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- Discipline and Other Sermons - 5/28 -
After that sharp training a man will prosper; because he is fit to prosper. He has learnt the golden lesson. He can be trusted with comforts, wealth, honour. Let him have them, if God so will, and use them well.
Only, only, when a time of ease and peace comes to him in his middle age, let him not forget the warning of the latter part of the chapter.
For there is another danger awaiting him, as it awaited those old Jews; the danger of prosperity in old age. Ah my friends, that is a sore temptation--the sorest, perhaps, which can meet a man in the long struggle of life, the temptation which success brings. In middle age, when he has learnt his business, and succeeded in it; when he has fought his battle with the world, and conquered more or less; when he has made his way up, and seems to himself safe, and comfortable, and thriving; when he feels that he is a shrewd, thrifty, experienced man, who knows the world and how to prosper in it--Then how easy it is for him to say in his heart--as Moses feared that those old Jews would say--'My might and the power of my wit has gotten me this wealth,' and to forget the Lord his God, who guided him and trained him through all the struggles and storms of early life; and so to become vainly confident, worldly and hard-hearted: undevout and ungodly, even though he may keep himself respectable enough, and fall into no open sin.
Therefore it is, I think, that while we see so many lives which have been sad lives of poverty, and labour, and struggle, end peacefully and cheerfully, in a sunshiny old age, like a still bright evening after a day of storm and rain; so on the other hand we see lives which have been prosperous and happy ones for many years, end sadly in bereavement, poverty, or disappointment, as did the life of David, the man after God's own heart. God guided him through all the dangers and temptations of youth, and through them all he trusted God. God brought him safely to success, honour, a royal crown; and he thanked God, and acknowledged his goodness. And yet after a while his heart was puffed up, and he forgot God, and all he owed to God, and became a tyrant, an adulterer, a murderer. He repented of his sin: but he could not escape the punishment of it. His children were a curse to him; the sword never departed from his house; and his last years were sad enough, and too sad.
Perhaps that was God's mercy to him; God's way of remembering him again, and bringing him back to him. Perhaps too that same is God's way of bringing back many a man in our own days who has wandered from him in success and prosperity.
God grant that we may never need that terrible chastisement. God grant that we, if success and comfort come to us, may never wander so far from God, but that we may be brought back to him by the mere humbling of old age itself, without needing affliction over and above.
Yes, by old age alone. Old age, it seems to me, is a most wholesome and blessed medicine for the soul of man. Good it is to find that we can work no longer, and rejoice no more in our own strength and cunning. Good it is to feel our mortal bodies decay, and to learn that we are but dust, and that when we turn again to our dust, all our thoughts will perish. Good it is to see the world changing round us, going ahead of us, leaving us and our opinions behind. Good perhaps for us--though not for them--to see the young who are growing up around us looking down on our old-fashioned notions. Good for us: because anything is good which humbles us, makes us feel our own ignorance, weakness, nothingness, and cast ourselves utterly on that God in whom we live, and move, and have our being; and on the mercy of that Saviour who died for us on the Cross; and on that Spirit of God from whose holy inspiration alone all good desires and good actions come.
God grant that that may be our end. That old age, when it comes, may chasten us, humble us, soften us; and that our second childhood may be a second childhood indeed, purged from the conceit, the scheming, the fierceness, the covetousness which so easily beset us in our youth and manhood; and tempered down to gentleness, patience, humility, and faith. God grant that instead of clinging greedily to life, and money, and power, and fame, we may cling only to God, and have one only wish as we draw near our end.--'From my youth up hast thou taught me, Oh God, and hitherto I have declared thy wondrous works. Now also that I am old and grey-headed, Oh Lord, forsake me not, till I have showed thy goodness to this generation, and thy power to those who are yet to come.
SERMON V.--GOOD FRIDAY
HEBREWS ix. 13, 14.
For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
The three collects for Good Friday are very grand and very remarkable. In the first we pray:-
'Almighty God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross, who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever one God, world without end. Amen.'
In the second we pray:-
'Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before thee for all estates of men in thy holy Church, that every member of the same, in his vocation and ministry, may truly and godly serve thee; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.'
In the third we pray:-
'O merciful God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that thou hast made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live: Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Hereticks, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.'
Now these collects give us the keynote of Good Friday; they tell us what the Church wishes us to think of on Good Friday.
We are to think of Christ's death and passion. Of that there is no doubt.
But we need not on Good Friday, or perhaps at any other time, trouble our minds with the unfathomable questions, How did Christ's sacrifice take away our sins? How does Christ's blood purge our conscience?
Mere 'theories of the Atonement,' as they are called, have very little teaching in them, and still less comfort. Wise and good men have tried their minds upon them in all ages; they have done their best to explain Christ's sacrifice, and the atonement which he worked out on the cross on Good Friday: but it does not seem to me that they have succeeded. I never read yet any explanation which I could fully understand; which fully satisfied my conscience, or my reason either; or which seemed to me fully to agree with and explain all the texts of Scripture bearing on this great subject.
But is it possible to explain the matter? Is it not too deep for mortal man? Is it not one of the deep things of God, and of God alone, before which we must worship and believe? As for explaining or understanding it, must not that be impossible, from its very nature?
For, consider the first root and beginning of the whole question. Put it in the simplest shape, to which all Christians will agree. The Father sent the Son to die for the world. Most true: but who can explain those words? We are stopped at the very first step by an abyss. Who can tell us what is meant by the Father sending the Son? What is the relation, the connexion, between the Father and the Son? If we do not know that, we can know nothing about the matter, about the very root and ground thereof. And we do know little or nothing. The Bible only gives us scattered hints here and there. It is one of the things of which we may say, with St. Paul, that we know in part, and see through a glass darkly. How, then, dare we talk as if we knew all, as if we saw clearly? The atonement is a blessed and awful mystery hidden in God: ordained by and between God the Father and God the Son. And who can search out that? Who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor? Did we sit by, and were we taken into his counsels, when he made the world? Not we. Neither were we when he redeemed the world. He did it. Let that be enough for us. And he did it in love. Let that be enough for us.
God the Father so loved the world, that he sent his Son into the world, that the world by him might be saved. God the Son so loved the world, that he came to do his Father's will, and put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. That is enough for us. Let it be enough; and let us take simply, honestly, literally, and humbly, like little children, everything which the Bible says about it, without trying or pretending to understand, but only to believe.
We can believe that Christ's blood can purge our conscience, though we cannot explain in any words of our own how it can do so. We can believe that God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, though we not only cannot but dare not try to explain so awful a mystery. We can believe that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was a propitiation for sin, though neither we, nor (as I hold) any man on earth, can tell exactly what the words sacrifice and propitiation mean. And so with all the texts which speak of Christ's death and passion, and that atonement for sin which he, in his boundless mercy, worked out this day. Let us not torment our minds with arguments in which there are a hundred words of man's invention to one word of Holy Scripture, while the one word of Scripture has more in it than the hundred words of man can explain. But let us have faith in Christ. I mean, let us trust him that he has done all that can or need be done; that whatsoever was needed to reconcile God to man, he has done, for he is perfect God; that whatever was needed to reconcile man to God, he has done, for he is perfect man.
Let us, instead of puzzling ourselves as to how the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world, believe that he knows, and that he lives, and cry to him as to the living God,--Lamb of God, who takest away
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