meaning of the word "instruct" — to pile up in the mind the proper materials of knowledge. No amount of hard thinking answers its purpose, unless it leads to knowing. Now, Christianity brings within the sweep of our intellectual vision verities which before lay inaccessible. This confers a vast advantage on us as compared with the mighty minds which lay outside the sphere of revelation. The philosophers are renowned merely for their thinking — indeed, they evolved and formulated the laws of thought for all succeeding generations. Nevertheless, their knowledge was small in quantity and poor in quality. They had excellent eyes; still they did not see very far, and what little they did see was shrouded in obscurity. Did the fault lie with the eyes? No; they lacked light. But this much-needed light the gospel abundantly supplies. Our eyes, maybe, are not so strong as theirs; but the medium through which we see is clearer, and the objects have been brought nearer.
3. Thinking answers not its paramount purpose except as it leads to knowing; and Christianity conjoins thinking and knowing, thereby perfectly fulfilling our idea of teaching. There is a school of philosophy which disparages thinking, and runs down the metaphysics of the ancients. This school — sometimes called the Positive, and sometimes the Utilitarian — judges thought by its material results. Christianity avoids this extreme — it encourages thinking more or less for its own sake; the profoundest Christian thinkers feel impelled by a kind of natural instinct to grapple with the questions which baffled the giants of ancient days. Another school swings to the other extreme, and disparages knowing. "If God," says Lessing, "was to hold Truth in one hand, and Search after Truth in the other, and offer me my choice, I should with all deference choose the Search after Truth in preference to the Truth itself." This is a mistake. To think is well, but to know is better. To hunt for truth is commendable, but to catch truth is more satisfactory. The Greek philosophers hunted well, but it was very little they caught. We do not hunt so well, nevertheless we catch more. Our children know more of God and the soul and eternity than the most accomplished writers of classic times. Christianity lays more stress on thinking than the Positivists; it lays more stress on knowing than the Transcendentalists; and thus it is the reconciliation of the opposite schools of philosophy.
II. They taught the PEOPLE. There .are two stages in religion.
1. The first is that in which is awakened within us reverence for the High — worship of that which is above us. The first essential in the education of the race as of the individual, is to cultivate this sense, and this the religion of the Old Testament was eminently calculated to do. God is seldom mentioned, but some sublime epithet is appended. The religions of nature served to engender fear; but a religion of revelation was necessary to engender reverence.
2. But Christianity marks a second stage — it teaches us also to reverence that which is under us; not only to worship God, but to compassionate and succour the great masses of men. In Plato's Republic the population is divided into the philosophers who govern, the soldiers who fight, and the people who serve; and the people are immured in slavery the most abject and helpless. Plato never entertained the idea that the vast bulk of mankind are capable of being enlightened, elevated, made pure and wise. But Jesus Christ cherished a larger hope of the human race, the "common people heard Him gladly." John the Baptist sent to ask Him the evidences of His Messiahship. "The blind receive their sight," etc., replied He, and, as the crowning proof, "the poor have the gospel preached unto them." The Saviour adduces this as a more convincing evidence than even His miracles. It was easier to suspend the laws of nature than reverse the usages of society.
3. But Christianity cultivates reverence for the high and reverence for the low. Did it teach the first only, it would establish gigantic despotisms, and authority would crush out freedom. Did it teach the second only, it would establish anarchy, and freedom would destroy all authority. But laying due emphasis on both, it serves as the mainstay of authority, and the sure guarantee of liberty. To the subjects it says — Submit yourselves to those who are above you. To the rulers it says — Respect the liberty of those who are under you. And thus touching the two extremes of government and filling all the space between, it is the very religion which covers all the world's wants.
III. They taught the people and PREACHED THROUGH JESUS THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.
1. They preached the fact of the resurrection by the example of Jesus. "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses." They preached it. They did not argue and weigh probabilities. The sages had thought and argued much, but left the subject in a state of chaotic uncertainty. What professes to be an historical fact must be judged by historical evidence, and the evidence the apostles brought forward was the undoubted witness of their bodily senses. We require no theories to confirm or confute that. But the Rationalists reply, "The evidence would suffice to establish beyond controversy any event in the history of Greece or Rome; but no amount of evidence can serve to establish the miraculous." That indeed is theorising with a vengeance! But you will notice that such reasoning shifts the ground of the argument from the realm of history to the province of science. Again we must remind sceptics that the resurrection of the Saviour is primarily an historical question. No amount of evidence can establish the miraculous! Then did they see miracles with their own eyes, still they would not believe. But any candid inquirer can see that such reasoning is not reason, but unbelief "The man who denies that God can perform miracles," says Rousseau, himself not on terms of amity with the Christian religion, "is not fit to be reasoned with — he should be sent to the lock-up."
2. They preached the doctrine of the resurrection. Christianity is first a religion of facts; and out of the facts grow the doctrines. First the Gospels, next the Epistles. First the foundation in history, next the development in doctrine. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. What, then, is the legitimate conclusion? That there is life after death.
3. "Preaching through Jesus the resurrection from the dead," the apostles' doctrine was much in advance of the highest Gentile teaching. Philosophy unceasingly returned to this fascinating problem; but its utterances were vague, wavering, and contradictory. Is the soul of man immortal? Ages passed before the human mind was sufficiently educated to launch the question, and then philosophy could not return a decisive answer — it could only hope. Will the body survive death? Ancient speculation did not concern itself about this. Christianity has raised the masses of men to a loftier altitude of knowledge than the sublimest philosophers of the old world ever achieved, notwithstanding their strenuous lifelong efforts.
4. Their teaching is also much in advance of Judaism. Is man immortal? Very little is said on the matter in the books of Moses. No doubt it is implied, for Christ perceived it and beautifully evolved it in His conversation with the Sadducees; and we, reading the Pentateuch under the light of the gospel, can perceive in it certain other passages. As you come on to the Psalms the consciousness of immortality becomes more definite; Sheol becomes an important word in the writings of David and the Prophets. But still, when the Saviour appeared, Jewish opinion was divided as to the precise teaching of Judaism.
(J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
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