Brief Sermons By Doctor Converse Part 4
[February 21, 1915]
"Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in Heaven." "Do not sound a trumpet before thee." "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth."
St. Matthew viiii, 42.
Our Blessed Lord, in the previous chapter of the record of this Gospel, the fifth chapter, had laid bare the narrowness and the shallowness and the utter inadequacy of the Jewish traditional-ism in the interpretation of the doctrines of the law. He had selected a number of cases in which their teaching had been utterly inadequate and wrong, as the case of murder and adultery and divorce and revenge. In this chapter He passes to take up also the perversions in the teaching of the practices of the law, and He instances three cases as illustrating the inadequacy, the shallowness and the unspiritual character of the interpretation which Pharisaism or the leading Judaism of the day put upon these practices, and the three instances were all found in alms, in prayer and in fasting. Now these are not only three instances, but they are three all-inclusive instances that comprehend, we may say, in themselves, all possible moral and religious relation-ships between them and man. The alms represent the moral relationship between man and himself, and so, we may say, go above the others. Prayer of course represents our relationship to God; alms our relationship to man. Now what was it that our Blessed Lord found fault with in these things? It was not be-cause their prayers were irreverent; it was not because they were given to vain repetitions, which was a charge distinctly brought by our Lord against the heathen, but it was not that; there was deference, there was all the outer form of reverence in their prayers. And again, take the alms: they were not niggardly; but something was certainly wrong. And the alms and the prayers and the fasting as I mentioned before, we find that our Lord's questioning or fault with them was not that they were done outwardly at least in an irreverent way, or in an unjust or unkind way; but there was something else that was wrong. He makes the charge definitely, that the trouble in all these cases, in their alms, in their prayers, was that they were actors, hypocrites. Now in classical Greek the term "hypocrites" simply meant "actors"; and it would have been no offense to a Greek of that age to be charged with being a hypocrite. But the interpretation in this case refers to the deepened sense of peril of acting in moral and religious matters and the consequent evil that comes from being an actor in morals or in religion. As a diversion acting may be simply something entertaining, at best; but in the sphere of morals and religion, acting is death, at best.
Now our Blessed Lord saw that there was acting here, hypocrisy, through all their practices. In other words, the supposed motive or sentiment which prompted them in all these religious practices was not a real one. That motive should have been a simple, sincere, and devout desire to please God and do His will; but if they did these things not with any such motive, but in order to curry favor with the people or increase their own sense of self-importance, then they were acting. Whatever their motive was in these practices, no matter how well kept the outer form was, the motive was one not pleasing to God. "Take heed and beware, lest ye be hypocrites." Now what made them hypocrites? Not the failure of the outer form, but the failure to embody in the outer form the true spirit of a sincere and devout desire to please God and to serve Him.
Our Lord gives two warnings here. In the first place he says,
"Do not sound a trumpet before thee." Do not sound a trumpet before thee, in order that you may attract men, in order that you may attract the attention of those about you, so that people will say, "See how attentive he is, how exact he is in all his performances of his religious duties. Is he not a most exemplary man?" But, you say, are we not told to "let our light so shine that men may see our good works? " Certainly but something is added "that your Father in Heaven may be glorified." Not that you may be glorified, not that your complacency or your reputation in the community may be enhanced, but that your Father in Heaven may be glorified. And indeed this is most significant, the moment we begin to put emphasis on something else than the desire to please God and to serve Him in all our religious practices. How important it is to bear this is mind during this Len-ten season when we give ourselves over to helpful services and personal restriction and keeping of fasts. How important it is to realize that all these are but outward and will be unavailing before God unless there is a true motive, a desire to shape and develop our characters by these practices into the Divine likeness, into the fullness of the perfect stature of man in Christ Jesus.
Now of course when a man begins to put emphasis on the outer and fails to keep sight of the inner condition, a sincere and honest purpose, there is nothing tragic in the transition; but it is a sure and steady and secret degeneration, until at last, by so doing, throwing emphasis upon that which is outward and failing to realize that the chief emphasis must always be on that which is within, he will find it the ready road to disbelief and finally apostasy. Our Lord Himself says and oh, how much need there is that this be realized today "How can ye believe, who receive only?"
As I have said, this transition which comes from putting the emphasis upon the outward, of course is not abrupt, immediate, it is not sudden; it is slow, it is secret, and in good part, at least in the beginning, unconscious. But "A little rift within the lute, Expanding, makes the music mute."
The man who begins in that way will unconsciously go on and on until all his religious life becomes outward instead of inward.
He is keeping up practices and performances, but there is lacking the inner heart, the real and true motive which should be the de-sire to do God's will in all things.
And our Lord gives another warning. We are not only not to "sound a trumpet before us," that is, we are not to seek to win men's admiration or to make people realize how well we are per-forming our duties and fulfilling our obligations; we are not only not to sound a trumpet before us, but we are not to let the left hand know what the right hand does. Now there is many a one who is superior to the first fault which our Lord names who falls a victim to the second. In the eighteenth chapter of Saint Luke's Gospel a parable is given by our Lord of the two men who went to the temple to pray. And the Pharisee prayed, " I thank thee, God, that I am not as other men are." Now we perhaps have thought that these words were uttered aloud. But no; they were spoken to himself. No word was said that would offend the ear of the publican kneeling nearby praying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner." This man was a victim to such spiritual vanity and ostentation that he was going deeper and deeper into this second kind of degeneracy, namely, spiritual pride. As he looked piously up to heaven, doubtless his thought, put into words, was something like this: "I certainly have earned an unusual measure of Divine favor, by the strictness of my life and the fulfillment of all my duties here in the temple and else-where, and I can come before Him not simply as a petitioner, but as one who can present my claims for His favor. I have striven to fulfill His will, and therefore I am not as this publican here is. I have kept the fasts, I have given to the poor, and I have fulfilled the obligations that rest upon me as a member of God's chosen people."
Now I say, this stage is more perilous than the other, even. Because here a man rests solely upon himself. He is conscious, as a matter of fact, that he has done things involving self-sacrifice in the way of work and labor for others . . . and the thought comes home to him, as he thinks complacently of himself, "I certainly may congratulate myself that I am becoming more and more a true member of the Church of God." This complacency, I say, this self-pride, is a point that we should be on our guard against; not letting the left hand know what the right hand doeth. We may go to the other extreme of course, and think we are doing God a service when we charge against ourselves indiscriminately a great many accusations that are really not so. We do not need, as it were, to bow and bend ourselves and make false accusations against ourselves. That is not humility. True humility, my friends, is the "head up" quality, not the "head down" quality. True humility comes from looking unto Jesus, beholding there the fullness of human perfection, and realizing that no matter what we have done or what we have at-tempted to do or how much we have accomplished, realizing how infinitely short we come of the fullness of the stature of perfect goodness as illustrated in the great Master Himself. Looking unto Jesus. If you wish to have a humble spirit, that is the way to cultivate it: not saying hard things against ourselves, but keeping the eyes upraised, and realizing that we have ever before us in the Blessed Master the very fullness of all perfection, of all that is goodness in human nature. And if we do so, if we keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus, we will have then the true spirit of humility. It will be to us not simply saying hard things against ourselves, but realizing how infinitely we are removed from the fullness of perfection as illustrated in Christ Jesus. As Saint Paul said, "I come no whit behind the very chief est of the apostles," and undoubtedly he was right; and he was also right when he said, "I am the chief of sinners." These are the feelings which come to one who gazes upon the Lord Jesus, realizing the fullness of His perfection and that we are to aim at that and in the course of eternity come to be developed into that. And there will be within us, as we gaze upon our fellows, just this second feeling, "I, with my advantages and the opportunities I have had, come so far short that I am indeed worthy to be classed among the chiefest of sinners, though I come no whit behind the very chiefest of the apostles."
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[March 21, 1915]
" 'Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.' " St. John iv: II.
I presume there are few episodes in our Lord's earthly life which have a more attractive interest for the devout student of the Gospel record than the meeting of our Lord with the woman of Samaria at Jacob's well. It was in the very first year of His ministry, in the early spring, and doubtless the fields out there on the slopes were covered with the beautiful flowers so abundant in Palestine at that time of the year. Right near the well rose the great towering form of the mountain Gerizim, where Abraham had offered his son in sacrifice, or attempted to offer him.
Now when we take up the words of the colloquy between our Lord and the woman, we cannot but observe at once the nimble-wittedness of the woman. When Christ began to address her with questions, casting her eye toward the great mountain, she endeavored to interject into the conversation the everlasting theological debate as to whether Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim was really the holy place of Palestine, where worship should be offered to God. Taken of course literally, her words stated simply a physical fact. The well of Jacob was deep. We can see it there to-day; it is one of the places of interest in Palestine that is absolutely beyond all peradventure of debate or doubt. Taken literally, I say, these words expressed simply a physical fact. "Thou hast nothing to draw with" Christ stood there, empty-handed " and the well is deep." He had, apparently, no means for drawing the water from the well. "Thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep." But taking these words in their spiritual significance, we find our Lord's mind glancing from the water there in the well to the living water which He alone could bring, making use, as He always did, of surfaces and physical facts, so that they rebounded from the commonplaces of life up to the great eternal truths of the spiritual world. Let us ask, then, what these words, taken in a spiritual sense, what they imply and what they express.
They imply that man everywhere is possessed by a restless, unquenchable thirst, that the soul wants something which the world cannot give it. No matter how varied the experiments may be, the result is always the same there is remaining still the unquenchable thirst. We have not only the testimony of the Psalmist, "As the hart panteth for the waterbrook, so panteth my soul for Thee," but the widespread myths which are found practically in almost all nations myths that bring before us the elixir of life and the fountain of youth these testify to the fact that there is deep down in the heart a spiritual thirst which it cannot find the means unaided in this world to satisfy. As a poet has expressed it, "These myths, this fountain of youth, the rivers of life, these, I feel, are a part of the hunger and the thirst of the heart."
Well, these words, then, I say, imply this unquenchable thirst of the spirit of man. But what do they express? They express the great truth that man cannot unaided reach the well of living water which shall quench his thirst. Now men have said, "Yes, we can reach it. We have means. There is a thirst of the soul, yes, but we will try pleasure. Fill all the spots of life with tuneful breath, and see if we cannot do away with this thirst quench it and satisfy it." And so we know that men have in all ages sought, as devotees of pleasure, to quench this thirst. They have made life, so to speak, a great banquet, with the very spirit of revelry and festivity and lights and music. And yet have found in each case that sooner or later Conscience stalks in, like the skeleton at the feast the skeleton brought in at the Egyptian feasts in the midst of the banquet, in order that men might look upon it and see what would be the end of all this revelry and riotous living. And when Conscience speaks, deep down in the heart of man, in the midst of these pleasures, perhaps satiated by them oh, how great the change is the lights go out, the music ceases, the wine is turned to bitterness in the glass. And to every devotee of pleasure comes, sooner or later, the truth of these simple words of the woman of Samaria: "Thou hast nothing to draw with." You cannot reach that living stream which will quench this thirst of the soul, by pleasure.
"Oh, but," says one, "of course not. There is a higher means. There is penance, religious sacrifices and ceremonies." And, my friends, how horrible, not to say sublime, has been the earnestness and the energy with which men have sought to quench this thirst of the soul by so-called religious devices; not only by implied sacrifices and ceremonies and ritual devices, but by innumerable tortures of the body also. And yet, through the history of all the world's religions, must be written the words, "Thou hast nothing to draw with." You cannot by implied sacrifices and penances and by personal tortures and bodily sufferings, you cannot in this way reach this living water.
There is one more way that has been tried; and it is a way that is perhaps the most popular in our day. It is culture well rounded culture, the expansion and discipline of the mind, the soul's powers and faculties. "We will scorn delights and live laborious days." By the development and discipline of our powers of mind we will be able to satisfy this thirst of the soul. And we know how this "labor" has gone on and on; we know how permanent it is even to-day. Men are ready to say, "Well, if the personal God does not exist, at least the Divine exists, and it may be found by the open mind, culture of the faculties of the mind; introduce the soul to the great treasures of art and science and philosophy and morality; expand the mind in the midst of these treasures, and you will find they will quench this long pursuing thirst." But we know what has been the result. Men have found that they might as well try to quench this bodily thirst by a painted fountain on canvas, or warm this body by a painted fire on canvas, as to quench this deep-down, irresistible thirst of the soul simply by culture and knowledge.
But these words express something further. Not only is there nothing to draw with in the hand of unaided man, but "the well is deep." There, my dear friends, lies the real secret of universal failure. If the river of water that will quench this thirst were a brook by the roadside, we might drink as we pass by and go on our way refreshed; but, "the well is deep." Deep as the sin of man, and the justice of God; deep, so deep, that nothing can take away or quench this thirst less than the sacrifice of the life of our Blessed Lord. The cross of Jesus Christ I speak it reverently the cross of Jesus Christ, viewed spiritually, is the measure of the depth at which this living water flows.
I have read of cases where the bodies of men have been found in northern Arizona along the course of that great canyon, and each story is plain, showing where men have tried this pathway, apparently believing it would lead them down to the great river; and back they came. Another tried this path, and back they came. And there was the great flowing river below them if they could only reach it; but it was so deep down that they never reached it. And so they perished of thirst, looking at the great, flowing river below them.
Just so it is in the spiritual sphere. No man can say that the atonement of Jesus Christ is simply an incident, a good man going to his death in the cause of religion. We have but to look out over history to see that the cross of Jesus Christ is really the centre of this world's spiritual development. No man can steal by it, or outflank it by ignoring it. It stands there, flanked on the right by priest and prophet and law-giver; flanked on the left also by poet and philosopher and moralist. It stands there; and men must confess that here is the great instance of the infinite remedy which alone can satisfy this thirst of the soul.
"Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep." The irony of the misapplication of these words as applied to Christ is apparent at once. They are true, undeniably true; there were other agencies priests and poets, philosophers, moralists, and religionists; to these they were applicable; but in Jesus Christ they fail, because He Himself had this living water which alone can quench the thirst, the deep-down thirst of man's soul. As He said on that last great day of the feast, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink," and as He previously said, "Whosoever believeth in Me shall never thirst."
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ brings about our forgiveness and reconciliation with God the Father; and brings about also the quenching of this spiritual thirst. For at the bottom of this spiritual thirst is nothing less than the consciousness of sin, the consciousness of separation from God the Father; and it is brought about, we know, by the life and the death of our Blessed Lord and Master.
"He that believeth on Me shall never thirst."
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[March 28, 1915]
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy king cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation." Zech. ix:9.
The interest and the imagination are so naturally and so deeply engrossed by what we may reverently speak of as the picturesqueness, and indeed the pathos, of the great scenes which we commemorate today, that in all probability a great many miss the really tragic character of this day. For it was a tragic day to the Jewish nation; it was a day of test, the final test and triumph; it was a day of breaking into segregations. It was not the crucifixion, it was not the destruction of Jerusalem forty years later, that set the date for the great dispersion of the race; but it was this Palm Sunday. For it was upon this day that our Blessed Lord for the first time and for the last time presented Himself to the chiefs of the Jewish nation and to the people as their rightful and absolute Lord. The Pharisees and the Scribes had again and again said to Him, "If thou be the Christ, the Messiah, the absolute King, tell us so, tell us plainly." But He had refused; He had refused to prematurely disclose this last great claim. Indeed, all His previous public career had been, we may say, a progress toward the revelation of this great day when He presented Himself fully and finally as the absolute spiritual king.
Now I wish to look briefly at the preparation that our Lord made for this great day. He not only did not make this last supreme claim to be the absolute Lord of men's minds and hearts and consciences; He did not make that early in His career; He began as the priest of pity and benefaction. He went about doing good, healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, raising the dead, comforting those that mourned. And He went about also fulfilling His second great claim, not only as priest, but as prophet. He revealed the truths of God which, in their fullness, had been hidden, we may say, from the beginning. It was He who revealed the reality of the Fatherhood of God: that He was not simply a great Emperor seated on high, looking down with careless eye, inspecting the doings of humanity, but that He was a Father whose heart throbbed at all times with an infinite and unquenchable love for mankind. So He went about as prophet. That sermon on the mount how that gave the way to the hearts of many "Blessed are the poor; blessed are the meek; blessed are they that mourn; blessed even are they that are persecuted." It was not until far on in His ministry, toward the latter years of His ministry, that His withering exposure and rebuke of the narrow and conceited and mechanical righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees aroused their malignity; their opposition had be-gun to be very open, it was true; still it was not universal. There was one claim yet to be made which should arouse universal ire and enmity against Jesus Christ; for it was based directly upon all the beliefs and hopes and outlooks of the Jewish people: the coming of their King, their great Messiah. And when Jesus Christ presented Himself as their King, not only as prophet, as priest, but as the absolute king of men's minds and hearts and consciences, we know the answer which the rulers and the people made to that in Jerusalem: "Away with this man! Give us Barabbas! We have no king but Caesar! His blood be upon us and upon our children!"
Now our Blessed Lord, I say, would not allow any enthusiasm on the part of the great multitudes to betray Him into a premature disclosure of this last and greatest claim to be the eternal Son of God, the Messiah, the rightful and absolute spiritual king of man's hearts and minds and consciences. We know that after the feeding of the five thousand, when in their enthusiasm and eagerness they would take Him by force to make Him a king, He withdrew silently and quickly, and hid Himself. Again and again we find Him, when He had displayed his Divine powers, cautioning those who were about Him to see that they told no man. And on that memorable scene of the transfiguration, with Peter and James and John, on the mountain, when His body was glorified there in the transfiguration, He did not even trust them with that, but bade them, "See that ye tell no man."
And why was this? Because our Blessed Lord knew that if this spiritual claim as the absolute spiritual king, the Messiah, if that were made, it would at once arouse the concentrated ire and malignity, the suppressed fury of pride on the part of the rulers of the nation, and would therefore frustrate all His works. So He held it back. They knew Him as priest, as prophet; but it was kept for this day to make the full and formal and final presentation of Himself, to introduce His higher office as the very God of men's minds and hearts and consciences, their true spiritual king.
So the Church, in commemoration of this great event, has called this Palm Sunday. Now in the minds of some there may be possible a touch of irony in celebrating as a victor king one who suffered the ignominious death of the cross. The palm, we know, was the prize awarded solely to the victor. There were subsidiary crowns crowns of olives, crowns of pine and laurel, which were given to those in the Olympic games that were not successful in winning the first prize; but to the actual victor in these tests, to him alone could come the palm. And the question is asked, "How can you, then, wave the palm to-day and claim Christ a victor king, after His ignominious death? " The answer is that Christ was not a victorious king, if you regard Him simply as a heroic, political leader who sought to restore the ancient claims and the fallen fortunes of the Jewish nation. But that was not His project, nor His enterprise. He did not have the motives, nor the methods, nor the power for establishing a great worldly kingdom; but He did establish a kingdom in the minds and hearts and consciences of men; and that kingdom is recognized to-day by millions upon millions throughout the widest and best part of the world. My dear friends, there is nothing more striking in all history as we look back and see this slain Christ who claimed to be King and founded His kingdom not on fear or force, as most kingdoms are, but rather on the spectacle of love for mankind. For Christ is the most amazing spectacle that all history presents.
Just think of it for more than nineteen centuries Christ has moved philosophers and martyrs, and in all generations men have been only too eager to offer themselves to fulfill His commands. And to-day the history of that man who lived centuries ago is not simply a noble tradition; it is a living power in the hearts and minds of millions of the very best in the world.
Christ is the victorious king, then, because of the victories He has achieved and of the love that He has awakened.
And let me say in conclusion, my friends, that we hear a great deal to-day about "back to the Jesus of the Gospel back to the Christianity of Christ"; we acknowledge of course the vast patience and industry that has gathered an immense amount of information about the conditions and physical circumstances of Jesus' human life here upon earth, and that is well; for it brings home to us its truth. But we may not stop there; we cannot dismiss or ignore the great claim of Palm Sunday simply in the name of Christ's prophecy or of Christ's priesthood. This claim, which was the turning point in the history of the Jewish nation, comes home to each and every one of us. I wonder how many of us have thought that every individual has a Palm Sunday some time, somewhere, the claims of Christ come to you, in this most important of all forms: "Will you be My disciple? Will you acknowledge Me as the absolute king and ruler? I know you admire My teachings; I know you admire My benefactions and the motives with which I went about doing good, but do you recognize and will you strive in mind and heart to follow Me as following the absolute king who should rule your spirit?"
That is the meaning of Palm Sunday Christ presenting Himself in His last and highest of all claims, that of the absolute king whom one and all should accept. And if we follow Him, not simply as benefactor, not simply as the kindly priest, but as king, "He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the very light of Life."
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[April 4, 1915. Easter Sunday]
This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
There is no cloud upon the spiritual horizon of this day. There was a cloud in the far horizon of Christmas Day a troubled line of suffering, of disaster and the crucifixion; a cloud of gathering dimensions at the Epiphany and the Transfiguration, until its dimensions and its darkness covered the whole earth upon Good Friday.
But, thank God, there is no cloud upon this day, for "Christ once dead, dieth no more."
In His name then, in the name of the Master Who loved us and gave Himself for us, I extend a greeting to you to-day--to the aged, and the young, to the communicant, and the non-communicant, to the parishioners present, and the parishioners absent, and the stranger who shares with us to-day, let him not feel the heart of a stranger on this great, glad day. For this day brings home to us as no other day can, the great truth that we are all children of one Father and brothers of one Christ; and this is Home Day for all of us.
We commemorate to-day, my friends, the greatest event in history.
We commemorate today a miracle; and not only a miracle, but the miracle which guarantees all the other miracles of the Gospel record. For they can only be appreciated rightly, as to their reality and their significance, when read in the light of the Resurrection.
Now this is Saint Paul's teaching. He says, "If Christ be not risen," then what? "our preaching is vain; your faith is vain; your hopes of Heaven are vain, and we are yet in our sins."
He does not base Christianity upon several things which might suggest themselves.
He bases the whole fabric of Christianity, which stooped down to deliver man from sin and restore him to fellowship with God, not upon the Miraculous Birth, for that is incapable of historical proof, not even upon the Crucifixion, for, apart from the Resurrection, what is the Crucifixion? Simply one of the many martyrdoms of men in the cause of Truth.
Upon what, then?
It is the Light of the Resurrection shining upon the Crucifixion that makes it the infinite sacrifice of the Son of God.
He bases it, then, I say, upon the Resurrection of the Lord, which took place this day.
He rose from the dead.
And so the Church today, with accent of unshakable certitude, says to all upon this great, glad day, "This is Home Day, a day that should go deep in the heart of every one who hears the great proclamation of the Gospel."
This is the day on which He rose from the dead, Who dieth no more, and Who could say, as no other could say:
"He that believeth on Me hath eternal life."
We speak of eternal life as simply something to come. That was not Christ's view of it.
Eternal life is in him who believes honestly and devoutly in the Christ. Let one have faith in Him; let one take up His way of life, and try honestly and earnestly to live it, and he has, by the grace of God, eternal life in him.
As one of the greatest German theologians said, so strikingly, "Eternal life is a present possession."
Eternal life. Not simply a hope, or an outlook, or an expectation, but a present possession.
Eternal life, in the midst of time, under the eye and by the strength of God.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[April 25, 1915]
"That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine." Ephesians iv:14.
"In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." St. John xiv:2.
A venerable divine, venerable both for his great age and for his varied attainments and wide influence, upon being asked, "What for you personally is the great and satisfying argument for hope and for belief in personal immortality and the future life?" answered promptly, "I can give you the great argument that comes home to my heart with special power, and it is this: Jesus so believed; Jesus was a believer in personal immortality, not only for Himself, but for all." And he said, "These words, 'if it were not so, I would have told you,' are for me the very anchor of my hope, my belief, my conviction of the truth and the reality of personal immortality."
Jesus so believed. "If it were not so, I would have told you," says Christ to His disciples. Jesus so believed. And this utterance of our Blessed Master, this revelation of the condition of His conviction and judgment and knowledge, was for him the argument of arguments for personal immortality in the life to come.
It was not, then, on the part of our Blessed Master, as he uttered these words, simply an emotional declaration of hope, or of belief, or of trust. But they were the declaration of judgment, of conviction, of firm belief; more than that, of definite knowledge. Our Blessed Master did not say, "I hope and I trust and believe that there will be a personal immortality for each and every one of you, my disciples." But He says, and virtually His words conveyed this very thought, that He knew it to be the truth. "If it were not so, I would have told you." He was convinced of it Himself, He knew of it, just as He knew of the prevailing presence of the Holy Spirit in His heart; just as He knew that He was at all times and everywhere speaking the Father's mind and doing His will. So He says to the little band about Him, "If it were not so, I would have told you. Are you anxious to know whether you are to disappear at the grave, or to be absorbed by some great Oversoul? I tell you, you will live your personal life, you will have your personal immortality in the world to come. If it were not so, I would have told you."
Now the fact, I say, that Jesus Christ believed thus, was for this venerable and learned divine the great argument that came home to him, as he said, "I am not only familiar with it, but I have studied profoundly the great arguments pro and con, in favor of and against immortality, and after all these years I can put my finger upon the one testimony of the Gospels which comes home to my mind with prevailing power at all times, these very words: 'If it were not so, I would have told you.' " He felt, indeed, as all who seriously study these words must feel, the in-consistency, the impossibility, of such a person as our Blessed Lord, as Jesus of Nazareth, a man of such perfect character, who walked at all times in the way of the Father's design and desire, who was filled at all times with His spirit, whose whole life was one unending service of love and faithful devotion to accomplish the Father's will on earth that such a one, such a soul, should be allowed to live and to die under a delusion so radical, so far-reaching in its effects, would, I think, to put it mildly, afford to every thoughtful mind a straight pathway to atheism. That the soul of Jesus Christ, I say, could have lived and died under a delusion that there was to be a personal immortality, not only for Him, but for all men doing the Father's will as He had done it, sacrificing everything in order to carry on the work of furthering the Kingdom of God here on earth, would, I have no doubt, afford a straight and ready pathway to practical atheism for every thoughtful and reflective mind.
Well, what argument have we to show that Jesus Christ did believe thus? Of course, we have this direct statement here. But, let us pause a moment. Jesus Christ undoubtedly had convictions and beliefs, my dear friends, which He did not disclose at the time. And there were many of His views and His convictions which have to be gathered inferentially, that is, by comparison, by welding together the different recorded statements of the Gospels. For instance, Christ's interpretation of the Old Testament, especially His view with regard to the atonement, over which the theologians had debated so many ages: Was it for the elect few, or was it absolutely for all men and every man? Or, as regards His view of morality and religion: Did He recognize that there is a possibility of downright and real and vital morality existing apart from religion, or did He believe that they are really inseparable?
Now, I say, we must have comparison, we must draw inferentially what was Christ's conviction and His belief on many of these topics. So many might be brought up, but let me just mention one: The delay or the speediness of His second coming. Here He gives no definite statement; it is only by comparison of this with that and that with this, that we are able to reach a view from which we may draw the truth with regard to His belief and His hope. He does not say, "I would under no circumstances have you go on living under a delusion; I would have you know the definite truth. If it were not so, I would have told you."
When we look at these words, my friends, we see at once that they were not a mere emotional declaration. They were utterances of One who positively knew. They are utterances of knowledge, of absolute conviction; not merely of hope and trust and belief and expectation. They were Christ's way of bringing before us the great truth; for Christ knew that here was the one fundamental and underlying truth upon which He could base His whole system of the recovery of man to fellowship with God.
Now there were many of Christ's beliefs which He did not explain, which He did not endeavor to make clear. There were delusions, indeed, under which the early Christians lived, one of them the marked delusion of Christ's speedy return. Not only the common Christians, but Saint Paul himself undoubtedly lived the greater part of his life expecting that at any moment the opening heavens would disclose the glory of the Lord, returning to claim His own. Now Christ did not say, "As to My speedy return or My delayed return, I will give you an exact statement." Nor did He say, "If it were not so, I would have told you." He let them go on under that delusion which, undoubtedly, had its beneficial effects at the time.
But in these words He brings clearly to the front the fact that He is expressing not a hope, not a trust, simply, but down-right, definite knowledge.
In an age like this, we can turn the pages of the lives of many who are living, so far as morality is concerned, holy, moral lives, possibly of the most upright characters, yet who tell us that it is time this dream of personal immortality should be given up. Indeed, I might quote the names of a number who have inter-national fame to-day, who tell us, yes, there is a possibility of absorption in some great Oversoul, as Hinduism teaches, but that we should cast aside entirely and forever this theory of a life after death; the personal and individual life hereafter is nothing but a dream that must be laid aside.
Now, instead of going into lengthy arguments, let us, just for our own comfort and in order to bring home this great truth, take this very verse. Here is the great Master Himself : Do you believe Him? If not, just realize what your refusal to take His word and His action as here set forth, means. The conclusion must be that if these words expressed nothing more than a hope, an outlook, an expectation of personal immortality, then we have the Master's own words, "I would have told you, frankly and freely, of the uselessness of such an expectation." Nor can it be said that Christ, out of the compassion He had for the little band about Him, might have, as it were, concealed the real fact from them. He knew their spiritual weakness, He knew the small spiritual attainments they had made; and more than that, He knew the terrible trials and sufferings they would be called upon to bear, and in His infinite compassion He might have said, "Let them keep their delusion; it will inspire them and nerve them on and fill them with courage to meet all opposition, even death itself." No. He says, "If it were not the absolute truth, I would have told you."
Think a moment, my dear friends: What the Ten Commandments are to all law and to all morals, these ten words, "If it were not so, I would have told you," are to all Christians hope and belief and conviction of personal immortality; indeed, the very foundation of it.
If we deny these words, if we hesitate to confirm the truth of our Blessed Master's words here by our own faith, what are we doing? We are doing something more than just, as it were, putting aside the hope and the outlook for personal immortality; what are we doing to Christ? We are enabling men to say to-day that centuries ago they laid a man in the grave; a man who spoke finely, who lived fearlessly, who went about doing good and then we must add that, if these words are not absolutely true, if what I say unto you is not the absolute truth, then they have laid away in the grave not simply the body of Jesus Christ but His honor, His truthfulness, His moral character, as well.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[May 2, 1915]
"For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead." I. Corinthians xv:21.
"For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead." Are we to understand that the Apostle Saint Paul intended that his words here, this declaration, should be taken literally? Or are they to be interpreted merely in a figurative, metaphorical sense? "By man came death; by man came also the resurrection of the dead."
With regard to the first part of the paragraph, "By man came death," I presume that scientists would make that their special object of attack. And with regard to the second part of the paragraph, "By man came also the resurrection of the dead," undoubtedly not a few of the theologians will maintain, with the scientists, that it must not be taken in a literal sense, but in a figurative, metaphorical sense.
By man came death. Science tells us that death not only reigned from Adam to Moses, but that for limitless ages, myriads of ages before man appeared upon the earth, not only individuals that were created passed away, but that whole types passed away, so that their likeness, their resemblance, is not on earth today.
As a poet has put it:
"'From scarped cliff and quarried stone,'
But is there a sense in which we may take these words literally? I think, my dear friends, that the literal view is the true view. "By man came death." But in order to bring this before us briefly, we must look carefully at what we mean by death. We must distinguish death on the one hand from mere disintegra.. tion, dissolution, and, on the other hand, from annihilation. Death, then, properly speaking, in its true meaning, is the separation, the sundering of the rational, self-conscious, personal spirit from its physical organism. That is the true meaning of death.
Well, now, if that be so, nothing below man, or the irrational and impersonal creatures, whether they be plants or animals, can die, in this deep and true sense. They can be disintegrated, they can be dissolved back into the earth; but they have no personal, rational, self-conscious spirit to be separated from its bodily organism by death.
On the other hand, nothing above man can die. The angels, it is true, may be annihilated; but they cannot die, in this strict and deep sense, since they have no physical organism from which their spiritual natures can be separated and sundered by death.
So that, indeed, death in this deep and true sense is possible only for man. And as Saint Paul tells us, it is the consequence, it is the penalty for man's sin. Without sin there would not have been this violent rupture, this sundering of the spiritual nature from its physical organism. There would have been something quite different.
But some of the theologians not all of them, by any means are very ready to debate and explain and explain, until they explain away, we may say, this second part of Saint Paul's teaching, "By man came the resurrection of the dead."
"Ah," says one, "was it not the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, that rose from the dead?"
Just so. But if we look closely, we shall see that it was the humanity, the perfect man in Jesus Christ, which won the victory of the resurrection. For God to have conquered death would have been no triumph He Who could make and unmake at His will. But it was the perfect, sinless human nature of Jesus Christ which rose from the dead; and as Saint Peter said in his first sermon, "It was not possible that He should be holden of death." Not because He was the eternal Son of God, simply; but because He was the perfect, sinless, righteous Son of Man; it was the perfect humanity, it was the perfect, righteous humanity of Jesus Christ, that triumphed over death and over the grave.
This is the literal view, my friends. By man came death. As the penalty, the consequence, of his sin, came this sudden rupture, this violent sundering of the relationship between the spiritual and bodily natures. And it was the power of righteousness in Jesus Christ as the perfect man which was the reason why it was not possible that He should not "be holden of death." Death could have no glory in Him, no hold upon Him, as the sinless one, the perfect one.
But, you say, He did die? Yes, He died. It was because He refused to become simply humanity's ideal, simply humanity's exemplar; it was because He wished to be something more, that He entered into the grave and gave Himself to death. He would be humanity's Redeemer; He would offer Himself upon the cross in order that Divine justice might be satisfied and in order that the Kingdom of Heaven should be opened to all believers.
But, it is asked, do you mean to say that, taking this literal view, man has been subject to death from the very beginning? Here again the scientist smiles and says, "I can show you in a very few minutes that this world would not be large enough, there absolutely would not be standing room for the increasing myriads of the human race of all the centuries that have appeared upon the earth, unless there were some way devised to pass from this earth into another world."
True; if you wish to believe that.
What is the explanation in the light of this literal view?
No explanation can be found that can shed any light upon the question but the fact that Jesus Christ was the eternal Son of God, and therefore had all power in Himself; in this way:
You remember the transfiguration? What did it mean? The question is not so easily answered. It was a miracle, yes; but it was one miracle that met no absolute need; it was one that satisfied no recognized want; it was one miracle that was not asked for. What did it mean?
To my mind, my dear friends, it was the supreme moment in the life of Jesus Christ. He had won the eternal Crown of Life, by a life of perfect sinlessness, and now there should be no death for Him; death could have no power over Him; but He was, by a painless and glorious physical transfiguration, to be transformed, elevated into the other world. Not by the painful and violent rupture of death; but by a painless and glorious transformation of the transfiguration.
But He chose otherwise. He chose to be not only humanity's ideal, humanity's exemplar, but also humanity's redeemer. He said, "No; there is the cross. I will descend from the mount of transfiguration, and during the next six months I will set My face steadily toward the cross, that I may suffer for mankind and bear all their sins in my own body upon the tree."
I think these, my friends, are thoughts that may comfort us and strengthen us.
I read some time ago an article by a very prominent writer who said, quoting these very words, "by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead." "Can any intelligent clergyman read or preach these words without an effort to sup-press a smile?"
Ah, such irony as that has no place here.
By man came death.
As the sin of Adam brought death into the world, so the perfect righteousness of the humanity of Jesus Christ has opened the gates of the eternal world to all believers: satisfying the requirements of Divine justice, and making it possible that God should be just and yet be justified in those who believe in His Son.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[May 23, 1915]
"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." Acts ii:1.
Whitsunday, or Pentecost, signalizes the close of the great cycle of events which we commemorate in the Christian year. Some may say, "Trinity Sunday follows." It certainly does, and is one of the greater festivals; but it does not commemorate an event, a transaction. It might be called a theological festival; it commemorates an eternal truth. But Whitsunday is the last of the great festivals which closes the cycle of redemptive events which we commemorate in the Christian year.
It marks, indeed, the close of the old dispensation, and the beginning of the new. It is not Christmas, it is not even Easter, that marks the close of the old dispensation. Our Blessed Lord was made under the law a very expressive term, that He was made "under the law," and He continued under the law through-out all His earthly life. All the old order and law and institutions of the Old Testament continued intact until this day, Whitsunday, until Pentecost.
The gift, or the descent, of the Holy Spirit to dwell forever in the hearts of men is the crowning consummation of the Divine program for the redemption of man. It closes all, it finishes all, it completes all. It is the great final gift, and, we may say, is the gift that was most essential with regard to Christ's redemptive work.
Doubtless there are not a few who are apt to think of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as something rather remote, something not directly intimate, so to speak, with us, with our on-going, as is the doctrine of the Son and also that of the Father. But let us recognize that it is the Holy Spirit, the gift and the descent of the Holy Spirit, which makes real and vital and efficacious all the other gifts of God. And we ask as to what was Christ's redemptive work? Now I think that theologians in the past, and indeed some of the present day, have spoken of Christ's redemptive work, his suffering upon the cross, in a sort of external, legal way, as if Christ's suffering could be separated in pieces and a part flung to that person standing off there, with the remark, "That is for you." Now that is not the Scriptural theory. That is not the doctrine of Pentecost or Whitsunday. Christ is our sacrifice, and our lives are "hid with God in Christ." Just as the life of our body makes all the members one, just so the descent and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is Christ's spirit, makes us one with Him. We are all one body, and Christ is the head of that body.
Now, I say, it was the gift of the Holy Spirit that made real and vital and efficacious all of Christ's redemptive merit and power and grace and work and teaching for us. And, further, the descent and indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not only most necessary to make real and vital to us Christ's work for us, but it is the one great means whereby we are to live the Christian life and, in fact, become Christians. It is not knowledge, or ideas, or truth, or even example that will make us Christians. Nothing short of the descent and indwelling of the Holy Spirit will make us Christians and enable us to achieve a Christlike life.
What a striking illustration we have of the powerlessness of truth alone, and of example alone to complete a Christian character in Saint Peter. There was a man who had companied with the Lord from the very first, there was a man who had heard the Lord's prayer from the Lord's own lips, there was a man who had been present at the transfiguration, when he saw that Body glorified; there was a man who had witnessed all the miracles and all the marvellous teaching. And yet, on the last day of our Lord's earthly life, that man, in the enjoyment of all these privileges, could deny his Master three times. But what a change was wrought after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended in power upon Saint Peter and made of him a new man, the great Christian champion.
We should always bear in mind that Christianity is not simply a program of doctrine, or a code of precepts or moral maxims. It is something infinitely more. It is a new invasion of the Divine life and quality into human life and human hearts; taking possession of the soul of man and enabling him thereby to achieve a life after the model, the pattern, of Jesus Christ.
And let me add just one more word: the gift, the descent of the Holy Spirit was not only the final and, we may say, the most precious gift of God, because it made all other gifts, I say, efficacious for us personally; but it is the most assuredly attainable of all God's gifts. "He that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." It is the one great gift of God which we are always right in asking for, and which we are always sure of attaining if we ask in earnestness and with a true desire to have that gift. What a contrast, we may say, with the other gifts of life; for all blessings are gifts of God. Happiness and wealth and honor and power and influence and affection these are all gifts of God. But we know that we may pray for them ever so earnestly, and work for them, and yet they may fail of attainment. Because if we could know all the circumstances, perhaps, we should recognize that for the individual working or praying for them, if we knew all the facts at the time they have been denied, we should realize that it was best that they should not be granted.
But in the case of the gift of the Holy Spirit, it is, I say, the one gift we are always assuredly right in asking for, and always sure of receiving if we do ask with an honest heart and an earnest desire.
How beautifully, in the Gospel of Saint Luke, our Blessed Master brings home to us this great truth:
"If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him."
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[May 30, 1915]
"Hold fast the form of sound words in faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus." II. Timothy i:13.
Today we celebrate, we may say, a unique festival, the last to be appointed by the church, the last of the five greater festivals. And the point of contrast with the other great festivals that have gone before is that while the others celebrate events in time, transactions that took place on earth and in time, to-day we commemorate not an event, something that never came to pass or happened: we celebrate an eternal truth, the triune nature of the great God Who created us and all the worlds. In the other festivals, we may say, the church has her eyes, her gaze, directed earthward; but in this great festival to-day the church raises her eyes heavenward, and with all of holy mystery and yet with the assured certitude of perfect faith, says, "I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost."
It is interesting to notice that our church has appointed one day, then, to commemorate a doctrine, the great fundamental doctrine out of which all theology springs and into which all theology may be resolved. She commemorates a doctrine; she devotes one day to commemorate a doctrine, and, lastly, she devotes but one Sunday of the fifty-two to commemorate that doctrine.
Now I think we may readily draw from these two facts two very important lessons. The church appoints one day to fix the foundations of belief in what I have called the very underlying, the great fundamental fact on which all true theology must be built: the triune nature of God. She dedicates to-day this service to that great truth. Now I think we may safely say that the appointment of Trinity Sunday is the church's protest, her solemn and universal protest against theological indifference. It is her way of insisting that since the revelation of the Divine nature has been made to man, man is just as accountable for believing rightly so far forth with regard to the Divine nature, as he is for acting rightly toward his fellowmen. And yet how much we hear to the contrary of this to-day. The lines of Pope might well be taken as a text for a good many of the expositions and discussions with regard to this great fact. He says:
"For forms of faith let graceless zealots fight; His cannot be wrong whose life is in the right."
But we should make a distinction between the faith and the belief. Faith is larger than belief, but belief is the essential part of the faith. And when the revelation is made that gives us the true idea with regard to the Divine nature, any careless and in-adequate conception of God so far forth is of the nature of wilful idolatry. For the true conception can be gained by honest study of that revelation in the Holy Scriptures.
But I pass to the second important lesson, that the church dedicates but one Sunday to this orthodoxy of belief. For while it is fundamental it is not everything. "Hold fast the form of sound words." How? "In faith and in love."
I have said that we should distinguish between faith and belief, for faith is much the larger word. Belief is the assent of the mind, we may say, to the truth of conviction; but faith is the outgoing of the whole mind entire; the will reposing on the Di-vine nature seeking to have His spirit and guidance mold and dedicate the whole of our lives.
In times past we know what extreme emphasis was placed on some orthodoxy of belief. A man might be impatient, uncharitable, almost anything, but so long as he was supposed to hold definitely and directly to certain propositions in the creed, why he was accepted as a Christian. And to-day we have the other extreme, when people are saying they would like to have a "creed-less Christianity"; which is simply a contradiction in terms. The very name "Christianity" shows that the Christian religion centres about an historical person, and that person was Jesus Christ. Then the natural and necessary questions arise: Who was He? What has He done for us? What is He doing for us now? The answers to those three questions constitute the creed of the church. The three facts which are the answers to them, I say, comprise the creed of the church. And he who stands shouting and ranting about a "creedless Christianity" is talking utter nonsense. He may have a moral code without Christianity; he may have theosophical speculation without Christianity; but he cannot have the Christian religion, based upon and centred about an historical person, without a belief in that person. And this fact alone constitutes all creed. Mark it is not theory of creed; it is simply a statement of the truth: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.
What has been done for us? The making of our peace with God, and restoring us to fellowship with Him, by Jesus Christ. This and the others are the facts of the creed; and we should carefully distinguish between men's theological speculations which they have endeavored in many cases to establish as facts and attach to the creed.
The church, then, while she recognizes the importance of be-lief, recognizes also that faith is larger than belief. Belief in the fundamental truth of Christianity may be likened to the eye in the body. The body is larger than the eye; a man is much more than the vision or his sight; there is the heart, the conviction, the will. And just so it is in the matter of faith. It is the outgoing of the whole mind, the entire mind of man.
I sometimes think we have a striking analogy in the human body. There is the inner frame of bone, solid, substantial, articulate. But to make a human body it must be clothed upon with flesh, with tissue and sinew. And just so with our orthodoxy of belief. It must be clothed upon with faith and with love; and the love must be of the spirit of Christ. The three great principles ruling His life should rule ours: Faith and love and service.
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[June 20, 1915]
"Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life." Acts v:20.
We have here given us in this twentieth verse a most profoundly important message. An angel delivered that message, a Heavenly angel. It was addressed to the whole band of apostles, just delivered from prison, and through them to all the people; and the substance of that message, we may well say, is the very epitome of Christianity.
"Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life."
The emphasis, as you will recognize, falls on two words, "words," and "life." "The words of this life." Christianity has indeed truths to proclaim. Christ was a teacher of truth as well as a master of life, and He taught the most important truths for man's welfare, both here and hereafter. He taught the truth concerning the essential nature of God, that God was not simply a judge, or a king, or an inspector, looking down with indifference upon the on-going of the world; but that He was a loving, Heavenly Father, a loving Father to every man. Christ also taught the truth concerning the nature of man: that man was in very deed the Son of God, though his consciousness of that relationship had long been darkened and perverted and disrupted by sin, yet, as his body is the centre of sense-consciousness, as his soul is the centre of self-consciousness, so his spirit is the centre of God-consciousness. Christ came to reveal that great truth that we are in deed, not in metaphor alone, but in deed also, sons of God.
And He came also, through the medium of these "words of life," to reveal the essential nature of our Heavenly Father. Indeed, in the Blessed Master we have revealed to us, just as far as the limits of human character would permit, the essential character of God the Father. Jesus Christ presented Him in His character, in His counsels, and in His conduct of life, so that He could say with absolute assurance, absolute truthfulness:
"He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father."
The age-long questions, "What is God like?" Men have asked that question in all ages. Again, "How does He live?" Or, "How would He have men live in a world like this?" These all meet their answer in the life and teaching and conduct of Jesus Christ. So that, as I have quoted His own words:
"He that hath seen Me here upon this earth, among men hath seen the Father."
But, again, these "words of life," emphasize the fact that Christianity is not only or even chiefly a proclamation of truths, precious and dear as they are, but it is above all a power of life. A power of life that, seated in the heart and well rooted, from thence energizes the whole man, his body, his soul, his spirit. Undoubtedly that is what Saint Paul meant, chiefly, when he uttered those startling words: "The Kingdom of God is not in words, but in power."
Now this power of life is not, as you well know, simply existence. It is moral character coming to its fruits in good works and in conduct of life. And it is power that is wanting, often; for men know what is right, and yet how few keep continually doing what is right, more for lack of power than lack of knowledge. The only way to get this power is by personal striving to follow Christ. How His words come to our minds as we make that statement:
"He that hath the Son hath Life. I am the way, the truth, and the light."
And all Christ's overtures and entreaties and pleadings and counsels, we may say, centre about those words which, when we think upon them and dwell upon them, enlarge in their meaning and in their thought for us:
"Come unto Me."
Now of course we know there have been many well-intentioned man-made religions that have taught men many moral truths and that have pointed, with wavering finger perhaps, to a world beyond. But when we compare them with Christianity, we find this one essential wanting: they lack the power of life. It is not the "words of this truth," or the "words of this proclamation," but the "words of this life." And of the best of these religions it is no extravagance to say that they are like an attempt to warm one perishing with cold by holding before him the picture of a fire painted upon canvas; or like an attempt to feed a hungry, famished man with a mere bill of fare. No matter how accurate, no matter how inviting or tempting the bill of fare may be, there is not power in it. Like the wounded Samaritan by the roadside: did he want instruction? Did he need a guide book put in his hand showing him the way to Jerusalem? Not at all. What he wanted was a kindly, loving power that should not only take him by the hand, but lift him up and bear him away and ease his suffering.
And what the world needs is a power of life.
We recognize that this is an age of intellectual unrest. Most of you are undoubtedly fully aware that we hear on all sides cries arising from intellectual difficulties, theological difficulties, scientific difficulties. But let us always bear in mind the one great fact that all of these, however searching they may be, lie only in the speculative sphere; whereas Christianity, the power of life, lies essentially in the practical sphere.
And the only way to test it is to try it. Take Christ and follow Him. Follow Me, He says, not simply listen to Me, not simply admire Me, not simply defend Me, but take your steps after Me follow Me. And if we do that, if we with sincere devotion and desire seek to keep after the Master, seek to make ours the principles that ruled His life love and faith and service, we shall then have within ourselves the greatest evidence, the most unshakable evidence and proof of the personal application of this truth, and that evidence is the gift of Christ, this "power of life"; as He Himself said,
"He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."
BRIEF SERMONS BY DOCTOR CONVERSE
[July 25, 1915]
"But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto Him, We are able." St. Matthew xx:22.
Saint James the Apostle, whose memory and martyrdom we commemorate, in accordance with the church calendar, today, with his brother, Saint John, together with Saint Peter, were recognized as the leading spirits of the Apostolic band. Not only are their three names given first in the list of Apostles, but in studying the Gospel record we find that on three memorable occasions they were separated from the rest of the Apostolic band and were commanded to stand in the immediate presence of Christ, to witness three most important events. Peter, James, and John were selected to witness the first miracle of restoring the dead to life, in the case of Jairus' daughter. Peter, James, and John were selected to be with Christ on the occasion of that great miracle, the transfiguration. And, lastly, these three were selected to be with Him as companions in His last agony in the garden.
We should be careful not to confound Saint James, whom we commemorate to-day, with the author of the Epistle in the New Testament. They were of very different mold. The author of the Epistle was a man characterized by calmness, by devotion, and by his administrative ability; and therefore he was readily chosen to be the first bishop or head of the Jerusalem church. But Saint James, whom we commemorate to-day, was a man of far different mold. He was bold, he was impetuous, he was one that was ready to call down fire from heaven upon those who had offered unkindness and want of hospitality to his Master, the Lord Jesus. And it was his boldness, his intrepidity, his de-voted aggressiveness in the Master's cause undoubtedly that led to his being selected to be, not the first bishop, but the first martyr, of the Apostles.
In the incident from which our text is selected to-day you will recall from the second lesson that was read how Salome, the mother of James and John, brought her two sons before Christ and asked Him that they might be chosen to sit, one upon His right hand, the other upon His left, in that great kingdom that was to be. And Jesus said unto them, turning, undoubtedly, His eyes upon the two young men rather than the mother:
"Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to be baptized with My baptism, and to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?"
And they answered, "We are able."
Now undoubtedly not a few timid, dry-as-dust theologians in the past as well as the present dogmatic, unimaginative commentators, have confessed that these words seem to them to bear a note of exaggeration, of a want of realization of the difficulties that were before them. They were words that should not have been uttered; they were words built on pride, we may say, and a sense of willingness and personal daring. We find the Master did not rebuke them. He said unto them, not, "Do not speak so," but: "Ye shall indeed drink of My cup, and be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized."
No, these words, "They say unto Him, We are able," so far from being simply indicative of an unreasoning, unthinking boldness of spirit, seem to me to ring with the very resonance of faith and courage and hope. They speak for us indeed the very spirit that should animate the Christian soldier and servant of Christ, with which he is called to be filled at all times.
I think we may recognize these words as setting before us both the expectation and the spirit that should fill the true soldier and true servant of Jesus Christ. I say the expectation. When we are called to be servants of Christ, when we give our public confession of faith in Him, when we are called, in other words, to be Christians, what is the expectation? Are we to expect that Christianity is a kind of method of escape whereby the burdens of life, its sorrows and trials, its disappointments and discomfitures, are to be taken away for us because we have named the name of Christ and confessed publicly allegiance to Him? There are not a few Christians who for many years make the great mistake of thinking, "Why am I called to undergo these trials? I have confessed Christ; I have made public confession of my faith in Him; I am a Christian, a member of the church. I do not see why no exception is made in my case, or why there should not be."
The true blessing which Christ promises and which the Gospel promises, is not the removal of life's burdens and cares, but some-thing far better, namely, the gift of grace and strength to bear them aright.
Nor is the expectation to be relieved of temptation or of the perplexities of duty. We should set it down that temptation is not an accident. Temptation, for a free being, is at once a law, a trial, and a privilege. Men may vary the kinds of temptation; they may flee into the wilderness or build cells by the sea, foolishly thinking they can escape temptation; but they only invite temptation of another kind. We are all created in the lowest plane of moral freedom; and the problem for each and every one is to make his way from innocency to holiness by and through temptation and trial and moral progress.
No, Christianity is not a method of escape from the burdens of life or from the temptations of life. Nor is it a method of escape from what frequently overtakes us: perplexities of judgment in the case of duty. Indeed, to do duty is only one half of the Christian discipline of life. The other half is to find out, seriously and honestly, what the duty of the hour is, and then do it after we discover it. I am reminded of an illustration, which I may have quoted before, but it comes readily to mind:
A young man, undoubtedly seeking to make himself secure in Carlyle's favor, said to him, "I have read nearly everything you have written, and I have come to ask you a solemn question; and that is, what ought I to do?"
Said Carlyle: "What ought you to do? Why, that is the very problem God Almighty sent you into the world to find out first yourself, and then do it."
I have said the spirit. These boys said unto Him, "We are able." That voices for us, I say, the expectation and the spirit that should animate the true soldier of Christ. I think one great mark or characteristic, my friends, of the true Christian soldier is his cheerful courage. Not simply courage to do and dare, but cheerful courage. It is our duty as Christians not only to under-go the trials of life, not only the burdens and temptations of life as Christian soldiers, but we should be filled at all times with an invincible cheer in our moral warfare.
Undoubtedly in the past infinite harm has been done to Christianity by men confounding gloominess with goodness, melancholy with piety. Men for ages went about with long-drawn, woe-begone, funereal gravities of countenance, under the delusion that by making themselves miserable before men they were making themselves more holy before God.
That is not what we are called to be. We are called to be bold and vigorous and cheerful in our work and in our warfare. For life, from the cradle to the grave, is a warfare; and combat is the only condition of true victory.
There should be the cheerful spirit. We are called to show how royal and cheerful and elevated a spirit the Christian soldier can maintain through all the trials and problems and discomfitures of life.
Let us never forget it. Not enough that we should meet and Overcome the problems that God has put before us, but let us with the resilient spirit of the Christian soldier be able to show what a great thing the possession of the grace of Christ is, to enable us to meet and master all the discomfitures of life.
But I think the deepest note of those that I would point out in the spirit of the Christian soldier is faith. Faith in his Commander. He may have determination, he may have a vigorous will; but all will come to little unless there be above it all and beneath it all and through it all, a permanent and abiding faith in the greatness, in the love and forgiveness of the great Commander.
After all, my friends, it is not so much armies, but the commanders, that reap the great victories. Just as a great historian has said, it was not Carthage, but Hannibal; it was not Rome, but Cesar, that won the victories of the world.
And so Saint Paul says, "I can do all things, Christ strengthening me."
The victory, then, is not simply something for you and me to accomplish alone. We are to work, indeed; we are ever to strive, to do and to dare; yet realizing that it is Christ, the great Commander, who will and must conquer through us.
Then we can say at the close of life: "I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course"; and not, alas, as must be said in the case of some: "Their course has finished them."
( 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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