But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out, saying,
Hebrews 1:14 (Revised Version), "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation?" The precise work of ministry is that entrusted to them, and apostolic assertion of the fact of their ministry is probably designed to oppose the Sadducees'teaching that "there is neither angel nor spirit."
I. ANGEL-HELP AS GIVEN TO CHRIST. The principal instances are:
1. Angel-announce-meats and preparations for his birth.
2. Angel-comfortings in the time of his desert temptations (Matthew 4:11).
3. Angel-strengthenings in the moments of his conflict and agony in Gethsemane.
4. Angel-attendance upon his resurrection.
5. Angel-announce-meats concerning his ascension and his coming again. From these instances we may learn the kind of help which angels may be expected to give to Christ's tempted and tried disciples.
II. ANGEL-HELP AS REALIZED BY APOSTLES. This took several forms.
1. As deliverance from prison (see text, and incident narrated in Acts 12:7).
3. As ensuring safety in times of peril (see Acts 27:23). It may be observed that what may be called the materiality of the angel began gradually to fade away, and the visionary realization of the angel-help took its place. In this we trace the transition to the form in which we now may apprehend the help of the angels. No man may expect such actual working in the physical spheres as St. Peter knew when his prison doors were opened. Even in St. Paul's time this work was done by the natural shakings of the earthquake.
III. ANGEL-HELP AS GRANTED TO US. And we may distinctly affirm that it is granted. The only question is - In what manner do we realize the help? Spiritual forces are around us. We are influenced, for good and for evil, by unknown agencies. This is as yet almost an unstudied Christian phenomenon; one, however, which often brings comfort as a sentiment to pious souls. Such angel-help is very properly put into a secondary place in our consideration when we have a full and strong conviction that the Lord Jesus Christ himself is with us, the Inspiration, Guard, and Guide of our whole life and thoughts. They who consciously realize the presence of the Master will make comparatively little of the presence of the Master's ministers and servants working out his gracious purposes for him. Show with what limitations we may properly cherish the idea of angel-help in everything that is good. - R.T.
But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors.
Weekly Pulpit.Observe —
I. THAT HUMAN AUTHORITY IS POWERLESS TO OPPOSE THE WILL OF GOD. The king on his throne, the judge on the bench, the soldier in his rank, etc., can only claim Divine protection when they discharge the functions of their office on the ground of truth, honour, and justice. Nowhere is obedience to true authority more emphatically enforced than in the Word of God; but nowhere is human authority, exercised contrary to righteousness, condemned with greater severity. Be assured that every sentence against the truth will be reversed. Every attempt to hinder the progress of the gospel will be punished.
II. THAT GOD HAS INSTRUMENTS OF THE HIGHEST ORDER TO CARRY OUT HIS BEHESTS. There are many records in the Bible of the glorious services which angels have done to the Church. Are they not all ministering spirits? etc. When ordinary means are unavailable God can command extraordinary help for His .people. Let us strengthen our faith by this truth. It is not wise to indulge in any speculation as to the manner or mystery of such interposition. Neither is it expedient to indulge in the sentimentalism which hands everything over to the Lord to be done by Him to save human energy. True faith never pries into God's mysteries; if it did, it would no longer be faith. True faith inspires all our energy in fulfilment of our duty. But, beyond this, faith trusts in a higher power when other means are exhausted.
III. THAT NO PRISON CAN DETAIN THE MEN WHOM GOD REQUIRES FOR THE WORK. The greatest of all teachers had devoted all His time to instruct these men in the principles of the kingdom. They witnessed His mighty deeds, and were made participators of His power. The evidences of Christianity were inscribed on their consciousness, and that was the book which the ages would read. Furthermore, the Holy Ghost had descended upon them, and had endowed them with additional qualifications for their work. Many souls had been saved, and the Church duly formed. If the world might be redeemed, evidently God intended it to be done by their instrumentality. Can you conceive of any prison, or authority, that could silence the voice of truth, the voice of the Cross, the voice of God? A necessity was laid upon them to preach the gospel which not only they felt, but all the world must feel. The angel came, and said, "Go, stand in the temple and preach the words of this life." When the Lord says go, it is of no use for man to stand in the way with his feeble no. If we have a mission from Jesus to the world, however circumscribed our sphere to-day, God will send His angel to open the prison. If we are straightened, it is in ourselves and not in Him.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
(G. S. Rowe.)
Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.Observe —
I. THE MANIFESTATION OF A POWER WHICH PROVIDES FOR THE CONTINUED PUBLICATION OF THE GOSPEL. An attempt was made to suppress truth by the imprisonment of its heralds. Evidently men are not to be judged by the positions they may be compelled to occupy. The best, as well as the worst, of mankind have occupied dungeons. God seemed to take no notice of the monstrous iniquity. But oftentimes there is a great calm before the storm. How breathlessly calm the army is just before making the terrible charge I And when God appears blind and deaf to the wrongs done under the sun, then it is that avenging angels grasp their swords and await in dread silence the word of command. For Jerusalem there was in store an all-consuming penalty; but the hour for its infliction had not yet come. Nevertheless, it was necessary for the enemies of the Church to be taught the absurdity, as well as the wickedness, of their opposition. First, they are allowed every advantage. They lodge and carefully guard their captive; then, as easily as light passes through the air, the prisoners pass through to liberty. You might as well attempt to chain down a ghost as any man, or cause, or truth, when God has said, "Go forth."
II. THE ATTRACTIVE DESCRIPTION OF THE GOSPEL couched in the phrase, "The words of this life." How often God comes to win our poor confidence, love, and service! It was when Jesus had scarcely done reproving the cities of Galilee that He said, "Come unto Me all ye that labour," etc. Marvellous in themselves, these words are more marvellous as coming from Christ at that particular moment, as if, though He seemed to have no fruit of His labour, He would plead with men again. And, similarly, the apostles had not only to preach, but to illustrate, in their own graciousness, the grace of God. They escaped from bondage, not to flee nor to be avenged, but to proclaim again the truth for which they had suffered.
1. Such a proclamation involved of necessity a profound view of sin. We are dead, physically, when the air is no longer inhaled; mentally, when the truth produces no impression upon the mind; and spiritually, when God is unloved by our hearts. We may be the cleverest of the clever, and yet "dead in trespasses and in sin."
2. But Christ brings to believers a new life. He confers the Holy Spirit, who creates the blessed life — Christ in you, in your thoughts and aims, your consciences and affections. And if Christ be in you ye shall not be barren and unfruitful; sinful habits will fall off the soul, just as dead foliage drops to the earth in this spring-time, when the rising life within the tree puts forth tender shoots to dislodge the withered leaves which all the winter may have defied the angriest wind to tear them from their boughs.
3. Christ nourishes that life. All ministers, etc., are commanded to speak to the people all the words of this life. But can life be nourished by words? It depends. Golden plates, being empty, are of no avail for those perishing with hunger. Perfect wires, unconnected with a source of electricity, convey no message. Words also may be empty platters or mere wires; but may they not be infinitely more? "God said, Let there be light; and there was light." Some one announced to you, "She is dead" — merely three words; but their meaning froze your blood. We have heard these words: "Christ came into the world to save sinners." Are they mere words? They may be; and yet they may be so filled with life by the Holy Ghost that they shall quicken in men's hearts a vitality that shall never fade away.
III. THE PUBLICITY OF CHRISTIANITY.
1. No doubt the temple was a very convenient place because of the multitudes that resorted there. But who can fail to see another kind of appropriateness? It was there that men had seen types and shadows age after age. The gospel was to be preached as an interpretation of the old revelation; a key was supplied which made plain the cypher which had been obscure.
2. Further, it is evident that Christianity courts publicity. Christ is uplifted for all to see. So His missionaries are bound to be as plain and clear as possible. Who ever heard that the apostles arranged a dark seance, or preferred to speak their words in corners? The gospel is addressed not to a clique, but broadly to humanity. There is no man or woman or child anywhere who does not need Christ; and there is no one upon whom Christ would not shine.
(W. J. Henderson, B. A.)
I. THIS DIVINE DEFINITION OF CHRISTIANITY. "This life." As a life Christianity is distinguished from all other systems. It is the one only life — God given and God sustained. This life is confined to no sect. It is co-extensive with faith in Christ. It is a life which breathes, feels, loves, and hates. It has its own sphere, literature, food, world.
II. THIS DIVINE DESIGNATION OF THE GOSPEL. As "all the words of this life," the gospel stands alone. When the Bible speaks all other books are silent. Men who try to discover the truth by the aid of ancient philosophers and religions are as those who light a candle in the middle of a cloudless day in order to discover the sun. The gospel is "all the words of this life," because it is the Word by which this life is —
1. Discovered. Here the gospel stands alone. What amongst the vanities of the heathen ever discovered to a soul "this life " spoken of in the text? These leave men still in darkness and uncertainty, while "life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel."
2. Imparted. Here again the gospel stands alone. Men try to draw unfavourable comparisons between the writings of Scripture and those of uninspired men, but assuming that such comparisons are just, they give no advantage. The man who wants to reap a harvest does not scatter glittering pearls in his field because they look much better than his "bare grain," but knowing that his corn possesses an inherent vitality, which will reproduce itself manifold, he commits it to the soil. The gospel was never intended to satisfy the cravings of critics, but to impart "this life."
3. Sustained. This life has wants and cares, emotions and hopes, peculiar to itself. In the gospel we have that which exactly meets its necessities. You have soul needs, which all the words of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and Shakespeare together would not satisfy, but which are more than satisfied by the gospel. In "the words of this life," you have that which strengthens and consolidates life's trust; inspires and sustains life's hope, and rekindles and inflames life's love. Christ is in them! That is the secret. He in the Word sustains the soul.
4. Governed. Here again the gospel is without a rival. The daily prayer of a true heart is, "Order my steps in Thy Word," and its daily testimony is, "Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
III. This divine delegation of the church. "Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people," etc. There is no ambiguity here. The Divine commission was clear and simple. In this we see the Church's work to-day.
1. "The words of this life" are to be preached. Not by ministers only. "Let him that heareth say, come."
2. They only are to be preached. "Speak," etc. The apostles were not to go and draw comparisons between these words and others, they were to preach the gospel. They knew nothing amongst men but "Jesus Christ and Him crucified."
3. They are to be preached earnestly. "Stand and speak." Let conventional forms and usages be forgotten. The theme demanded zeal. The old masters might sit and teach their philosophies, but as "Jesus stood and cried, If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink." so we must consecrate our whole manhood to this surpassing work.
4. They are to be preached exhaustively. "All the words." The pleasant with the painful; the doctrine with the promise; the 'warning with the invite. It was Paul's boast that he had not "shunned to declare the whole counsel of God."
5. They are to be preached universally "to the people." They were to classify men. Every creature is God's limit, and who 'is he that shall dare to circumscribe? To the converted and to the unconverted; to the "elect" and to the "reprobate"; "to the people," indiscriminately and universally, we are to "stand and speak all the words of this life."
(W. H. Burton.)
I. THE COMMAND OF THE ANGEL. It was in direct opposition to the command of the Jewish hierarchy. There occurs a period in all lives when there is a conflict between the higher and the lower, between the external voice of authority and the inward voice of conscience, a period when the soul must dare to assert the majesty of eternal right in the face of the whole world. When the Lord speaks to us, either in the written Word or through the voice of conscience, or it may be in the events of providence, we must disregard custom and creed and yield to the dictates of the still small voice within.
II. THE PLACE OF THE APOSTLES' MINISTRY. The temple of nature is one vast symbol of God. In the circle of sky above our heads, in the round ocean beneath our feet, we see the image of His eternity, in the light we see His perfection, in the lily His purity. Every common bush is aflame with the glory of God. And so it was in the temple at Jerusalem. It contained the symbols and the shadows of redemption. We have in the action of the apostles the recognition of the great principle of the right and privilege of every man who is filled with the Spirit to teach and to preach in the temple of the living God.
III. THE PERSONS TO WHOM THE APOSTLES SPOKE. It is the crowning glory of the gospel, that it appeals to the people and admits the masses into the inner shrine and sanctuary of truth. It is impossible to estimate the transcendent blessing which a cheap Bible has conferred upon mankind, and the liberty to read the sacred oracles in one's native tongue.
IV. THE PURPORT OF THE APOSTLES' MESSAGE. The life of Christ challenges the attention of the world. "This life" is the life of God manifest in the flesh, the life of the Divine and the human in one person, the life of the Eternal looking through the windows of time. In Christ is the fountain of life. He came to give life, and to give it more abundantly.
(J. C. Shanks.)
I. THE PROCLAMATION. "The words of this life."
1. The reference is to Sadducean unbelief, A truth is most needed. when it is least liked, and the age that rejects it should have it kept, with martyr constancy, before its eye.
2. "Life" is the burden of the message. This, in its lowest state, is prized above all temporal blessings. Under a law of death, Christianity assures us of the perpetuity of our existence. It thus gives an infinite multiplication of the present life of man. What was a probability in the minds of wisest philosophers, became a proclamation in the mouths of Jewish rustics.
3. The existence of man hereafter is not, however, the only, nor the chief, prospect of blessing afforded by the gospel. Existence may be the bier of souls. Life, in its fulness, consists in the healthful and unfettered activity of the whole man. It includes, therefore, a perfect nature and a perfect state. Hence it is so frequently put for the whole of gospel goodness. "He shall have everlasting life," is the entire promise made to faith. Man is a moral being. This supposes that he has moral powers and moral responsibilities. Sin is a violation of his nature, and it subjects him to punishment. As sinful, he is evil within, and he is exposed to evil as an infliction. Both these are called "death." Carnality is "death." Punishment is "death." The design of the gospel is to remove and prevent this death; to renew our nature, and then put us into a scene and sphere in which all its dispositions and principles may have free course and be glorified; to make us right, and surround us with a right lot. The whole work of Christ, and the operations of His Holy Spirit are designed to quicken the soul, to bring out, unite, and purify its powers, and prepare it for a state in which there shall be no hindrance to, but every facility for its love and joy and work: in one word, that it may "have life, and have it more abundantly." Through Christ we are restored to God, His law, His likeness, His love, His service; and no otherwise can we find our true place and rule and end.
4. And what a beautiful light is the gospel thus presented in! How accordant is it with the deepest and most advanced thought! How natural is its mercy! How agreeable its provision! And how indispensable its blessing! How every other method and object would miserably fail! All ornaments, instruments, advantages — what are they apart from life?
II. THE PLACE. "The temple:" Do we not see in this publicity —
1. The truthfulness of the gospel? The first preachers of the gospel did not secrete themselves, choose select audiences, go to strange people, nor wait until the matters of which they spake had been forgotten, or could not so well be sifted. Their message, intended for the people's benefit, was committed to the people's scrutiny. Based on history, they proclaimed it to those who had the fullest opportunities and means of trying its historical integrity. They knew that they spoke the truth, and knew that others knew it too. And what could convince them but Christ's resurrection and ascension? The gospel is the same to-day. It is open to the inspection of all. It comes before the people in its full utterances and evidences. It especially challenges investigation. It allows of no means of bringing men to its adoption but their conviction of its truth. And it promotes, as all reason and history go to show, a spirit of intelligence, dangerous to any system that cannot stand the test.
2. The indifference of Christianity. The whole state of the Jewish Church was corrupt. And the time had come when the gorgeous ceremonial ceased to be obligatory, and realism took the place of ritualism. I can imagine some who would not have used the temple at all. There have been reformers who would have shunned the place, or only have frequented it to warn men of the sin and folly of making use of it. So did not they. And this is but one instance of the moderation of the first preachers of Christianity. Jesus did not shrink from contact even with doubtful things around Him. And His servants addressed the people through their familiar ideas, and conciliated them by conformity to their habits. We find one now prudently circumcising a disciple, and now as prudently joining some who had a vow. These things bear marks of the healthy character of apostolical religion, not to say proofs of apostolical inspiration. Men always work fresh theories to death. And when I find the first preachers of the gospel as calm as they were earnest, making no account of secondary matters, but every account of matters of first importance, I cannot but admire the reasonableness of their faith, and am disposed to admit that, in this, they were "taught of God."
3. There is still a higher suggestion. The temple was the great symbol of the Jewish religion which had virtually passed away. In declaring the gospel in its porch, the apostles declared the fulfilment of all it was designed to signify. When the temple became a church, it was in the natural order of Divine Providence. What more meet than that the spot which had witnessed the premonitions of the gospel, should be the scene of its complete announcements? Nor must we stop at Judaism. There have been other great religions among men. In Christianity you have all these met and satisfied, and in it alone. It stands in the porch of humanity, and "speaks all the words of this life."
III. THE PEOPLE. "Speak to the people."
1. We have here a specimen of the genius and design of the gospel.(1) It knows nothing of the artificial distinctions of men; it regards man as man. "There is neither Greek nor Jew," etc. "The common salvation" differs widely in the universality of its aspects from many false religions and philosophic systems. Christ addressed Himself not to a class exalted above the rest, but to the people generally. So did the apostles. No anxiety to reach and win the learned and mighty class prompted them. They preached to the Sanhedrin when brought before them, but their mission was not to classes, but to the "people."(2) And in speaking to the "people," they not only recognised their right to the gospel, but their power to understand and to profit by it. Their gospel was not a problem to be solved only by faculties specially trained, but a truth to be apprehended by undisciplined understandings, to be tested by common sense and common honesty, to be felt and appreciated by hearts untutored save by the Spirit of Divine love. While skill has often served only to perplex, and learning to encumber, and worldly pomp to corrupt, the gospel, the simple and the unlettered have "received the kingdom of God as little children," and felt it to be "in power, and not in word." While "these things have been hidden from the wise and prudent, they have been revealed unto babes." While the first have been making elaborate comments on the architecture of the temple, the last have been humbly worshipping before the glory; while the first have been cleverly criticising the wording of the invitation, the last have been feasting joyously at the table of the Lord. As men have sometimes altered it, it has been adapted only for the few; as God has given it, it is designed and fitted for all.(3) We say, "for all." For it is possible to err in two directions. We may leave out the great and wealthy as well as the poor and mean. We may depreciate humanity in high places as well as in low places. There is an aristocracy of poverty as well as of rank and riches. Pride may look up as easily as look down. The haughtiness of supposed unrequited merit may be a severer, bitterer thing than that of satiated self-esteem. The people may be flattered as well as nobles. And I am not sure that this danger has no existence now. There were two disciples in the Sanhedrin, as large a proportion probably as there were among the people. There were "saints in Caesar's household." If "not many mighty and noble and wise are called," it must be remembered that there are not many, speaking comparatively, to be called. But if the gospel do not exclude them, it includes others. For its design is to bless with "life," and the need and power of life is in the man, in every man. Might does not create it, weakness does not destroy it; riches do not buy it, poverty does not lose it. The blessed child of God may be clothed in rags; the heir of heaven may lie at the rich man's gate, covered with sores; "the woman that was a sinner" may be the loved and commended of Christ. The poor widow may be the most honoured contributor to God's cause; and the crucified robber the first of His converts to be with Christ in paradise.
2. Let us obey the angel's charge. There are temptations to restriction. This mission may be harder and, in some respects, less profitable than that of others. But remember also, that, in others, it will be most fruitful. And "the people" — the great body of the people mare in special need of these "words of life." Christianity, by the influence of its truths and principles, has raised the people, and will yet raise them to a higher social position. The views it gives of man's nature and relations must excite a desire for a position which the masses have not yet attained. It is impossible to mark the tendencies of our own day, without seeing that power is being wonderfully diffused. Whatever our views, whatever our apprehensions, be it desired or be it dreaded, persons and classes will be of less importance than they have been, and men in general will be of more. We may forbid the tide, but it will come in. With this destiny before the people, our duty is —(1) To prepare them for their inheritance. Believing that the gospel alone can guide and develop and sanctify all our powers, give " life" to nations as well as individuals, let us endeavour to diffuse Christianity, that the people may be faithful stewards in their solemn trust. I do not mean, however, do this from policy, but from principle. There is something mean and almost dishonest in using the gospel simply as a means of keeping people in order. It is as a "word of life " in all its channels — social, political, moral, religious life — that you should proclaim it. Proclaim it not from fear, but love.(2) To represent the gospel as intending to bless man by and through His soul. The gospel looks benignly on all attempts at reform and advaneement. It never forgets, though its professors have forgotten, that men have bodies, and through their bodies are to be reached. But let us not forget that the condition of men may be elevated without their hearts being sanctified; that ungodliness may dwell in circumstances of plenty, cleanliness, and health; that good wages may be associated with bad conduct, and healthy neighbourhoods with diseased souls. To hear some people talk, you might suppose that "the kingdom of heaven" is nothing to sanitary reform, that there are no sanctuaries like improved dwelling-houses, no baptism like that of baths and wash-houses, no Lord's Supper to be compared to soup-kitchens, no method of quickening men in towns like that of having cemeteries out of town. We say not a word against these things. We wish them God-speed. But let us not estimate too highly the religious influence of these things, and while ye attend to them attend also, and supremely, to the greater things of spiritual salvation.(3) To exactly understand, and be well assured of, the nature and necessity of our own spiritual agency. We should guard against the precipitance of mere zeal and fear. It is said of a modern statesman (Lord Melbourne) that he was never alarmed except when he heard people say, "Something must be done." We must avoid the idea that there is mystery or miracle in the question. There is no great discovery to be made. We must not be impatient, supposing any sudden and surprising change is probable. We must beware of attaching too much value to institutional and instrumental changes, as if the great cause of popular alienation from the gospel lay in ecclesiastical buildings, offices, or economies. Above all must we not substitute the conversion of the Church to the world for the conversion of the world to the Church; not fall into the terrific blunder of trying to remove unbelief and sin by denuding Christianity of its peculiar truths and peculiar sanctities. The work of the gospel is not to change the wine into water, but the water into wine. The "earth" suffers dreadful loss when the "salt" no longer retains its "savour."
(A. J. Morris.)1. There are two ideas of life — necessary existence and voluntary action. Thousands of men live, pass away, and are nameless for ever. Others live in a higher sense — Live an idea — and hence leave behind them a heritage of good deeds and life-inspiring words.
2. The unit of life is the most strongly marked fact in the universe of God. It begins with an eternal thought in the existence of a supreme personality, and is traceable through every order of beings. We speak of a nation's history. What is it? The history of men and women in the aggregate ends of their actions. The Magna Charta and the Declaration of Independence, while expressions of national sentiment, are yet histories, to that extent, of every man whose voice and hands were raised in their defence or promotion. Every great working principle, every theory of reformation and progress must have a life-force behind it. Its recommendation, its truth, and its power are one with this vital force. The gospel of Jesus Christ has behind it this vital force in a transcendently striking fulness. It is pre-eminently a life. It is not a theory, but an experience; not a speculation, but a certainty; not an abstract idea, but a vital truth.
I. IT WAS SPOKEN. Men live by what they speak. All that is left of human life in the past are the few 'scattered words of poets, seers, and philosophers, gathered up after the banquet of time. The words of the gospel were spoken by a man, the man Christ Jesus. It came welling up from the life-fountains, as His holy eyes looked on sin and sorrow. "Language was given man to conceal his thoughts." But the language of Christ brought them forth in a revelation of beauty and power. So Divine were these words in their meaning that, when rough men were sent to bind the people's Teacher, they were disarmed and went back to those who sent them, saying, "Never man spake like this arian." But His words were also linked with the power of life. Each was a life-principle. "The words which I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." Yea, He was Himself the living Word — the eternal Loges — spoken from the beginning. Peter read this truth in the Master's early utterances, and boldly asked, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."
II. IT WAS ACTED. Its precepts and promises were not spoken, like the philosophy of Greece, in the retirement of the academy, to a few disciples, but they were given to the thirsting multitudes in the midst of arduous toils. Christ worked while He preached. In the highest sense the gospel is a drama, enacted upon the stage of the universe. It represents itself, and its effect is its own eternal life-necessity and life-efficiency. The sympathy provoked in the hearts of its spectators also deepens the life-idea. It is not an aesthetic sentiment awakened by its delicate finish of language and character, or of profound emotion stirred by its tragic colouring, but of deep self-felt interest in the letter of its purpose and the efficacy of its sacrifice. Every scene in the grand drama is real. The real feet of the "Man of Sorrows" pressed the sands of Galilee; a hand of flesh touched the blind eyes; a human heart wept tears through human eyes over the grave of Lazarus. Human blood was found on the cross, and stained the grass in "the place of a skull." A real body was laid in the new tomb of Joseph, and a glorified human body rose through ethereal depths, and on a cloud-chariot ascended to the kingdom above.
III. IT WAS LIVED. Christ practised what He preached. The great truths and heavenly virtues which He held up to others found illustration and shone with Divinest radiance in His own life. In an absolute sense, then, this gospel may be styled a life — a perfect life. None other is. It stands out in chiselled beauty and symmetry. The Child of children; the Brother of brothers; the Friend of friends; the Man of men; His life was confined to the proper channels of duty, while the perfect balance of His whole nature made Him ever the Just, the True, the Good.
IV. IT WAS FELT. It felt not only for humanity, but felt with it; and came not only with a relief for human woe, but came to share that woe.
1. There is a time in every life when sorrow and care are a strange and pathetic poetry. But after a while they become strangely real. Experience makes them part of life, and thus the chords of sympathy are struck through all the race. It was thus that Christ learned to sympathise with man. With man He quaffed the bitter chalice; with man, trod the path of thorns; with man, tasted death, and with him, slumbered in the grave. But He rose as the earnest of immortality to man's slumbering dust.
2. But this sympathy is not only with human sorrow, but also with human joy. It is a lyre strung with chords of grief and chords of joy. Sometimes they are struck in unison, sometimes singly, but always to throbs of human hope. The gospel is a religion of light. Gloom was never on His face.
(H. M. Dubose.)I. THE NATURE OF THE GOSPEL, AS HERE INTIMATED. "All the words of this life." It is the design of the gospel to restore man to a certain life. With regard to its matter, the gospel is styled the word of truth; with regard to its end, the word of life. The apostles embraced Jesus Christ as "having the words of eternal life." There is a life, lost by the fall to man, restored by the gospel. Christians experience a great transition, no less than from death to life. Jesus Christ came to give life, and to give it more abundantly; the gospel being a fuller ministration of the blessings related to spiritual and eternal life than the Old Testament. This life consists in the effects of the gospel on the spirits of men. Their state is essentially changed by the introduction of this life: "all things become new." God, who was the object of aversion, becomes the object of love; God, who was disregarded, becomes the chief source of happiness; His favour, which was left out of sight, becomes the great prize and end of our being; we press after this beyond all beside.
II. SOME DISTINGUISHING PROPERTIES OF THIS LIFE. None can form an adequate conception of it but those who experience it. This is the case with every kind of life; you could not judge of the life you live, unless you had experienced its functions, its pleasures and its pains. Similarly, the natural man cannot know the things of the spiritual; they must be spiritually discerned. This is —
1. A supernatural and spiritual life. It is not produced by any natural causes or means; none can impart it to another, none can produce it in himself. God must give it; it is called a "new creation," "born of the Spirit — born of God." It is a life quite distinct from every other kind of life; there is vegetable life, distinct from sentient or animal life; and, above this, there is the life of reason, which reaches to the past and the future by reflection and anticipation, and diffuses existence over interminable space; but as far superior to this, as this is to the life of mere sensation, is the life of spirituality.
2. A most elevated life. It brings us into an alliance with the Father and the Spirit by Jesus Christ. He who has this life places his interest in heaven. He would not exchange the sufferings of this life for all that riches could purchase, all that pleasure could offer, all the glory of time; for he feels himself called to the station of those who are "kings and priests to God"; he is enabled to reign over his fleshly appetites and desires, and to sit down with Jesus Christ in heavenly places. Never shall we know what real dignity is till we experience this life. This is the life that Jesus Christ lived.
3. A holy life. It partakes the nature of its Author, the Holy Spirit; it is given for the very purpose of recovering man from sin to holiness; the necessity that existed for Christ's interposition springs entirely out of this design. It is a life which creates pure desires; wars against everything base and evil; makes men strive against sin even unto death.
4. A progressive life. All life is such, vegetable, human, and Divine. The views of a Christian become clearer, his faith strengthens, his consolations improve, and, if he has not so much fervour as at first, his increasing stability amply compensates for the decrease. The saints are described as rich and flourishing in old age. Grace is represented as at first a blade, then an ear, then the full corn; as a little leaven leavening the lump. The Christian pilgrim, forgetful of things behind, presses on to things before; he is never satisfied until he is with God; his path is like the light shining more and more to the perfect day.
5. An eternal life. "I give My sheep eternal life." As this life commences with the eternal purpose and Spirit of God, so it is destined to flourish with God for ever and ever. The life of believers is the same, in its essential spirituality, with the life of those who live in heaven; they have the same pleasures, the same devotion; they feed on the same bread, taste the same salvation, sing the same new song.Conclusion:
1. He that has experienced this life has a knowledge of its value that surpasses all that description, even the description given in the Word of God itself, can impart to others. He has had realising foretastes of unutterable, unchangeable, interminable glory and felicity; he seems almost to have entered within the veil.
2. But without this life, heaven itself, as it is the exhibition of God, must prove a most unsuitable element. There must be a new heart, new tastes, a new life in the soul. They that have not this grand specific, must die in their sins.
(Robert Hall.)I. THE SUBSTANCE OF OUR MESSAGE. It consists of "words." Too great a distinction is sometimes made between words and things. Brought together, ranged in the order of living thought, they are among the mightiest things on earth. But above all words of law and literature, statesmanship and science, military despatch and moral disquisition, pictorial and philosophical history, poetical and pathetic sentiment — are the words of this life.
1. It is life from death. Not life following death, as in the order of vegetation, where the sap that has fallen down into the root comes up again to vitalise the dry and barren branches. Men do not carry in their souls the seeds of this new life; its appearance is not through a development, but through a regeneration.
2. It is life through death. You get this life through the sacrifice of the Great High Priest. God breathed into "man's nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." That was all which was necessary for the first life. That you and I might have the second the Eternal Word becomes a man, that through death He might destroy and "deliver," becoming "obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross."
3. It is life for death instead of it. Death in trespasses and sins is but the forerunner of another death, a death to deepen, grow, intensify itself, and not to end with the destruction of the body, but to go on consuming the soul without annihilating it. Our message includes words of death; we would solemnly repeat them, but they are in service to the words of life, they illustrate them by contrast. If the gospel proclaims life in exchange for death, then the terrors of the death enhance our conceptions of the life that delivers us from it.
II. THE ILLUSTRATIONS OF OUR MESSAGE. Whether the apostles were sent to the temple because there so many types of the words of life were before them and the hearers, or not, certainly the temple was like an open picture-book, from which they could illuminate what they had to say. Judaism was "a shadow of good things to come." The apostles as they declared the words of this life stood in the midst of the shadow.
1. Entering the temple, the apostles passed the brazen sea (Exodus 30:17-21). Through purification the Jews were to be saved from death. Through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost we live. The defilement of sin is the power of death — cleansed from that defilement we escape that death. Through the deep evil of our hearts we are shut out of God's presence, bathed in the water of the Spirit, made clean through the new birth, we can cross the threshold of God's palace, and bow before His throne, and minister in His service.
2. Beyond the brazen sea stood the altar. It proclaimed that "without shedding of blood there is no remission." Death for life; no life for the sinner but through the death of another.
3. Beyond and at the end of the temple was the veil (Leviticus 16:2). There was not access within the veil at all times even for Aaron, for the people at large there was no access at all. Most emphatically did this declare the holiness of Jehovah and the sinfulness of man. The drawn curtain before the Holy of Holies means that the gospel undraws it; rather, the death of Christ rends it in twain (Hebrews 10:3, 16-22). Such are the words of this life, they show the way open; they offer the privilege of the High Priest to all; they offer it continually.
III. THE ENDS OF OUR MESSAGE.
1. The inspiration of this life. "How shall they call on Him on whom they have not believed?" "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." Thus we speak that men may live, believing that God will put life into His own words when we utter them. We do not try to play the philosopher, but we would walk in the steps of the Hebrew prophet. We would study Ezekiel's vision, believing there is a lesson in it for us.
2. For the nourishment of this life. Peter describes the believer "as born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God," and that which he recognises as the germ of life, he presents as the food of life. "As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby." The new life, God connects with means in its nurture as in its inspiration. The minister is not simply a herald, he is to be a pastor feeding his flock, a father taking care of his family. Christians want what will feed their spiritual life, and strengthen it, and refresh it, recover it when faint, revive it when feeble.
3. The diffusion of this life. It is communicative. He who conveys it to another has no less of it himself, but more. The heavens drop down rain; through a million channels does it flow to fertilise the land. Spiritual life comes from God, who makes you and me bearers of it to others. Conscious of having it and enjoying it, how can we help striving to give it to others who perish through the want of its blessing?
(J. Stoughton, D. D.)
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE PREACHER'S COMMISSION.
1. He is sent by Christ. "No man taketh this honour to himself." Even Christ was the Sent of God. And of His disciples He said, "As Thou has sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world." The twelve were called apostles because they were sent by Him. When He left the earth He said, "Go ye therefore And lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." How was He to be with them but by. working and ruling spiritually in the midst of His Church, "giving some apostles, and some prophets," etc. They are the true successors to the apostles who, called from the world into the Church, are still further moved by the Holy Spirit to devote themselves to the work of the ministry.
2. Is furnished and supported by Christ. The question is, How is one man to minister to the wants of a congregation of men, and sympathise with all its multiform life — rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep; guide the erring, cheer the disconsolate, convince the doubting; have a word for the young, for the middle-aged, and for the old. Who is sufficient
for all this? Looked at from the human side alone, no one is sufficient. He may have the strength of Samson, the brain of Shakspeare, the courage of Luther, the tenderness of Howard, the eloquence of ; but if he has nothing more than what is human, he is unfit for his work. Whatever his natural advantages may be, he requires an unction from on high — he must be upheld and nourished, and guided by the Spirit of Christ. And he is so upheld.
3. Is responsible to Christ. To have Christ for one's Master is the chief of blessings. Men may misunderstand us, deal out scant justice, fail in sympathy, and forsake us, but Christ will not. No faithful act of any servant of Christ can pass unnoticed or unappreciated by Him, but we have this consideration also for our warning. If our faithfulness is noticed, so is our unfaithfulness. If Christ has done so much for the world, He will look after those whose business it is to watch for souls.
II. THE SUBJECTMATTER OF THE PREACHER'S MESSAGE. The subject is —
1. A definite one.(1) It is all contained in one book; and it is embodied in one Person who is called "The Word." It is necessary that Divine truth should be put into human words, for they give stability and perpetuity to the Divine message. We can lay hold of them and keep them before the mind, and study them until they bud out with meanings thick as the buds and blossoms on Aaron's rod. They are the flowers from which we may sip the nectar of truth that is sweeter than the droppings of the honeycomb. If God's message had been delivered to men merely as a spoken word, and had come down through time as an unwritten tradition, it would have wanted clearness, certainty, and authority.(2) The preacher's message, then, has been written down in definite words, and he must keep to these. He is not at liberty to speak on any subject he pleases. There is truth in the stars, and it is the business of the astronomer to unfold that. There are sermons in stones, and it is the work of the geologist to make the stones preach their sermons. There is much wisdom in the conditions of human society, and it is the business of the statesman and the lawyer to teach us what it is. But the preacher has to expound the Word of God. Science and politics may illustrate his subject, but they do not form it. Passing events may present us with striking lessons, but we have to preach from the Bible, and not from the newspapers. But it may be said, Did not Jesus Christ preach from nature? Did He not find texts in the lilies, birds, waving corn, and little children? Not texts exactly, but illustrations. He Himself was the text, for He was the living incarnate Word of God, and He is our subject. The preacher makes no pretence to absolute originality. He is not the discoverer of a new country, but the guide to a country that has been discovered. As from the original languages the Bible has been translated into the living languages, so from the primitive life it must be translated into the modern life. The experience of the nineteenth century before Christ requires to be translated into the experience of the nineteenth century after Christ.(3) But although the Bible is the preacher's text-book, it does not follow that every one who takes a text from the Bible is a gospel preacher. The Bible has been used to arrest the march of science; to rivet the chains of the slave; to justify every form of despotism. From the words of Christ men have preached against Christ. They have taken His own words to disprove His divinity. Yea, Satan himself has often preached from a Bible text. The mere fact, then, that the text is taken from the Bible is no guarantee that the sermon is really a gospel-sermon.(4) Neither does it follow, although we select no particular text, that we do not preach Scriptural truth; for a discourse might be attached to no particular verse of Scripture, and yet be full of the Spirit of Christ. 2. A profound one. Life is a great deep. Who can fathom the soul amid the darkness that is within? disclose its origin in the darkness that is behind? tell its issues in the darkness that is before? If the gospel, then, has any reality and power it must say something satisfactory as to what we are, whence we have come, whither we are going, and what we ought to do. The gospel does this. The Bible is emphatically a Book of Life. Everywhere it is full of life. In the Old Testament there is the life of God; in the Gospels there is the life of Christ; in the Epistles there is the life of the Spirit — everywhere the life of regenerated man. It, is not a book of skeletons, but of beings clothed with flesh and blood. Like nature, it has an appearance of abruptness and disorder, which rests, however, on the eternal order.
3. A broad one. "All the words." "The commandment is exceeding broad." The gospel-kingdom is "a place of broad rivers and streams." What richness and variety there is in the Word of God. As the book stretches over a great breadth of time, so it stretches over a corresponding breadth of spiritual life. It has its high mountains on which the clouds of heaven are resting, in the doctrines of the Divine fore-knowledge, predestination, and sovereignty. It has its fruitful plains in the moral activities and good works of men. It has its city life in its civil and ecclesiastical arrangements. It has its quiet valleys in which lie the beauties of domestic life. And it has its great rivers in the principles that run from the beginning to the end of the book. The preacher, then, should not dwell exclusively on the mountain tops of high doctrine, nor should he stand always on the plain, preaching what is called mere morality. If men will insist on opening their eyes to one set of facts, and shutting them to another equally true set of facts, it is not probable that they will preach "all the words of this life." And whence come the narrowness of sectarianism and the bitterness of bigotry, but from a disregard of this truth — that the Word of God has many sides?
III. THE SUITABILITY OF THIS MESSAGE TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND WANTS OF ALL MEN. The Word was to be spoken to the people in the temple, where they were wont to congregate, in a language they could understand. The types in the temple had now served their purpose as forms of worship, and preaching had now become the chief work of the Church.
1. Speech is a noble faculty, whereby man resembles God, in that He reveals Himself by a word, and so comes into closer contact with his fellow-man. As an institution in society, public speech can never become obsolete; and as a part of the service of the Church it is coeval with the Church. Preaching is more essential to the Church than any other form of worship. Forms of worship belong to particular dispensations, but the preacher belongs to every dispensation. Whatever the form of worship in the antediluvian and patriarchal ages, there were always preachers. In the Jewish Church all the prophets were preachers. The reason is that the preacher's function, being simple and direct, is suited to every age.
2. It is sometimes said that the press is invading the domain of the pulpit. Not so; the press is a handmaid of the pulpit, and instead of silencing the preacher it gives him a voice that extends to the ends of the earth, so that every week we may hear one divine preaching in New York and another in London. As a propagator of religious literature the press ministers to the pulpit; and with regard to other matters, the publication of things secular and ephemeral, the press is here altogether out of the province of the pulpit, which has to do with the spiritual and eternal. The question is, How is a man to be most deeply impressed with Divine truth? We cannot answer by saying that he ought to stay at home, reading the Bible or a sermon, for in private he wants three influences which he has at Church.(1) The person of the preacher. There is a mysterious power proceeding from personality. The tones of the human voice and the look of a living man have great power to impress truth upon the soul.(2) Now this is wanting in books. There is the sympathy of numbers. The rapt attention of one may convict us of inattention, and the careless look of another may call forth a prayer, while the feeling that each is but the fragment of a great whole is fitted to solemnise the mind, as if there fell upon it the shadow of the myriads who worship God in heaven, and that that multitude shall stand before the throne of God. Such influences are wanting in solitude.(3) There is the influence of the other parts of the service, prayer and praise, in rendering the mind more susceptible of true and saving impressions, and this does not exist to the same degree in private. But some one may say, "I get better ideas, and a greater number of them, from reading a book in private." Well, it is a good thing to read and get ideas; but we all know a great deal more than we put in practice, and what we want, therefore, is gracious impulses to the performance of duty. And how are we to get these if we do not seek them in the way of God's appointment? In short, if books merely could convert the world, why did not God allow books to do it? Along with the written Word there has always been the spoken Word.
3. The words of the Bible suit all phases of life. It has pleasant pictures for the simple-minded, grammatical difficulties for the scholar, deep problems for the philosopher, guiding precepts for the practical, visions of beauty for the poet, hoary wisdom for the experienced, and songs for the dying in the dark valley. It has words for the father in his family, for the master among his servants, for the teacher among his scholars, for the judge on the bench, for the king on the throne. It has words for different states of mind: words of enlightenment for the ignorant, of conviction for the sceptical, of consolation for the bereaved, of warning for the thoughtless, of condemnation for the impenitent, and of forgiveness for the contrite in heart.
4. All earnest persons who come to the temple to worship God in simplicity of heart will hear words that will suit their case. And how varied are the wants represented in a congregation of worshippers! No two hearers altogether alike, but all alike in this, that they are by nature under one common condemnation, and must become partakers of a common salvation. The young are here with the world before them untried and unknown; they need a Saviour to keep them from the bitterness, unbelief, and vanity of the world. The middle-aged are here, with the world's work resting on their shoulders, and they need strength, wisdom, and the sweet charity of the Christian life to enable them to do that which is true, faithful, and kind. The old are here, with their histories in time about to be closed for ever; and they require to have their anchor cast within the veil, and to be at peace with God, and there are words of life for all.
(F. Ferguson, D. D.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)Wycliffe, and it never died out. If you wanted to burn a haystack, you would set it alight at the bottom; and if you want a whole nation to feel the power of the gospel, it must first be received by labourers and artisans. The martyrs of England were largely taken from weavers, and such like. The people love the man "chosen out of the people." The Bible is their charter, the gospel is their estate, and when they know it they will retain it with heroic constancy. What is more, they will spread it. Christ's first preachers were of the people, and in the streets of London to-day, and in the Sunday-schools of England to-day, you will find that the people are to the front in holy work. We are glad to see the noble, the great, the rich, the cultured dedicated to our Lord, but, after all, our chief hope lies among the people.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)dangerous to omit any part of the gospel, would it not? It would be like a physician giving a prescription to a dispenser, and the dispenser omitting one of the ingredients. He might kill the patient by the omission. The worst results follow the keeping back of any doctrine; we may not see those results, but they will follow. Possibly only the next generation will fully display the mischief done by a truth concealed or denied. It would be a dangerous experiment for any one of us to make.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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