Reuen Thomas.

Divine sovereignty, and other sermons online

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wants to speak with you." The astonished
clergyman was for a moment appalled at the idea
of meeting a Corpse's brother, hardly knowing
whether it would be a live or dead man. I have
sometimes thought that some of our churches
might not inaptly be designated as a Corpse's
brother. I have no ambition to be tied to any
such church. If there be any place where the
smell of death is not only unpleasant but repul-
sive, it is in a church whose very foundation is
life from the dead. As one has said, "Our
churches as mere organized bodies are comely
enough, and they are not without some degree of
life and strength. They work easily, quietly,
philosophically, and cautiously, like a man of
seventy years of age who is careful in all his
movements, and afraid of domg too much. But


you must excuse me when I say that we are want-
ing in the strength and vigor and energy of a man
of twenty-five. We are old before our time."

We need to worship God, That is all. Every-
thing we need would come if only we could
worship. The coldness would leave the region of
the heart. There would come more thinking
power into the intellect. The glories of the Apo-
calypse would not be too glorious for the
regenerated imagination. Much of the Scripture
which is now dark to us, because out of the reach
of our experience, would become clear. Our
horizon would stretch out and out beyond the
present limits of vision. How often it is with us
as with those painters who paint a beautiful little
bit of country all shut in with rocks and hills, not
even a glimpse of luminous sky above to speak
of something else than this ornate little prison.
The greatest painters never do that. They leave
an outlook. They suggest infinite distances.
Our life, the life of every Unchristianized man is
shut in. It has no outlook. What would the
New Testament be without the Book of the Kev-
elation of St. John? That gives it artistic
completeness. The end of the Book of Revelation
is, *'Theendof the great tragedy of life. The
beast has vanished ; the hissing of the unclean
spirits has been silenced ; the Dragon, the old
serpent called the Devil and Satan, is bound ; the

"WORsnip god:' 117

tempest has ceased ; the thunders are hushed ;
the smoke and the clouds are swept away ; the
light shines, and the pinnacles of the New Jeru-
salem come forth to view. Life is blessed in that
city. There shall be no more curse, no more
sorrow, no more crying, no more pain. God
shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."

You call that poetry, do you? Suppose it is
poetry, what then ? No poet ever yet equalled the
fact which he poetized, as no painter ever yet
mixed colors equal to those in nature. When
the poetry is gone out of our life, it is like the
sappiness gone out of the tree ; all that is left is
sawdust. *' Worship God" and the poetry will
return into your dried-up lives, as the Psalmist
suggests in the words, *« Bless the Lord, O my
soul, and all that is within me bless His holy



" Do not sin against the child." — Genesis, xlii : 22.

THESE words were spoken by the eldest born
of Israel's sons when there was a conspiracy
among them to deprive Joseph of his birthright in
the family. There are so many aspects of the
great theme of the Incarnation that one must neces-
sarily feel no little perplexity when obliged to
select the ideas to be presented on any special
occasion. So much must be left unsaid. Our
theme at the best must be wretchedly incomplete.
The Incarnation is the miracle of miracles. It is
too subtle a theme for the Intellect. When we
try to satisfy the mind we come to a point beyond
which we cannot pass by any intellectual process.
And yet, this limitation ought not to produce any
kind of scepticism as to the fact itself. For all life
in its origin is mysterious. And if the facts about
it were not so common, if men were not born into
the world every day, we should doubtless perceive
more readily than we do how very little indeed



man's part is in the production of any thing.
All vital facts elude us. They are; but we cannot
tell how they are.

This we know, however, that intellect is not
everything in us. Our nature comprises much
else than the intellectual. There are facts for the
heart of man which once apprehended never leave
us. And this of the Incarnation is one. How
shall Deity so reveal Himself to man as to win his
confidence and love ? That is the great practical
question of religion. The answer to that question
is the Incarnation — God manifest in the flesh.
If we were inclined to look at this fact philosophi-
cally, it would be easy to show that in man's
nature there is the inwrought expectation of an
Incarnation. For what is idolatry but an attempt
on man's part to bring God within human limita-
tions ? Jesus Christ satisfies that instinct in man
which leads to idolatry. The instinct must be
gratified. The Incarnation is the Divine answer
to that instinct. Jesus coming into humanity
becomes the heart of humanity. You cannot now
put any one else than Jesus Christ at the centre of
our life. In the Kingdom of Heaven, superiority
of nature gives superiority of position. There is
nothing arbitrary or forced in the supremacy of

In the Incarnation, God joins himself to our
humanity as never before, joins himself to


our childhood as well as to our manhood. And
the fact that I want to put above every other in
this morning's meditation is this, that God can
and does speak through childhood as well as
through fully developed manhood. Childhood is
no hindrance to the work of the Spirit of God,
but a necessary stage in the work, a stage which
if lost can never be fully recovered. And as I am
sure that we have never given sufficient thought
to the meaning of the impressibility of childhood,
and have never enough apprehended that our
great religious opportunity is in the first few years
of a child's life, — I shall use the brief time allotted
to me at this Christmas service in a presentation of
such ideas as may help towards a revision of our
creed on this point. When we look at the hahe
of Bethlehem, is not the thought irresistible, God
can speak to us through the helplessness of the
babe. And when we watch that babe as it is
hurried away from persecution, and think that
it is carried in the fostering arms of motherhood ,
can we resist the thought, that the preservation of
the Kingdom of God in the earth is dependent on
the sanctification and consecration of motherhood ?
The Incarnation is the elevation of mother-
hood to a place it had never had in any heathen
or pagan country. The preservation of God's
Kingdom in the world is dependent, so it seems,
on the sanctification of those human instincts which


the Creator has sown in our nature. Surely that
is a great enough truth to justify the Kingdom of
God being hidden away in the infanthood of a
babe. The tendency of religion has often been
to say, crucify your social instincts. They are
unholy and unclean. Christianity says, conse-
crate them and they immediately become holy and
clean. Christianity began with a consecrated
childhood and a consecrated motherhood . Through
these relationships God spake his first parental
word in this dispensation in which we now live.

If you will allow me the expression — all the
gentlenesses and delicacies, all the modesties and
sweet refinements of the Kingdom of God, were
brought into human expression in that babe and
that mother. That child stood for all children,
that mother for all mothers thenceforth. God
spake through that child in order that we might
learn that He could speak and did speak through
childhood. Why should God limit himself to the
conditions of a child's nature ? Because there is a
language to be spoken through the child which
can never be spoken except through the child.
Because there is a rebuke to be given to our proud
grown-up intellectualism which arrogates to itself
the prerogative of being God's voice and his only
voice. And the reason why we have so often
and so sorely missed the meaning of this childhood
of Jesus as a part of the revelation of God is in


this — that we have thought of religion as
something intellectual, simply — a matter of
doctrines and creeds, and logical propositions.
And have we not asked what can a child know of
the truth or falsity of these ? A sufficient answer
would be. — ' It will know just what its father and
mother tell it, for a child is so constituted that it
believes in its father and mother/ But we will
not give that answer. We go deeper than that,
and first of all deny that religion consists in
doctrines and creeds and intellectual propositions,
any more than a dinner consists of the printed
receipts of a Cookery Book. Eeligion is aback of
these literary productions. It consists of love to
God and love to man.

Love is not an intellectual thing at all. The
essence of the Christian religion is love. That
elevates it above every other religion the human
race has ever known. Can a child love? Can it
love father or mother ? Can it depend on father
and mother ? Can it confide in father or mother ?
If so, it can love God. If so it can love man, for
father and mother represent mankind to it. We
who are adults love mankind to the extent (and
only to the extent) to which we love the represen-
tatives of it whom we know.

Set God as He is in Jesus Christ before the
heart of a child, and will there be no response in
that heart? Then there has been something


terribly atheistic in the secondary parenthood of
that child. The primary parenthood is in God —
the secondary parenthood in man. I go aback of
secondary parenthood, aback of all ideas — opinions,
creeds and formularies of man's devising, and I
aver that it is absolutely impossible in the nature
of things that Almighty God can so form the
spirits he puts into human bodies as that in them
from the first there shall be a negative of Himself.
The root of the error is in this assumption, that a
child^s nature is animal and irreligious, an idea
that never originated in Christianity but in
paganism and gross materialism. A too narrow
view of religion, and a too narrow view of child-
hood, have landed us in ideas and in practices
which are most assuredly Anti-Christian. The
view that religion is something to be learned from
without and not something to be evolved from
within, something intellectual, not afiectional and
vital, is at the root of this most serious error, an
error so radical and serious that I verily believe .
that such themes as that recently discussed over
the Andover professorship, are the veriest trifles in
comparison with it. If religion be a mere
intellectual acquirement like a knowledge of the
history of philosophy, of course it would be
useless to expect children to know anything about
it, or to have any experience of it. But if religion
has its seat in the heart and in the will, if it be


far more affectional than intellectual , then wherever
affection and will are operative, religion is alike
capable of being brought into operation. If there
be no affection and no will in a child there can be
no religion, if there he affection and will there can
be religion also. On this point there cannot be a
doubt as to what is the Scripture position. The
Book which contains such sentences as these
*' Out of the heart are the issues of life," " With
the heart man believeth unto righteousness,"
'' Whosoever receiveth one such little child in my
name receiveth me, but whosoever shall be a
stumbling block in the way of these little ones
which believe in me, it were better for him that a
millstone were hanged about his neck and he
drowned in the midst of the sea," I say as to the
position of that Book on this question there can
be no doubt. Then, why has the other position
been held by so many, that religion is an intellec-
tual and mental acqurement for adults and not an
affectional relation towards God on the part of
everyone? There is but one answer, ''we err,
not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of
God." So long as any of us are under the blight
of the error that in order to be in an}^ degree
religious, it is necessary to be capable of judging
and weighing evidence pro and con, so long we
shall feel justified in holding that a Christian
church is a confederation of adult persons, or


persons who have arrived, as we say, at years of
discretion. But if once we went to the Bible and
bathed our souls in its baptismal waters, saturated
ourselves with its spirit, it would be impos-
sible for us to take that position. Many things
would stand in the way, many facts, many passages
of Iljoly Scripture, but chiefest of all obstacles
would be that which we think of to-day, the great
fact of the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ. The babe at Bethlehem is the
Divine Word in its tenderest and gentlest expres-

Now, this mistake as to the seat of all true
religion, that it is in the intellect and not in the
heart, is by no means trivial. It must, of neces-
sity, influence all our practical church life. If
children have divine relations and rights God-
ward, and we do not recognize them, and in our
ignorance defraud the children of them, their
whole life is likely to be of a different color and
tendency from what it would otherwise be. It
is easy to see this. If we believe that religion
has its seat in the affections and not in the intel-
lect, we shall perceive that the religious education
of the child begins as soon as its affectional nature
is capable of receiving impressions. How soon is
that? How soon does a child know enough to
distinguish between its own mother and a stranger ?
The first years of a child's life are years of


impressions and nothing else. The age of reflec-
tion has not come, nor will for some time. The
plastic age is the first. Every day, every hour,
every moment, impressions are being made on the
affectional nature of the child, impressions which
will last as long as that nature lasts. That being
so, is it possible to over-estimate the value of
those first years for the highest purposes of life ?
I wish that it were a proper thing for me to
reproduce in your hearing some of the glowing
words of an American Divine not long since de-
ceased, whose influence on the ministers of our
English Churches has been greater than that of all
other American divines put together. Speaking
on this theme, to which I have been led this
morning, he says — "I have no scales to measure
quantities of eff'ect in this matter of early training,
but I may be allowed to express my solemn
conviction, that more, as a general fact, is done,
or lost by neglect of doing, on a child's immor-
tality, in the first three years of his life, than in
all his years of discipline afterwards." And again
he says still more emphatically, "Let every
Christian father and mother understand, when their
child is three years old, that they have done more
than half of all they will ever do for his character."
It is very remarkable that the greatest of all
Pre-Christian philosophers, Plato, held substan-
tially the same view. And when He whose word


to US is law, before whose utterances our opinions
hide their diminished heads in the dust, when He
said, ''Suffer the little children to come unto me
and forbid them not, for of such is tlie Kingdom
of Heaven," was He not saying the same thing,
only in a divine way, as this Plato of the American
pulpit ?

But, some one might ask, how is it possible to
give religious instruction to a child of three years
of age? Religious instruction can be but little,
but it is always safe to postpone religious
instruction when the child is in the constant
presence of religious character. Religious or ir-
religious impj^essioiis are produced from the
earliest times. And of these we are now speak-
ing. They are the most important. Religious
instruction is only a part of religious education.
All education begins at the cradle and continues
as long as life lasts. Connecting the two dispen-
sations once again, the greatest mind of Pre-
Christian times will help us as to this matter when
he says, "The best way of training the young, is
to train yourself; not to admonish them, but to be
always carrying out your own principles in prac-
tice." And our modern theological Plato says :
"In this charge and nurture of infant children,
nothing is to be done by an artificial lecturing
process. The defect of our character is not to be
made up by the sanctity of our words j we must


be all that we would have our children feel and
receive. Thus, if a man were to be set before a
mirror, with the feeling that the exact image of
what he is for the day, is there to be produced
and left as a permanent and fixed image forever,
to what carefulness, what delicate sincerity of
spirit would he be moved. And will he be less
moved to the same, when that mirror is the soul
of his child?"

Thus it comes to pass that though parents may
withhold religious instruction from their children
they cannot withhold religious education. For it
goes on by a Divine law, over which we have no
control. Whenever a stronger, a more fixed and
determined nature comes into perpetual contact
with a younger and more plastic nature, the latter
is educated by the former. The former impresses
itself upon it. Hence the importance of the
associations which children form. Hence the sol-
emn duty which is laid upon parents to discrimi-
nate between the influences to which they subject
their children. The more plastic the child the
nobler in the long run will be his life, but the more
care is necessary in its beginnings. I know that
there is the Unseen Spirit of God working on the
spirit of the child all the time. That spirit is
stirring the mind into thought and the heart into
feeling. But God has decreed that the ordinance
of parenthood shall be the most powerful in all


this world. Eichard Baxter, the author of the
Saint's Rest, gave it as his judgment that ''Family
instruction and government are God's appoint-
ed means of conversion — public ordinances of

That may be the law to which practically there
are exceptions, but this we may say unhesitat-
ingly, that never can the Church of God do its
Divinely-appointed work till there is intelligent
co-operation between it and the family. And this
also, that nothing outside the family can ever be
powerful enough to neutralize the influence of
family life if it be irreligious or to thoroughly
undo its influences if it be religious. It is not
conceivable that any one should ever love a child
as a parent loves it, and therefore it is not
conceivable that parents should ever deliberately
do anything whereby their children may be in-
jured. But error and love may dwell together in
the same heart ; ignorance and love may dwell to-
gether. There may be no perception of the rela-
tion of religion to happiness, no perception of the
relation of the Christ of God to the development
of character.

Men and women of average goodness, who would
do anything in the world they thought necessary
for the world-life of their children, have not got
their eyes open to perceive that happiness depends
on the within more than on tb^ without. They do


not for a moment despise Jesus Christ and His
work, but they assume that religion can be left to
take care of itself. They do not see that the presen-
tation of Christ to the soul awakes into life some-
thing which is otherwise dormant. The question
whether there is anything in Christ to touch into
feeling and hope and confidence, a child's heart,
has not been seriously considered. How it is, I
know not, but the fact remains that even christian-
ized people do not see how studiously our Lord
identifies himself with the cause of the little child,
and the cause of the poor and unfortunate, and
every true minister will do the same. Our clients
are those who cannot speak for themselves —
the little child that cannot speak what it feels, the
little child with its innate ideas, ideas not orig-
inated by teaching, ideas which are emotions strug-
gling within, which God has inwrought into the
soul ; and the poor who dare not speak out what
they feel, who have so generally in the past ages
of the world been robbed and wronged ; Christ
identified himself with these. Let us not forget that
wherever there is relisrious feelino^, there is reli2:ious
life. This religious feeling in childhood is to be
developed as the basis of religious a-ction in man-
hood. It is in the soul of man as it was in the
creation of this material world. First of all there
was the chaos, the sweltering surging waters, and
the spirit of God moving on the face of the waters.


But out of it came the Cosmos — the Divine or-
der — tiie solid earth with its mineral wealth and
its treasures of coal ready for the habitation of
man ; but the solidity followed the liquidity; and
so it is with a human soul. At first there is relig-
ious feeling, out of which under proper culture and
the o'erbrooding spirit of God, will grow the solid,
indestructible convictions of manhood and woman-
hood. But, if you repress the feeling, and throw
cold water on it when it glows in childhood, how
are you to get your convictions in manhood ? You
have destroyed the material out of which convic-
tions are made.

Before the animal passions begin to assert them-
selves, as in youth or early manhood, there should
have been evolved in the soul a religious love which
shall control and moderate them and bring them
under the power of reason. And so it should be
evident that there is no possibility of beginning too
early with religious culture, providing we mean by
it Christ and his spirit and temper. Everything
of an abstract nature, and especially everything
controversial must be postponed. Jesus — what
he was, what he said, what he did ; this is all
that a child needs, and it really does seem as though
God had made special provision in the method of
the New Testament literature, in its parables and
miracles for the child's nature. While the deep-
est meaning is profound enough for the philoso-


pher, the surface teaching is simple enough for
the child.

But I must not take liberties with your atten-
tion, although no theme is of greater practical
importance, and none deserves more thorough

So long as we are in fetters to the idea that
religion has its seat in the intellect, so long the
children of our day will be defrauded of their
rights in the kingdom of Christ. When once we
are converted to the scriptural position that the
seat of religion is in the affectional region, then
children will begin to have their souls recognized
as well as their bodies ; never till then. The in-
tellectual view of religion limits God's relation to
the soul of man. It limits the sphere of the oper-
ation of the Spirit of God. It limits the area of
Christ's atonement by virtually making it depend
on intellectual apprehension, thus confining 4ts
results to adult life. It limits and pauperizes
human nature. It puts religion on the same level
with mathematics, biology, geology, philosophy,
something to be acquired mentally. It makes
God's will to be limited by man's will, and makes
the Almighty wait as a servant at man's door to
ask permission of his creature to begin his work
on the soul. Thus, this intellectual view of relig-
ion is dishonoring to man and God both. The
Ptolemaic system of astronomy was superseded


generations ago. The Ptolemaic system of re-
ligion remains still — man with his proud intellect
at the centre, not God with his unchanging love.
When our Lord took a little child and set him in
the midst of the disciples and said that that little
child was the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven,
He, by that act, overturned the religion of mere
intellectualism and established a religion in
which the affectional was uppermost. The affec-
tional was predominant in that child. Greatness
always has its seat in the affections. There never
yet was a great nature in which the affectional was

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Online LibraryReuen ThomasDivine sovereignty, and other sermons → online text (page 7 of 16)