Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse Part 3
[November 8, 1914]
"Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some." Hebrews x:25.
"Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father." St. Matthew x:32.
That Jesus Christ came to earth to teach the truth with regard to the character and purposes of God the Father, and with regard to the duties and destinies of man, and to illustrate that teaching by His own life and labors, is a fact so clear that no candid mind can dispute its presence and its teaching in the Gospel record. But there is another truth equally clear in the record, which men, whether they doubt or dispute it or not, must either accept or ignore. And that great truth equally revealed, I say, is that Christ came to earth not only to teach the truth to men individually and to call them to live and labor in His cause, but that He came to found a great commonwealth, a great society, a great brotherhood, that should embody His spirit and carry on His work.
Now, I say, that is the second truth, that it was an essential part of God's plan, of Christ's plan, that there should be made the Kingdom of God upon earth, that the church which He should found should be the means and the instrumentality through which His blessing should come to men. Now there are a great many who are ready to acknowledge Christ as a great teacher and as a great exemplar; we could not find more striking commendation of His character and example than we have in some men who are classed not only as unbelievers but as practically atheists. But whatever changes of belief or skepticism the future may develop, one thing is certain: the character of Jesus Christ will never be surpassed.
But I want to insist this morning upon this second truth, that Christ came not only as a teacher individually to men, but that He came to found a society by and through which He should find a special channel for His grace and for the furtherance of His kingdom here in this world. Now let me note that here is a contrast in Christ's teaching with that of others. There were religious reformers and founders before Christ; there were moral and religious philosophers before Christ; but they never, in any instance, made it a point to seek to establish a society, a community, by and through which the special furtherance of their work should be carried on. But Christ did. And we see how history has justified the Master's choice; because while there have been many agencies and all sorts of religious societies established in the world, it is certainly perfectly within reason and beyond de-bate to say that no institution in the world has so labored and acted so effectively toward the rescue and the help of men, re-deeming them from sin and from shame and from the misery of defeat, as has this church, this commonwealth, this great society which Christ established. Why, then, does not everybody take part in this society? Alas, we know they do not; and we know that in every community there are scores of men and women who practically make the teaching of Christ and His example in very large measure the normal standard of their private lives., and yet they refuse to publicly confess Him, they refuse to publicly be-come members of the great commonwealth that He has established, and to recognize Him as the King of that commonwealth. He is not only the teacher and exemplar, but He is the King of a kingdom here in this world. I wish I could press that home; be-cause I think it is within the experience of every rector. We meet so many who are men and women of reputable, admirable lives, and although they go to church occasionally, they do not seem to realize that this is Christ's plan, that it was not only to address men individually, but in the great kingdom, the commonwealth by and through which, as the special channel of His grace, the work of the world's redemption and uplift should be carried on.
Now when we approach a person of this kind, who has been apart from the church, we get an answer somewhat like this: "Well, in my private life, in my conduct, in the principles which preside over my life, I think I cling pretty close to the teaching of Jesus Christ, since I recognize him as the Master, and in my conduct and individual life appear to be a real Christian. If I cannot be known by my life as a Christian, then I do not wish to be known as a Christian simply by the label of some church membership. I am a Christian because my life declares it; I do not have to go out and shout it. I say to any person, read my life, look at my conduct, show me where I depart from the spirit and the teaching of Jesus Christ, and I will be willing, perhaps, to come to a different conclusion. But you must show me that first."
Well, we might say to such a one, "My dear friend, suppose that you could get along without the church; suppose that you could carry on your life and your conduct in a small way apart from the plan which Christ has laid down, are you thinking of your brother? No man is saved solely for himself; every man is saved that he may help to save some other person." And so we have here the great community spirit. I would say to such a man, "Do not take upon yourself the language of Cain and say, Am I my brother's keeper? I have all I can do to take care of myself. Not so; you cannot take care of yourself unless you are in some solid, some real and sincere measure helping to take care of some less fortunate brother than yourself."
But sometimes another excuse is made. Here is one, for in-stance, who will say, "No, I do not attend church. I think I may say that I am willing to profess Christ, but I do not care to go into a church and profess Christ in the manner they require. I am content with the simple profession of Christ, but they have their conditions of membership. They take not only the facts of the Gospel alone, but they add their own theories about those facts, and they combine them into conditions of acceptance into the church."
Now in this, my friends, there has undoubtedly been an error on the part of the church. I think all the churches, Episcopal, Baptist, the Methodist, the Roman Catholic, all of them have in the past, and some indeed in the present, largely made this mistake of putting their theories about the Gospel facts along with those facts into the conditions of membership. Now this should not be; but of all the churches, I think I am free to say that ours has sinned the least in this respect. How many of us have recognized that in order to enter into the full privileges of the Episcopal Church there has been only the condition of belief, the question, "Do you believe all the articles of the Christian faith as contained in the Apostles' Creed? " That is the only question the Bishop dare ask you, for ours is a constitutional church and he cannot go beyond the order of the Prayer Book, any more than I can. Our church only requires the simple assent to and belief in the great facts as stated in the shortest, briefest, and clearest of the Creeds, the Apostles' Creed.
Again, we find still other excuses, for instance: "Well, I do not see that I would gain much by entering into the formal member-ship of the church. A man I know has criticised some of the members of a certain church, and it doesn't seem to me that they have been greatly benefited." And again we might answer, "My dear friend, you cannot judge your case by another man's case. It is your duty and my duty to fulfill the Lord's command to adopt the plan which He Himself has laid down, And to wait for the invasion of Christ's spirit to enable us to lead the proper life that we should lead."
Of course I might give many other excuses that people some-times give for not becoming members of the church. For Christ not only wishes inner faith; that is all right as far as it goes, but He wishes also the outward and public profession of that faith. He not only wishes downright and personal allegiance to Him, but He wants that allegiance to be publicly avowed, so that it may be known to others.
So the call, the command, comes to each and every one, for the religion of Jesus Christ is not a specialized profession. We know there are a great many other professions in life that we do not have to trouble ourselves about, where we can leave our affairs in the care of others. I may say to my lawyer, "Look after this business for me"; and to my doctor, "Take care of my personal health, my bodily health." But you and I cannot make any such disposition of our spiritual welfare. We have to go into the church and do the work of the commonwealth of the church. We cannot delegate that to another.
Well, then, we may say to those who stand apart from the church, "Suppose the church is not what it ought to be; suppose you complain that it has fallen into the care of narrow-minded men, men milliners, if you please, theological doctrinaires. My friend, the responsibility rests upon you in a deep sense, just as really as upon those in the church, that you should come into the church and give your help to Christ's plan for the redemption and rescue of the world. Do not simply stand outside and make criticism of those who are within the church. If it is not what it ought to be, come in, I say, and by your fellowship, by your sound heart, and by your high-minded judgment of what life ought to be, come in, and help make it what it ought to be. You need the church and the church needs you, and indeed needs all who will come, with kindly hearts and with open hearts and receive Christ's message of grace and power."
Let us realize that we are not simply to so live and conduct ourselves in the moral life that we will escape any penalties of the future; but we must so live and labor in this life that all shall do their measure and their share in helping to lift this world into the Kingdom of God.
My friends, I am pleased to see so many here to-day, and I hope that this will be simply the beginning of better things, so far as church membership is concerned. I know it is practically impossible for all to be at church every day. But I wish we could realize this second great truth, as I have said, that Christ was not only a teacher, but the founder of a society, the Kingdom of God and His Church, and that He expects and desires and commands that those who would serve Him acceptably should do His work effectively in this world; come within the church and make it known, thereby confessing Him before men, that He Himself, in that last great day, may publicly confess them before the Father in Heaven.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[November 15, 1914.]
"If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak of myself." St. John vii:17.
Undoubtedly, nothing can be of higher moment to each and every one than the attainment of a solid assurance, a living conviction, of the truth of Christ's claims and Christ's teachings, and therefore this clear deliverance of our Lord as to the one sure way in which that conviction may be reached is certainly a deliverance that is precious and important. Our Lord here sets before us a practical rule, something that is not only to be thought about, to bring home to us this conviction, but something that is to be done; and I wish to call attention this morning briefly to three assumptions which underlie this practical rule which He has given us.
"If any man willeth to do the will of God, he shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself." The first assumption here, which must readily suggest itself to every one, is that our Lord here assumes that every one has a be-lief in the existence of God, however dim and indeterminate that belief may be with regard to the character and requirements of God. Christ assumes that every one has a belief in God. He does not assume that every one has a belief in Himself, for in the fourteenth chapter of this same Gospel, He makes the distinction, in His declaration, "Ye believe in God--you cannot help it, however far you may be away from following in a practical way what should be the real consequences of that belief, you cannot escape the belief itself ye believe in God " then comes the requirement "believe also in Me." So that the rule here laid down is not one to bring us to a belief in the existence of God simply as the creator, the framer of all things and the upholder of all things, but it is a plan whereby we are to be brought to a recognition of the truth and of the claims and the teachings of Jesus Christ as the authorized revealer of God, not simply as the creator, but as the Heavenly Father, as the God of forgiveness and the God of love.
So I say the first assumption that underlies this rule is that every one believes in God. But, it may be asked by some one, does not that leave out a very important factor? How about the atheist, who is ready to assert with great emphasis that he has studied the problem, and that there is no great Oversoul, no great God; so far as he can see, it is simply a case of
"Into itself, out of itself, all that we see or know Swings like a mighty pendulum, or a ceaseless ebb and flow."
Now Christ, in His assumption here, has not forgotten the atheist, for we must recognize, my friends, that rational, practical atheism, logical atheism, is simply impossible. The man who sets out to frame an argument against the existence of God must do what? He must first of all assume the existence of a God, in order that he can havé any degree whatever of guarantee for the reality of his premises, and the reality of the rationality of the process by which he reasons. I think the observation of a foreign writer is very much in point right here, that the man who attempts logically to deny the existence of God is like the man who sets forth to argue against the existence of the atmosphere. He maintains there is no such thing as atmosphere, although science may lead us to think there is, but he asserts with absolute positiveness that there is no such thing; and at the same time his possibility of speaking is due to the fact that he is breathing that atmosphere. And just so with the atheist.
This is the assumption, I say, that every man has within him, however dim and indistinct, the knowledge of the reality of the great creator and framer of all things, the upholder of all things. That is the first assumption.
The second assumption which underlies this practical rule He has given us for attaining the conviction of the reality of His teaching and His claims, the second is that He assumes that every man has a belief in some things that he recognizes to be in line with Christ's will and as expressing God's will. He has distinct names for them: right, truthfulness, a forgiving spirit, unselfishness, justice, mercy; these things he recognizes and as being in line with the Divine will and as expressing that will. Therefore, the man who will set himself to work to realize these things in his life and conduct, that man is in line with the way in which Christ says the result will come which will make him a firm believer, a real believer in Christ's teachings and in His claims.
Now we recognize these things you see we are beginning very low down. Christ does not assume that a man can go forth and say to men, "You must believe the claims and teachings of Jesus Christ to be the will of God, and begin that way and then become a Christian." For such reasoning as that is like walking around in a circle with a very narrow diameter, inasmuch as it is simply asking a man to be a Christian first in order that he may become a Christian afterward. For the loyal belief and faith in Christ as the teacher, and His claims as the authorized revealer of the character and requirements of God, that is to be a Christian. So Christ leaves that out. It is simply to take hold of those things which any man and every man recognizes to be in line with the Divine will and expressing the Divine will. Let him set about with devoutness, then, to do all duty as the will of God, and he shall reap his reward.
And the third assumption is this very thing, that there is a particular way, a particular process, whereby men are to come to this full conviction, this sure belief in Christ's teachings and daims, and that is, as He lays it down, by doing the will of God. Now the first question that comes to mind is, why should there be, or how can there be, this special relationship between Christ's teachings and this practical doing of the will of God? The answer is, that the whole of Christ's teaching, all His teaching, revolves around two distinct centres: man's guilt, and therefore his need of forgiveness; that is one; and the other centre is man's weakness, and his need of power, his need of Divine grace, of spiritual help. Around these two centres, I say, all the doctrine of Christ, all His teachings and His claims, may be gathered.
Well now, if that is the nature of Christianity, then we see why this practical rule is given us for all to come to the realization of this. For as soon as a man attempts to do the will of God, the first thing awakened in him and deepened in him is this very thing, his sense of guilt. He can no more put it aside when he sets resolutely out to fulfill every duty and every obligation as the will of God. Heretofore he has fulfilled his obligations from a sense of necessity, perhaps, or out of deference to social respect, but when he sets about doing it as a piece of God's requirements and His will, then he is sure to deepen his sense of guilt. He recognizes that he can no longer say to himself, as in the past, "This sense of guilt is nothing more than the personal reflex of my own judgment and that of society, and it can be wiped away simply by my own power." He recognizes that this sense of guilt is deeply embedded in his very soul and that nothing short of the authentic voice of Him who made his soul can relieve him of the sense of guilt. I read somewhere of a poor demented man who was found rubbing the blue veins in a slab of marble; he said he wanted it all white and was determined to get the blue veins out; and so he rubbed and rubbed. We may take that as a par-able for the man who thinks he can make up for his shortcomings, or rub out his sins, with culture. Oh, how that word "culture" has been flung abroad ! How culture has resulted in international warfare! Culture, in itself, is no guarantee either of righteousness or of belief in Christ. It must be supplemented by some-thing quite different.
So I say, we find here this sense of guilt deepened in a man so that he feels he must take the words of the Psalmist to his lips, "Against Thee, and Thee only, have I sinned." The guilt, like the blue veins in the marble, is deep down in the very structure of his heart and his mind, and only the authentic voice of Christ, speaking as the eternal Son of God, can clear the soul of that sense of guilt.
But when a man begins this discipline of doing all duty devoutly, in seeking to do every duty as a part of the will of God, another effect comes in: the deepening of his sense of moral weakness, and therefore his need of spiritual help, spiritual. power, spiritual grace. Now, my dear friends, I wish I could reveal to every one here, who has striven to live after a high ideal, that just in proportion as he has been assiduous in his labors to realize that ideal, just in that proportion has the sense of personal weakness, or personal inability to achieve that ideal, filled the heart and the mind. That is the tragic fact, I say, that just in proportion as we are devout in our endeavors to realize our high ideals comes the strengthening of this sense of weakness; and there is no escape. We turn to Him who came to give us help, who came to give us light and power; for He came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly.
So we see how practical this rule is; levelled to every under-standing. Say to the man in the street, "Would you attain to a solid conviction of Christ's claims and teachings? Then set about, in accordance with His own declaration, to fulfill this practical rule: do all duty as the Divine will. And sure as you set about that, you will find, when you open the pages of the Gospel, that these things which have been strong within you, the need of grace and the need of spiritual power, you will find there provision laid down for you, offered to you in the Gospel and in the declaration of Christ as recorded therein." Let no one be afraid to come because his efforts have been feeble; for I have read you the text in our revised version. Not simply he who "will" do the will of God, but he who "willeth" to do the will of God. If your heart is honestly And earnestly set in that way, then your reward is sure to come at last; and you will find that no other words so fitly describe the result which you find in opening the Gospel and these doctrines and teachings that at first seemed afar off, come right home to you, with your deepened sense of guilt and your need of forgiveness, your deepened sense of weakness and your need of help and power, than the words of the inspired writer:
"To whom else can I go? Thou alone hast eternal life."
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[November 22, 1914]
"But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven : for He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
St. Matthew v:44, 45
"Love your enemies." Undoubtedly this is recognized as the one injunction in the Sermon on the Mount most difficult of fulfillment, Love your enemies. The temptation is of course on the part of many to regard it as a kind of counsel of perfection that has its bearing and its address largely, if not solely, to one who lives apart from the world, one who is isolated from the trials and temptations of life, and can spend his time in fasting and prayer. On the other hand, there is the temptation, to minimize the command, to interpret it to mean nothing more than that simply we must be careful not to be vengeful and not be too prompt in wreaking reprisals on those who have done or said that which is injurious to us.
Now I think that in the minds of a great many, this seems really an impossible command, impossible of realization in man as we find him today; but I think the difficulty, while not dissipated entirely, is greatly relieved, if we note the distinction, the fundamental distinction, between liking and loving. Love your enemies; not like them, but love them. Now we find, in looking closely at these two words, "liking" and "loving," that so far from being confused one with the other, we may say they are almost opposites. If I were asked for a figure to illustrate, I should say for "liking" we find its counterpart in the centripetal force in the physical world, that which draws everything toward itself as the centre; and the counterpart of "love is found in the centrifugal force of the physical world, that which is outgoing, that which expands itself, which is other than itself. In other words, we must be careful to recognize that love is not simply a great liking; for, in a deep sense, we may love, actually love, those whom we do not like; for liking depends upon affinity. We like those who fit in with our moods and dispositions, who are like us; and we like them. But love is like the radiant light and heat from the sun itself, going forth and spreading itself upon all. Love seeks not simply its own satisfaction, but the good, the satisfaction of others. Liking and I am speaking in no harsh criticism of it liking seeks our own good and our own satisfaction, whereas a loving spirit is outgoing, looks beyond self and seeks the good of others, the betterment and the help that may be given to our brother.
Well, now, our Blessed Lord undoubtedly recognized that this command or injunction to possess and preserve a loving spirit was a very difficult one; He recognized that men would, by every device possible, seek to explain and explain and explain until they explained it away, and therefore, contrary to His general custom, He goes on to give an explicit illustration of what He means. He goes on to show that this loving spirit which He commands to have its birth and its growth in each and every heart is not to be simply a passing inner spirit, hidden away some-where in our psychical being, but that it is to be a living spirit, actively manifesting itself in every realm of human relationship, in words, in deeds, in thoughts.
Consider then, briefly, the first injunction, "Bless them that curse you." I think that we are not to confine the words "curse you" simply to one who is exercising himself in profanity, distinctly recognized, but that it applies to those who express themselves in terms that amount, we may say, to a curse upon us, who desire, in the words that they express, to cover us, it may be, with infamy and do us harm in that way. Now we are to bless, says the Master, those who curse us. We are not to be content with saying, "Well, if my enemy apologizes for his cursing and foregoes his infamous speeches against me, then I will set about and try and forgive him." Something more than that is required. We are to bless, not bless his wrongdoing, but bless him. That is, we are to seek and find, if possible, something in the man that we can commend, and commend it. And while the spirit of hate speaks in hate, in curses, it may be, the spirit of love thinks in words of kindness.
This can be done; this has been done. While bitter words have been uttered against them, cases that come within the range of my own experience, where persons have had reported to them the unkind speeches, curses, if you choose to call them, of others, yet while they talked with me they deliberately sought the points and the qualities and the characteristics of the person that they could speak well of. Ah, my friends, how much is this great injunction in need of being recognized to-day. Open our papers and read the bitter expressions, one after another, in the case of the great nations now at war; the Englishman hating the German for bringing on this terrible crisis, the German hating the English, and expressing it in all bitterness, as being the real and original source of this great and terrible war.
Let us realize, then, if we must speak, where we speak we are not to commend any exorbitances of conduct, nor bless any actual and downright wrongdoing, but neither are we to employ our experience to condemn and condemn and condemn, to illustrate and to emphasize the shortcomings of our enemies. Let us at least see if we cannot find, if we must speak, something that we can commend, be it the industry, the intellectual judgments, the marvellous organizations of the nations and the armies; let us see if we cannot, in this sense, seek out something that we can commend, even in those who are really speaking against us.
Well, but, says some one, my enemies do not curse me, but I tell you their enmity is all the more bitter because it is silent. What shall I do? "Do good to them that hate you." Now a loving spirit is inventive, and just as you may find out qualities and characteristics which you can fitly and honestly commend in those who are speaking unkindly of you, just so you may, with a loving spirit, find out some way of doing some little deed, in practising some art of kindness, of securing an arrangement that shall make for the advance of the interests of those whom we have been told and perhaps know in our own consciences are really haters of us. We are doing good to them that hate us.
Well, is that all? One says, That does not fit my case. There are enemies that I have sought in vain to come into some kind of friendly relationship with, but they shun me, they keep away from me. They do not curse me, they do not give vent to any expressions of downright hatred against me, but they just ignore me, keep away from me. What shall I do? Is there any part in this accomplishment of a loving spirit that will meet my case? Yes. "Pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you." I think of all the three cases, this is the most difficult. You and I may speak kindly words of one who has visited curses upon us; you and I may actually do a kindly deed for those who have treated us unkindly and made exhibitions of their hatred for us; but you and I cannot take the name of one who is seeking to injure us or who has injured us, when we are before the throne of grace in prayer to God. We may have done a kindly deed and spoken a kindly word, with no sincerity, and did not discover it in our own cases, but when we kneel before the throne of God, in the searching light of that throne, and take the name of one who is persecuting us and doing us harm, and ask a blessing and the development of a better nature and a better heart in him, ah, then we shall see whether we are in downright sincerity or not. Disclosure is sure, deception is no longer possible. And our Blessed Lord, you observe, here gives us the great motive for this.
Taking all I have said, one might question, Well, what is the motive? And we might answer, the motive would be, in the first place, your own self-satisfaction, which would be greater and deeper than if you had not yielded to such a motive as this. Certainly that should be a source of satisfaction, if such were the motive. Well, suppose the real motive were in order to make our social relationships smoother? Some people go through life always hitting against the jagged points, because of this lack of a loving spirit. They are always ready and prepared to resent every observation, even about the weather, as though it were a personal reflection on themselves. No, it is not simply to smooth the pathway of our social relationships that this loving spirit is to be sought for and by the grace of God developed within us, but in order that we may be the children of our Heavenly Father. Who would dare to write those words unless they had been uttered by the great Master Himself? For a loving spirit is the very essence of the Divine likeness: that ye may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven, who maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain upon the just and upon the unjust.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[November 29, 1914]
"And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch."
St. Mark xiii:37.
"Ye come behind in no gift, waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." I Corinthians i:7.
The most casual reader of the Scripture, my friends, must recognize at once that the second coming of our Lord is an event which, in the Scripture itself, is surrounded with mingled light and darkness. The event is fixed, as regards the surety of its happening; but the time is left absolutely indeterminate. Now skepticism, curiosity, and even piety at times may rebel at least, we may say moderately, against this condition. The desire to know definitely about an event so great as this is one that naturally fills the mind and the heart. We want to know whether it be near or whether it be far.
Now I think we may ask on this, the opening Sunday of the Advent season, when throughout this season we commemorate and celebrate the second coming of our Blessed Lord, we may ask, What spiritual qualities and graces could we imagine our Lord to determine and to decide to cultivate and perfect in us by leaving this great matter of His second coming, as to the exact time, entirely indeterminate? There must be a good reason in our Lord's mind why such an event as His second coming, when the whole order of the world as we know it now will undergo an utter change, should be left thus indeterminately. We would like to know, what then? Can we discover in ourselves, even, some reasons or any reason for this indeterminateness in Scripture? I think, my dear friends, that devout reflection will show us that this indeterminateness as to the exact time of our Lord's return to earth to take His kingdom and all the world's kingdoms into the Kingdom of God to be ruled by Himself, I think we shall recognize, I say, that this very discipline of indeterminateness is calculated to cultivate and develop and strengthen such virtues as patience, as hope, as humility. I will restrict my remarks this morning to the last two I have mentioned, that this discipline of indeterminateness as revealed to us in Scripture with regard to the exact time of our Lord's second coming is calculated to deepen in us the spirit of devout humility.
Now we know how definitely our Lord has taught us that humility is the fundamental virtue, that it is indeed the whole pathway, the only pathway, to exaltation. "Unless ye become as little children, ye shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." Or, as Saint Peter puts it, "Be clothed with humility, for God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble." I think the most imperious, the most persistent, the most powerful form of pride against which our Christian faith has to contend is the pride of intellect, the pride of knowledge. Indeed, we know that the pride of intellect may survive practically all other forms of pride it may survive pride of family, pride of riches, pride of power; and the lesson comes home to us to-day with exceeding force, because perhaps never in all the history of the world, in-deed, never in the history of the world, have the elements that make up intellectual pride been so widespread as they are to-day. From the very permanence, the very universality of the deductions which we can make from a knowledge of nature and a knowledge of history, men seem to look out upon the future and say, "We know from the past what will be." Now this spirit of pride stands perhaps more in the way of the advance of Christ's kingdom to-day than possibly any other quality that is manifested in our human nature. A man who has loose habits or practices that he knows are against the will of God may be roused by a direct appeal showing him what he is about. But when you approach one fortified in his intellectual pride, he turns upon you the cold eye of the observer and says, "Well, if you care to believe that, why you are perfectly welcome to believe it. But I, with my knowledge of nature, my knowledge of science and history, am fortified against these exorbitances and these extravagances." Now could anything be calculated better to cast down and out this pride of knowledge and humiliate it than this absolute indeterminateness with regard to the greatest event that can possibly take place in this world of ours? Nothing, we may say, can approach it in importance; and yet, whatever be the advance of knowledge, however wide be the sweep of human attainment, we know that men will never be able to predict this event, and say, "Yes, it will be to-morrow, or next week or in a hundred years." It is to come as a surprise. The day of the Lord will not be a day that can be figured out by the deductions of our crude knowledge. And this very indeterminateness of the Scripture is one of the weapons against this subtle intellectual pride. Think of it: the greatest and most momentous event in human history can absolutely afford no means of knowing when it will take place, when the whole order of this world as we now know it will be changed at the second advent of Christ.
Now if you will turn the pages of the Gospel and the Epistles of the Apostles you will find again and again where our Blessed Master recognizes and emphasizes watchfulness, the outlook for His coming, as not only a duty, but as a distinct duty. We are not only to pray, but we are to watch as well as pray, as emphasized in that parable from which the words of our text are taken, where He says, "The Son of Man is as a man going into a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch." This brings out the great truth that this spirit of watchfulness and expectancy the cherishing of Christ's advent in the spirit of humility, of patience, and of loving watching and waiting for the great event of Christ's second coming is not just a duty peculiar to some. We know there are peculiar duties, such as those of the priest and of those in high positions, but here is a duty incumbent upon all. And we see how strikingly its universality is brought out in this parable. Christ had been speaking to the little group of disciples nearby and outside was the larger crowd; and as He looked out over it, possibly the thought occurred to Him, " When I used those words, 'Commanded the porter to watch,' these people may have thought the parable applied only to my little immediate band of disciples." So He corrects that impression by saying, "And what I say unto you, I say unto all (the great crowd gathered about Me here), l say unto all, Watch."
Now rationalism says this world order will end of a sudden, which is irrational, which is absurd. Of course this world, like every other world, like the great moon in the skies, will certainly become a dead world when all these forces that keep up life have been used up, when these coal beds have been exhausted, and when every form of life, man and the creatures below him, has become destroyed, dissipated, dissolved into solid elements; when there is no more atmosphere, no more substance. When the earth reaches that stage or approaches that stage, then all life, that of man and all creatures, must come to an end. Now that would be rational, that would be conceivable, that would be justified, we may say, from the standpoint of high reasoning. But such is not the view of Scripture. The day of Christ's coming will not be when men are saying, "Well, all further advance, all further on-going in the order of the world, are absolutely impossible. All substances for the support of life are about exhausted, the end is near, and I suppose Christ is coming now." Not so. The picture is that Christ will come "like a thief in the night," while the plowman is in the fields, while the sailor is on the sea, the merchant at his desk, the priest at the altar. When He comes, it will be a surprise. It will break in upon the order and on-going of the world. It will not be at a time when every power and all experience have been used up, as it were; on the contrary, it will come right in the midst of things. That is the picture that is brought before us in Scripture.
And let me add just a closing word: The importance of this frame of mind, of cultivating and cherishing this habit of outlook and expectancy for the event that may be to-morrow or in a hundred years or ten thousand years, we find that Christ not only laid it down as a distinct duty, but as absolutely following His teachings. Saint Peter and Saint Paul emphasize it again and again, that the cultivation and perfection of this spirit, this temper of mind, is the very secret of holy living. We have Saint Peter telling us that we should see to it that we in all holy conversation and godliness look forward to and hasten the coming of the day of the Lord. We have Saint Paul telling us to live soberly, live righteously, in this world, "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ," and then adding, in these words that compose our text, showing that the spirit and temper is the very greatest consummation, we may say, of the higher spiritual life: "Ye come behind in no gift, and the witness is that ye are waiting for the coming of the Lord."
It is evident then, my dear friends, that our Blessed Lord would dwell in our hearts, in our faith, in our hope, as far off and yet near, in proportion as we make real to ourselves, and near, His second coming, which, though fixed at no definite date, is possible at any.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[December 6, 1914.]
"For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." Romans xv:4.
Both the Collect and the Epistle, as you will have noted, point us today to the Holy Scriptures as the supreme and divinely authoritative source of spiritual guidance and spiritual strength. To-day we know for a long time past has received the name of "Bible Sunday."
I wish, this morning, to call your attention to just one point in connection with the study of the Bible. Let me say, however, as preliminary, that there are three great principles that we ought to keep in mind as we study, as we dwell upon the Scriptures, in accordance with the Collect for the day, "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest." And the first great principle or truth to bear in mind is that while we speak of the Bible as a book, it is not a book; it is a divine library of books, it is inspired literature, reaching through many ages, written in different times, with different purposes, by different men, and, let us add, with different degrees of spiritual enlightenment. It is the Word of God. It is only, we may say, in the western world that it is spoken of as a book. The Jews have always spoken of the Scriptures as the "law," the "sacred writings of the prophets." And also, it was not until, I think, the thirteenth century that the single term came into use of speaking of the Bible as a book in our western world. It is, then, let us bear in mind, an inspired literature, as I have said, extending through many ages.
The second great principle which should be borne in mind is that it is a record of a progressive revelation; that it is indeed, we may say, the history of God's spiritual education of a race, starting from the stage of primitive Semetic-barbarism, and rising up and up until it reaches its fullness in the manifestation of the perfect character of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
It is progressive; we should bear that in mind. Every verse of the Old Testament, every book, is to be read in the light of the fuller revelation as given by the Son of God made man. But lastly, the Bible is, above all, a practical book.
I think we can remember these three great principles. It is not simply a book, it is a divine library. It is the record of a progressive, ascending revelation. And it is above all a practical literature, a practical book or books. Its ultimate aim is not simply to give knowledge, even religious knowledge. Its great aim is conduct and righteousness of life.
I wish, this morning, to draw your attention briefly to this last point: the Bible as a practical book. I have on other occasions spoken considering the other two points. Let us dwell this morning upon the thought that the Bible is above all and before all a practical book. Now by that we mean that the ultimate aim of the Scripture is not knowledge, but conduct; not learning, but life. The Scripture is not only to be believed, but it is to be lived. It is only as we put these teachings into practice, as we endeavor earnestly and devoutly to carry out in life and conduct the principles and teachings there laid down, that we really achieve the true aim, the true purpose for which the Scriptures were given us. The Scriptures undoubtedly contain truth and contain doctrine, but let me remind you that doctrine simply as doctrine is never an end in itself. It is given us not simply to enrich our store of knowledge about the Divine character and about the end and destiny of man. It does that. But in addition to that, it is intended to be a constant, expanding, unceasing inspiration to carry out its teachings in conduct and in life.
Now we may illustrate this particularly, I think. Let us take especially the New Testament. St. Paul is acknowledged on all hands to be a preacher and l a teacher of doctrine. Just run carefully through his epistles, however, and see how he never allows mere doctrine to become his ultimate aim, the final outcome, no matter how glorious or how grand may be the theory he is arguing for. There will always be a practical admonition, directed, as his argument closes, to the issue in conduct and life. Now perhaps his Epistle to the Romans is the most distinctly doctrinal or argumentative of his epistles, and it pursues the argument through some sixteen chapters. But as we come near the close, we find this practical good, after all the wonderful argument and imagery that he has employed to bring out and enforce his teaching we find his main theme to be the sonship of believers and their justification by faith in Christ as the Son of God. It is a glorious and blessed doctrine, but he does not rest with simply setting forth the statement of the doctrine addressed to us as believers of that doctrine. He does more. He makes a conclusion: "I beseech you, therefore, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice to God. That is your reasonable," or, better translated, "that is your spiritual sacrifice." That is the real outcome, the practical outcome of the belief in this great doctrine of our sonship and of our justification by faith. That practical outcome is to be the consecration of life to the will of God and a life of righteousness.
Or, if we take, for instance, the Epistle to the Corinthians, that is argumentative from beginning to end. Confine ourselves especially to the fifteenth chapter, so familiar to us from its use in the burial service. There St. Paul has as his main theme the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting, and we know how strikingly and how forcibly he expresses the argument there. Does he end there? By no means. There comes the practical conclusion that we are to be earnest and honest and incessant in our endeavor to realize the righteousness of God in our conduct and in our life.
Or, take the Epistle to the Ephesians. There is a subject that would be formally doctrinal, far removed from any practical bearing upon life. The main theme of the Epistle to the Ephesians is the incarnation; but after St. Paul has explained and expanded that, and enforced it, he draws the conclusion that we are to be like minded as Christ was, who came to this earth not to be ministered unto, but to minister. In other words, the practical outcome of this great doctrine, if we but grasp its true purport, so far as our lives are concerned, is the downright and genuine service of God by and through the service of man. He came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, to send out His word of comfort and hope, to extend His hand in benediction and blessing, to uplift the feeble, to strengthen those who falter, and to assure them of the love of God extended over them in all their exigencies.
Now there are two, I think, readily recognized benefits to be derived from a firm grasp of this truth of the practical character of God's word in the Holy Scriptures. And the first is that, if it is grasped rightly, it certainly will rouse us from spiritual indolence; it will certainly rouse us from mere emotional admiration of the truths there given us, of the characters there drawn. And we undoubtedly need to be on our guard in this respect, for there is an emotionalism that passes to-day under the name of religion which has its root and growth in the imagination. People give themselves over to this slumberous delusion, as it were; they love to give play to their emotions. There is plenty in the Scriptures to awaken them, I admit. But there must be something more: there must be a carrying out in life and conduct of the great truths there laid down. This great teaching of the Scriptures is above all a practical outcome, for it has its bearing first and foremost upon the life that we live, the conduct that is ours; that, I say, is calculated to rouse us from spiritual indolence or mere emotional admiration. It is not enough to know the truth, it is not enough to revere the truth, it is not enough to defend the truth, however valiantly. We have the Master's own words: "He that doeth righteousness is righteous." Not he who knows the truth, nor he who admires it or defends it; but he who strives earnestly and honestly to carry it out in conduct and in life.
And there is another benefit from properly grasping this principle of the practical character of God's word. It has its ultimate aim, its practical outcome, its bearing on our life, the duties and obligations here in life, and it is that nothing can take the place of this true use of the Scripture. Now if we grasp this clearly and keep it in mind, my friends, it is like an impenetrable armor in which we may clothe ourselves, and which we will find will throw off the hostile arrows of merely speculative criticism of the Scripture. We know how much of this is going on in our world today; men picking at the Old Testament and the New Testament, trying to find something that will serve as compensation for the mysteries of the Old Testament and the miracles of the New Testament, forgetting all the time that the only true use, the only pertinent test of the Scripture of the New Book must be that which is practical. We want to know what is the real truth? Then, as Coleridge says, "There is but one way: try it." Take these teachings, take this absolute love and mercy and forgiveness of God, and strive to realize them. Take the Master's teaching: "He that doeth righteousness is righteous." If we take the Master's word, and put it into practice, endeavor to carry it out in life, then we shall verify in our own experience the reality of their worth and their truthfulness. And there is no alternative, there is no other way in which the worth of the Scripture can be properly judged. If it is a practical book, it must be judged not simply as a piece of literature, but by the results which will follow from carrying out in our own life these teachings, these precepts, these commands.
We see, then, my dear friends, that merely reading the Bible, ever so devoutly, speaking in high praise of the Bible, will not make a man righteous. That will not make a man fulfill the Divine purpose in his life and conduct. We do not make that mistake in other spheres. If a man gave himself ever so assiduously to reading a book on music, studying it on his knees, if you please, would that make him a musician? No, you say; what he learns there must be carried out in order to become a real musician. A man might study geography ever so faithfully, until he had all the boundaries of the states, all the natural features of the world at his command; would that make him a land-owner? No. He must go out and do some real work, he must win the means whereby he can actually purchase the land. And just so with the Scriptures. Merely reading them will not make you righteous; it is in doing the things, trying ever so patiently, and, it may be, with many conflicts and failings. But if we earnestly set our hearts and minds to do the will of God as revealed in the Scripture we shall have the blessed result: "Be ye doers of the Word." Let us keep those words in mind, as we open the Scriptures:
"Be ye doers of the Word, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[December 13, 1914.]
"Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." I Corinthians iv: I.
You remember that last Sunday the church brought before us, as a study peculiarly appropriate for meditation during the Advent season, she brought before us the Scriptures of God, the Holy Bible. To-day she brings before us another important matter, second only, we may say, to the Bible itself, namely, the Christian minister. And what is it?
Now without doubt there have been a variety of faulty or undue estimates, we may say, of the ministry. The first, founded on the view of the church which takes the church to be in chief simply a serviceable, a very serviceable institution for the pro-motion of social order, and therefore the minister is looked upon from that point of view as a high kind of moral police; and there are not a few who, while they refuse to confess Christ personally, are willing to accord a patronizing approbation of the minister as a part of that institution which works so well for social good.
Well, there is another very faulty or undue estimate, and it is upon the part of those who look upon the minister as an entertainer, as one who is to provide something that will touch the imagination and will quicken the thoughts, one who will be ready to take up each and every question that engrosses attention on the part of the people in the day which he speaks. They look to the church very largely as a sort of bureau of literary entertainment where they go to have that told them which will comfort them and in a measure enlighten them, and, it may be, produce gratification and feed the personal complacency.
But the true view is that the minister is something more than a moral police, more than a literary entertainer: he is a minister of Christ, a steward of the mysteries of God. And that should never be forgotten.
Now there is, on the other hand, an undue or exaggerated estimate of the man himself, and that leads of necessity to division and to party spirit. That was the great trouble with the church to which St. Paul addressed this letter, the Corinthian church. There was a "Paul" party, there was an "Apollos" party, there was even a " Christ" party. Now if we ask, how does this party spirit, rivalry, arise? I think, in a great measure, it arises in this way:
Each and every minister and steward of the mysteries of God is naturally inclined to emphasize and to present some especial part or portion of the universal truth more effectively than others. It is his truth, as it were, it comes home to him, and he emphasizes it and explains it more effectively and forcibly than he does other portions of the truth. Now this draws to him kindred spirits, for he has, as it were, smoothed away some of their difficulties, and he expresses and explains in good part their feelings. And they, in their enthusiasm, would make him the special leader or head of their party; and the minister of God has to be perpetually on his guard lest he be lured away from the true purpose of the ministry. He begins with the truth, but the enthusiasm of the followers who like that truth may, perhaps, turn his head, and soon for him it becomes the only truth; and last of all, unless he is greatly on his guard, it will become for him the whole truth.
Now, I say, this was the case in Corinth. These various parties undoubtedly arose in this way: Paul addressed them in a way that captured the interest and assent of some; Apollos, others, for he was a great orator. And there were those who withdrew from both leaders and professed that they were the established Christians, the "Christ" party. Then came the words of St. Paul: "I would not dare to be a leader of a party in the Church of Christ. Who is Paul, I say, and who is Apollos, but ministers by and through whom ye believe?"
Not only is there, then, the danger of an undue estimate of the minister, the man, in this respect, but there is also the danger of an exaggerated estimate of the office itself. And this, I take it, is the exaggerated view of the ministerial office,' making it a priesthood, a mediatorship. This has been the source, undoubtedly, of the most permanent divisions in the church and the most positive rivalry in the church. Now if we ask, how does this view, confounding the ministry with the sacrificing priest-hood, arise, I think the answer is: if we look to the eastern world, we find the appointment to the priesthood is based upon superiority of blood or birth; only those of noble blood can enter the priesthood. If we look to the western world and take the view provided there, the minister of Christ is regarded throughout the great Roman Church as the sacrificing priest, as practically a mediator, as the one through whom and by whom alone, we may say, direct access can be had to God; it is through him and by the acceptance of the propitiation which he offers that the way is opened, so to speak, for the heart and soul of man to reach the feet of the great Redeemer and the Father God. But the true view, and that which our church emphasizes on this day, is quite different. You observe that she selects and emphasizes in the service to-day, in the Collect, in the Epistle, in the Gospel, in the second morning lesson, she selects, as the ideal pattern for the minister of Christ, not the priest, but the prophet, not Aaron, but a John the Baptist, who was a prophet and not a priest.
Now there is not only a difference, but there is a striking contrast between these two views. The business of the priest of the eastern or the western world for that matter is one thing: it is his business to reconcile God to man. It is the business of the minister of Christ, the steward of the mysteries of God, to do something quite different: to reconcile man to God. The heart of God goes out to all men everywhere at all times. In that beautiful parable of the prodigal son, to which we cannot refer too frequently, no mediator there is needed in the way of an officious priest, nor to make way for that son's return. The father has been watching for him; his heart has gone out daily toward that son. And when at last he comes, in repentant spirit, before he can speak the penitent words which he has prepared, the father hastens to him and embraces him and makes him feel that he is again his son.
Now, so it is with the Christian minister. The Christian minister is not a mediator. There is but one mediator, and He is in Heaven. In fact, we are told, if He were upon earth, He would not be a priest at all. Read those verses in the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews: "For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest." And we know that not once in the whole of the New Testament is the special word which signifies the sacrificing priest, the propitiating priest, never once is it applied to the Christian minister individually. It occurs once, in the first Epistle of St. Peter, but see how it is used there, speaking of the whole body of believers: "Ye are the spiritual house; ye are a holy priesthood. Ye are a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices to God." Only in this one case, then, we see, is the old idea which obtained through all the pagan world and down through the Jewish history to the time of Christ, only this once is this idea applied to Christian believers. And then it is a collective noun; it is a collective term, not chosen for any man or body of men individually, but spoken of the whole body of believers. "Ye are a spiritual house, a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifice to God."
Now we know, undoubtedly, that even in the Old Testament the prophet was higher than the priest. Moses, the Prophet, created Aaron, the great Priest. So, my dear friends, this would seem an argument against these varying views, that which reduces the minister, the clergyman, to nothing more than a literary entertainer or one who has to do with the special social problems that come up. I do not say they have not their place in his teaching, but to insist that he has nothing else, nothing higher, no mysteries of God to deliver to the people, is to reduce his position and his profession as a minister of Christ to a level fathoms be-low, infinitely below, that which was ordained that it should be.
Not the priest, then, but the prophet, is the type and the great teacher. His business it is to seek at all times to prepare the way, make ready the way for the Lord, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. That is his great commission, and in the fulfillment of that he is doing the work which Christ surely designed him to do.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[December 20, 1914]
"Jesus saith unto him, ' Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.' " St. John xx:29.
Tomorrow being the Feast-day of St. Thomas the Apostle, I thought it well that we should direct our attention to-day to that apostolic character and draw from it, I think, some important lessons for our personal welfare and personal conduct. Let me say in the beginning that St. Thomas was the type of the doubting, despondent character. That was his temperament. By temperament we mean those qualities and that disposition with which we are born. Now, neither you nor l can in any way be responsible for our birth temperament; but we are responsible for gaining the mastery over that temperament and for guiding it and conducting it so that it shall conduct us to the best issues. That was Thomas' failure, but I will not stop to dwell upon that, but simply say that he allowed his natural temperament of doubt and despondency to darken a large part of his life, and therefore diminish his energy. Take the first instance which refers to him, where our Lord is about to return to Lazarus after word is brought to Him that he is dead and He tells His disciples that He will go back into Judea. Then said some of the disciples, "Why, I wonder if He remembers that they have declared they will kill Him if He returns." And Thomas spoke up, sadly, "Well, let us go also, that we may die with Him." Always looking at the worst; despondent and doubting.
You will remember that Thomas was not present with the other disciples when Christ appeared after the resurrection, and when they reported to him that they had seen Christ, he said, "Well, I cannot believe it; I won't believe until I see Him, yea, until I put my fingers upon the print of the nails and upon the spear thrust; I will not otherwise believe." Of course, his triumph was great when he did have that demonstration. It is true he made a confession possibly higher than that of any of the disciples during our Lord's natural life upon earth, as Thomas said, "My Lord and my God." And Christ, looking at him, said, "Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed. But blessed are they that have not seen, and that will not see at all, that believe in Me and in My resurrection and all that it carries with it."
I wish, then, this morning to look briefly at the meaning of our Lord's benediction here, we may say, of St. Thomas, and this declaration made to him. First, if we look at it negatively, we may be perfectly sure that our Lord, in saying, " Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed," does not mean to exalt mere credulity, He does not mean. those who believe without seeing or those who believe without care, without inquiry, with-out examination. By no means. To take such interpretation of it would contradict the whole spirit and teaching of the Blessed Master. He puts no premium upon blind obedience and credulity. He came to men, looking them fairly in the face, addressing them fairly, giving them in His life and in His teachings the greatest of all arguments for believing in. the reality of that teaching and all the great truths which He revealed.
In these words, then, Christ is not putting a premium upon those who accept, at least professedly, Christian teaching, with-out any care, without any inquiry. By no means. This was intended : that there is something higher, something stronger, something more permanent, than any kind of evidence that can be drawn just from the senses. There is and must be in every Christian an internal evidence, something peace-giving and more permanent than any testimony of the senses can give. Because the external evidence of the senses which may create a belief may also uncreate it; simply by reason of a change in circumstances, of the on-going of things about us in life. Here, it is true, we see good going down and evil rising triumphant, and some may say, "Well, here is the evidence of the senses. You talk of a good God, a merciful Saviour: look at this!"
Well, our Saviour did not intend to put a premium, I say, upon that unquestioning, unthinking, uncaring, I might say, condition of soul that says, "I will accept Christianity because so many take it; it appears to be the best statement of the truth or the facts that we can get." He who has the real faith upon which Christ has placed a premium is the one who sees the great truths shining in their own light; it is he who recognizes the truths which Christ proclaims, however outer circumstances might enhance, in a measure, the facility of receiving them. And even Christ Him-self, seeing Him here upon earth, could not add to or take away that faith which comes of the inner belief, in the spirit, the faith that is born of love and obedience; that creates that external and antecedent probability with regard to those truths in the true Christian and servant of Christ.
Nor again, does Christ mean here to put a premium upon or to say that the faith which comes from sight is of a higher kind than the faith which comes from the internal evidence. Our Lord here means a higher kind of faith than comes of the testimony of the senses. In the case of the doubter, as Thomas, our Lord does not mean that he is more blessed, that his faith is richer, stronger, higher, than that of those who have never doubted. Far from it. Just as He told Thomas, though he was a born doubter, yet actually in the last climax of his experience he made a declaration of faith that was higher, more embracing, fuller than that made by any of the disciples during our Lord's life upon earth, "My Lord and my God," his faith was no more blessed than the faith that has no doubts, a genuine faith. We know not a few there are whose religious lives are like a voyage over summer seas: the calm waves, the balmy breezes filling the sails and carrying the vessel smoothly to its port. And there are others who must ever battle with the tempest; there are those over whose souls sweep with fury and thunder the tempests of doubt and despair; and it is only by downright, persistent effort, by prayer, by seeking to know the Master's mind and by endeavoring to carry out in life and conduct what they discover to be His mind, that the true faith is born. That is what He meant to emphasize here: that it is not the mere superficial, offhand confession or profession of belief in Him and in the great truths which He revealed, His resurrection and all that it carries with it. It is not a premium upon that.
Well, what did He mean, then? Here we come upon a very interesting and most important fact. Our Lord here undoubtedly meant those who in after times were to believe in Him; for though the words were related to the past, they apply to the present and the future; they apply to us and will apply to all the ages to come until Christ's last advent is here. They apply, I say, to all times and all places. The evidences of Christianity, let us re-member, will never be an absolute, external demonstration.
What our Lord meant here, then, was that the kind of faith which comes and is the fruit of, not the mere testimony of, the senses, not of any simply external argument or demonstration, but the faith that is rooted and grounded on the spiritual condition within. There is the kind of faith which our Lord places His last blessing upon.
Now if we look at the facts just for the moment, it is a truth, my friends, that you and I cannot accept external facts, any fact, simply and solely from external evidence. There must be, in some degree, some experience or qualities as explaining the testimony with regard to those facts. I remember reading some time ago an interesting episode in the life of a missionary in the South Seas. He had been telling those whom he had been teaching about many facts and features of the country that he came from; and they accepted a good many of them, because they could parallel them in part by the conditions there in this island. But one day he said to the chief, who had become a very faithful attendant upon his teaching and preaching, "During a certain season of the year the waters in the rivers and lakes in my country become so solid that you can walk upon it, anybody can; more than that, great loaded wagons can pass over them." That was too much for the chief. Frozen water was something that had never come within his experience, and there was no antecedent probability in him that could justify him in believing in this testimony of the missionary. "So," the missionary said, "he shook his head and turned away, and it was several days before we came into consultation again, and I tried to induce him to accept these facts. But he said, 'It may be so; you have always been truthful and I suppose it is so. But you have no right, I think, to ask me to believe that until I have seen it.' "
Now I take that as a sort of parable with regard to the great truths of the Gospel. It is by love and obedience to the Master, by dwelling upon His teachings, by studying His character, by seeking in all our ways to please Him and to draw nearer and nearer to Him, that we do what? We create within ourselves this antecedent probability that shall have power to bring home to us these great truths of absolute forgiveness; the fairness of our adoption and reconciliation with God. They fit in with experience; they have their justification within, we may say, so that this internal antecedent probability becomes the very foundation of a towering monument of the true faith that may be in a man.
So, I repeat, the evidences of the truth of Christianity will never be simply an external demonstration. There will always, down to the end of the ages, until Christ breaks through the stillness of the universe and reveals Himself in His last advent, there will always be a place for the benediction of those words: BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE "Blessed are they that have not seen, that have not had simply external evidence and demonstration, but have believed, out of the fullness of the faith within them, created by love, by service, by obedience to the Master."
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[January 3, 1915.]
"This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Philippians iii:13, 14.
I think it, would be difficult to select any passage in the Bible so becoming as a motto for the new year: "Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those that are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
It is highly evident that Saint Paul realized most profoundly the difficulties, the intensity of the conflict which is ever present in the living of the Christian life. Yet, search his epistles, and through every one of them you find ringing the note of invincible cheer, of confident hopefulness.
In the preceding chapter Saint Paul gives a bold and graphic outline of his own career, and then at the verses I have chosen as text, he pauses to give, we may say, the secret of his invincible cheerfulness and confident hopefulness in his living of the Christian life; and we find that secret to be his firm and clear realization of the true mark or goal of the Christian life, and the method of attaining that goal. What, then, we ask, is the mark or goal? for we are to press, observe, toward the mark, not toward the prize. The external mark is a Christlike character and the prize is blessedness and the glory and the honor that come from the attainment of that character.
But, it may be asked, how do you make out that the realization, that the true goal of life is a Christlike character, a character after the pattern of Christ? How do you make out that that can afford confidence and cheer and hope to him who seizes it and patiently and persistently pursues it? Well, there are a number of lines of arguments, my friends, but I would just present one here, and that is perhaps one that we do not realize as we should for the forming of the Christian character. The aiming to make our characters after the pattern of Christ is under God the one thing most absolutely in our own power. If a man sets as the mark or goal of life wealth, honor, position, knowledge, technical skill, he is at the mercy of external circumstances. One night, or one day, may rob him of the fruits of the earnest and concentrated labor of years. I read some time ago of a young surgeon who had finished his education in this country and then had been a year or two abroad and had come back with the very highest recommendations. He was a young man, marked with exceptional skill in surgery; he had breadth of knowledge, he had good nerves, and it was said, " The field is be-fore him; the mark, the goal for him is just ahead, and he will reap a full reward." But in a few weeks after he started upon his career, from some cause, blindness struck him and he became stone blind. Yes, the goal was indeed an admirable one, but we must remember that he was at the sport of external circumstance.
Now when we set ourselves to the mark, the realization in ourselves of the Christian character, we are sure of one thing: we are in a sense independent of all external circumstances. Disaster, the surprises of disappointment, why, instead of hindering in this work, they may be the very things that help us on. Not the prize, I say, but the mark, a Christlike character, is something we should ever keep in mind, realizing that we can achieve it, that nothing can stand between us and that, since we trust in God and walk in His faith and fear. Even the old pagan ruler, that remarkable emperor of the Romans, Mark Antonius, grasped a portion of this truth, when he said, "Whatever befalls, whatever confronts me, nothing really can prevent me from being a nobler man but myself."
Independent of external circumstance. Saint Paul certainly grasped that truth; and what if he was persecuted, what if he was chased from city to city, what if many of those he trusted proved false to him? He realized that was mere outer circumstance which could not affect that deep-down determination, the resolution of his to be like the Master and to make all external circumstances, no matter what kind, whether the falseness of friends or persecution, working agencies for the realization of this.
But, we say, what is the method by which we are to attain this? I think there is a very deep lesson for us here. As we read it, we are perhaps a little startled at the expression, "Forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those that are before." We see the image brought before us here is that of a racer, who is running a race, his eye on the mark; the prize, the olive crown, is right before him and he is racing for it. And he stumbles and falls, but as he rises again quickly he does not turn to look at the spot and wonder why it was not smoothed out so that he would not have tripped; or pause to consider whether there are any more places like that. Up he bounds and presses forward toward the mark. That is the idea which Christ brings before us here. "Forgetting those things that are behind." In the ninth chapter of Saint Luke's Gospel we have the same thought in the words of the Master:
"No man, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God."
Forget the past then. If he is wise, of course the racer, as he stumbles and rises, will give a quick and determining glance to see just what it was that tripped him, making up his mind that hereafter he will be on the alert. But he does not pause there to see that things are made right, but on he races, that he may be first in the race and reach the mark and win the prize.
The first thing, then, I say, is to forget the past. My dear friends, let us remember that Christ alone could give that command. For the Apostle here is but following the Master's teaching, his authority is from the Master. "Forgetting those things that are behind." Forgetting our past failures, forgetting our past successes also; for we are not only to forget what we have failed to accomplish, but let us also forget in a measure, deeply and truly, what we have accomplished. Old John Chrysostom gives a figure that would illustrate this. . . . "Christians that are spending so much time recalling what they have done, the good things they have accomplished, and so forth, are like the woman that had a box of wonderful pearls and she spent most of her time looking at them and counting them." Or a later incident that I have read somewhere: a demented man in the South African diamond mines, after he had accumulated a handful or two of diamonds, spent his time in his little hut arranging them in circles and star formations, when he should have been out gathering up more diamonds.
And just so with the Christian life. Forgetting our past failures not only, but forgetting our past successes also, and striving earnestly and honestly with faith in God and believing that He is ever ready to help us on to the attainment of the true character, the Christlike character.
In other words, these words of the Apostle sound for each and every one of us a note of hope and cheer. We are saved by hope. Those are striking words, and yet they are words in God's Scripture. We are saved by hope. A good many are apt to assume the religion of melancholy feelings and grave countenances, scarcely confessing that their blood flows or that their appetite is more for bread than stones; and thinking that in this exhibition of a narrow character and interest they are fulfilling the Divine will. Not so. The call for you and for me to Christianity is not a call to narrowness and graveness and circumscription. We are called to exhibit how joyful, how cheerful, how glad, how confident the Christian soldier, the follower of Christ is. Because he knows that Christ is always with him, His grace surrounds him just as the atmosphere surrounds the world. And we are cheered by the thought also that we are not alone. The great company of witnesses that surrounds us, they are watching each day our steps throughout this coming year; "the glorious company of the apostles, the noble army of martyrs, the fellowship of the prophets "—all these, we may believe, are waiting confidently to help us, with hope and cheer and confidence, from the temptations and trials and disappointments, it may be, and also the successes of this coming year.
Forgetting the past failures, forgetting the past achievements, we move on and on, realizing that no matter what has been the past, Christ can forgive us, He can wipe it out; making true the words of the great Saint Augustine, the same thought that nearly all of our modern poets have sought to put into verse:
"—of our failures we can frame
Or, as an English poet puts it:
"I hold it truth, with him who sings
Let us then make this our motto:
"Forgetting those things that are past and reaching forth to those that are before, let us press toward the mark."
And the prize, the glory, and the honor and the blessedness of attaining that character will be given us at the hands of God.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[January 10, 1915.]
"We have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him." St. Matthew ii:2.
There is probably no passage in the New Testament that more certainly arrests the interest and stirs the imagination and the emotion of even the casual reader than the event which is re-corded in this second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew the coming of the Magi from the far east to the cradle of Christ. There are many elements which invest it with a peculiar interest. There is the mystery which surrounds the men themselves their names, their number, no one really knows; even their nationality is uncertain. Like spirits they come, casting no shadow before; like spirits they depart, into the stillness and the obscurity of the far east. Again, their absolute disinterestedness I think that adds very largely to the interest and fascination with which the story is read. These men had performed a long and a dangerous journey, occupying many months, perhaps a year; from their far-distant eastern homes they had come for what? Not to say, as some of the disciples did, "Lord, make us to sit at Thy right hand when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." They came simply to worship and to offer gifts. And they did that, departing again without any form of recompense or recognition in the way of earthly honor or earthly reward.
But I think there is another element which adds to the interest with which we read this story, and that is that these men, these Magi, were the very first of the Gentile world to come to worship, and to recognize and to pay their tribute to the new-born Son of God, Jesus the Christ. Now undoubtedly in after years there were under God to be raised up those who, with equal patience and equal endeavor and faithfulness, sought for the Christ and were ready to serve Him when they had found Him. But these were the first, the very first. As imagination recalls or pictures for us the great army of believers, spreading from the very cradle of Christ, the great innumerable army, extending down to the present day, when we look at the leaders, those who are leading the advance, we must recognize these eastern Magi, these men who came first to the cradle of Christ.
Last summer it was my privilege, stopping for a day or two at Cologne, to visit that great cathedral where the jewelled skulls, or what are supposed to be the skulls of these three men, are kept in the costly shrine. It happened, as I entered the cathedral, there was a special service at the shrine of these wise men of the east there was a large number there, and as I stood in reverent attitude and took part in the service, at least that far, I could not help but think, "How striking, how spectacular this is! Here, in the twentieth century, a special service held at the shrine of these three men who came from their homes in the far east to be the very first, the file leaders of the great army of those who are the followers of Christ." Do we think of it, my friends, that every offertory that we take up may be said, in a sense, to be but a repetition, a prolongation, of that first offertory which was made by these wise men at the manger of Bethlehem? These men, these kings of the east, we may say, were our representatives and our ambassadors on that occasion.
But apart from the poetry and the pathos of this event there is a very deep and practical lesson, a most important, every-day lesson, if you please so to call it, embedded in this record which I wish briefly to bring home to you today.
We learn here the way in which God brings men to the Christ. Now let us look at that with a little care. These men, these wise men of the east, were astrologers; their business it was to be studying the skies, and therefore God meets them right in the line of their vocation, their line of business, studying the stars and the skies. For Moses, the shepherd, whose business was not on the sky but on the ground, there was the burning bush. And so we find all through Scripture this great truth brought home to us, that the line of approach with which the Heavenly Father meets with us is right in the line of our daily duties. As Saint Chrysostom so strikingly says, "Christ catches men by their craft." And all through Scripture such report extends, of where men have been lifted up to the higher life as God met them in the line of their every-day work. Moses is acting as a shepherd when the bush is set on fire and the signal, the invitation, given him to meet with the Lord. David is tending his flocks on the hillside when Samuel anoints him to be the King of Israel. And, turning to apostolic times, we find Peter and Andrew are mending their nets, James and John are casting their nets, when the call, the command, comes to them, "Follow Me; come with Me; be My disciples and My apostles."
Now I think this is a very important truth, because there is a tendency on the part of so many to suppose that something exceptional, something out of the way, some strange device of Providence must take place before they can recognize and heed the invitation to come to Christ. Now, I say, if we grasp this great truth, that it is in doing our duty devoutly, recognizing every piece of duty, every form of obligation as being a part of the service of God if we go on through life that way, we are sure to be met by the great Master with blessing and with comfort and with peace.
We cannot, then, I say, expect that we are to be turned aside by something strange and unusual; and yet how many are waiting for some strange and wonderful experience that they think they must have before they can take up the service of Christ and follow it. Not so. Just as Matthew continued to occupy the seat of customs, so the business man does not need to desert his business and become a recluse in order to be a true and faithful follower of Christ. The school teacher or the seamstress does not need to become a nun that she may be a true follower of Christ. Let every man do each daily duty, each and all, no matter how lowly and inconspicuous they are, do them as a piece of service for God; and he will have his reward in the Divine recognition.
Do you not think, my friends, that this gives very striking significance to the whole of life? That you and I can really bring home to ourselves, make real to ourselves, that all along this coming year that we have entered upon the Divine goodness is, so to speak, in ambush ready to surprise us, as we do our duty faithfully, devoutly, with the benefaction of Christ, with strength and truth and light. "There is a light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world," says the Master. That Light is the light of Duty; and if he follow it devoutly, it will shape itself into a star and lead him to the Christ.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[January 17, 1915]
"This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him." —SL John ii; 11.
Our very familiarity with the Gospel story I think not infrequently disguises from us the great importance, the singularity, we may say, of the importance of some of the episodes in the GospeI story. Now perhaps many of us read over the Gospel for to-day, being the account of Christ's attendance upon the marriage festivities at Cana in Galilee, and we recognize it as being perhaps just one of the many instances of Christ's gracious condescension and of His kindly activity in meeting the wishes of those about Him. But I think if we consider it a little more deeply, if we take into account the setting, so to speak, of this episode, the time and the circumstances under which it took place, we must recognize that it was a very remarkable episode; that, in other words, it must stand for something very important in Christ's judgment and in the scheme of His teaching.
We read in the very opening of this second chapter, "on the third day" this took place, Christ's presence at the marriage festivities. The third day from what? The third day from His forty days' seclusion and temptation in the wilderness. He goes straight from the fierce, ascetic ministry of John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan. He does not ascend a mountain and call about Him the distressed and those who are mourning, and say, "Blessed are they that mourn; blessed are the poor" and so forth; but He goes straight from the banks of the Jordan to a scene of great festivity at a marriage; He accepts the invitation and, accompanied by His three young disciples, He attends the festivities there.
Now, I say, this very fact, as we look quite carefully into this episode, certainly must have been rather confusing to the young disciples who followed Him; as we know that this action of Christ's, as were many that were to follow, were very confusing' to the rigid, ascetic Preacher on the banks of the Jordan, Saint John the Baptist, for he sent his emissaries to inquire, "Have I been mistaken? Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?"
It was a remarkable instance, because it was the very first public act of Christ as He entered upon His public ministry. Now we know how much interest is elicited, how much interest is directed toward the first actions and utterances of those who are entering upon a new and wider sphere of action and responsibility and duties. Great interest was concentrated on our President, upon his inauguration; great interest has been elicited now that Mr. Whitman has been elevated to the Governor's chair of this State to know just what he would say in his first utterance and what would be his first action. Because people take it there is something signal, something prophetic in these first actions when we enter upon a wider and higher sphere of activity and duties. And yet Christ's first action, His first public action immediately upon His return from the desert and the ministry of John the Baptist was to go right to the scene of festivity. Now a Jewish marriage of that age was not the quiet affair that many marriages are to-day. It was a time of unusual activity and pleasurable festivity, lasting generally from two to six days. Everything was gathered there to heighten exhilaration and to contribute to the feelings of pleasure and delight of all those who came. And Christ went to it. He did not simply go there while the vows were uttered, but He remained to the close. This must, I say, have been quite startling to the young disciples, quite equally startling to those who had listened to the preaching of Saint John the Baptist and heard his wonderful declaration: "There cometh one after me whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose." They were prepared for some action on the part of Christ quite different from this, something in keeping with the old ideal of religion and religious life. There was the ideal pre-eminently in Saint John the Baptist; he had cut himself off from all human relationships; he ate no pleasant food; he abode in the desert; he took up no responsibilities of a citizen's life; he was secluded and alone, pouring forth to the multitudes that gathered about him his fierce denunciation of sin and his warning that men should repent for the Kingdom of God was at hand.
What, we may ask, was the significance? Can we disseminate as to what was the special object of Christ in acting thus? Now, I think, without any undue presumption, we may say that our Blessed Lord took this step not as one that was a matter of indifference. It was deliberate. His plan was formed from the be-ginning. It was not an action from which He was to be recovered and would contradict by conduct quite contrary at a later time; but as He began, so He ended, coming into life, into the whole of life. This, I say, was the marked characteristic of this event . . . upon our Lord's great mission to be the one full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.
There were, in addition to that, two great fundamental truths which were the master truths of all Christ's teachings and all His labors here upon earth. And the first great truth was that religion was for all men. It is hard for us today, my friends, to realize how exceptional, how striking, how startling, such a doctrine must have been to the religionists of that day. They no more thought of making any one religion universal than they would have thought of making any one language universal. And yet Christ here presents one of the fundamental truths of all His teaching, that He was come to put away the sins of the whole world; and that Christianity, the Christianity of Christ, is not an appeal to some men, some nations, but absolutely to all mankind, that they may be gathered again into the recognition and fellow-ship of the Heavenly Father.
Then there was one other truth. Not only was Christianity to be a religion for all men, but it was to be a religion for all of man. And this was the truth which needed enforcing first: that Christianity was for all of man. Exemplified, as it was, by our Blessed Lord, by the very character of His mission and the great sacrifice that was before Him, of which He spoke, saying, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I strong until it be accomplished?" He had to leave this propagation of His Gospel, this spreading of the great truth to all men, to the apostles and His disciples who should follow after. He gave them the command: " Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." But, I say, it is this very truth, that Christianity was for all of man, that needs to be brought home first, in order to make the other possible. In Christ's time the ideal, as we know, of what religious life meant was illustrated by that of Saint John the Baptist, the getting away from the world. In fact, we know that the Pharisees, the most powerful and important body there in Judea, were known as men separated, they were people who stood aside. None of the innocent joys, none of the innocent delights and pleasurable activities of the life of the world, could they take part in. Oh, no, they were too religious for that. The great scheme that Christ came to bring before men was not separation from the world, not fleeing from the world; but permeation rather, into the world, mixing in the actual, busy life of the world. That was the spirit of Christ, with the love and service and faith and devotion which He bore and which all His followers should carry on after Him. Not running off into the desert places and shutting the world out, but entering right into the midst of life; so that there may be this elevation, this inspiration, if you please, this renewal of men's hearts and minds, in contact with the spirit that is in them as the gift of Christ.
Christianity for all of man. How strikingly is this illustrated in our Lord's case here. I presume Saint John the Baptist could not have been bribed or forced, even at the peril of his life, to have attended such a scene of festivity as Christ did. For Christ recognized that not only sorrow must be met and comforted, but joy and delight and all the innocent manifestations of life; these are also a part of the whole life of man which Christianity has come to sanctify.
In other words, that man, the whole of man, and life, the whole of life, is to be included within the religious sphere, and not a mere slice or portion of it, as had appeared under the old ideal which John the Baptist taught.
And let no one think, my friends, that this makes Christianity an easy religion. If one is in search of an easy religion and life, then asceticism, that doctrine of Saint John the Baptist, is the easy way to escape from the stress and trials and temptations and obligations of life. That is the easy way. But to carry out in love and patience the sense of the Divine vocation, right in the daily duties, the common obligations and the whole relationships of our daily life, and to keep this spirit of love and service and sacrifice for our fellows, as a vocation of God that is hard. But by the grace of God, by the help of the great Master, you and I may do it. We have simply to open the doors of the heart, we have simply to make an appeal to Him from whom comes all power, and He will enable us, He will give us power, in this deep and wide and rich and full sense, to become the sons and daughters of God.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[January 24, 1915]
"Jesus saith unto them, 'Fill the water pots with water.' And they filled them up to the brim. And He saith unto them, 'Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast.' And they bear it."
St. John ii: 7, 8.
I attempted last Sunday morning, my friends, to call attention to the exceptional character, I might say; of Christ's first public act, the first public act of His ministry; as He went not undoubtedly as the great majority of those who were interested in His teaching and were following Him, He went not as they might have perhaps suggested or insisted, to some mountain apart and gathered about Him a band of attentive hearers, but He went direct from the banks of the Jordan, from the stern, ascetic ministry of John the Baptist, to a festival, a marriage festivity, a scene of the very greatest hilarity in the Jewish practice. I said that we might naturally look for some deep lesson to be drawn from this act of our Lord's, and I tried to enforce the fact that this lesson was, we might say, briefly summed up in this: that the religion which He came to establish in the world was not for a fraction of man, but for the whole of man; not for a part of man's life and its obligations, but for the whole of life. That the Christianity which Christ came to preach has not only relation-ship to tears and sorrows and disappointment, but that it takes in the joys of life. Life, the whole of life, was to be permeated and sanctified by the spirit which He introduced into the world.
Now I wish to draw, before we leave, the teachings of this Epiphany season, as this is the last Sunday in the Epiphany sea-son, I think we may draw a very instructive lesson upon the conduct, the exemplary conduct of the servants on the occasion of this marriage feast at Galilee. They were obedient, to put it in a word, but that is not all; their obedience, as we study the record, we see was prompt obedience, exact obedience, complete obedience.
Now let us look briefly at these three points. First, I say, their obedience was prompt, prompt and unquestioning. They heard the clear command, "Fill the water pots with water," and they filled them. Now it is very easy to recognize that there might have been quite a chance there for discussion and debate and hesitation and delay. These servants might have said, "Why, what is the meaning of this command? It is the business of the governor of the feast, recognized through all the ages, it is his business to give orders here and to make up any deficiency in the marriage preparations. We should get our orders from him." But they did not. Or, again, there might have arisen in their minds question as to the fitness and the purpose of this command of the Lord. There might have been long debate and manifold speculation of this. They might have said, "Do you hear that command, Fill the water pots? All these six great stone jars with water, now that the feast is nearly over what is the use of such an abundant supply? If we fill one jar with water, will not that be enough?" Or, was there a suspicion in their minds that this Jesus of Nazareth was about to introduce some new and strange rite among them of purification and baptism, picked up from John the Baptist by the Jordan? They might have debated over that and hesitated and delayed in fulfilling the command. But not so. They were prompt in their obedience. They heard the command, they understood the command, and they obeyed it without question, promptly.
Now, I think, my friends, right here is a lesson that is very much needed to be pressed home today. How many there are, alas, who can never, in the words of the inspired writer, "come to a knowledge of the truth," because they question or disregard or ignore the very first principles of spiritual or religious life, and that is prompt obedience to known duty. How many there are to-day who, of course, would not say anything directly disparaging of Christianity, but they put it off, they defer it. One says, "Well, I am very busy trying to find some reconciliation between science as we know it to-day and the scheme of nature and Christianity." Another has great trouble over the morality of the Old Testament or the miracles of the New. And another, in the name of acquiring sufficient knowledge of Christian evidences, puts off and puts off obeying plain, simple, and direct commands which he fully understands and recognizes; he puts them off until he becomes an archaeologist or an antiquary. Now it should be brought home to each and every one that no amount of strenuous industry, either of head or of hand, can be a substitute for simple obedience, simple and prompt obedience to that which they see and know to be right and in line with the Lord's command. Of course, there are many things which are not clear to us; but what is the real process, the true process, of getting a clear grasp of these truths which lie beyond our brief apprehension at present? There is one way: "He that will do the will of God shall know of the doctrine." That is it. Knowledge is to follow doing, and not come before it. There is no profounder rule, no better rule, that we should keep in mind. A man sees here and there these simple commands which Christ has laid down: repent, believe. Now he cannot put these aside; he can-not say, "I want to see farther down the road before I take this step." Take that step. That is the first step; the light is be-fore you, and you will find it will grow and fill all the pathway. But if we daily and delay, contrary to the example of these servants, we shall end nowhere; we shall find ourself marking time instead of marching.
Well, again, another notable characteristic was that their obedience was exact. They did precisely what Christ asked, commanded them to do, and not something else. And yet again, here was opportunity for delay or for departure from the strictness of the command. They might have said, "Why, surely one jar will be enough. He has said fill the jars, but we know that will more than meet the requirements at this late hour of the feast. We will fill but one jar." Or, they might have said, if they had any hint from the injunctions of Mary the mother of Christ, that in some way wine was to be produced to make up the deficiency, "Well, it is true He said fill the water pots with water; but nobody puts wine in stone jars, but wine skins. And if He intends to turn the water into wine, or bring about the change, whatever it may be, why wine skins are the proper receptacle for wine." But they did not. "He saith unto them, Fill the water pots with water. And they filled them."
Now there is a lesson for us all here, my friends. How many there are who, while it is true they will not make definite and out-ward objection to Christ's commands, yet think they can circumvent them. For instance, a man will say, "Well, I am going to be just as noble and honest and charitable as I conveniently can; I will lend a helping hand to others, I will try and lead a pure life. But all that I will do without any further connection with any particular church." Now it is strange that in an age like this, when law is recognized everywhere and apotheosized everywhere, that a man should, that so many should come to the conclusion that religion is the one sphere where all things are at random, where there is no definitely appointed order. Now Christianity has an order; there is an order in things spiritual as well as in things natural. Christ established a church, He has laid down definite commands for repentance, for belief, for baptism, for communion. "Do this in remembrance of Me." And the man who thinks that he can make up for his neglect or disobedience with his attempted claims to be something else, we see how far his conduct is from that of the exact compliance on the part of these servants, who might have mustered up a great many excuses, in accordance with the customs of that time.
And lastly, their obedience was, we may say, complete. They might have said, " Just filling one of these jars at the most will be sufficient," and partly filled them; but they "filled them to the brim." Their obedience was complete.
Now let me say that while the moral lesson to be drawn from the obedience of these servants is directed mainly toward those without the church, here is a lesson that comes home directly to us who are within the church. "They filled them up to the brim." Their obedience was complete. They not only did partly what the Lord commanded them, but they did their utmost to fulfill that command, filling the jars to the brim. Well, now, I say, this is a lesson that comes home especially to us as church members. Duty is laid down for us not only in matter but in measure; not only in kind but in degree. If you turn to the twelfth chapter of Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans, you may see how strikingly this is set forth there. After giving a long list of Christian virtues, he says that it is not only a kind of skeleton obedience, but it must be clothed upon with the emotion of the heart. "Give with simplicity; rule with diligence; abhor that which is evil cleave to that which is good " not simply refrain from that which is evil, but let the heart also give its protest: abhor it.
Now is there not here a very important lesson for us? A great truth is here illustrated which, in the words of a very distinguished foreign writer, has been stated thus: "We may be sure that no virtue is or can be safe that is not enthusiastic; no heart profoundly pure that is not passionately on the side of good." So, in our service of the Master, it is not enough to approve, in the way of obedience, His commands; it is not enough to have a kind of asthenic admiration for His requirements and His teachings, but our whole heart must come into it. The skeleton of simple obedience must, I say, be clothed upon, rounded out, with devout and benevolent affections. And then we shall realize the truth of these sayings, and manifest to the world that beauty, moral and spiritual beauty, as well as strength, is in His sanctuary and in His service.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[February 14, 1915]
"And Jesus said unto him, 'Receive thy sight: thy faith hath made thee whole.' " St. Luke xviii:42.
The portion of Scripture set as the Gospel for to-day gives us the record of our Lord's last journey to Jerusalem, and the record extends on through the following chapter. Our Lord had been in comparative seclusion with His little band of disciples in the uplands, and now He feels the time has come to make His last advent in the Holy City. So He crosses the Jordan, and on the way passes through Jericho, pausing there for a little while and then passing on, and makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He comes to Jericho. And how striking a fact it is, my friends, that while Jericho was second to Jerusalem alone in point of commercial prosperity and prominence, as well as beauty, and while it was the home of the priests it is calculated that at Christ's time there were over ten thousand priests and Levites who made their home at Jericho yet the incident here records Christ's entering and passing through Jericho as the first time and the last time that He visited that great city.
Now I think there are one or two incidents in connection with this visit to Jericho that point to two very practical and important lessons, and I wish briefly to bring them to your notice:
Our Lord, as He approaches Jericho, meets the blind man close to the city borders, and as He goes on into the city and passes through the streets, He there meets another interesting character, that of the publican Zaccheus. Now is it not a striking fact that, entering this city which might well be called the second Holy City, with its innumerable priests and Levites and their servitors of the temple, with its great beauty and wealth, that our Lord might have, we would think, selected there some conspicuous personage among the Levites or priests or the great business men of the city? But the matter of fact is that He selects as the direct, immediate objects of His mercy in this great city a poor sightless beggar and a rich social outcast. Now I think this points us, I say, to two very important lessons.
The first lesson is the impartiality of the Divine procedure with respect to persons. " God is no respecter of persons."
Or, as it is otherwise translated, "God is no accepter of faces." Here in Jericho were men of command in things religious and with regard to the things of the law and the state; but it is not on these that, during the brief time He is there on His first and only visit to that city, that Christ sheds forth His mercy and His benefaction and blessing. It is not simply the fact that He selects the blind man and gives him the cure, restores his sight, simply because he happened along at the opportune time but I wish to point out the fact that He does this right there in the city where apparently He has no time to stop and have communications and discussions with the great leaders of the religious life of that day. He was no respecter of persons, neither poverty nor riches. And if we say, "Oh, yes, Christ had a particular leaning toward the poor blind man," on the other hand we must not forget the rich Zaccheus. He was drawn toward him; and if He says to the blind man, "Receive thy sight," likewise He says to Zaccheus, "This day does salvation come to thy house."
The fact is to show the things which men strive for in this world, so eagerly, so incessantly, counting for nothing, we may say, as respects the winning of the Divine favor; that that favor goes right straight and direct to but one thing: to the honest and penitent heart. And the man who has that he may be rich, he may be of high station, he may be fathoms below the common public interest and respect, but if he has a heart that desires to know God, to serve God and love God an honest, repentant heart then the Divine mercy is sure to go out to him.
But not only do we here read the great lesson of God's impartiality with regard to persons, that He is no respecter of persons. How difficult that was for the religious leaders of Christ's day to realize! They said, in their contemptuous way, "Look at Him; the friend of publicans and sinners. Why, how shocking! It is the very impertinence of absurdity for a person claiming to be the delegate of the Most High in religious matters to consort with the low and the outcast and the despised. Why does He not seek out those of reputation, those who fear God and keep His commandments?" That was the great point of the quarrel between the religious leaders of the day and Christ. And they struggled, as we read in the record, very seriously, very persistently, to win Him over to their side; but He only said, "No; I will take no part in your masquerading, your mechanical religion. I am looking for hearts; I am not concerned with outer modes and circumstances that you set so much stress upon. I am looking for hearts; if any man will open the doors of his heart, I will come in unto him, no matter whether he be dressed in rags or in the finest clothing that money can purchase here in the world."
But the second lesson, namely, the great lesson brought to us here in this incident, is that God has no hard-and-fast system of bringing men into the kingdom and to Christ. How strikingly is this illustrated, we may say, in the miracle here of the healing of the blind man. Five or six cases of the healing of the blind are given us in the Scripture record, and there is not a case of repetition among them; they were all healed in a different manner. To cite one or two: There was the man born blind in Jerusalem and Christ, after his appeal, sends him to the pool of Siloam—" Go wash." "And he went and washed and came seeing." And there was the blind man who also made his appeal to him in Bethsaida, and in this case how differently he is healed. Christ makes an ointment of clay and spittle and anoints him and touches him. And the man begins to see, as he expresses it, "men walking as trees." And He touches him again, after having led him aside from the other company, and then he "begins to see clearly." But in the case of this blind man Bartimaeus, how different He does not touch him; He makes no ointment; He does not send him to the springs of Jericho to bathe and come seeing; He simply says to him, "Receive thy sight. Thy faith hath saved thee."
Now here, my friends, is a very important lesson for us, and it is one of the most difficult lessons for Christians to grasp: that God is free in all His ministrations of mercy; that there is no definite, hard-and-fast program by which men are to be brought to the confession of Jesus Christ, and that He was a wealth of ministration. He brings one man to Him by his reason, who after prolonged investigation at last reaches the conclusion that Christianity, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is the sure conclusion of solid reasoning of God and man and immortality and the moral order of the world. With another man He does very differently. He is brought in by his moral sentiment for the beauty of Christ's character. He does not think much of the logical evidences of Christianity, but he says, "A character like that, with its wealth of benefaction and kindness and love for all men that character has won my heart, and I give that character my heart and my mind." Or another man He brings to the confession of the right quite differently. He is a man of peculiar nature, phlegmatic temperament, very difficult to rouse. Affliction comes upon him; flames sweep away his property; death stalks in and takes from him those nearest and dearest to him. And at last he who was so indifferent to the calls and claims of Christ and religion has his heart softened by the ministry of these deep and searching afflictions and is ready to cry out, "I believe. Help thou my unbelief ! "
My friends, if this truth could be realized, that we cannot make out any definite system or program for the Divine ministry, how much of the schism and the ruptures in the history of the church would have been obviated! Our own church has sinned deeply, no doubt. In 1661, had the religious leaders of our church recognized this truth when the Presbyterians came back and said, "With these slight changes in your prayer-book, we will still be Presbyterian Episcopal" but they said, rigid and stem, "We cannot make even the slightest change "—and the Methodists would never have split off from us; it was never the wish of John Wesley to break with the Episcopal Church and if our leaders had grasped this truth, that there are men of various dispositions and that God applies his ministrations in their conversion in different ways one man by his reason, another by his emotions, another by his moral tastes and sentiments if they had realized at that time this great truth, the great Methodist Church, I am convinced, would still have been as Wesley intended it to be, a constituent part of the great Episcopal Church.
This is the lesson to be derived from this last journey of our Blessed Lord: that God is no respecter of persons; that all conditions with Him are the same, so far as outer circumstances of life are concerned, if the heart is right. A man may be rich, or he may be the veriest outcast. In this very chapter from which our text is taken, a wealthy ruler comes to Christ and says, "What must I do that I may inherit eternal life?" And Christ said, "Keep the commandments." "All these have I kept from my youth up." "Yet one thing thou lackest," Christ answered, "sell all that thou hast and give to the poor, and come and follow Me." That was one process; and how many through the ages have supposed that it was the only real process. Poverty and the surroundings of poverty, surrendering riches and the possessions of the world, and raised up through the monastic orders, as being the one pathway wherein the favor of God and the Divine benefactions could be found. How different there was the rich man, the rich social outcast; but not a word like that given to the rich ruler is given to him. The word that came to him was without any commands that he should sell all that he had and give to the poor: "Zaccheus, come down; this day salvation is come to thy house."
God is free, and all His ministrations; though men may be bound.
( Originally Published 1914 )
The Heritage of the Commonwealth:
Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse Part 3
Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse Part 4
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