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in which there is still form, on which the spirit has left its
impression. There had been a time of gradual decay, a time when the
pulses of the nation beat feebly and faintly, but when they might
still be felt; a time after that when you knew it had ceased to
breathe, but when you could still speak of it as entire. But another
stage had come, the stage of utter dissolution, when each limb
looked as if it had nothing to do with any other, when you could
scarcely force yourself to believe that they had ever been joined
together. Can these bones live? what a thought to come into the
mind of any man gazing on such a scene! It could not have come from
himself, certainly, nor from any of these relics. God must have sent
it to him; He must have led him to dream that such a resurrection
was possible. And now the process of it is also revealed to him. The
prophet is commanded to speak. His speech seems a mere sound in the
air. But there is a noise and a shaking; then a frightful movement
of the bones towards each other, each claiming its fellow to which
it had once belonged. This strange effort at a union of dead things
betokens a power that has not yet declared itself. And soon the
sinews and the flesh come up upon them. They have acquired a form,
tho they have no life. "Then said he unto me, 'Prophesy unto the
wind; Thus saith the Lord God: come from the four winds, O breath,
and breathe upon these slain that they may live.' So I prophesied
as he commanded. And the breath came unto them, and they lived, and
stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army."

"Doth he not speak parables?" was the phrase by which the Jews
of the captivity exprest their dislike and contempt for the
troublesome and mystical prophet who was among them. "Doth he not
speak parables?" is a question which men, looking round with weary
hearts upon the condition of Christ's Church in various periods
of its existence, have asked themselves, with a very different
intention and spirit, when they have read this vision of the valley
of dry bones. "Is not this written," they have said, "for the ages
to come? Is not this one of parables concerning the kingdom of
God?" Yes, brethren, if we will first read it fairly and honestly,
as describing what Ezekiel says it described to him, - if we will
not search for a distant application till we have acknowledged the
immediate one, - we shall find that here, as everywhere, Ezekiel is
exhibiting facts which belong to other times as well as his own, and
laws and methods of a divine government which belong to all times as
well as his own.

And that I may not waste your time in enumerating different crises
of history in which the facts may be discerned, and by which the
law and the method may be tested, I say at once, they are all for
us; the vision and the interpretation are of this day. Do you not
hear men on all sides of you crying, "The Church which we read of
in books exists only in them. Christendom consists of Romanists,
Greeks, Protestants, divided from each other, disputing about
questions to which nineteen-twentieths of those who belong to their
communions are indifferent. And meantime what is becoming of the
countries in which these different confessions are established?
What populations are growing up in them? Does the present generation
believe that which its fathers believed? Will the next generation
believe anything?" Brethren, you hear such words as these spoken. I
do not mean to inquire how much there is of truth in them, how much
of exaggeration, what evidences there are on the other side which
have been overlooked; what signs of life there are anywhere in the
midst of apparent death. But this I must say; Christians in general
are far too eager to urge special exceptions when they hear these
charges preferred; far too ready to make out a case for themselves
while they admit their application to others; far too ready to think
that the cause of God is interested in this suppression of facts.
The prophets should have taught us a different lesson. They should
have led us to feel that it was a solemn duty, not to conceal,
but to bring forward all the evidence which proves, not that one
country is better than another, or one portion of the Church better
than another, but that there is a principle of decay, a tendency
to apostasy in all, and that no comfort can come from merely
balancing symptoms of good here against symptoms of evil there, no
comfort from considering whether we are a little less contentious,
a little less idolatrous than our neighbors. Alas, for this Church,
or for any church, if its existence now, if its prospects for the
future, are to be determined by such calculations as these! No,
brethren, our hope has a deeper foundation. It is this; that when
the bones have become most dry, when they are lying most scattered
and separate from each other, there is still a word going forth, if
not through the lips of any prophet on this earth, then through the
lips of those who have left it, - yet not proceeding from them, but
from Him who liveth for ever and ever, the voice which says, "These
bones shall rise." It is this; that every shaking among the bones,
everything which seems at first a sign of terror, - men leaving the
churches in which they have been born, forsaking all the affections
and sympathies and traditions of their childhood, - infidel
questionings, doubts whether the world is left to itself or whether
it is governed by an evil spirit, - are themselves not indeed signs
of life, but at least movements in the midst of death which are
better than the silence of the charnel-house, which foretell the
approach of that which they can not produce. It is this; that all
struggles after union, tho they may be of the most abortive kind,
tho they may produce fresh sects and fresh divisions, tho they must
do so as long as they rest on the notion that unity is something
visible and material, yet indicate a deep and divine necessity
which men could not be conscious of in their dreams if they were
not beginning to awake. It is this; that there are other visions
true for us, as they were for Ezekiel, besides the vision of dry
bones. The name of a Father has not ceased to be a true name because
baptized men do not own themselves as His children. The name of the
Son has not ceased to be a true name, because men are setting up
some earthly ruler in place of Him, or are thinking that they can
realize a human fellowship without confessing a Man on the throne
above the firmament. The name of the Spirit has not ceased to be
a true name because we are thinking that we can form combinations
and sects and churches without His quickening presence, because we
deny that He is really in the midst of us. It is this; that when
all earthly priests have been banished or have lost their faith,
tho there should be none to mourn over the ruins of Jerusalem, or
to feel its sin as his own, yet there is a High Priest, the great
Sin-Bearer, ever presenting His perfect and accepted sacrifice
within the veil, a High Priest not of a nation, but of humanity. It
is this; that tho all earthly temples, in which God has been pleased
to dwell, should become desecrated and abominable, tho all foul
worship should go on in the midst of them, and tho what is portrayed
on their walls should too faithfully represent what is passing in
the more secret chambers of imagery, tho at last the shrines that
have been supposed to contain the mystery which they set forth
should be utterly destroyed, and a voice should be heard out of the
midst of them, saying, "Let us depart," - yet that this will not be
the sign that the Church of God has perished, only the sign that the
temple of God has been opened in Heaven, and that from thence must
come forth the glory that is to fill the whole earth.




JAMES MARTINEAU, an English Unitarian divine, was born at Norwich
in 1805. He was educated for the Unitarian ministry at Manchester
College, and in 1828 ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in
Dublin. Resigning his pastorate in Ireland, he took charge of the
Paradise Street Chapel in Liverpool, but on being elected to the
chair of mental and moral philosophy in Manchester New College
followed it to London 1853, succeeding J. J. Taylor as principal of
the institution in 1868.

His sermons, delivered in the course of four years in the chapel
of Manchester New College are specimens of combined eloquence and
philosophical profundity, yet are, perhaps, most valuable for their
ethical quality. He preached in Dublin, Liverpool, and London.
He was a lofty and earnest soul, given to mysticism, a master of
English style, and has been widely read. He died in 1900.




_Peace I leave with you: My peace I give unto you: not as the world
giveth, give I unto you._ - John xiv., 27.

This is a strange benediction to proceed from the Man of Sorrows,
at the dreariest moment of His life; strange at least to those who
look only to His outward career, His incessant contact with misery
and sin, His absolute solitude of purpose, His lot stricken with
sadness ever new from temptation to the cross; but not strange
perhaps to those who heard the deep and quiet tones in which this
oracle of promise went forth - the divinest music from the center
of the darkest fate. He was on the bosom of the beloved disciple
and in the midst of those who should have cheered Him in that hour
with such comfort as fidelity can always offer; but who, failing in
their duty to His griefs, found the sadness creep upon themselves;
while He, seeking to give peace to them, found it Himself profusely
in the gift. It was not till He had finished this interview and
effort of affection, and from the warmth of that evening meal and
the flush of its deep converse they had issued into the chill and
silent midnight air, nor till the sanctity of moonlight (never to be
seen by Him again) had invested Him, and coarse fatigue had sunk His
disciples into sleep upon the grass, that having none to comfort, He
found anguish fall upon Himself. Deprived of the embrace of John,
He flew to the bosom of the Father; and after a momentary strife,
recovered in trust the serenity He had found in toil; and while His
followers lie stretched in earthly slumber, He reaches a divine
repose; while they, yielding to nature, gain neither strength nor
courage for the morrow, He, through the vigils of agony, rises to
that godlike power, on which mockery and insult beat in vain, and
which has made the cross, then the emblem of abjectness and guilt,
the everlasting symbol of whatever is holy and sublime.

The peace of Christ, then, was the fruit of combined toil and trust;
in the one case diffusing itself from the center of His active life,
in the other from that of His passive emotions; enabling Him in
the one case to do things tranquilly; in the other, to see things
tranquilly. Two things only can make life go wrong and painfully
with us; when we suffer or suspect misdirection and feebleness in
the energies of love and duty within us, or in the providence of
the world without us: bringing, in the one case, the lassitude of
an unsatisfied and discordant nature; in the other, the melancholy
of hopeless views. From these Christ delivers us by a summons to
mingled toil and trust. And herein does His peace differ from that
which "the world giveth" - that its prime essential is not ease, but
strife; not self-indulgence, but self-sacrifice; not acquiescence
in evil for the sake of quiet, but conflict with it for the sake
of God; not, in short, a prudent accommodation of the mind to
the world, but a resolute subjugation of the world to the best
conceptions of the mind. Amply has the promise to leave behind Him
such a peace been since fulfilled. It was fulfilled to the apostles
who first received it; and has been realized again by a succession
of faithful men to whom they have delivered it.

The word "peace" denotes the absence of jar and conflict; a
condition free from the restlessness of fruitless desire, the
forebodings of anxiety, the stings of enmity. It may be destroyed
by discordance between the lot without and the mind within, where
the human being is in an obviously false position - an evil rare and
usually self-curative; or by a discordance wholly internal, among
the desires and affections themselves. The first impulse of "the
natural man" is to seek peace by mending his external condition;
to quiet desire by increase of ease; to banish anxiety by increase
of wealth; to guard against hostility by making himself too strong
for it; to build up his life into a fortress of security and a
palace of comfort, where he may softly lie, tho tempests beat and
rain descends. The spirit of Christianity casts away at once this
whole theory of peace; declares it the most chimerical of dreams;
and proclaims it impossible even to make this kind of reconciliation
between the soul and the life wherein it acts. As well might the
athlete demand a victory without a foe. To the noblest faculties of
soul rest is disease and torture. The understanding is commissioned
to grapple with ignorance, the conscience to confront the powers of
moral evil, the affections to labor for the wretched and opprest;
nor shall any peace be found, till these, which reproach and fret us
in our most elaborate ease, put forth an incessant and satisfying
energy; till, instead of conciliating the world, we vanquish it; and
rather than sit still, in the sickness of luxury, for it to amuse
our perceptions, we precipitate ourselves upon it to mold it into a
new creation. Attempt to make all smooth and pleasant without, and
you thereby create the most corroding of anxieties, and stimulate
the most insatiable of appetites within. But let there be harmony
within, let no clamors of self drown the voice which is entitled
to authority there; let us set forth on the mission of duty,
resolved to live for it alone, to close with every resistance that
obstructs it, and march through every peril that awaits it; and in
the consciousness of immortal power, the sense of mortal ill will
vanish; and the peace of God well nigh extinguish the sufferings of
the man. "In the world we may have tribulation; in Christ we shall
have peace."

This peace, so remote from torpor, arising, indeed, from the intense
action of the greatest of all ideas, those of duty, of immortality,
of God, fell, according to the promise, on the first disciples. Not
in vain did Jesus tell them in their sorrows that the Comforter
would come; nor falsely did He define the blessed visitant, as
"the spirit of truth" - the soul reverentially faithful to its
convictions, and expressing clearly in action its highest aspirings.
Such peace had Stephen, when before the Sanhedrim that was striving
to hush up the recent story of the cross, he proclaimed aloud the
sequel of the ascension; and priests and elders arose and stopped
their ears, and thrust him out to death; he had his peace; else how,
if heaven of divinest tranquility had not opened to him and revealed
to him the proximity of Christ to God, how as the stone struck his
uncovered and uplifted head, could he have so calmly said, "Lord,
lay not this sin to their charge"? Such peace had Paul - at least
when he ceased to rebel against his noble nature, and became,
instead of the emissary of persecution, the ambassador of God. Was
there ever a life of less ease and security, yet of more buoyant
and rejoicing spirit than his? What weight did he not cast aside,
to run the race that was set before him? What tie of home or nation
did he not break, that he might join in one of the whole family of
God? For forty years the scoff of synagogues and the outcast of his
people, he forgot the privations of the exile in the labors of the
missionary; flying from charges of sedition he disseminated the
principles of peace; persecuted from city to city, yet he created
in each a center of pure worship and Christian civilization, and
along the coasts of Asia, and colonies of Macedonia, and citadels
of Greece, dropped link after link of the great chain of truth that
shall yet embrace the world. Amid the joy of making converts, he had
also the affliction of making martyrs; to witness the sufferings,
perhaps to bear the reproaches, of survivors; with weeping heart to
rebuke the fears, and sustain the faith of many a doubter; and in
solitude and bonds to send forth the effusions of his earnest spirit
to quicken the life, and renovate the gladness, of the confederate
churches. Yet when did speculation at its ease ever speak with
vigor so noble and cheerfulness so fresh as his glorious letters;
which recount his perils by land and sea, his sorrows with friend
and foe, and declare that "none of these things move" him; which
show him projecting incessant work, yet ready for instant rest;
conscious that already he has fought the good fight, and willing
to finish his course and resign the field; but prepared, if needs
be, to grasp again the sword of the Spirit, and go forth in quest
of wider victories. Does any one suppose that it would have been
more peaceful to look back on a life less exposed and adventurous,
on a lot sheltered and secure, on soft-bedded comfort, and unbroken
plenty, and conventional compliance? No! it is only beforehand that
we mistake these things for peace; in the retrospect we know them
better, and would exchange them all for one vanquished temptation
in the desert, for one patient bearing of the cross! What - when all
is over, and we lie upon the last bed - what is the worth to us of
all our guilty compromises, of all the moments stolen from duty to
be given to ease? If Paul had cowered before the tribunal of Nero,
and trembled at his comrade's blood, and, instead of baring his neck
to the imperial sword, had purchased by poor evasions another year
of life - where would that year have been now - a lost drop in the
deep waters of time - yet not lost, but rather mingled as a poison
in the refreshing stream of good men's goodness by which Providence
fertilizes the ages.

The peace of Christ, thus inherited by His disciples, and growing
out a living spirit of duty and of love, contrasts not merely with
guilty ease, but with that mere mechanical facility in blameless
action which habit gives. There is something faithless and ignoble
in the very reasonings sometimes employed to recommend virtuous
habits. They are urged upon us, because they smooth the way of
right; we are invited to them for the sake of ease. Adopted in such
a temper, duty after all makes its bargain with indulgence, and is
not yet pursued for its own sake and with the allegiance of a loving
heart. Moreover, whoever has true conscience sees that there is a
fallacy in this persuasion; for whenever habits become mechanical,
they cease to satisfy the requirements of duty; the obligations of
which enlarge definitely with our powers, demanding an undiminished
tension of the will, and an ever-constant life of the affections.
It can never be, that a soul which has a heaven open to its view,
which is stationed here, not simply to accommodate itself to the
arrangement of this world, but also to school itself for the spirit
of another, is intended to rest in mere automatic regularities.
When the mind is thrown into other scenes, and finds itself in the
society of the world invisible, suddenly introduced to the heavenly
wise and the sainted good - what peace can it expect from mere dry
tendencies to acts no longer practicable and blameless things now
left behind? No; it must have that pure love which is nowhere a
stranger, in earth or heaven; that vital goodness of the affections,
that adjusts itself at once to every scene where there is truth and
holiness to venerate; that conscience, wakeful and devout, which
enters with instant joy on any career of duty and progress opened
to its aspirations. And even in "the life that now is," the mere
mechanist of virtue, who copies precepts with mimetic accuracy,
is too frequently at fault, to have even the poor peace which
custom promises. He is at home only on his own beat. An emergency
perplexes him, and too often tempts him disgracefully to fly. He
wants the inventiveness by which a living heart of duty seizes the
resources of good, and uses them to the last; and the courage by
which love, like honor, starts to the post of noble danger, and
maintains it till, by such fidelity, it becomes a place of danger
no more. It is a vain attempt to comprize in rules and aphorisms
all the various moral exigencies of life. Hardly does such legality
suffice to define the small portion of right and wrong contemplated
in human jurisprudence. But the true instincts of a pure mind, like
the creative genius of art, frames rules most perfect in the act
of obeying them, and throws the materials of life into the fairest
attitudes and the justest proportions. He whose allegiance is paid
to the mere perceptive system, shapes and carves his duty into the
homeliest of wooden idols; he who has the spirit of Christ turns it
into an image breathing and divine. Children of God in the noblest
sense, we are not without something of His creative spirit in our
hearts. The power is there to separate the light from the darkness
within us, and set in the firmament of the soul luminaries to guide
and gladden us, for seasons and for years; power to make the herbage
green beneath our feet, and beckon happy creatures into existence
around our path; power to mold the clay of our earthly nature into
the likeness of God most high; and thus only have we power to look
back in peace upon our work, and find a Sabbath rest upon the
thought that, morning and evening, all is good.

But the peace which Christ left and bequeathed was the result of
trust, no less than toil. However immersed in action, and engaged
in enterprises of conscience, every life has its passive moments,
when the operation is reversed, and power, instead of going from us,
returns upon us; and the scenes of our existence present themselves
to us as objects of speculation and emotion. Sometimes we are forced
into quietude in pauses of exhaustion or of grief; stretched upon
the bed of pain, to hear the great world murmuring and rolling by;
or lifted into the watch-tower of solitude, to look over the vast
plain of humanity, and from a height that covers it with silence
observe its groups shifting and traversing like spirits in a city
of the dead. At such times our peace must depend on the view under
which our faith or our fears may exhibit this mighty "field of
the world"; on the forces of evil, of fortuity, or of God, which
we suppose to be secretly directing the changes on the scene, and
calling up the brief apparition of generation after generation. And
so great and terrible is the amount of evil, physical and moral, in
the great community of men; so vast the numbers sunk in barbarism,
compared with the few who more nobly represent our nature; so
many and piercing (could we but hear them) the cries of unpitied
wretchedness, that with every beat of the pendulum wander unnoticed
into the air; so dense the crowds that are thrust together in the
deepest recesses of want, and that crawl through the loathsome hives
of sin; that only two men can look through the world without dismay;
he, on the one hand, who suffering himself to be bewildered with
momentary horror, and in the confusion of his emotions, to mistake
what he sees for the moral chaos, turns his back in the despair of
fatalism, crying, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die"; and
he, on the other, who, with the discernment of a deeper wisdom,
penetrates through the shell of evil to the kernel and the seed
of good; who perceives in suffering and temptation the resistance
which alone can render virtue manifest, and conscience great, and
existence venerable; who recognizes, even in the gigantic growth
of guilt, the grasp of infinite desires, and the perseverance of
godlike capacities; who sees how soon, were God to take up His
omnipotence, and snatch from His creature "man" the care of the
world and the work of self-perfection, all that deforms might
be swept away, and the meanest lifted through the interval that
separates them from the noblest; and who therefore holds fast to the
theory of hope and the kindred duty of effort; takes shelter beneath
the universal Providence of God; and seeing time enough in His vast
cycles for the growth and consummation of every blessing can be
patient as well as trust; can resign the selfish vanity of doing all
things himself, and making a finish before he dies; and cheerfully

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Online LibraryVariousThe World's Great Sermons, Volume 5: Guthrie to Mozley → online text (page 3 of 13)