What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, has found?…
1. This question is highly characteristic of St. Paul. If a Grecian statesman like Solon had been in a difficulty, his question would have been, "What saith the oracle?" If a Roman general like Caesar, his would have been, "What say the victims?" But the Christian apostle's is, "What saith the Scripture?"
2. Universal has been the confession of human ignorance, especially regarding the future. The numerous oracles of antiquity, of which there were twenty-two sacred to Apollo alone, are manifest acknowledgments of this. But those oracles did not arise merely out of a consciousness of human ignorance; they had their origin likewise in a reverence for the gods and a respect for their religion, such as it was.
3. This being the case, let us contrast the oracles of the heathen with the oracles of God. At Delphi was the most famous oracle. In the innermost sanctuary there was the golden statue of Apollo, and before it there burnt upon an altar an eternal fire. In the centre of this temple there was a small opening in the ground, from which an intoxicating smoke arose. Over this chasm there stood a high tripod, on which the Pythia took her seat whenever the oracle was to be consulted. The smoke rising under the tripod affected her brain in such a manner that she fell into a state of delirious intoxication, and the sounds which she uttered in this state were believed to contain the revelations of Apollo. In the long experiment of heathenism it may be truly said that men groped after God, "if haply they might find Him." Think of them solemnly examining the entrails of a beast, or studying the intersections of a cobweb; think of them trying to discover the mind of God from dreams or the sounds of the wind among the rustling leaves; and then reflect on our greater light and privileges, for we have the oracles which holy men wrote as they were inspired by the Holy Ghost. As we have a nobler oracle, let us consult it with a nobler curiosity and on nobler subjects than the Gentiles did. It is the boast of some natural theologians that they could do without the Bible. But in the full light of nature men acted as we have observed, and therefore something more luminous and powerful was necessary to the renovation of humanity. That one thing needful was a revelation — and that we have got; for "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God." "What saith the Scripture" on —
I. THE ORIGINAL AND PRESENT STATE OF MAN? It tells us we were created upright, that man is fallen and degenerate, and that we are now in a state of sin and death.
II. THIS PRESENT WORLD. How are we to interpret it? Now, just as there is an intended distance for judging of a picture, so there is a right position and attitude for judging this world. A man comes close up to a masterpiece of Rubens, and pronounces it a daub. Let him stand back, and the picture will come out even to his unskilful eye. Just so with the world. You cannot judge it rightly while you are near it, amidst its fascinations. You must retire and prayerfully consult the Word of God. That is the right position and attitude for judging of the world. Many a thoughtful man asks himself, "Why has God set me down here in the world? What does He want me to do?" If he went to the Bible he would get these questions satisfactorily answered; but perhaps he comes to the easy conclusion that he ought to enjoy himself, and straightway plunges into the stream of pleasure, and basks for a little in her fitful sunshine. He is destined to experience what a million experiences fail to prove to the imprudent, that the pleasures of the world turn to acids. "What saith the Scripture?" It tells us that man is here on probation, that this is a life of discipline preparatory to another stage of existence, that this life is not our home, but that our home is in heaven.
III. THE SUBJECT OF HAPPINESS. It is not to be found in the world. Knowledge will not give happiness; for "he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." Wealth will not give happiness. A rich man, when he was dying, cried out for his gold. It was brought to him, and he put it to his breast. "Take it away! take it away!" he shrieked; "that won't do!" Greatness cannot give happiness. Once a friend called to salute a prime minister, and wished him a happy new year. "God grant that it may be!" said the poor great man; "for during the last year I have not known a happy day." A real Christian is the happiest style of man. Thus saith the Scripture, "In the world ye shall have tribulation; but in Me ye shall have peace."
IV. OF THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL. How unsatisfactory is mere reason here! But Christ has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Conclusion:
1. We should receive the responses of God's oracle with meekness.
2. Consider your responsibility. Shall not the heathen rise up in the judgment and condemn us? For they listened for the voice of Deity among the rustling leaves or the cooing of the doves, but many of us despise the voice that speaketh from heaven.
3. Consider the perpetuity of the Word, and tremble. Its reviler has long been in his grave; but the Word of God liveth and abideth forever.
(F. Perry, M. A.)
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