Reuen Thomas.

Divine sovereignty, and other sermons online

. (page 5 of 16)
Online LibraryReuen ThomasDivine sovereignty, and other sermons → online text (page 5 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


preferences are concerned, I should rather always
quote them in their literalness and let them stand
unmodified and unaltered by anything I might say.
Thus the man who has any objection to urge,
would have his controversy transferred from the
servant to the master.

That there is, on the part of some of us,
preachers and hearers, much of disgraceful trifling
with these utterances on retribution, and on behalf
of others much equally disgraceful dogmatism, I
cannot omit to notice. But there are some facts
which w^e cannot but recognize, unless we wilfully
blind ourselves to their existence, such facts as
that everywhere sin brings some kind of misery,
misery physical and misery mental. This and
other like facts are as patent as the noon-day.
We recognize that there is a destructive power in



80 RETRIBUTION.

this world, steadily and persistently working.
Oftentimes men seem madly bent on their own de-
struction. Nothing stops them, nothing arrests
them. Judgment seems to be lost and reason to
be dethroned. All badness has an accompanying
madness concealed in it. It would seem as
though mankind was preyed upon by some power
outside itself, bent on destroying it. Apart from
all Scripture revelation, that would be the conclu-
sion at which serious students of the problem
would arrive. We shrink from acknowledojinof an
invisible Satanic personal power, operative upon
the spirit of man, and yet nothing short of this can
account for that terrible tendency to self-destruc-
tion, which we find in our race. The New Testa-
ment acknowledges this power. It represents its
concentrated malignity as focussing itself to de-
stroy this Jesus Christ of ours. Our Lord says of
it, 'it is able to destroy both soul and body in hell '
and He tells us to fear it. It is revealed that
Jesus the Christ came to destroy the works of
the devil. There are some who jest at these
ideas ; but there cannot be any doubt of their ex-
istence on the New Testament page. That which
our Lord has revealed, accounts for so much which
we recognize in our human life that it seems to me
to offer a solution of a very dark problem.

Perhaps some one is saying within himself, —
what a terrible thing it is to be born exposed to



RETRIBUTION. 81

such a power ! It would be if it were an Omnipo-
tent power, or a power which we could not resist,
a power from which we could get no deliverence.
But man is not left in this wretched and helpless
state. The Deliverer is revealed ; the One who
comes between him and it to rescue all who put
themselves under His protection. I cannot delay
to remind you of that fact. At this point a ques-
tion leaps into form — can the human lose its
character as human and actually become devilish ?
The three stages of sinfulness as set forth by the
Apostle, are these, * earthly, sensual, devilish!*
And we ourselves, in our common speech, recog-
nize these three grades.

There are some things which men do which
cannot properly be characterized as either < earthly'
or ' sensual ' ; we are driven to the use of the third
term because neither of the others is felt to be
accurate. When we consider such cases as I
could name, such cases as will occur to you all,
they compel us to face the question : "Is it possible
that there can be such an inversion of human
nature that good should always appear evil and
evil good?" Is it possible for men to be perma-
nently fixed in a spiritual condition in which
malice, envy, and hate banish all possibility of
love, esteem and affection? For myself I don't
know ; I cannot answer these questions. They
have to be faced. Till they are answered, we



82 RETRIBUTION.

cannot affirm, as of clear knowledge, the termin-
ableness of sin or the terminableness of its inlierent
and inevitable punishment of itself beyond that
point in life we call death. Every man who speaks
on this theme should first pray God to give him
humility and to take from him the cantankerous
spirit of the controversialist. I am sincere when
I say that I do not wish to speak as an opponent
of any sectarian of any kind. If any brother man
has had a revelation from God, either through
Scripture, or independently of it, which has
assured his mind that '* not one life shall be
destroyed, nor perish in the formless void, when
God hath made the pile complete, " he is of all
men to be envied. No such revelation has come
to my own mind from any source. While no one
present can shrink from the unfeeling dogmatist
on this question of the future of the man who calls
evil good and good evil, more than I do, yet if I
were to affirm that I had met with a full revelation
of the final rescue of every soul of man from sin and
its consequences, I should put on record in the
most solemn act of my life a dreadful falsehood.
This is not a matter of one man's opinion or
another's ; it is a matter of revelation.

I admit that it seems certain that all revelation
on all themes which concern man and the possibili-
ties of his nature, may not belong to this world,
cannot belong to it. A fuller revelation doubtless



RETRIBUTION. 83

will greet us on the other shore, for we have only
the beginning of things here. The unfolding will
go on forever and ever. This is only according
to the laws we recognize as existing for our minds
now. That condition of mind in which men de-
mand that everything be revealed to them, here
and now, about the future of all who constitute
this human race, or they will have nothing to do
with God and religion, seems, I should think, to
us all, about as proud, tyrannical, wilful and un-
reasonable a state as any man caa be in. There is
really nothing to be done with a man in that con-
dition, except to let him alone. Such a state is
at the very antipodes of all teachableness. It is a
compound of ignorance and wilfulness. A man
says to me, ' I can't believe in a God who delights
in damning men.' Nor can I. There is no such
God revealed in the New Testament, from the lips
of Jesus or his Apostles. " I have no pleasure in
the death of the wicked, but i'ather that the
wicked should turn and live." We damn our-
selves, we damn one another, we unite wdth that
Satanic power whose delight is rebellion against
God. "We worship the devil rather than God, —
we do all this and thus destroy ourselves and our
fellow-creatures, but the God revealed in Jesus
Christ is in eternal antagonism to all this. There
is no sin in God ; God is light and in Him is no
darkness at all ; God is love, in him is no hate to



84 nETUIBUTION.

you or me or anyone. That which is not in the
Divine Nature can never come forth from it.
Nothing is more simple and incontrovertible than
that. We want clearly to understand, in these
days, that there is ever a distinction to be made
between the revelations which have come to us in
Jesus Christ and the inferences which men have
drawn from them. We must take good heed
never to be so wedded to our own views and
opinions, simply because they are ours, as not to
be willing and ready to be led by the action of the
Holy Spirit on our spirits into higher perceptions
of truth. If we get into that state we shall be as
a man who should put iron shutters up to every
window in his house so that the sunlight should
not interfere with his enjoyment of the light of his
own candles. There is nothing more fatal to men-
tal growth and to growth in grace, than proud,
self-willed opinionativeness. The sincere mind is
an open mind ; the truthful mind is open — not
a vacillating one — far from that. It holds
what it has, but it reaches forth to that which is
beyond. A man without principles and convic-
tions is the prey of the next evil man or evil spirit
that assaults him. God has more light and truth
to break forth from His Holy Word, but from that
Holy Word, Jesus Christ has broken forth this
light and this truth already, that union with Him
is life, separation from Him is death, whatever be



RETRIBUTION. 85

included in that word. It will be proved yet to
demonstration that whoever is of the truth^ear-
eth Christ's voice ; that no true man ever yet took
sides against God's Christ when that Christ was
fully and fairly presented to his heart and under-
standing. And this also I believe will be shown,
that there has never been any decree of God's
which has condemned men to sin and suffer.

The sin and suffering are our own, the rescue
and deliverance are God's. Separated from Him
in whom the father of our spirits is revealed, we
become a prey to evil spirits in the flesh and evil
spirits out of the flesh. Not to be afraid of sin
and sinners, and the arch-sinner of all we call
Satan and the Devil, and to be afraid of God, the
God revealed in Jesus Christ, this of all things
betokens the extent of our removal from the
orio^inal ri«;hteousness. What can be more
frightful to a human soul than the loss of God ?
The word Atheism itself is a bottomless pit. ** I
will not leave you orphans," said our Lord to his
disciples ; fatherless ones. Oh no. He would not
leave us in doubt that over us at all times, and in
us by the gift of His sjmrit at all times was a
Father, the Father of such a Son, the Father of
Jesus Christ; is not that enough? What more
dreadful mission is conceivable for a lost soul than
to go about the world to try to rob other souls of
their hope in a Father in heaven ? Who of us



86 RETRIBUTION.

would not prefer annihilation to this dreadful
mission ? And yet no man would or could believe
it, but he who had so sinned himself into
wretchedness as to want to believe it. And even
he would doubt his own belief. Let us never
lose sight of this fact that union with God in
Christ is heaven, for the soul of man was made for
that; separation from God in Christ is hell, the
soul of man was never made for that. Whatever
brings us nearer to God brings us into the sphere
of ineffable reward, such as eye hath not seen, nor
ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of
man to conceive ; whatever separates us from Him
brings us into that sphere of retribution into which
we cannot look far, where the selfish and the
loveless find those of their own order and kind.
They go there, God does not send them ; such is
the revelation. There is no change in God, none
in Christ. *' He is the same yesterday, to-day and
for ever." While I am persuaded that no man
living is able fully to interpret the whole of this
theme, yet I think we can say this much with
confidence : —

1 . That the Eternal One can make no compro-
mise with sin. *' If God were not sure to punish
the evil, and to make it bear, so far as it remains
evil, the weight of his condemnation, the good
would lose for us its reality."

2. As to duration, that as long as the sin



RETRIBUTION. 87

lasts, so long will its appropriate punishment last.

3. That no punishment will be inflicted which
will throw the Divine Character as revealed in
Christ into discord with itself.

4. That, as there is no malice in the Divine
nature and no cruelty, all punishment will have as
its purpose an end worthy of the divine nature.

5. That future punishment will be to present
sin as consequence to cause.

6. That it will be inevitable and not arbitrary.

7. That it will be of such a nature, that no
enlightened mind in the Universe of God can offer
any objection to it that shall not be unreasonable.

Ought I not to add for every perplexed soul on
this and all other vital themes, " Come unto me
all ye that labor and are heavy laden and ye shall
find rest unto your souls."



yii.

MEANS AND END.



And why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I
say ? — Luke, vi : 46.

ON February 20th, 1844, in the Supreme
Court at Washington, a great speech was
made by a man who must ever be allowed the
first rank among the statesmen and orators of
America. The speech is remarkable not alone for
the purity of its English, not alone for the manli-
ness of its style, for these remarks apply to all the
speeches of this great man. It is noteworthy for
the passionateness and evident genuineness of the
sympathy which the speaker manifests with the
truths and facts of the Christian religion, and with
the means which are used and which are inevitable
for its propagation.

A sum of money had been bequeathed to found
a college in Philadelphia from within whose walls
all Christian ministers were to be excluded.
Daniel Webster argued that this exclusion virtu-
ally amounted to the ostracism of Christianity
itself, and that it followed that in no true legal

88



MEANS AND END. 89

sense could this college take rank as a charity.
The speech is memorable as embracing the views
of the most statesmanlike mind, the most robust
nature, this country has ever produced, on this one
point, the relation of the means to the end, and the
inevitable inference that must be drawn in regard
to their judgment of the value of the end by those
who neglect the means employed for the accom-
plishment of it. The end in view is the diffusion
of Christianity among the people. The means
used are; 1, the establishment by our Lord him-
self of the Ministry ; 2, the bringing into existence
of the Church; 3, the compilation of the Scrip-
tures ; 4, the ordinance of the Sabbath. This
statesman, jurist, orator, this man of the first
rank in each department, contends that so long as
we treat the means that are inevitable for the dif-
fusion of Christianity w^ith contempt, it is vain and
frivolous to be talking of any respect we may have
for Christianity itself. Our actions give the lie
to our words.

*' There is a positive rejection of Christianity;
because it rejects the ordinary means and agencies
of Christianity. He who rejects the ordinary
means of accomplishing an end means to defeat
that end itself, or else he has no meanino-. And
this is true, although the means originally be
means of human appointment, and not attaching
to or resting on any higher authority."



90 MEAN'S AND END.

Webster contends that there is nothing in the
New Testament more clearly established by the
Author of Christianity than the appointment of a
Christian ministry. He asks, *'Did a man ever
live that had a respect for the Christian religion
and yet had no regard for any one of its
ministers?"

He contends further that religion is ** the only
solid basis of morals," and that moral instruction
not resting on this basis is only a building upon
sand. He contends that the moral law of the ten
commandments includes the whole ten in its idea
of morality. He suggests that the man who moves
away the foundation of morals is aiming at the
destruction of morality as well as Christianity. He
further contends that Christianity is of such a
nature that it belongs as really to children as to
adults, and that there is neither religion, nor
morals, nor reason in any course of action which
sets aside the means that have been verified as
necessary to the diffusion of that truth which is
included in the word * Christianity.'

He further remarks that '* the observance of the
Christian Sabbath is a part of Christianty in all its
forms;" that ''where there is no observance of
the Christian Sabbath there Avill be no public
worship of God," and he quotes with cordial
approval and hearty endorsement an address which



MEANS AND END. 91

had just been delivered, in which are these
words : — " you might as well put out the sun and
think to enlighten the world with tapers, destroy
the attraction of gravity and think to wield the
Universe by human powers, as to extinguish the
moral illumination of the Sabbath and break this
glorious main-spring of the moral government of
God." And when, with his strong manly
eloquence, and his clear great intellect, he has
examined the argument brought on the other side
for allowing Girard College to be accepted as a
charity, although from six years old to eighteen
the youth there are to have no religious instruc-
tion, the orator seems to grow impatient with
himself at the development of his argument, and
lets himself out in one passionate sentence as he
realizes what is involved in depriving these youths
of their rights, and adds : *« Why Sir, it is vain to
talk about the destructive tendency of such a
system ; to argue upon it is to insult the
understanding of every man ; it is mere, sheer,
low, ribald, vulgar deism, and infidelity."

Now I have made this copious reference to one
of the most powerful orations that ever Webster
made, because it contains the deliberate judgment
of the greatest New Englander, the one who will
be remembered and read and quoted, in the gen-
erations to come, oftener than any other, that I
may have the best backing I can get for the



93 MEANS AND END.

enforcemeut upon your attention of the principle,
that he who neglects the means conspires to defeat
the end. One of the most unpromising features
of our time is the seeming inability of so many
people to perceive this very thing, the connection
of means and end. Neglect the means and you
are doing your best to defeat the end. I will not
venture upon giving my opinion as to the causes
of the condition in which so many find themselves,
of having a sort of decent respect for some indefi-
nite type of Christianity and yet to them Chris-
tianity is not necessary to morality, not necessary
to good government, not necessary to citizenship,
not necessary to personal development, not
necessary to character, not necessary to anything.
On its practical side, Christianity is bound up
with the Sabbath, with the Church, with the
Scriptures, with the Ministry of the Gospel.
Through these, it gets voice, body and form.
Without them it is a disembodied spirit. These
are to it, what the lungs and limbs and nerves and
veins and arteries are to the body. In this mate-
rial w^orld the spirit in man operates through
these. There is no influence of the Spirit in man
on this present order of things apart from these.

I am aware that there are very many persons
over whom the irresistible reasoning of this most
Titanic of Americans whom I have quoted, would
have no influence. They have listened to tell-tale



MEAN8 AND END. 93

Eumor which is always busy, and have heard this
and that about him which, if true, indicates that
he was by no means a perfect man. This is not a
lecture on Webster. This is not the time nor
the place to search into these reports. But this I
will say, that I am ashamed for our intelligence ;
I am ashamed for our honesty ; I am ashamed for
our candor, I am ashamed for our Christianity, if
we can allow a few beldame stories, such as are
invented against all great men, to obscure our
vision as to the real greatness of mind and heart,
which dwelt in that imposing form.

The fruit of a choice apple tree is none the less
luscious because for one month of the Spring time
the canker-worm disfigured many of the leaves.
I wish that with as much of truth we could all say
as he said : —

*'I thank God, that if I am gifted with little of
that spirit which is able to raise mortals to the
skies, I have yet none, as I trust, of that other
spirit which would drag angels down."

It is no answer to the principle here asserted by
this great man, the principle that the man who
neglects the means aims to defeat the end, that
sometimes the orator was not himself quite correct
in his conduct. Who is ? Which of us can stand
up in that presence which searches the heart, and
say that we have always been correct in our con-
duct? But does that make Christianity untrue ?



94 MEANS AND END.

Nay, it verifies its truth, when it says < that there
is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and
feinneth not.' The inconsistencies of Christians
have nothing to do with the truth of Christianity,
or rather Christianity has nothing to do with them.
It is not accountable for them. If we are to wait
for perfect specimens of Christianity before there
is any utterance of it, or any teaching of it, total
silence must forever reign. Some knowledge is
necessary to utterance but not perfect knowledge.
Some experience of Christianity is necessary to
the appreciation of its greatness, its grandeur, its
benevolence, but not perfection of experience.
Our preaching of it may often be, as Sheridan
once remarked, *'a poulterer's description of a
phoenix," still any preaching of Christ and Him
crucified is better than none, as St. Paul suggested
when some were vile enough to preach Christ out
of envy and strife, only to cause the Apostle
pain, *' Notwithstanding, whether in pretence or
in truth, Christ is preached, and therein will I
rejoice."

I wish that in these days Webster's great speech
could be printed as a religious tract to be distribu-
ted broad-cast among people who credit themselves
with intelligence. Do we not need it? Are there
not many who assume that they are, in some sort
of way, and in some sense of the word * Christians'
and yet who do not study the Scriptures, and do



MEANS AND END. 95

not use the means of grace , and have no reverence
for the Sabbath, and seldom put themselves under
the influence of any ministry of the Gospel ? Such
persons would feel aggrieved if it were said to them
that they were seeking to defeat those ends which
to Jesus Christ wxre so momentous that he held
not himself back from agony and death that He
might accomplish them. Yet, if these arguments
of this greatest of Americans are unanswerable, it
is true. No man is promoting the ends which our
Lord came to accomplish, who is neglecting the
Church, the Scriptures, the Ministry or the
Sabbath. I wish to be reasonable. I would not
press a man so hard as to create antagonism in his
mind towards the truth. But, I think that
none of you, I Jiope that none of you, would
care to listen to any Minister who does not regard
his allegiance to Christ as the first thing. There
is no man whom I should myself more despise than
he who standing in a Christian pulpit would say the
thing which would make him popular, regardless
of whether he believed it to be true or not. We
have been hearing of late very much about the Old
and the New. For myself I am not interested, as
to whether a thing be old or new, I want to know
if it be time. Is it in accord with the mind of
Christ and the will of God? And this principle
which the foremost statesman of New England has
brought into the happiest form of expression,



96 MEANS AND END.

appears to me to be true. In neglecting the
means we are aiming to defeat the end. Men who
are not intelligently observing the Sabbath, elevat-
ing it in its uses above other days, are co-operating
to defeat the ends for which the Sabbath was
ordained. In not systematically and diligently
using the means of grace, we are co-operating to
defeat the end for which the means of grace w^ere
ordained — the spiritualization of the charac-
ter. If we are at heart Christians and are
not confessedly of the Church, we are silently
(perhaps unintentionally and unconsciously), but
really, aiming to defeat the end for which the
Church of Christ was called into existence. What
is lawful for one Christian must surely be lawful
for all. Anyway, there must be something very
special in the case of a Christian heart to justify
its position of aloofness from a Christian church.
I know that all Christian churches, in their
administration, partake of human infirmitiy. But
wherever there is the simple acknowledgment of
Christ as supreme, the presence of human infirmi-
ty is reduced to a minimum of influence. There
is however a blessing special to the church, a
blessing of God which belongs to his disciples, and
can belong in the nature of things to none other.
Obedience always brings blessedness.

Is it not so in Nature? The mariner never
thinks of entering into conflict with the laws of



MEANS AND END. 97

nature ; he conforms to them, he obeys them.
There is a blessing in obedience. There is
destruction in disobedience. And so on land as
on sea ; — the farmer's prosperity depends upon
his understandino^ the laws of veo:etable and ani-
mal life and co-operating with those laws. There
is a blessing in obedience which can be obtained in
no other way. It is so everywhere; in regard
to our own personality ; in regard to mental health
and bodily health. Obey sanitary laws and you
get the blessing, disobey them and you miss it.
Now, it would be a strange inconsistency, if the
Almighty should teach us of the way of obtaining
a blessing in Nature, and contradict that truth in
the highest region of all. Would it not be aston-
ishing: if obedience to material laws brought


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryReuen ThomasDivine sovereignty, and other sermons → online text (page 5 of 16)