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not predominant. Of course if there be no affec-
tion in your child there can be no religion. And
the depth, the strength, the force, the fervor, the
glow of religious conviction in any soul w^ill be in
exact relation to the depth, the force, the strength
of the affection in that soul. Selfishness, schem-
ing, and calculation eat out the capacity for
religiousness in a soul because they eat out its
capacity for affection.

Let us not forget that there is only one be-
ginning to any life, and everything in the life
begins then. You cannot begin a religious life at
forty or fifty without beginning it under disadvan-
tages which are serious. Nor can you begin it at
twenty without some disadvantages that need not
be. The beginnings of religion or irreligion are
in tlie earliest years, and long before its existence


is recognized. Even Calvin, speaking of infancy,
says, *' The work of God in the soul is not without
existence because it is unobserved and not
understood by us." We forget that everything
that is in manhood is in germ in childhood —
everything. There is nothing added in after
years, no new faculty, no new power. It is all
there from the first. And that which is strongest
in manhood is that which has been fed and tutored
into predominance. The whole Kingdom of
Christ lay folded up in that babe at Bethlehem.
It was there in its quietest, its gentlest and
sweetest expression. And in every babe there is
religious capacity. If not, in the babe there will
never be in the man. Oh then, do not sin against
the child. Do not rob it of its place in the family.
Do not defraud it of its birthright. As soon as it
can know anything let it know that it has a father
and mother on earth because it has a father in
Heaven, a Deliverer from all evil in Jesus the
Christ, let this be the basis truth on which its
nature is built. And then if in the stormy years
of temptation that follow, it should ever be
tempted to the folly and madness of the prodigal,
and leave the shelter of a Father's House to spend
its substance in riotous living, there is a hope,
amounting almost to an assurance, that when it
comes to itself, the first truth it knew will assert
its power and the erring soul will turn its footsteps


back with the resolve, *' I will arise and go to my
Father and will say unto him, 'Father I have
sinned against Heaven and before thee, and am no
more worthy to be called thy son.'" ^



But covet earnestly the best gifts. And yet shew I unto you a
more excellent way. — i Cor., xii: 31.

THESE words of the Apostle have a backward
and a forward look. There is the way
which he has just trodden and the **more excel-
lent way" which he is about to show. We must
know both ways before we can estimate the greater
excellency of the one over the other. Searching
into the chapter at the very end of which are the
words of our text, what do we find as its theme ?
*'Now concerning Spiritual gifts." These words
contain it. Following, step by step, the leading
of the Apostle's thought, we learn that these men
and women to whom he writes had been Gentile
idolators, much in the same condition of mind and
life as we find the Hindoos and Chinese to-day.
But they had been changed from this condition,
had been converted as we say, and were disciples
of Christ. The Apostle attributes this discipleship
to the operation of the Holy Spirit of God upon



their minds. **No man speaking by the Holy-
Spirit, (under His influence) calleth Jesus anath-
ema, and no man can say that Jesus is the Lord
but by the Holy Spirit." And that which was
true of these men and women of Corinth is equally
true of us. If Jesus Christ be Lord to us we have
the evidence in ourselves of having been and being
under the power of the Holy Spirit of God. Then
the Apostle proceeds to speak of spiritual gifts,
the results of the unseen operation of the Spirit of
God as manifested in the Christian church of that
day. There would naturally be among new con-
verts a propensity to assume that some one class
of gifts was orthodox and others questionable.
Perplexity and confusion would arise. And so
the Apostle warns them against ' limiting the Holy
One of Israel.' He tells them there are 'diversi-
ties of gifts,' 'differences of administration,' that
as in material nature so in spiritual nature, variety
is not inconsistent with unity. One man is wise, he
has excellent judgment ; another man seems to
have an intuitiveness of knowledge ; another man
has strong faith ; another the gift of healing ;
another the gift of prophecy ; another can work
miracles ; another discerns spirits ; another has
the gift of tongues ; and still another the interpre-
tation of tongues. Now, we cannot stay this
morning to inquire particularly as to the nature
of these gifts, how far they were the quickening


of the natural by the intense action of the super-
natural upon it, so that each gift followed the law
of the natural propensity of the individual, that or
something else. All that is necessary to our pur-
pose is to point to the truth emphasized by the
Apostle, that the power underneath all, was the
self-same Spirit of God, and that the Sovereignty
of God was shown in the distribution and operation
of the gifts, ''dividing to every man severally as
He will.''

The Apostle goes on to show that the diversity
is not simply consistent with Unity, but required
in order to Unity. Oneness is not unity.
Individualism is not unity. Many there be who
contend for the unity of the Godhead, but all the
while they mean the Individualism of the Godhead.
Unity comes of diversity. The Apostle illustrates
this by reference to the human body. The foot,
the hand, the ear, the eye, the members, are all
different. The eye cannot hear. The ear cannot
see. The foot has no ability of doing the work
of the hand. Every part has its own special
office, and the total result is not schism but unity.
If the hand were to put out the eye the hand itself
would be a loser. Pain in one part means
discomfort everywhere. Each part serves every
other part, and serves it all the more eifectively
by being different from it. '' Whether one mem-
ber suffer, all the members suffer wdth it ; or one


member be honored all the members rejoice with
it." This is so in the material body which the
Apostle uses as an illustration and suggests his
ideal of a perfect church, though the ideal be far
ahead of present attainment. In the church there
are Apostles, but all are not apostles ; there are
teachers, but all men are not teachers ; there are
times of miracle, but all times are not conditioned
for the miraculous ; there are gifts of healing, but
very few men have them, all do not speak with
tongues, all have not the interpretation of tongues,
and yet some have. These are the gifts, in all
their manifold variety, all when genuine and true
tending towards unity. These gifts have been of
great value to the church. Those we differentiate
by the word 'miraculous' belong to times when,
without some unquestioned sign of the Divine
presence and power, men could not stand before
the terrific opposition brought to bear against them.
There are ages in which the excellency of a thing
is not enough to win acceptance for it, ay, ages in
which the more supernal the excellency, the more
violent will be the opposition. In such ages men
and their message have to be protected by some
such aureole of glory as only God Himself can
throw around their brows. Miracles, wonders
and sig^ns are not so much for the conv iction of the
unbeliever as for the protection of the believer.
We do not find that even the raising of Lazarus


was of much, if any use, for evangelistic purposes.
Men only deceive themselves when they assume
that their disposition Godward would be changed
by any visitations from the world of spirits. If
there be anything in what is called * ' Spiritualism "
it is certain that its eifect has been all the other
way. It has demoralized men instead of promo-
ting in them holy character. And so, while the
miracles of our Lord were revelations of Divine
Power and of a Kingdom of Heaven, while they
overawed many unbelievers , they did not convert

Now, in these days of oifrs, we are often in a
state of rebellion because we cannot command
signs and wonders. God's promises are that he
will come down *' as rain upon the mown grass,"
**as showers that water the earth," ** I will be as
the dew unto Israel " a gentle, constant, fructifying
influence. But we want freshets to bear away the
bridges, and make a loud report. We have very
little fiiith in what our Lord Himself says, that
" the Kingdom of God cometh not with observa-
tion."" We want Pentecost, with its tongues of
flame, and its mighty rushing wind, but are we
ready for the outside persecutions, the tortures,
the deaths, the Herodian tyrannies and all the
terrific opposition which in the one direction cor-
responded to Pentecost in the other? Pentecost
was God's answer to man's demoniac hatred. No


men, without a Pentecostal baptism, would have
dared to face such a frowning world as that which
glared upon the Apostles. And when you and I
are called to face the fires of martyrdom we shall
have Pentecostal power in which to face them. It
is enough for all ordinary purposes if our Lord be
with us *'as the dew," "as the rain," "as the
showers that water the earth," if we live spiritu-
ally in a dispensation of the Spirit as we live
Qaturally in a dispensation of the sunlight. Our
God never acts arbitrarily. Not only the times
and the seasons, but the spiritual proprieties and
necessities of the times and seasons are in His
hand and under His sovereisrn control. He cfiveth
to every age as to every man, "severally as He

And now I want that we should specially notice
that this Apostle says there is " a more excellent
way" to the attainment of the end sought by God,
than this way of miracle and wonder and sign.
He says, " seek earnestly the best gifts," but the
time will come when it will appear that these gifts
are inferior to something else. The time will
come when speaking with tongues, gifts of healing,
working miracles, all these signs and wonders
will be seen as provisional and temporary. In
the very nature of things they cannot be continued.
Their continuation would make them common-
place. They would lose their uses and cease to


be of service. That which God seeks for man
can be accomplished when the world is ready for
it by some agency whose permanency will not
make it commonplace — viz., by the existence
and cultivation of that state of heart which is
expressed in the one word ** charity." It is a
very remarkable thing, and will appear more and
more noteworthy, the longer we ponder it, that
this Apostle, living in the time of miracle and
wonder and sign, and able to estimate the exact
result of these, should yet boldly subordinate
them, as evangelistic agencies, to the power of
Christian charity, giving them an inferior and
temporary place. These Pentecostal manifesta-
tions, for which we so often sigh, thinking, in our
ignorance that if only we had them, the supremacy
of the church as a Divine Institute would be
universally acknowledged, and *'a nation born in
a day," St. Paul counts as provisional and
inadequate to the ends which, we assume, they
would further. We want something for the eye,
something for the ear, something sensuous, the
Kingdom of God coming with observation. Better
than all these if only you could get it, says the
Apostle, would be charity — that Christian love
which is the strongest and most powerful of all
Divine creations. *' For though I speak with the
tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity,
I am become as sounding brass and tinkling cym-


bals. And though I have the gift of prophecy and
understand all mysteries and all knowledge ; and
though I have all faith, so that I could remove
mountains, (for there is trememdous energy in
faith) and have not charity, I am nothing." He
goes further still, and John the Baptist like, lays
the axe to the root of the tree. — *' Though I
bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though
I give my body to be burned and have not charity,
it profiteth me nothing." This is startling doctrine,
startling, but undeniably Apostolic. A man may
have these gifts referred to, and yet may fall
short of having attained to any possession
of the central thing in Christianity, that which
distinguishes it from every false religion, and
every corrupt form of a true religion the world
has ever known. Men may have the energy ol
faith and very little if any charity. What seems
stranger still, they may be large and liberal givers
of money to the poor, and not have charity.
They may even go to the martyr's stake and not
have charity. All donations of money are
not acts of charity. All martyr-deaths are not
evidences of pure love to God and love to man.
Many a man has been so self-willed, and so con-
sumed with passion, so obstinate that he would rath-
er die than give in. Many a man has willed away
money to the poor simply because he could not
hold it any longer, or because the solicitation was


too urgent, or because he must save appearances,
or because his conscience was not very easy as to
the way in which he obtained his money. For as
one has recently said in a published exposition of
the Lord's Prayer, when we pray, *» Give us this
day our daily bread," our bread. ''Bread that
we beg is not ours; bread that we take as lazy
pensioners on some one else's bounty, is not ours ;
bread that w^e steal is not ours ; bread that we get
from other people by .fraud and extortion and
over-reaching is not ours ; only the bread that we
have earned by honest w^ork and fair traffic is
ours." That which a man gives heartily and
lovingly is perfumed with the incense of chjirity
— not that which he gives grudgingly and of

I dare not take liberties w^ith your time, and
therefore it is not possible for me to enter into
any adequate analysis as to what this charity,
exalted to the highest place and to the grandest
power by this Apostle, is. All w^e can say about
it is, that whatever " suifereth long and is kind,
whatever envieth not, whatever vaunteth not
itself and is not puffed up, whatever doth not be-
have itself unseemly, whatever seeketh not her
own, and is not easily provoked, whatever disposi-
tion is in any of us to think good and not evil,
always putting us on the side of the best construc-
tion of a deed and not the worst, whatever does


not rejoice in iniquity, whatever rejoiceth in the
truth, whatever bcareth all things, believeth all
things (good that is), hopeth all things, and en-
dureth all things," that is charity. The opposite
of all these is not charity. Charity is inconsistent
with petulance, with unkindness, with envy, with
boasting and self-conceit and self-importance,
with unseemliness in behavior, with the attribu-
ting of evil motive, with self-seeking, and all
these ugly and evil things. A man may have zeal
and no charity, yea faith enough to be very ener-
getic and have no charity, have sundry useful
gifts and no charity. Charity is eternal, undying,
everlasting ; it never faileth. The nearest thing
on earth to it is a mother's love. It is the atmo-
sphere of the society of Heaven. It is the
dominating characteristic of redeemed, godlike
souls. It gives a certain type and flavor of
character wherever it exists. It gives to the mind
broadness and comprehensiveness. It gives to
the heart tenderness and loveableness. It is the
concentrated essence of all the Evangelistic forces
that have ever been in the church from the first
day of its life to the day that now is.

And if the Church of Christ were richly
dowered with the will and ability to tread this
more excellent way it would not need to sigh for
Pentecostal sir/ns and wonders. Its power would
be irresistible. But it would be the power of


life, not the mechanical power of any ecclesias-
tical instrument that has ever been formed or
can be.

By means of artificial heat, kindled in glowing
furnaces, with the frost shut out, it is possible to
have flowers and fruits in winter, but when once
the summer sun pours down its June rays no
artificial contrivances are needed. And so when
once there is the reality of the religion of Jesus,
the Divine charity of which this inspired Apostle
speaks, the excellency of the way will be
perceived. Some there be who ever cry, '*we
want more faith." But faith, my brother, cannot
be a substitute for charity, and can perenni-
ally live only in an atmosphere charged with
charity, as plants in an atmosphere charged
with oxygen.

Others say we want more zeal, but zeal may
be only like a galvanic battery moving the muscles
of a corpse. Charity will do all and everything
that zeal can do, or that faith can do, or that
tongues can do, or that even miraculous gifts can
do. And yet how few believe it. But no man,
without twisting Scripture, can deny the Aposto-
licity of the teaching.

Who then, in the light of this teaching, are the
men and women who are most truly representa-
tive of the church of Christ, who really embody
its spirit, and carry forward its work? The


answer can only be — they who have the charity
of which the Apostle speaks. Paul and eTohn
were the greatest apostles because they were
most richly dowered with charity.



"That in all things he might have the pre-eminence.'' — Col.,
i: i8.

NO one reading the opening passages of this
letter of the great Apostolic letter-writer
can be in doubt as to the estimate he formed of
the personality of Jesus ; his mind and heart are so
possessed with Him that all things in heaven and
earth are viewed as having their interpretation in
Him. The Eternal One is spoken of as ''the
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." That is
enough for the mind of Paul. That is all he wants
to know. All creation cannot tell as much of God
as is told in the simple fact that He was '' the
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." The mind of
Paul is at rest as regards the Divine disposition
towards him. His awe remains, but all base fear
has gone. There is happiness enough in this one
fact, that he and those to whom he wrote had been
'' delivered out of the power of darkness and
translated into the Kinojdom of the Son of his



love." And then he proceeds to heap up thought
upon thought as though he could not get the in-
ward feeling into anything like adequate utterance.
*' In Him we have redemption," '' In Him we
have forgiveness of sins," " He is the image of
the invisible God," He is '' the first-born of every
creature." *' In Him were all things created, in
the heavens and upon the earth — things visible!
and things invisible — whether thrones or domin-
ions or principalities, or powers ; all things have
been created unto Him and through Him ; He is
before all things ; in Him all things are held

He is the head of the body, the church, who is
the beginning, the first-born from the dead , that in
all things he might have the pre-eminence. For
it was the good pleasure of the Father that in Him
should all the fulness dwell ; and throu2:h Plim to
reconcile all things unto Himself, having made
peace through the blood of his cross ; through
Him I say, whether things upon the earth or
things in the heavens."

I would like to ask Paul what he meant by
some of these utterances. It takes a Paul fully to
interpret a Paul. But this much we may say,
without any possil)ility of being in the wrong,
that to the Apostle Paul Jesus Christ was
immeasurably more than He is to you and me.
Great natures are certain to be the depositaries of


great ideas, great feelings, great hopes, great
aspirations. Greatness does not mean bulkiness.
It means the ability of thinking great thoughts,
letting in great ideas, following in the line of
great aspirations and doing it continuously as long
as life shall last. It is a question whether upon
earth a greater man has ever lived than the writer
of this letter. He has been before the world, with
his bundle of letters, for 1800 years, and every
generation of Christians has found Him ahead of
them. I question w hether there be a man living
who can say as much about Jesus Christ in the
same number of words as St. Paul has said in that
passage I have read.

I think, however, that if there be any one
expression wdiich holds in it all the rest, it is this,
"that in all things he might have the pre-emi-
nence." Let us analyze this pre-eminence and see
in what it consists ; —

1. He is pre-eminent as to His personality. In
the midst of all who have ever been in this world,
He stands unique as to human character ; — leaving
out, for the moment, all thought of everything
that rises above the human ; if we had time to go
into a detailed search after all the elements in His
make-up to which the word human could properly
be applied, we should be compelled to say that
He is pre-eminently human. He came into the
world through the gateway of the Hebrew nation,


and yet lie is not a Jew. He belonged, so far as
time could put a date upon Him, to the period of
1880 years ago, and yet He is of no age. He
spent His days and nights under those insufferably
bright eastern heavens, and yet He is of no clime.
As we study His character, and then study the
records of character which have come down to us
of other peoples, we are obliged to confess that He
gathers up into Himself all the best elements in
Jewish life, in Grecian life, in Roman life. The
characteristic Hebrew elements were such as we
indicate by the words, '* moral" and ''devotional."
Grecian life was elegant, refined and sensuous.
It was occupied with feelings of natural beauty.
Roman life was swayed by ideas of law, of empire
and world-wide dominion. Your memory will
furnish 3^ou with illustrative passages in proof of
what I say that all these ideas were in the mind
of Jesus Christ, not excluding or controverting
one another, or jostling one another, but holding
fellowship one with another. They were there in
their purest and best expression. We need not
stay upon the proof that He was pre-eminently
moral and devotional ; enemies as well as friends
admit that. But He was devotional without being
formal, and moral without any approach to pru-
dishness. But how about His gathering up into
Himself the best elements in Grecian life ? Search
and see how all things beautiful affect Him.


** Behold the lilies how they grow, they toil not,
neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that
even Solomon in all his glory, was not arrayed
like one of these.'' His love for country scenes,
never once sleeping in a city ; His retirement into
the recesses of nature for devotional and teaching
purposes ; His unconcealed admiration of the white
marble temple which rose lustrous and massive in
the midst of the squalor of the streets of Jerusa-
lem, His love of garden beauty. His constant use
of natural sym])ols to illustrate His teachings,
these are evidence enough of His being in sympa-
thy with all that was beauteous, a very Greek for
sensitiveness. But how about His gathering up
into Himself all the best elements in the life of
Rome, its appreciation of law and rule and domin-
ion ? His glorification of the moral law ; and His
refusal to utter one word that would be seditious,
though a Caesar was on the throne. His ready
payment of the usual poll-tax when asked of Him
and His disciples, these are sufficient to illustrate
the first. And but one quotation is necessary to
prove the truth of the assertion that with all that
was pure and great in the aspirations of Rome, for
Empire and world-wide dominion He was in
sympathy. AVith Rome it was the simple ambition
for power, with Jesus the aspiration of universal
benevolence — a sympathy w^ith all men every-
where, and thus a burning desire to bring them


under the rule of One God and Father, that uni-

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Online LibraryReuen ThomasDivine sovereignty, and other sermons → online text (page 8 of 16)