Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse
[June 15, 1913.]
"Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not and ye shall not be judged." St. Luke vi:36, 37.
The Gospel for today is a fragment of our Lord's great Sermon on the Mount. He had passed the night in prayer on the mountain, and had come down and was surrounded by his disciples. He had previously warned them against the debasement of religion by zeal for human applause "Do not your alms before men "—He had warned them, I say, against debasing religion by their zeal for applause and present gain; but now He passed to something deeper and more searching. He here sets forth that there is something which besets religion, even in the case of those who may be proof against the temptation of religious vanity and ostentation, and mere material greed. It is the temptation of uncharitable judgment—" Judge not and ye shall not be judged."
Now we are aware that our Lord often speaks in what might be called an unqualified manner; that is, He addresses His words in a way that is startling and arrests the attention, but what follows explains the sense in which the words are to be taken. Where He says, " Judge not," of course, we are not to understand that we must not discriminate as regards truth and justice and honesty of action. We know that on another occasion our Lord makes this very appeal, where he says, "Why for your own selves did ye not judge?"
There is, then, a proper field of judgment. It is the field of spoken or published opinions or utterances, in utterances, actions, and deeds; and he is very far from the ideal and true Christian who refuses to commit himself, no matter how urgent may be the appeal for his cause and his help. Such a man may take as his motto the language of Cain, "I am not my brother's keeper," but such a man certainly does not prove the type of Christian which Christ would have.
In this field of actions and utterances, of published opinions, of conduct, utterances and deeds, each and every moral agent must make up his mind regarding them. That is a large part of the burden which rests upon him, given by Providence when he came into the world. He must make up his mind with regard to the truth and honesty of those actions, of those utterances; but the temptation that besets us is to go beyond the actions and the utterances, the words and deeds, and supply the motives, the aims, and the personal qualities which we think must necessarily lie behind those actions and those utterances. This is the temptation, then, which is justly characterized as uncharitable judgment. It is the temptation to usurp for ourselves what belongs to God alone. What we think the character of a man, the attempt to fix the scale of his worth, or moral worth, and to condemn the motive of this man or that man that is not our business, and we all know it. Even our Lord, during His human life, expressly and definitely and emphatically condemned judgment in this sense. He said, "If a man hear my words and believe not, I judge him not. I came not into the world to judge the world, but to save the world." Certainly the disciple is not above his master in this respect, the servant is not above his lord in this respect.
This, then, is the truth which Jesus brings home. This tendency to go beyond the proper sphere of our judgment, and supply the motives and principles and personal qualities which we think lie behind the man, and condemn a man or woman in a manifold way, simply judging from what our expectations place behind those actions.
And let me say that this is really what irritates, what prevents us from coming into relationship with men to help and uplift and benefit them. It is not so much that our judgment upon the actions is wrong; that does not irritate so much as does this implying of motives of hypocrisy, of insincerity and selfishness, that shuts upon us the doors of the heart, we may say, of people whom we might help.
Now our Lord not only emphasizes this dangerous tendency toward uncharitable judgment, but He gives us a very striking, a very searching method of subduing and conquering, we may say eradicating, this tendency from our hearts and minds. Of course, there are precepts, as we pray in the Collect for Whitsunday, that we may have a right judgment in all things, and as we pray also in the Collect that God would pour into our hearts the most excellent gift of charity; but in addition to that, our Lord lays down this precept: " Judge yourself "—" Pluck out the beam out of thine own eye "—cease this uncharitable judgment of others. In other words, if we seek honestly and sincerely to find the justice of others' intentions, in the measure of our own self-scrutiny and self-judgment, we shall find in just proportion as our self-judgment is sincere and searching, just in that proportion has our character become purer and nobler and better; and less and less there will be the tendency toward harsh judgment, this condemnation of our brother, this tendency to supply motives, which we think are motives, which dominate our brother.
My dear friends, when we give searching scrutiny to our own words and deeds, it is these very faults and failings which we are so irresistibly prompt to find in others which self-scrutiny will show. These are the very qualities which characterize our actions and conducts and utterances and personalities. A brilliant French satirist once said: "The very reason that makes the vanity and pride of other people so unbearable to some people will be found to be just the fact that such vanity and pride wounds their own vanity and pride:" Self-scrutiny, then, I say, self-judgment, the resolute and honest attempt to get the beam out of our own eyes, will save us from the harsh and heartless condemnation of others.
Our Lord goes a step further, however, and this we should also remember, "And then thou shalt see clearly." Why? "To pluck out the moat that is in thy brother's eye." There is an implication here. Our judgment of our brother does not end in itself. It carries with it the obligation to seek honestly and earnestly the uplifting and betterment of our brother. We are to pull the moat out of our own eyes not simply for our own vision, but in order that we may see the more clearly to pull the moat out of our brother's eye; in other words, that we may see more definitely and clearly to help and better our brother. The man who says, "I have trouble enough to take care of myself," is the very man who never can take care of himself. The man who uses the words of Cain as a dominant life motto is the man who never can be in any true sense his own keeper. We can only keep ourselves on a high level of Christian life as our sympathy and help goes out in the way of giving help to others. "No man liveth unto himself." I wonder how often we read those words without recognizing that no man liveth unto himself. He cannot if he would; he should not if he could.
This self-scrutiny, this self-judgment, this drawing the beam out of our own eyes, will stimulate our sympathy and quicken our perceptions, so that we will be all the better able to plan the real betterment of our brother.
There is a final word, my friends. Let us remember that the spirit and temper of our services, no matter what they may be, the spirit and temper of our services and our words, will be greater in God's sight than those services themselves.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[June 29, 1913] "Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?"
St. Matthew, xvi:13.
It is certainly a most interesting field of study to collect and to ponder on the various names that are applied to our Lord in Holy Scripture. We shall find, as we study them, that practically the whole realm of nature has been used to describe this Jesus of Nazareth. "The Lion of the Tribe of Judah," there is the animal kingdom; "The Rose of Sharon," there is the vegetable kingdom, and the "Rock of Ages," the mineral kingdom. But interesting as it is to consider the long list of names applied to our Lord, the interest is greatly deepened when we come to consider our Lord's epithet, the favorite name which He used himself in speaking of himself. He gives it here where He asks, "Whom do men say that I" here he applies the favorite name " the Son of Man, am?" More than fifty times in the Gospels our Lord uses this title, the Son of Man, and perhaps not many have observed that no one else ever used that title, with the one exception of St. Stephen, in his moment of martyrdom, when he cried, "Behold, I see the heavens open and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God."
Let me ask you to look with me briefly at some of the implications of this title, this favorite name which Christ chose and used repeatedly for himself. The very first thought that comes to us is that we have here in this title, "The Son of Man," a definite implication of Christ's divinity, his absolute divinity. "The Son of Man "--how unmeaning would be that title, what insufferable egotism there would be in that title if used by any one who was nothing more than a man. Just imagine those words coming from the mouth of Paul, or James, or John, or Peter, whose martyrdom we commemorate today . . . but Jesus could say it, because He was infinitely more than a man. He was indeed a real and true man; it was as necessary for Him to represent humanity and carry it through all the stress and trials of human life; He was a genuine, a real, a true man, a son of man; but He was the Son of God.
We should remember also that this question was asked during the second year of His ministry. His teachings had been practically rejected in Jerusalem, in Samaria, and Galilee; and so He had retired to the slopes of that great landmark, Mt. Hermon. He had retired there, as we see from what follows, not simply for retirement or seclusion, but to found His Church; and here He uses the confession of St. Peter, speaking as the mouthpiece for the rest of the disciples, to bring home to them the great truth that not simply on theory, or doctrine, but on a living personality, was His Church to rest. When Peter said, "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God," he was describing the very foundation upon which the whole structure of humanity rests not upon doctrine or idea or teaching, but upon a living personality.
It is true there have been perversions of this confession of St. Peter. One of the most prevalent is the misconstruction of the words of Christ where He said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church," as if it were the personality of Peter. It was not upon the personality of Peter, or his power of transmission of the faculties or qualities which he possessed, but upon the truth which he uttered, " Thou art the Son of the Living God," and those to the contrary had better read a little further, to the twenty-third verse, where the Son of Man says, " Get thee behind me, Satan. Thou art an offense unto me, for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of man."
Our Lord, then, I say, could use this term, "The Son of Man," without any impropriety, because while He was a son of man, He was also the Son of God.
I recall a beautiful and impressive incident, or rather practice, on the part of a Roman Pope. In his early days he had been a fisherman, and when he rose to the highest ecclesiastical position in the world, the Pope of the Roman church, in his exalted position he never forgot his early history. In his private room he had the old fishnet fastened upon the wall, and no matter what the pressure of duty might be, or the demands of the church, every day found him upon his knees before that net in his private room, saying to himself, "I, John, the Fisherman, I, John, the Fisher-man." That is beautiful; that is impressive. Why was it beautiful or impressive? We can imagine any ordinary fisherman along the Adriatic or the Mediterranean standing before his net and saying, " I, Thomas, the fisherman, I, John, the fisherman," but would it not be absurd? It was because of the exalted position, the fact that back of it stood the great office, that makes it beautiful and impressive on the part of the Pope.
It is so with our Lord. When He refers to Himself as the "Son of Man" its significance has power, because back of it was the great truth that Peter had declared, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
But I think the title has also another implication of exceeding interest, my friends, for us, and that is that this title implies and emphasizes the universality of Christ's manhood. He was not simply a man, as we speak of a man, not simply one of the sons of men, but He was Man absolute. His manhood was universal.
It was not colored or qualified or limited by the ideas or institutions, the customs and teachings of the time in which He lived, or the race from which He sprung. He was the Universal Man. He was the contemporary of all ages. He was the Timeless Man.
See how strikingly this is proven. Take, for instance, the records of some other great religious founders, Confucius, or Buddha, or Mohammed, and how far-off, how foreign they seem. We have to make continual excuses for them, and say, "Yes, that was due to the pressure of circumstances and moral ideals that surrounded them in their time"; but not so with Jesus Christ. What critic of the Church of Christianity to-day ever thinks of qualifying his judgment of Jesus Christ from these considerations? The divinity of Jesus Christ precluded the possibility of consideration of the time, the circumstances, and the moral ideas that prevailed in His age. It is the expression of the universality of Christ's manhood.
And this, my dear friends, is the secret of His sympathy, His sympathy with the Publicans, with the Magdalen, with the rulers of the synagogue, with the children, and with the nameless poor. Each and all of them that turned to Him with an open heart found in Him not simply a friend standing far-off to pity them; they found a sympathetic interpreter, they found in Him a compassionate sympathizer.
I need not dwell longer upon the universality of Christ's man-hood, but just let me add in closing, my friends, that it seems to me that no candid criticism, that makes any pretense to candor and completeness, and refuses to accept the universality of Christ's manhood, can offer anything that would stand a moment's investigation as to why this momentous fact that took place centuries ago, namely, that one man, and only one man, in the whole course of human history, stands forth as the type of universal manhood; and that all other men are, as it were, but fragments of humanity, they are but faint reflections, broken lights, if you please, with the one true Son of the Living God. The only answer is that this Christ stands forth as the Son of Man, and was at the same time the Son of the Living God; and in the fullness of his divinity he could say, as no man before or since could say, without impropriety, without insufferable pride, without the sacrilege of blasphemy, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father."
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[July 27, 1913]
"And Balak said unto him: 'Come, I pray thee, with me into another place from whence thou mayest see them. Thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all, and curse me them from thence'." Numbers xxiii:13.
Observe that the lesson, both for last Sunday and for this Sun-day, directs our attention to one of the most remarkable men of whom we have record in the Old Testament Balaam, the great Assyrian prophet, undoubtedly, we may safely say, the foremost man in many respects of his time. He was a theologian; he was a prophet of Jehovah, a man of far-reaching vision, and yet, as we read in this book, he was a man without moral sense.
The great lesson we are to draw from this chapter is that we have here brought before us, under very impressive circumstances, not simply the case of a man consciously going wrong something worse than that the case of a man who has in some way persuaded himself that his course is right, or at least under the circumstances, it is permissible. You turn to the New Testament and find in the Epistle of St. John, the Second Book of Revelations, an unqualified condemnation of the man, of his character, and his acts; and yet, as we read the story in these chapters, we might be impressed first with the apparent, we might almost say ostentatious, piety of the man. He will do nothing without knowing what is God's will.
The question, then, for us, is, how did this man come to get himself into such a twisted condition of moral sense and moral conscience that he actually went on supposing that in some way he could deflect the Command and reach the conclusion, the result which his friend, the King of Moab, wished him to reach?
The King of Moab sent an embassy to Balaam, the great Assyrian prophet, to come and pronounce a curse upon these people, the Children of Israel. He feared the purpose of these people, and wanted this prophet of Jehovah, for Balaam was not a pagan prophet, but a true prophet of God, to come and curse them for him. So he sends to Balaam, and Balaam will do nothing until he first inquires what is God's will.
One of the first lessons that we may draw is the peril of hesitating in matters of clear duty. When Balaam makes his appeal to God, and God answered, "Thou shalt not go with them, thou shalt not curse these people, for they are blessed, they are my people," it was at his moral peril that he left as an open question such a direct command from the Almighty; and yet we know that he did so. His hesitation in a matter of clear duty was the beginning of the wreck of his character. Dallying and delaying, my friends, to bring it right home to us, from an open conviction of duty, is dangerous, it is dishonesty itself. An insidious way in which we bring about this hesitation in matters of clear conviction of duty is that we are prone to divert attention from the character of the act itself and fix it upon the consequences, although recognizing that this course of action is black and is dishonorable to a Christian man or woman. It is that we turn the attention far-off, as though we say that by doing this wrong thing or that wrong thing thus and so can be accomplished, and while we do not put it into just those words, we are very apt to think that in some way those circumstances can alter or change the moral quality of the deed. We cannot do it. Hesitating in matters of conscience, taking time to find out in many cases just what we are to do, what is our duty, is taking time to explain away that duty. Of course, there are cases of conscience where there are no absolute lines of duty, where the moral sense is puzzled, but those are rare; and such was not the case here. When Balaam was thus directed, "Thou shalt not go with the men, thou shalt not curse the people," that should have been sufficient. He did send the first embassy away; but they came again with a larger present, "a more honorable embassy," and again urged him to come. "Come and do the King's bidding, and he will make you a great man of great station and power, Come "—Now what did he do? The temptation was great, and instead of just simply saying, "No, I gave you my answer, and that is absolutely the end of the matter. This thing must not be done," what did he actually do? With a great pretense of piety and resignation, he said, "You know I can do nothing directly against the word of the Lord. Say to your King that I will again appeal to God, and see whether this thing cannot possibly be done." So he makes his second appeal, and then a third appeal, and all this time weakening his moral strength, lessening his power of resisting temptation, by dallying and delaying in a case, a clear-cut case, of duty.
Well, I think we can draw another lesson, not only the danger of hesitating in matters of conscience, but in the conclusion which he reached, is an illustration, and to my mind a very striking one, of another insidious way in which we practise self-deception. When Balak found that Balaam could not curse the people, he said in his rude simplicity, "The whole camp of the people is here. He sees the great army of the Israelites before him, and to pronounce a curse on so great a number of people I suppose is startling to him. I will take him to a high place on the top of the mountain, where he can only see a little part of the northern end of the camp. It will not appear so startling so, though he looked out over the whole plain." So he goes and again makes his appeal to Balaam: "Thou shalt not see the whole of the people, thou shalt see but the utmost part of them." I think we have here, my friends, another illustration of the insidious way in which we may practise deception of ourselves, to bring ourselves to do an act which revolts us. When the truth is brought to us in all its hideousness and expanse, there is a revulsion, we are repulsed, we cannot do it. But if we can get into some position where we see only a corner, as it were, some-times, and very frequently indeed, people will do such an act.
Of course, a man of the intelligence, of the intellectual power of Balaam, found difficulty in accepting such rude simplicity; that just by changing his position from a free view over the plain in the high places of Baal, he would get a view of only a comer of the great multitude of the people. Of course, Balaam could smile at that, how nonsensical it was; yet in Balaam's mind there was working practically the same thought. It is not so stated in the record, but I imagine him saying, " Of course, a mere change of position cannot alter it, but let us look at it in the name of civilization. These are a mighty people, the mountains are full of them, and the Moabites are in danger of being overthrown. In the name of civilization, then, something ought to be done to stop these invaders. I will look at it in that way," and that against the testimony of the Lord that these people were blessed. And he undoubtedly realized that it would benefit no one; but he could not please God without difficulty. And so, my friends, we often find ourselves entrapped. We think by taking a different position with the world, we will look at the thing in a different manner, we will not see the broad expanse of the hideousness of the deed, we will only see a corner of it; and so we act just as Balaam did. There is a deep, practical, moral lesson for us in this.
There is yet another lesson for us in the record of this remark-able man, only we need to pass to the thirty-first chapter to see the conclusion of Balaam's self deception. While he might not as a prophet pronounce the curse himself, yet he might ask an adviser, he would get a counsellor to tell the people how they might act so as to bring the curse upon themselves. And that is what he did. He could say, "I can do nothing more. I cannot take the responsibility for the act, contrary to the Divine declaration; as a prophet I cannot do it; I cannot take the responsibility; but I might shift it on you. I might suggest a way in which, undoubtedly, if the people will act upon it, they will bring upon themselves all the curses that their enemies could wish. Get the people to intermarry with the Jews and the Moabites and the Amorites, and out of that will come idolatry, of that you may be sure, and they will so bring upon themselves the curse you are asking for."
So the prophet did not actually curse the people; but how terrible were the results of this suggestion. The people did inter-marry, and afterward there was a great battle in which Balak himself was slain, but the King was not really responsible.
My dear friends, how important it is that this lesson should be brought home to us. If you plan a certain thing, you may think the responsibility many times removed from you for the actual deed; but just the same weight of responsibility rests upon you as if you did the deed yourself. This has been brought to me very forcibly in reading some of the accounts of property owners in New York City. I remember a case many years ago where the friend of a prominent man came to him and said, "Are you aware that one or two of your houses are being used for infamous purposes? You know you receive big rent for those houses, you must know of it. Do you not feel responsible?" The man replied, "No, I feel no responsibility whatever. I rent those houses to those men, and the responsibility rests entirely upon them for whatever use they make of them." And so he tried to shift the responsibility, just like Balaam, who would not personally go contrary to the Divine command, but he would shift the responsibility onto the King; he would whisper to him a means whereby the curse could be accomplished.
In conclusion let me suggest one more thought, the most important of the record that prompt obedience to clear conviction of duty is the only rule, the only principle, that has the safety of God on its side.
Just as sure as the voice of Conscience has spoken clearly, and we delay and wait while we look at the matter from another point, the voice of Conscience will not again speak so loudly. Con-science never speaks so loudly, so clearly, so imperatively, as she does the first time.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[September 21, 1913] BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE "For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house and gave authority to his servants and to every man his work."
St. Mark Xiii:34
The circumstances give a peculiar dignity and solemnity to these words of our Lord. They were uttered at the close of the last day he spent within the temple precincts. He had left the temple, descended from the heights, and crossing the valley of the Citron ascended the opposite Mountain of Olivet, somewhere perhaps near the southern slope of the shoulder of that great mountain. He paused, and looking back over the City, he predicted its destruction: "There shall not be one stone left upon another"; and with Divine vision of seeing the long lapse of years that should come to pass before his second coming, in the guise of this great parable he sets forth the universal duty resting upon all who hear the Gospel.
"The Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who gave authority to his servants and to every man his work." Of course, the very first question which arises is, What in general may be said to be this work? I think we can make a simple yet comprehensive answer from the teaching and example of our Blessed Master, by saying, the one great work, that which sums up what the churches are meant for, which sums up all the Bible is meant for, which sums up all that the collective energies of men directed along the line of the Gospel work stands for, namely, the realization of the Kingdom of God here upon earth. Not simply the Kingdom of God beyond the clouds, but here upon earth. And it is in just that way our Lord gives authority to his servants, that is, a commission. I wonder how many of us think of that; each one of us bears a commission, given to every man as his work.
One interpretation of this would be entirely and utterly different from the spirit of our Master's word, and from the sense in which he would have us think of this commission. It is not simply given to bishops and ministers and priests, or to rulers, states-men, etc., but each and every one of us, no matter who we are, no matter what our lot in life may be, you and I bear a commission from the Father to help in this great work for which the Son of Man gave his life, namely, the realization of the Kingdom of God upon earth.
And what can we do to make the Kingdom of God here upon earth? Let me say, briefly, if men but had the Spirit of Christ to inspire all the relations of labor and life, namely, the spirit of love and service and sacrifice, then the Kingdom of God is here upon earth. I say, then, no matter who we are, no matter how simple ,or complex our lives, we bear a commission from God. And it is exceedingly important that we should realize that God not only conducts the mighty march of nature and nations, but that, as the Master teaches, he notes the fall of each sparrow, and has numbered the hairs of our heads. God's interest is not in classes but in individuals. If I am in possession of power and influence, if I can rule men, that is by Divine commission. Am I poor, and sick, and neglected and no one interested in me, do I feel I am born into the world with but few poor weapons to fight the great battle of life? I may know I am here by authority of the Father, a Divine commission. Jesus Christ himself has said that he shares with every creature the Divine commission of God, the salvation of the world, the bringing about and realization of the Kingdom of God upon earth.
Now it is, I say, highly important that we should realize that for each and every one of us, no matter how lowly, how poor, or how limited our power or small our sphere, there is a work to do; and that it is utterly impossible for us to delegate our share of this work. We cannot deputize bishops or priests or friars or an active evangelist to do our work for us. There is something, somewhere, for you, and God expects you to do it; and in a sense no other can take your place. Something, it may be some very infinitesimal part of God's work in the reclamation of the world and bringing the world into fellowship with God. We should set ourselves diligently to find out what it is, and do it.
This commission, then, I say, is for every man. It is his work. To my mind, the fundamental revolution which our Blessed Master introduces in the conception of religion and of life and of the Kingdom of God is shown in His sweeping condemnation of that old-time notion that religion and common life can be separated; that the practices and duties of religious life and our common life are distinctly different; that to live a secular life, without regard to ideals or motives, is to have no respect for God or for His purposes in the world as being something entirely separate.
We have read the record of our Lord's condemnation of this Phariseeism, of how He condemned the religious rulers of those times, although they were not necessarily wicked or wrongdoers, or that they conducted obscene practices, or anything of that sort, but that they were engrossed and possessed with this old-time fatal delusion that they could separate religious duties as one thing, and common life and common duties and put them aside as another thing.
The whole life of man is given of God for His service, and we should therefore recognize that every duty, no matter how lowly or inconspicuous, shines with the dignity and lustre of the Divine commission, the Divine command, if we will only see it aright.
If we turn to the pages of the Gospel which describe our Lord's practices with the Pharisees, and bring before us the beliefs and ideals of those times, the ordinary reader might say that Jerusalem must have been very irreligious to persecute such a person.
As a matter of fact, it was intensely religious at that time. From profane history we know that never, indeed, in the history of the Holy City had there been such ceremony, such devotion, such strictness to the observance and transaction of religious forms as there were at that time. We have only to read to learn how the people came constantly with precious gifts for their offerings, always coming and coming with their religious offerings. But we also find that in their intense devotion to their religious du-ties they were neglecting the common duties of common life: justice and mercy and truth and helpfulness between man and man. And they were righteously incensed when our Lord condemned it. It seems to me we have no more striking illustration than on that occasion where he says to a worshipper: "You are going to worship at the temple; I see you have with you a gift to lay upon the altar. Hold on, lay not your gift upon the altar, but go and make your peace with your brother, who has some-what against you. Not until you have done that can any peace offering that you may bring be received as acceptable to God."
There were a great many religious forms and conceptions of God, and the people practised them and called them religious duties; and left all the rest as an open field for whosoever desired to assert and claim the real prizes of life. Phariseeism meant separation, and we know how that idea persisted even after Christ's time. Men supposed that to be religious one must fly from the world to the caves in the mountains and practise some sort of austere and monastic life, as if that were the only way to be religious. Jesus Christ did not go into the wilderness away from the world. He mingled with the people. He was seen again and again in the company of publicans and sinners.
I understand there is shortly to be shown in this city what I presume, at least I have heard from parties who have seen it, to be a wonderful illustration of that striking work entitled, "Quo Vadis." I am reminded by this old story of Christ's condemnation of trying to run a dividing line into our lives, making one part religious and the rest something entirely separate. As many of you are aware, it is a very old legend of Christ at Rome. It is said that St. Peter when at Rome, if he ever was there, felt that the city was so bad, and he was surrounded with so much of the vile and evil of common life, that in order to be religious, really religious, he would have to go off into the wilderness and become a kind of hermit. So he sets his face against the city and turns away, and as he approaches the foot-hills there meets him one whose countenance he immediately recognizes, and who says, "Quo Vadis? Quo Vadis? Where are you going? Where are you going?" And Peter answered and told Him; and the Master answered him, saying, "I am going back to Rome to take up the work you have abandoned, which you are slighting. I am going to take up your burden. You are running away from the evil in the city, instead of striving with might and main to do your part as a Christian man to make the city better. Quo Vadis? Quo Vadis?"
It is, then, I say, the motive with which we set about our earthly work which really determines whether we are religious or not. Undoubtedly, as God looks down upon the labors of the world, there must be some that He recognizes working in the true religious spirit, in the fields, at the anvil, or the woman at her housework, more than the many who are gathered and assembled in the solemn temples for worship, who come there for no real purpose or because they are conscious of the world's need of the realization of the Kingdom of God upon earth; but because it is respectable, it is fashionable. It is, I say, the motive that we put into our work.
And it is this, let me say, recalling that this is the festival of St. Matthew, the Collector of Customs, the office that was not only despised of every man but had the most intense hatred in Christ's time, that appealed most to our Lord in the selection of his disciples. I cannot persuade myself that Christ selected Matthew as a random selection or choice. Personally, I have no doubt that if we but knew, Christ recognized in this man, who was faithfully performing his most obnoxious duty not because he wanted to but because of a power that was beyond him, the attribute that characterized him ever after. The Roman nation had conquered his nation, and he was but following our Lord's own command, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."
I believe we have in Matthew one who had realized in some measure the great truth that life, all of life, may be made the Kingdom of God if we work with the desire to please God and fulfil His service in the world.
If we but make this great truth ours then, my dear friends, what dignity and courage, what security and power it will give you and me in whatever circumstances in life our lot is cast. There are the common duties of every-day life and there are distinct churchly duties, as we call them. Let us see that we put some quality of dignity, some motive and desire of service and pleasing God into whatever we do.
I have no doubt that that great teacher of Christian character, St. Paul, while he was weaving black tents to support himself on his missionary tour, thought he was doing God's service, that he was fulfilling the Divine commission of the Father just as much as when he stood on Mars Hill and proclaimed the everlasting truths of the religion of God.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[October 12, 1913]
" Jesus said unto him, 'Go thy way; thy son liveth.' And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him and went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. Then inquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday, at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth; and himself believed and his whole house." St. John vi:50, 53.
This Gospel record which we have of the nobleman's appeal to Christ in behalf of his dying son presents not only an illustration of the promptness of the compassion of our Blessed Lord for human suffering and His divine power to heal, but it also brings us a lesson in the procedure of the nobleman himself, a spiritual principle of importance to each and every one of us. We might put this principle into these words:
We have here an illustration of the way by which we may pass from a hearsay belief in Christ and Christ's teachings to a personal conviction of the reality and the truth of that teaching. Or, in other words, we have here illustrated the transition from a mere traditional faith to a personal faith. Undoubtedly we all would be anxious to ask the question: "What is the method, is there any method illustrated by which we may make this transition from the mere religion of custom to one of conviction and personal faith?"
I think this is brought out very strikingly in the conduct of this nobleman. Two features at once present themselves. to us in his procedure: his obedience, prompt, unquestioning; and his inquiry which followed his obedience; his investigation, his endeavor to see whether he could remove, as it were, all possibility of doubt of his son's recovery.
First, then, we have here illustrated, I say, the first step in the method of passing from mere traditional to personal conviction of faith by obedience. Jesus said unto him, "Thy son liveth, go thy way; and he believed the word of the Lord, and went his way."
Now I have no doubt that there was no little disappointment, chagrin, I may say, in the mind of this man, for we must remember that he was a man of station and rank, a nobleman, one of Herod's officers. 'When he heard that Jesus, the Miracle Worker, was again at Cana, he started on the long journey from the bed side of his son, over twenty miles, in order to appeal to the Master to come to the rescue of his son, now at the very point of death. He was undoubtedly attended by a train of servants, and there was probably in his mind this thought: "After we see this Teacher of Cana, He will turn about and go down with us, and the people all along the way will recognize Him as the great teacher and worker of miracles." But how different: instead of going down, as was then the custom, to lay hands upon those that were to be healed, He simply says to him, "Thy son liveth." In other words, his immediate departure was an act of obedience which straightway strengthened his faith and made it more and more personal. He did not pause to debate about it; he did not say, "Now, Lord, you placed your fingers upon the eyes of that blind beggar down there; you worked that miracle by being present at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, and now you simply tell me to go back this long journey. Cannot you come along, can-not you come with us and stand by the bedside of my son and speak there the words that shall again cause the currents of life and vigor to flow through his frame?"
"Thy son liveth, go thy way; and the man believed the word of the Lord and went his way."
Now this brings home to us a great truth: that this prompt obedience is something that we each and all need if we would pass from a mere traditional faith. We are resting on actual facts, traditional faith, but to make it personal, to make an investigation of the reality of Christ's teachings, there must be something more than mere following of custom. There must be obedience, and for the purpose of following the will of Christ. People sometimes say, "If Christ were here to-day, and gave me a distinct command, I would follow it." My friends, He has given you a distinct command.
You ask what is the will of Christ? The performance of common duty in a devout spirit is the will of Christ. Repentance is the will of Christ; prayer, and purity, and honesty, and helpfulness, the serving of God by the service of mankind. That is the will of Christ. And these are the things that should commend themselves directly and at once to every man's conscience. I know there are a great many points upon which we may be in doubt; there is a great deal of doctrine and nonsense in which we flounder helplessly and are lost. But there are many steps in our spiritual development in which we may stand firm, and among such are repentance and prayer and purity and truthfulness and justice and kindliness and helpfulness to others.
It is obedience, then, I say, this acting promptly, doing as for the service of God what conscience and reason tell us to be right and to be God's will. And this is the preparation of the inner man for the introduction into the soul of that spiritual conviction which alone claims Christ as the Divine teacher and healer. It is our obedience, in other words, that brings the crown to our personal faith.
In the second lesson for to-day we have this same truth en-forced by the Master himself : "If a man will do the will of God" —what then?—" he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." Not he that can discover the will of God, or will do it, but he that willeth to do the will of God, shall know the doctrine, whether I speak of God or whether I speak simply as a man might speak without any knowledge beyond my human nature.
You observe the nobleman did not only obey, but there was a second feature which presents a very important lesson. When he turned to go back over the long journey after Christ's declaration or statement that his son should live, he met his servants on the way. They had been hastening over the twenty miles from Capernaum to bring him the glad tidings that his son had recovered from the deadly fever. And it is significant that he did not wait to give them the customary greeting or go through the general formalities, but said at once, when they told him that his son had recovered, "At what hour was it that he began to amend? At what hour was it that you saw that the fever left him?" And they answered at once, "Yesterday, at the seventh hour, the fever left him." Wonder after wonder. His investigation had brought out the great fact that at the very hour at which Christ had said, Thy son liveth, the fever had left the young frame and the forces of nature were again asserting themselves in triumph, and his son restored to his natural condition. Now there is a great lesson for us.
It is not enough to obey. It is not enough to put ourselves into a position where we can rest upon mere facts and be disciples and followers of Christ. We are to seek, as this man did, we are to study and find out, to prove our faith by honest and earnest investigation and study. The Christian of to-day needs to study, to know the teaching of the Master, and the divineness of Christianity. "Search the Scriptures." There never will come a day when there will be an injunction of more practical worth than this, which is almost beyond comparison. Search the Scriptures; find out and know what is the will of Christ. If to the study of the Gospel we bring heart and mind and join in the fellowship of the great character there revealed, we shall know what is Christ's will, and be able to give a reason for our faith.
But these two should go hand in hand, let me say in conclusion. We find some who are obedient, but who are not inquiring, they simply take what is given them without questioning as to the will of God. And, on the other hand, there are those who are fully learned in the Scriptures; they are always searching and investigating and inquiring, and inquiring and investigating, and yet never fulfilling the distinct command, the dictates of reason and conscience, which they know to be the Divine will. They are simply standing; they are not marching. They are only marking time. And so they fail, while still inquiring into this and into that, and always overlooking the great practical truths which they know to be Christ's will. They are like a man about to take a journey, say from here to New York City, and he says, "Well, I don't want to start on the journey until I can see the end." And so he strains his gaze, going from hilltop to hilltop, trying to see all the way to New York City before he starts. What would you say to such a man? Would you not say, "You will see a part of the way only as you go along; you cannot take steps in advance of yourself. You can only go as far as you can definitely see." And this is also a great Christian truth. If we give ourselves entirely over to questioning, and do not definitely hear the command and seek to fulfil it, our industry will simply end in a wavering and indefinite scepticism. On the other hand, if you are simply resting content with what others tell you, and do not seek to justify it in the inner courts of your conscience and reason by bringing reason and conscience to bear upon the teachings at first hand, then I would say, beware: you are on a pretty straight road to a narrow and unprejudiced bigotry.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[October 26, 1913]
"Then again called they the man that was blind and said unto him, Give God the praise. We know this man is a sinner. He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not. One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see." St. John iix:24, 25.
The record of this miracle of the healing of the blind man, so graphic and so detailed, perhaps twice the length of the record of any of Christ's miracles, comprising indeed the whole of the ninth chapter of St. John's Gospel, affords us a number of very precious and very important lessons. I think the chief among them is the portrayal it gives us in the most dramatic way of the steps of spiritual progress in the apprehension of Christ as here illustrated in the case of this blind man. These steps or stages are indicated, I take it, by the terms in which the blind man, the former blind man, speaks of the great Healer. At first, to his friends, relatives, and neighbors, he speaks of Christ as "A man called Jesus," in the eleventh verse. In the seventeenth verse we find him rising to a higher plane; when confronted and questioned by the Pharisees, he answers boldly, "He is a prophet." But after the cure, after Christ had opened his eyes, we find him uttering the words, "Lord, I believe." And he worshipped Him.
We have here, then, a parable within a miracle; a parable setting forth the stages of spiritual progress in the apprehension of Jesus Christ. I might take as a separate text these words which I have quoted, first from the eleventh verse: A man called Jesus. I take it, this represents to us, translated into the terms of to-day, the stage of hearsay, moral or traditional faith in Christianity. It is the common religion of custom and surroundings, the established ideal of the common education in which we grow up. This undoubtedly is a very good stage to begin with, but it is just as certainly a very bad stage to stop at. How many cases do we find of those who have grown up between the years of six and twenty, surrounded by religious influences, taking Christianity for granted, because their parents are desirous of it, and because it is generally regarded by the community as of so great importance. But just transfer the young man to some other surroundings where the circumstances are different, where there are few who confessedly and outwardly give their adhesion to Christianity, and how often we find him falling away. Such a faith then, the faith that is the outcome simply of circumstances and environment, our lot in life, a fortunate lot in a Christian community, is after all at the sport of circumstances. Change of customs, change of surroundings, change in the professions of those about us, may sweep it away. We have one parallel of this, in our Lord's parable of the sower, in which we have represented the seed falling by the wayside where any transient fowl of the air may happen upon it and pick it up and bear it away. And it is so in the case of those whose religion has got no deeper hold on them than the custom in which they have grown up. They are ready to speak favorably of Christ, they are ready to attend at least occasionally upon the services, though how much of heart they put into the service is another thing; but still they do not desire to be recognized as opposers of Christianity. After all, I say, a mere change of surroundings and circumstances, like the fowls of the air that pick up the seed on the surface and take it away, and then this young man and in some cases this young woman, slips away from the faith of early youth and becomes lax in the discharge of religious obligations, and finally loses all interest in it. And this one thing has impressed me very much.
We have a second stage which I think is a still higher one, presented in the words of the seventeenth verse: He is a prophet. That is, I think we have here that stage of faith which is the result of examination, the actual grasp of the argument on the external evidences of Christianity. This undoubtedly is a better and firmer stage. It will stand the strain of Pharisaical opposition better than the first which I have mentioned; and yet it is not the deep root. If I am a Christian only because of the seeming reasonableness of the external evidences; if I am a Christian only because so far as I know the great wisdom of the world is on its side, I am at the mercy of a more dexterous controversionalist, one of broader learning, one better able to marshal the evidences against these external evidences of Christianity; and for this reason I am very likely to be swept off my feet by that more skilful controversy.
But the last stage contains the supreme and most important lesson I think that we are to draw from the record of this miracle, that faith is not simply hearsay, or theoretical or traditional grasp of the external evidences of Christianity, but the evidence within. This man had it. He was examined and cross-examined by those clever, dexterous, Pharisaical officials, and he could not answer their queries. Probably he said, "Frankly, I am all at sea; you are all around me, I cannot answer your controversial queries. But this one thing I know, and you cannot get around it, and I cannot get around it, and that is, that whereas I was blind, now I see." And how did he get it? There is a great, practical lesson for us all. He got it in the one way, the only way in which any honest and earnest conviction can be gotten. He got it, not simply by expressing admiration of Christ and his teachings, not by arguing about the commands and teachings and claims of Christ; but he got it by obedience. Christ said, "Go and wash in the pool of Siloam." And he went, and washed and came seeing. There, I say, is a lesson for us all.
Would we attain this stage? Would we reach that degree of personal conviction which no outward change of circumstances or conditions can alter? We can get it in only one way: by the serious, honest, and earnest endeavor to live the one life which Christ would have us live, regardless of doctrine or creed. It is true, there are doctrines and creeds, and they have their places. But that which gives real power, real energy, which carries us through the combat of life, must be of the heart. We must not only believe Christ's teachings and Christ's claims, but we must live them, in so far as we are able. If we honestly and earnestly seek to know Christ's will, and do it, we shall sooner or later realize this deep and personal conviction of Jesus Christ. "He that keepeth these sayings of mine, and doeth my will, his faith shall be founded upon a rock."
My dear friends, I think these are very important truths to us all. Some men, when they find their faith growing weak or shaken, think they must go on some sort of a crusade into the historical evidences of Christianity. That is all right in its place, but if he puts too much emphasis upon them instead of taking up the simple commands and directions of Christ and trying to translate them into his own life, to make it one of prayer and purity, that man takes a most perilous course. He may, by a long and circuitous way, come again into a stronger and firmer faith; but the short cut, the practical way, the way that never fails, is the man who seeks honestly and earnestly to live the life at all times, in all places, in accordance with the Master's directions. We should never think that Christianity, according to the Master himself, is chiefly a way of thinking; it is a way of living. His call is always, "Follow me, follow me." Not simply spend your time in investigation; that has its place; not simply spend your time in imaginative emotionalism over the great truths of Christianity and Christ's teachings; that is all right and has its place, but still it cannot take the place of honest endeavor to follow as He would have us follow, to live as He would have us live.
He that believeth on the Son of God in this deep and true sense shall be aware within himself of the truth and reality of Jesus Christ.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[November 23, 1913]
" When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force to make Him a king, He departed again into a mountain alone." St. John vi: 15.
The murder of John the Baptist and the return of the twelve disciples from their prolonged missionary tour throughout Galilee impelled our Lord to seek rest and solitude on the farther side of the lake Tiberias. He there sought to be alone with the twelve, but the eager multitude had in some way got word as to where they were going, and anticipated them by passing around the northern end of the lake, running over the land, and actually reaching the designated place before the Master and His disciples were there. So when He looked out upon the great multitude that had gathered, for it was at the time in which the roads were filled with the caravans of those making their way to the great Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem, He was moved to compassion. He laid His hands upon the blind, He healed the sick that were brought to Him there; and toward the close of the day He provided for the great multitude by the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.
I think there are several circumstances, my friends, which, as it were, intensify our interest in this miracle of the feeding of the five thousand; for it is the only one of our Lord's miracles which is recorded by all of the Evangelists. It is the only one of our Lord's miracles which St. John selects to report in common with the three others; and I might add that it is the only one fully repeated in our yearly service. We have the same Gospel study for the fourth Sunday in mid-Lent; and I might also say that the same repetition is found as far back as the eleventh century. So, in the minds of those who have studied the Church and its observances, possibly there would seem to be the persuasion that this miracle must stand for a great deal, and perhaps would ask the question, "What is the motive, the reason for it?"
I think we may possibly approach it in this way: BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE In the first place, we see that the occasion was very different from that which took place in the fall of the year at the other end of the lake. This miracle was performed in the spring of the year at the northern end of the lake, and the feeding of the four thou-sand, some months later, was at the southern end. So there is a difference in the time of year, in the place, in the number, and in some other minor qualities; but above all I think there is the difference in the motive, or design, of the miracle.
Now, this miracle was not performed to meet the necessities of the occasion. Those gathered about Him had been there only a few hours, during the larger part of the day, and most of them undoubtedly could have returned to their homes to get supplies to meet their cravings for food and drink. So, then, it was not the case of the feeding of the four thousand, who had been three days with our Lord without food, and He had compassion upon them, and said, "If I send them away, they will faint." So it was not, then, I say, to meet the immediate necessities of hunger on the part of those who had gathered there. I think if we study the conditions and circumstances carefully, we shall be ready to say that this miracle was not meant chiefly to meet the physical needs, but it was meant to teach and to test in fact, you have but to read the Gospel carefully to find that from this time on there is a marked change in our Lord's teaching and His procedure. For instance, He seems no longer anxious to gather about Him the great multitude; He forsakes the popular Galilee and seeks rather the retired places, and gives Himself especially to the more intimate teaching of His immediate followers, the twelve, and those who were associated with them. There was a distinct change, a marked change, I say, in His teaching. Throughout all the previous time He had spoken always of the Kingdom of God, saying very little about Himself, of His personality, His mission. Now there comes a change. Jesus sets forth Himself as the centre of all, the One Supreme Being, attachment with whom, vital union with whom, is the secret of eternal life.
This miracle is still more brought out in the light of the great discourse which our Lord pronounced the following day. Right across the lake, in Capernaum in the synagogue there, He makes His first annunciation, clear and distinct, of this great change, that He Himself was the beginning and the middle and the end of faith and of love, so that, we may say, this miracle and that great discourse across the lake in the synagogue at Capernaum were the expansion, the outgrowth, of the great truth which He designed to bring home to them: "I am the Bread of Life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."
My dear friends, let me pause to say that we cannot read these words familiarly and with any degree of attention without a shudder, unless we recognize that He who spoke them was more than man, was the Eternal Son of God, coming to earth and taking upon Himself our nature in addition to His own Divine nature that He might work out the rescue and the redemption of man-kind. "I am the Bread of Life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."
Now, I say, this great miracle here was somewhat of an introductory nature. We have the employing of the loaves for the Bread of Life, and it was a miracle which awakened immense enthusiasm, increased it rather, for there was immense enthusiasm already. We know that the whole country before this time was ringing with the name and fame of Jesus Christ, teacher and prophet--" Surely this was a great prophet."' People from every town and hamlet were following Him; the roads and byways were filled with them. Every lip was uttering the name of Jesus of Nazareth: what a wonderful teacher He was; how He could heal the sick; no prophet before him ever approached Him in this power of health giving and rescue and betterment.
Well, all this immense enthusiasm was a good thing, provided that the motive or spirit which prompted it was the right one. But this miracle had a deeper sense, a greater consequence, than to merely arouse enthusiasm. When the people saw Christ heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, or raise the dead, it was all over in a moment or so. They were simply spectators, on-lookers, but in this great miracle they were every one participators; they all partook of the food Christ developed or provided from the little store of five barley loaves. The enthusiasm was so greatly increased that it brought out, undoubtedly, just what our Lord designed it should: it brought out the real meaning that was back of the enthusiasm; and it perhaps included the great majority, the great mass, of the rude peasantry that were gathered about Him. They would take Him by force and make Him a king. It was by the intensity of the enthusiasm which was awakened that the real motive of the general mass was disclosed, undoubtedly just what our Lord wished. He was not deceived by the enthusiasm, however; He was not deceived by the demonstrations of the great multitude who would " take Him by force and make Him a king." He was anxious to bring out the true motive of these who were following Him, the real reason for this enthusiasm. He wanted to find out if they really sought the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. It was an open political secret that the people were striving for the liberty and power of their nation as a free nation upon the earth at that time under the control of the Roman dominion, and when Christ performed this wonderful miracle of the loaves and fishes they exclaimed among themselves: "Here is the very man we want; here is the man who will rule our nation and free us from the tyranny of the Romans." The enthusiasm was so great that it spread to the little band of disciples, and we read that when Christ detected it He brought them right down to the lake shore, where He put them into the boats and sent them away lest they, too, should be contaminated by this political enthusiasm that was so evident on this occasion.
The sermon the following day at Capernaum had something of a more intimate feeling. We read there when they heard His words, "I am the Bread of Life, " that many of them turned away and followed Him no more. "He that cometh unto me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." They said one to another, "That is a hard saying. Who can believe it?" And many of them turned away and followed Him no more. It was better that they should realize that they could not truly follow the Christ if they followed Him only for the motive they had just displayed. It was far better that this distinction should be made.
I suppose some might say, taking this miracle in connection with the sermon at Capernaum the following day, that it was a rather sad ending, a mournful conclusion to a great occasion. But it was Christ's way of taking advantage of circumstances, and now that He knew that their enthusiasm was not for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, or the desire that His kingdom should be established on earth, it was far better that such enthusiasm should come to an end.
My dear friends, is there not a practical lesson here for each and every one of us? Why do we profess Christ? Why do we call ourselves professors and followers of Christ? Is it because we sincerely and devoutly and earnestly wish to be guided at all times by His spirit? Is it because we seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness as above and before all? Or is it simply because of custom, is it simply from a desire to be recognized as respectable, for the sake of our reputation is our motive mere material advancement? Just take this question home, these words of Christ to each and every professor and follower of Christ: Do you love Me for my own sake? Do you follow Me for my spirit's sake, or is it simply for the mere outward advantages which would come to you as a professor of Christianity?
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[December 28, 1913]
"When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His son." Galatians, iv:4.
When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his son. This remarkable expression, the "fulness of time" implies not only that the time had been set in Divine Providence, but that in fact all previous history had been at once a preparation and a prophecy for it, making it the fulness of time. Indeed, if we take our stand at the cradle of Christ and look back over the world's past, we see two definite streams of history slowly con-verging until they combine at the manger of Bethlehem the history of the Jews on the one hand, and the history of the Gen-tiles on the other hand. Each had a definite and imperative part to perform under the Divine Providence. Let us look briefly at these two elements.
It was the mission of the Jews, under Divine guidance, to prepare Christianity for man. Now it is all important that we should recognize that Christianity, the religion of Christ, is not simply a religion of art or culture or knowledge the pagans had that kind of a religion but it is essentially the religion of moral and spiritual redemption. And the necessity made it and marked it as a religion of the kind that must depend upon the Divine nature and must be founded upon the two essential and fundamental attributes of the Divine character: God's holiness and God's loving mercy. Now if the Jews, as the instrument of Divine Providence, were to prepare Christianity for man, some way there must be to impress upon them in deep and abiding form these two great facts of the Divine nature: the Divine holiness and the Divine loving mercy toward man. We know very well that holiness made no part of the attributes which were as-signed to the gods of the pagan religions. There was a kind of free fellowship, but that they were holy and that they never transgressed any of the laws of the moral being was something utterly apart from the teachings and definitions of the pagan religions. How, then, was this to be impressed upon the Jews? We see how elaborately God set to work to bring home to the Jewish people these facts, first that God was holy, that not with unclean hearts or unclean hands could they approach Him. Of course, in a rude state, the Jewish people were somewhat on a plane much above the masses a kind of enlightened paganism. It was necessary that this great truth should be brought home to them in an external and symbolical way, and so we find God choosing the Jewish people as a holy people unto Himself. This is the first indication of separation from the world; and out of that holy people was selected a tribe which should furnish those who should be ministers in the true worship of the Holy God the second instance of separation and teaching and impressing holiness upon the people. Then out of that tribe has been selected a family who should furnish a continuous priesthood, who should appear immediately in the presence of God to discharge the holy offices of the sanctuary of God. And then out of that was made another separation, impressing still more deeply upon the people the fact that God must be approached with clean hands and holy hearts. One man was selected to be the high priest, and he could only enter into the holy of holies once throughout the whole year.
So in this external and symbolical way we see God working and impressing on the hearts and minds of the Jewish people the first evidences of the religion which they were to prepare for the world, impressed by Divine holiness. And so it grew and grew until this deeper symbolism gave place in the person of our blessed Master to the infinitely perfect holiness and goodness of the man Christ Jesus.
Then again: That was one element of the religion which the Jews were chosen to prepare for the world, the holiness of God; but we see there was a second element, just as wonderful and just as important, and that was the loving mercy of God. To bring home to the hearts of the Jews that God was not a mere supreme justice, sitting aloft on His throne above the universe, seeking to spy out the weaknesses of men to punish them, but that He was a father whose heart was filled with passionate love and mercy for all His children, the wayward and those who were striving to be good, alike how was this to be brought home to the Jews? Well, it was done by promises, it was done by teaching and setting forth the great truths of the fatherhood of God, in the fulness of which Christ would come to impress in a still deeper measure upon the hearts and minds of the Jews that God was a loving God, that forgiveness and mercy and helpfulness and compassion were the essential attributes of His character. And so we find that under the discipline and guidance of God this second truth grew and grew to the time when we have in Scripture the revelation of that great truth, the Gospel of loving mercy. Turn to the third chapter of Genesis, and there you read the first note of that Gospel: The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head. And it grew and grew until it came to its consummation in the declaration of the Master himself, recorded for us also in the third chapter of St. John's Gospel, where he says that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life."
Of course, my dear friends, I have but touched upon the main points of this great argument, but I pass now to bring to you very briefly the mission of the Gentile world. We are perhaps some-times inclined to think that the whole of Christianity, the whole preparation for the coming of Christ, was due to the Jews. But the Gentile world had just as definite and just as important a part as did the Jews. If it was the mission of the Jews to pre-pare Christianity for man, it was the mission of the Gentile world to prepare man for Christianity. Thus was begun and deepened in man a sense of his moral and spiritual helplessness without the aid of Divine grace, without the help of some great power from the throne on high. Now of course time was necessary, in order that this sense of moral and spiritual helplessness might be developed in man. Or, in other words, it was important that men should be allowed to go on during the ages, alone, trying their very best, in order that they might despair of their best and turn their faces and hearts for deliverance to God, who was ready with His patient and loving mercy to supplement their weakness, and to show by the gift of His own son the great truth that God is always a loving God; just as the sun sends forth his rays, so the great heart of God sends out His love for mankind.
There was, therefore, we see, this preparation and this prophecy for setting the "fulness of time."
Now I know it is sometimes asked, "Does not the church lay her chief emphasis upon Christ's miracles?" I think not. "Does she not lay her chief emphasis upon His teaching?" I think not. "Does she not lay her chief emphasis upon His divinity and His supreme character?" I think we may say, even there, perhaps not. But she points with unshakable certitude of conviction to the great fact that in Jesus Christ there was one who literally moulded all previous history, before His coming, that of the Jews as well as the Gentiles. Great characters have arisen in the world whose lives have largely moulded succeeding history; but here is a case, absolutely without parallel, of one coming into the world who had moulded all previous history preparing thereby the "fulness of time."
We should think of these familiar things at this glorious and blessed season; we should remember that Christianity stands or falls by this Birthday; that there was born in the "fulness of time" the eternal Son of God, and that Christianity is not simply one of the many religions that have been worked out and fought for and died for, recognizing this great truth that there was in the "fulness of time" a Divine preparation throughout all the preceding years for the coming of Christ.
We often point to the miracles as the greatest proof of Christ's Divinity. The miracles perhaps may prove one thing, but they cannot be absolute proof, except for one thing, namely, the declaration, "He could work a miracle" the miracle itself proves that. The teaching of Christ, taken by itself, is to all minds the greatest proof of His Divinity. No matter how wonderful, every man can comprehend and appreciate that. We consider Christ's miracles and His teaching and we say, "Here is the great character, here is the supreme virtue, the approved ideal of Christ, that is unique." Well, in a great sense, a deep sense, we may say it is. But what is absolutely true and entirely with-out parallel in any individual life is that the character of Jesus Christ is holy and will never be surpassed. And we must remember that we cannot be absolute judges of character. We can only judge of what appears to be. I am reminded of the rebuke of our Lord when the rich man rushed up and said, " Good Master " "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but God." There is the danger of judging without having first-hand and definite knowledge. We may judge of conduct, but who can know the inner secrets of character?
This great truth, then, of the preparation of the world the mission of the Jews and the Gentiles, is something which the Church emphasizes today, and states with unshakable certitude of conviction to those who admit the Divinity of Him to whom the church has consecrated her life and her work and her worship.
( Originally Published 1914 )
The Heritage of the Commonwealth:
Essays - Bacon—shakespeare
Essays - 'the Lords Of Creation'
Essays - Japan
Essays - 'koheleth,' Or 'ecclesiastes'
Sermons - Baccalaureate Sermon
Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse
Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse
Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse
Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse Part 2
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