I. EVILS FROM WHICH MAN CRIES FOR DELIVERANCE.
(1) Darkness of intellect in moral questions.
(2) Dwarfed, misplaced, perverted emotion.
(3) Torpidity of conscience (e.g. the extraordinary Pharisaism of the Chinese apart from the gospel, contrasted with his fear and pain when led by the convincing Spirit to a sense of sin).
(4) Terror of the awakened conscience, which nothing but the gospel can assuage.
(5) Paralysis of the will; i.e. sheer inability (i.e. moral) to do the thing we would. "I approve the good, but the evil I pursue" (Romans 7.).
(1) Individual. Perhaps most of the sorrows and discouragements of life wilt fall under this classification.
(a) Limitation. Nearly all forms of pain fall under this head; e.g. the feebleness of youth, weakness, sickness, deprivations, bereavements, discouragements, debility of age, etc.
(b) Strain. Battle of life. Work of life.
(c) Impending death.
(d) Imperfection of character; i.e. of the external manifestation of the good within.
(2) Social. There are evils that fall to us in our relations to our fellow-men. These arise from the extreme difficulty of carrying ourselves morally, rightly, in relation to our associates (see "Righteousness a Personal Relation," in Wace's 'Christianity and Morality,' p. 37, most suggestive). Hence many sorrows. Hence, too, many sins; wrongs in the family; unjust subjection of women; slavery; cruelty; neglect of ministration to suffering; breaches of the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments; war, etc. Hence, too, all political tyrannies and religious persecution. No liberty, equality, humanity, unity, or true independence.
II. DELIVERERS PROVED INCOMPETENT. All religions which have declined from the purity of the primaeval revelation, and in proportion to the extent of their departure. It may be necessary here to contrast the easy and flippant assumption that each religion is an evolution from the genius of each race, and con.genial with it, and conducive to its moral elevation. E.g. the contrast between the comparatively pure idea, which the New Guinea people have, of a Great Spirit and the horrors of their cannibal life. Surely these may not be left to such religion as they have evolved. In showing incompetence to deliver from evil, the religious of the world must be classified, and then the incompetence of each demonstrated in relation to evils enumerated above. The following classification is suggested:
1. Indifferentism; i.e. any negative system that ignores the religious nature of man.
4. Mere theism; e.g. the Brahmo-Samaj movement in India. Its failure to meet the sin and sorrows of men is abundantly proved (see its own literary organs in India).
5. Atheism ]PGBR> in all its modern forms; e.g. agnosticism, positivism. 6. Impure forms of Christianity. Note that even in Russia so deep is the void left by the Greek Church, that there are fifteen millions of Dissenters, whom Imperialism tries to crush. It would not be difficult to show that the Roman perversion of Christianity has proved incompetent, and just in proportion to its decline from primitive truth. III. THE SAVIOUR ALMIGHTY. The whole history of Christ's kingdom, the facts of modern missions, our own experience, demonstrate the competence of Christ to fill the void of man's necessity, and to lift the burden from his surcharged heart; e.g. to enlighten the mind; to direct, purify, and elevate the emotions; to rouse and then soothe the conscience; to justify the will. And so with the other forms of evil marshalled above. Exhibit all this in detail, and demonstrate that "there is no other God that can deliver after this sort." - R.
6. Impure forms of Christianity. Note that even in Russia so deep is the void left by the Greek Church, that there are fifteen millions of Dissenters, whom Imperialism tries to crush. It would not be difficult to show that the Roman perversion of Christianity has proved incompetent, and just in proportion to its decline from primitive truth.
III. THE SAVIOUR ALMIGHTY. The whole history of Christ's kingdom, the facts of modern missions, our own experience, demonstrate the competence of Christ to fill the void of man's necessity, and to lift the burden from his surcharged heart; e.g. to enlighten the mind; to direct, purify, and elevate the emotions; to rouse and then soothe the conscience; to justify the will. And so with the other forms of evil marshalled above. Exhibit all this in detail, and demonstrate that "there is no other God that can deliver after this sort." - R.
Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in the province of Babylon.
1. We must get rid of the very prevalent idea that those who are spoken of with approval in the Bible were good as a matter of course, and breathed in and exhaled piety, virtue, and self-denial, in the ordinary course of things; while, on the other hand, those who are condemned, being, by supposition, in the same atmosphere, are much more inexcusable than we should be for not being good! I cannot attempt to prove the absurdity of this notion; I can only remind you that it is absurd. But besides getting rid of the idea that it was easy for these men to do as they did, I think that, in order to appreciate their character, we must try to ascertain how they could have done otherwise — with a view to "promotion" — if they bad lived in our own "enlightened" days. How could they have proceeded to reason with their consciences if they had had the advantage of our superior knowledge? They had many ways of escape. As loyal subjects, it was their duty to do what the king commanded; and, of course, this strong loyal feeling would be somewhat strengthened by the consideration of the alternative of the fire in the event of its repression! These men might, then, have reasoned themselves into compliance on the grounds that they ought to obey the powers that be; and their loyalty might have been stimulated and confirmed by the contemplation of the alternative furnace. When I hear or read the case of these men quoted as instances in which "the Church" opposed "the State," and received Divine sanction, and am asked to regard Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego as prototypes of modern violators of the law as declared by the courts to which they voluntarily submitted themselves when they entered the ministry of the English Church, by virtue of which they hold their position and emoluments, and from which they can withdraw when they please — I feel myself unable to argue with those who can be deluded by that fallacy. The parallel to Shadrach, Meshach, and Aben-nego is not the man who receives position or emolument, or both, from State and from Establishment, and then disobeys the law as declared constitutionally by the State; but the dissenter who refuses to worship what he considers the golden image set up by the State, and who refuses position and emolument rather than be under the control of the State, or, in other words, of the House of Commons. Whether he be right or wrong is another question. But he is intelligible; he may quote Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, because he gets nothing from Nebuchadnezzar the king; but if I disobey the law, I cannot claim martyrdom on such Scriptural authority. I am the recognised officer of Nebuchadnezzar, and my duty is to obey his law, which I accepted with my eyes open, or to cease to be under that law, which I can do when I please. You must bear with me here when I say that my argument will not be touched by saying that these were men serving the true God, and that they were asked to worship an idol. They were asked under pressure to do what they thought to be wrong. Whether or not they judged rightly is not the question. They were men who had no contract with the State. But setting aside the "loyalty" plea altogether, if they had consulted me as to how they had best manage their conscience in view of the objectionable furnace; I mean if they had consulted me as one whose sole business it was to get them out of the difficulty and keep them out of the fire, I should have said, "Look at it in this way; the whole thing is a 'matter of form.' Why should you be burnt for a form? Bow down with your body; that is nothing; you are not bowing down with your heart; that is everything." What would be the answer to this plea about mere form? Simply this: Form is nothing and heart is everything; but the association of ideas is such, with such beings as we are, that when a form becomes associated width an idea, it will be a matter of much time and much labour to sever them. The British flag is so much woollen material, but if you insult it, you insult the great nation which is in idea associated with it. And so, if these men had there and then bowed down — no matter what was in their heart — they would simply have created a wrong impression, sacrificed principle, or, to put it in plainer words, acted a lie. Again, they could have said that they might "cause a disturbance by disobeying the royal command," and that as Jehovah's servants they ought to "promote peace." What is the answer? Certainly peace, but not at the price of principle. Again, they might have said that "everyone was going," and that they had better not be singular. I say they might have said this, for it would be no argument. And looking for a practical answer in this eminently practical age, I should like to know how many of the reforms of various kinds of which we are all proud were brought about and worked by men who were not singular for many a long day. But they might have had a still more subtle and refined reason for obedience. By this single compliance, they might have said in their hearts and said to one another, they should "conciliate" the king, and so be able to do him spiritual good afterwards! But, after all, the very best of their conceivable arguments would come to this. They must sum it up into this simple question, "Shall I do evil that good may come?" They said "No." What was right they knew; what might be the result of doing it they did not know, and it was no concern of theirs. Obedience is our business. Its result, with all reverence I say it, is God's business. Our next step He generally makes plain enough. This was their practical faith, and this must be ours, if we would have the form who walks with us in the midst of our fiery trials — whether seen or hidden — to be "the form of the Son of God." These men were promoted to place; why? Because they had shown themselves to be "a power." And "a power" they would have been — in spite of Nebuchadnezzar and every other king who ever lived before or since, whether they got the places or not. Why? Because against royalty, against public opinion, and in the face of death, they acted according to their conscience, and trusted to that God whose candle within them they knew that conscience to be. The alternative presented to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego is essentially the same as that which presents itself often to everyone, high and low, young and old. We all have to face it, not once, but ten thousand times in life. And we do know that when that Book is opened, the dead — amongst whom you and I must one day be numbered — shall be judged, as we now judge Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, "according to the things that are written in that Book."
(J. C. Coghlan, D. D.).
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