I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come to the Gentiles…
My text calls us to consider —
I. THE HEART OF MAN IN A STATE OF INDIFFERENCE TOWARDS THE UNSPEAKABLE GIFT OF GOD.
1. The Jew was satisfied with that which ought not to have satisfied him, and he was indifferent towards that for which he should have craved. He had sacrifices, and should have been watching for the Lamb of God. He had a schoolmaster whose mission it was to lead him to Christ, but he was satisfied with the pedagogue. Toward certain national blessings he was anything but indifferent, but for the incomparable blessings of the kingdom he had no heart.
2. All this is not so much Jewish as human. The emulation of our first mother was, by the primitive temptation, misdirected. Abel was provoked to emulation by the promise of redemption, but Cain was excited to anger, and Adam's immediate posterity soon became dead in trespasses and sins. Noah was moved with fear, but the world was immovable. Abraham was inspired to become a wanderer, but his near relatives sought a continuing city. Israel was stirred up by Moses to leave Egypt, but soon they preferred to return. From the time of the dedication of the temple the nation began to decline, and then (Isaiah 1:8; Hosea 7:8; Hosea 8:9) no promise or prophecy provoked them to emulation.
3. In the fulness of time the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which is lost. But His generation was crooked and perverse toward Him; "His own" slew Him, and His disciples were slow of heart toward Him. An inferior being would not have been slain. Christ was too good for the people. Their emulation was too low to reach such an object. At and after the day of Pentecost, many Jews were provoked to emulation, but this emulation passed away.
4. No sooner had the light of the world begun to shine than a cry arose for the twilight of Judaism and for the night of Paganism. Men asked and received, they sought and found. And the history of the Church is very much the sad story of the substitution of error for truth. The Reformation provoked to emulation, and subsequently Wesley and Whitfield; but now as heretofore we seem to hear a cry, "Not this man, but Barabbas." "Not Christ, but Antichrist." We might speak of millions outside Christendom whose emulation carries them no higher than a senseless idol. We might speak of Christendom content with the human where nothing should satisfy but the Divine.
5. But let us look at "our own flesh." Multitudes in our England live but to gratify the lowest appetites; their emulation does not raise them to the level of the beasts that perish. Many, free from animal lusts, live for light pleasure and for small enjoyments. A large majority live to earn and to eat the bread that perisheth. Some live to climb to dizzy heights in the social scale. Now that which is good among these varied objects is far below the highest good. There is a spirit in man to satisfy as well as a body. There is Godlike blessedness within reach as well as temporary pleasure, bread that endureth unto everlasting life, honour that cometh from God, but toward these things the multitude in this nation have no emulation.
6. And among those who profess to have accepted the highest good we often observe a low emulation. One has the form of godliness without the power. Another has a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. Others limit their religion to orthodox opinions, or sensations, or correct conduct. The godly emulation of the people is low.
II. BEHOLD ONE WHO HAS HIMSELF RECEIVED THE UNSPEAKABLE GIFT, STRIVING TO REMOVE INDIFFERENCE FROM OTHERS.
1. There was much in Christ calculated to arouse. He baptized with fire. He brought not peace only, but a sword. The spirit of His ministry was the spirit of expostulation with those who were satisfied with evil called good, or with a lower kind of good than He offered. He spake as the old prophet (Isaiah 55:2; cf. John 4:13, 14; John 6:27).
2. John Baptist preached in harmony with this spirit of Christ Jesus. The axe is to be laid to the root of the tree; chaff is to be burned with unquenchable fire. And when men were inclined to rest in him, he cried, "He that cometh after me is mightier than I."
3. The manifest tendency of the teaching of Jesus to provoke to emulation led in part to His crucifixion. It was this which imprisoned Peter, and stoned Stephen, and beheaded James, and scourged Paul and Silas.
4. The life and example of Paul wrought upon indifference. He provoked the indolent by his activity, the bigot by his charity, the careless by his consistency, the changeable by his belief, the half-hearted by his zeal, and the cold-hearted by the heat of his enthusiasm and love. Unbelievers and false brethren were not at ease in his presence. He stirred men also by direct endeavours for their salvation. "If by any means I may save some." "Any means" — by preaching and teaching, entreaty, persuasion; wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove, all things to all men to save some.
5. Oh! for Paul-like men to provoke to emulation them which are our flesh! According to our power and opportunity let us try and do it. Our fellow-citizens are near us. We must travel sixteen thousand miles to stir the Japanese and Chinese. Our own flesh are always with us. They see our conduct, and understand our language. To foreigners we may be unable, individually, to set a good example; we cannot address them, but we have opportunity to provoke to emulation our own people. Suffer the example of Paul to provoke you to this good work. But I have something better to present than the example of Paul, even that of Christ. Is this pattern too perfect? Then for the present follow Paul, and let him be your pedagogue unto Christ.
Parallel VersesKJV: I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.