Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse Part 2
[January 11, 1914]
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, Behold there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews, for we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him."
St. Matthew II: I, 2.
I endeavored last Sunday to emphasize three characteristics of this group of venerable men, who made their long journey from the east to Jerusalem; the mystery that invested them, their name, their number, their nationality being a mystery; their disinterestedness; unknown, they stopped to ask for no favors, no position of rank or place in this new kingdom that was to be established. I also endeavored to emphasize the strength of their faith, that no difficulties could alter, that no exigencies could deter from their long journey, and when they reached Jerusalem no disappointments could efface their belief.
Now today I wish briefly to draw attention to what I might call a very practically important lesson embedded in this record of the wise men coming to Christ. If we ask what were the conditions, or how was it that they were brought to the cradle of Christ, we read in the record that it was the leading of the star, and not by some other strange and unexpected signal or sign from the earth. Now we must remember that these Magi or wise men in the east were astronomers and astrologers; their life business, their particular calling, was to read the skies, to study the stars. Therefore God in His Providence sets for them the signal star in the sky, and it was by it that they were led. It was through the pursuit of their daily occupation, their proper business in life, that they were brought to see the revelation of the star that should lead them to the manger of the new-born king.
I have said the devout and faithful fulfillment of their daily occupation, the study of the heavens, watching the skies, studying the stars, gave these wise men the knowledge that led them to the manger of Bethlehem. By their faithful study of the stars they received the knowledge that they sought in the most impressive way. A famous French astronomer once said, "I have watched the skies for forty years, and I have never seen a trace of God, or a sign of His presence." But these men pursued their daily location in a different spirit, so that I insist they were faithful and devout men. For instance, to know the will of God, they were on the watch, on the alert, for any Divine manifestation that should lead them to better knowledge and greater truth. So I would emphasize, right in the line of their common daily occupation they met with that manifestation that did lead them to the Christ they sought.
How beautifully and how instructively this same thought is illustrated again and again in Scripture. There is Moses, who received the sign of the burning bush. Why not a star? Because it was not his business to look at the skies; it was not his vocation to be a watcher of the stars; he was a shepherd, his particular business was on the ground, and therefore God sets the signal of the burning bush. It was right in the line of his common daily duty. So it was in the case of David, tending and guarding the sheep when Samuel anointed him to be the king of Israel. We find it again in the case of Elisha, plowing in the fields, attending to his work, when the mantle of Elijah was cast upon him, being a signal that he himself was to step into the prophet's place and should proceed in the line of the prophets of the Old Testament. Again, in the New Testament we find the same thought. On that Christmas night the shepherds were not doing strange things. They were not holding a special prayer meeting. They were only watching their flocks, attending to their business, we are told; but they were on the watch, on the alert to discharge their daily common duties faithfully and devoutly, when there came that glorious overture of the heavenly angels, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will to men, for unto you is born in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And so with the disciples. One after another, we find that they were selected while doing their common daily duties, while they were fulfilling the just obligations which rested upon them in accordance with their occupation in life. The fishermen are casting their nets when the call comes, Follow me; James and John are mending their nets when they hear the call, Follow Me. And so with Matthew at the receipt of custom, always at his place, always faithful, when he hears the words, Rise aid follow Me. And there are other instances that I might quote to illustrate, I might say to bring home the truth of that beautiful old saying that " Christ most commonly catches men in the craft " by the star for the astronomer, by the nets for tie fishermen.
We have, then, in this record, my friends, a great practical truth, that the path of daily, common duty is the way to meet with God. The path of our common, everyday duty s the way to meet with God. God no more manifests Himself to us by visible evidences, that is true; no more does He set signal ;tars in the sky, or appear in the burning bush. But God mets with us today just as really as of old. He meets with us by tie incoming of His spirit, giving grace and life and guidance and helping us into closer and better fellowship with our Heavenly Father. The pathway of daily duty, I say, is the one great way whereby we are sure, if we discharge those duties devoutly as apiece of service for God, we shall meet with Him. We may do our duty out of a desire to win public respect; but if we do even the common-place, humblest duties with the desire to please God, saying, I will make of this little everyday duty, or discharge this obligation, as a piece of Divine service, just as we work and live in that spirit, we shall come, by the way of our common duty, into fellow-ship with Christ. This is one thought that I think we all need to strive to bring home more and more to ourselves.
When we are awakened out of our lethargy, when we are awakened to a knowledge of Christ, for instance, how prone we are to think, "Well, I must go and do some strange thing, some wonderful thing; I must have some strange experience for God." The fisherman thinks he must become an astronomer, the astronomer thinks he must become a shepherd, and the shepherd thinks he must become a fisherman, in order that he may hear the call or receive the signal. Now it is not so. It is just by keeping on with the old obligations and the duties which God, who has placed us in life, has given us, doing them faithfully, devoutly, as a piece of Divine service. And this is the way, my friends, that we see the star or the burning bush or hear the call, Come closer to Me, come into fellowship with Me, follow Me. He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life.
It is, then, I say, a most impressive thought that we have here, one that each and every one can take home. We do not need, as I have said, to do some strange thing or to have some unusual experience. It is not so much whether we do some strange thing; it is not so much whether we are tending flocks or casting nets or studying the stars, that we come nearer to the Christ. It is by doing the old thing, the commonest things, in the new spirit, with the desire of serving God, that we are brought closer to him.
So then, my dear friends, we may go forth into life through-out this year, performing the daily cares of life in a humble mood and a willing spirit, and find that all along the pathway the Divine goodness, if I may so express it, is in ambush ready to surprise us with His blessing and the benefactions of life and the guidance of His spirit. All along life's pathway, not simply in the wild and newly discovered retreats of Christ, but in the commonest things, the humblest duties, the teacher at her desk, the preacher at his work, the housewife in her busy cares; all these are places where we may find that Light and Guidance that shall be to us just what this star was to the wise men in the East, faithfully and devoutly fulfilling their daily task, when there flashed upon their vision the star in the sky that should lead them to the cradle of the Christ.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[January 18, 1914]
"For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you, Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger."
St. Luke, ii:II, 12
In the light of the great event of the Epiphany season, three groups of men stand out in strong relief, irradiating, made conspicuous in the light of this great event. These groups are, first, we may say, the shepherds at Bethlehem, second the Magi from the countries of the East, and third the religious authorities at Jerusalem itself. These three groups, we may say, severally played their parts at this great time of the manifestation of the Christ. But there is for us when we study the record a very profound and practical lesson. There is a lesson to be drawn of universal importance from the circumstances of these three groups of men in their relation to the Christ-child. I might state that great practical lesson thus:
It is evident as we study the record here that God in His Providence apportioned the measure of His guidance and of His grace to these men in finding the Christ in accordance with their faithful use of their natural abilities, their opportunities, and their privileges. God apportioned the measure of His guidance and of His grace in the finding of Christ, in accordance with the faithfulness, the devout faithfulness, with which they exercised their natural abilities and improved their opportunities and their religious privileges.
To glance first at the shepherds: we see that they were unlettered men; but little had been taught them and little, we may say, was required of them in finding the Christ. Their unlettered condition, their lowly opportunities, prohibited them from any-thing like close inquiry or intelligent investigation. They might have heard, perhaps, by prophecies, of the coming of the Christ, but they had neither the time nor the ability to follow them out with investigation and inquiry. So we find that explicit and definite information was given these shepherds, these lowly, humble men. The angel with articulate voice declared to them the fact of the birth of Christ. Not only did the angel declare the time and the place, in the City of David, in Bethlehem, but the angel went further even and declared unto them the sign by which they could identify the child: "And this shall be a sign unto you, Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger."
We see, then, in this case, how God met the lowly condition of these men. There was but one virtue and one requirement made of them, and that was obedience. And their obedience was prompt and unhesitating. We read that they went in haste and they found the Christ and worshipped Him as the Christ.
Now I think we have here the explanation of some cases that seem to puzzle often. We find here the illustration of the fact that lowly and devout and humble people though they are, the ignorant may often find the true road to the Christ, while those whom the world calls more fortunate may fail. Now this is not putting a premium upon ignorance; but it is to emphasize this truth that the finding of Christ is ever more and more and always a matter more of the open heart and the willing mind than it is of culture or education or position or religious privileges.
Sometimes we find doubts expressed as to the comparisons here emphasized. I read some time ago an article that seemed ready to discourage the opinion that anything was required of these men in their conversion. It said, It is to be doubted if those ignorant barbarians could really have learned more of the Christ than those in Jerusalem, in accordance with the prophecies. I may say the same might be true of these shepherds. But God gave them guidance that the Magi and those in Jerusalem knew nothing of. And so, in secret ways, in accordance with the Divine purpose, those whom God in His Divine Providence places in such circumstances that the world calls unfavorable and dire, often with meagre instruction and education, may more surely find the way to Christ than those who sit aloft in places of ease. Not because of their circumstances in life, not because they are poor or ignorant, but because they are humbly and devoutly obedient, with doors of the heart open to God's spirit. They have not much so far as the facts and details of the history of Christianity are concerned; but if to God's spirit the doors of the heart are open, He will come in to you and sup with you.
Well, if we pass to the second class, that of the Magi, there is a great contrast here. The Magi were men of learning and training. They had leisure for investigation and inquiry, and God required it of them. For them there was no very explicit information given; there was set the signal star in the sky, in accordance with the ancient prophecy, "there shall arise a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre out of Israel "—but they were required to use their powers, their God-given natural abilities, their reasoning faculties, their judgment, in applying and furthering their information in finding the Christ. They had to make a long and perilous journey in order to reach the city where they expected He would be born. Finding the Christ-child was not born there, they did not falter or allow this new information to delay or discourage them; and when they reached Jerusalem they did not allow the still more powerful force of the utter incredulity of those in high religious places there to dampen their ardor or to make them doubt. They pressed on, employing the powers that were given them, engaging the guidance and light that had been vouchsafed them, until they at last found the Christ, the reward for their devout and patient and faithful inquiry.
If we pass to the last class or group of the three, we still have a marked contrast, and, sad to say, in quite another direction. The religious leaders in Jerusalem at the time of this great event, the birth of the Christ, knew well that the world expected a Saviour; it had been foretold by the prophets and preparation made for the coming of the Messiah. Indeed, these religious leaders had in their very hands the sacred oracles, and they knew them well. They could point to the very place, here in Micah, where we are told He was to be born, and they could almost state the time when He was to be born. They could give His lineage from the prophecy of Isaiah, and while they could give this information to others, they took no steps themselves in finding the Christ-child. They declared the sacred truths to others, but they made no attempt, they took no steps themselves, to find the Christ. Their pride, their self-righteousness, their self-confidence, blinded them. They knew the letter of the Scripture, but they were blind to its spiritual significance. And so they failed to find the Christ. They even failed to make an attempt to find the Christ. The wise men in the East could say, "Yes, He was to be born at this time; here it is in Micah, and in Daniel; it is about this time that He is to be born, of the lineage of David; here the prophet Isaiah tells us, and we are to take the information and go and seek Him." And we know how they went and found Him. But those at Jerusalem, content in their pride and self-righteousness, while they could point the way to others, took no steps and made no efforts themselves.
My dear friends, we should bear in mind that these three types of men in their relation to the Christ-child are not extreme types, they are not external types. Every community, every age, presents their counterpart. There are those who, by their prompt obedience, like the shepherds, those who, by their patient and persistent efforts and inquiry, like the Magi, find the Christ, to their comfort and their salvation. And there are others, like the leaders in Jerusalem, who never find the Christ blinded by their pride, by their indifference, by their neglect.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[February 1, 1914]
"There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." Proverbs xiv: 12.
There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. And in the sixteenth chapter, at the twenty-fifth verse, the very same words are repeated. I think this emphasizes their importance. It is the only absolute repetition that I am aware of in Scripture that is not connected with some detail of historic event.
The language of the inspired writer suggests, as you will see at once, the metaphor in which the genius of all ages has delighted to depict the 1way of life: Life a journey, a Pilgrim's Progress. And to each one of us there opens two courses. There is the narrow way where Duty stands, stern, instant, imperative, saying, "This is the way; walk ye in it." There is another, a broad, inviting way where Pleasure stands pleasure of passion, of appetite, perhaps of profit. And Pleasure says, "This is the way; walk ye in it." There is one event that comes alike to all, as is the righteous, so is the wicked: the voices that say, "Come this way." Pleasure, with her purple lip and jewelled wrist, beckoning to that broad and inviting way, says, "Do not let yourself be guided or prompted by what you may hear of the dangers of the way; come on."
I think there are two kinds of travellers. There is, first, the impulsive, reckless traveller, heedless in his way, who starts off at the beckoning call of Pleasure at right angles with the true and right way, the path of duty; but he does not deceive himself. He knows he is doing wrong, but passions insurgent and dominant seem to force him on, and on he goes, as it were, at right angles from the true course of duty, and very soon finds himself lost in the marshes, the morasses of sin, and he realizes this, and there is hope for him, from the very fact that he had been brought to such extremes of experience. And he says, "I will leave this path; I will turn and go and seek the right way."
But there is another traveller whose case is much more serious. He is calm, he is calculating, he is collected. He does not start off at right angles, by any means. It is by slow and almost imperceptible divergences from the true path of duty that he sets out; and he sets about deceiving himself. He says, "A step a little bit to the right or the left, what harm can there be in that?" And so he argues with himself, and his path keeps diverging more and more. He is not carried away with passion perhaps; he is one probably who is carried away with desire of some important gain; but on he goes, deceiving himself, until at last, though he has wandered far away from the true course, he is still saying to himself, still believing in a sense, "This is the right way; I have not really left it; I am guarding myself against these swamps, these marshes, these morasses; I am walking on pretty fair ground. What is the harm in this?"
Now I have alluded to these two cases, because they are very striking types or symbols of the two kinds of moral and spiritual declension. There is, first, the impulsive, heedless, reckless man, who is carried away by the potency of his passions, and he is led on and on until, it may be, he ends in some terrible crime that brings him, as it were, to a recognition of the very conditions which he has made himself. Now we have a type of the first kind in David. It was not by slow and almost imperceptible degrees that he began to go wrong. But there was hope for him, because he did not deceive himself. The despair with which he cries, "Against thee and thee only, have I sinned," shows that he had kept faith in God, deep in his heart, notwithstanding his wilful procedure and his abrupt departure from the teaching which he had followed in his youth.
We have another illustration or type of this impulsive kind of traveller, and that is the great St. Augustine. Reared by a pious mother, in his earliest years devout and obedient, but he starts off abruptly under the stress of a temptation, at right angles to the true course; but he did not deceive himself. I doubt if there was ever a moment when he was saying to himself, "Well, I guess this is all right; there is no harm in this; it makes no difference." He knew he was doing wrong and he did not deceive himself.
There is the other type of moral declension, and that is the man who is not recognized as a passionate man; he is not a man whose passionate nature forces him from the true course. He is calm, he is collected, he is calculating, but he nevertheless deceives himself by the very way in which his moral and spiritual downfall is more or less brought about, namely, by his false, indefinite, and partial view of duty. He refuses to see aright, to take the right view of anything that he sets about doing. I say this juggling with conscience, this trying to get at some angle where we can see the thing in a different light, is wrong. Duty is too imperative, too imposing and insistent, when the way is plain before us and we turn to this side and that side, trying to find some other way out of it. Just as when I hold my hand flat before you, so, you can see it very plainly, but if I turn it a little to one side, you will see only a slight line there. Just so in the moral and spiritual sphere, when a man sets about perverting his moral sense, distorting his moral and spiritual vision so that he cannot see the whole thing but only the part that seems right to him.
My thoughts have lately been turned to this subject, I confess, by the startling revelations in connection with the State contracts with which the papers have recently been filled. Among all those men that have gone wrong, I doubt if there was one who would deliberately have stolen five cents; but when you call it graft why do we not call it stealing? when you call it graft, how easy it is for a man of active powers arid intellectual ability to say, "Well, something is due to eminent ability, something is due to organizing ability." And so he argues with himself: "I am not really stealing from the State; I am simply earning this money in a way that few people can earn it." Such a man does not particularly consider whether he is going wrong or that he is starting off at right angles. He eases his conscience by considering that it is only regulating the adjustment of matters. And so he argues with himself, until he can perpetrate an act of down-right, premeditated, admitted dishonesty.
I think we have an illustration of this in the destruction of Jerusalem. When the leaders of the mob of soldiers there, after firing the great part of the city, came to the temple, no man among them dared set fire to the temple; when some ingenius one among them said, "I'll tell you what we will do. We will not put the torch to the temple itself, but we will create a great fire in this adjoining structure, and perhaps it will reach the temple." And so they did, and that was exactly the way the temple was destroyed.
It is so in the moral world. How often men do just that very thing. They say to themselves, "We will not do this thing directly, but we will look at it from that angle or this, and perhaps it will not seem so very wrong."
Now I think, my friends, nothing is more important for us than to bear this in mind. It is not only or chiefly by direct and acknowledged wrongdoing that many of us go wrong. It is by little degrees, a slow process, by in some way providing our-selves with an excuse for what we do; trying to change our position until we can see the thing in a different light. We start out, perhaps, with no real intention of wrongdoing, and we go on distorting our moral sense, changing our viewpoint, as it were, until we can find an excuse for almost anything.
And let me say that no amount of education or ability is any guarantee against this self-deception. Such a person may be comparatively a giant intellectually, but if a giant resolves on suicide, it is a giant's hand that strikes the blow.
Let us also remember that our material sense often confiscates our moral sense. Our moral principles should parallel the powers of our passions. Each one of us, my friends, when we come into the world, is equipped with a certain store of ability for moral discrimination, for moral action; but if we are not on our guard we will lose that power, and when it is gone nothing can restore it.
There is, then, in the one case, the man who goes wrong from force of passion, and is brought sharply to see the error of his ways; and, in the other case, the man who argues with himself, stilling the voice of Conscience, insidiously deceiving himself. I would liken the first to a man with a broken arm. There is hope for him, a skilful surgeon may reset that arm. But the one who is deliberately deceiving himself is like a man with a palsied arm. Where is the surgeon that can heal that arm?
Just so it is in moral and spiritual matters. The man who deliberately sets about deceiving himself, perverting his moral sense, unconcerned with the things that are right and true, is the man who will go on until at last the light in him has become darkness; his way has come to seem to him the right way.
But I do not say even his case is hopeless. So long as I am a minister of the Gospel, I shall insist upon the great truth that no man is beyond the pale of pardon and recovery; to believe other-wise would be the last profanity. The door of mercy is ever braced back by the cross of Christ, and His call comes to each and every one: "Come unto me. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life."
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[February 15, 1914.]
"And when much people were gathered together and were come to Him out of every city, He spoke by a parable: A sower went out to sow his seed." St. Luke, viii:4, 5.
It was a memorable day, my friends, when this parable was uttered. It was right, we may say, at the height of the great Galilean revival; the whole land was ringing with the name and fame of this wonderful teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. The shepherd on the hillside, the boatman on the lake, the laborer in the vineyard, were talking about Him, repeating one to another the wonderful words they had heard Him say or that had been reported to them. It was a memorable day, because it was marked by two memorable events; and the events, we may say, constituted a distinct turning-point in the public ministry of our Blessed Master. The first event took place in the morning. A vast multitude, and it was a picturesque multitude with their gay particolored clothes, had gathered on the sloping land reaching back from the seashore. Jesus was in a boat anchored a short distance from the shore, and as He looked out over the masses gathered there, He saw those who had been His private enemies, though they had once sought to win Him to their side, the Pharisees and the Scribes, who had come down from Jerusalem. And so He called them before Him, as we read in St. Mark, He called them before Him, and the occasion was their charge that He had in the morning cast out devils and had healed a man who was dumb and blind from his birth; their charge that He had cast out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils. Our Lord gathered them there, those who had made the charge, in front of the multitude where every eye was fixed on them, and said to them first an argument, direct and levelled to common sense: "If Satan cast out Satan, how can his kingdom stand?" And then further, an argument that touched the point of their pride: "If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? What is the power which you believe in and of which you are so proud? "
In other words, here was the first public and abrupt break with the Pharisees on the part of Christ. Up to this time He had held back, He had patiently and in a genial and generous manner borne with their pride and their persecutions. But now the crisis had arrived that should admit of no misunderstanding as to what Christ's judgment in regard to them was. It was, I say, a public and abrupt break with the Pharisees.
In the afternoon the occasion of this great assembly was marked by another event a change of His method of address toward the multitude. First the break with the Pharisees, second His change of method of address toward the multitude. We speak of parables: perhaps very few of us but have thought of Christ as speaking in parables all through His whole ministry, but as a matter of fact, we have no record of any parable before nearly the middle of the second year of His public ministry; and this parable of the sower is the first parable, the inaugural par-able, we may call it, that stood as the change of His method of address to the people. Before He had spoken in all simplicity, directly, like the Sermon on the Mount, spoken so that men had gone away, "Yes, we understand all that "—now there comes the change; He begins to speak to them in parables. As He stood there in the boat He uttered one parable, and a second parable, and a third parable, and a fourth parable, and a fifth parable, undoubtedly to the great disappointment and confusion of the great throng gathered there. They were longing to hear more of those sayings, such as, "Blessed are the poor" "Blessed are the meek" " Blessed are they that suffer under persecution for righteousness' sake" and so forth. Instead of that they hear a parable: "A sower went forth to sow." And undoubtedly a great many, discomfited by this, turned away and followed no more after Him. And why was this? It was because, my friends, Jesus was not deceived by the rampant enthusiasm that filled the land. He knew what was in the hearts of men, and He knew how very much of the spirit that animated the great crowds that followed Him from town to town was simply emotionalism, simply the satisfaction of morbid curiosity, and in the case of the Pharisees and Scribes the desire to win this wonderful teacher and leader over to their side. So He uttered this parable of the sower; and in the multitude gathered before Him there were undoubtedly representatives of all the classes of heart soil which He set forth in His parable. I can touch upon them but briefly.
There was first, the seed that fell by the wayside the wayside hearer. The seed did not sink into the hard beaten paths, for there was not force enough, as it fell from the hand of the sower, to carry it below the surface; and the seed that fell on these hard beaten paths was picked up by the fowls of the air and carried away. It did not sink into the ground and did not begin to grow. Here we have, in the moral and spiritual sphere, my friends, the type of what we may say is the notional or merely literal hearer of the Word of God. He hears the command, " Come unto Me; take up your cross and follow Me." And if he be of a speculative turn of mind, his thoughts perhaps run off on this or that argument of Christianity. It may be that he lias thoughts of following Christ and obedience to Him; it may be that he begins to spend time over what he calls certifying the evidences of Christianity; or perhaps he gets puzzled in the difficulties of the Old Testament anything, indeed, that would seize and take away this direct command of the Master to follow Him and endeavor to shape character after the pattern that He has given us. Or it may be some measure of worldly gain. You remember on one occasion, when our Lord was preaching and talking to His disciples on the most solemn of subjects, telling them of the dangers and the suffering they would have to endure, and the persecutions that would be theirs. "They will bring you before judges and magistrates." There was the word, "magistrates." As soon as a certain man in the crowd heard that word, as soon as the seed had fallen, he turned at once to the Master and said, "Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me." The mere suggestion of the word was enough to turn his thoughts to his own worldly gain, the desired acquirement of what was doubtless his natural right.
In the second place, we have the stony ground hearers. The translation here does not give us a right conception of just the kind of soil that is meant, whether it is simply a slight mixture which would make very good soil or whether it means shallow soil resting on a great sheet of stone. A large part of the soil of Palestine is covered with a fine sheet of limestone, in many places but a foot or so below the surface of the soil. And the seed falls there; and unlike the first kind, it is not picked up at once, but sinks into the soil and grows rapidly, stimulated, as it were, under the circumstances, by the limestone beneath it. But it soon withers away, because it lacks depth and moisture.
Now here we have another type of those who fail to hold to the teaching of Christ; we may say the emotional type, the type that is pictured in the young man who at first was very desirous to follow Christ; he knew the Scripture and he had kept the commandments. He said, "Master, I will follow thee wheresoever thou goest." How many of us, as we have read Christ's answer, have been startled by its apparent harshness, especially as we read right afterward where two others made excuses and He accepted them. To the young man He said, "That sounds well. You will follow Me wheresoever I go? I tell you, foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has not where to lay His head." There was the type before Him, and it was well that the truth should be brought home to him And the young man turned away sorrowing.
There are the three types; in the first kind, we may say, the seed goes no deeper than just a temporary passing thought. In the second kind, it sinks down deep enough to spring up the emotional type, as we have had it in many a great revival. I remember years ago talking with the leader of one of the great revivals in another city, and he said, " Just look at this town. Eight years ago we had the most wonderful revival here. Meetings kept up absolutely all night long; other delegates coming to relieve those in charge, working from ten to twelve, from twelve to two, and so on throughout the whole night. And now look at this town. It is just like a prairie after a great fire has swept over it. You can hardly get enough people together to attend any kind of a religious meeting." The ground is baked, blackened, and hardened. We have a type of that in the second class.
And there is the third class. We have so many of this kind. The seed goes deeper than the surface, deeper than mere emotion; it gets a slight hold at least in this thorny ground. Of course, the seed was not sown among the thorns, but the seed of the thorns lay secretly in the soil waiting to be stimulated into growth. And the seed comes up and among the seed are the thorns also; and soon their more rapid growth has choked it and prevented it from coming to perfection. We have a case of this in the moral and spiritual sphere of the man who has been awakened and aroused, whose will has been set at work. Christianity, or Christ, we may say, has the mastery for a time at least. He is first choice; but, alas, the great trouble is that He is not always the supreme choice.
Just as every circle can have but one centre, so you and I can have but one centre, and that must be either God or self. There is the case of those who are carried away with the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the lusts of other things, that press upon the will and sooner or later cause a divergence from the will of Christ and the way of righteousness.
So we have three kinds of soil, and only one kind of good soil, and that is those who, in good and honest hearts, receive the word and keep it. Let us not overlook that word, "keep it." Let us dwell upon it, think over it seriously. How often we read the Scripture we are so familiar with, and fail to bring home to ourselves the real meaning of the great words of Christ. We should dwell upon them and give the mind and heart a chance to comprehend them, until we are able to realize them. The price of realization of spiritual truth is always and only one thing: the practice of it. If we would make real to ourselves the truths which Christ has laid down and the things which He has given us, we must study them closely and earnestly set about doing them. Christ does not ask us to take part in any :mere pleasurable entertainment. His call is always for doing. It is not the fleeting emotion or passive feelings, but downright and actual exercise of our will, singleness of purpose, I may say, that affords the good and honest soil for the seed. Where is the man whose will is divided, whose energy is frittered away? He is a man who is filled with the lusts of other things, the pride and deceitfulness of riches and the cares of this world.
If you have received the word, keep it and bring forth fruit with patience. There is the point, I say, the price of the realization in the mind and heart of spiritual truth is always and every-where the honest practice of it. You say the way is difficult, and that you have doubts. But I know there are some spiritual points, things you learned long ago, where your feet stand firm things you know definitely to be right and the will of Christ. Do them. Do not stand like the traveller and say, " Well, I don't think I can take another step farther until I can see the end of the journey." The light is before you for the next step. Take it, and the next; and the light will grow and the path will become more and more luminous as you go along.
Receive the seed in good and honest hearts; keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[March 1, 1914]
"Remember therefore how thou has received and heard, and hold fast, and repent." Revelation iii:3.
These words were addressed to the Church at Sardis, situated on the golden sanded banks of the Pacpolus. We must remember, in the first place, that there was no charge of immoralities or of prevailing heresy against this church, such as we find recorded against the churches at Ephesus and Thyatira. But something else was the matter: spiritual deterioration, religious decline. "Thou hast a name that thou livest " appearances were all right " and thou art dead."
I wish, then, to speak this morning briefly on this very point, namely, religious declension, spiritual deterioration. Now there are many forms of moral and spiritual danger that are fitful and intermittent, but this form of spiritual danger, religious declension, spiritual deterioration, is ever with us. There is one great law that we all ought to keep in mind in the moral and spiritual life, and that law is incessant progression or necessarily incessant regression. We hear a man say of himself or another, "Well, he is holding his own, I guess." No, he is not. He is either going forward or he is going backward, in moral and spiritual matters. Outward circumstances may show no difference, but his inner life is being changed. And this form of declension, or spiritual deterioration, my friends, is exceedingly difficult for us individually to recognize. Of course, in the case of exorbitant instances of conduct, when a man by some sudden passion of jealousy or anger is forced into some action and the whole community unites in condemnation of the deed, that man is aware that he has done something by which he has forfeited the respect of the community. But we are not speaking of anything of that kind. Such a man has not a name to live, he has lost it by his very act; but there is such a thing as having a name to live and yet be spiritually dead, as was the Church at Sardis.
I say it is difficult for us to recognize this declension, this deterioration, first because of the slowness with which such a change takes place in us. It is like the changes in Nature; when daylight passes into night there are no reverberations of the heavens, no thunder claps saying, "Now the day is done "—there is no sharp line of division. When the foliage changes on the trees we do not wake up and find suddenly that the trees are changed in color and are dressed in different colors. It is slowly, gradually, by a process, not by what we might call a sudden catastrophe. And just so it is with our spiritual deterioration, with our religious declension. It takes place slowly. We may quote here the words of the Master in that searching parable of His: "We have only to sleep and an enemy will sow the tares." We do not need to go forth boldly, doing that which should not be done; just sit still, be content and indifferent to real progress and effort, and an enemy will sow the tares, and there will spring up within the heart that which shall be detrimental to the true spiritual life.
Then another thing, and that is the facility with which this change may take place within us in the way of the breaking down of our spiritual aspirations and our moral nature. I say the facility of it; the fact is that our motives may grow worldly, our desires may no longer tend toward spiritual things, our ideals become earthly. The whole inner man may change, and there-fore there is no point, no fixed point, by which we can detect the downward motion. I have heard an aeronaut say that the most surprising thing about a journey in the air is that if you just shut your eyes when up in a balloon you have not the faintest sense of motion. You may be rushing along at forty, fifty, seventy miles an hour, but you have no sense of motion whatever. Why? Because you are going with the motion. If you are in some conveyance on the ground, driving a horse or a motor, you may shut your eyes and yet you are conscious of the motion, because there is stationary air about you, against which you are flowing. You have a fixed standard by which you can judge, you can know that you are really in motion. But when you are moving with the air, with the current, as in a balloon, you may light a match, a taper, and hold it before you, but there is not a quiver of the flame, there is not a motion in the flame to show you that you yourself are moving.
And just so it is in spiritual matters. When the whole interior of a man is gradually declining and deteriorating, he has no fixed point by which he can judge that he is descending. He has a name to live. He has a name to live; the community respects him, they point to his propriety of conduct, they point to his liberality, it may be, and to various other virtues and qualities which they have long respected in him. He may be the same man still. Just so Samson thought after he had given away his secret of the strength given him by the Divine Nature. He arose and said, "I will go out, the same as any other time, and shake myself; and he wist not that the Spirit of the Lord was departed from him. To the outward eye there was the same magnificent mold of limb and loin; there was the same splendid muscle showing his extraordinary strength, but it was not there. The Spirit of the Lord had left him, although he was apparently the same man to outward observation.
And just so it may be with us in our moral and spiritual nature. Just so it may be of the individual, and so it may be of the collective life of the church. Unless there is actual progress, unless there is a going forward, we need not ask a second question. There is absolutely no such thing as standing still in moral and spiritual matters. The moral nature knows no state of rest. It tends to worse or better, as better tends to best.
When a man has by the grace of God, by the intervention of God's Providence, been awakened to the reality of the condition in which he is, what is the counsel to give him? Of course, the first word to such a one is, turn to Christ. That is always the advice to the awakened person who would become a son of God, to carry out as well as he can in his own life the pattern of the life of Christ. But after all, may there not be a readier, a more effective way than this general advice? I think there is, right here in the words of the text: "Remember how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent."
Now the second awakening, that is, the awakening to the realization of spiritual decline and deterioration, is far more perilous than the first awakening. The devil has two devices, first for the unconverted; he will keep them, if possible, from ever thinking of their sins; that is, by passion, imagination, emotion, desire, or anything to keep them from thinking about how they have been breaking the laws of God and offending their Heavenly Father. That is for the unconverted; but he has another device which is contrary to that for the one who has formally confessed Christ and been recognized as a follower. He will use the most strenuous endeavors to keep him from thinking of anything but his sins; that is, he will keep him thinking at all times about his sins, until he feels, "Is it possible that I ever did them? I have confessed Christ and want to be known as his servant and follower. Is there any hope for me?" And the devil says, "No hope, no hope. Just look how black, how dark, how dreadful your conduct has been." The advice then is, Remember how thou hast received and heard. But what do we mean? In your earlier religious experience, perhaps at the very beginning, you learned these words, written among those that shall never pass away, and they went right to your heart of hearts: "Whosoever cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out." Hold fast to it. Let nothing sweep away the conviction. No matter what you or I have been, there is always the open gate of mercy, always the outstretched hand of Christ, and He says to us today, just as really as He spake when upon earth: "Because I have loved thee once, I will love thee forever." He has loved us once, and He will love us unto the end.
Hold fast to whatever point of goodness God's grace has placed in your character. You have not been absolutely and thoroughly bad, without any qualifying circumstances. There are some good points. Hold fast to them and seek to get others. We often find, when a man who has a good standing in a community loses his reputation, how strongly the evil spirit urges him to fling character after it. Reputation gone, fling character after it. But not so. We raise our eyes and our hearts to Him whom we have followed afar off, and say, "Lord Jesus, thou hast loved me once, thou wilt love me to the end. I come unto thee, I believe in thee, I have trust in thy perfect love and forgiveness." If we so believe, and hold fast and repent, the blessing will descend upon us, and we shall begin again a new life, we shall go forward and not be simply marking time or falling backward. We shall go on through the race, reaping more and more of the fruits of that life which comes of having the love of Christ in our soul.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[March 8, 1914.1
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." St. John iii: 14.
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." Our Lord's interview with Nicodemus, when we come to study it carefully, reveals itself as indeed one of the most momentous events in His public life. Nowhere else throughout the New Testament is there given us so complete and consecutive an account of the plan and the primary agencies of the great work of the rescue and redemption of man. And in the fourteenth verse our Lord passes on to select an incident in the history of the Jewish people. He selects it and emphasizes it as a kind of pattern or parable of the conditions and the principles which obtain in the Christian life, and indeed in the life of every day. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up."
I wish, then, very briefly to call your attention to this event in the history of the Israelites, as a kind of parable of the conditions which are the dominant ones to-day, and must be to the end of time.
On account of the blasphemy and the rebellion of the Israelites, we know that they were afflicted, even while they were in the desert travels, with the presence of poisonous or fiery serpents, as they were called, probably from the extraordinary violence of their sting. And they besought Moses that he would pray to God that they might be delivered from these pests, and doubt-less they had great confidence that God would hear their request, and would either drive the serpents away or relieve them in some way; because they had ample evidence in previous times where Moses had prayed for relief from the plagues he had even prayed for Pharaoh, that he and his kingdom might be relieved of the plague of flies, and locusts, and darkness, and so forth; and the prayer was answered. And they undoubtedly expected in this case that it would be answered also. Undoubtedly, we may say, Moses was disappointed; he doubtless had expected that his prayer would have been answered, as his previous prayers had been answered, favorably, in accordance with the petitions. But the serpents remained among them, and he was virtually told that the serpents would not be removed, and they would be subject to their attack, as before. "But go thou, and erect upon a lofty pole a brazen serpent, that whosoever, be he man or woman, boy or girl, or little child, that gazeth upon the serpent, he shall live."
Now I suppose the question arises in a great many minds: Why is it that we should live under the conditions that we do? Why is it that if we are called as Christians the life of the world cannot be made more easy and that we may not be subject to the violence and onslaughts of temptations which often overcome us, and alas, cause our hope and our faith to grow weaker and weaker as we fail in resistance? It might be said, Is it some great plan on the part of God? Or is it simply indifference on the part of God? How are we to think of Him? Simply as a great spectator, on His throne aloft, looking down with indifferent eye to see how the children of men carry on their welfare? Certainly not, certainly not.
Now Scripture reveals to us that on account of the very nature of our moral make-up, God has given us, has invested you and me with the danger and the honor and the resource of the power of choice. We are here in this world, and this life itself is necessarily a probation; that is, we are to be tried and we are to be trained to become the sons of God. In other words, we are here, first to choose our destiny, and to be fitted for it. Let us look briefly at this.
In the first place, to choose our destiny. We must be tried. Now trial, to be real, of course must have its opposites: to find out whether we really love goodness for itself, and honesty, and purity and truthfulness. And the consequences of failure to love them and failure to follow them and practise them and realize them in life, my friends, I say the consequences must not be instantaneous and inevitable. Let us suppose a case or two. Say that God requires of us truthfulness, that we should choose to be truthful, choose to be faithful to our promises and obligations. Now suppose that every time an untruth passed a man's lips he should be deprived of speech for a day or a week or a month. Suppose that every time he yields to passion he should be tortured with pains racking his body for days or for weeks. Would there be any choosing there? Certainly not. Men would speak the truth, and they would guard against any exorbitances in the way of yielding to passion, because of the imminence and terribleness of the punishments that would follow instantly upon transgression.
But that is not the kind of obedience that God wants. "Son, give me thy heart." I wonder how many of us have thought of that. If God wants your reason, He takes it by evidence; if He wants your judgment, He takes it by evidence. But He has to say, " Give me thy heart." He cannot take the heart. A man must come to Him; and there comes in our power, the mysterious power that He has given us of making ourselves and our works either over on His side, or on the side of self. "Son, give me thy heart."
So, I say, the consequences of failure to obey God's laws must not be instantaneous and so inevitable that they would actually destroy all reality of choice. You have read in that wonderful book of Ecclesiastes such sentences as these:
"No man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them." "As is he that sacrificeth, so is he that sacrificeth not." "As is he that sweareth, so is he that uttereth no oath."
And we say, That is strange, what is the meaning of that? There is set before us in that wonderful book, we may say, a picture, an abstract of the conditions of life, under which we are to be tried. There must be real choice. If a man comes to the parting of the ways, where there is nothing but a precipice on one side and a road leading the other way, we could hardly say he is choosing his way, if there is nothing but death there, and here is a road. But when, like Hercules, he comes to the parting of the ways, where he must choose one way or the other, both ways must be inviting; and he will have to choose that path which he will follow. And not only that, but we see the necessity of temptations and moral trials remaining, for they are the poisonous serpents which remain yet. God does not take them away; in fact, we may say, looking at the circumstances of the Israelites, God might have done one of two things : He might have marched them off where they would be out of the region of the serpents, or He might have rendered the serpents powerless, destroyed the power of the poisonous sting of their venom, exterminated them. Instead of that, He orders the brazen serpent placed.
Just so it is with the trials and temptations of our moral life. God does not, in the first place, when a person becomes a Christian, march him off to a region where there are no temptations. How that dream has haunted men; they have supposed that by clothing themselves in sackcloth, and stealing off into the wilderness for solitude, they would escape from temptations. They might as well attempt to escape from their own shadow in the sunlight. So they went into the wilderness, into the caves of the mountains, into cells by the sea, only to find the temptations of solitude even more subtle than those of common life. There is no escape from temptation. The underworld cannot be tempted; but we can be tempted, that we may have this power of choosing whether we will be over on the Lord's side or on the side of self. But just as God did not destroy the venomous power of the serpents, neither does He for you and me destroy the power of temptation, of sorrow and trouble in its manifold forms, of despair and disaster. He does not rob them of their sting for us, He does not rob them of their reality for us; for we must remember that the real blessing that the Gospel holds out is not a method of escape from the temptations and trials of moral life. The real blessing, I say, that the Gospel holds out, is not to provide a means of escape from the temptations of moral life, whatever be their shape and form. But we are given enough of grace and strength to bear them and to bear them triumphantly.
And lastly, let me say, we have here in this figure the very essence of the Gospel; looking upon that brazen serpent in the wilderness. Nothing was said about how long they must look, or the posture in which they must look, whether on the knees or standing; only one thing: let the eye be fixed upon the fiery serpent. And so with our faith in Jesus Christ. It is the vision of Him, "looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith "—there is the secret that will enable us to endure the trials and the training, for we have got to be trained as well as tried.
You know our physical muscle will grow only under strain, and just so with our moral muscle. In other words, being good must not be too easy if we are to grow in moral power. It is with us as with the trees of the forest. Go into a secluded valley where the trees are sheltered from the winds. It is a quiet, lovely little place, and the trees are beautiful, but what about the wood? The trees there have never been called upon to exercise any great force to protect themselves from the storms, their roots did not sink deep into the earth, consequently the wood is soft and flabby. But what about the, tree standing on the mountainside, that has been battling with the tempests of heaven for its very life? Its great roots have reached deep into the earth and taken a firm and deep hold in the soil and spread out for a great distance, that it might not be blown over and uprooted by the storms of heaven. The tree in the valley was secluded and sheltered, its roots did not sink deep into the earth; it did not need such roots. But the tree that had to fight for its life needed a firm foundation, it depended upon its great roots to hold it up in the battle with the tempest. And that is the tree that furnishes the firm, fine wood.
And just so it is in the moral struggle of life. We cannot go through life sheltered from the storms if we would gain any real strength. "We are called unto Him as good soldiers of Jesus Christ."
I was talking a short time ago with a good Christian, and this was the trouble: Why does not God make it more evident to those that are trying to follow Him and serve Him in this world, that He loves them? Why does He allow the sting of poverty to strike them so, and trouble and disaster to overtake them, just as those who are indifferent to the call of the Master? The answer is, that these things are not brought about because of the indifference of God, but because He is infinitely more anxious than you are, in order that you may grow in grace and strength. He will give you grace and strength, but He will not take the trials and temptations away.
I say the vision and the faith in Christ: that is the secret that will enable us to come through all our trials with new strength. And we shall realize that we shall not walk in darkness, as the Master himself says, in those words which shall never pass away:
"Whosoever " that includes all " Whosoever believeth on Me and followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life."
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[March 15, 1914]
"Then saith the evil spirit, I will return into my house from whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept and garnished." St. Matthew xii:44.
After the expulsion of the evil spirit from the man that was dumb, and after our Lord's most conclusive answer to the carping and scurrilous criticisms of the Scribes who had come down from Jerusalem, charging Him with being simply an emissary of the prince of demons or devils after this, I say, our Lord, it would appear, turned and addressed the man himself from whom the evil spirit had been expelled. This is not directly indicated, but I think a careful study of the record as given us will show that in all probability these words, from which the text is taken, were addressed, not to the Scribes, not to the general crowd of on-lookers, but to the man himself, whom He had delivered from the evil spirit. This address is not recorded by St. Mark, but it is recorded by the other two Evangelists, St. Matthew and St. Luke.
Undoubtedly, I might say, the Scribes and Pharisees and the people gathered around thought the matter had ended by the expulsion of the evil spirit from the man. But this discourse, this address of our Lord's shows that, to His mind, the work had just begun; and in the most striking way, by His parable of the house from which the evil spirit had been expelled, He impresses upon this man the peril and the jeopardy of the empty house of the heart. Under the figure of the empty house, I say, our Lord brings out most impressively the danger of the empty heart, from which the evil spirit has been expelled but which has no powerful and continuous guardian to prevent the return of that spirit. For just as surely as the house of the heart is left untenanted and unguarded, there will be an invasion of evil spirits.
Now, my friends, there is nothing, we may say, that has been borne in upon us with greater power of confirmation than this truth the futility of merely the striking out of bad habits, and putting nothing in the heart that shall furnish a power and an energy against their return, and the love of faith and good works. The pathway of life is strewn, fairly strewn, with the wrecks of those who, seeking not to be overcome with evil, have failed to replace it with good. Now we see that in case this is so, the evil spirit is sure to return. You can recall, I can recall, cases of apparent reformation where the evil spirit has come back, and men have again sunk back into vicious courses or taken up with evil habits which they had but temporarily laid aside. We find again and again that the same spirit returns. Some years ago I knew the case of one who at a meeting had had his thoughts directed toward his own condition and deserts; and he broke off his evil habits, to all appearances, and in fact it was so: he gave up this and gave up that. And the people said, "Isn't it astonishing what a reformation we have here in this case?" But alas, he went no further; for the house of his heart was empty,, and it was only a matter of time until the evil spirits had returned again. Sometimes it is not always the spirit of the same evil—" the man returned, and bringing seven more spirits wickeder than himself." And this, I think, is perhaps the more important case of the two.
In the case of the man or woman who goes wrong openly and defiantly, resorting again to the old courses of evil conduct and evil habits, while the world looks on and says, "What a pity" in their very pity that is exercised toward him there is something of hope that the man may be restored again, and may recognize his need in the way of a stout and continuous guardian to keep the house of his heart. But in this other case, where more subtle spirits enter, where there is not again the same spirit that tenanted the heart, there is not again the yielding to the onsets of imperious passions that carried him away. The man has become visibly improved, to all appearances he is changed for the better. He is cautious, he thinks now of his reputation. But alas, his heart becomes invaded with these new and subtler spirits, which are really the spirits of selfishness, the pride of self-righteousness, pride of position, and it may be of reputation and power. These things are the spirits that fill the heart, and just as surely as they do and society looks on approvingly and says, "There is nothing the matter with that man; just look what good habits he has; he is respected; he is a man at whom the community can point its finger and say, There is the type of a good man," there is very little whatever in the way of doubt in the public opinion to help him recognize the real emptiness of his heart, where these spirits are busy, the spirits of selfishness, of pride, of self-righteousness. And these do what? They absolutely shut the door of the heart, and brace it back, against the invasion of the Christ spirit: the spirit of humility, of love for Christ, and the fear and love of God.
Well, what is needed then? We see at once from this address of our Lord's that what is needed for every man is something more than to have evil and wrong habits expelled from the heart; that is but the beginning. There is needed above all things that the house of the heart shall have a constant and powerful guardian able to repell all manner of invasion, with insight that shall detect these subtler forms of evil spirits and say, "Back; there is no place for you here. The house of my heart is given to one who will guard it and keep it."
I say we need to recognize this want of a guardian. What shall the guardian be? Some very high-minded men of the past, and some even of to-day, say that moral knowledge should be the guardian. But what a commentary upon that is the history of some of the greatest men, some of those possessed of the widest knowledge: there was Balaam, there was Solomon, and, turning to the pagan world, there was Seneca; men who stood in the very forefront of the knowledge of their day, whose wide sweep of learning took in practically the entire knowledge of their times; men who could lay down the most beautiful precepts, "This is the way, and that is the way," they pointed out, and yet they could disgrace some of the noblest lines ever written by some of the meanest lives ever lived.
And there are others who lay the stress of defense upon the mind. We are told definitely and distinctly by St. Paul that it is not there. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness," says St. Paul. So it is not merely a conviction that springs from placid reasoning. It is a deeper source that furnishes the guardian and defense. There must be the heart called into play; there must be something in the way of a passionate power that will prevent these invasions.
Another may say, "Well, perhaps the old philosophers were wrong, and the philosophers of today are wrong, in attributing too much to reason and knowledge. They should have emphasized conscience. Let men be instructed carefully in the matters of right and wrong. Train conscience for the defense, for you can make it so that it will respond instantly to the onsets of evil."
Now that sounds very well, and yet, conscience is not executive. Conscience does nothing. Conscience is like our Legislature: it passes the law, but there must be some one else to execute that law. In other words, it does not confer the power to keep out evil and do the good; it simply demands that you have that power. And yet, how difficult it is to realize this. The sensitive conscience, we hear a great deal about that; it has its value. But if we attempt to make it the guardian we shall fail. A sensitive conscience, distress of conscience, is no more the signal of moral health and strength than the pains that shoot their fiery warnings through the frame are indications of physical health. There must be something back of conscience; and this brings us to the great Gospel truth: that the only constant and powerful guardian of the house of the heart is the love of Jesus Christ. If I were asked to state briefly, in one line or two, what I consider the great secret of Christianity as the conquering religion of the world, I would say, the fact that for the first time in the world's history it became possible for the heart of man to love absolute, perfect goodness, embodied in the person the person of the Blessed Master. We cannot love goodness in the abstract; we may perhaps admire it, but to awaken any real love it must be embodied. And in Jesus Christ all love and all goodness are embodied. It is the love of Jesus Christ in the heart, then, I say, that can make the heart proof against any and all invasions of the evil spirits that are waiting and eager to force themselves in. The house of the heart must not be left untenanted and unguarded. It must not be left to become empty though swept and garnished, as the one I have pictured. But unless there is a stout, determined, and constant guardian there, it is only a question of time when either the first spirits of evil or more subtle spirits will return and possess the tenantless house of the heart. You will doubtless recall how Christ uttered that awful denunciation, as He stood there before the people, and pointing His finger at their venerable religious leaders, hurled at them:
"I tell you, the publicans and harlots will enter into the Kingdom of God before you men, who bar the doors of your hearts against the access of the spirit of Christ, by your pride and your self-righteousness."
Think of it, my friends.
No, there is no other recipe for you and for me, than just a direct and downright love of the Master. If we have His love in our hearts we have a guardian that will keep out and prevent a reinvasion of all these spirits of evil.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[March 22, 1914]
"He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they say, Five loaves, and two fishes." St. Mark vi:38.
There are several circumstances, my friends, which naturally enhance or heighten our interest, and our sense of the importance of the parable which is set as the Gospel for to-day. In the first place, it is the only miracle recorded by all four Evangelists; it is the only miracle which St. John selects to report in common with St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke; and I have before called your attention to the fact that it is the only Gospel fully repeated in our Liturgical service during the year. But there is another peculiarity, and that is that this miracle was not wrought to meet the immediate need of hunger, as was the feeding of the five thou-sand in the latter part of the year. This great company had only been gathered a few hours and hunger was not pressing; and also, they were within easy reach of Bethsaida, where supplies could be obtained. We are warranted, I think, in saying that it was a miracle wrought not so much as a Gospel of Divine power, to meet the needs of those about Christ, but it was a miracle wrought to symbolize or to set forth some parable or lesson. Indeed, we shall find briefly that this miracle marks a great turning-point, or change in our Lord's conduct, in his ministry, and in the matter of his teaching.
Let us ask, then, what is the lesson He wishes us to draw from this miracle? We are not left to conjecture or to draw our own opinion; our Lord himself draws the lesson. But He did not draw it on this day; the enthusiasm of the multitude was so great—" they would take Him and make Him a king "—that he put His disciples into the boat and crossed the lake, that He might escape the mad multitude about Him. But the next day, in the synagogue at Capernaum, He took as His text this great miracle He had performed, and His sermon there may be said to be an expansion of the great miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. In that wonderful sermon we find our Lord sums up the main object He had in mind, in these words: "He that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst."
This, then, I say, was the great truth that our Lord symbolized on this occasion; and I have said it marks a turning-point, or change, in our Lord's conduct, his ministry, in the matter or sub-stance of His teaching. If you read the previous record of His life, you will find that He went about followed by great companies of men; but now He seems to seek a place of silence. He deserts the popular towns of Galilee, He even forgets the Feast of the Passover, and devotes Himself to the immediate band of disciples and apostles with Him, in order that He might bring them into closer fellowship, to deepen their understanding and affection for Him, as that was the great purpose of His work here on earth. So we find, then, this marked distinction. Before this we would look where great crowds were gathered for the Christ; but now we must go and seek Him in seclusion, with the little band of disciples about Him. And there, undisturbed by the rampant enthusiasm of the multitudes, He could teach as He could not in the midst of the tumult and uproar of the thousands that followed Him, who, thinking that by taking Christ and making Him king, they could receive political independence and cast off the yoke of Rome.
But of more importance still, we note a change after this miracle in the substance, the matter, of our Lord's teaching. You read the previous record and you will find that the most frequently recurring expression is the "Kingdom of God." Here-after we find it repeated very seldom. How important it was that this first lesson should be brought home to them, that the Kingdom of God is not the "bread of life" the Scriptures and Moses and the Prophets are not the "bread of life." "I am the Bread of Life." And, my friends, we may sum up the whole lesson of this Gospel in these words of the Master: "Come unto Me." "He that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst."
Faith in Him, and personal affection for Him; that is the secret, and that is the source of the spiritual life which He came to kindle in man's heart.
But there is a second lesson, no less important, and one no doubt which has a more practical bearing for each and every one of us; and that is in His question, "How many loaves have ye?" How strange, we say, that He who had such power to change a few loaves and fishes into that which should supply the five or ten thousand, should ask this question, "How many loaves have ye?" And let us remember, that question did not die away; it has not died away. It is repeated in ages after, and it is in the heart of every Christian. In other words, Christ limits Himself to making use of the actual supply in the possession of the disciples. They say, "Five loaves and two fishes." That is enough. He has the power to expand it until it shall be abundant to feed the multitude.
We have here, then, a parable of the method of Divine procedure. Of course, God saves man; we say that with emphasis. But let us remember, my friends, He saves men always and everywhere, by and through man. Christ calls us to co-partnership with him, and as St. Paul puts it, How shall ye believe when ye have not heard, and how shall ye hear without a preacher?
What is the meaning of this co-partnership? It is the restoration of the world to fellowship with Christ, and the rescue of the world from the bondage of sin. And it is to be brought about by the spirit of Christ in His fellows and through them working to the reclamation of the world.
"How many loaves have ye?" Ages have passed since these words were uttered, but they are repeated to every generation, to every age there is addressed this question, "How many loaves have ye?" How much faith in Him? How much love for God and man, and zeal to bring man to the faith and love of Him? How much of this have ye, my fellows?
Unless we have some measure of these spiritual loaves and fishes, this faith and this love, the generations of the world, the great multitudes must go away hungry. This is the plan: God saving man, through the spiritually inspired ministry of man.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[April 1, 1914]
"Come unto me."
St. Matthew xi:28.
"Come unto me." Wonderful words, as that great church father, St. Augustine, exclaims: "Wonderful words. I have never read their like," he says, "in the books of any other religion, or heard them reported from the lips of any other religious founder."
" Come unto me." Wonderful words.
Wonderful in their depth and in their apprehensiveness; just as the little drop of dew on the grass blade enfolds within itself and reflects the whole starry arch of the heavens above, we may say these words embody the entire Christianity of Christ. They are the very epitome of the Gospel. Theologians may pass, criticism may shift its ground, beliefs and faiths may change, ecclesiasticism may look with favor upon the customs and orders of the interests that it emphasizes, but these words remain unchanged. They may pass into sermon and psalm, they may pass into story and history, into parable, doctrine, and law; but they will never pass away.
"Come unto me." Wonderful words.
We have here in this declaration, my dear friends, first the supreme source of comfort and solace for the weary and the heavy laden. They embody and disclose for us the great distinctive characteristic fact of Christianity, for the support of reason and for the inspiration of faith. They embody and disclose for us the secret source and the power of practical righteousness.
Passing to the present and more familiar significance of these words in their consolitary teaching, I would ask you briefly this evening to consider with me the points I have mentioned.
We have said that in these words we have a distinct declaration of the great characteristic or distinctive fact of Christianity. Indeed, " Come unto me " is the Gospel in essence. These words embody the great distinctive truth that Jesus Christ is not only the founder of Christianity there have been other founders, He is not only the founder of Christianity, but He is the foundation of Christianity as well. His teachings and His deeds derive their vital import and their final authority from the one great fact of the incarnation God manifests in the flesh. Now, I say, we have here the distinctive fact of Christianity, and it were well to dwell upon that for a moment:
Sometimes we hear a person speak of "Christianity and Christ." There is no warrant for that. Christ is Christianity. We may speak of Mohammed and Mohammedanism; we may speak of Buddha and Buddhism; we mayspeak of Confucius and Confucianism; but we cannot with propriety and with truth speak in that way of Christ and Christianity. For Christ al-ways is Christianity. All through the ages, go over the list or roll of them, all other religions have been founded and depend on an idea. But Christianity is founded upon a fact, the great fact of the incarnation God manifests in the flesh. And if we had before us here to-night the authorized symbols of all the great religions of the world, and I were asked to write on the document of Christianity a superscription that should state at once its distinctive feature, its distinctive characteristic, that which separates it from all other religions which the world has known, I would, without halt or hesitation, write these words: "Come unto me."
We hear it said today that it is enough justification to say that we hold fast to faith in Christ because the idea has given us a clearer vision of the truth. But that is only a difference of degree, chiefly an assumptive difference. We do not hold fast to the Christian faith to-day because of the compassion, of the ready helpfulness of Christ; Buddha had that, in measure. We do not hold fast to the Christian faith today because Christ taught the true God; Mohammed did that " the one and only true God" so that in these respects, we may say, there is chiefly a difference of degree. But when we hear that man who says these words in reality: "Come unto me "—there is a difference in kind. Because He alone could say these words, "Come unto me" and verify the invitation as a power of life and righteousness. He only could say, " Come unto me." He alone could say, without impropriety of pride, without the sacrilege of blasphemy: "He that hath seen me bath seen the Father. He and I are one."
This is the first and great truth, I say, that these words bring home to us, the entire difference between our blessed Master and His religion from that of all others in the world in their relation-ship to both. Will you bear an illustration?
You go out on a summer morning and you find, waving from the branches of some little bush, a complete spider web. The spider has woven it and some rude hand has destroyed the spider. But the web is there, complete in all its portions, independent of the very existence of the spider, the insect that fashioned it. Now that might represent to us, I think, very fairly, the relation-ship between the founders of other religions and the religions they founded, like Mohammed and the Koran. But do we wish an illustration that shall bring home completely and entirely the whole structure of Christianity, we may say, indeed, the personality of Jesus Christ? Suppose we take the prism and the spectrum. Take a piece of prismatic glass in your hands and allow the sun's rays to fall upon it, and watch the play of the spectrum; note the indigo, the green, the blue, the red, the orange, the yellow. Now take away the prism, and what becomes of the spectrum? It vanishes at once. Just so with all the distinctive principles of Christianity: they vanish at once if we take away the Divine personality of Jesus Christ.
But let me pass to the second thought that I have suggested: that we have here not only the revelation of the distinctive and great characteristic feature of Christianity in the personality of Jesus Christ, but we have here also the source and the secret and the power of practical righteousness. We all know life is a combat. We know how the dream has haunted men for ages, that in some way they might run off somewhere, into cells by the sea, into caves of the mountains, to get away from temptation; but alas, they could only vary the kind of temptation. There was no escape from temptation itself. And so what we need is power, power of will, power of heart, to enable us to fight successfully and victoriously.
Well, how shall the transformation be brought about, we ask?
By the mere knowledge or admiration of goodness, without the passion or desire to achieve it? Suppose we approach this by another question:
Why is it, we ask, that men go wrong and fail of righteousness? I think a partial answer, and I confess a very partial answer, is that very often they do not know what is the good and the true. And they take the wrong road, and they fall through ignorance, for they may not see clearly the way of righteousness just as those great ships crashed together in the Atlantic. Undoubtedly there are things of that kind; but just as undoubtedly and unfortunately, a great number of men go wrong, not for want of knowledge of the right and the true and the good, but for want of power, power of will and power of heart to do the good that they know and to follow the righteousness that they recognize.
Well, how shall they get it? How shall this transformation be brought about? Some would say more knowledge. We know the futility of that; that was the dream of the old philosophers and of many of to-day as well. The dictates of prudence, the judgments of reason, even the commands of conscience, these, none of these are executive. They are simply legislative. They lay down the law, but they do not give the power to fulfil the law. They are like the head light of a locomotive: it throws light upon the way, but it does not, and it cannot, draw the train. To get this power, then, there must be awakened in the heart not simply an admiration of goodness, but a love for it, a passion for it. Now, my friends, we cannot love goodness in the abstract. We may admire it, we may define it, we may defend it valiantly; but goodness must be embodied in the person in order to waken a real love and passion for it. Now right here we come upon a great characteristic secret, I might call it, that has counted for the innumerable triumphs of Christianity through the ages past and to-day: there is provided a way whereby the mere admiration of goodness, the mere knowledge of it and the truth, may be lifted up and transformed into a passion for the good and for the true. And this is done in the person of the Master. In loving Him we love all goodness. All goodness was embodied in Him, and for the first time in the world's history the heart of man could reverence a human personality, and in loving Him could love all by His goodness.
Do we see the practical conclusion to be drawn from this? I think I might state it in this way: When we love Jesus Christ, then all duty and all endeavor, all the stress and trials that we go through are not simply things that we do from the commands of conscience, or the judgments of reason, or the dictates of prudence. They are so many modes of showing the passion that is within us, our love for the great Master; so many modes of showing the love that we bear Him. For these dictates, these judgments, let me repeat, even these imperatives of conscience have no motive power of themselves. They have to be backed and enforced by such great sentiments as will create personal reverence, personal love, before they can become effective and triumphant powers. And this Christianity provides in the per-son of the great Master.
Take Him to your hearts and you will have the power of victory. In the teaching of the apostles, what is virtue? Do not run off into ethical distinctions; St. Paul tells us, "Put on Christ." And so it is, this Christian life, Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith. In a word, the whole Christian career is a discipleship, personal imitation; taking His love as an example, following His steps. And if we follow Him we shall verify it in our own personal experience; we shall have that evidence and that power that no man can give another, but that every man can get for himself. We shall verify in our own experience the truth of His great promise:
"He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life."
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[April 5, 1914.]
"Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well, for so I am."
St. John xiii: 13.
"Why makest thou us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly."
This was the cry of the Pharisees, of the Scribes, of the priests, and of the people: "Tell us plainly." But for three full years, during the whole of our Lord's public ministry, He had resolutely refused to make a public declaration of His kingship. But now, in this last week of His life, the time has arrived to make this claim; and so, with due formality of circumstance, He presents Himself to the chiefs of the Jewish people, to the people them-selves, to their scholars and religious leaders He presents Himself, not only as the greatest of benefactors, not only as a prophet of Divine truth; but as the Messiah, as the true King, the rightful and lawful king of men's hearts and minds and consciences.
Today, then, Palm Sunday, was the great crisis in the history of the Jewish people. It was the final scene in the long drama which they had been called upon to enact in the redemption of mankind. It was the final test. They were ready to receive Christ as a compassionate helper; they were at least measurably ready to receive Christ as a very engaging teacher; but here comes the test. Will they acknowledge Him as the absolute and supreme ruler of men's hearts and consciences and wills; the Divine Messiah?
My dear friends, it is important for us to remember that this test came not only to the Jewish people, but it comes to every man and every woman today. And so the church on this great test day, this great Palm Sunday, this day on which Christ publicly and formally proclaimed His absolute kingship over man-kind, the church today presents Christ not only as a compassionate benefactor, as the great moralist, as the supreme leader, not only as the profoundest of all theologians; but she presents Him as the King, as one who has the Divine authority to claim absolute allegiance from every heart and every will.
Now today, my friends, it is important that we should realize this, because we hear to-day, and read today, a great deal of advice in the way of "back to the Jesus of the Gospels"; "back to the Christianity of Christ." And undoubtedly the vast and patient industry of learned scholars has enabled you and me to-day to picture, to imagine the conditions, the physical conditions and circumstances and the details of our Lord's earthly life, so that that earthly life is perhaps far more present and significant to us to-day than it was a thousand years ago to those who had not the results of this patient scholarship. But let us not forget "back to the Jesus of the Gospels" "back to the Christianity of Christ," Let us not forget that it is not enough to know Jesus as, for instance, the theologians of Nazareth knew Him; it is not enough to know Jesus as the Pharisees, the Scribes, the publicans, and the priests knew Him; it is not enough to know Him as Lazarus and Mary and Martha knew Him; as Peter and James and John knew Him, before His resurrection from the dead, when they declared Him to be the Son of God. We must know Him better yet, we must know Him in this great claim that He makes to-day, to be the great King, the true Ruler of the spiritual realm of all mankind.
Now I say it is important, because you will find quite a number to-day who are ready to admire, and to express their admiration in the most appropriate language, for Christ as the benefactor. They love to dwell upon His infinite patience; they love to dwell upon His compassionate interest in and love for the poor and the lowly and the outcast, making Himself one of them, seeking a life of poverty and privation, living a life of the same kind Him-self. Well, a man may have that, but if he stops there he is simply a high kind of philanthropist; he is not a real follower and disciple of Christ.
Again, we find many today who are ready to praise, and do most eloquently set forth the marvellous teaching of Christ as a moralist. They point to how He took the chaos of a world of principles and unified them into the great principles of life. They point to how He taught men that not only in special acts which they call religious life, but in all their lives they might carry every single duty of the day, every little problem of the hour up and up until they make it a part of Divine service itself, giving a dignity and a majesty to even the minutest details of life. I might quote here several great authorities who stand apart from a full confession of Christ in their most laudatory terms, who are ready to give their praise and are ready to receive Christ as the great moralist, as He who set forth the great principle of life that should include all our duty and should inspire all our labors. But should they stop there?
Let us take Him as a great theologian. What, as a matter of fact, has been the result of man's unending speculation regarding the nature and purpose of the Divine plan? I think it no exaggeration to say that when men set about speculating on God's plan and purpose, alone and unaided by the presence of the Spirit and power of Christ, the chances are they will end in one or the other of two alternatives: either despair or indifference. Men have talked and have thought about God, and at last they have said: "Well, there may be a God, but one thing is sure: that everything in this world before us is just like the swing of a mighty pendulum."
"Into itself, out of itself; all that we see or know Swings like a mighty pendulum, or a ceaseless ebb and flow."
Or on the point of despair, men have come to think of God, as the result of their unaided speculation, as though He were a mere official of the universe, from whose dwelling on high He looks down and sees the struggles of mankind without any care or compassion for them, seeing them swept by the thousands in the temptest or the hurricane, or seeing them carried by the tens of thousands and overcome by the black waves of sin, or seeing them in their battles with various temptations in their individual lives; viewing it all with the careless eyes of a spectator.
But Christ taught us oh, how different.! He taught us the great truth of the Fatherhood of God, and therefore the universal brotherhood of man. Let us not forget that. I fancy Him putting His hand on the shoulder of one of His disciples: "Ye are brethren, and children of God."
And this statement bears application to all mankind. If we all are the children of God, then we all are brethren one of an-other. And that teaching of St. John was like a veritable echo of the teaching of the Master Himself: "If any man say he love God, or if any man love not his brother, whom He has seen, how can he" in the name of common sense, we may add "how can he love God, whom he has not seen?" You will remember how our Lord swept away once and forever that immortal view of religious narrowness, insincerity, and selfishness, on that memorable occasion when He taught those about Him in the temple:
"If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother has aught against thee, leave there thy gift upon the altar and first go and be reconciled with thy brother."
Duty to man put before duty to God.
Now, my friends, it is certainly something to accept Christ as a compassionate benefactor; it is certainly something to receive Christ as a supreme moralist, as the profoundest of theologians, who has taught us the real nature of the Father and of His unchanging and unconditioned and universal love for all men everywhere. But we must not stop there; we have not yet come to Palm Sunday's great significance. Christ must be accepted for more than that. He must be accepted as the absolute King, the Divine King of men's hearts and minds and wills.
Only, then, as we strive to realize in heart and in life, my friends, this great truth, that Jesus is more than a friend, He is more than an instructor: Jesus is the true and veritable King by Divine right. And unless and only as we yield absolute allegiance to Him as our King, do we become His true followers, His real disciples.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[April 12, 1914]
It is written: "Christ is risen."
In the name of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us, and who to-day is risen again to be the light of all men, in His name I extend to you one and all the greetings of this glad, great day. To all communicants present, to all non-communicants present; to all parishioners present, to all parishioners absent; to the old and to the young; to one and all, I say, I extend the greetings of this glad, great day. The greetings of Him who has loved us with an everlasting love, whose love goes forth to all men everywhere, just as the sunlight falls on the world.
We should dwell upon this, I think, to-day, because this is the great day of the Christian year. It is the day, we may say, which gives significance to all other days throughout the Christian year. For we commemorate today, my friends, the most momentous event, miracle, if you please to call it the most momentous event in the history of the world. We commemorate to-day an event: the resurrection from the dead, the conquering of death by Jesus Christ. We commemorate to-day the event which gives significance and credibility and power to all the other reported miracles of the Gospel. Indeed, we can only grasp their meaning, their significance aright as we hold fast to the great truth of to-day: that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and that, being risen from the dead, He dieth no more; that the man Christ Jesus has conquered death, and verified that wonderful saying:
"For as by man came death" not by an angel "for as by man came death, so" not simply by a Divinity "so by man came the resurrection from the dead."
We need to recognize, my friends, that this is really the basis of our Christian faith and our Christian hope. You turn to St. Paul's epistle to the Corinthians, and see how fearlessly he puts it; there is no equivocation or uncertainty in the accent with which he pronounces these words: "If Christ be not risen, our preaching is vain." The Greek word here translated "vain" means "without foundation" "baseless" "has no meaning." If Christ be not risen, our preaching is indeed vain, our faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Observe that he does not base the real fabric of Christianity upon the immaculate conception, for as a matter of fact we know that is incapable of historic proof. He does not base it upon the Crucifixion; for, apart from the great event of to-day, apart from the great significance and underlying truth of today, viz., that the eternal Son of God conquered death, Jesus' crucifixion was but one of a myriad of in-stances of good men who have given their lives for the truth. Nor does he base it upon the immortality of the soul : something more than that. Something more than that; because the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is not exclusively the discovery and support of Christianity. I think it very idle and unwise for persons to-day to attempt to dispute the fact or to attempt to ignore the prophecies and conceptions of the world apart from Christianity with regard to the reality of the future life. As a matter of fact, we know that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul was a commonplace among the greater and better philosophers even before Christ's time. It is not upon that alone, it is not simply to the immortality of the soul that the church bears her great witness to-day. It is a broader truth; it is the immortality of the man. For the body as well as the soul came out of the grave; He took not simply an eternal, immortal soul, but He took with Him an immortal body as well.
Now, I say, I think we ought to bear this in mind. Let us grasp it firmly and hold it fixedly, in the midst of the cries and debates that we hear to-day; let us hold fast to the great truth that to-day we celebrate the immortality of the entire manhood. The rising of Christ signifies for us not simply the survival of the soul, but the survival of the entire man. St. Paul bases it, not upon the thought of the resurrection; he says: "Thou art not the body that shall be. . . . God giveth it a new body, as it hath pleased Him."
I cannot stop to dwell this morning upon the fact, interesting as it is, that to-day Science and the Church are coming right together on this great point. I do not mean to say that leading scientists are willing to say, "Yes, there is an eternal life "—but I do say, without fear of contradiction, that every reputable scientist will say that if there is an eternal life for man, it must include not only his soul, but a body as well. In the view of science, man is not simply a soul, but is a soul wholly embodied; the body with the soul.
So today, my friends, standing by the empty sepulchre, with all pity of entreaty for the indifferent and the defiant; with all compassion of encouragement for the doubting and hesitating; with tender sympathy for the bereaved, we bid you, in the word of the Sacred Book: Lift up your hearts; recognize in Jesus Christ not simply a friend and a brother, not simply a person whom to know is respectable and good, but One whose heart goes out toward all men and all women everywhere. In the embrace of the infinite arm of His love there is none left out. To-day we rejoice that we are sons of the one Father, that we are brothers, all of us, of the one Christ.
So today, standing by the empty sepulchre, the church witnesses this great truth: that the entire manhood has received eternal life, body and soul; and that the promise of eternal life is not simply a promise, eternal life is not simply a prophecy, eternal life is not simply a hope; but in the words of Jesus Christ:
"He that believeth on Me" just think of that, my friends " He that believeth on Me " do you think I am going to say, Will have eternal life? Listen: "He that believeth on Me, HATH eternal life."
Eternal life, in the midst of time, under the eye and by the strength of God.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[May 10, 1914]
"If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change come." Job. xiv: 14.
If a man die, shall he live again? That certainly is a question, we may say, of universal interest; and yet when we come to regard it, at least at first view, it seems quite a remarkable question to ask, "If a man die, shall he Iive again?" It is a much more remarkable question than to ask, "Is there a God?" because everywhere in the empire of the universe the very fact of the existence of the natural world is in itself, we may say, sufficient to prompt that question, "Is there a God?" But to the ordinary view, in spite of the fact that death seems so final, the fact that death seems the end of everything--Nature herself, as we look abroad upon her, seems to make her answer, No, No yet in spite of these facts, I say, in spite of the fact that Nature seems simply to bear proof of mortality, in spite of the fact that human experience knows nothing more as regards death than mortality, yet, as a matter of fact, we know that humanity has always argued, with an incessant, persistent longing and desire, for a life after death. Therefore, we find in every age of which we have any record that men have never brought themselves to look upon death as simply the end. For there is a something, a solemnity, a fearsomeness, that seems to invest the very thought and the very fact of death.
Now, what a contrast this is to the death of any creature of the underworld. You take any animal, wild or domestic: some day there comes over that animal a sense of failing strength, a feeling of excessive feebleness and drowsiness. Perhaps it wonders why it feels so sleepy early in the day; but there is no other thought, and it lies down to rest and passes into the realm of death, with no premonition that when the morning wakens it will not awaken with it.
But how different it is, I say. We have only to consult the history of mankind of any period of which we have any record whatever, to find that there is this almost fierce, inextinguishable longing and desire for a life after death. Even the savage, in his rudest and most elementary forms of imagination and picturing, has his "happy hunting grounds."
Now in a recent conversation there was brought up the question: Do you not think that the advance of science and the profoundest philosophy of the day has practically forced us, if we will but admit it, to give "No" as the answer to Job's question? Or, do you not think that most thinking people are ready to take their chances, as it were, from their own observation, that he who cherishes a longing for a future life has failed to recognize the fullness and to improve the opportunities that are afforded in this life?
I shall only be able to make a very brief argument, for the subject of the future life is far too vast to be presented, even partially, in one discourse. But I would select this morning for our meditation, in answer to just such a negation as we have here, I would select simply two points. I would show that the moral and rational nature of man makes it probable that there is a life after death, and that the Gospel as declared by Jesus Christ, for him who accepts it, raises the probable belief to the pitch of certitude. There is an absolute which must underlie all argument, and that is the rationality of the universe. Or, in other words, there is a Divine and reasoning order permeating the whole universe, and thereby the intention of all things is particularly appointed. Or, in other words again, the nature of any creature, man or beast below him, is the destiny of such a creature, and is prophesied by his very make-up, by his physical make-up. Now, no one doubts this as regards the physical organization. There is the fish in the sea; we see at once its destiny is prophesied from its very physical make-up, that it is for the water. You take the bird with its wings; there, we see, we have the prophecy of a double empire for that creature from its physical organization. It can easily maintain itself both on the earth with its feet and in the free air with its wings. Now the very same principle applies, I say, that the nature of any being in a deep sense constitutes and prophesies its destiny. We see this is true when we come to observe the spiritual nature of man, for when we study man's spiritual nature, we discover there are in him faculties, sentiments, and ideals which prophesy a larger and a more enduring life than that which seems to end with the grave. It is a well-known fact that all the creatures below man complete, perfect, or round out their development in this world. Take the beast, or the flower of the field: eternity itself, we may say, could add nothing in the way of furthering its perfection. But how different with the mind of a man. The more he knows, the more he knows there is to know; and his very hunger grows with each bit he acquires. How different, again, from the physical body. It demands nourishment, we supply it; but with our minds there is an incessant craving for more knowledge and more knowledge and more knowledge. And this is not something exceptional; for it is the very make-up, we may say, of every man.
So we have here, in accordance with the rationality of the universe, a distinct craving which does not meet its full fruition here in this life. And if the mind of man must be fully satisfied with its outlook, its knowledge, its yearnings, its ideals that appear to end with the grave, we may stand and say at once, with the certitude of conviction, that the God who created man and framed his mind did not act rationally to provide such a destiny as that. If you should see a man building a house, with the windows left out, with no roof, and perhaps only a few boards here and there, and then start another house and build it in the same way, and then another, and never finishing any of the many houses he began, why, you would say such a man is not acting rationally. Just so, we may say, with him who would claim that this life of ours fulfils the whole of destiny for man; for such a statement is contradicting the rationality of the universe, and at the same time proclaiming, just as in the case of the man who left his houses unfinished, that the very presiding Deity of the universe, the creator and framer of man's mind, with its ideals, its sentiments, its desire for perfection, is not acting rationally.
So, then, in accordance with the great truth of the rationality of the universe, there is a distinct order providing, requiring man to go on perfecting himself. We see this is a great argument for the life after death. And more than that: for when we consider man's moral nature, there comes in another part of the great argument. Now, my friends, there is one imperative, one duty, that lies below all other duty, and that is the duty of perfecting our spiritual nature. When Christ said, "Be ye also perfect," that was not the poetry of pious aspiration merely; it was the setting forth of the universal and inevitable law of the perpetual imperative that presages the moral nature of man, so that he must go on and on to perfection. "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect."
Of course, this cannot be accomplished within the circuit of time. It can only be accomplished by a perpetual and endless process, so that eternity itself must provide room wherein man can go on and on perfecting his love, the love of his heart, the powers of his mind, the strength of his will for overcoming evil and carrying out that which is good and that which is righteous.
I pass to the last stage. I have said that man's moral and rational nature makes necessary the reality of the future life; indeed, it becomes one great probability. And more than that, for we find that the moral nature of man makes it a necessity also; for not only do we find that it is a moral law that man should go on nearing and ever nearing perfection, but the moral nature of man demands it.
Some people have said that it seems a little strange that a certain book should have been included in the Bible. It was the last book to be given a place in the Canonical Old Testament. It is the boldest book, in its utterances, in the whole Bible. But for my part I rejoice in this Book of Ecclesiastes; for it sets be-fore us without doubt or uncertainty in its utterances the real facts that confront us in life. Take such a passage as this:
"All things come alike to all. As is the righteous, so is the wicked. As is he that sweareth, so is he that feareth an oath."
You may find the picturing bold in some of its utterances, but Ecclesiastes lays bare the great fact of the existence of a governing Providence in this world; and that book was put in the Bible, I sincerely believe, just to bring forcibly before us the great truth that this life is not all, that the program of Divine Providence cannot be circumscribed within the limits of time and the grave, that it must reach out into eternity before the great plan is complete.
Therefore, I say, man's moral nature demands that there should be a hereafter, that there should be provision made, an adjustment of the Divine procedure for these things which cannot be circumscribed within the limits of time, but must take in eternity itself.
So much, we may say, of the argument may be adduced from the rationality of the universe and from the moral nature of man. But we have something else, and to my mind it is by far the greatest of all arguments. That is the Gospel, the great central truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And what is it? , It is above all, and before all, the great declaration that this Gospel is the call of a loving Father, a call not restricted to this person or that person, but going out toward all men, as the light of the sun floods the earth. Now can you imagine God making a world and creating man, and can you imagine God saying, "I shall love him for a little while, while this mortal life lasts?" Oh, we know that cannot be. . . . We know that when God calls us, He calls us to a true destiny that shall not endure for a while, during these few mortal years, but in the life that shall grow and expand throughout eternity itself. What a wonderful thought. . . . And just as when one speaks of motion, one necessarily implies space, so when one speaks of life, the higher life, the life of God in Christ, he implies thereby, just as motion implies space, so such a life implies eternity.
We see, then, that not only the moral and rational nature of man makes probable, but our very make-up makes probable the existence of our souls in another life, and that the conviction of the Providence of God in righteousness and truth makes morally necessary that there should be that after-life.
But above all and before all, I assert, that love which Christ taught, coming down from the Father and going out from our hearts to Him, that itself is the greatest of all proofs that life does not end with the grave.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[May 24, 1914]
"And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them and carried up into heaven." St. Luke xxiv:51.
The thoughtful and reflecting reader of the Gospel record of the ascension cannot but be deeply impressed with our Lord's thoughtfulness, His positive tenderness toward His disciples, as evidenced by the way in which He suppresses all manifestations of His glory and of His majesty during those last hours of companionship. The very circumstances, in the time, in the place of the ascension, the very manner of His intercourse with them, all approach as nearly as possible the simple level of human fellowship and affection. There were no heavenly apparitions to distract or affright the little band; He was there standing amid them, as their friend and their fellow. In His last words there was nothing to render them, as it were, removed from Him, as He was about to assume the glory that was to be His eternally. Beautifully, l say, and tenderly, he suppresses all manifestations of His majesty and simply disappears from them in the act of blessing them.
Now when we reflect, my friends, that He who departed thus, He who had absolute command of all the circumstances and the details of His departure, might have commanded a fiery chariot, like that which in ages past had taken Elijah, to be the mode of His departure; He might have been accompanied with files of gleaming angels, which would have filled all those about Him with awe. But how different: quietly, gently, He disappears from them in the act of blessing and of benediction.
I have spoken of the time; that also is very characteristic of this intervention of our Lord's to keep the disciples close to Him in human fellowship until actually removed from them. The place, as we will learn from the Scripture record, was in that wild spot on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, in the plain of Bethany. He might have selected Jerusalem, He might have chosen some one of those great positions where the people would assemble by the thousands to behold His glory and His triumph. Instead, He went with His disciples to this wild and lonely spot, not far from the village of Bethany; and a most fitting place it was. There were no spectators, only the little company of followers about Him. His ascension took place from the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives; and right down at the foot of the western slope was the grim Gethsemane. The same mountain that had witnessed the depth of His agony in Gethsemane should also witness the glory and the triumph of His ascension Also, the time of His ascension. He did not choose the glamour of midday, when there might have been thousands passing nearby on the road to the city, nor yet some hour when crowds would naturally have gathered there; but He chooses this silent hour. Tradition places the ascension just about daybreak. In imagination, my friends, I love to try to picture that scene. There is Christ on the eastern slope of the mountain, with the little band about Him; and right across the valley there is the great city that had rejected Him, the city of Jerusalem . . . the glimmer of lights about the temple; the stillness through the city streets, and about the tower of Antonio. And perhaps the ear could catch, through the stillness, the clanking of the soldiers in their armor. And the daybreak grew on the mountain, and about the tower of Antonio. . . . Pilate was sleeping, doubtless; Caiaphus was sleeping, doubtless; Herod was sleeping, doubtless; and the final scene of the greatest drama in all the course of time was enacted while the world was wrapped in slumber. But no word escaped the Blessed Master of reproach or denunciation. He did not say, "Now is my hour of triumph, and those who have been my enemies may now behold me in my glory." There was no thought of Pilate, who was afraid to do the right thing; the awful tragedy of the cross, the howling, jeering mob, intent upon His life; Herod and his terrible soldiers, all seemed to be forgotten. His only thought and His last word is that of forgiveness and compassion. No word of reproach was uttered, and in this last moment He extends His hands in benediction and opens His lips only to bless. There is a slow movement, a motion upward . . . there is a gradual lessening of His form from the vision of the disciples; until at last the clouds open and receive Him from their sight.
Is it not a beautiful thought, my dear friends, that He who could have commanded all the circumstances of His departure should have chosen this attitude of benediction and of blessing, so that mortal vision should see for the last time the great Saviour of mankind, not as some one extending his hands in condemnation or reproach, but as a loving friend, extending his hands in benediction? And I love to think that as the Master rose from the earth, the shadow of His hands in blessing first covered only the little band about Him, and as He rose higher and higher, the shadow of those hands extended over the earth, grew and covered the whole earth. There is a beautiful thought: He came not only to die for the salvation of the world . . . but that He might gather all in the embrace of His love and His forgiveness.
And those hands are extended still, my friends. I have often thought that this ought to be called the Gospel of the Ascension; those outstretched hands of Christ in His departure from this earth. We should always, each and every one of us, keep that picture in mind, keep that vision in our heart of hearts: the de-parting Saviour. Notwithstanding all that He had suffered of agony and sorrow and humility, He vanishes and passes from this world in the act of blessing, and that is the attitude He shows to human hearts throughout the ages. He says to all men every-where, whether they have formally confessed Christ or not, "I entreat you, look up, behold the ascending Saviour, and realize that the benediction of those hands is for you, if you will but open your hearts and receive it." The blessing that He confers is not a reward or recompense; but indeed it is freely given to all who are willing to have His blessing rest upon them. A beautiful thought, I say, the Gospel of the Ascension; the universality of Christ's love and forgiveness and compassion.
And so I say to each and every one, "Lift up your hearts." Conscience may accuse; friends may fail; fortune may pass away; and the world forsake you; but keep in your hearts the vision of the ascending Christ. There is a friend, an efficient helper, the great need of those who are discouraged and disillusioned; and I beseech you, and all men, I beseech you, lift up your hearts, and behold the vision of Him who left the world in the act of blessing and benediction.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[May 31, 1914]
"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him." St. Luke xi: 13.
Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Whitsunday are the first four of the greater festivals of the year. Now undoubtedly, regarded in themselves as definite events, they are of equal importance; Christmas, celebrating the birth; Easter, the resurrection; and Ascension, ascending to the glory that was His before the world began. But as respects ourselves, my friends, undoubtedly the great event we commemorate today is more spiritually important; because the event which we commemorate to-day, the descent and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, makes vitally significant all the work of the Redeemer for us. It is indeed the crowning consummation of the Divine program of redemption. Apart from this, we may say, all the work of Christ stands away from us. It is the descent and indwelling of the Holy Spirit that brings that work home to us, His teachings, His miracles, and makes them a part of our lives.
Briefly, then, let me say, we commemorate today God's greatest gift in His scheme of redemption for man, and that it was most necessary for the efficacy of our Blessed Lord's work as the Redeemer of mankind. Now I think we may confess, my friends, that we are very apt to think of the event celebrated on Whitsunday as something more remote, something removed and apart from us, more so than the event of the birth of Christ, or His resurrection from the grave, or His ascension, even; we are apt to think that perhaps it is less practically important, or less closely related to us than these other events. We should bear in mind that it is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the descent and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that is the vital bond of connection between the whole work of Christ and the hearts and souls of men. It is the descent and indwelling of the Holy Spirit that makes efficacious the teaching and the miracles and all the work of Jesus Christ, that makes us one body with Him. We read these words that occur so often in the New Testament, that "our lives are hid with Christ in God," without realizing that, in a general sense, it is on just that contention, we may say, that our redemption by the sacrifice of Christ really depends. It makes His sacrifice not something remote and apart from us, but something in us. He becomes one with us and we one with Him. Just as the life of the body makes all the members of the body one, just so the life of the Spirit, that is the Spirit of Christ, dwelling in us, makes us one with him, and, as St. Paul says, "Christ, the head of the body; this church, His body."
It is most essential, then, for bringing home to us and making real Christ's great redemptive work. But in addition to that, we may say, the great event we commemorate today, the descent and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is absolutely essential for us if we would lead a Christian life. Now it is not truth, it is not ideals, it is not teaching, it is not merely example, that can make us better Christians. We have a proof of that set before us most strikingly in the case of the disciples themselves. They were those who were most familiar with the Master, they were with Him day after day, they witnessed His acts and heard His declarations continually; and yet what condition were they in before Pentecost, before the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them? What a still more striking example is shown in the case of St. Peter. He had been with Christ from the beginning, he had heard all the parables, he had witnessed the miracles, he had been taught the Lord's prayer from the lips of the Master Himself, he had been selected to be one of the three witnesses of that marvellous and impressive instance of our Lord's transfiguration, and yet, for all this constant teaching and example of truth and the doctrine, what was he before Pentecost? He was a man who could deny his Lord three times upon the very last night of His life, and confirm his last denial with an oath. Something more was needed: the great event of the Pentecost, we may say, the descent and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which should mould and shape and build up the heart and character of St. Peter, and all others who would be followers of Christ.
I think it is exceedingly important that we realize this: that underlying all the truth and teaching in the New Testament there must be the living power of the Spirit; so that we are perfectly justified in saying that Christianity is not a program of doctrine, no matter how true; nor a code of ethics, no matter how searching and exacting. It is something more: it is a power of life and righteousness.
So we are not to think of Whitsunday as something of small interest as compared with the great events of Christmas and Easter and Ascension. It is that which underlies those events and makes them something more than interesting events for us, which brings them home to us and makes them a part of our life and heart and character.
I would just add one further word, and that is, that this great gift of God is a gift always and everywhere available; it is obtainable for each and every soul that will honestly and earnestly desire it. Is not that a wonderful statement? We would not dare to make it were it not that we know it to be the explicit declaration of our Lord Himself. "He that seeketh findeth; he that asketh receiveth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." Wonderful words, this declaration, and when it is given us so strikingly in the text, there is an argument: "If this be true, this is much more true." So we read, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him."
Now we know, my friends, that all the blessings of life are gifts of God. We know that we may pray for them; we know that we may constantly ask for them and work for them, and always hoping. . . . And yet, it may be, we ofttimes fail of attainment, most probably because, in our individual condition, the granting of our prayer would not be best for us. But we are al-ways safe, we are always, sure, in asking for this gift, this great gift of the Holy Spirit. We are always safe, I say, because it is the great design of God that all should have the gift of the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. We are sure, because of the words of the text:
"If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him."
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[November 1, 1914.]
"Other men labored, and ye are entered into their labors."
St. John iv:38.
Today we commemorate the Festival of All Saints. Uncertainty, it must be admitted, exists with regard to the time, the place, and the circumstances of the first institution of this great festival. Ecclesiastical antiquaries have ever debated about these points, but there is one feature of this great festival that is beyond debate; there can be no possibility of debate with regard to the importance, the beauty, and justice of this great festival.
For this festival commemorates all who have lived a faithful life, all who have fought the good fight of faith. We have many names registered in our calendar: Saint Thomas, Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and many others throughout the year, but in this great festival we especially commemorate the nameless dead, that great innumerable company who lived and loved and la-bored and passed to their rest generations gone by. And in our own time there have been many whose names, in most cases, are secrets with God, who have left the fruits of their works as a blessing for us.
In this great spiritual festival, then, in the spiritual sphere, we may say, the church actually anticipates the great doctrine of conservation of energy in the physical world. We know that scientists teach us to-day that absolutely no degree of energy, no matter how minute or insignificant, is lost in nature. Not only the giant energies of the earthquake, of the volcano, of the great fires and floods, not only do great deeds make their mark on the face of nature, so to speak, but the dropping of the leaves, a spar-row's fall, the waving of an infant's hand, every one of these is just as truly and as surely registered forevermore on the physical make-up, the storehouse of the universe. And just so in the spiritual sphere: not only the great names and the familiar names of the apostles and the prophets, the martyrs and the great religious leaders whose names reverberate throughout the ages; not only these have left us something, not only do we enjoy some-what from their lives and their labors, but there has not been an inconspicuous and quiet servant of God who has spoken a kind word, who has lent a helping hand, that has not been counted; there is no degree of sympathy or fairness or courage in humanity that has been overlooked. The noble patience of fortitude, the noble passion of justice, these, as well as faith and hope and charity, these are what? They go to make up the light and the life and the temperature of this world in which we live to-day; we cannot conceive of what a condition this world would have been in had there been only those lives for God whose names we know. It is the great army, the great nameless army of the saints of God that has contributed perhaps the greater portion of the good that goes to make up, as I have said, the light and the life and the spiritual temperature of the world to-day.
It strikes me that there is a beautiful analogy between this and the physical world. Science tells us that fully three fourths of the light and the heat which make life possible for this earth come from the nameless stars, and a great many of them actually undiscovered by the naked eye. Not only the great stars whose names we know, not only the great sun that floods with light what we call our day; but if that were all, this earth would not be habitable. It is these nameless and numberless stars that create that temperature, along with the sun, that make life here possible. And just so it is, my friends, in the moral and religious sphere in this world. Just like those unknown and nameless stars that give their light and their heat to make the earth habitable, so it is with the thousands and hundreds of thousands of those who have fought the good fight of faith, who have been faithful to Christ, and passed to their reward; they have labored, and we have entered into their labors.
I love to think of this festival also as the festival of the living Christ. To-day we bring home to our hearts especially the great truth that the Blessed Lord and Saviour that we love and trust is not only the one who was dead and risen again long ago, but that He is the living Christ to-day. For we know that Christ lives in His saints, in the lives of those who follow and serve Him and who seek to do His will, that is Christ in them. So this festival, as it has been beautifully called, is the Festival of the Fifth Gospel. There are the four Gospels, bound up, and no man can add thereto, or take therefrom, in the sacred Word of God; but there is just as really a fifth Gospel, that has been centuries in the writing and is not completed yet and will not be until the last of God's creatures is redeemed and gathered home. Be-cause the lives of the saints, the record that we have of them, is the record of the life of Christ dwelling in the hearts of His saints. That is what St. Paul says, "Nevertheless, I live" then he corrects himself "yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."
So today, throughout the world, the living Christ is doing His work by and through His living saints; through the lips of the faithful He is speaking just as really as when He spoke His words of benediction and comfort. To-day by the hands of the faithful He is extending help and courage; He is clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, just as really as in the ages past. He is going about by their feet on His errands of mercy and benefaction just as really as in the days long, long gone by. The Christ, not only of the past, but the Christ who lives to-day, who lives for those who trust in Him and seek to follow Him. Christ is our light and our life. We live, yet not we, but Christ liveth in us.
( Originally Published 1914 )
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