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The Sword of the Word

The Sword of the Word

The Sword of The Word

The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do.  Hebrews 4:12, 13.

Great S. Mary’s Church, 21st Sunday after Trinity, 1870.

Do we want an illustration of the moral truth conveyed in these words? We shall not have to look far for an example. Of all the heroes in Jewish history, none would appear more enviable, as none was more successful or more famous, than David, the triumphant king, the sweet Psalmist of Israel, the man after God’s own heart. We follow him step by step from the obscurity of his youth, till after many dangers and trials, through many vicissitudes, he has forced his way from the sheepfold to the throne. Seated there, he raises the power of his people, and the glory of the monarchy, to a height, which before him none could have foreseen, which after him none was destined to surpass. His success is now culminating. Everywhere respected, everywhere triumphant, honoured by his people and feared by his enemies, in all the consciousness of patriotic zeal, in all the plenitude of undisputed power, he might seem indeed to have attained such happiness as rarely falls to the lot of man. Moreover in his private life the same prosperity attends him. At this very moment he has accomplished a design which lies near to his heart; his well-laid plans have been carried out with secrecy and crowned with success; he is reaping the fruits of his stratagem. Who so proud, who so justly admired and envied as he? And yet at the very crisis of his triumph, in his mid-career of self-felicitation, the blow falls upon him; a sharp, chilling, piercing stroke from an unseen hand, which paralyses his whole being. And from what an unexpected quarter too does it fall! Not by famine or pestilence; not by defeat abroad or by revolution at home; not by loss of reputation, or loss of wealth, or loss of friends; not by disaster of any kind, as men reckon disasters, but by the agony of an awakened conscience. A simple child-like story uttered by a prophet’s lips has wrought the miracle. The Israelite king feels in anguish of spirit the biting edge of a sudden remorse. His very success is his bitterest punishment. The overflowing cup of happiness is become a draught of deadliest poison. His sin has been brought home to him. Henceforth his life is all changed. He is no more hopeful, no more joyous, no more proud and self-reliant. Bowed down with shame and sorrow, he lies prostrate before the throne of grace. ‘Against Thee only have I sinned.’ ‘Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.’ ‘O give me the comfort of Thy help again.’ The echo of those few terrible words ever lingers in his ear, ‘Thou art the man.’

Or again; pass from the Old Testament to the New. A very different scene awaits us here. From the captain of Israel we turn to the oppressor of Israel. A Roman governor is seated on his tribunal, protected by his guards and surrounded by the insignia of office. A man of unbridled passions and inhuman cruelty, he holds in his grasp the life and the property of all around him. Hated and feared by others, he knows no fear himself; he has no scruples, no misgivings of any kind. Before him stands a helpless prisoner, rude of speech, and mean in bodily presence, a poor invalid broken by cruel persecution and worn with distracting cares. He utters a few eager words on a strange topic. Do they seem like the dreams of a visionary or a fanatic? Certainly they take no account of the worldly schemes, the tangible advantages, the material pleasures, which absorb that ruler’s thoughts. And yet, the bold reckless tyrant dares not listen, dares not face them. Paul reasons of righteousness, temperance and judgment to come; and Felix trembles.

I have set these two incidents side by side, because they are at once so like and so unlike the one to the other. In time, they are separated by the lapse of many centuries; and diverse forms of thought and usages of society and types of government have come and gone; and mighty nations have arisen and flourished and grown old and passed away meanwhile. In the principal actors also, the central figures in the two pictures, there is a direct contrast. The Israelite king, the devout servant of the one true God, has nothing in common with the reckless procurator, whose religion would have been idolatry, if he had had any religion at all; nothing in common at least, except his proneness to sin and his need of forgiveness. And, lastly, in the results the opposition is still more striking. David is overwhelmed with shame, and humbles himself before God: Felix stops his ears, and hardens his heart. Yet this broad gulf of time is spanned by one eternal power. Amidst all this diversity of circumstances, of persons, of consequences, there is one constant and abiding element; the unseen, but not unfelt, Witness and Judge, Who reveals and Who denounces sin. While all else changes, this alone remains unchangeable. For, though all flesh withereth like grass, and the glory of man falleth away, as the flower thereof, yet the Word of God endureth for ever. This mighty two-edged sword was the weapon wielded alike by Nathan and S. Paul. And, smitten thereby, David repented and Felix trembled.

The Word of God. Much controversy and much misapprehension have gathered about this simple phrase. From all controversy I hope to keep clear. The subject which I have chosen, the power of the Word of God in revealing sin, is deeper and higher and broader than any controverted topic of theology—deeper, for it penetrates into the inmost recesses of the human heart; higher, for it carries us before the throne of God; broader, for it allows no distinction between man and man. All alike fall within its scope.

But, if controversy should be avoided, misapprehension must be corrected. And to the true understanding of the text, the first step will be to discover what is meant by ‘the Word of God.’

In the common language of our own time the Word of God is a synonym for the Scriptures, the Bible, the Record, the written Word. Men are so accustomed to this limitation, that they find it difficult to shake themselves loose from the force of habit. Yet in the Bible itself the expression is not so used; and even in our Church formularies, though the phrase frequently refers to the written Record, it is not limited to this.

Speaking generally, we may say that in the Bible itself the ‘Word of God’ is used as coextensive with Revelation in its widest sense. God’s voice is God’s declaration of Himself. Whensoever and howsoever He makes Himself known, there He speaks. Is it a precept, or a prediction, or a threat, or a promise? Is it a phenomenon of nature, or an act of grace? Is it an ordinary, or an extraordinary, exhibition of His power or His wisdom or His love? Does it speak to the eye by a written scroll, or does it speak to the ear through pulsations of air, or does it speak to the mind or the conscience with an impalpable, inaudible, motionless appeal? Whatever the subject, and whatever the mode of operation, the voice is still the same. In all these alike the Word of God is the agent or the agency, whereby He declares Himself.

Thus the application is comprehensive. Wherever Revelation is—Revelation natural or Revelation special—there is the Word of God. But, with this comprehensive bearing, the conception is two-fold. Sometimes the Word of God is the agent, sometimes the agency or the act. In other language it is sometimes personal, and sometimes impersonal.

1. The Word personal. The direct language of S. John, and the indirect language of S. Paul, apply the expression to a Divine Being, Who became man, and for one brief space lived on earth as man. He was before the worlds; through Him the worlds were created, and are governed. He is the expression of the Father’s power, the Father’s wisdom, the Father’s love. He is the manifestation of God. His agency extends through all time, reaches back into the infinite past, and forward into the infinite future. Through Him is every revelation of God, whether natural or supernatural, whether in the world of sense or in the world of spirit. In His Incarnation, in His life and death and resurrection, the revelation of the Word culminates. Here its scattered rays are gathered into a focus. But it has begun countless ages before, and will continue countless ages after.

2. The Word impersonal. This is the most frequent, as it is the most obvious, use of the phrase. No longer the agent, but the operation or the agency, is denoted thereby. It is not now the speaker, but the speech, that is intended by the ‘Word of God’—the speech, but still in its comprehensive sense; the utterance which makes itself heard in nature and in history, the utterance which addresses itself to the hearts and consciences of men, not less than the utterance which communicates a special message to the prophet or the Apostle. ‘By the Word of God the heavens were of old, ‘says S. Peter in one passage, and in another, ‘Ye are born again by the Word of God.’ ‘His Word runneth very swiftly. He giveth snow like wool; He scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes … He sendeth out his Word, and melteth them;’ so says the Psalmist, and in the very next verse he adds, ‘He sheweth His Word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel.’ These two great facts which awed the soul of the modern philosopher—the starry heavens above, and the sense of moral responsibility within—what are they but the two-fold utterance of the Eternal Word of God?

In the text then the expression cannot be said of the written Word, for the usage of the Bible forbids this; neither can it be said of the personal Word, for the context does not encourage this meaning. It follows therefore that we adopt the third and only remaining sense, and understand it here of the operation or influence, which speaks to us from God and of God, which withdraws the veil of the material and sensible, which discloses to us the spiritual and unseen, alike in the phenomena of nature and the phenomena of grace—the same, of which it is written that, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’

This Word, so comprehensive, so penetrating, has many functions. It instructs, it consoles, it stimulates, and encourages; but it also accuses and condemns. It addresses the understanding, the affections, the sympathies; but more especially it addresses the conscience. It is this last application to which the text refers. That man despises the Word of God and hardens his heart, as the people of old hardened their hearts in the wilderness, and brings down upon himself the like condemnation, and shuts himself out from the promised rest, who refuses to listen to the voice of right and truth, by whatsoever channel it reaches his ear, whether by the outspoken rebuke of a friend, or the angry taunt of a foe, or the inward workings of his heart, or the accidents of outward circumstances—if only he knows it to be God’s voice—not less surely, not less fatally, than though it were uttered by an accredited messenger from Heaven, or appealed to him in the language, and through the facts, of Holy Scripture.

I spoke just now of the limited sense in which men commonly conceive and speak of the ‘Word of God,’ as not justified by the language of the Scriptures themselves. And yet this usage is only wrong, in so far as it is a limitation. I will not now discuss the more direct theological characteristics of the Bible, which vindicate its claim to this title as most legitimate and most true. I am rather concerned here with the moral power of the Word, for to this the text more directly points. And does not the written Record, the Bible, regarded in this aspect, satisfy the description most fully? It is living and active. Though the record of events transacted in bygone ages and in foreign lands, though the voice and the writing of men who have long since passed away, it is yet no dead letter, but a quick and a quickening spirit. It speaks still, as it has spoken ever, to the hearts and consciences of men; nay, it seems even to gain force and meaning by the lapse of ages. And it is a sharp two-edged sword also. It breaks the skin of social distinctions; it probes the conventional habits of a defective morality; it pierces to the inmost recesses of the soul; it severs, and it lays open.

When therefore we are discussing the language of the text, we should do well to bear in mind that though the Word of God and the Bible are not coextensive and so convertible terms, yet the Bible pre-eminently satisfies the requirements which are demanded of the Word of God in this definition.

And of all the tokens of Inspiration none is more striking, because none is more simple. It is the one evidence which makes no difference between mind and mind, which presupposes no previous special training, asks no laborious investigation or abstruse reasoning. The attestation of miracles requires careful weighing; the fulfilment of prophecy demands historical research; the marvellous oneness and continuity of the Scripture Revelation—manifesting the same increasing purpose throughout, yet manifesting it under various forms and in diverse ages (for the Bible is not a divine book, but a divine library, as it was truly called in times past)—this, which I venture to think the most weighty of all merely intellectual evidences, will not appear without much patient study and some concentration of thought. But here we are moving in a larger room, are breathing a free air. Here is neither Greek nor barbarian, learned nor unlearned, wisdom nor folly. Here is no parable of intricate meaning; ‘Lo, now speakest Thou plainly, and utterest no proverb. Now we believe that Thou camest forth from God.’

We have seen what is implied by the ‘Word of God,’ as used in this passage. Let us turn now to the image, under which its power is described.

The victim bound with cords, helpless, prostrate on the altar; the sacrificial knife gleaming over him for a moment, then plunged into his neck; the convulsed limbs, the relaxing muscles, the quivering heart, the life ebbing out fast with the stream of his blood; the last, panting, throbbing gasp, and all is over. The victim is then separated limb from limb; the secret springs of his exuberant life are laid bare; the complex machinery of his active frame—bones, joints, muscles, arteries—all are seen. There is no concealment, no mystery now.

And is it an idle fancy, if we discern something more in the image than this? Metaphors borrowed from heathen sacrificial rites are familiar to us in S. Paul. The fragrant incense, which perfumes the sacrifice, is the diffusive benevolence of the Christian heart accompanying the surrender of self to God. The libation poured over the head of the victim is the Apostle’s devotion of his own life to perfect the faith and self-sacrifice of his converts. The captives chained to the victor’s car, the triumphal procession winding along the Sacred Way to the temple on the Capitoline Mount, represent the spirits of men subjugated by the power of the Gospel, the triumph of Christ Who ascends up on high and leads captivity captive. May there not then be a similar reference here to certain rites which accompanied a heathen sacrifice? May not the image refer to the inspection of the victim for the purpose of taking omens? The carcase is dissected; the vital parts are laid open; the abode of the passions and affections is exposed to scrutiny. Is the heart healthy and whole? Or is there in some hidden recess a dark plague-spot, the germ of an eating canker, some fatal propensity of pride or malice or indolence or sensuality or selfishness or self-seeking in some other form—unrevealed to those without, unfelt and almost unsuspected even by the victim himself, and yet a terrible omen foreboding ruin to himself, to his family, to the society in which he moves, to the Church of which he is a member, to the country which reckons him as a son. It is well that his heart should be torn open; well that the dark presage should be read in time, while yet all is not lost, while yet the fearful consequences may be averted. This revelation the Word of God will make: piercing, slaying, dissecting, like the sacrificial knife; but unlike it in this, that it heals most completely, where it wounds most deeply; and gives life there only, where first it has killed.

Such I suppose to be the force of the image in the text. But, whether this be so or not, it is clearly intended to suggest two main ideas, revelation and chastisement.

1. The Word of God is essentially a revelation of the secrets of the heart.

And here again we cannot fail to see how the Book, the Record, fulfils this condition of the Word of God. ‘His words,’ said one of the fathers speaking of S. Paul, ‘are not words, but claps of thunder.’ Might we not have added that they are lightning-flashes also, darting through the pitchy darkness, and revealing so suddenly, so unexpectedly, the deepest recesses of selfishness and sin in the human heart? This, which is true of S. Paul, true of the whole Bible, is pre-eminently true of the recorded sayings of Him, Who spake as never man spake, Who is Himself the very Word of God. I cannot attempt to describe this moral power of Holy Scripture in language. I dare not hope to add anything to the image in the text. The joints and the marrow of the human soul and spirit—the most complex interdependencies of passion and thought and purpose and action, and the vital centre and home of the moral life—both these the Word of God probes and severs and lays bare. It is just this dissecting power, this keen penetration of the Scriptural Record, which is its most wonderful moral feature. I have read in other books many wise and beautiful reflections on the relations of God and man, on life and death, on time and eternity, many lofty precepts and salutary rules for the guidance of human conduct, much of all kinds that instructs, improves, elevates. I have read such with deep thankfulness; and I believe that all light, whatever it may be, comes from the great Father of lights. But in no other book, unless its inspiration has been derived from this Book, do I find the same delicate discrimination between the real and the seeming in things moral, the same faculty of piercing through the crust of outward conduct and revealing the hidden springs of action, of stripping off all conventional disguises, of separating mixed motives with their contradictory elements of good and evil. This analysing, dissecting moral power is the logical attribute of the written Word.

2. But the metaphor in the text implies punishment also. The revelation which probes the intricate joints and the inmost marrow of the human soul and spirit, cannot do so without inflicting much bitter anguish. Take the case of one who, after living on for years in a dream-land of self-delusion, is awakened to a sense of his true character. His life perhaps has been one of uncheckered success throughout; he is happy in his friends and his family; he is in easy circumstances; he maintains a high reputation with the world. And meanwhile his outward prosperity and calm have lulled him into a false security: he has come to survey his position and his character with infinite self-satisfaction. Then suddenly an unseen power flashes the truth upon him. He sees his own meanness, his selfishness, his hypocrisy and doubleness of heart. He is stabbed through and through with this new revelation. He is not worse now, he is very far better, than he was before. A converting, purifying influence, like a mighty rushing wind, has passed, or is passing, over him. Yet he was happy then, and now he is utterly wretched. Whence comes this difference? The world has not changed its opinion of him. It holds him upright and virtuous now, as it held him before. Good men seek his company and value his approbation still, as they did before. Is this new feeling then a mere phantom, a temporary mania? No: he knows that it is real; far more real than the haze of self-delusion, in which he has hitherto lived. And yet, if religion were not a true thing, if the distinction of good and evil were only a conventional distinction, a mere trick of education, the accumulated growth of ages, if morality were but a more imposing name for utility, then he would be right to fling these uncomfortable feelings aside, as idle fancies, unsubstantial ghosts, haunting his path and disturbing his peace. But this he dare not, he cannot do. He has felt the cutting edge of the Word of God. It has pierced to the dividing asunder of his inmost soul and spirit.

I have taken an instance of one suddenly awakened in conscience by the power of the Word. Let me exemplify this retributive power exercised under different circumstances and with different results, no longer in correction but in vengeance, no longer for repentance but for remorse. A man is indulging habitually in some sinful course, whether dishonesty or sensuality or some other form of vice. He plunges deeper and deeper in his guilt; he goes on and on, conscious whither he is led. He feels himself falling, falling downward, into the abyss: and his guilty heart keeps its own secret. He dares not reveal himself even to his closest and dearest friend. What account, I ask, is to be given of this state of mind, so truly described as the heaviest of all punishments, worse than the sword of Damocles, worse than the tortures of Phalaris, by the heathen moralist and poet, whose language, expressing as it does the deepest moral truth in the noblest form, the preacher speaking in the name of Christ need not apologize for adopting. It is certainly not the fear of worldly consequences: his guilt may be beyond the reach of punishment, perhaps even of detection. He may have no very distinct sense of right and wrong, and yet he feels somehow that he is despising the right and choosing the wrong. He may not confess God with his tongue or even in his heart, and yet he is conscious that an ever-widening gulf yawns between him and all that is noble and beautiful and good, that is to say, the mind of God; he is dimly conscious that he is alienating himself from God. This is the source of his hidden terror; God is witnessing within him, is denouncing him, is punishing him. He too has felt the cutting edge of the Word.

Are there any here, who have experienced that which I have attempted to describe; into whose soul this keen knife of the Word has pierced, healing with correction or slaying with remorse; who with David have repented, or with Felix have trembled? They will know that this sharp, painful shock cannot be wholly explained by the fear of detection or the dread of consequences; that beyond and above these lower influences a mightier hand wields the weapon. These may poison the barb, but they do not whet its point, nor direct its aim. In lower natures they will be more powerful. A brave man will despise them. It is only when that something which we call conscience whispers its tale in his ear, that the defiant eye is dropped, and the upraised arm sinks by his side, and he feels that the strength has gone out of him. His best ally, his inmost self, has turned against him; this it is, which unnerves, unmans him. ‘Conscience doth make cowards of us all.’

And if conscience is not a mere function of utility, so neither is it an artificial growth of education. Would you object that in the child the distinction of right and wrong seems merged in the idea of obedience or disobedience to external authority; that with the savage the conception of morality appears hardly to rise above the desire of appeasing, or the fear of offending, his fetich? What then: would you go to the child for a clear idea of syllogistic reasoning? To the savage for an adequate definition of scientific induction? And if you would not, then why should you do in the one case, what you would not do in the other? Education does develope; experience does ripen. This is true of the moral consciousness, as it is true of the intellectual reason. But neither education, nor experience, can create. The germ, the faculty, is there, there in the child and in the savage, as in the full-grown civilized man, bound up, we know not how, with the phenomena of our physical nature, influenced by them and influencing them in turn, but heaven-descended and heaven-implanted.

‘Conscience doth make cowards of us all.’ It is said, and said truly. But, if this be all, then its work is imperfect, is worse than useless. ‘Sin revived and I died,’ says S. Paul. But this is only a first stage. Death cannot be the rule of life. ‘God did not give us the spirit of cowardice, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.’

Conscience makes cowards of us; but conscience makes saints and heroes also; saints, for the perfect harmony, perfect guilelessness, perfect gentleness of character which we call saintliness, will only come to those who are ever sensitive to the most subdued tones of the still small voice, which speaks to us alike in the silence of the closet and the turmoil of the streets: heroes, for though there be heroes many, as the world counts heroes, whom ambition or vainglory or self-seeking have made bold and defiant, yet the true hero, the man (as he was painted of old) who is content to live a life of obloquy and die a death of shame, who strives to be just, more than to be called just—as Christians let us add also, to be pure, more than to be called pure—he can only be created by the consciousness of this Higher Presence, can only be sustained by the monitions of this Divine Witness within him. ‘His Word was in my heart as a burning fire.’

Youth and early manhood are the seed-time of the conscience, not less but even more than of the intellect. God’s law, which ordains that a man’s heart shall harden itself by neglect and selfishness and disobedience, till one by one each avenue is closed to His Spirit, and a thick, impervious crust encases the whole—this law, however mysterious as a dispensation, is a plain stubborn fact which daily experience confirms. I do not doubt that with you, young men—not with a few but with many—personal consciousness has winged the arrow and driven the image in the text home to your hearts. At some time or other, in one or more of many ways, the sword has pierced your soul; the Word of God, witnessing in you and against you, has found its way to the vital parts. It has done so, and it will do so again. But this will not last for ever. Instead of the sharp, short pang, which wounds only to heal, a moral numbness, a paralysis ending but in death may creep on at last. Do not therefore resist; do not sear the wound. If you entertain the high ambition, not only to pass through the world in respectability and comfort, not only to achieve a success more or less brilliant, but to do and to suffer, above all to be that which God wills for you, then this His Word speaking through your conscience is your real and only teacher. Honesty and truthfulness are the elements of morality; humility and reverence and purity are its head and crown. For the former the restraints of law and convention, the demands and the sympathies of social life may do not a little; for the latter they will effect almost nothing. These must grow from within. This inward monitor, and this alone, can create and sustain them.

Therefore do not shield yourselves against the cutting double-edge of this Sword of God. Bear the pain, that you may find the cure. ‘He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up.’ Is it not significant, that in the words immediately following on the text—as the sequel and the counterpart to this description of the piercing, revealing, slaying Word of God—we are led at once into the presence of our great High Priest in the heavens, Who is ‘touched with a feeling of our infirmities,’ being tempted like us, though unlike us sinless, and bidden to ‘come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.’

Lightfoot, J. B. (1890). Cambridge Sermons. London; New York: MacMillan and Co. (Public Domain)

Threshing

Threshing

Threshing

"For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod. Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen."—Isaiah 28:27, 28.

THE art of husbandry was taught to man by God. He would have starved while he was discovering it, and so the Lord, when he sent him out of the Garden of Eden, gave him a measure of elementary instruction in agriculture, even as the prophet puts it,—"His God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him." God has taught man to plough, to break the clods, to sow the different kinds of grain, and to thresh out the different orders of seeds.

The Eastern husbandman could not thresh by machinery as we do; but still he was ingenious and discreet in that operation. Sometimes a heavy instrument was dragged over the corn to tear out the grain. This is what is intended in the first clause by the "threshing instrument," as also in that passage, "I have made thee a sharp threshing instrument having teeth." When the corn-drag was not used, they often turned the heavy solid wheel of a country cart over the straw. This is alluded to in the next sentence: "Neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin." They had also flails not very unlike our own, and then for still smaller seeds, such as dill and cummin, they used a simple staff or a slender switch. "The fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod."

This is not the time or place to give a dissertation upon threshing. We find every information upon that subject in proper books; but the meaning of the illustration is this—that as God has taught husband men to distinguish between different kinds of grain in the threshing, so does he in his infinite wisdom deal discreetly with different sorts of men. He does not try us all alike, seeing we are differently constituted. He does not pass us all through the same agony of conviction: we are not all to the same extent threshed with terrors. He does not give us all to endure the same family or bodily affliction; one escapes with only being beaten with a rod, while another feels, as it were, the feet of horses in his heavy tribulations.

Our subject is just this. Threshing: all kinds of seeds need it, all sorts of men need it. Secondly, the threshing is done with discretion, and, thirdly, the threshing will not last for ever; for so the second verse of the text says: "Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen."

I. First, then, we all need threshing. Some have a foolish conceit of themselves that they have no sin; but they deceive themselves, and the truth is not in them. The best of men are men at the best; and being men, they are not perfect, but are still compassed about with infirmity. What is the object of threshing the grain? Is it not to separate it from the straw and the chaff?

About the best of men there is still a measure of chaff. All is not grain that lies upon the threshing-floor. All is not grain even in those golden sheaves which have been brought into our garner so joyfully. Even the wheat is joined to the straw, which was necessary to it at one time. About the kernel of the wheat the husk is wrapped, and this still clings to it even when it lies upon the threshing-floor. About the holiest of men there is something superfluous, something which must be removed. We either sin by omission or by trespass. Either in spirit, or motive, or lack of zeal, or want of discretion, we are faulty. If we escape one error, we usually glide into its opposite. If before an action we are right, we err in the doing of it, or, if not, we become proud after it is over. If sin be shut out at the front door, it tries the back gate, or climbs in at the window, or comes down the chimney. Those who cannot perceive it in themselves are frequently blinded by its smoke. They are so thoroughly in the water that they do not know that it rains. So far as my own observation goes I have found out no man whom the old divines would have called perfectly perfect; the absolutely all-round man is a being whom I expect to see in heaven, but not in this poor fallen world. We all need such cleansing and purging as the threshing-floor is intended to work for us.

Now, threshing is useful in loosening the connection between the good corn and the husk. Of course, if it would slip out easily from its husk, the corn would only need to be shaken. There would be no necessity for a staff or a rod, much less for the feet of horses, or the wheel of a cart to separate it. But there’s the rub: our soul not only lieth in the dust, but "cleaveth" to it. There is a fearful intimacy between fallen human nature and the evil which is in the world; and this compact is not soon broken. In our hearts we hate every false way, and yet we sorrowfully confess, "When I would do good, evil is present with me." Sometimes when our spirit cries out most ardently after God, a holy will is present with us, but how to perform that which is good we find not. Flesh and blood have tendencies and weaknesses which, if not sinful in themselves, yet tend in that direction. Appetites need but slight excitement to germinate into lusts. It is not easy for us to forget our own kindred and our father’s house even when the king doth most greatly desire our beauty. Our alien nature remembers Egypt and the flesh-pots while yet the manna is in our mouths. We were all born in the house of evil, and some of us were nursed upon the lap of iniquity, so that our first companionships were among the heirs of wrath. That which was bred in the bone is hard to get out of the flesh. Threshing is used to loosen our hold of earthly things and break us away from evil. This needs a divine hand, and nothing but the grace of God can make the threshing effectual. Something is done by threshing when the soul ceases to be bound up with its sin, and sin is no longer pleasurable or satisfactory. Still, as the work of threshing is never done till the corn is separated altogether from the husk, so chastening and discipline have never accomplished their design till God’s people give up every form of evil, and abhor all iniquity. When we shake right out of the straw, and have nothing further to do with sin, then the flail will lie quiet. It has taken a good deal of threshing to bring some of us anywhere near that mark, and I am afraid many more heavy blows will be struck before we shall reach the total separation. From a certain sort of sins we are very easily separated by the grace of God early in our spiritual life; but when those are gone, another layer of evils comes into sight, and the work has to be repeated. The complete removal of our connection with sin is a work demanding the divine skill and power of the Holy Ghost, and by him only will it be accomplished.

Threshing becomes needful for the sake of our usefulness; for the wheat must come out of the husk to be of service. We can only honour God and bless men by being holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. O corn of the Lord’s threshing-floor, thou must be beaten and bruised, or perish as a worthless heap! Eminent usefulness usually necessitates eminent affliction.

Unless thus severed from sin, we cannot be gathered into the garner. God’s pure wheat must not be defiled by an admixture of chaff. There shall in no wise enter into heaven anything that defileth, therefore every sort of imperfection must come away from us by some means or other ere we can enter into the state of eternal blessedness and perfection. Yea, even here we cannot have true fellowship with the Father unless we are daily delivered from sin.

Peradventure some of us to-day are lying up on the threshing-floor, suffering from the blows of chastisement. What then? Why, let us rejoice therein; for this testifies to our value in the sight of God. If the wheat were to cry out and say, "The great drag has gone over me, therefore the husbandman has no care for me," we should instantly reply,—The husbandman does not pass the corn-drag over the darnel or the nettles; it is only over the precious wheat that he turns the wheel of his cart, or the feet of his oxen. Because he esteems the wheat, therefore he deals sternly with it and spares it not. Judge not, O believer, that God hates you because he afflicts you; but interpret truly and see that he honours you by every stroke which he lays upon you. Thus saith the Lord, "You only have I known of all the nations of the earth, therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." Because a full atonement has been made by the Lord Jesus for all his people’s sins, therefore lie will not punish us as a judge; but because we are his dear children, therefore he will chastise us as a father. In love he corrects his own children that he may perfect them in his own image, and make them partakers of his holiness. Is it not written, "I will bring them under the rod of the covenant"? Has he not said, "I have refined thee, but not with silver, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction"? Therefore do not judge according to the sight of the eyes or the feeling of the flesh, but judge according to faith, and understand that, as threshing is a testimony to the value of the wheat, so affliction is a token of God’s delight in his people.

Remember, however, that as threshing is a sign of the impurity of the wheat, so is affliction an indication of the present imperfection of the Christian. If you were no more connected with evil, you would be no more corrected with sorrow. The sound of a flail is never heard in heaven, for it is not the threshing-floor of the imperfect but the garner of the completely sanctified. The threshing instrument is therefore a humbling token, and so long as we feel it we should humble ourselves under the hand of God, for it is clear that we are not yet free from the straw and the chaff of fallen nature.

On the other hand, the threshing instrument is a prophecy of our future perfection. We are undergoing from the hand of God a discipline which will not fail: we shall by his prudence and wisdom be clean delivered from the husk of sin. We are feeling the blows of the staff, but we are being effectually separated from the evil which has so long surrounded us, and for certain we shall one day be pure and perfect. Every tendency to sin shall be beaten off. "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him." If, we being evil, yet succeed with our children by our poor, imperfect chastening, how much more shall the Father of spirits cause us to live unto himself by his holy discipline? If the corn could know the necessary uses of the flail, it would invite the thresher to his work; and since we know whereunto tribulation tendeth, let us glory in it, and yield ourselves with cheerfulness to its processes. We need threshing, the threshing proves our value in God’s sight, and while it marks our imperfection, it secures our ultimate cleansing.

II. Secondly, I would remark that God’s threshing is done with great discretion; "for the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument." The poor little fitches, a kind of small seed used for flavouring cakes, were not crushed out with a heavy drag, for by such rough usage they would have been broken up and spoiled. "Neither is a cart-wheel turned about upon the cummin": this little seed, perhaps the carraway, would have been ground by so great a weight: it would have been preposterous to treat it in that rough manner. The fitches were soon removed from the stalks by being "beaten out with a staff," and the cummin needed nothing but a touch of a rod. For tender seeds the farmer uses gentle means, and for the hardier grains he reserves the sterner processes. Let us think of this, as it conveys a valuable spiritual lesson.

Reflect, my brother, that your threshing and mine are in God’s hands. Our chastening is not left to servants, much less to enemies; "we are chastened of the Lord!" The Great Husbandman himself personally bids the labourers do this and that, for they know not the time or the way except as divine wisdom shall direct: they would turn the wheel upon the cummin, or attempt to thresh wheat with a staff. I have seen God’s servants trying both these follies; they have crushed the weak and tender, and they have dealt with partiality and softness with those who needed to be sternly rebuked. How roughly some ministers, some elders, some good men and women will go to work with timid, tender souls; yet we need not fear that they will destroy the true-hearted, for, however much they may vex them, the Lord will not leave his chosen in their hands, but will overrule their mistaken severity, and preserve his own from being destroyed thereby. How glad I am of this; for there are many nowadays who would grind the tender ones to powder if they could!

As the Lord has not left us in the power of man, so also he has not left us in the power of the devil. Satan may sift us as wheat, but he shall not thresh us as fitches. He may blow away the chaff from us even with his foul breath, but he shall not have the management of the Lord’s corn: "the Lord preserveth the righteous." Not a stroke in providence is left to chance; the Lord ordains it, and arranges the time, the force, and the place of it. The divine decree leaves nothing uncertain; the jurisdiction of supreme love occupies itself with the smallest events of our daily lives. Whether we bear the teeth of the corn-drag, or men do ride over our heads, or we endure the gentler touches of the divine hand, everything is by appointment, and the appointment is fixed by infallible wisdom. Let this be a mine of comfort to the afflicted.

Next, remark that the instruments used for our threshing are chosen also by the Great Husbandman. The Eastern farmer, according to the text, has several instruments, and so has our God. No form of threshing is pleasant to the seed which bears it; indeed, each one seems to the sufferer to be peculiarly objectionable. We say, "I think I could bear anything but this sad trouble." We cry, "It was not an enemy, then I could have borne it," and so on. Perhaps the tender cummin foolishly fancies that the horse-hoofs would be a less terrible ordeal than the rod, and the fitches might even prefer the wheel to the staff; but happily the matter is left to the choice of One who judges unerringly. What dost thou know about it, poor sufferer? How canst thou judge of what is good for thee? "Ah!" cries a mother, "I would not mind poverty; but to lose my darling child is too terrible!" Another laments, "I could have parted with all my wealth, but to be slandered cuts me to the quick." There is no pleasing us in the matter of chastisement. When I was at school, with my uncle for master, it often happened that he would send me out to find a cane for him. It was not a very pleasant task, and I noticed that I never once succeeded in selecting a stick which was liked by the boy who had to feel it. Either it was too thin, or too stout; and in consequence I was threatened by the sufferers with condign punishment if I did not do better next time. I learned from that experience never to expect God’s children to like the particular rod with which they are chastened. You smile at my simile, but you may smile also at yourself when you find yourself crying, "Any trouble but this, Lord. Any affliction but this." How idle it is to expect a pleasant trial; for it would then be no trial at all. Almost every really useful medicine is unpleasant: almost all effectual surgery is painful: no trial for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, yet it is the right trial, and none the less right because it is bitter.

Notice, too, that God not only selects the instruments, but he chooses the place. Farmers in the East have large threshing-floors upon which they throw the sheaves of corn or barley, and upon these they turn horses and drags; but near the house door I have often noticed in Italy a much smaller circle of hardened clay or cement, and here I have seen the peasants beating out their garden seeds in a more careful manner than would naturally be used towards the greater heaps upon the larger area. Some saints are not afflicted in the common affairs of life, but they have peculiar sorrow in their innermost spirits: they are beaten on the smaller and more private threshing-floor; but the process is none the less effectual. How foolish are we when we rebel against our Lord’s appointment, and speak as if we had a right to choose our own afflictions! "Should it be according to thy mind?" Should a child select the rod? Should the grain appoint its own thresher? Are not these things to be left to a higher wisdom? Some complain of the time of their trial; it is hard to be crippled in youth, or to be poor in age, or to be widowed when your children are young. Yet in all this there is wisdom. A part of the skill of the physician may lie, not only in writing a prescription, but in arranging the hours at which the medicine shall be taken. One draught may be most useful in the morning, and another may be more beneficial in the evening; and so the Lord knows when it is best for us to drink of the cup which he has prepared for us. I know a dear child of God who is enduring a severe trial in his old age, and I would fain screen him from it because of his feebleness, but our heavenly Father knows best, and there we must leave it. The instrument of the threshing, the place, the measure, the time, the end, are all appointed by infallible love.

It is interesting to notice in the text the limit of this threshing. The husbandman is zealous to beat out the seed, but he is careful not to break it in pieces by too severe a process. His wheel is not to grind, but to thresh; the horses’ feet are not to break, but to separate. He intends to get the cummin out of its husk, but he will not turn a heavy drag upon it utterly to smash it up and destroy it. In the same way the Lord has a measure in all his chastening. Courage, tried friend, you shall be afflicted as you need, but not as you deserve: tribulation shall come as you are able to bear it. As is the strength such shall the affliction be: the wheat may feel the wheel, but the fitches shall bear nothing heavier than a staff. No saint shall be tempted beyond the proper measure, and the limit is fixed by a tenderness which never deals a needless stroke.

It is very easy to talk like this in cool blood, and quite another thing to remember it when the flail is hammering you; yet have I personally realized this truth upon the bed of pain, and in the furnace of mental distress. I thank God at every remembrance of my afflictions; I did not doubt his wisdom then, nor have I had any reason to question it since. Our Great Husbandman understands how to divide us from the husk, and he goes about his work in a way for which he deserves to be adored for ever.

It is a pleasant thought that God’s limit is one beyond which trials never go—

"If trials six be fix’d for men
They shall not suffer seven.
If God appoint afflictions ten
They ne’er can be eleven."

The old law ordained forty stripes save one, and in all our scourgings there always comes in that "save one." When the Lord multiplies our sorrows up to a hundred, it is because ninety-and-nine failed to effect his purpose; but all the powers of earth and hell cannot give us one blow above the settled number. We shall never endure a superfluity of threshing. The Lord never sports with the feelings of his saints. "He does not afflict willingly," and so we may be sure he never gives an unnecessary blow.

The wisdom of the husbandman in limiting his threshing is far exceeded in the wisdom of God by which he sets a limit to our griefs. Some escape with little trouble, and perhaps it is because they are frail and sensitive. The little garden seeds must not be beaten too heavily lest they be injured; those saints who bear about with them a delicate body must not be roughly handled, nor shall they be. Possibly they have a feeble mind also, and that which others would laugh at would be death to them; they shall be kept as the apple of the eye.

If you are free from tribulation never ask for it; that would be a great folly. I did meet with a brother a little while ago who said that he was much perplexed because he had no trouble. I said, "Do not worry about that; but be happy while you may." Only a queer child would beg to be flogged. Certain sweet and shining saints are of such a gentle spirit that the Lord does not expose them to the same treatment as he metes out to others: they do not need it, and they could not bear it; why should they wish for it?

Others, again, are very heavily pressed; but what of that if they are a superior grain, a seed of larger usefulness, intended for higher purposes? Let not such regret that they have to endure a heavier threshing since their use is greater. It is the bread corn that must go under the feet of the horseman and must feel the wheel of the cart; and so the most useful have to pass through the sternest processes. There is not one amongst us but what would say, "I could wish that I were Martin Luther, or that I could play as noble a part as he did." Yes; but in addition to the outward perils of his life, the inward experiences of that remarkable man were such as none of us would wish to feel. He was frequently tormented with Satanic temptations, and driven to the verge of despair. At one hour he rode the whirlwind and the storm, master of all the world, and then after days of fighting with the pope and the devil he would go home to his bed and lie there broken-down and trembling. You see God’s heroes only in the pulpit, or in other public places, you know not what they are before God in secret. You do not know their inner life: else you might discover that the bread corn is bruised, and that those who are most useful in comforting others have to endure frequent sorrow themselves. Envy no man; for you do not know how he may have to be threshed to make him right and keep him so.

Brethren, we see that our God uses discretion in the chastisement of his people; let us use a loving prudence when we have to deal with others in that way. Be gentle as well as firm with your children; and if you have to rebuke your brother do it very tenderly. Do not drive your horses over the tender seed. Recollect that the cummin is beaten out with a staff and not crushed out with a wheel. Take a very light rod. Perhaps it would be as well if you had no rod at all, but left that work to wiser hands. Go you and sow, and leave your elders to thresh.

Next, let us firmly believe in God’s discretion, and be sure that he is doing the right thing by us. Let us not be anxious to be screened from affliction. When we ask that the cup may pass from us let it be with a "nevertheless not as I will." Best of all, let us freely part with our chaff. The likeliest way to escape the flail is to separate from the husk as quickly as possible. "Come ye out from among them." Separate yourselves from sin and sinners, from the world and worldliness, and the process of threshing will all the sooner be completed. God make us wise in this matter!

III. A word or two is all we can afford upon the third head, which is that the threshing will not last for ever.

The threshing will not last all our days even here: "Bread corn is bruised, but he will not always be threshing it." Oh, no. "For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee." "He will not always chide, neither will he keep his anger for ever." "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Rejoice, ye daughters of sorrow! Be comforted, ye sons of grief! Have hope in God, for you shall yet praise him who is the health of your countenance. The rain does not always fall, nor will the clouds always return. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Threshing is not an operation which the corn requires all the year round; for the most part the flail is idle. Bless the Lord, O my soul! The Lord will yet bring home his banished ones.

Above all, tribulation will not last for ever, for we shall soon be gone to another and better world. We shall soon be carried to the land where there are neither threshing-floors nor corn-drags. I sometimes think I hear the herald calling me. His trumpet sounds: "Up and away! Boot and saddle! Up and away! Leave the camp and the battle, and return in triumph." The night is far spent with some of you, but the morning cometh. The daylight breaks above yon hills. The day is coming—the day that shall go no more down for ever. Come, eat your bread with joy, and march onward with a merry heart; for the land which floweth with milk and honey is but a little way before you. Until the day break and the shadows flee away, abide the Great Husbandman’s will, and may the Lord glorify himself in you. Amen.

Spurgeon, C. H. (1882). Farm Sermons. New York: Passmore and Alabaster. (Public Domain)

Show Us the Father

Show Us the Father

Show Us The Father

Philip saith unto Him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?   John 14:8, 9.

Great S. Mary’s Church, Advent Sunday, 1868.

The opening of S. John’s Gospel speaks of One, Who has been with God from eternity, Who is God Himself. This Being, so described, the Evangelist calls the Logos—the Divine Reason, the Divine Word. He is the Divine Reason, for He is the expression of God’s will in the creation and government of the Universe. He is the Divine Word, because through His operations alone God reveals Himself, God speaks, as it were, to our finite capacities. This Word of God is His Agent in all His words and works, howsoever and whensoever He manifests Himself. This is no less true of the natural world, than of the spiritual world. All things were created, all things are sustained, through Him. Here is the Evangelist’s starting-point. And having thus with eagle eye swept the whole field of the Universe in one comprehensive glance, he gradually narrows his range of view and concentrates his gaze, until it is fixed on the very focus of light, the visible presence of the Shekinah on earth, the Incarnation of this Word of God.

(1) First, from the material creation he passes to the intellectual and moral creation. Whatsoever of knowledge, whatsoever of wisdom, whatsoever of invention, whatever discernment of physical facts, whatever insight into human affairs, whatever yearning after heavenly truths, has been vouchsafed to mankind in any age—to the savage in the first dawn of intellect and conscience, and to the sage in the full noontide blaze of his heightened faculties—all these, the first germ and the latest development, are the gift, are the indwelling, of the Divine Word. He is ‘the life,’ and He is ‘the light of men.’ The mental and moral growth of individuals and societies and nations alike are due to Him. He originates, He inspires, He developes, He ripens into maturity. His dominion is as complete in the region of mind and spirit, as in the region of physical growth and physical change.

(2) This—the passage from the material to the moral and intellectual world—is the first stage in the Evangelist’s progress towards his goal, the first contraction, the first intensification, of his vision. And then comes another.

This Word of God has indeed illumined and quickened all men and all races in their several degrees, Buddha and Confucius and Zoroaster, Zeno and Pythagoras, Indians and Persians, Babylonians and Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. He has been present in universal history, as He has been present in every individual soul of man. But nevertheless He has specially visited one family, one race. There was a prerogative tribe selected in due time from the rest, a firstfruits of the nations of the earth, a peculiar people consecrated to God. Though there be many tributaries, the main stream of religious history runs in this channel. To this nation the Word of God came as to His own inheritance, spake as to His own household—spake by lawgivers and prophets, by priests and kings, spake in divers stages and divers manners, spake with an intensity and a power and a directness, with a continuity and a fulness, with which He spake to no other nation besides. In neither case was the response equal to the appeal. Among the nations at large ‘the light’ shone ‘in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not:’ to the descendants of Abraham ‘He came as to His own’ vineyard; yet ‘His own received Him not.’ Nevertheless among both—among the nations whom He approached through the avenues of the natural conscience, and among the Israelites to whom He spake in the piercing tones of Inspiration, there were those who did feel His presence, did hear His voice; and these were rescued from their grovelling, material, earthly life, were born anew in Him, were made sons of God through God the Word.

(3) And having thus passed by successive stages first from the physical world to the moral world, from universal nature to universal history, and next from universal history to the records of the one prerogative race, the Evangelist lastly concentrates our thoughts on a single incident in these records, a single link in the chain of the Divine dispensation. He has just directed us to the one conspicuously bright line which traverses the plane of the world’s history; and now he guides our eye along this line, till it is arrested at one intensely brilliant point, in which are concentrated the illuminating rays of the Word of God, which is the focus of the spiritual development of mankind. The Word, Whose voice was not unheard even by Gentiles, Who spoke still more clearly in the writings of the Old Covenant and the career of the chosen people, ‘was made flesh and dwelt among us’—not only spoke through man, but identified Himself with man. The dream of Jewish doctors, who looked forward to the advent of Messiah’s kingdom, the day of redemption when the Divine glory should rest once more on the mercy-seat, was here fulfilled, though they discerned it not. The Shekinah was restored once more to the Temple. The bright light—brighter far than of old—did rest once more over the Sanctuary. The Word of God ‘tabernacled’ among men. ‘And we,’ adds the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, the familiar friend of the Word Incarnate, speaking with the intensity of a strong, unchangeable, personal conviction, ‘we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father.’

Such is the Divine philosophy of creation and history and religion, as sketched by the pen of S. John. He views the Gospel of Christ, the Incarnation of the Son of God, not so much in contrast, as in connexion, with the natural heavenward aspirations of man, with the other religions of the world. The Incarnation is not an isolated fact, not the one only operation of the Divine Word. It is indeed unique, is paramount, does transcend, far transcend, all other operations. The lesson is higher, but still the Teacher is the same. It is the explanation of the past, the culminating point of human history, the consummation of God’s revelation to man. For now first the Divine and the human are united in immediate and inalienable contact. But it does not stand alone; nor does it profess an affinity only with the Jewish dispensation. God has revealed Himself also in nature and in history, in the workings of the individual conscience and in the education of the whole race. The folds of the veil in each case may be more or less dense. But to those who have eyes to read and hearts to understand, though it may partially screen, it cannot conceal, the Divine Presence behind, the awful majesty of the Eternal Father. And I cannot but express my own strong conviction that, if Christian apologists and Christian divines were more ready to accept the teaching of S. John in this respect, and to survey the religions of the world from the commanding ground which he has marked out for them; if, instead of accentuating the contrasts and dwelling only on the follies and wickednesses, they would investigate more diligently and recognise more gladly the elements of the Divine teaching in all, even the more degraded, forms of heathen worship; if they would track out the foot-prints of the Word of God impressed now faintly, and now more vividly, on the sands of universal history, they would find not only that numberless objections to Christianity founded on the partial resemblances, the imperfect graspings after truth, in other religious systems, would melt away in the process, but that a flood of new light would at the same time be shed upon the significance and the power of the Gospel.

It was not however with any intention of dwelling at length on this general question, that I have thus called attention to the main bearing of the opening paragraphs of S. John’s Gospel. But this introduction is the key to the meaning of the whole narrative. Our Lord’s words related therein require to be read by the light of this prologue, if we would enter into their full meaning. They are the utterances not only of Jesus the Deliverer, the Redeemer of His people, the long-expected Christ of Israel; but they are the utterances also of the very Word of God, Who was in the world from the beginning, and now in these last days speaks to men in the flesh.

So it is with the expression in the text. The Master has just foretold to His little band of followers, that He and they must soon part. With this severance in view He bids them cling closer to one another, love one another as brothers. He warns them that He must go alone, that they cannot follow Him. The announcement fills their hearts with dismay. He seeks to allay their sorrow. Let them trust in God. He is going to prepare an abode for them. He will come again, and take them home with Him. ‘Whither I go,’ He adds, ‘ye know, and the way ye know.’ Thomas here breaks in, doubtful and desponding as ever. Half reproachfully he asks, ‘Lord, we know not whither Thou goest, and how can we know the way?’ Then Jesus declares Himself to be the Way, the only Way, to the Father. Knowing Him, they must know the Father. ‘And,’ He adds, ‘henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him.’

It is not now Thomas, but Philip, who takes up the conversation—a different man and a different temper. In the records of the other Evangelists, Philip the Apostle is a name only. In S. John’s Gospel, he appears as something more than a name, as a well-defined character. Very early tradition represents him in later life residing in Asia Minor, in the same region as the beloved disciple himself. It may be therefore that the Evangelist had local reasons for dwelling on those few incidents in which Philip takes a prominent part. At all events, few though they are, these incidents seem to reveal the man’s character very clearly. His is a precise, careful, matter-of-fact mind. He is wanting in spiritual insight, but he is prompt and ready in action. It may be, as some have thought, that he was the steward of the little company, just as Judas was the treasurer. If so, we have an easy explanation of the fact that our Lord puts to him the question how the five thousand are to be fed. If so, again, we may see how on another occasion some Greeks, when they wish to obtain access to our Lord, would naturally come in contact with him, and address themselves to him first. At all events, whether or not he had a business vocation connected with his discipleship, he had at least a business turn of mind. There is a precision and minuteness in the few sentences ascribed to him by the Evangelist, which cannot be quite accidental. ‘We have found Him, of Whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ ‘Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.’ He is anxious for himself, and he is anxious for others, that everything should be subjected to the faithful testimony of the eyes. In answer to Nathanael’s question in the opening of the Gospel he says eagerly, ‘Come and see.’ In reply to our Lord’s declaration in the text, it is his first impulse to seek ocular proof, ‘Shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.’ A very ancient tradition relates that this Philip was the disciple who in another Gospel pleads, ‘Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father,’ and is answered by the rebuke, ‘Let the dead bury their dead; but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.’ This tradition is true to character, and I can well believe it true to fact. It is not so much the request, as the temper which dictates the request, that our Lord there rebukes. And such a temper is Philip’s.

‘Only let us see the Father,’ he says, ‘and we ask nothing more. Then there will be no more hesitation, no more vagueness, no more cowardice, no more repining. This will console us, will strengthen us, will inspire us. We shall not shrink from being left alone. We shall bear our severance manfully, cheerfully. We shall be ready to do and to suffer anything. Vouchsafe us one glance, one glance only. We ask nothing more. To see is to believe.’

The demand may be made, and doubtless is made, in many different tempers. There are those who, like Philip, make it in the earnest desire to find a surer standing-ground for their faith, who eagerly wish to dispel the last shadow of doubt, who are prepared to follow up their belief, once confirmed, are ready to live and to die for it. Only they must first be certified, must first have seen. There are others who, consciously or unconsciously, have persuaded themselves that by the mere act of making the demand they have thrown off a load of responsibility, that, until they get an answer, they are free to act as they like, free to live as though there were no Father in Heaven, because they do not see Him. And, lastly, there are some who make it in a temper directly opposed to Philip’s, who demand to be shewn the Father in the same spirit in which Pilate asked to know, ‘What is truth?’ mocking while they interrogate and determined to accept no reply. Or they refuse to make the demand at all, because they have persuaded themselves that it is an absurdity. There is a dark, impenetrable veil, they say, separating the seen from the unseen, the world of sense from the world of spirit. At least there is a dark, impenetrable veil; but whether it conceals anything or nothing, they do not care to ask. It may, or it may not, screen the awful form of an Eternal, loving Father. It may, or it may not, separate us from a life of immortality, a world of spirits, a heaven of bliss. You cannot raise the veil; you cannot see through it. It is easier, better, wiser to desist from the attempt—to rest content to play your little part on this world’s stage creditably and comfortably, and to leave the rest—not to faith, not to God: here would be the old delusion again—but to blind chance, to blank uncertainty.

But in whatever temper men may make the demand—in eagerness or in apathy or in mockery—the fundamental error is still the same. They look for a kind of proof, which the subject does not admit. They appeal to organs which are not cognisant of spiritual things. If it is not by the senses, so neither is it by theological and scientific faculties, that we can apprehend God, can see the Father. These faculties may verify, may explain, may systematize; but they cannot give the insight, cannot create the belief. I doubt whether the most elaborate proofs of the being and attributes of God, the most subtle expositions of the evidences of Christianity, have done very much towards establishing even an intellectual assent. I am quite sure they have been all but powerless in commanding a living, working belief. It is by the Spirit alone that spiritual truths are discerned. ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard … but God hath revealed.’ Every man has this spiritual faculty. He may deal with it, as he may deal with any other faculty. He may enfeeble it by disuse, he may crush it by main force: or he may educate and quicken and intensify it. And according as he does the one or the other, so will be his spiritual insight, his consciousness of the Father’s presence.

And this is the force of our Lord’s reply in the text. ‘Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?’ You ask for an external, tangible demonstration which will not, which cannot, be granted to you. You entirely mistake the nature of the knowledge which you seek, of the means by which it is attained. Meanwhile all the elements of this knowledge are open before you. The Father has unveiled His face to you, and you have not seen Him. In His Word throughout all ages, in His Word incarnate in these latter days, He has spoken to you, and you have not heard Him. Now for these three years He has shewn Himself to you twelve men, as He has never shewn Himself before. And this is the end, this is the misapprehension even of those to whom His glory has been most fully and nearly revealed—this dissatisfaction, this blindness, this ignorance, this demand, ‘Shew us the Father?’

To ourselves, as to Philip, the rebuke is addressed. ‘Have I been so long time with you, and hast thou not known Me—not known Me, the Word of God, Whose seal is set on all nature and all history; not known Me, the Incarnate Son, Whose personal ministry is written in the Gospels, and Whose name is stamped on the life of the Church?’

And now on this Advent Day, when once again the great fact in the history of man, the most perfect unveiling of the Father through the Incarnation of the Word, is brought before us; and, starting from this, we are bidden to gaze into the future, and to realise the second more terrible, more glorious coming, when the veil of the Heavenly Temple shall be torn aside for ever, and the awful Presence shall be revealed to us in all His majesty, all His holiness, all His power, all His love, when we shall know, even as we are known—now on this day it is not unfitting that we should ask ourselves, how far our spiritual organs have grown used to the brightness of His presence, in what temper we have made the demand, ‘Shew us the Father,’ and whether we have deserved the rebuke, ‘Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me?’

‘Have I been so long time with you in the studies of this place, I, the Word of God, the expression of the Father’s mind?’ Have you busied yourselves with the manifold relations of number and space, and have the order, the simplicity of principles, the variety of results, the inexhaustible combinations, the infinite possibilities, chained and entranced you without striking one chord of religious awe, without inspiring one feeling of reverence towards the mind of the Eternal Word? Or has your time been spent on the investigation of external nature? Have you studied her in her grander developments, traced the motions of the heavenly bodies, the fluctuations of tides, the changes of seasons, followed the many divergent phenomena to the one, grand, comprehensive, all-pervading law, but have you stopped here? Has this law veiled, or has it revealed to you, the Eternal Word, of Whom it is the very sign-manual? Might it not be better, like the untutored barbarian, to see God in the clouds and to hear Him in the winds, than to refuse to see Him in the dynamic laws by which the clouds are shaped and reshaped, and to refuse to hear Him in the acoustic principles which give their voices to the winds? Or has your mind been directed to the investigation of more minute, but not less wonderful, processes of nature—the marvels of the vegetable world, for instance? What has ‘a yellow primrose’ been to you? A yellow primrose only, or something more? Yes, a little more; something of which you may count the stamens and the petals, something of which you may name the class and the genus and the species, of which you may investigate the structure and the functions and the geographical distribution. But has it, or has it not, been to you a revelation of the beauty, the order, the power, the love, of the Eternal Word? ‘By Him all things were made, and without Him was not anything made that was made.’ Has He been so long time with you, and yet have ye not known Him?

Or again; have you traced the intricate subtleties of language, examined its vocabulary and analysed its syntax, speculated on its origin, its development, its decay? And have you seen only adaptations of human organs, only processes of human thought? Have you found no traces of the Father’s presence here? Have you spent hour after hour on the literature of the two greatest nations of antiquity? And have you listened, as though only Greeks and Romans are speaking to you? Have you heard no echo of the Divine Word, sounding above and through the din of human voices; seen no impress of the Divine Mind—blurred and partial though it was—in the philosophic penetration of the one and the legal precision of the other? Have you pored over the long roll of human history—so much lengthened out for you in these later days by the discoveries of the ethnologer and the antiquarian—have you traced the successions of epochs, the divergences of races, mapped out their several provinces in the development of humanity, marked the lines of progress running through the ages, floated on the stream of knowledge and civilisation broadening slowly down? And has all this opened out no revelation of the Word, though the scroll is written over with His name within and without? He is the light and the life of men. These were records of continually enlarged life, of ever-increasing light. ‘Has He been so long time with you, and have ye not known Him?’

I have spoken of the Word in nature, and the Word in history—of the Word in mathematical conceptions, and the Word in human speech. I have done so because to ourselves, as students, these applications of the text seem to appeal with peculiar force. It is here that we should learn to know the Word, and to see the Father. Yet once again I would not be mistaken. Neither philology, nor mathematics, nor nature, nor history will of themselves teach this lesson. But the Spirit will speak through these studies to the spiritually-minded: will quicken them with a higher life; will impart through them a revelation of God.

But to us, and to all alike, the Word of God has spoken in other and clearer tones. He became flesh, and He dwelt among us. He has lived on earth with us in the Gospels, and He lives still by His Spirit with us in the Church. He came to open the grave, to redeem us from sin, to sanctify our lives through His life. He came to quicken our natural yearnings after heaven, to enlighten our imperfect conceptions of deity. He came to bring home to our hearts the all-embracing love of God, Who sent His only-begotten Son to die for us, and to be a propitiation for our sins. He came to shew us, not the Omnipotent, not the Avenger, not the Judge, but the Father.

‘And we have seen His glory’—seen it in the record of those three short years which speak to us in the pages of the Evangelists with a freshness and a force which no time can tarnish or decay; seen it in the long lapse of those eighteen centuries of Christian History, in which He has lived again in the lives of His saints, and died again in the sufferings of His heroes. Has He then been so long time with us, and yet have we not known Him? Do we still ask to be shewn the Father?

To have seen the Father—this is comfort, this is strength, this is joy, this is life. Have we seen Him—not we vaguely, but have you individually, have I individually? To those who have, such language will be felt to be no exaggeration. If only for a moment we have caught His shadow resting on our chamber wall, as He has passed by; if only in a fleeting glance we have arrested the glory streaming from the fringe of His mantle, then this one revelation has been to us a source of infinite satisfaction and strength—better far than months and years of our earthly, selfish, sinning life. When sorrow overclouds, when temptation assails, when sickness prostrates and death closes over us, this and this only—this sense of a Father’s presence—can animate and sustain us, can give us energy to act and courage to bear.

Is it not worth while to strive hard for the attainment of this, worth while to pursue it with something more than the zeal of the athlete in pursuit of victory, or the student in pursuit of knowledge—with something of the desperate, pertinacious, absorbing passion, which the miser devotes to his hordes of gold. Without such earnestness it will not be attained. The loftiest crags are the hardest scaled. And this is the topmost crest of all, whence all the heights of human ambition are dwarfed into insignificance. It is not by listless aspirations, not by decent observance of religious forms, not by dutiful acquiescence in orthodox creeds, not by minute and painful criticism of the Scriptures, that the crown will be won: but by wrestling with the angel of God in prayer, and forcing a blessing from him; by cultivating to the utmost all your faculties of mind and soul, that you may offer to God a less unworthy gift; by sustained and rigorous discipline exerted over your passions, your desires, your sluggish neglects, your perverted activities; by the unreserved surrender of self to Him. So, and so only, may you hope that the Father will unveil Himself before you, will speak with you face to face, as a man speaketh with his friend.

For the young man, who is prepared to do this, who is ready to surrender not this or that desire only, but himself to God, a great work is in store—a work which may well fire the divinest ambition of youth, a work which is only possible at long intervals and in stirring times like the present. This is confessedly a great crisis in the history of the Church, in the history of the world—a crisis full of hopes, and full of fears. Of these hopes, these fears, you young men are the heirs. Our time is passing rapidly; our day is far spent. Something ere the end may perhaps yet be done—something, but very little. On you the future depends. When your call from God may come, what your commission from Him may be, I cannot tell. This is hidden in the depths of His counsels. But the preparation, the discipline, the self-surrender, must begin at once. Even now you must hasten to your Father’s presence, and fall at your Father’s feet. Do this, and wait patiently. The great work, it would seem, of your generation is to reconcile the present and the past. Study therefore the present in the light of the past, and the past in the light of the present; but study both in the light of the Divine Word. See in both, see in all things, the Father’s presence. Take your commission directly from Him. Seek instruction directly from Him. He is the only infallible teacher. I know only too well, that he who speaks to you now has no claims from anything he has done, or anything he has suffered, to be heard on so lofty a theme; but I know this also, that, if he were allowed to indulge one hope only, it would be this; that a chance spark thrown off from his anvil should have burnt into the soul of some young man here present, and lie smouldering there, until hereafter it shall burst out into a flame, which shall rise ever higher and burn ever brighter, when he himself has passed away and is forgotten.

Lightfoot, J. B. (1890). Cambridge Sermons. London; New York: MacMillan and Co. (Public Domain)

The Loaded Waggon

The Loaded Waggon

The Loaded Waggon

"Behold, I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves."—Amos 2:13.

WE have been into the corn-fields to glean with Boaz and Ruth; and I trust that the timid and faint-hearted have been encouraged to partake of the handfuls which are let fall on purpose for them by the order of our generous Lord. We go to-day to the gate of the harvest-field with another object—to see the waggon piled up aloft with many sheaves come creaking forth, making ruts along the field. We come with gratitude to God, thanking him for the harvest, blessing him for favourable weather, and praying him to continue the same till the last shock of corn shall be brought in, and the husbandmen everywhere shall shout the "Harvest Home."

What a picture is a waggon loaded with corn of you and of me, as loaded with God’s mercies! From our cradle up till now, every day has added a sheaf of blessing. What could the Lord do for us more than he has done? He has daily loaded us with benefits. Let us adore his goodness, and yield him our cheerful gratitude.

Alas! that such a sign should be capable of another reading. Alas! that while God loadeth us with mercy, we should load him with sin. While he continually heapeth on sheaf after sheaf of favour we also add iniquity unto iniquity, till the weight of our sin becomes intolerable to the Most High, and he cries out by reason of the burden, saying, "I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves."

Our text begins with a "Behold!" and well it may. "Beholds" are put in the Bible as signs are hung out from houses of business, to attract attention. There is something new, important, deeply impressive, or worthy of attention wherever we see a "Behold" in sacred Scripture. I see this "Behold!" standing, as it were, like a maiden upon the steps of the house of wisdom, crying, "Turn in hither, O ye that are wise-hearted, and listen to the voice of God." Let us open our eyes that we may "behold," and may the Spirit make a way through our eyes and ears to our hearts, that repentance and self-abhorrence may take hold upon us, because of our evil conduct towards our gracious God.

It is to be understood before we proceed farther, that our text is only a figure, since God cannot actually be oppressed by man; all the sin that man may commit can never disturb the serenity of the divine perfection, nor cause so much as a wave upon his everlasting calm. He doth but speak to us after the manner of man, and bring down the sublimities and mysteries of heaven to the feebleness and ignorance of earth. He speaketh to us as a great father may talk to his little child. Just as a cart has the axles bent, and as the wheels creak under the excessive load, so the Lord says that under the load of human guilt he is pressed down, until he crieth out, because he can bear no longer the iniquity of those that offend against him. We shall now turn to our first point; may the Holy Ghost make it pointed to our consciences!

The first and most apparent truth in the text is, that sin is very grievous and burdensome to God.

Be astonished, O heavens, and be amazed, O earth, that God should speak of being pressed and weighed down! I do not read anywhere so much as half a suggestion that the whole burden of creation is any weight to the Most High. "He taketh up the isles as a very little thing." Neither sun, nor moon, nor stars, nor all the ponderous orbs which his omnipotence has created, cost him any labour in their sustenance. The heathen picture Atlas as stooping beneath the globe; but the eternal God, who beareth up the pillars of the universe, "fainteth not, neither is weary." Nor do I find even the most distant approach to a suggestion that providence fatigues its Lord. He watches both by night and day; his power goeth forth every moment. ‘Tis he who bringeth forth Mazzaroth in his season and guideth Arcturus with his sons. He beareth up the foundations of the earth! and holdeth the corner-stone thereof. He causeth the dayspring to know its place, and setteth a bound to darkness and the shadow of death. All things are supported by the power of his hand, and there is nothing without him. Just as a moment’s foam subsides into the wave that bears it and is lost for ever, so would the universe depart if the eternal God did not daily sustain it. This incessant working has not diminished his strength, nor is there any failing or thought of failing with him. He worketh all things, and when they are wrought they are as nothing in his sight. But strange, most passing strange, miraculous among miracles, sin burdens God, though the world cannot; and iniquity presses the Most High, though the whole weight of providence is as the small dust of the balance. Ah, ye careless sons of Adam, ye think sin a trifle; and as for you, ye sons of Belial, ye count it sport, and say, "He regardeth not; he seeth not; how doth God know? and if he knoweth he careth not for our sins." Learn ye from the Book of God, that so far from this being the truth, your sins are a grief to him, a burden and a load to him, till, like a cart that is overloaded with sheaves, so is he weighed down with human guilt.

This will be very clear if we meditate for a moment upon what sin is, and what sin does. Sin is the great spoiler of all God’s works. Sin turned an archangel into an arch-fiend, and angels of light into spirits of evil. Sin looked on Eden and withered all its flowers. Ere sin had come the Creator said of the new-made earth, "It is very good"; but when sin had entered, it grieved God at his very heart that he had made such a creature as man. Nothing tarnishes beauty so much as sin, for it mars God’s image and erases his superscription.

Moreover, sin makes God’s creatures unhappy, and shall not the Lord, therefore, abhor it? God never designed that any creature of his hand should be miserable. He made the creatures on purpose that they should be glad; he gave the birds their song, the flowers their perfume, the air its balm; he gave to day the smiling sun and to night its coronet of stars; for he intended that smiles should be his perpetual worship, and joy the incense of his praise. But sin has made God’s favourite creature a wretch, and brought down God’s offspring, made in his own image, to become naked, and poor, and miserable; and therefore God hateth sin, and is pressed down under it, because it maketh the objects of his love unhappy at their heart.

Moreover, remember that sin attacks God in all his attributes, assails him on his throne, and stabs at his existence. What is sin? Is it not an insult to God’s wisdom? O sinner, God biddeth thee do his will; when thou doest the contrary it is because thou dost as much as say, "I know what is good for me, and God does not know." You do in effect declare that infinite wisdom is in error, and that you, the creature of a day, are the best judge of happiness. Sin impugns God’s goodness; for by sin you declare that God has denied you that which would make you happy, and this is not the part of a good, tender, and loving Father. Sin cuts at the Lord’s wisdom with one hand, and at his goodness with the other.

Sin also abuses the mercy of God. When you, as many of you have done, sin with the higher hand because of his longsuffering towards you; when, because yon have no sickness, no losses, no crosses, therefore you spend your time in revelry and obstinate rebellion,—what is this but taking the mercy which was meant for your good and turning it into mischief? It is no small grief to the loving father to see his substance spent with harlots in riotous living; he cannot endure it that his child should be so degraded as to turn even the mercy which would woo him to repentance into a reason why he should sin the more against him. Besides, let me remind the careless and impenitent that every sin is a defiance of divine power. In effect it is lifting your puny fists against the majesty of heaven, and defying God to destroy you. Every time you sin, you defy the Lord to prove whether he can maintain his law or no. Is this a slight thing, that a worm, the creature of a day, should defy the Lord of ages, the God that filleth and upholdeth all things by the word of his power? Well may he be weary, when he has to bear with such provocations and insults as these! Mention what attribute you will, and sin has blotted it; speak of God in any relationship you choose, and sin has cast a slur upon him. It is evil, only evil, and that continually: in every view of it it must be offensive to the Most High. Sinner, dost thou know that every act of disobedience to God’s law is virtually an act of high treason? What dost thou do but seek to be God thyself, thine own master, thine own lord! Every time thou swervest from his will, it is to put thy will into his place; it is to make thyself a god, and to undeify the Most High. And is this a little offence, to snatch from his brow the crown, and from his hand the sceptre? I tell thee it is such an act that heaven itself could not stand unless it were resented: if this crime were suffered to go unpunished, the wheels of heaven’s commonwealth would be taken from their axles, and the whole frame of moral government would be unhinged. Such a treason against God shall certainly be visited with punishment.

To crown all, sin is an onslaught upon God himself, for sin is atheism of heart. Let his religious profession be what it may, the sinner hath said in his heart, "No God." He wishes that there were no law and no Supreme Ruler. Is this a trifle? To be a Deicide! To desire to put God out of his own world! Is this a thing to be winked at? Can the Most High hear it and not be pressed down beneath its weight? I pray you do not think that I would make a needless outcry against sin and disobedience. It is not in the power of human imagination to exaggerate the evil of sin, nor will it ever be possible for mortal lips, though they should be touched like those of Esaias with a live coal from off the altar, to thunder out the ten-thousandth part of the enormity of the least sin against God. Think, dear friends! We are his creatures, and yet we will not do his will. We are fed by him, the breath in our nostrils he gives us, and yet we spend that breath in murmuring and rebellion.

Once more, we are always in the sight of our omniscient God, and yet the presence of God is not enough to compel us to obedience. Surely if a man should insult law in the very presence of the lawgiver, that were not to be borne with; but this is your case and mine. We must confess, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight." We must remember also, that we offend, knowing that we are offending. We do not sin as the Hottentot, or the cannibal. We in England sin against extraordinary light and sevenfold knowledge; and is this a light thing? Can you expect that God shall pass by wilful and deliberate offences? Oh, that these lips had language, that this heart could burn for once! for if I could declare the horrible infamy of sin it would make the blood chill in even a haughty Pharaoh’s veins, and proud Nebuchadnezzar would bow his head in fear. It is indeed a terrible thing to have rebelled against the Most High. The Lord have mercy upon his servants and forgive them.

This is our first point, but I cannot teach you it, God himself must teach it by his Spirit. Oh, that the Holy Ghost may make you feel that sin is exceedingly sinful, so that it is grievous and burdensome to God!

Secondly, some sins are more especially grievous to God. The connection of our text will help you to see the force of this observation.

There is no such thing as a little sin, but still there are degrees of guilt, and it were folly to say that a sinful thought hath in it the same extent of evil as a sinful act. A filthy imagination is sinful—wholly sinful and greatly sinful, but still a filthy act has attained a higher degree of provocation. There are sins which especially provoke God. In the connection of the text we read that licentiousness does this. The Jewish people in the days of Amos seem to have gone to a very high degree of fornication and lechery. This sin is not uncommon in our day; let our midnight streets and our divorce courts be the witness. I say no more. Let each one keep his body pure; for want of chastity is a grievous evil before the Lord.

Oppression, too, according to the prophet, is another great provocation to God. The prophet speaks of selling the poor for a pair of shoes; and some would grind the widow and the orphan, and make the labourer toil for nought. How many business men have no "bowels of compassion." Men form themselves into societies, and then exact an outrageous usury upon loans from the unhappy beings who fall into their hands. Cunning legal quibbles and crafty evasions of just debts often amount to heavy oppression, and are sure to bring down the anger of the Most High.

Then, again, it seems that idolatry and blasphemy are highly offensive to God, and have a high degree of heinousness. He says that the people drank the wine of false gods. If any man sets up his belly, or his gold, or his wealth as his god, and if he lives to these instead of living to the Most High, he hath offended by idolatry. Woe to such, and equal woe to those who adore crosses, sacraments, or images.

Specially is blasphemy a God-provoking sin. For blasphemy there is no excuse. As George Herbert says, "Lust and wine plead a pleasure;" there is gain to be pleaded for avarice, "but the cheap swearer from his open sluice lets his soul run for nought." There is nothing gained by profane talk; there can be no pleasure in cursing; this is offending for offending’s sake, and hence it is a high and crying sin, which makes the Lord grow weary of men. There may be some among you to whom these words may be personal accusations. Do I address the lecherous, or the oppressive, or the profane? Ah, soul, what a mercy God hath borne with thee so long; the time will come, however, when he will say, "Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries," and how easily will he cast you off and appoint you an awful destruction.

Again, whilst some sins are thus grievous to God for their peculiar heinousness, many men are especially obnoxious to God because of the length of their sin. That grey-headed man, how many times has he provoked the Most High! Why, those who are but lads have cause to count their years and apply their hearts unto wisdom because of the length of time they have lived in rebellion; but what shall I say of you who have been half a century in open war against God—and some of you sixty, seventy, what if I said near upon eighty years? Ah, you have had eighty years of mercies, and returned eighty years of neglect: for eighty years of patience you have rendered eighty years of ingratitude. O God, well mayest thou be wearied by the length and number of man’s sins!

Furthermore, God taketh special note and feeleth an especial weariness of sin that is mixed with obstinacy. Oh how obstinate some men are! They will be damned; there is no helping them; they seem as if they would leap the Alps to reach perdition, and swim through seas of fire that they may destroy their souls. I might tell you cases of men that have been sore sick of fever, ague, and cholera, and they have only recovered their health to return to their sins. Some of them have had troubles in business thick, and threefold: they were once in respectable circumstances, but they spent their living riotously, and they became poor; yet they still struggle on in sin. They are growing poorer every day, most of their clothes have gone to the pawnshop; but they will not turn from the tavern and the brothel. Another child is dead! The wife is sick, and starvation stares the family in the face; but they go on still with a high hand and an outstretched arm. This is obstinacy, indeed. Sinner! God will let thee have thine own way one of these days, and that way will be thine everlasting ruin. God is weary of those who set themselves to do mischief, and, against warnings, and invitations, and entreaties, are determined to go on in sin.

The context seems to tell us that ingratitude is intensely burdensome to God. He tells the people how he brought them out of Egypt; how he cast out the Amorites; how he raised up their sons for prophets, and their young men for Nazarites; and yet they rebelled against him! This was one of the things that pricked my heart when I first came to God as a guilty sinner, not so much the peculiar heinousness of my outward life, as the peculiar mercies that I had enjoyed. How generous God has been to some of us,—some of us who never had a want! God has never cast us into poverty, nor left us to infamy, nor given us up to evil example, but he has kept us moral, and made us love his house even when we did not love him, and all this he has done year after year: and what poor returns we have made! To us, his people, what joy he has given, what deliverances, what love, what comfort, what bliss—and yet we have sinned to his face! Well may he be as a cart that is pressed down, that is full of sheaves.

Let me observe, before I leave this point, that it seems from our text, that the Lord is so pressed, that he even crieth out. Just as the cart when laden with the sheaves, groaneth under the weight, so the Lord crieth out under the load of sin. Have you never heard those accents? "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me!" Hear again: "Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" Better still, hear the lament from the lip of Jesus, soft and gentle as the dew,—"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" Sinner, God is cut to the heart by thy sin; thy Creator grieves over that which thou laughest at; thy Saviour crieth out in his spirit concerning that which thou thinkest to be a trifle,—"O do not this abominable thing which I hate!" For God’s sake do it not! We often say "for God’s sake," without knowing what we mean; but here see what it means, for the sake of God, that ye grieve not your Creator, that ye cause not the Eternal One himself to cry out by reason of weariness of you. Cease ye, cease ye, from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? I now leave those two points to pass on very briefly to the next.

While it is true that sin is grievous to the Lord, it magnifies his mercy when we see that he bears the load. As the cart is not said to break, but is pressed only, so is he pressed, and yet he bears. If you and I were in God’s place, should we have borne it? Nay, within a week we should have burned the universe with fire, or trodden it to powder beneath our feet. If the law of heaven were as swift to punish as the law of man, where were we? How easily could he avenge his honour! How many servants wait around him ready to do his bidding! As the Roman consul went out, attended by his lictors carrying the axe, so God is ever attended by his executioners, who are ready to fulfil his sentence. A stone, a tile from a roof, a thunderbolt, a puff of wind, a grain of dust, a whiff of gas, a broken blood-vessel, and all is over, and you are dead, and in the hands of an angry God, Indeed, the Lord has to restrain the servants of his anger, for the heavens cry, "Why should we cover that wretch’s head?" Earth asks, "Why should I yield a harvest to the sinner’s plough?" The lightnings thunder, and say, "Let us smite the rebel," and the seas roar upon the sinner, desiring him as their prey. There is no greater proof of the omnipotence of God than his longsuffering; for it shows the greatest possible power for God to be able to control himself. Sinner, yet Jehovah bears with thee. The angels have been astonished at it; they thought he would strike, but yet he bears with you. Have you ever seen a patient man insulted? He has been met in the street by a villain, who insults him before a mob of boys. He bears it. The fellow spits in his face. He bears it still. The offender strikes him. He endures it quietly. "Give him in charge," says one. "No," says he, "I forgive him all." The fellow knocks him down, and rolls him in the kennel, but he bears it still; yes, and when he rises all covered with mire, he says, "If there be anything that I can do to befriend you, I will do it now." Just at that moment the wretch is arrested by a sheriff’s officer for debt; the man who has been insulted takes out his purse and pays the debt, and says, "You may go free." See, the wretch spits in his face after that! "Now," you say, "let the law have its way with him." Is there any room for patience now? So would it have been with man; it has not been so with God. Though like the cart he is pressed under the load of sheaves, yet like the cart the axle does not break. He bears the load. He bears with impenitent sinners still.

And this brings me to the fourth head, on which I would have your deepest attention. Some of you, I fear, have never seen sin in the light of grieving God, or else you would not wish to grieve him any more. On the other hand some of you feel how bitter a thing evil is, and you wish to be rid of it. This is our fourth head. Not only doth God still bear with sin, but God, in the person of his Son, did bear and take away sin.

These words would have deep meaning if put into the lips of Jesus—"I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves." Here stood the great problem. God must punish sin, and yet he desired to have mercy. How could it be? Lo! Jesus comes to be the substitute for all who trust him. The load of guilt is laid upon his shoulders. See how they pile on him the sheaves of human sin!

"My soul looks back to see
The burdens thou didst bear,
When hanging on the cursed tree,
And hopes her guilt was there."

"The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." There they lie, sheaf on sheaf, till he is pressed down like the wain that groaneth as it moves along. "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." See him, he did "sweat as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground." Herod mocks him. Pilate jeers him. They have smitten the Prince of Judah upon the cheek. "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting." They have tied him to the pillar; they are beating him with rods, not this time forty stripes save one, for there is no "save one" with him. "The chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." See him; like a cart pressed down with sheaves traversing the streets of Jerusalem. Well may ye weep, ye daughters of Jerusalem, though he bids ye dry your tears! Abjects hoot at him as he walks along bowed beneath the load of his own cross, which was the emblem of our sin. They bring him to Golgotha. They throw him on his back, they stretch out his hands and his feet. The accursed iron penetrates the tenderest part of his body, where most the nerves do congregate. They lift up the cross. O bleeding Saviour, thy time of woe is come! They dash it into the socket with cruel force, the nails are tearing through his hands and feet. He hangeth in extremity, for God hath forsaken him; his enemies persecute and take him, for there is none to deliver him. They mock his nakedness; they point at his agonies. They look and stare upon him. With ribald jests they insult his griefs. They make puns upon his prayers. He is now indeed a worm, and no man, crushed till you can scarcely think that divinity dwells within him. Fever parches him; his tongue is dried up like a potsherd, and he cries, "I thirst!" Vinegar is all they yield him. The sun refuses to shine, and the dense midnight of that awful mid-day is a fitting emblem of the tenfold darkness of his soul. Out of that all-encompassing horror he crieth, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Then, indeed, was he pressed down! There was never sorrow like unto his sorrow. All mortal griefs found a reservoir in his heart, and the punishment of human guilt spent itself upon his body and his soul. Shall sin ever be a trifle to me? Shall I laugh at that which made my Saviour groan? Shall I toy and dally with that which stabbed him to the heart? Sinner, wilt thou not give up thy sins for the sake of him who suffered for sin? "Yes," sayest thou, "yes, if I could believe that he suffered for my sake." Wilt thou trust thy soul in his hands at once? Dost thou do so? Then he died for thee and took thy guilt, and carried all thy sorrows, and thou mayest go free, for God is satisfied, and thou art absolved. Christ was burdened that thou mightest be lightened; he was pressed that thou mightest be free. I would I could talk of my precious Master as John would speak, who saw him and bare witness, for he could tell in plaintive tones of the sorrows of Calvary Such as I have I give you; oh that God would give you with it the power, the grace to believe on Jesus at once.

V. For if not, and here is our last point, God will only bear the load of our provocation for a little while; and if we are not in Christ when the end shall come that same load will crush us for ever.

My text is translated by many learned men in a different way from the version before us. According to them it should be read, "I will press you as a cart that is full of sheaves presseth your place." That is, just as a heavy loaded waggon pressed into the soft eastern roads and left deep furrows, so will I crush you, saith God, beneath the load of your sin. This is to be your doom, my hearer, if you are out of Christ: your own deeds are to press upon you. Need we enlarge upon this terror? I think not. It only needs that you should make a personal application of the threatening! Divide yourselves now. Divide yourselves, I say! Answer each one for himself,—Dost thou believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? then the threatening is not thine. But if thou believest not I conjure thee listen to me now as if thou wert the only person here. A Christless soul will ere long be a castaway; he that believeth not in Christ is condemned already, because he believeth not. How wilt thou escape if thou wilt neglect so great salvation? Thus saith the Lord unto thee, "Consider thy ways." By time, by eternity, by life, by death, by heaven, by hell, I do conjure thee believe in him who is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto him; but if thou believest not in Christ thou shalt die in thy sins.

After death the judgment! Oh! the judgment, the thundering trumpet, the multitude, the books, the great white throne, the "Come, ye blessed," the "Depart, ye cursed!"

After judgment, to a soul that is out of Christ, Hell! Who among us? who among us shall abide with the devouring flame? Who among us? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? I pray that none of us may. But we must unless we fly to Christ. I beseech thee, my dear hearer, fly to Jesus! I may never see thy face again; thine eyes may never look into mine again; but I shake my skirts of thy blood if thou believest not in Christ. My tears entreat thee; my lips persuade thee. God has had patience with thee; let his longsuffering lead thee to repentance. He willeth not the death of any, but that they should turn unto him and live: and this turning lies mainly in trusting Jesus with your soul. Wilt thou believe in Christ? Nay, I know thou wilt not unless the Spirit of God shall constrain thee; but if thou wilt not, it shall not be for want of pleading and entreating. Come, ‘tis mercy’s welcome hour. I pray thee, come. Jesus with pierced hands invites thee, though thou hast long rejected him. He knocks again. His unconquerable love defies thy wickedness. He begs thee to be saved. Sinner, wilt thou have him or no? "Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely." God help you to come, for the glorious Redeemer’s sake. Amen.

Spurgeon, C. H. (1882). Farm Sermons. New York: Passmore and Alabaster. (Public Domain)

What Avantageth It?

What Avantageth It?

What Advantageth It?

If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me? If the dead rise not, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.  1 Corinthians 15:32.

Trinity College Chapel, 5th Sunday in Lent, 1866.

In an earlier passage of this Epistle S. Paul compares the career of the Apostles to a scene in a Roman amphitheatre. He imagines a vast concourse brought together from all ages and climes; Greek and Barbarian, Roman and Jew, the living and the dead, dwellers on earth and denizens of heaven, the whole universe of sentient beings, assembled in one countless multitude to witness the spectacle prepared for them. Tier beyond tier, they stretch away into the far distance, till the eye loses itself in the dizzy indistinguishable throng, fading at length into a faint haze, a quivering glow, of sentient life. And while they thus broaden out in wedge-like masses into the infinitude of space and time, every face and every eye of this vast multitude is concentrated on the lists below. There at the command of the Omnipotent King, Who presides over the spectacle, drawn forth from the obscurity of the dark prisons where they have been reserved until the given signal, and exposed to the curious gaze of these thronging myriads, the Apostles come forward to do His behest. Chained to the car of Christ, they had swollen the train which attended the victor’s triumphant progress: and now they are condemned to the fate of the vanquished and enslaved. Patriarchs and prophets, priests and kings, have fought in this same arena. But the interest of the combat is intensified, the spectacle has reached its climax, as they—the Apostles—step forth last, naked and defenceless, at the Almighty President’s word, to do battle with the well-trained and well-armed gladiators of the world, or to grapple with the fierce monsters of ignorance and sin. Then indeed this vast amphitheatre is instinct with eager expectation: the eyes of all are bent down on the impending struggle; some with a savage thirst for blood, some with the scorn of an impartial curiosity, some with tender pitiful sympathy. It is a fearful ordeal; to fight against such antagonists, to fight thus unarmed, to fight under the scorching gaze of this multitudinous throng.

So may we venture to draw out the image contained in the Apostle’s words, ‘I think God hath set forth us the Apostles last, as men condemned to death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world, both to angels and to men.’ Nor condemned as common captives or common criminals only, but as the lowest refuse of humanity, the scapegoats of their race and time, too vile to live, fit only for the cruel sports of the arena, if by chance the wrath of the offended powers might be appeased by their destruction; ‘We are made as the filth of the world, as the offscouring of all things.’

Once again, in the words which I have chosen for my text, the Apostle returns to this striking similitude. As he argues against those who doubted or denied the immortality of man, the resurrection from the dead, he appeals to this great, moral spectacle, as the witness of the human conscience to something more real and more enduring than earthly pleasures or pains. ‘Why stand we in jeopardy every hour?’ Is it conceivable that a man should be willing to die daily; to give up all that makes life enjoyable and to be ready to give up life itself; to contend in this arena of a profligate Asiatic capital, a focus and stronghold of heathendom; to stake his life on the issue of an unequal struggle with the savage monsters let loose upon him, with the concentrated force of an ancient and popular superstition, with the selfish zeal of a wealthy and powerful craft, with the ignorant fury of an excited mob; unless he looked through the near considerations of earthly loss and gain, and saw the heavens opening beyond. Why else should he adopt a course so foolish and suicidal? ‘If after the manner of men,’ if regarding only transient mundane interests, ‘I fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me?’ If this world be all, if heaven be a shadow and hell a fable, then a sane man cannot hesitate for a moment: ‘If the dead rise not, let us cat and drink, for to-morrow we die.’

It is a sublime conception, this amphitheatre of the universe contemplating the struggles and sufferings of a handful of feeble, persecuted outcasts. It would be a bold hyperbole, if the crisis had been less critical, the issues less important. But if, as we believe, this was the turning-point of the world’s history, if Christ indeed came down from heaven to bring life and immortality to light, if to the Apostles was entrusted the greatest work which has ever taxed the courage and the energies of man, then the occasion cannot be held at all unworthy of the image.

But though the work of the Apostles was so far an exceptional work, though the image thus appropriate could not be applied without exaggeration to any less signal contest, yet it may be taken in some measure to describe the career of the benefactors of mankind, the servants of God, in all ages. The concourse is still assembled; the lists are still open. The same fight must be fought; the same antagonists vanquished. And according as the crisis grows in importance, as the strain on the individual combatant increases, as the antagonism gathers strength and fury, as through obloquy and contempt and persecution the heroic champion of God fights his way to the right and to the truth, just so far may it be said of him, that like the Apostles of old he has been ‘set forth as one condemned to death;’ has been ‘made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.’

But from this vast bewildering concourse of earth and heaven, let us turn to the little amphitheatre which immediately surrounds us, and concentrate our thoughts on the narrow lists in which we ourselves are ‘set forth’ to slay or be slain. Even within these limits the assemblage of spectators is sufficiently large and august to awe and stimulate us. A history of more than three centuries gazes down upon our arena. A gathering of great men, such as probably no other College can shew within the same period—historians, poets, statesmen, scholars, divines, interpreters of law, investigators of truth, preachers of righteousness—a long line of spiritual and intellectual ancestry—witnesses our combats. This may be a matter of honest pride and congratulation; or it may be our deepest humiliation, our darkest reproach. Their name, their lustre, their example, are our inheritance; to drag in the dust, or to crown with fresh glory. In the presence of this silent concourse of the past we are called forth by God to do battle for Him.

One honoured name has been recently withdrawn from the lists of the combatants, and added to the ranks of the spectators. Our grand old Master—our pride and strength—has passed from us to them. It is very hard to realise the change. His vacant stall, our mourning badges, speak to us in vain. We can think of him only as we saw him, not so very many days ago, still buoyant and vigorous and full of life; ‘his eye not dim, nor his natural force abated;’ his step still firm and his carriage erect as ever. All, who observed him of late, rejoiced to see that the shadow which had darkened the last year of his life was passing off. Old studies thrown aside were taken up again. Old interests blunted by sorrow were recovering their keen edge once more. Time seemed only to have mellowed and ripened his character, without decaying his faculties. The screen, which long had hidden his large capacity of affection and strong yearning for sympathy, known to a few and suspected by many more, was falling away. And he, whom all admired and respected, was becoming every day better known and more endeared to all.

By all members of this College far and wide, even by those to whom he was personally unknown, his death will be felt as a personal loss. To us here it has left a sense of vacancy, which before it occurred we could hardly have imagined. So many various interests were linked with his name. So many cherished associations are buried in his grave. His removal seems like a great severance from the past.

Even if he had not risen to any special eminence, still by his unbroken residence of more than fifty years in the College, and by his high position as ruler of our little commonwealth, he would have been so intimately associated with the every-day thoughts and acts, would have occupied so large a space in our memory, that his death must have been deeply felt. But he was recognised by all as no common man. If we are inclined to distrust our own estimate, as the partial expression of College pride, in this instance at least the appeal to a larger public will not reverse our verdict. In his published works he has covered a wider field than any living writer; and those, who have conversed with him in private, record with wonder his familiar acquaintance with the farthest outlying regions of knowledge in its lower as well as in its higher forms. What value will be attached by after-ages to his various literary and scientific works, it would be vain to predict; but this at least we may say, that in his own generation and country he has held the foremost rank, if not in precision, at least in range and vigour of intellect.

And these great powers he consecrated always to the highest ends. He is ever a religious teacher in the truest sense. One strain runs through all his works; one cord threads together his earlier and later writings; the days of his literary life are ‘bound each to each by natural piety.’ The world of matter without, the world of thought within, alike speak to him of the Eternal Creator, the Beneficent Father. These are the strophe and antistrophe of the sublime chorus of Nature; the two witnesses who prophesy before the throne of the God of Revelation. If with the Psalmist he tells how ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth His handy-work,’ with the Psalmist also he passes on from the outward witness of creation to the inward witness of the heart, ‘The law of the Lord is an undefiled law converting the soul, the testimony of the Lord is sure and giveth wisdom to the simple.’ The evidences of Natural Theology formed the subject of his earliest writing by which he became widely known, his Bridgewater Treatise. And this same chord he struck in his last sermon preached in this Chapel not many days before his fatal accident; when choosing a theme strangely prophetic, as it seems now, of his approaching death, and speaking of Him ‘Who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending,’ he passed on from the creation of the world to its dissolution; and in words of striking force thus painted the great and final crisis; ‘No mountains sinking under the decrepitude of years or weary rivers ceasing to rejoice in their courses;’ ‘No placid euthanasia silently leading on the dissolution of the natural world.’ ‘But the trumpet shall sound; the struggle shall come. This goodly frame of things shall expire amid the throes and agonies of some fierce and sudden catastrophe. And the same arm that plucked the elements from the dark and troubled slumbers of their chaos shall cast them into their tomb.’

On such subjects he wrote often: sometimes with startling boldness, but always with deep reverence. Indeed his tone seems to rise in solemnity, as his speculations grow more daring; for what nobler passage can be shewn in poet or philosopher or divine, than the majestic language in which, speaking of the ‘waste’ of Creation, he suggests that the other bodies of the universe are ‘rolled into forms of symmetry and order, into masses of light and splendour, by the vast whirl which the original creative energy imparted to the luminous elements out of which they were formed;’ and describes the planets and stars as ‘the lamps which have flown from the potter’s wheel of the Great Worker; the shred-coils which in the working sprang from His mighty lathe; the sparks which darted from His awful anvil when the solar system lay incandescent thereon; the curls of vapour which rose from the great cauldron of Creation when its elements were separated.’

But while the world without will judge him only by his writings, on our gratitude he has other and stronger claims. During the last quarter of a century, in which he has ruled over us, the College has enjoyed almost unexampled prosperity. How far this is due to the greatness of his name and the generosity of his administration, it would not be easy to decide. But after making all allowance for the fond partiality of a recent regret, we may fairly say that as a Master of the College he stands out pre-eminent in the long list of three centuries; as a man of letters, greatest of all since Bentley; as a munificent and patriotic ruler, greatest of all since Nevile; but, as uniting in himself many and various qualifications which combined go far towards realising the ideal head of a religious and learned foundation, the just representative of a famous academic body, greater than these or any of his predecessors. Vast and varied mental powers, untiring energy and extensive knowledge, integrity of character and strictness of example, a wide and generous munificence, a keen interest in University progress, an intense devotion to his own College, a strong sense of duty, a true largeness of heart, a simple Christian faith; the union of these qualities fairly entitles him to the foremost place among the Masters of Trinity.

For he was most truly our own; our own by long residence, our own in all his feelings and interests, our own in his passionate love for the place. He has been heard to say that the sky always seemed to him brighter, when framed by the walls and turrets of our Great Court; and in his dying hours he desired to have the blinds raised, that he might look once more on this familiar scene, so fair and pleasant to his eyes. This touching incident of his last illness is typical of his whole life. All the currents of his being seemed to set towards this one channel. He delighted to connect the incidents of his domestic life with the College. He inspired his private friends with his own enthusiasm for the College. He was very proud of Trinity, and Trinity was very proud of him.

Our own always; not in his triumphs only, but in his sorrows also. I cannot forget—I do not think that any one who saw him can forget—how on this same Sunday a year ago, in the earliest hours of loneliness, in the first flush of grief, he appeared in this Chapel to join his prayers with ours, rightly judging this the fittest place for the weary and heavy-laden, not shrinking from us as from strangers, nor fearing to commit to our sympathies the saddest of all sad sights, an old man’s bereavement and a strong man’s tears.

I have spoken of his College feeling; but College feeling with him was not a proud isolation, a repulsive narrowness. If he represented the College, he represented the University not less truly. His College was to him only the centre and focus from which his interest radiated. As in his last princely bequest to the University, so in all the acts of his academic life, he regarded Trinity College as holding a great trust for the benefit of that larger body of which it forms a part, from which it derives strength, and to which it communicates strength in turn.

He has gone from us, leaving as a legacy his name and his munificence. He has bequeathed to us also his bright example. His race is run: his torch has passed into our hands full burning; to keep ablaze or to quench, as we will. In intellectual eminence we cannot follow him. But the moral qualities, which clustered about his mental power, may be imitated even by the least gifted among us. The unflagging energy which overcame all disadvantages, the manly courage which ever disdained unworthy applause, the simple faith in God through Christ which in him was thrown into stronger relief by his large acquaintance with all branches of human knowledge; such qualities as these are not beyond the reach of any. His example supplies a fresh incentive, as it imposes a fresh responsibility.

The Master’s death occupies the first place in our thoughts. But this is not the only loss we have sustained during the last fortnight. While we were committing his remains to their final resting-place, an older contemporary—a gentle and loving spirit—was passing silently away. He too, though unknown to most of us, had spent the best part of his life in this place, and devoted his freshest energies to the College. He was a scholar, as those bear witness who heard him here, ‘a ripe and good one;’ but he was very much more than a scholar. As a Tutor of this busy College, and as a parish clergyman in his quiet northern home, he was one and unchanged; the same pure, single-hearted, blameless man, humble and childlike, loving and loved by all. His words were the counterpart of his deeds; his books the reflection of his life. In the Rectory of Valehead and the Bishopric of Souls was traced the unconscious portrait of the Vicar of Heversham.

As each successive combatant is withdrawn from the lists, as we lay first one and then another in an honoured grave, the question will rise in our hearts, ‘To what end are these well-fought battles, these hardly-won victories?’ If true life is, as not only the Christian Apostle but even the Stoic philosopher called it, a warfare; if men praise and honour most after death those who in their lifetime grappled with difficulties, conquered unruly passions in themselves, subdued ignorance and vice in others, faced misunderstanding or endured persecution; if we strive by their example to nerve ourselves for the same arena in which they have fought before; should we, or rather can we, refrain from asking for them and for ourselves, ‘What advantageth it?’

To this question the Apostle saw one answer only. It is difficult to conceive any other. If the dead rise not, then these unselfish struggles, these lifelong labours, are mere vanity; then the world’s chief benefactors are its greatest losers. It is folly to forego present advantage, to incur present reproach, to sacrifice this life, if there is no life beyond the grave. Then it were better, like those reckless citizens of Judah, who in the presence of a dangerous foe gave themselves up to feasting and revelry, to live only for the moment and cast no thought beyond; then the motto adopted by them and by pleasure-seekers in every age is after all the golden rule of life; ‘Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die.’

For, though we stifle the voice, it will still make itself heard. Humanity cannot be thus forcibly repressed. A religion or a philosophy, which neglects this elemental instinct of our nature, which holds out no rewards, stands self-condemned. It is an irresistible impulse which leads to the question, ‘What advantageth it?’ which suggests the train of thought, ‘Why stand I in jeopardy every hour?’

And yet a voice equally clear proclaims in still more commanding tones, that self-denial is better than self-indulgence; that it is noble and good to devote ourselves to the advancement of truth and to works of love; that it is noblest and best of all to pursue this course in the teeth of opposition and obloquy, ‘enduring the cross and despising the shame,’ reaping no reward on this side the grave. We cannot call such men fools; we respect and admire them; we desire to be like them; we envy their courage, their perseverance, their lofty self-devotion.

The resurrection of the dead, the life to come, is the only solution of the perplexity, the sole harmonizer of these two conflicting voices. And accordingly, as the human race progressed in culture, as the moral faculties were more fully developed, the doctrine of man’s immortality became more and more prominent.

Yet still it remained a speculative opinion, a vague yearning, a shadowy hope. At length the signal was vouchsafed. The Son of Man rose from the grave. The doubtful hypothesis became an accredited fact, the settled belief of distant nations, the entailed inheritance of successive ages. To the perplexing question, ‘What advantageth it?’ a full and final answer was given, ‘Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.’

With this assurance he, whom we mourn to-day, lived and laboured and died. With this assurance we laid him in his grave, looking forward to a joyful resurrection. With this assurance let us all—young and old—now devote ourselves anew to the service of God in Christ, recalling our baptismal pledges and resolving, as far as in us lies, to make this College a Holy Temple of His Spirit in all sound learning and all godly living.

Lightfoot, J. B. (1890). Cambridge Sermons. London; New York: MacMillan and Co. (Public Domain)

Mealtime in the Cornfields

Mealtime in the Cornfields

Mealtime in the Cornfields

"And Boaz said unto her, At mealtime come thou hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar. And she sat beside the reapers: and he reached her parched corn, and she did eat, and was sufficed, and left."—Ruth 2:14.

WE are going to the cornfields, not so much to glean, as to rest with the reapers and the gleaners, when under some wide-spreading oak they sit down to take refreshment. We hope some timid gleaner will accept our invitation to come and eat with us, and will have confidence enough to dip her morsel in the vinegar. May all of us have courage to feast to the full on our own account, and kindness enough to carry home a portion to our needy friends at home.

I. Our first point of remark is this—that God’s reapers have their mealtimes.

Those who work for God will find him a good master. He cares for oxen, and he has commanded Israel, "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn." Much more doth he care for his servants who serve him. "He hath given meat unto them that fear him: he will ever be mindful of his covenant." The reapers in Jesus’ fields shall not only receive a blessed reward at the last, but they shall have plenteous comforts by the way. He is pleased to pay his servants twice: first in the labour itself, and a second time in the labour’s sweet results. He gives them such joy and consolation in the service of their Master that it is a sweet employ, and they cry, "We delight to do thy will, O Lord." Heaven is made up of serving God day and night, and a foretaste of heaven is enjoyed in serving God on earth with earnest perseverance.

God has ordained certain mealtimes for his reapers; and he has appointed that one of these shall be when they come together to listen to the Word preached. If God be with ministers they act as the disciples did of old, for they received the loaves and the fishes from the Lord Jesus, and then they handed them to the people. We, of ourselves, cannot feed one soul, much less thousands; but when the Lord is with us we can keep as good a table as Solomon himself, with all his fine flour, and fat oxen, and roebucks, and fallow-deer. When the Lord blesses the provisions of his House, no matter how many thousands there may be, all his poor shall be filled with bread. I hope, beloved, you know what it is to sit under the shadow of the Word with great delight, and find the fruit thereof sweet unto your taste. Where the doctrines of grace are boldly and plainly delivered to you in connection with the other truths of revelation; where Jesus Christ upon his cross is always lifted up; where the work of the Spirit is not forgotten; where the glorious purpose of the Father is never despised, there is sure to be rich provision for the children of God.

Often, too, our gracious Lord appoints us mealtimes in our private readings and meditations. Here it is that his "paths drop fatness." Nothing can be more fattening to the soul of the believer than feeding upon the Word, and digesting it by frequent meditation. No wonder that men grow so slowly when they meditate so little. Cattle must chew the cud; it is not that which they crop with their teeth, but that which is masticated, and digested by rumination, that nourishes them. We must take the truth, and turn it over and over again in the inward parts of our spirit, and so shall we extract suitable nourishment therefrom. My brethren, is not meditation the land of Goshen to you? If men once said, "There is corn in Egypt," may they not always say that the finest of the wheat is to be found in secret prayer? Private devotion is a land which floweth with milk and honey; a paradise yielding all manner of fruits; a banqueting house of choice wines. Ahasuerus might make a great feast, but all his hundred and twenty provinces could not furnish such dainties as meditation offers to the spiritual mind. Where can we feed and lie down in green pastures in so sweet a sense as we do in our musings on the Word? Meditation distils the quintessence of joy from the Scriptures, and gladdens our mouth with a sweetness which excels the virgin honey. Your retired periods and occasions of prayer should be to you refreshing seasons, in which, like the reapers at noonday, you sit with the Master and enjoy his generous provisions. The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain was wont to say that when he was lonely, and his wallet was empty, his Bible was to him meat, and drink, and company too: he is not the only man who has found a fulness in the Word when all else has been empty. During the battle of Waterloo a godly soldier, mortally wounded, was carried by his comrade into the rear, and being placed with his back propped up against a tree, he besought his friend to open his knapsack and take out the Bible which he had carried in it. "Read to me," he said, "one verse before I close my eyes in death." His comrade read him that verse: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you;" and there, fresh from the whistling of the bullets, and the roll of the drum, and the tempest of human conflict, that believing spirit enjoyed such holy calm that ere he fell asleep in the arms of Jesus he said, "Yes, I have a peace with God which passeth all understanding, which keeps my heart and mind through Jesus Christ." Saints most surely enjoy delightful mealtimes when they are alone in meditation.

Let us not forget that there is one specially ordained mealtime which ought to occur at least once in the week—I mean the Supper of the Lord. There you have literally, as well as spiritually, a meal. The table is richly spread, it has upon it both bread and wine; and looking at what these symbolize, we have before us a table richer than that which kings could furnish. There we have the flesh and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereof if a man eat he shall never hunger and never thirst, for that bread shall be unto him everlasting life. Oh! the sweet seasons we have known at the Lord’s Supper. If some of you knew the enjoyment of feeding upon Christ in that ordinance you would chide yourselves for not having united with the Church in fellowship. In keeping the Master’s commandments there is "great reward," and consequently in neglecting them there is great loss of reward. Christ is not so tied to the sacramental table as to be always found of those who partake thereat, but still it is "in the way" that we may expect the Lord to meet with us. "If ye love me, keep my commandments," is a sentence of touching power. Sitting at this table, our soul has mounted up from the emblem to the reality; we have eaten bread in the kingdom of God, and have leaned our head upon Jesus’ bosom. "He brought me to the banqueting-house, and his banner over me was love."

Besides these regular mealtimes, there are others which God gives us, at seasons when, perhaps, we little expect them. You have been walking the street, and suddenly you have felt a holy flowing out of your soul toward God; or in the middle of business your heart has been melted with love and made to dance for joy, even as the brooks, which have been bound with winter’s ice, leap to feel the touch of spring. You have been groaning, dull, and earthbound; but the sweet love of Jesus has enwrapped your heart when you scarce thought of it, and your spirit, all free, and all on fire, has rejoiced before the Lord with timbrel and dance, like Miriam of old. I have had times occasionally in preaching when I would fain have kept on far beyond the appointed hour, for my overflowing soul has been like a vessel wanting vent. Seasons, too, we have had on our sick beds, when we would have been content to be sick always if we could have had our bed so well made by tender love, and our head so softly pillowed on condescending grace.

Our blessed Redeemer comes to us in the morning, and wakes us up by dropping sweet thoughts upon our souls; we know not how they came, but it is as if, when the dew was visiting the flowers, a few drops had taken pity upon us. In the cool eventide, too, as we have gone to our beds, our meditation of him has been sweet; and, in the night watches, when we tossed to and fro, and could not sleep, he has been pleased to become our song in the night.

God’s reapers find it hard work to reap; but they gain a blessed solace when in one way or another they sit down and eat of their Master’s rich provisions; then, with renewed strength, they rise with sharpened sickle, to reap again in the noontide heat.

Let me observe that, while these mealtimes come we know not exactly when, there are certain seasons when we may expect them. The Eastern reapers generally sit down under the shelter of a tree, or a booth, to take refreshment during the heat of the day. And certain I am, that when trouble, affliction, persecution, and bereavement, become the most painful to us, it is then that the Lord hands out to us the sweetest comforts. We must work till the hot sun forces the sweat from our faces, and then we may look for repose; we must bear the burden and heat of the day before we can expect to be invited to those choice meals which the Lord prepares for true labourers. When thy day of trouble is hottest, then the love of Jesus shall be sweetest.

Again, these mealtimes frequently occur before a trial. Elijah must be entertained beneath a juniper tree, for he is to go a forty-days’ journey in the strength of that meat. You may suspect some danger nigh when your delights are overflowing. If you see a ship taking in great quantities of provision, it is probably bound for a distant port, and when God gives you extraordinary seasons of communion with Jesus, you may look for long leagues of tempestuous sea. Sweet cordials prepare for stern conflicts.

Times of refreshing also occur after trouble or arduous service. Christ was tempted of the devil, and afterwards angels came and ministered unto him. Jacob wrestled with God, and afterwards, at Mahanaim, hosts of angels met him. Abraham fought with the kings, and returned from their slaughter, and then it was that Melchisedec refreshed him with bread and wine. After conflict, content; after battle, banquet. When thou hast waited on thy Lord, then thou shalt sit down, and thy Master will gird himself and wait upon thee.

Let worldlings say what they will about the hardness of religion, we do not find it so. We own that reaping for Christ has its difficulties and troubles; but still the bread which we eat is of heavenly sweetness, and the wine which we drink is crushed from celestial clusters—

"I would not change my bless’d estate
For all the world calls good or great;
And while my faith can keep her hold,
I envy not the sinner’s gold."

II. Follow me while we turn to a second point. To these meals the gleaner is affectionately invited. That is to say, the poor, trembling stranger who has not strength enough to reap, who has no right to be in the field except the right of charity—the poor, trembling sinner, conscious of his own demerit, and feeling but little hope and little joy, is invited to the feast of love.

In the text the gleaner is invited to come. "At mealtime, come thou hither." We trust none of you will be kept away from the place of holy feasting by any shame on account of your dress, or your personal character, or your poverty; nay, nor even on account of your physical infirmities. "At mealtime come thou hither." I knew a deaf woman who could never hear a sound, and yet she was always in the House of God, and when asked why, her reply was that a friend found her the text, and then God was pleased to give her many a sweet thought upon it while she sat with his people; besides, she felt that as a believer she ought to honour God by her presence in his courts, and by confessing her union with his people; and, better still, she always liked to be in the best of company, and as the presence of God was there, and the holy angels, and the saints of the Most High, whether she could hear or no, she would go. If such persons find pleasure in coming, we who can hear should never stay away. Though we feel our unworthiness, we ought to be desirous to be laid in the House of God, as the sick were at the pool of Bethesda, hoping that the waters may be stirred, and that we may step in and be healed. Trembling soul, never let the temptations of the devil keep thee from the assembly of worshippers; "at mealtime come thou hither."

Moreover, she was bidden not only to come but to eat. Whatever there is sweet and comfortable in the Word of God, ye that are of a broken and contrite spirit are invited to partake of it. "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners"—sinners such as you are. "In due time Christ died for the ungodly"—such ungodly ones as you feel yourselves to be. You desire to be Christ’s. You may be Christ’s. You are saying in your heart, "O that I could eat the children’s bread!" You may eat it. You say, "I have no right." But the Lord gives you the invitation! Come without any other right than the right of his invitation.

"Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream."

But since he bids you "come," take him at his word; and if there be a promise, believe it; if there be an encouraging word, accept it, and let the sweetness of it be yours.

Note further, that she was not only invited to eat the bread, but to dip her morsel in the vinegar. We must not look upon this as being some sour stuff. No doubt there are crabbed souls in the church, who always dip their morsel in the sourest imaginable vinegar, and with a grim liberality invite others to share their misery with them; but the vinegar in my text is altogether another thing. This was either a compound of various juices expressed from fruits, or else it was that weak kind of wine mingled with water which is still commonly used in the harvest-fields of Italy and the warmer parts of the world—a drink not exceedingly strong, but good enough to impart a relish to the food. It was, to use the only word which will give the meaning, a sauce, which the Orientals used with their bread. As we use butter, or as they on other occasions used oil, so in the harvest-field, believing it to have cooling properties, they used what is here called "vinegar." Beloved, the Lord’s reapers have sauce with their bread; they have not merely doctrines, but the holy unction which is the essence of doctrines; they have not merely truths, but a hallowed delight accompanies the truths. Take, for instance, the doctrine of election, which is like the bread; there is a sauce to dip it in. When I can say, "He loved me before the foundations of the world," the personal enjoyment of my interest in the truth becomes a sauce into which I dip my morsel. And you, poor gleaner, are invited to dip your morsel in it too. I used to hear people sing that hymn of Toplady’s, which begins—

"A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with thy righteousness on,
My person and offering to bring."

The hymn rises to its climax in the lines—

"Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is given;
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heaven."

I used to think I should never be able to sing that hymn. It was the sauce, you know. I might manage to eat some of the plain bread, but I could not dip it in that sauce. It was too high doctrine, too sweet, too consoling. But I thank God I have since ventured to dip my morsel in it, and now I hardly like my bread without it. I would have every trembling sinner partake of the comfortable parts of God’s Word, even those which cavillers call "High Doctrine." Let him believe the simpler truth first, and then dip it in the sweet doctrine and be happy in the Lord.

I think I see the gleaner half prepared to come, for she is very hungry, and she has nothing with her; but she begins to say, "I have no right to come, for I am not a reaper; I do nothing for Christ; I am only a selfish gleaner; I am not a reaper." Ah! but thou art invited to come. Make no questions about it. Boaz bids thee; take thou his invitation, and approach at once. "But," you say," I am such a poor gleaner; though my labour is all for myself, yet it is little I win by it; I get a few thoughts while the sermon is being preached, but I lose them before I reach home." I know you do, poor weak-handed woman. But still, Jesus invites thee. Come! Take thou the sweet promise as he presents it to thee, and let no bashfulness of thine send thee home hungry. "But," you say, "I am a stranger; you do not know my sins, my sinfulness, and the waywardness of my heart." But Jesus does, and yet he invites you. He knows you are but a Moabitess, a stranger from the commonwealth of Israel; but he bids you come. Is not that enough? "But," you say, "I owe so much to him already; it is so good of him to spare my forfeited life, and so tender of him to let me hear the gospel preached at all; I cannot have the presumption to be an intruder, and sit with the reapers." Oh! but he bids you. There is more presumption in your doubting than there could be in your believing. He bids you. Will you refuse Boaz? Shall Jesus’ lips give the invitation, and will you say him nay? Come, now, come. Remember that the little which Ruth could eat did not make Boaz any the poorer; and all that thou wantest will make Christ none the less glorious or full of grace. Are thy necessities large? His supplies are larger. Dost thou require great mercy? He is a great Saviour. I tell thee that his mercy is no more to be exhausted than the sea is to be drained. Come at once. There is enough for thee, and Boaz will not be impoverished by thy feasting to the full. Moreover, let me tell thee a secret—Jesus loves thee; therefore is it that he would have thee feed at his table. If thou art now a longing, trembling sinner, willing to be saved, but conscious that thou deservest it not, Jesus loves thee, and he will take more delight in seeing thee eat than thou wilt take in the eating. Let the sweet love he feels in his soul toward thee draw thee to him. And what is more—but this is a great secret, and must only be whispered in your ear—he intends to be married to you; and when you are married to him, why, the fields will be yours; for, of course, if you are his spouse, you are joint proprietor with him. Is it not so? Doth not the wife share with the husband? All those promises which are "yea and amen in Christ" shall be yours; nay, they all are yours now, for "the man is next of kin unto you," and ere long he will take you unto himself for ever, espousing you in faithfulness, and truth, and righteousness. Will you not eat of your own? "Oh! but," says one, "how can it be? I am a stranger." Yes, a stranger; but Jesus Christ loves the stranger. "A publican, a sinner;" but he is "the friend of publicans and sinners." "An outcast;" but he "gathereth together the outcasts of Israel." "A stray sheep;" but the shepherd "leaves the ninety and nine" to seek it. "A lost piece of money;" but he "sweeps the house" to find thee. "A prodigal son;" but he sets the bells a-ringing when he knows that thou wilt return. Come, Ruth! Come, trembling gleaner! Jesus invites thee: accept the invitation. "At mealtime come thou hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar."

III. Now, thirdly—and here is a very sweet point in the narrative—Boaz reached her the parched corn. She did "come and eat". Where did she sit? Note well that she "sat beside the reapers." She did not feel that she was one of them, but she "sat beside" them. Just like some of you who do not come to the Lord’s Supper, but sit and look on. You are sitting "beside the reapers." You fear that you are not the people of God; still you love them, and therefore sit beside them. If there is a good thing to be had, and you cannot get it, you will sit as near as you can to those who do get it. "She sat beside the reapers."

And while she was sitting there, what happened? Did she stretch forth her hand and take the food herself? No, it is written, "He reached her the parched corn." Ah! that is it. None but the Lord of the harvest can hand out the choicest refreshments of spiritual minds. I give the invitation in my Master’s name, and I hope I give it earnestly, affectionately, sincerely; but I know very well that at my poor bidding none will come till the Spirit draws. No trembling heart will accept divine refreshing at my hand; unless the King himself comes near, and reaches the parched corn to each chosen guest, none will receive it. How does he do this? By his gracious Spirit, he first of all inspires your faith. You are afraid to think that it can be true that such a sinner as you are can ever be "accepted in the Beloved"; he breathes upon you, and your faint hope becomes an expectancy, and that expectation buds and blossoms into an appropriating faith, which says, "Yes, my beloved is mine, and his desire is toward me."

Having done this, the Saviour does more; he sheds abroad the love of God in your heart. The love of Christ is like sweet perfume in a box. Now, he who put the perfume in the box is the only person that knows how to take off the lid. He, with his own skilful hand, opens the secret blessing, and sheds abroad the love of God in the soul.

But Jesus does more than this: he reaches the parched corn with his own hand, when he gives us close communion with himself. Do not think that this is a dream; I tell you there is such a thing as speaking with Christ to-day. As certainly as I can talk with my dearest friend, or find solace in the company of my beloved wife, so surely may I speak with Jesus, and find intense delight in the company of Immanuel. It is not a fiction. We do not worship a far-off Saviour; he is a God nigh at hand. His word is in our mouth and in our heart, and we do to-day walk with him as the elect did of old, and commune with him as his apostles did on earth; not after the flesh, it is true, but after a real and spiritual fashion.

Yet once more let me add, the Lord Jesus is pleased to reach the parched corn, in the best sense, when the Spirit gives us the infallible witness within, that we are "born of God". A man may know that he is a Christian beyond all question. Philip de Morny, who lived in the time of Prince Henry of Navarre, was wont to say that the Holy Spirit had made his own salvation to him as clear a point as a problem demonstrated in Euclid. You know with what mathematical precision the scholar of geometry solves a problem or proves a proposition, and with as absolute a precision, as certainly as twice two are four, we may "know that we have passed from death unto life." The sun in the heavens is not more clear to the eye than his present salvation to an assured believer; such a man could as soon doubt his own existence as suspect his possession of eternal life.

Now let the prayer be breathed by poor Ruth, who is trembling yonder. Lord, reach me the parched corn! "Show me a token for good." "Deal bountifully with thy servant." "Draw me, we will run after thee." Lord, send thy love into my heart!

"Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all thy quickening powers,
Come, shed abroad a Saviour’s love,
And that shall kindle ours."

There is no getting at Christ except by Christ revealing himself to us.

IV. And now the last point. After Boaz had reached the parched corn, we are told that "she did eat, and was sufficed, and left." So shall it be with every Ruth. Sooner or later every penitent shall become a believer, every mourner a singer. There may be a space of deep conviction, and a period of much hesitation; but there shall come a season when the soul decides for the Lord, and cries, "If I perish, I perish. I will go as I am to Jesus. I will not play the fool any longer with my buts and ifs, but since he bids me believe that he died for me, I will believe it, and will trust his cross for my salvation." Whenever you shall be privileged to do this, you shall be "satisfied." "She did eat, and was sufficed." Your head shall be satisfied with the precious truth which Christ reveals; your heart shall be content with Jesus, as the altogether lovely object of affection; your hope shall be filled, for whom have you in heaven but Christ? Your desire shall be satiated, for what can even your desire hunger for more than "to know Christ, and to be found in him." You shall find Jesus charm your conscience, till it is at perfect peace; he shall content your judgment, till you know the certainty of his teachings; he shall supply your memory with recollections of what he did, and gratify your imagination with the prospects of what he is yet to do.

"She was sufficed, and left." Some of us have had deep draughts of love; we have thought that we could take in all of Christ, but when we have done our best, we have had to leave a vast remainder. We have sat down with a ravenous appetite at the table of the Lord’s love, and said, "Nothing but the infinite can ever satisfy me," and that infinite has been granted us. I have felt that I am such a great sinner that nothing short of an infinite atonement could wash my sin away, and no doubt you have felt the same; but we have had our sin removed, and found merit enough and to spare in Jesus; we have had our hunger relieved, and found a redundance remaining for others who are in a similar case. There are certain sweet things in the word of God which you and I have not enjoyed yet, and which we cannot enjoy yet; and these we are obliged to leave for a while, till we are better prepared to receive them. Did not our Lord say, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now"? There is a special knowledge to which we have not attained, a place of intimate fellowship with Christ which we have not yet occupied. There are heights of communion which as yet our feet have not climbed—virgin snows of the mountain of God untrodden by the foot of man. There is yet a beyond, and there will be for ever.

A verse or two further on we are told what Ruth did with her leavings. It is very wrong, I believe, at feasts to carry anything home with you; but she was not under any such regulation, for that which was left she took home and gave to Naomi. So it shall be even with you, poor tremblers, who think you have no right to a morsel for yourselves; you shall be allowed to eat, and when you are quite sufficed, you shall have courage to bear away a portion to others who are hungering at home. I am always pleased to find the young believer beginning to pocket something for others. When you hear a sermon you think, "My poor mother cannot get out to-day; how I wish she could have been here, for that sentence would have comforted her. If I forget everything else, I will tell her that." Cultivate an unselfish spirit. Seek to love as you have been loved. Remember that "the law and the prophets" are fulfilled in this, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your neighbour as yourself. How can you love your neighbour as yourself if you do not love his soul? You have loved your own soul; through grace you have been led to lay hold on Jesus; love your neighbour’s soul, and never be satisfied till you see him in the enjoyment of those things which are the charm of your life and the joy of your spirit. Take home your gleanings for those you love who cannot glean for themselves.

I do not know how to give you an invitation to Christ more pleasantly, but I would with my whole heart cry, "Come and welcome to Jesus." I pray my Lord and Master to reach a handful of parched corn of comfort to you if you are a trembling sinner, and I also beg him to make you eat till you are fully sufficed.

Spurgeon, C. H. (1882). Farm Sermons. New York: Passmore and Alabaster. (Public Domain)

Spiritual Gleaning

Spiritual Gleaning

Spiritual Gleaning

"Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not."—Ruth 2:15.

COUNTRY friends need no explanation of what is meant by gleaning. I hope the custom will never be banished from the land, but that the poor will always be allowed their little share of the harvest. I am afraid that many who see gleaning every year in the fields of their own parish are not yet wise enough to understand the heavenly art of spiritual gleaning. That is the subject which I have chosen on this occasion, and my text is taken from the charming story of Ruth, which is known to every one of you. I shall use the story as setting forth our own case, in a homely but instructive way. In the first place, we shall observe that there is a great Husbandman: it was Boaz in Ruth’s case, it is our heavenly Father who is the Husbandman in our case. Secondly, we shall notice a humble gleaner: the gleaner was Ruth in this instance, but she may be looked upon as the representative of every believer. And, in the third place, here is a gracious permission given to Ruth: "Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not," and the same permission is spiritually given to us.

I. In the first place, the God of the whole earth is a great Husbandman. This is true in natural things. As a matter of fact all farm operations are carried on by his power and prudence. Man may plough the soil, and sow the seed; but as Jesus said, "My Father is the husbandman." He appoints the clouds and allots the sunshine; he directs the winds and distributes the dew and the rain; he also gives the frost and the heat, and so by various processes of nature he brings forth food for man and beast. All the farming, however, which God does, is for the benefit of others, and never for himself. He has no need of any of our works of husbandry. If he were hungry, he would not tell us. "The cattle on a thousand hills," says he, "are mine." The purest kindness and benevolence are those which dwell in the heart of God. Though all things are God’s, his works in creation and in providence are not for himself, but for his creatures. This should greatly encourage us in trusting to him.

In spiritual matters God is a great husbandman; and there, too, all his works are done for his children, that they may be fed upon the finest of the wheat. Permit me to speak of the wide gospel fields which our heavenly Father farms for the good of his children. There is a great variety of these fields, and they are all fruitful; for "the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; also his heavens shall drop down dew." Deut. 33:28. Every field which our heavenly Father tills yields a plentiful harvest, for there are no failures or famines with him.

1. One part of his farm is called Doctrine field. What full sheaves of finest wheat are to be found there! He who is permitted to glean in it will gather bread enough and to spare, for the land brings forth by handfuls. Look at that goodly sheaf of election; full, indeed, of heavy ears of corn, such as Pharaoh saw in his first dream—ears full and strong. There is the great sheaf of final perseverance, where each ear is a promise that the work which God has begun he will assuredly complete. If we have not faith enough to partake of either of these sheaves, we may glean around the choice sheaves of redemption by the blood of Christ. Many a poor soul who could not feed on electing love, nor realize his perseverance in Christ, can yet feed on the atonement and rejoice in the sublime doctrine of substitution. Many and rich are the sheaves which stand thick together in Doctrine-field; these, when threshed by meditation and ground in the mill of thought, furnish royal food for the Lord’s family.

I wonder why it is that some of our Master’s stewards are so prone to lock the gate of this field, as if they thought it dangerous ground. For my part, I wish my people not only to glean here, but to carry home the sheaves by the waggon-load, for they cannot be too well fed when truth is the food. Are my fellow-labourers afraid that Jeshurun will wax fat and kick, if he has too much food? I fear there is more likelihood of his dying of starvation if the bread of sound doctrine is withheld. If we have a love to the precepts and warnings of the word, we need not be afraid of the doctrines; on the contrary, we should search them out and feed upon them with joy. The doctrines of distinguishing grace are to be set forth in due proportions to the rest of the word, and those are poor pulpits from which these grand truths are excluded. We must not keep the Lord’s people out of this field. I say, swing the gate open, and come in, all of you who are children of God! I am sure that in my Master’s field nothing grows which will harm you. Gospel doctrine is always safe doctrine. You may feast upon it till you are full, and no harm will come of it. Be afraid of no revealed truth. Be afraid of spiritual ignorance, but not of holy knowledge. Grow in grace and in the knowledge of your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Everything taught in the word of God is meant to be the subject of a Christian’s study, therefore neglect nothing. Visit the doctrine-field daily, and glean in it with the utmost dilligence.

2. The great Husbandman has another field called Promise field; of that I shall not need to speak, for I hope you often enter it and glean from it. Just let us take an ear or two out of one of the sheaves, and show them to you that you may be induced to stay there the live-long day, and carry home a rich load at night. Here is an ear: "The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed." Here is another: "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." Here is another; it has a short stalk, but a heavy ear; "My strength is sufficient for thee." Another is long in the straw, but very rich in corn: "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you; and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." What a word is that!—"I will come again." Yes, beloved, we can say of the Promise field what cannot be said of a single acre in all England; namely, that it is so rich a field that it could not be richer, and that it has so many ears of corn in it that you could not insert another. As the poet sings:

"What more can he say, than to you he hath said,—

You who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?"

Glean in that field, O ye poor and needy ones, and never think that you are intruding. The whole field is your own, every ear of it; you may draw out from the sheaves themselves, and the more you take the more you may.

3. Then there is Ordinance field; a great deal of good wheat grows in this field. The field of Baptism has been exceedingly fruitful to some of us, for it has set forth to us our death, burial, and resurrection in Christ, and thus we have been cheered and instructed. It has been good for us to declare ourselves on the Lord’s side, and we have found that in keeping our Lord’s commandments there is great reward. But I will not detain you long in this field, for some of our friends think it has a damp soil: I wish them more light and more grace. However, we will pass on to the field of the Supper, where grows the very best of our Lord’s corn. What rich things have we fed upon in this choice spot! Have we not there tasted the sweetest and most sustaining of all spiritual food? In all the estate no field is to be found to rival this centre and crown of all the domain: this is the King’s Acre. Gospel gleaner, abide in that field; glean in it on the first day of every week, and expect to see your Lord there; for it is written, "He was known of them in the breaking of bread."

4. The heavenly Husbandman has one field upon a hill, which equals the best of the others, even if it does not excel them. You cannot really and truly go into any of the other fields unless you pass into this; for the road to the other fields lies through this hill farm; it is called Fellowship and Communion with Christ. This is the field for the Lord’s choicest ones to glean in. Some of you have only run through it, you have not stopped long enough in it; but he who knows how to stay here, yea, to live here, shall spend his hours most profitably and pleasantly. It is only in proportion as we hold fellowship with Christ, and communion with him, that either ordinances, or doctrines, or promises can profit us. All other things are dry and barren unless we are enjoying the love of Christ, unless we bear his likeness, unless we dwell continually with him, and rejoice in his love. I am sorry to say that few Christians think much of this field; it is enough for them to be sound in doctrine, and tolerably correct in practice; they care far less than they should about intimate intercourse with Christ Jesus, their Lord, by the Holy Ghost. I am sure that if we gleaned in this field we should not have half so many naughty tempers, nor a tenth as much pride, nor a hundredth part so much sloth. This is a field hedged and sheltered, and in it you will find better food than that which angels feed upon: yea, you will find Jesus himself as the bread which came down from heaven. Blessed, blessed field, may we visit it every day. The Master leaves the gate wide open for every believer; let us enter in and gather the golden ears till we can carry no more. Thus we have seen the great Husbandman in his fields; let us rejoice that we have such a great Husbandman near, and such fields to glean in.

II. And now, in the second place, we have a humble gleaner. Ruth was a gleaner, and may serve as an illustration of what every believer should be in the fields of God.

1. The believer is a favoured gleaner, for he may take home a whole sheaf, if he likes: he may bear away all that he can possibly carry, for all things are freely given him of the Lord. I use the figure of a gleaner, because I believe that few Christians ever go much beyond it, and yet they are free to do so if they are able. Some may say, Why does not the believer reap all the field, and take all the corn home with him? I answer that he is welcome to do so if he can; for no good thing will the Lord withhold from them that walk uprightly. If your faith is like a great waggon, and you can carry the whole field of corn, you have full permission to take it. Alas, our faith is so little that we rather glean than reap; we are straitened in ourselves, not in our God. May you all outgrow the metaphor, and come home, bringing your sheaves with you.

2. Again, we may remark, that the gleaner, in her business has to endure much toil and fatigue. She rises early in the morning, and she trudges off to a field; if that be closed, she hastens to another; and if that be shut up, or gleaned already, she hurries further still; and all day long, while the sun is shining upon her, she seldom sits down to refresh herself, but still she goes on, stoop, stoop, stoop, gathering the ears one by one. She returns not to her home till nightfall; for she desires, if the field is good, to do much business that day, and she will not go home until she is loaded down. Beloved, so let each one of us do when we seek spiritual food. Let us not be afraid of a little fatigue in the Master’s fields: if the gleaning is good, we must not soon weary in gathering the precious spoil, for the gains will richly reward our pains. I know a friend who walks five miles every Sunday to hear the gospel, and has the same distance to return. Another thinks little of a ten miles’ journey; and these are wise, for to hear the pure word of God no labour is extravagant. To stand in the aisle till ready to drop, listening all the while with strained attention, is a toil which meets a full reward if the gospel be heard and the Spirit of God bless it to the soul. A gleaner does not expect that the ears will come to her of themselves; she knows that gleaning is hard work. We must not expect to find the best field next to our own house, we may have to journey to the far end of the parish, but what of that? Gleaners must not be choosers, and where the Lord sends the gospel, there he calls us to be present.

3. We remark, next, that every ear the gleaner gets she has to stoop for. Why is it that proud people seldom profit under the word? Why is it that certain "intellectual" folk cannot get any good out of our soundest ministers? Why, because they must needs have the corn lifted up for them; and if the wheat is held so high over their heads that they can hardly see it, they are pleased, and cry, "Here is something wonderful." They admire the extraordinary ability of the man who can hold up the truth so high that nobody can reach it; but truly that is a sorry feat. The preacher’s business is to place truth within the reach of all, children as well as adults; he is to let fall handfuls on purpose for poor gleaners, and these will never mind stooping to collect the ears. If we preach to the educated people only, the wise ones can understand, but the illiterate cannot; but when we preach in all simplicity to the poor, other classes can understand it if they like, and if they do not like, they had better go somewhere else. Those who cannot stoop to pick up plain truth had better give up gleaning. For my part, I would be taught by a child if I could thereby know and understand the gospel better: the gleaning in our Lord’s field is so rich that it is worth the hardest labour to be able to carry home a portion of it. Hungry souls know this, and are not to be hindered in seeking their heavenly food. We will go down on our knees in prayer, and stoop by self-humiliation, and confession of ignorance, and so gather with the hand of faith the daily bread of our hungering souls.

4. Note, in the next place, that what a gleaner gets she wins ear by ear; occasionally she picks up a handful at once, but as a rule it is straw by straw. In the case of Ruth, handfuls were let fall on purpose for her; but she was highly favoured. The gleaner stoops, and gets one ear, and then she stoops again for another. Now, beloved, where there are handfuls to be got at once, there is the place to go and glean; but if you cannot meet with such abundance, be glad to gather ear by ear. I have heard of certain persons who have been in the habit of hearing a favourite minister, and when they go to another place, they say, "I cannot hear anybody after my own minister; I shall stay at home and read a sermon." Please remember the passage, "Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is." Let me also entreat you not to be so foolishly partial as to deprive your soul of its food. If you cannot get a handful at one stoop, do not refuse to gather an ear at a time. If you are not content to learn here a little and there a little, you will soon be half starved, and then you will be glad to get back again to the despised minister and pick up what his field will yield you. That is a sorry ministry which yields nothing. Go and glean where the Lord has opened the gate for you. Why the text alone is worth the journey; do not miss it.

5. Note, next, that what the gleaner picks up she keeps in her hand; she does not drop the corn as fast as she gathers it. There is a good thought at the beginning of the sermon, but the hearers are so eager to hear another, that the first one slips away. Towards the end of the sermon a large handful falls in their way, and they forget all that went before in their eagerness to retain this last and richest portion. The sermon is over, and, alas, it is nearly all gone from the memory, for many are about as wise as a gleaner would be if she should pick up one ear, and drop it; pick up another, and drop it, and so on all day. The net result of such a day’s work in a stubble is a bad backache; and I fear that all our hearers will get by their hearing will be a headache. Be attentive, but be retentive too. Gather the grain and tie it up in bundles for carrying away with you, and mind you do not lose it on the road home. Many a person when he has got a fair hold of the sermon, loses it on the way to his house by idle talk with vain companions. I have heard of a Christian man who was seen hurrying home one Sunday with all his might. A friend asked him why he was in such haste. "Oh!" said he, "two or three Sundays ago, our minister gave us a most blessed discourse, and I greatly enjoyed it; but when I got outside, there were two deacons discussing, and one pulled the sermon one way, and the other the other, till they pulled it all to pieces, and I lost all the savour of it." Those must have been very bad deacons; let us not imitate them; and if we know of any who are of their school, let us walk home alone in dogged silence sooner than lose all our gleanings by their controversies. After a good sermon go home with your ears and your mouth shut. Act like the miser, who not only gets all he can, but keeps all he can. Do not lose by trifling talk that which may make you rich to all eternity.

6. Then, again, the gleaner takes the wheat home and threshes it. It is a wise thing to thresh a sermon whoever may have been the preacher, for it is certain that there is a portion of straw and chaff about it. Many thresh the preacher by finding needless fault; but that is not half so good as threshing the sermon to get out of it the pure truth. Take a sermon, beloved, when you get one which is worth having, and lay it down on the floor of meditation, and beat it out with the flail of prayer, and you will get bread-corn from it. This threshing by prayer and meditation must never be neglected. If a gleaner should stow away her corn in her room, and leave it there, the mice would get at it; but she would have no food from it if she did not thresh out the grain. Some get a sermon, and carry it home, and allow Satan and sin, and the world, to eat it all up, and it becomes unfruitful and worthless to them. But he who knows how to flail a sermon well, so as to clear out all the wheat from the straw, he is it that makes a good hearer and feeds his soul on what he hears.

7. And then, in the last place, the good woman, after threshing the corn, no doubt winnowed it. Ruth did all this in the field; but you can scarcely do so. You must do some of the work at home. And observe, she did not take the chaff home; she left that behind her in the field. It is a prudent thing to winnow all the discourses you hear so as to separate the precious from the vile; but pray do not fall into the silly habit of taking home all the chaff, and leaving the corn behind. I think I hear you say, "I shall recollect that queer expression; I shall make an anecdote out of that odd remark." Listen, then, for I have a word for you,—if you hear a man retail nothing about a minister except his oddities, just stop him, and say, "We have all our faults, and perhaps those who are most ready to speak of those of others are not quite perfect themselves: cannot you tell us what the preacher said that was worth hearing?" In many cases the virtual answer will be, "Oh, I don’t recollect that." They have sifted the corn, thrown away the good grain, and brought home the chaff. Ought they not to be put in an asylum? Follow the opposite rule; drop the straw, and retain the good corn. Separate between the precious and the vile, and let the worthless material go where it may; you have no use for it, and the sooner you are rid of it the better. Judge with care; reject false teaching with decision, and retain true doctrine with earnestness, so shall you practise the enriching art of heavenly gleaning. May the Lord teach us wisdom, so that we may become "rich to all the intents of bliss;" so shall our mouth be satisfied with good things, and our youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s.

III. And now, in the last place, here is a gracious permission given: "Let her glean among the sheaves, and reproach her not." Ruth had no right to go among the sheaves till Boaz gave her permission by saying, "Let her do it." For her to be allowed to go amongst the sheaves, in that part of the field where the wheat was newly cut, and none of it carted, was a great favour: but Boaz whispered that handfuls were to be dropped on purpose for her, and that was a greater favour still. Boaz had a secret love for the maiden and even so, beloved, it is because of our Lord’s eternal love to us that he allows us to enter his best fields and glean among the sheaves. His grace permits us to lay hold upon doctrinal blessings, promise blessings, and experience blessings: the Lord has a favour towards us, and hence these singular kindnesses. We have no right to any heavenly blessings of ourselves; our portion is due to free and sovereign grace.

I tell you the reasons that moved Boaz’s heart to let Ruth go among the sheaves. The master motive was because he loved her. He would have her go there, because he had conceived an affection for her, which he afterwards displayed in grander ways. So the Lord lets his people come and glean among the sheaves, because he loves them. Didst thou have a soul-enriching season amongst the sheaves the other Sabbath? Didst thou carry home thy sack, filled like those of Joseph’s brothers, when they returned from Egypt? Didst thou have an abundance? Wast thou satisfied? Mark; that was thy Master’s goodness. It was because he loved thee. Look, I beseech thee, on all thy spiritual enjoyments as proof of his eternal love. Look on all heavenly blessings as being tokens of heavenly grace. It will make thy corn grind all the better, and eat all the sweeter, if thou wilt reflect that eternal love gave it thee. Thy sweet seasons, thy high enjoyments, thy unspeakable ravishments of spirit are all proofs of divine affection, therefore be doubly glad of them.

There was another reason why Boaz allows Ruth to glean among the sheaves; it was because he was her relative. This is why our Lord gives us choice favours at times, and takes us into his banqueting-house in so gracious a manner. He is our next of kin, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. Our Redeemer, our kinsman, is the Lord Jesus, and he will never be strange to his own flesh. It is a high and charming mystery that our Lord Jesus is the Husband of his church; and sure he may well let his spouse glean among the sheaves; for all that he possesses is hers already. Her interests and his interests are one, and so he may well say, "Beloved, take all thou pleasest; I am none the poorer because thou dost partake of my fulness, for thou art mine. Thou art my partner, and my choice, and all that I have is thine." What, then, shall I say to you who are my Lord’s beloved? How shall I speak with a tenderness and generosity equal to his desires, for he would have me speak right lovingly in his name. Enrich yourselves out of that which is your Lord’s. Go a spiritual gleaning as often as ever you can. Never lose an opportunity of picking up a golden blessing. Glean at the mercy-seat; glean in private meditation; glean in reading pious books; glean in associating with godly men; glean everywhere; and if you can get only a little handful it will be better than none. You who are so much in business, and so much penned up by cares; if you can only spend five minutes in the Lord’s field gleaning a little, be sure to do so. If you cannot bear away a sheaf, carry an ear; and if you cannot find an ear, pick up even a grain of wheat. Take care to get a little, if you cannot get much: but gather as much as ever you can.

Just one other remark. O child of God, never be afraid to glean. Have faith in God, and take the promises home to yourself. Jesus will rejoice to see you making free with his good things. His voice is "Eat abundantly; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved." Therefore, if you find a rich promise, live upon it. Draw the honey out of the comb of Scripture, and live on its sweetness. If you meet with a most extraordinary sheaf, carry it away rejoicing. You cannot believe too much concerning your Lord; let not Satan cheat you into contentment with a meagre portion of grace when all the granaries of heaven are open to you. Glean on with humble industry and hopeful confidence, and know that he who owns both fields and sheaves is looking upon you with eyes of love, and will one day espouse you to himself in glory everlasting. Happy gleaner who finds eternal love and eternal life in the fields in which he gleans!

Spurgeon, C. H. (1882). Farm Sermons. New York: Passmore and Alabaster. (Public Domain)

The Mirror of God's Glory

The Mirror of God's Glory

The Mirror of God’s Glory

We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory.  2 Corinthians 3:18.

Trinity College Chapel, 24th Sunday after Trinity, 1875.

A very few words will suffice by way of preface to explain the metaphor here used by S. Paul. He is dwelling on the universality, the freedom, the absence of reserve, in the Christian dispensation as contrasted with the Mosaic. He tells us that the character of the Law is prefigured by an incident which occurred at its promulgation. It is related that when the two tables were renewed and God confirmed His contract with His people, the event was emphasized by a remarkable occurrence. The face of Moses shone with an unwonted light as he descended from the Mount. It was the reflection of the Divine glory still lingering on his countenance, as he went out from the Eternal Presence. This light dazzled, confused, terrified the Israelites. They were afraid to come near him. So he veiled his face. When he returned to the presence of the Lord, he removed the veil. This occurred several times. Each time, as he presented himself before the people, the veil was drawn over his face, so that they saw not the radiance gradually waning on his features. Each time, as he repaired again to the presence of the Eternal Light, it was taken off, that the fading brightness might be renewed from the effulgence of the Divine Glory.

Though the details of this imagery present some difficulties, its main lesson, with which alone we are now concerned, is clear.

The Old Dispensation had a glory of its own. This was signified by the light which glowed on the face of Moses. But the glory of the Old was not comparable to the glory of the New. It was partial, intermittent, transitory. It had its hour, and it waned into darkness. Every word of the text points to some feature in which the superiority of the Gospel was manifested. ‘We all,’ says the Apostle, ‘we all’ gaze on the fuller light of the New Dispensation; all—young and old, high and low, ignorant and learned, priests and people, all without exception and without stint. It was not so then. The people were not admitted to the vision of this glory. The people remained at the foot of the mountain. Moses alone ascended to the height; Moses alone gazed on the Divine effulgence. Of the light itself the Israelites saw nothing. They merely caught a glimpse of the dim, fading reflection, as it rested for a moment on the face of God’s messenger, ere it passed away—a glimpse too bright for their aching eyes, but dark indeed compared with the cloudless, peerless glory of the Eternal Light Himself. But the contrast does not end here. ‘We all,’ continues the Apostle, ‘with open face,’ or more literally, ‘with unveiled face.’ Even this secondary borrowed light, this dim and imperfect reflection was not unobstructed, in the case of the Israelites. They were permitted to look for a moment; and then the veil interposed, the glory was withdrawn. But we—we Christians—gaze unimpeded. No intervening obstacle darkens our view. There is no cessation, and no intermission. Even with Moses it was otherwise. The light came and departed. It faded away and it was renewed again. He went in and went out from the presence of the Lord. But we stand ever before the Eternal Glory: we gaze continually, stedfastly, uninterruptedly. And so the radiance, which lights up our own features, grows ever brighter and brighter, till gradually our whole being is changed; the effulgence of the Eternal Presence takes possession of us: it illumines, glorifies, transforms us wholly into its own likeness. ‘We are changed,’ says the Apostle, ‘changed into the same image, from glory to glory.’

Thus all the expressions are carefully chosen to glorify the Christian Dispensation. One idea alone seems at first sight to jar with the general motive. The Apostle speaks of our ‘seeing in a glass or mirror;’ he declares that we ‘are changed into an image.’ Is not this a qualification, a disparagement, a concession, we are tempted to ask? After all then we see only a reflection; after all we do not behold the very thing itself. After all we are dependent on a darkened, confused, imperfect representation of the Divine Original.

A seeming disparagement, but not really so. There are mirrors and mirrors—mirrors which blur and distort and discolour the image, and mirrors which by the perfect accuracy and polish of their surface reproduce the object with life-like exactness. Let us ask then what S. Paul intended by this glass and this image, which represents the Divine Glory to our sight? How, by what instrumentality, through what medium, is the Invisible God rendered visible to us? His own context furnishes the answer to the question. He speaks of some who are so blinded that they cannot see ‘the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ,’ or, more literally, of ‘the Gospel of the glory of Christ,’ the Gospel, which exhibits, reveals the glory—the bright effulgence, the heavenly radiance, of Christ—Who, continues the Apostle, is the image of God. Here then is the mirror, the Gospel-revelation; here is the image, the Eternal Son; here is the glory, the words, the works, the life, the death, the resurrection, the sovereignty, the personality of Christ. This mirror we are permitted to face; on this image we are told to gaze; from this glory we are bidden to draw ever fresh accessions of light, till we are transformed into the very image itself, and its glory becomes our glory.

Again in this same context the Apostle recurs to the metaphor. Again he describes the Gospel as the light of the knowledge of God which shineth forth in the face of Jesus Christ—in the face, the person, of Jesus Christ. Yes, He has brought the Father near to us: we look upon the face of the Son, and we see the glory of the Father. Thus S. Paul’s idea here is the same as when, in the Epistle to the Colossians, he writes that Christ is ‘the image of the invisible God,’ or as when, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Son is called ‘the brightness of the Father’s glory and the expression of His person.’ The Apostle uses the word ‘image’ here as it is used in another passage of the Epistle last quoted, where ‘the very image of the good things to come’ is contrasted with ‘the shadow,’ as the real and true with the unsubstantial and unsatisfying. It is therefore no confused, partial, distorted, inadequate copy, of which the Apostle speaks. It is the very representation of the original itself. ‘He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?’

It is this thought, which fills the Apostle’s heart with thankfulness, and floods his lips with praise—the thought of God brought near to men, God revealed in all His goodness, all His holiness, all His majesty, all His power, in the Person and Work of Christ; revealed not to a favoured few, not to a priestly caste, not to a philosophical coterie, not to the learned or the wealthy, or the powerful or the privileged, not to the great ones of this world in any guise; but to all without exception and without reserve.

And this revelation of the Invisible Father through the Incarnate Son is as extensive as it is complete. It reaches to all men, even the lowest, and it contains all truth, even the highest. Already the New Jerusalem, is seen by the eye of faith coming down from heaven ablaze with the glory of the Almighty; already the tabernacle of God has descended and is pitched among men; already we are permitted to gaze on the jewelled walls and the gates of pearl, and the pavement of pure gold; to bathe in the brightness of that Eternal City, which knows not either sunlight or moonlight, ‘for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.’ It was not so before. God spoke of old in types and figures; He fenced Himself about with restrictions many and various, restrictions of time, of place, of person, of ceremonial. The symbol of His presence, the glory overshadowing the mercy-seat, was withdrawn from the eye of men; the holy of holies was hidden by a veil. But in Christ all is changed. The veil is suddenly rent in twain from top to bottom. The inmost sanctuary is exposed to view. The true Shekinah, the Person of Christ, shines forth in all the glory of its unapproachable beauty and brightness. And we—we feeble, unworthy, sin-stained, death-stricken men—are suffered, are invited, are entreated, nay, are compelled to come in, and to gaze on the peerless sight, till our own nature is changed by the absorption of its rays, and we are ‘transformed into the same image from glory to glory.’

To look upon the face of Christ—Christ the image of God, Christ the effulgence of His glory, Christ, Whom having seen we have seen the Father also—this is the priceless blessing, as it is also the terrible responsibility, which falls to us Christians.

And this privilege, this duty, is absolutely without limit. There is nothing in heaven or earth; nothing in science or in history or in revelation; nothing of beauty or of goodness or of wisdom or of power; nothing of creative design and adaptation, and nothing of redeeming mercy and love; nothing in the kingdom of nature, and nothing in the kingdom of grace, which does not fall within its range. I say, the kingdom of nature, as well as the kingdom of grace. For ask yourself what S. Paul means, when he speaks of Christ as the image of God. His own language in the Colossian Epistle supplies the answer. He means not only the Incarnate Christ, the Christ of the Gospel, the Christ Who was born of woman and died on the cross; but he means also the pre-incarnate Son, the Eternal Word, Who was with the Father before all time, by Whom He created the universe, through Whom He sustains all nature and directs all history, in Whom alone He is known and can be known to men.

When therefore we are bidden to contemplate the glory of the Eternal Father in the face of Christ, when the Apostle tells us to gaze on the mirror of His Divine perfection, that we may absorb into ourselves the rays of His glory, no limit is placed to the object of our contemplation.

And the fourfold Gospel, as the record of Christ’s sayings and doings, is the mirror in which this image is to be viewed. The birth, the earthly life, the passion, the resurrection of the Eternal Word made flesh—here is the climax of God’s goodness, the very focus of the ineffable glory, which guards the throne of Him ‘Who dwelleth in the light unapproachable, Whom no man hath seen nor can see.’ Here in the gift of His Son, here in the sacrifice of the Cross, is our light, our hope, our life. We look out on the natural world, and we see much which betokens infinite wisdom and power—beneficent adaptation, creative design, wonderful combinations of beauty and utility; but we see much also that perplexes and dismays—the great waste of life and energies (seeds that produce no plants, and plants that yield no fruit), the reciprocal infliction of pain (creature preying upon creature, and itself preyed upon in turn), physical decay and moral corruption—sin and death around and about us everywhere. These things strike the believer with awe, and barb the taunt of the sceptic. But read such facts, as S. Paul read them, in the light of the Gospel. Contemplate the glory of God’s purpose as revealed in the person of Christ. Consider how much is involved in that one act of infinite love; and you will no more question the goodness of your Heavenly Father. Though the awe and the mystery must still remain, you will not doubt (how can you?) that in Christ He has purposed, as S. Paul tells us, to release the whole universe now groaning under the bondage of corruption, to gather in one all things in heaven and earth, and out of discord and rebellion to restore universal harmony and peace.

This then is the very sum and substance of the Gospel. This is the one continuous, progressive, endless lesson of the Christian life—this study, this contemplation, this absorption of the purposes, the attributes, the goodness, the glory of the Father as manifested in the life and works, in the person, of Christ. There is no understanding so mean, and no intellect so untutored, that may not learn its true significance. It is as simple as it is profound. There are depths which the most thoughtful philosopher cannot fathom, but there are heights which the merest child can scale. This is the great glory of Christianity, the glory which filled S. Paul’s heart with thanksgiving. It is open to all; it is adapted to all; it is attainable by all. It is theology brought down from the skies; it is heaven planted upon earth. This it is, because we contemplate the glory of the Father in the face of Christ. This it is, because the Son of Mary, the babe of Bethlehem, is also the Son of God, the Eternal Word. The Infinite is brought within the comprehension of the finite. The far-off is far-off no longer.

This then must be the main business of our lives—the study of the Christ of the Gospels. We are constantly warned against the divorce of religion and morality; and we need the warning. No divorce could be more soul-destroying than this. That which God has joined together—joined by bonds the most sacred, and intimate, and indissoluble—it is the rankest of all heresies, the most profane of all blasphemies, for any man to part asunder. But from any such danger the study of which I speak will save us. For in this image of the Divine Glory doctrine and practice meet in one; in this mirror of the Divine Purpose theology and morality are blended together. It is the spontaneous, unequivocal testimony, even of unbelievers, that no better guidance in life can be taken than the example of Christ; that, if a man would learn how to act in a particular case, he should ask himself how Christ would have acted under like circumstances. Here is the morality. It is the highest experience of all believers, that the realisation of their union with God in Christ is the first and last effort, as it is the supreme blessing, of the spiritual life. Here is the religion.

And this study, to be effective, must be real, must be intense, must be personal. It is not the contemplation of the sentimentalist, or of the critic, or of the artist, or of the poet, or of the dogmatist, that will be of any avail. These may affect the feelings, the taste, the imagination, the reason, the intellect; but they do not probe the heart and conscience, and they do not touch the life. The true study is nothing less than the appropriation of the Divine image; the constant recalling, realising, copying, growing into it; till the Divine fascination of its glory possesses us wholly.

So gazing in this mirror, so studying this image, we ourselves shall be changed. This is the only test of the true mode of contemplation. We ourselves shall be changed and glorified—not changed now, as we shall be changed then, when in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, this corruptible shall put on incorruption and this mortal shall put on immortality; not glorified now, with the incomparable glory which shall be revealed hereafter—but changed nevertheless into the similitude of Christ Who is the image of God; glorified with the glory which He had with the Father before the world was; changed by the purification of our hearts, by the devotion of our spirits, by the renewal of our lives; changed with an ever-deepening change which is a foretaste and an earnest of the great hereafter; changed, as we read that the countenance of that first martyr was changed, when the bystanders looked up and saw his face as it were the face of an angel. For we too, like Stephen, shall have seen the heavens opened; we too shall have gazed upon the Eternal Glory; we too shall have beheld ‘the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.’

Lightfoot, J. B. (1890). Cambridge Sermons. London; New York: MacMillan and Co. (Public Domain)

The Joy of Harvest

The Joy of Harvest

The Joy of Harvest

"They joy before thee according to the joy in harvest."—Isaiah 9:3.

THE other day I kept the feast with a company who shouted "Harvest Home." I was glad to see the rich and poor rejoicing together; and when the cheerful meal was ended, I was glad to turn one of the tables into a pulpit, and in the large barn to preach the gospel of the ever-blessed God to an earnest audience. My heart was merry in harmony with the occasion, and I shall now keep in the same key, and talk to you a little upon the joy of harvest. Londoners forget that it is harvest time; living in this great desert of dingy bricks we hardly know what a wheatear is like, except as we see it dry and white in the window of a corn-dealer’s shop; yet let us all remember that there is such a season as harvest, when by God’s goodness the fruits of the earth are gathered in.

What is the joy of harvest which is here taken as the simile of the joy of the saints before God? I am afraid that to the more selfish order of spirits the joy of harvest is simply that of personal gratification at the increase of wealth. Sometimes the farmer only rejoices because he sees the reward of his toils, and is so much the richer man. I hope that with many there mingles the second cause of joy; namely, gratitude to God that an abundant harvest will give bread to the poor, and remove complaining from our streets. There is a lawful joy in harvest, no doubt, to the man who is enriched by it; for any man who works hard has a right to rejoice when at last he gains his desire. It would be well if men would always recollect that their last and greatest harvest will be to them according to their labour. He that soweth to the flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, and only the man that soweth to the spirit will of the spirit reap life everlasting. Many a young man commences life by sowing what he calls his wild oats, which he had better never have sown, for they will bring him a terrible harvest. He expects that from these wild oats he will gather a harvest of true pleasure, but it cannot be: the truest pleasures of life spring from the good seed of righteousness, and not from the hemlock of sin. As a man who sows thistles in his furrows must not expect to reap the golden wheatsheaf, so he who follows the ways of vice must not expect happiness. On the contrary, if he sows the wind he will reap the whirlwind. When a sinner feels the pangs of conscience he may well say, "This is what I sowed." When he shall at last receive the punishment of his evil deeds he will blame no one but himself: he sowed tares and he must reap tares. On the other hand, the Christian man, though his salvation is not of works, but of grace, will have a gracious reward given to him by his Master. Sowing in tears, he shall reap in joy. Putting out his talents to interest, he shall enter into his Master’s joy, and hear him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." The joy of harvest in part consists of the reward of labour; may such be our joy in serving the Lord.

The joy of harvest has another element in it, namely, that of gratitude to God for favours bestowed. We are singularly dependent on God; far more so than most of us imagine. When the children of Israel were in the wilderness they went forth every morning and gathered the manna. Our manna does not come to us every morning, but it comes once a year. It is as much a heavenly supply as if it lay like a hoar-frost round about the camp. If we went out into the field and gathered food which dropped from the clouds we should think it a great miracle; and is it not as great a marvel that our bread should come up from the earth as that it should come down from the sky? The same God who bade the heavens drop with angels’ food bids the dull earth in its due season yield corn for mankind. Therefore, whenever we find that harvest comes, let us be grateful to God, and let us not suffer the season to pass over without psalms of thanksgiving. I believe I shall be correct if I say that there is never in the world, as a rule, more than sixteen months’ supply of food; that is to say, when the harvest is gathered in, there may be sixteen months’ supply; but at the time of harvest there is not usually enough wheat in the whole world to last the population more than four or five months; so that if the harvest did not come we should be on the verge of famine. We live still from hand to mouth. Let us pause and bless God, and let the joy of harvest be the joy of gratitude.

To the Christian it should be great joy, by means of the harvest, to receive an assurance of God’s faithfulness. The Lord has promised that seed-time and harvest, summer and winter, shall never cease; and when you see the loaded wain carrying in the crop you may say to yourself, "God is true to his promise. Despite the dreary winter and the damp spring, autumn has come with its golden grain." Depend upon it, that as the Lord keeps this promise he will keep all the rest. All his promises are yea and amen in Christ Jesus: if he keeps his covenant to the earth, much more will he keep his covenant with his own people, whom he hath loved with an everlasting love. Go, Christian, to the mercy-seat with the promise on your lip and plead it. Be assured it is not a dead letter. Let not unbelief cause you to stammer when you mention the promise before the throne, but say it boldly—"Fulfil this word unto thy servant on which thou hast caused me to hope." Shame upon us that we so little believe our God. The world is full of proofs of his goodness. Every rising sun, every falling shower, every revolving season certifies his faithfulness. Wherefore do we doubt him? If we never doubt him till we have cause for it we shall never know distrust again. Encouraged by the return of harvest, let us resolve in the strength of the Spirit of God that we will not waver, but will believe in the divine word and rejoice in it.

Once more. To the Christian, in the joy of harvest there will always be the joy of expectation. As there is a harvest to the husbandman for which he waiteth patiently, so there is a harvest for all faithful waiters who are looking for the coming and the appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The mature Christian, like the ripe ear of corn, hangs down his head with holy humility. When he was but green in the things of God he stood erect and was somewhat boastful, but now that he has become full of the blessing of the Lord he is humbled thereby, and bows himself down; he is waiting for the sickle, and he dreads it not, for no common reaper shall come to gather Christ’s people—he himself shall reap the harvest of the world. The Lord leaves the destroying angel to reap the vintage and to cast it into the wine-vat to be trodden with vengeance; but as for the grain which he himself has sown, he will gather it himself with his own golden sickle. We are looking for this. We are growing amongst the tares, and sometimes we are half afraid lest the tares should be stronger than ourselves and choke the wheat; but we shall be separated by-and-by, and when the corn is well winnowed and stored in the garner, we shall be there. It is this expectation which even now makes our hearts throb with joy. We have gone to the grave with precious sheaves that belonged to our Master, and when we were there we thought we could almost say, "Lord, if they sleep they shall do well. Let us die with them." Our joy of harvest is the hope of being at rest with all the saints, and for ever with the Lord. A view of these shadowy harvests upon earth should make us exceedingly glad, because they are the image and foreshadowing of the eternal harvest above.

So much about the joy of harvest; but I hasten onward. What joys are those which to the believer are as the joy of harvest? It is a common notion that Christians are an unhappy people. It is true that we are tried, but it is false that we are miserable. With all their trials, believers have such a compensation in the love of Christ that they are still a blessed generation, and it may be said of them, "Happy art thou, O Israel."

One of the first seasons in which we knew a joy equal to the joy of harvest—a season which has continued with us ever since it commenced—was when we found the Saviour, and so obtained salvation. You recollect for yourselves, brethren and sisters, the time of the ploughing of your souls. My heart was fallow, and covered with weeds; but on a certain day the great Husbandman came and began to plough my soul. Ten black horses were his team, and it was a sharp ploughshare that he used, and the ploughers made deep furrows. The ten commandments were those black horses, and the justice of God, like a ploughshare, tore my spirit. I was condemned, undone, destroyed, lost, helpless, hopeless,—I thought hell was before me. Then there came a cross ploughing, for when I went to hear the gospel it did not comfort me; it made me wish I had a part in it, but I feared that such a boon was out of the question. The choicest promises of God frowned at me, and his threatenings thundered at me. I prayed, but found no answer of peace. It was long with me thus. After the ploughing came the sowing. God who ploughed the heart made it conscious that it needed the gospel, and the gospel seed was joyfully received. Do you recollect that auspicious day when at last you began to have some little hope? It was very little—like a green blade that peeps up from the soil: you scarce knew whether it was grass or corn, whether it was presumption or true faith. It was a little hope, but it grew very pleasantly. Alas, a frost of doubt came; snow of fear fell; cold winds of despondency blew on you, and you said, "There can be no hope for me." But what a glorious day was that when at last the wheat which God had sown ripened, and you could say, "I have looked unto him and have been lightened: I have laid my sins on Jesus, where God laid them of old, and they are taken away, and I am saved." I remember well that day, and so no doubt do many of you. O sirs! no husbandman ever shouted for joy as our hearts shouted when a precious Christ was ours, and we could grasp him with full assurance of salvation in him. Many days have passed since then, but the joy of it is still fresh with us. And, blessed be God, it is not the joy of the first day only that we look back upon; it is the joy of every day since then, more or less; for our joy no man taketh from us; still we are walking in Christ, even as we received him. Even now all our hope on him is stayed, all our help from him we bring; and our joy and peace continue with us because they are based upon an immovable foundation. We rejoice in the Lord, yea, and we will rejoice.

The joy of harvest generally shows itself by the farmer giving a feast to his friends and neighbours; and, usually, those who find Christ express their joy by telling their friends and their neighbours how great things the Lord hath done for them. The grace of God is communicative. A man cannot be saved, and always hold his tongue about it: as well look for dumb choirs in heaven as for a silent church on earth. If a man has been thirsty, and has come to the living stream, his first impulse will be to cry, "Ho! every one that thirsteth!" Do you feel the joy of harvest, the joy that makes you wish that others should share with you? If so, do not repress the impulse to proclaim your happiness. Speak of Christ to brothers and sisters, to friends and kinsfolk; and, if the language be stammering, the message in itself is so important that the words in which you couch it will be a secondary consideration. Tell it, tell it out far and wide—that there is a Saviour, that you have found him, and that his blood can wash away transgression. Tell it everywhere; and so the joy of harvest shall spread o’er land and sea, and God shall be glorified.

We have another joy which is like the joy of harvest. We frequently have it, too. It is the joy of answered prayer. I hope you know what it is to pray in faith. Some prayer is not worth the words used in presenting it, because there is no faith mixed with it. "With all thy sacrifices thou shalt offer salt," and the salt of faith is needful if we would have our sacrifices accepted. Those who are familiar with the mercy-seat know that prayer is a reality, and that the doctrine of divine answers to prayer is no fiction. Sometimes God will delay to answer for wise reasons: then his children must cry, and cry, and cry again. They are in the condition of the husbandman who must wait for the precious fruits of the earth; and when at last the answer to prayer comes, they are then in the husbandman’s position when he receives the harvest. Remember Hannah’s wail and Hannah’s word. In the bitterness of her soul she cried to God, and when her child was given to her she called it "Samuel," meaning, "Asked of God"; for, said she, "For this child I prayed." He was a dear child to her, because he was a child of prayer. Any mercy that comes to you in answer to prayer will be your Samuel mercy, your darling mercy. You will say of it, "For this mercy I prayed," and it will bring the joy of harvest to your spirit. If the Lord desires to surprise his children he has only to answer their prayers; for the most of them would be astonished if an answer came to their petitions. I know how they speak about answers to prayer. They say, "How remarkable! How wonderful!" as if it were anything remarkable that God should be true, and that the Most High should keep his promise. Oh for more faith to rest upon his word! and we should have more of these harvest joys.

We have another joy of harvest in ourselves when we conquer a temptation. We know what it is to get under a cloud sometimes: sin within us rises with a darkening force, or an external adversity beclouds us, and we miss the plain path we were accustomed to walk in. A child of God at such times will cry mightily for help; for he is fearful of himself and fearful of his surroundings. Some of God’s people have been by the week and month together exposed to the double temptation, from without and from within, and have cried to God in bitter anguish. It has been a very hard struggle: the sinful action has been painted in very fascinating colours, and the siren voice of temptation has almost enchanted them. But when at last they have got through the valley of the shadow of death without having slipped with their feet; when, after all, they have not been destroyed by Apollyon, but have come forth again into the daylight, they feel a joy unspeakable, compared with which the joy of harvest is mere childish merriment. Those know deep joy who have felt bitter sorrow. As the man feels that he is the stronger for the conflict, as he feels that he has gathered experience and stronger faith from having passed through the trial, he lifts up his heart, and rejoices, not in himself, but before his God, with the joy of harvest. Brethren beloved, you know what that means.

Again, there is such a thing as the joy of harvest when we have been rendered useful. The master passion of every Christian is to be useful. There should be a burning zeal within us for the glory of God. When the man who desires to be useful has laid his plans and set about his work, he begins to look out for the results; but perhaps it will be weeks, or years, before results will come. The worker is not to be blamed that there are no fruits as yet, but he is to be blamed if he is content to be without fruits. A preacher may preach without conversions, and who shall blame him? but if he be happy, who shall excuse him? It is ours to break our own hearts if we cannot by God’s grace break other men’s hearts; if others will not weep for their sins it should be our constant habit to weep for them. When the heart becomes earnest, warm, zealous, God usually gives a measure of success, some fifty-fold, some a hundred-fold. When the success comes it is the joy of harvest indeed. I cannot help being egotistical enough to mention the joy I felt when first I heard that a soul had found peace through my youthful ministry. I had been preaching in a village some few Sabbaths with an increasing congregation, but I had not heard of a conversion, and I thought, "Perhaps I am not called of God. He does not mean me to preach, for if he did he would give me spiritual children." One Sabbath my good deacon said, "Don’t be discouraged. A poor woman was savingly impressed last Sabbath." How long do you suppose it was before I saw that woman? It was just as long as it took me to reach her cottage. I was eager to hear from her own lips whether it was a work of God’s grace or not. I always looked upon her with interest, though only a poor labourer’s wife, till she was taken away to heaven, after having lived a holy life. Many since then have I rejoiced over in the Lord, but that first seal to my ministry was peculiarly dear to me. It gave me a sip of the joy of harvest. If somebody had left me a fortune it would not have caused me one hundredth part of the delight I had in discovering that a soul had been led to the Saviour. I am sure Christian people who have not this joy have missed one of the choicest delights that a believer can know this side heaven. In fact, when I see souls saved, I do not envy Gabriel his throne nor the angels their harps. It shall be our heaven to be out of heaven for a season if we can but bring others to know the Saviour and so add fresh jewels to the Redeemer’s crown.

I will mention another delight which is as the joy of harvest, and that is, fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not so much a matter for speech as for experience and delight. If we try to speak of what communion with Christ is, we fail. Solomon, the wisest of men, when inspired to write of the fellowship of the church with her Lord, was compelled to write in allegories and emblems, and though to the spiritual mind the Book of Canticles is always delightful, yet to the carnal mind it seems a mere love song. The natural man discerneth not the things that be of God, for they are spiritual, and can only be spiritually discerned. But, oh, the bliss of knowing that Christ is yours, and of entering into nearness of communion with him. To thrust your hand into his side, and your finger into the print of the nails; these be not everyday joys; but when such near and dear communings come to us on our highdays and holydays, they make our souls like the chariots of Ammi-nadib, or, if you will, they cause us to tread the world beneath our feet and all that earth calls good or great. Our condition matters nothing to us if Christ be with us;—he is our God, our comfort, and our all, and we rejoice before him as with the joy of harvest.

I have no time to enlarge further; for I want to close with one other practical word. Many of us are anxiously desiring a harvest which would bring to us an intense delight. Of late, divers persons have communicated to me in many ways the strong emotion they feel of pity for the souls of men. Others of us have felt a mysterious impulse to pray more than we did, and to be more anxious than ever we were that Christ would save poor perishing sinners. We shall not be satisfied until there is a thorough awakening in this land. We did not raise the feeling in our own minds, and we do not desire to repress it. We do not believe it can be repressed; but others will feel the same heavenly affection, and will sigh and cry to God day and night until the blessing comes. This is the sowing, this is the ploughing, this is the harrowing—may it go on to harvesting. I long to hear my brethren and sisters universally saying, "We are full of anguish, we are in agony till souls be saved." The cry of Rachel, "Give me children, or I die," is the cry of your minister this day, and the longing of thousands more besides. As that desire grows in intensity a revival is approaching. We must have spiritual children born to Christ, or our hearts will break for the longing that we have for their salvation. Oh for more of these longings, yearnings, cravings, travailings! If we plead till the harvest of revival comes we shall partake in the joy of it.

Who will have the most joy? Those who have been the most concerned about it. You who do not pray in private, nor come out to prayer-meetings, will not have the joy when the blessing comes, and the church is increased. You had no share in the sowing, therefore you will have little share in the reaping. You who never speak to others about their souls, who take no share in Sunday-school or mission work, but simply eat the fat and drink the sweet—you shall have none of the joy of harvest, for you do not put your hands to the work of the Lord. And who would wish that idlers should be happy? Rather in our zeal and jealousy we feel inclined to say, "Curse ye Meroz, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not up to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty." If you come to the help of the Lord by his own divine Spirit, you shall share the joy of harvest. Perhaps none will have more of that joy than those who shall have the privilege of seeing their own dear ones brought to God. Some of you have children who are a trial to you whenever you think of them; let them be such a trial to you that they drive you to incessant prayer for them, and, if the blessing comes, why should it not drop on them? If a revival comes, why should not your daughter yet be converted, and that wild boy of yours be brought in, or even your grey-headed father, who has been sceptical and unbelieving—why should not the grace of God come to him? And, oh, what a joy of harvest you will have then! What bliss will thrill through your spirit when you see those who are united to you in ties of blood united to Christ your Lord! Pray much for them with earnest faith, and you shall yet have the joy of harvest in your own house, a shout of harvest home in your own family.

Possibly, my hearer, you have not much to do with such joy, for you are yourself unsaved. Yet it is a grand thing for an unconverted person to be under a ministry that God blesses, and with a people that pray for conversions. It is a happy thing for you, young man, to have a Christian mother. It is a great boon for you, O unconverted woman, that you have a godly sister. These make us hopeful for you. Whilst your relations are prayerful, we are hopeful for you. May the Lord Jesus be yours yet. But, ah! if you remain unbelieving, however rich a blessing comes to others, it will leave you none the better for it. "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land"; but there are some who may cry in piteous accents, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." It has been remarked that those who pass through a season of revival and remain unconverted are more hardened and unimpressed than before. I believe it to be so, and I therefore pray the divine Spirit to come with such energy that none of you may escape his power. May you be led to pray,

"Pass me not, O mighty Spirit!
Thou canst make the blind to see;
Witnesser of Jesus’ merit,
Speak the word of power to me,
Even me.

"Have I long in sin been sleeping,
Long been slighting, grieving thee?
Has the world my heart been keeping?
Oh forgive and rescue me,
Even me."

Oh for earnest, importunate prayer from all believers throughout the world! If our churches could be stirred up to incessant, vehement crying to God, so as to give him no rest till he make Zion a praise in the earth, we might expect to see God’s kingdom come, and the power of Satan fall. As many of you as love Christ, I charge you by his dear name to be much in prayer; as many of you as love the Church of God, and desire her prosperity, I beseech you keep not back in this time of supplication. The Lord grant that you may be led to plead till the harvest joy is granted. Do you remember one Sabbath my saying, "The Lord deal so with you as you deal with his work during this next month." I feel as if it will be so with many of you—that the Lord will deal so with you as you shall deal with his Church. If you scatter little you shall have little, if you pray little you shall have little favour; but if you have zeal and faith, and plead much and work much for the Lord, good measure, pressed down and running over, shall the Lord return into your own bosoms. If you water others with drops you shall receive drops in return; but if the Spirit helps you to pour out rivers of living water from your own soul, then floods of heavenly grace shall flow into your spirit. God bring in the unconverted, and lead them to a simple trust in Jesus; then shall they also know the joy of harvest. We ask it for his name’s sake. Amen.

Spurgeon, C. H. (1882). Farm Sermons. New York: Passmore and Alabaster. (Public Domain)

The One God and the Gods Many

The One God and the Gods Many

The One God and the Gods Many

‘Though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and we for (unto) Him.’ 1 Corinthians 8:5.

Trinity College Chapel, 24th Sunday after Trinity, 1873.

We read in the Gospels that on one occasion, when our Lord was plied on all hands with casuistic problems by those who sought to entangle Him in His talk, He Himself confronted His interrogators with one simple, searching question, ‘What think ye of the Christ?’

This question has been repeated again and again by Christian preachers with effect. Speaking to professedly Christian people, they have desired to sound the depths of their convictions, to test the ground of their hopes; and they have seen no better way of attaining this end, than by forcing an answer to the question, often repeated, yet ever fresh, ‘What think ye of Christ?’

But the question which I desire to put this morning, and to which I wish to elicit a reply, is more elementary still. It strikes home to the very foundations, not only of Christianity, but of religious conviction in any sense. Before we ask, ‘What think ye of Christ?’ let us be ready with our reply to the prior question, ‘What think ye of God?’

What think ye of God? Is it novel and startling to be addressed in such language? Does it seem superfluous to put this question in a Christian age, in a Christian country, to a Christian congregation? And now especially—now as we approach our Advent Season, when the services of the Church will strike the keynote of patience and joy and hope; now when our eyes are straining to catch the first glimpse of that bright presence, the glory of the Only-Begotten, the Shekinah once more resting visibly over the mercy-seat of God’s providence; and our ears are intent to arrest the first preluding notes of that angelic strain, announcing the dawn of a new era, when glory shall be to God in the highest—is it not incongruous, is it not cruel, to ask a question which implies this deep misgiving, to interpose this stern demand as a screen before the beatific vision, to interrupt the heavenly harmonies with this jarring, jangling note?

And yet, when, on the one side, the author of a movement, which arrogates the proud title of the philosophy of religion of the future, lays down as his fundamental maxim, that society must be reorganised, without a king and without a God, on the systematic worship of humanity, and by the instrumentality of this new religion, which is the direct negation of theology, proposes to regenerate the world; when, on the other hand, a scientific leader of the day, whose bold epigrammatic utterances are sure to arrest the ear, though they may not convince the mind and cannot satisfy the heart, warns us against this panacea of the positivist, this worship of the Great Being of Humanity, denouncing it in no measured terms as a gross fetichism and a crushing spiritual tyranny, and then calls us to follow him, not that we may throw ourselves, our temptations, our sorrows, our struggles, at the feet of the Everlasting and Loving Father, but that we may assist him in erecting once more an altar to the Unknown and the Unknowable, thus reversing the lesson which the Apostle taught to the bewildered Athenians on Mars’ Hill long ages ago, and signing away by one fatal stroke the glorious acquisitions of eighteen Christian centuries; when discordant voices assail us on all sides, saying, Lo, here is God! or Lo, there! or Lo, He is somewhere or other! or Lo, He is nowhere; then, I say, we have good reason to ask, whether we will suffer ourselves to be diverted from the old and tried paths, or whether, on the other hand, though there be that are called gods many, yet we have, and we have had, but one and the same God, and that God a Father, in Whose all embracing arms we rest in filial trust and hope and love? If the answer of our hearts to this is clear, prompt, unhesitating, then we shall lack nothing. Then in all our joys and all our griefs, in adversity and in prosperity, in youth and age, in health and sickness, living and dying, we shall feel the strength of His sustaining presence. Then ‘though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil;’ for He will be with us; ‘He is our shepherd;’ ‘His rod and His staff comfort us.’

When S. Paul wrote these words, it was more than ever true, that there were gods many, who claimed the allegiance of men. By the extension of the Roman Empire the barriers between nation and nation had been broken down. There was a general fusion of thought and of practice. With the native merchandise and with the hereditary customs of distant lands, the superstitions and the deities also were imported. Thus indigenous religions and foreign religions were everywhere bidding against each other for popular acceptance. Here it was the grave, stately political worship of ancient Rome; and there it was the artistic, imaginative worship of ancient Greece. Here it was some political conception deified; there it was some power of nature; and there again it was some physical condition of man, not infrequently some vile and degrading passion, whose apotheosis demanded recognition. Here the animal-worship of Egypt presented its credentials; there the star-worship of the farther East clamoured to be heard. Last of all—a creation almost of S. Paul’s own day—the latest and boldest innovation had been made; Roman emperors by virtue of their office had received divine honours in their lifetime, and become gods on their decease. Only the other day a self-indulgent, cowardly weakling like Claudius had been translated to Olympus, and there enthroned as a deity; and he who now wielded the imperial sceptre, destined to develope into a very monster of human wickedness, a proverb and a byword to all generations—tyrant, sensualist, matricide—would, it seemed, in due course take rank as a god with his predecessors. This was the result (it is a serious thought) of the highest civilisation which the world had ever seen—when in intellectual culture, in political organization and material appliances, in the arts of peace and the arts of war, human society seemed to have reached the zenith; and in the pæans of her poets and the eulogies of her orators the unrivalled glories of queenly Rome were extolled with never-ceasing praises—this result, this apotheosis of monstrous human vice, this vile parody of religion, this outrage on common sense and common decency.

Truly there were gods many, whether in heaven or on earth. In this chaos of conflicting claims, where could the devout and reverent mind obtain satisfaction? At what altar, to what God, were prayer and sacrifice to be offered?

The picture of Athens, as given in S. Luke’s narrative, is a type of the state of the whole civilised world at that time. It was delivered over to idols of diverse kinds, some beautiful, some grotesque, some hideous, but idols, phantoms all—mythical heroes and dead tyrants, living animals and living men, human lusts and human ambitions, fire and blood, grove and mountain and storm, sun and star, social institutions and physical endowments—each vying with the other for the adoration of mankind. And some there were, who, notwithstanding this glut of deities, felt that their deepest wants were yet unsatisfied, yearned after a loftier ideal of Divinity; and so when some strange visitation had befallen them, striking home to their hearts and intensifying their religious emotions, vaguely conscious of the promptings within them, and feeling blindly after a more substantial truth, they erected an altar to some yet unrecognised power, dedicating it ‘to an Unknown God.’

To a God yet unknown to them; but, Heaven be thanked, not unknowable to them, or to us. Christ came and revealed; Paul came and preached. On that anonymous altar, which had been reared in the forlorn heart of humanity, he inscribed the missing name—the name of the Eternal Father, the One True God, ‘of Whom are all things, and we unto Him;’ the name of the Eternal Son, the One True Lord, ‘by Whom are all things, and we by Him.’ With an iron pen, in characters indelible, it was graven on the rock for ever. It might indeed have seemed that in the tumultuous clamour of so many voices this new name would have been smothered and have passed away unheeded. It could never have been predicted—no human prescience could have seen so far—that startled by the accents of that unknown name, and scared by the glory of that new light, this multitudinous throng of idols would have vanished out of sight, and hid themselves for ever, with the owls and the bats, in their congenial darkness.

Yet so it was. The blank was filled in. The secret, after which mankind had been groping, was brought to light; the mystery hidden from the ages, revealed. And men saw, and believed. They could not be deceived. Here was the answer to the vague, mysterious questionings within them; here was the satisfaction to the aching, bewildered soul, which panted to slake its thirst in the fountains of Eternal Love.

And by faith they received the truth. From its very nature it could not be apprehended by sight. From its very nature also it was incapable of demonstrative proof. It was not like those mathematical conceptions, which are the primary conditions of thought; it differed wholly from those physical laws, which we establish by processes of extensive induction. Its proof was not external to itself: its evidence was contained in itself, was itself. Its correspondence with the deepest wants, and the loftiest aspirations, of the human heart was its credential; a correspondence as between the wards of a lock and the notches of a key. It claimed to be light; and, if it was light, then it was truth also. This was the simple test. As light it demanded admission. And the verification of its claim was in the result. To those that believed, this was their assurance, that, in their believing, ‘power was given them to become sons of God;’ to those that believed not, this was their condemnation, that ‘the light was come into the world and they loved the darkness rather than the light.’

And now, in these last days, the words of S. Paul are again applicable, though in a different way. There are that are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, not a few. They too are idols, phantoms, though unlike the idols of old. Graven images, stocks and stones, material, tangible gods, these they are not; but wan, vague, fantastic spectres, haunting the dim twilight of thought, fascinating the imagination of men, and diverting their gaze from the contemplation of the truth.

There is first the God of philosophical deism—the most specious and the least repulsive of all these idols. He is One, Eternal, Omnipotent. He is in some sense Creator and Governor of the Universe. So far, there is truth. But He is not a Father. He is a mere metaphysical conception, a necessity of the intellect but not a satisfaction to the heart. He can hardly be called a Person. If He be a Person, He is at least so distant, so abstract, so incognisable to us, that we can hold no personal relations with Him. He is not a Father—certainly not our Father—not yours and mine. We know nothing of Him: we can only describe Him by negations. We cannot pray to Him, cannot love Him. He does not love us. It is doing violence to this abstract conception to speak of God as love. God has not spoken to us, God has not redeemed us, God has not given us assurance of our immortality. And so, notwithstanding the concession that God exists, that He is One and Eternal, we are still left alone in the world—alone with our struggles and our temptations, alone with our griefs, alone with our sins, alone with all our vague longings, alone with our poor, aching, unsatisfied, human hearts. We are thrown back on our own despair.

From the God of the deist we descend to the God of the pantheist. Nature is God; nature as a spirit, or nature as inanimate energy—this may be doubtful—but nature in some way. There is no God independent of, and external to, nature. And so we ourselves are part of God; not only the spiritual element of our being, but the emotional and the material elements also, our souls, our bodies, our passions, our vices. Yes: our very vices—there is no pausing in the downward series. Sin is an idle word, an empty delusion. The name must henceforth be blotted out of our vocabulary, the idea banished for ever from our conceptions. Our vices—or what we call our vices—not less than our virtues, are processes of the Divine energy, are expressions of the Divine will. And the anathema of the Apostle must be reversed. Be not deceived—the unrighteous, the murderers, the adulterers, and the thieves, and the covetous, and the drunkards, and the extortioners, these inherit the kingdom of God, nay, these are the kingdom of God. They are—it is the inevitable logical consequence of the theory—they are in God and God in them.

I will not stop to enquire what disastrous effect the worship of this God, if it became general, would have on the moral condition of mankind. I seem to see some faint indication of its effects in past history, where some one energy of nature, such as Baal or Astarte, has been held up as an object of adoration. I thankfully acknowledge that the theory is not carried to its strict logical consequences by those who hold it, that it has not been able to stifle the witness of God, the All-Holy, All-Righteous, All-Loving Father, in their heart, that their moral principles rise above their intellectual belief. But I ask you, sons of God, will you exchange the worship of your Heavenly Father for a religion, that confounds the eternal distinction of right and wrong, and orders you to renounce for ever as delusive those ideas, to which you owe (you cannot be mistaken here) whatever is noblest and best, whatever is most exalting and most energizing within you?

From the idol of the pantheist it is one step to the idol of the materialist—I say the idol, for I can no longer say in any sense the God. Law takes the place of Nature. The spectre of a God, which still remained to the pantheist, has now vanished; and the gulf of atheism yawns at our feet. The idea of sin had already been blotted out; the idea of responsibility, by this time reduced to a shadow, now disappears with it. It is idle, senseless now, to talk of morality. At least, if we use the term, we must stamp it with a value wholly different from that for which it has hitherto passed current. Law—inevitable sequence, fatal necessity—is the inexorable tyrant, who reigns autocratic not only in the domain of physical phenomena, but also in the domain of moral purpose and moral action; not influencing, not limiting our conduct only, but all-pervading, omnipotent, absolutely determining that which we call our will, and forcing irresistibly those which we call our actions. All our language, and all our conceptions, must henceforth be changed. It is as foolish to blame a murderer for his crime, as it would be to blame a stone for falling to the ground. These are thy gods, O Israel! Is this light or is it darkness? Interrogate your consciousness; take counsel of your heart, and so give an answer.

And lastly; the positivist offers for our worship his god, which is no God. He sees rightly that man cannot live without religion; and, having blotted God out of the world, he is bound to provide a substitute. So he sets up a new idol; he bids us fall down and worship the Great Being, Humanity. What is this but the final reductio ad absurdum of atheistic speculation? How can we prostrate ourselves before a mere abstract conception, a comprehensive name for the aggregate of beings like ourselves, with our own capricious passions, our own manifold imperfections—some higher and some viler, much viler, than we are? What satisfaction is there for our cravings after an ideal perfection? What power is there here to convince of sin, to redeem from self, to sanctify, to exalt to newness of life? What consolation in our sorrows, what resistance in our temptations, what strength, what hope, what finality?

And now, that we have tried all these gods many, which have a place in the Pantheon of modern speculation, and found them wanting, whither shall we betake ourselves? Shall we close with the advice which has been tendered to us, as the best which in the present chaotic state of opinion we can adopt; and content ourselves with cherishing the most human of man’s emotions by worship at the altar of the Unknown and Unknowable? What altar? What worship? What emotions? If the object of our adoration is unknown, the adoration itself must be blind, capricious, unsteady, worthless. As our conception of God, so will be our worship; and as our worship, so will be our lives. If we deify a bloodthirsty tyrant like Moloch, then his temple will reek with the blood of innocent children: but if we enshrine in our hearts the idea of an All-Loving, All-Holy, All-Righteous God, our Father, then on the altar of a self-denying life we shall offer with filial reverence the sweet incense of holiness and love. It is not a matter of indifference, it is a matter of the utmost moment, what are the theological beliefs of the individual, of the nation, of the age. By their ideas men are most powerfully swayed, and their idea of God is the first and most potent of all.

But you are a Christian. You have never yielded to any of these modern idolatries. You have remained faithful in your allegiance to the God of Revelation. This is well. But have you obscured His glory, have you distorted His image, with unworthy conceptions of your own? Have you indeed seen in Him the Father, the Father of yourself and of all mankind, tender, pitiful, longsuffering (albeit righteous), Who willeth not the death of a sinner, Who would have all men come to the knowledge of the truth? Or have you imposed some narrow restrictions of your own on His Fatherhood? Have you limited His merciful design to an elect few, a small circle to which you yourself belong, and complacently condemned all mankind besides to His eternal wrath? Have you represented the sacrifice of Christ, not as a manifestation of God’s love, but as a thwarting of God’s anger? Have you in your crude, hard, unscriptural definitions practically denied the perfect unity of the Son with the Father in the Eternal Godhead, adoring one as the dispenser of all mercy, and cowering before the other as the fountain of all vengeance and woe?

Not such the lesson of the text. This one confession, ‘We have one God the Father, of Whom are all things and we unto Him,’ is supplemented and explained by yet another confession, ‘We have one Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom are all things and we through Him.’ The Incarnation of the Son is the manifestation of the Father. The life of Christ is the verification of the love of God. In Christ’s words and works, in His Passion and Resurrection, we read the expression of the Father’s will, we trace the lineaments of the Father’s face. And so we no longer adore the Unknown. We know what we worship. We have seen and heard. We may not ignore, and we cannot forget. Henceforth His Fatherly love is an abiding presence with us. Henceforth He is about our path by day and about our bed by night; felt, adored, loved. He is our comfort, our stay, our hope. Holy Father, teach us, strengthen us, command us, use us. Chastise us, if it must be so, that Thou mayest purify us. Kill us, if it must be so, that Thou mayest make us alive. But, whether living or dying, we are Thine. Of Thy love we are assured. In Thine everlasting arms we rest in patience and hope, till the dawn of the final and glorious Advent shall break, and we shall see Thy face, and know Thee as Thou art.

Lightfoot, J. B. (1890). Cambridge Sermons. London; New York: MacMillan and Co. (Public Domain)


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