Reuen Thomas.

Divine sovereignty, and other sermons online

. (page 14 of 16)
Online LibraryReuen ThomasDivine sovereignty, and other sermons → online text (page 14 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

not a doubt that David was the greatest man of
his day, and that in comparison with the men
around him he was among the best. He was an
all round man, physically, mentally, spiritually.
He touched the earth, and he touched the heavens,
at more points than any other man of his time.
His sympathies w^ere more varied, his nature was
larger than any man who then lived. But even
this man was not the man God meant. And we
do not get to the perfect man until we get to Jesus
the Christ. When he appears — the very angels
of Heaven unite to cry, "Arise, anoint him, for
this is He " — this is the man.

You and I and all men were predestinated to be
according to that type and order. As to the
quantity of our manhood, we cannot equal the
Man Christ Jesus ; as to the quality, we may be
like Him. We may be of the same type. And


it is the type after all which is the criterion. If
we are of the number of those who seek to do the
will of God, of the number of those who seek first
the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, then
we belong to the type of man which the Father of
our spirits meant when He said, ''Let us make
man." I am using scientific rather than theologi-
cal language because many of our theological
terms are worn thread-bare. They are like Saul's
armor, which fitted only the man for whom it was
made. Or, like some of those coats of mail which
I have seen hani2:ino^ in the baronial halls of old
England, very well for the men and methods of
the past, but worse than useless for the present.
No soldier would think of wearing them in modern
warfare. It is of no use our trying to appear
respectable in the clothes of our grandfathers, we
cannot do it. But the same life which animated
them animates us. The same Holy Spirit of God
which brooded over their hearts broods over ours.
We live on the same earth, but we do not put the
vegetables which they grew on our tables. We
grow our own. And so we have the same Bible
that they had and a better system of exegesis.
We can interpret it for ourselves, and in our own
methods, and only thus can we, in our generation,
be as true to God as they were in theirs. To me
predestination speaks of the end which God had
in making man, of the type of man that the Crea-


tor intended, and of the unchangeable purpose
that He has to produce that type — that type, the
perfection and consummation of which we have in
Jesus the Christ. A man conformed to that type
is a man after God's own heart, not conformed to
it he is breaking away from the destiny which God
intended for him.

In the latter part of this passage we are brought
face to face with a great truth, contained in
the words — * ' Who worketh all things according
to the counsel of Ills own will.^^ * Will,' as
used in Scripture is always associated with char-
acter. The Divine will expresses the Divine
disposition. We assume often that whatever is
done on earth is according to the Divine will, an
assumption for which there is no evidence in our
Lord's teaching. There is a sense in which we
may say that whatever is done on earth He doeth
it, for God's laws and decrees are working here all
the time. But a judge on the bench may have to
commit his own son to prison. He is obliged
to do it, or be an unjust judge, and yet it is not
according to his will as a father. He is not dis-
posed to do it. His will is not done when that
son is sent to jail. And I think that there is no
more fruitful source of error and wrong feeling,
than the notion that all the pains and sorrows and
losses and anxieties and burdens and afflictions
of this life are according to God's will. They


most assuredly are not. Man's will has vaulted
into the place of Sovereignty here on this earth.
It has usurped the throne. Man has been trying
to do his own will here for these past centuries.
He has been persistently refusing to do the will of
God. And the results are such as we see. But
what then, says one, do you make of the words of
the sacred penman, ''whom the Lord loveth He
chasteneth?" Eead on. What follows? ''JSTot
for His pleasure, hut ^OY our profit that we may
be partakers of His holiness." It is not acccord-
ing to the will of God, to chasten us, but there is
no other way to bring us to thoughtfulness and
seriousness. And so, this world in which we live
does not represent what society would be if the
will of God were done. It is a school-house, not
a home. It is a place of discipline, not of rest.
It is a place where man has to learn a very great
deal which is to be useful to him hereafter. But
the will of God is not done here, speaking gener-
ally ; the will of man is. And has been for the
centuries past. Everywhere, man is trampling
upon God's laws for the body. His laws for the
mind. His laws for the heart. Everywhere mer-
cantilism is dominating it over righteousness.
Everywhere, those who are sincerely striving to
do God's will are in a minority. And they are
often last instead of first. But in the eternal
future many that are last will be first and many


that are first last. Those who are seeking to do
God's will here are to be the statesman and prime
ministers and leaders when God's Kingdom shall
come. How do I know? I know because our
Lord told His disciples so. What else can w^e
make of these w^ords, **I appoint unto you a
Kingdom, even as my Father appointed unto me,
that ye may eat and drink at my table in my
Kingdom (perfect fellowship) and ye shall sit on
thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
These were the representatives of the Jewish race
who were doing God's will, and so they were to
be the judges and rulers of the nation that was
not doing it.

Now, I am persuaded that we often darken our
own understandings as to the will of God, by
carelessly saying, " It is God's will, I must sub-
mit." It is right, it is good to seek resignation ; to
be brave in the hour of trial, to force down the
rebelliousness of our spirits. And yet, to my
mind there is more consolation in believing that
none of these sufferings and trials are expressive
of God's will, that they are the inevitable results
of the rebellious will of man asserting itself from
generation to generation, until sin and death reign
every wdiere. God's will is not sickness but
health, God's will is not wretchedness but happi-
ness, God's will is not death but life, God's will is
not that any should perish but that all should


come to repentance, God's will is not hatred,
revenge, war, and all the misery these bring.
Barbarians may think so. Christians cannot.
Judgment is his strange work, mercy is his
delight. Jesus Christ revealed God's will. He
did God's will. He died to tell us, in the most
emphatic way possible, that man's rebellion was
the trampling upon holy love ; that it was not
God's will w^e should sin and suffer and heap up
miseries for ourselves ; that the more we do our
own wills, irrespective of God, the more we add
to the accumulated miseries of our race. Believe
this, as you must, if you sit at the feet of Jesus
and learn of Him, and the God revealed in
Jesus Christ becomes the great attractive centre to
which the mind turns, and the accumulated cruel-
ties of the world — its diseases, its malignities, its
despotisms — its wars, and all the myriad miseries
which afflict it, are man's and not God's. When
man separates himself from God, ignores God,
and lives self-centred, lives independently of God,
lives as though he -did not belong to a constitution
of thins^s of which God is the centre, he is addino:
fuel to the fire which the self-willed have already
lit ; he is storing up for himself, and for others,
sorrow and trouble. And then he turns round
upon Divine Providence and charges it with his
own miseries. He says *' God is cruel, God is
unkind." ^^ay ; it is man that is cruel, man that


is unkind. Our Lord never said, "Beware of
God" but "beware of men." We have to be
delivered from the tyranny of man, not from God.
The tyranny of man over man has been and is
something appalling. We call it by various
misleading names, that which is proper, that which
is the fashion and so on. The simple questions
of what is right and what wrong, what is healthy
and good, what is the will of God, these are sel-
dom asked. We want to get rid of the pains and
penalties of the present and the future, but we are
not filled full of the conviction that there is only
one way to get rid of them, to find out what is
God's will, and do it. When Jesus the Christ
was here on earth he said, " I came not to do my
own will, but the will of Him that sent me." And
the difierence between the godly and the godless
is here, the one are the willing, the other the
wilful. All law and order must rest on some
immovable foundation, and there is none to be
found but this, the revealed will of God. We
are drifting towards anarchy in the family, in the
Church and in the nation so long as we magnify
individualism and idolize something we call free-
dom, which with many, means nothing less than
anarchy, trampling upon all law and order human
and divine, and exalting the will of the creature
into supremacy. Those of us who are of the
Church of God have to proclaim the exact opposite


of this, for we are bound in the same bundle of
life with Him whose boast it was ' ' I came not to
do my own will, but the will of Him that
sent me."



"Take heed to thyself and to thy teaching." — i Tim., iv: i6.

GENIUS," says a modern writer, *'is the pas-
sion for self-improvement." While we
may be of opinion that this is not an adequate
definition, inasmuch as oftentimes we have met
with men and women in whom there seemed to be
somethinsr of that we call c^enius, without that
temper which leads a man to aim at steady self-
improvement, yet there is enough of truth in this
definition to warrant the aflSrmation that genius
is never effective unless it includes the passion
for self-improvement. From a merely human
point of view, the Apostle Paul was a man of
genius. This man comes before the world w^ith
a life as heroic as that which any man ever lived,
and a few letters, written, some to churches and
two or three to individuals. Yet this life
and these letters have immortalized him. Inspir-
ation and genius are not the same thing. The
Divine Inspiration wakes the genius into life.



That which is best in any man, that which is most
characteristic of him, will arise from its dormancy
and latency under the influences of the Spirit of
God. Thus, there is in nature room for that
beautiful variety of Christian character without
which there would be an unedifying monotomy,
a tame uniformity in our Christian life. It has
been assumed that if a man has genius he does not
need to be careful of himself, he does not need to
aim at self-improvement. The very opposite is
the true state of the case. It is the blood horse
that needs the most careful training. *' Take heed
to thyself" is a word necessary for us all, but it is
especially necessary for those of full vitality ; for
those in whose veins the hot blood seems to course
rapidly ; for those of highly-strung nervous or-
ganization ; for those whose impulses are fiery ;
whose temperament is ardent ; whose souls have
in them a craving that seems insatiable. If these
do not take heed to themselves, there will be dis-
aster. A well-balanced nature, in which the
physical, mental, and moral seem to be in happy
equilibrium, is not always found, perhaps seldom.
Some one department of our organism seems to
predominate. The tendency is to cultivate that
which it is most easy to cultivate, to the neglect
of the other. Consequently, the whole nature is
thrown out of balance and a condition of chronic
unhappiness is the result.


I want that we should think together this morn-
ing of Self-improvement, though the theme seems
juvenile ; one more fitted for a young men's
debating society than for a Christian congregation.
We need not, however, be afraid that under the
leadership of the Apostle Paul, we shall keep on
a level that is unworthy of the most experienced
Christian. I would ask you to remark upon the
advice which the great Apostle gives to Timothy,
one of the earliest presbyters of the Christian
Church. Though this man must have had special
qualifications for his work, yet these special quali-
fications did not preclude the necessity for diligent
improvement of his mental powers. *'Till I
come (says the Apostle Paul) give heed to read-
ing, to exhortation, to teaching. Neglect not the
gift that is in thee. Take heed to thyself and to
thy teaching." He is urged to do everything he
can towards self-improvement. • On that must
depend his usefulness. There is no recognition
here of any supernatural grace which would relieve
him from the use of those means whereby ordinary
men bring their minds into an ability of perceiv-
inof what is truth and what error. There are no
claims such as that of "Apostolic succession."
The man must learn how to use the ordinary
opportunities for self-improvement which are
within his reach, in order that he may be qualified
to do God's work. He must take heed to himself


first, or his teaching will not be as full of light
and of force as it ought to be.

And so it is with those of us who, in this year
of our Lord 1885, are the disciples of Christ, here
and now. Not many men have any inward call,
or any outward qualification to do public religious
teaching. But, not one of us is released from the
sweep of this injunction *' Take heed unto thy-
self." Every man of us is a trinity in unity,
body, soul, spirit. We have physical, mental and
spiritual needs ; physical, mental and spiritual
abilities — these constitutionally. They are in-
cluded in the word ''manhood." The physical
is the pediment on which the mental and spiritual
stand. It is that which confines them to this earth.
It limits and modifies their use. There is some-
thing that we have to learn within these present
limitations, which will be useful to us always.
Everything must have a beginning, and that
beginning has necessarily to be conditioned. For
how long our nature is capable of growth we can-
not say. What processes it has to pass through
before it reaches that condition in which life is
blissful receptivity and enjoyment of all around
it — of these we are is^norant. But ojrowth is the
law of our present state. We soon come to
the end of our physical growth ; and strange
though it seems, very many seem soon to come to
the end of their mental growth, although it must


be only in seeming. But no one ever comes to
the limit of spiritual growth so long as he is on
this earth. We seem only to begin that. The
most advanced Christian is but a little way on that
road, the end of which is perfect accord mentally
and affectionally with the mind and heart of our
Father in Heaven.

Now, w^e have to recognize distinctly and clearly
that the lower is for the sake of the his/her. It is
in service to it. The physical is for the sake of
the mental, the mental for the sake of the emo-
tional, and all for the sake of the spiritual. There
cannot, in the nature of things, be any real self-
improvement so long as our ideas on the relation
of the lower to the higher are wrong. There is
no possibility of any man living the life for which
he was predestinated until he apprehends truly
something about his own nature. Xor is there
any possibility of improvement until that which is
uppermost in man constitutionally becomes upper-
most in thought. Inadequate views of human
nature are at the root of personal miseries and
social perplexities. The wise old sage who said,
« ' Know thyself " said more than he knew. The
w^ords mean more now than they meant then.
Man's view of himself as to what he is and what
destined for must affect him beneficially or other-
wise in all relations of life and in all that he does.
Supposing a man has this view of life, <* I am here


to be as happy as I can make myself, here to
enjoy myself, here simply to have a good time."
That is the dominating idea. You see at a glance
its limitations. No heroism can ever come out of
it ; nothing really good or great or sublime. Xo
man moving under the influence of that idea has
ever done anything of worth or value. In the
olden days they would have called it the Epicurean
view of life. Take another view of life, that in
which a man sees something to be done out
of which comes a material reward. The idea of
duty dawns upon him, eventually takes possession
of him, masters him, and under its influence he
denies himself much to which other men are
inclined, and becomes the world's successful man
in that region concerning which we cannot use any
other words than those which convey respect — the
commercial. This man becomes stoical. He uses
one department of his nature only. He acquires,
it may be, that kind of wealth which is represented
by money, but he never acquires the ability of
using his wealth benevolently so that it will
yield the best profit to himself and others. The
first man is selfish in one way, and this man is
selfish in another way, but he is a better type of
man than the first. The Stoic was a better man
than the E[)icurcan.

We might bring other types of men forward in
illustration, but these two will suffice. In both


cases the nature is depreciated below that for
which it was predestinated. Neither man will
ever be good or noble. There is no possibility of
it. The idea which these men have of manhood
and its meaning and purpose is very much lower
than God's idea written in the constitution of man.
The first man never could be happy and the second
man never can be satisfied. Why? Because, in
both cases, the nature is larger than the idea which
controls and dominates it. Man is unhappy and
dissatisfied when his conduct is at war with the
upper ranges of his nature. These two men will
find entertainment in their several lines. In youth
the epicurean style of life has its attractions, even
its fascinations ; in manhood a life of duty even if
there be in it no benevolence, no room for affec-
tions and emotions to exercise themselves, yields
a certain real satisfaction. But the more humane
part of the nature is beggared and hungry. ** The
eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with
hearing." The spiritual part of man is clamorous.
It wants its dues, or its wine turns to venegar ; its
milk of human kindness to gall. The physical is
not here for itself, but for the sake of the mental,
the mental is not here for itself, but for the sake
of the emotional and the affectional ; and the
emotional and the aff*ectional are here for the sake
of that which is permanent and indestructible in
man's nature — the spiritual. As a child cries for


its mother so the spiritual in man cries out for its
Father, God — ** My soul is athirst for God, for the
living God, when shall I come and appear before
God ? " No direr source of misery can ever come
to a human soul than to be practically atheistic,
for *' without God" means '' without hope," and
hopelessness is the collapse of all that is highest
and best in human nature — the total eclipse of
the soul. He who makes another man an Atheist
has done the crudest thing of which man is capa-
ble. He has blotted out the Sun in the spirit's

We see then that there is a limit soon reached
to physical self-improvement, and a limit also
soon reached to improvement arising out of any
type or style of life which is dominated by the idea
of pleasing one's self simply, or of doing duty
which has relation only to that which is seen and
temporal. Every man, even the smallest and
meanest, is larger constitutionally than his business
and larger than his pleasures — using that word
as it is ordinarily used. Man's self, what the phil-
osophers would call '' the e(70,"is that which needs
to be continuously improved. And with its
improvement everything else belonging to the man
will be raised, will be expanded, will be developed
into a higher power. Let the lower nature serve
the higher, and the higher will give back to the
lower something in return of great value. Every-


thing in a man wakes up when his spmtual nature
is awake. If a man be an artist, he is a better
artist when his spiritual nature is awakened. The
costliest pictures in all Europe are those in which
the artists have aimed at bodying forth spiritual
themes. It must be so. Pigments and canvass,
with^rushes and palets, do not make a man an
artist. lie may be a dealer in colors, like the man
at the store who sells them, only on a slightly
higher level. But no man ever yet did the high-
est work of which he is capable till his heart was
awake, till the nature began to move and aspire.
And the heart will not wake, the spiritual in man
will not move in the regions limited by time and
sense. Visiting recently the picture galleries of
London, there was much that was pleasing, much
to excite interest and even wonder, but the most
impressive painting even in this matter-of-fact age,
is that which cannot be done except under the
high inspirations which belong to meditation on
Christian themes. Muncacksy's ''Calvary" and
Holman Hunt's "Triumph of the Innocents" —
a fanciful picture representing the souls of the
murdered innocents of Bethlehem following Jesus
as He is taken to Egypt, — these were the most
impressive modern pictures in all London. The
child painting in Holman Hunt's picture seems
more like the old master's with the freedom and
freshness of modern times added. A sum equal


to three-hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars
was given very recently by the British Government
for a religious painting. Artists of all classes
never seem to do their utmost and best till the
spiritual nature comes into vigorous exercise.
And so it is every where. No man is really
himself until the spirit within him is awake. The
New Testament calls him *'dead" till then. It
admonishes him in this wise *' Awake thou that
sleepest and arise from the dead, and Christ shall
give thee light." It is all but literally true that a
man is never alive until that which is characteristic
of him, as man, is alive.

And the distinctive thing in man, that which
elevates him above all other creations is, that he
can consciously, and of set intent and purpose,
worship God. He can anticipate a future, he is
so constituted that he can plan and work towards
an ideal which fills the imagination, however vivid
it may be. No other animate creature can do
this. To do this is to act as a man, to do any-
thing less is to fall below the dignity of a man.
Self-improvement is, then, the improvement of the
spiritual nature.

A type of religious life has been prevalent, we
might say dominant, in the past which has almost
lost sight of three-fourths of the Pauline theology,
anyway of the Pauline ethics. To get a man con-
verted accordinsj to the Calvinistic idea of conver-


sion, and then pretty much to leave him as
necessarily in a condition of safety, this has been
dominant. Conversion means turning the life
Christwards instead of turning the back upon
Christ and His salvation. But to turn round and
stand still is not the Apostolic idea of being a
Christian. Any new truth entering the mind
brings light, and light means life and life means
activity. How is it possible for a man, into whose
mind has come the truth of a Redeemer in Christ,
into whose heart has come a new love, the love of
that Eedeemer, how is it possible for him to be
the same he was before? To stand and gaze at
Christ Jesus is not conversion — to receive Him
is. «*To them that received Him to them gave
He power to become the sons of God." Conver-
sion is the first step in a new and higher life. It
is the man claiming that which, in God's ordain-
ment, belongs to him. It is the first step so far
as individual choice is concerned to realizing one's
manhood. But we do a man harm if we make so
much of it that all else is as nothing. The Holy
Spirit is a Teacher, *'He shall teach you all
thinsfs." We are at school — learninof how to be
men and women according to God's idea of men

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16

Online LibraryReuen ThomasDivine sovereignty, and other sermons → online text (page 14 of 16)