Reuen Thomas.

Divine sovereignty, and other sermons online

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certain conditions, and in a certain environment,
man as he grows older does not grow better. The
generosity, the trustingness, beauty and sweetness
of youth, seem to fade away, and nothing quite so
good comes in the place of them. In most cases
the whole of this life of ours seems to be occupied
with the scattering of illusions ; with the proving
that our views are short-sighted ; that our opinions
are false ; that our pleasures cannot last ; that
the things which seem to be blessings are very
often curses in disguise, so far as their relation
to individuals is concerned, and worst illusion of
all, that which relates to our own view of our own
nature. There is something else than incomplete-
ness. This idea does not account for our sense of
guilt — a sense belonging to every man — the
most pitiable form of misery, and yet, strange


to say, the deepest possible sense of guilt is not
half so appalling as would be no sense of it at all.
Whether the restlessness and the superabundant
activity of the world are not more due to the
inward sense of guilt in man, from which, in one
way or another he is striving to free himself, than
to anything higher, is a question worth w^hile our
considering. *' The wicked is like the troubled
sea which cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire
and dirt. There is no peace, saitli my God, to
the wicked." The idea of incompleteness as
accounting for what we find in ourselves is not
large enough. It leaves out too much. There are
too many facts which lie outside of it.

It covers a part of the ground but only a part.
It needs along with it the idea of depravation —
an idea which satisfies the Conscience as well as
the Intellio^ence. The sense of not beins: rijjht —
of being wrong — of being at war with something
-^ with SOMEONE, is in us all. This is what we
call the sense of sin. This sense is not consistent
wdth inward happiness. It is an internal trouble
which men would get away from if they could.
But no man can get away from himself. He may
change his place of abode — his associations — his
surroundings, and for the time be so occupied with
the newness that presents itself, as to get a partial
and temporary relief. But the old internal state
is there, and soon re-asserts itself in all its power.


No external condition can eradicate it. Men try
all sorts of devices to rid themselves of this inter-
nal sense of something wrong. Sometimes they
change their opinions, putting off one set, and
adopting another. But the taking up with that
which is more lax, or that which is more thorousrh,
does not alter the inward condition. The bad
consciousness is there all the time. It is deeper
in the nature than the region to which opinion be-
longs. It is not wrong opinion simply but some-
thing more inward which troubles us. There is
on other word but sinfulness which will express the
nature of the trouble. We have from the past
inherited a depravity — a degeneration of nature.
And it has corrupted the intellect — the affections

— the will. We think wrongly — we feel wrongly

— we act wrongly. And we are all in the same
state. No man can set himself up as of a differ-
ent order of being from the rest. ''God be
merciful to me a sinner " — is a prayer suited to

While I am carefully abstaining from the use of
scientific theological expressions, and interpreting
the simple facts of consciousness, yet I can find no
word that will stand in the place of this word
* sinfulness.' For it is quite certain that there are
in man not only defects which mean Aveakness, but
that there is also a parent defect which means
guilt. There is no man living who has not this


sense of inward guiltiness. And those who, to us,
seem the best and the truest are the readiest to ac-
knowledge that it belongs to themselves equally
with others. So generally is this the case, that
the claim of perfectionism, on the part of any, is
met with a general incredulity not unmixed with
scorn. The man is suspected all the more because
of his claim. It seems to be indecent as well as
impossible. Apart then from the gross vices of
the disreputable among men and women, we per-
ceive that there is, in this nature of ours, a degen-
eration which is not simply a defect, not simply
an entrenched ignorance, but a condition so radical
that all efforts of self upon self are insufficient for
the freeing of our nature from it.

And this degeneration is total — by which I
mean, it affects the whole nature. No part is
untainted. It is not possible that any part should
be. Our nature is so connected, part with part,
that degeneration in one region means degenera-
tion in every region. If a man be unjust in his
feelings he will be unjust in his thinking and un-
just in his action. It is the merest rubbish to
talk of a man being good at heart and bad every-
where else. If the fruit of the tree be bad the
tree is bad. And sinfulness means corrupted
feeling, corrupted thinking, corrupted willing,
corrupted action. The unity of our nature neces-
sitates this. Great thinkers in all times, and in


all countries, have perceived that if that centre we
call the heart be depraved all other parts of our na-
ture are lowered thereby. In his Ethics the old
Pagan philosopher Aristotle writes " For depravity
perverts the vision and causes it to be deceived
on the principles of action, so that it is clearly
impossible for a person who is not good to be wise
or prudent." *' The pure heart makes a clear
head" says another of the ancient celebrities. So
Carlyle in modern times, to quote only one of
many, writing of Mirabeau asserts, "The real
quality of our insight, how justly and thoroughly
we shall comprehend the nature of a thing, es-
pecially of a human thing, depends on our patience,
our fairness, lovingness, what strength soever we
have ; intellect comes from the whole man, as it is
the light that enlightens the whole man."

Let us bear in mind this, then, that whatever
affects the centre of our nature affects also every
part of it to the outermost extremities. If there be
impure blood in the heart there will be impure
blood in every vein of every part of the whole
body. And so, if there be depravity in the affec-
tional region of our nature there will be depravity
in the will region, in the region of the intellect, in
the action. Nothing will be what it would be
if that depravity were not there. I want that our
young people especially should recognize that a
degenerated heart means a degenerated intellect.


This degeneration means not only bad disposition,
it means biassed and depraved intellectual quality,
inability everywhere. And this must of necessity
be so, because of the unity of our nature. So that
on the highest themes, the thinking of a man out
of right relations to God is not trustworthy, can-
not be, nor on any themes which involve char-
acter. To say that there is no difference in the
moral quality of opinions, and that one set of
opinions is as good as another, is surely to speak
so as to draw away from us the intellectual respect
of all thinking men. There is more depravity in
one set of opinions than in another. There are
some views of man's nature and of life which make
it much easier for a man to sin than other views.
Now I do not think that there is any mercy, or any
kindness, in any teaching which leads men to as-
sume that sinfulness is only an eruption on the
skin and not a disease of the heart. Only '' fools
make a mock at sin." There are countless instan-
ces of men so coarse and vulirar in feelino^, so far
away from all true refinement of mind, that, seem-
ingly, they have no perception of sinfulness as a
spiritual malady. Until it externalizes itself in
vice, until it shows itself in acts of degradation
and shamefulness, they do not recognize it as of
any consequence. They take no note of the dis-
position to folly and stupidity which belongs to
the depraved condition ; no note of the terrible


moral torpidity which belongs to it. Sinfulness
when it becomes vice, disease in the body, de-
struction of tissue, spoliation of form, making
loathesome that which God made beautiful — that is
the only aspect in which sin stirs their natures
into any feeling of antipathy. And even over
that they can jest.

I venture the assertion that anyone who has
mind and heart «:reat enou£:h to look under the
surface of things, and not simply at the outside
of things, must perceive that there is sin and
sin. Do we not make a distinction in our own
feeling between sin which indicates infirmity and
sin which indicates a self-assertive determina-
tion to do and be something which involves pride,
envy, malignity and the utmost of want of
consideration for others? The New Testament
speaks of " sins of the flesh" and " sins of the
spirit. " The devil sins, we must remember,
were not committed in the flesh, and yet they are
of all sins the most heinous.

Now it cannot be doubted that the view we
take of this fact of sinfulness, universally admitted
in some form, will influence our estimate of every
other vital truth. If sinfulness be only ignorance
we need only a Teacher. If sinfulness be only
the inward condition which has gradually been
wrought in us from our misconception of things,
we need only an Instructor. If sinfulness be only


disease we need only a Physician. If sinfulness
be only error we need only an Example. But if
it be something more than ignorance, something
more than disease, something more than error, we
need in Plim who is to deliver us from it a power
other than that possessed by the Teacher, the
Physician, the Exemplar, as I believe that the
New Testament distinctly teaches. If I were to
occupy myself in trying to make you believe that
the sinfulness in this nature of ours can be swept
out by any amount of education of the intellect,
by any degree of culture, however thorough, which
stops short of the culture of the heart, I should be
false to the deepest convictions of my nature.
And whatever comes of it I must be true to these ;
and especially so when I think that others may be
misled by my underestimating of how much is
involved in this word ' sinfulness.' Sinfulness
means ignorance, yes ; it means error, yes ;
it means disease, yes ; but it means a great deal
more. In many and many a case it means that
state of heart in which the idea of God is more
hateful than the idea of the Devil. I look upon
those who ^re vicious, the fallen man, the fallen
woman, the drunkard, the libertine, the debau
chee, and it is sad enough, God knows. But I
have known fallen men and fallen women and
drunkards who have never from their youth up
ceased from praying ' God be merciful to me a


sinner.' I do not want to forget the lines of
the hymnist :

** Think gently of tlie erring one I

And let us not forget
However darkly stained by sin.

He is our brother yet.

Heir of the same inheritance,

Child of the self-same God ;
He hath but stumbled in the path,

We have in weakness trod."

I want to live in that spirit and temper of mind
as long as life shall last. I dare not trust my own
short-sighted views of sin. On all these questions
I w\ant to be a learner from Him who is of all
Teachers on vital matters incomparably the great-
est. I cannot forget his words spoken to men
whose place in the society of his day was not the
lowest — ' ' The publicans and harlots enter the
Kingdom of God before you." There are sins of
the flesh which pollute, which destroy reputation,
which bring wretchedness and misery, social de-
gradation and much else. There are sins of the
spirit which bring none of these, and yet, if Jesus
of Nazareth be a true prophet, which put men and
women at even a farther distance from God.
The teaching is not mine, it is His. Of what
condition of heart is he who is amiable and
placid until someone speaks to him such a truth


as is contained in these words ' God is Love.
God is Light. God so loved the world that he
gave His oiily begotten Son that whosoever be-
lieveth in Him should not perish but have ever-
lasting life." Then, his whole soul is filled with
aversion to the speaker, with wrath, with disdain.
To err is human. But to gnash with the teeth
when the claims of Deity are put before the mind,
that is not human. It is not simply inhuman, it
is fiendish. I hate the word, but I am obliged to
use it. No one has ever taken a true measure of
what sinfulness is until he has considered it in
this, its most terrible form.

And yet even at this stage of it, we need not
hang our heads in despair. I am no advocate of
that shallow theology which is simply a formulat-
ing of the opinions of sinful fallible men. I hope
that God will keep me from the insufferable con-
ceitedness which denies that which transcends my
very finite understanding. I have no wish to be
frivolous or to help any of you to a capability of
jesting in this charnel house of corruption into
which we have been looking. I want you to feel
more than ever you have done *'the exceeding
sinfulness of sin," for only then will you be able to
appreciate the exceeding goodness of God who
* ' willeth not the death of a sinner but that all
should come to repentance."

" Where sin abounded grace did superabound."


No man who looks away from his sin to his
Saviour need despair, but then he must look to
him as Saviour, not simply as Teacher, not simply
as Exemplar, not simply as Physician, as the
strong Son of God, the only personalized power
strono^er than sin itself. " When the stron^: man
armed keepeth his palace his goods are at peace,
but when a stronger than he cometh upon him, he
taketh away that wherein he trusteth and divideth
his spoils." If a man can grow out of this condi-
tion of sinfulness by natural development ; if every
highlj^-cultured man be an unsinning man ; if
every old man be nearer to the ideal of manhood
than when he was young ; if these be facts and
experiences everywhere met Avith ; then a Teacher,
a Physician, an example, is needed ; but if other-
wise, if it be seen that man acting on himself, is
helpless to free himself, helpless to deliver himself
from the presence and power of sinfulness, and
from the inward sense of guiltiness, then he who
is to meet the necessities of the case, must be
human to understand him, but more than human
to redeem and deliver him from an enemy stronger
than man himself.



But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever,
sat down on the right hand of God. — Hebreivs, x : 12.

OUR theme this morning is Atonement and
Expiation. I could not satisfy my sense
of reverence for that which is peculiarly sacred, if
I should enter upon our brief consideration of the
thoughts suggested by these words controversially .
In days when so many religious people have given
over sober and steady thinking, and have taken to
dogmatizing, it becomes pastors to feed their sheep,
not to set the dog of controversy at them. In
order to vigor of body there must, in each of us,
be a good steady appetite for wholesome and
nutritious food. And so likewise in order to vigor
of mind and heart, there must be a good steady
appetite for such trutlis, as tend to enlarge the
mind, and such facts, as tend to vitalize the
heart. Let us not be scared at names and words
which to many have been made odious by being
used as party watchwords only. Our duty is to



try to understand what they mean. Do they
stand for a truth'i Not simply for an opinion.
An opinion is the product of a man's mind ; a
truth is the product of the Divine mind. It is in
accord with the nature of things. Opinions
change all the time. Truth never changes. Our
little systems have their day and cease to be. Truth
is not of a day, or an age, it is from eternity to
eternity. Our apprehensions of it may change —
will change if we g7'ow at all — but the change will
be, not from larger to smaller, but from less to
more. The change from larger apprehensions
to smaller indicates moral deterioration. The
change from less to more indicates spiritual

These words *' atonement" and *' expiation"
have become party words. Consequently many
persons have never taken the trouble to try to un-
derstand them. But the man or woman who in
religion is a mere party man or woman is certain
to be so full of prejudice that he will shut out
much truth which his soul needs. That condition
of mind is not fair nor honest. The man who is
sincere, open, candid, wants to know the truth as
far as the limitations of the present time will
allow. Consequently, he is always a disciple,
always a learner, becomes assured of some things
— feels the ground under his feet firm as far as
he has gone — but is still moving onward and


upward. He is a growing man all the time, and
the sign of growth is an increasing humility, that
is an increasing teachableness, which amounts to
the same thing as perpetual youthfulness of spirit.
He never becomes hardened in intellect or fossil-
ized in heart. Life is full of interest because of
the immense area which is still unknown. * ' At the
best, our knowledge is but a little island floating
on and amid an infinite sea of mystery." After
all, it is the mystery which lies all around the little
we know which makes our life so unspeakably
interesting. I am thankful that that which I do
not know is so immeasurably more than that which
I know. I am thankful that I am only at the
beginning of things. I am thankful for the ability
of recognizing that this life is only a life of
beginnings, that we know nothing yet in any other
than a rudimentary way.

If this be true of life as it is in the lowest
organism, how much more of the life of man, the
highest organism of which we know anything?
Tennyson plucks the little flower out of the cran-
nied wall, and as he holds it in his finger, addreses
it in this way : —

" Flower in the crannied wall,

I plack you out of the crannies ;
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand.
Little flower — but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,

I should know what God and man is. "


If there be no rhapsod}^ no exaggeration there,
if the littte poem be only the ornate dressing up
of a simple true thought, at hat shall we say when
speaking of great facts concerning our own life,
such facts as these which come to us in these two
words — ' ' Atonement and Expiation " — words,
let me say, more for the heart than the intellect?
I adopt as my own, the language of a thoughtful
speaker and say — "If, as we believe, Christ is both
God and the Son of God ; (and to suppose any be-
ing less than God perfectly manifesting forth God,
is a contradiction,) if moreover he is Man as well
as God, and if this Son of God and Man has made a
sacrifice, in virtue of which the sin of the whole
world is taken away (so far as God himself is
concerned) , then surely the Atonement eJSected by
this mysterious person must itself be a mystery,
the full import of which we cannot hope to
fathom. No man however wise, or learned, or
devout, should affect to comprehend it ; no man
whatever his attainments, should venture to speak
of it save w^ith modesty and reverence, and with a
profound conviction that he knows it ** but in
part," that he sees it but as "through a glass,
darkly." I adopt this language as my own. It
exactly expresses my own feelings. Atonement
is not a New Testament word. It belongs special-
ly to the Old Jewish dispensation. It is
represented by a Hebrew word which means to


cover up. When the old Hebrew did that which
was appointed to put himself into right relations
towards God — when he offered the sacrifice which
meant that his will was to do God's will, then he
was said to be atoned — that is, brought into
oneness with God. In the sacrifice ofiered, he
regarded himself, his blood, that is to say his life,
as offered in consecration to God. He knew,
however, that this sacrifice had no meaning in
itself. It stood for another great sacrifice which
one day should be offered, a perfect sacrifice, the
sacrifice of a spotless and sinless one who should
be his representative, who should do for him what
he could not do for himself. But this symbolic act
of sacrifice of his did something for his heart and
conscience, which required to be done. The
devout Isi oelite could not rest until he had done
something to indicate that he was not willingly a
rebel against God. His heart was pained, his
conscience was uneasy, so long as he had not
performed an act which 'ndicated the sorrow of his
soul, and the submission of his will. The mere
general proclamation that God was merciful and
gracious, was not enough. If only Jehovah had
himself appointed something to be done, how
gladly would he do it, if only He had declared
that there was some deed, the doing of which,
indicated that He was at one with the man who had
sinned, and the man at one with Him, how gladly


would the devout Israelite do it. And so, in
answer to the necessities of this nature of ours,
Jehovah appointed a sacrifice which at one and
the same time, should be prophetic and expiatory.
The devout Israelite offered the appointed sacrifice

— it satisfied his heart, it appeased his conscience,
and he went to his home rejoicing that he was at
peace with God.

I want that we should note these simple things :

— 1st, that the sacrifice offered was required by
the necessities of this nature of ours, which is
never satisfied by a mere declaration apart from
an act. *' Lord what wilt thou have me to do'i^^
was the cry of the awakened soul. *' What shall
I do to be saved ? " was the quest ion of the aroused
jailor of Philippi. This is human nature all the
world over. And they who affirm that a man's
soul ought to be satisfied by mere inferences as to
the nature of Deity, by mere inferences as to the
mercy of God, can never have sufficiently consid-
ered what human nature is. No soul but the
meanest could be satisfied with a mere verbal
declaration of this nature — " I forgive you, but I
don't want to have anything to do with you."
The little child in the household would teach us a
better theology than that. If the father says, '* I
forgive you " and then coolly turns his back on
the child, is it satisfied, does it feel the forgive-
ness ? Does it realize it ? No ; it realizes it when


the father puts his arms around its neck, and the
child its arms around the father's neck, and the
kisses of the father bring the tears. There must
be an act of forgiveness as well as words of for-
giveness, or our nature is not satisfied. And all
theories to the contrary proceed on a very shallow
and inadequate apprehension of what human na-
ture is. The heart and conscience of the devout
Isr£elite demanded some act which breathed for-
giveness, but more than forgiveness — restoration
to communion — and the act of sacrifice was both

2nd, I want that we should notice further that
the act must be an appointed one. It must indi-
cate God's will, not the self-will of a sinner.
Self-will is the root of all sin. And so, even an
act of worship which indicated the perpetuation of
self-will would only be a continuation of rebellion.
That is the explanation of the difference in the
acts of the first two men of whom we ever read as
offering sacrifice, Cain and Abel? Abel's offering
is represented as being acceptable, that of Cain as
not acceptable. Why? Abel offered that which
was appointed to be offered. Cain offered what
he chose. The one man honored the will of God
as supreme, the other honored his own will. We
can never understand an act until we get down to
the principle which is in it. When the sinning
man has done the appointed thing, then the heart


and conscience are satisfied ; they are assured,
because God himself has appointed the act. There
is no satisfaction to heart and conscience where
there is no assurance.

Remembering these two ideas, w^e can have no

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Online LibraryReuen ThomasDivine sovereignty, and other sermons → online text (page 2 of 16)