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the body that you will have, if you die in the faith, is the image
of what your Lord wears now; the image of the body slain for our
offenses and raised again for our justification. And have you still
a favorite theme which you have not suggested?"

"The pleasures of life are our favorite theme."

"Yes, and Jesus provided them and graced them at Cana."

"The duties of the household are our favorite theme."

"Yes, and Jesus has prescribed them and disciplines you by them,
and will judge you for your manner of regarding them. What would
you have, then, what can you think of for your choice topic of

"We love to talk of our brethren in the faith."

"But they are the indices of Christ, and He is represented by them."

"We choose to converse on our Redeemer's indigent, imprisoned,
diseased, agonized followers."

"And He is anhungered, athirst, penniless, afflicted in them, and
whatsoever we do to one of them we do to Him, and what we say of one
of them we say of Him."

"May we speak in the pulpit of slaves?"

"Of slaves! Can you not speak of Medes and Parthians, Indians and
Arabians? Why not then of Africans? Have they, or have they not,
immortal souls? Was Jesus, or was He not, crucified for them? Was
He ashamed of the lowly and the down-trodden, and those who have
become the reproach of men and the despised of the people? You may
speak of all for whom Christ died; as all men, bond or free, and all
things, globes or atoms, suggest thoughts leading in a right line
or in a curved line to the cross of Christ. All things, being thus
nearly or remotely suggestive of the atonement, are for your sakes;
whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death,
or things present, or things to come, - all are yours, for your
thoughts, for your words. If things pertain to the divine essence,
the whole of that is the essence of Jesus; if they pertain to the
divine relations, all of them are the relations of Jesus; if they
pertain to the noblest and brightest features of seraphs, all the
angels of God bow down before Jesus; if they pertain to the minutest
changes of human life, in all our vicissitudes Jesus keeps up His
brotherhood with us; if they pertain to the vilest and darkest spot
of our depravity, they pertain to Jesus, - for to speak aright of sin
is to be determined to speak of Christ and of Him crucified for sin.

"And is this the doctrine which men call a contracted one? Narrow!
The very suspicion of its being narrow has now suggested the first
reason why you should place it and keep it as the crown of all
your words and deeds - it is so large, so rich, so boundless, that
you need nothing which excludes it. And therefore," continues
the apostle, "I mean to know and to love nothing, and to make
it manifest that I care for nothing, in comparison with, and
disconnected from, the God-man, as He develops all His attributes
and all His relations on the cross."

But were the author of these laconic words in a familiar conference
with us, we might be tempted to address to him a second inquiry:

"Is not your theme too large? At first we deemed it too small, but
now it swells out before us into such colossal dimensions that we
change our ground, and ask: Can the narrow mind of man take in this
multiplicity of relations, comprehended in both the natures, and in
the redemptive, as well as all the other works of Christ? Do not
frail powers need one day as a day of rest, and one place as a
sanctuary of repose, from every thought less tender than that of the
atoning death itself? Must we not call in our minds from Christ and
Him crucified, so as to concentrate all our emotions on the simple
fact of Christ crucified?"

"Too large a theme!" this is the reply, "it is a large theme, too
large to be fully comprehended by finite intelligences. Men have
dreamed of exhausting the atonement by defining it to be a plan for
removing the obstacles which stand in the way of our pardon. It is
too large for that definition, as the atonement also persuades the
Most High to forgive us. Then men have thought to mark it round
about by saying that it is a scheme for inducing God to interpose in
our aid. But the atonement is too large for that defining clause,
as it also presents motives to man for accepting the interposition
of God. Then some have thought to define it exactly, by saying
that the atonement is both an appeal to the Lawgiver and also an
appeal to the sinner. Too large still is the atonement for that
explanation. It is an appeal to both God and man, but it is more. It
is an appeal to the universe, and is as many-sided as the universe
itself is to be variously affected. Can we by searching find out the
whole of atoning love? It is the love of Him who stretched out His
arms on the fatal wood, and pointed to the right hand and to the
left hand, and raised His eyes upward, and cast them downward; and
thus all things above and below, and on either side, He embraced
in His comprehensive love. It is a large theme, but not too large
to operate as a motive upon us. The immeasurable reach of a motive
is the hiding of its power. The mind of man is itself expansive,
and requires and will have something immense and infinite of truth
or error, either overpowering it for good or overmastering it for
evil. The atonement is a great theme, but not too great; and for
the additional reason, its greatness lies, in part, in its reducing
all other doctrines to a unity, its arranging them around itself in
an order which makes them all easily understood. We know in other
things the power of unity amid variety. We know how simple the
geography of a land becomes by remembering that its rivers, altho
meandering in unnumbered circuits around the hills and through
the vales, yet pursue one main direction from one mountain to one
sea. Now all the truths of God flow into the atonement. They are
understood by means of it, because their tendencies are toward it;
and it is understood by means of them, because it receives and
comprehends them.

"Consider more fully the first part of this sentence; all other
truths are understood by means of the atonement. It gives to them
all a unity by illustrating them all. Other truths are not so much
independent themes, as they are branches growing up or sidewise
out of this one root, and they need this single theme in order that
their relations may be rightly understood. What, for example, can
we know in its most important bearings, unless we know the history
and office of our Redeemer? Begin from whatever point we may examine
the uses of things, we can never measure their full utility until we
view them from the cross. The trees bud and blossom. Why? To bear
fruit for the sustenance of the human body. But is this an ultimate
object? The nourishment of the body favors the growth of the mind.
But is the human mind an end worthy of all the contrivances in
nature? Does the sun, with all its retinue of stars, pursue its
daily course with no aim ulterior to man's welfare? Do we adopt a
Ptolemaic theory in morals, that man is the center of the system,
and other worlds revolve round him? All things were made of God, as
the Being in whom they all terminate. Do they exist for elucidating
His power? This is not his chief attribute. His knowledge? There is
a nobler perfection than omniscience. His love? But there is one
virtue imbedded as a gem in His love, and His love is but a shining
casket for this pearl of infinite price. This pearl is grace. This
is the central ornament of the character of Jehovah. But there is no
grace in Jehovah save as it beams forth in Christ; not in Christ as
a mere Divinity, nor in Christ as a mere spotless humanity, but in
the two united, and in that God-man crucified. All things were made
by Him and for Him, rising from the cross to the throne. Without
reference to Him in His atoning love has nothing been made that was
made in this world. The star in the East led wise men once to the
manger where the Redeemer lay; and all the stars of heaven lead
wise men now to Him who had risen above the stars, and whose glory
illumines them all. He is termed the Sun of righteousness; and, as
the material sun binds all the planets around it in an intelligible
order, so does Christ shine over, and under, and into, and through
all other objects, attract them all to Himself, marshal them all
into one clear and grand array, showing them all to be His works,
all suggestive of our duty, our sin, our need of atonement, our
dependence on the one God, and the one Mediator between God and man.

"The first part of my sentence was, All other truths are understood
by means of the atonement. Consider next the second part: The
atonement is understood by means of other truths. It crystallizes
them around itself, and reduces them into a system, not only because
it explains them, but also because it makes them explain it. It is
not too large a theme, for all the sciences and the arts bring their
contributions to make it orderly and plain. Our text is a simple
one, because its words are interpreted by a thousand facts shining
upon it, and making themselves and it luminous in their radiations
around and over it. Listen again to its suggestive words:

"'For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ,
and him crucified.'

"Now, what is the meaning of this plain term 'Christ'? It means a
'King.' But how can we appreciate the King, unless we learn the
nature of the beings over whom He rules? He reigns over the heavens;
therefore we investigate the heavens. The whole earth is full of
His glory; therefore we study the earth. He is the Lord over the
angels; when we reflect on them, we catch a glimpse of Him in His
regal state. He is the King of the Jews and the Gentiles. When we
meditate on men, we enjoy a glance at Him who was born for this
end, that He might have dominion over our race. When we contemplate
the material worlds, all the vastness and the grandeur included in
them - the sphere of mind, all the refinement and energy involved
in it - we are overpowered by the reality, surpassing fable, that
He who superintends all the movements of matter and first spake it
into being and once framed, as He now governs, the souls of His
creatures - He is the King who atoned for us; and the more we know of
the stars in their courses, and of the spirit in its mysteries, so
much the deeper is our awe in view of the condescending pity which
moved their Creator to become one with a lowly creature acquainted
with grief for you and me. So much is involved in the word 'Christ.'

"But our text speaks of Jesus Christ. That word 'Jesus!' What is
the meaning of it? It means a 'deliverer,' and in the view of some
interpreters it means 'God, the deliverer.' Deliverer? From what? We
do not understand the power of His great office, unless we learn the
nature and the vileness of sin; and we have no conception how mean,
how detestable, sin is, unless we know the needlessness of it, the
nobleness of the will which degrades itself into it, the excellence
of the law which is dishonored by it. All our studies, then, in
regard to the nature of the will, the unforced voluntariness of
depravity, the extent of it through our race, the depth of it, the
purity of the commands aiming to prevent it, the attractions of
virtue, the strangeness of their not prevailing over the temptations
of vice - they are not mere metaphysics; they are studies concerning
the truth and the grace of Immanuel, who is God with us, and whose
name is 'Deliverer' because He delivers His people from their sins;
sins involving the power and the penalty of free wrong choice;
a penalty including the everlasting punishment of the soul; a
punishment suggesting the nature and the character of the divine
law, and the divine Lawgiver, in their relation to the conscience
and all the sensibilities of the mind; and that mind, as undying as
its Maker. All these things are comprehended in the word 'Jesus.'

"But our text speaks of Jesus Christ and Him crucified: and this
third term, 'crucified,' adds an emphasis to the two preceding
terms, and stirs us up to examine our own capabilities - to learn
the skill pervading our physical organism, so exquisitely qualified
for pain as well as pleasure; the wisdom apparent in our mental
structure, so keenly sensitive to all that can annoy as well as
gratify; and thus we catch a glimpse of the truth, that He who
combines all of our dignity with none of our guilt, and with all
of the divine glory, and who thus develops all that is fit to be
explained in man, and all that can be explained in God - He it is who
chose to hang and linger with aching nerve and bleeding heart upon
the cross for you and me. This cross makes out an atonement of the
sciences and the arts and brings them also, as well as devout men,
at one with God; all of them tributary to the doctrine that we are
bought with a price - that we are redeemed, not with silver and gold,
but with the precious blood of a man, who was God manifest in the
flesh. Too large a theme is the atonement? But it breaks down the
middle wall of partition that has kept apart the different studies
of men; and it brings them together as illustrations of the truth,
which in their light becomes as simple as it is great.

"The very objection, then, that the redemptive work is too extensive
for our familiar converse, has suggested the second reason why it
should be the main thing for us to think upon, and speak upon, and
act upon: It systematizes all other themes, and gains from them a
unity which becomes the plainer because it is set off by a luminous
variety; and for this cause," continues the apostle, "I intend to
know nothing with supreme love, except this centralizing doctrine
which combines all other truths into a constellation of glories."

There is still a third inquiry which we might present to the author
of our text, could we meet him in a personal colloquy:

"Your words all converge toward one point; will they not then become
monotonous, and inapposite to the varying wants of various, or even
the same, individuals?"

"A monotonous theme!" this is the reply: "What can be more
diversified than the character and work of Him who is at one time
designated as the omniscient God, and at another time as a Mechanic;
at one time as a Judge, and at another time as an Intercessor; now
a Lion, and then a Lamb; here a Vine, a Tree, there a Way, a Door;
again a Stone, a Rock, still again a Star, a Sun; here without sin,
and there He was made sin for us.

"Monotonous is this theme? Then it is sadly wronged, and the mind of
man is sadly harmed; for this mind shoots out its tendrils to grasp
all the branches of the tree of life, and the tree in its healthy
growth has branches to which every sensibility of the human mind
may cling. The judgment is addrest by the atonement, concerning the
nature of law of distributive justice, the mode of expressing this
justice either by punishing the guilty or by inflicting pain as a
substitute for punishment, the influence of this substitution on
the transgressor, on the surety, on the created universe, on God
Himself. There is more of profound and even abstruse philosophy
involved in the specific doctrine of the atonement, than in any
other branch of knowledge; and there has been or will be more of
discussion upon it, than upon all other branches of knowledge; for
sacred science is the most fruitful of all sciences in logical
deduction, and this specific part of the science is the richest of
all its parts.

"Here, then, is the first method in which you may keep up the habit
of making 'Jesus and Him crucified' the soul of your activity: Bring
to your help the force of a resolute determination. There is a
tendency in this resolute spirit to divert your thoughts from other
themes, to turn the current of your sensibilities into the right
channel, to invigorate your choice, to exert a direct and reflex
influence in confirming the whole soul in Jesus. God is in that
determination. He inspires it. He invigorates it. He works with it
and by it. There is a power in it, but the power is not yours; it is
the power of God. God is in every holy resolve of man."

In our interview with the apostle we should address to him a second

"In what method can we avoid both the fact and the appearance of
being slavishly coerced into the habit of conversing on Christ
and on Christ alone? You speak of taking your stand, adhering to
your decision; but this dry, stiff resolve-comes any genial spirit
from it? Will you not be a slave to your unswerving purpose? Your
inflexible rule, will it not be a hard one, wearisome to yourself,
disagreeable to others? You hold up a weighty theme by a dead lift."

"I am determined" - this is the reply - "and it is not only a strong
but it is a loving resolve. For the love of Christ constraineth
me; whom having not seen in the flesh I love; in whom, though now
I see him not, yet believing, I rejoice with the joy unspeakable
and full of glory. It is not a business-like resolution. It is
not a diplomatic purpose. It is not a mechanical force. It is an
affectionate decision. It is a joyous rule. It is the effluence of a
supreme attachment to the Redeemer.

"And this is the second method in which you may retain Jesus Christ
as the jewel of your speech and life: Cherish a loving purpose to
do so. A man has strength to accomplish what with a full soul he
longs to accomplish. Your Christian toil will be irksome to you, if
it be not your cordial preference; but if your undeviating resolve
spring out of a hearty choice of your Savior, then will it be ever
refreshed and enlivened by your outflowing, genial preference; then
will your pious work be the repose of your soul. There is a power in
your love to your work. It is a power to make your labor easy for
yourself and attractive to others. This is not your power; it is the
power of God. He enkindles the love within you. He enlivens it. He
gives it warmth. He makes it instinct with energy. God is in all the
holy joy of man."

In our conference with the author of our text we might suggest to
him our third and last inquiry:

"In what method can we feel sure of persevering in this habitual
exaltation of Christ? You speak of your stern purpose, but can you
depend upon the continuance of it? You speak of your cordial as well
as set resolve. But who are you? (forgive our pertinacious query).
Jesus we know. But His disciples, His chief apostles - is not every
one of them a reed shaken with the wind, tossed hither and thither,
unstable as a wave upon the sea?"

"I know it is so" - this is the reply. "Often am I afraid lest,
having preached the gospel to others, I should be a castaway. And
after all I am persuaded that nothing - height depth, life, death,
nothing - shall be able to separate me from the love of Christ; for
I put my confidence in Him, and while my purpose is inflexible and
affectionate, it is also inwrought with trust in the atonement and
the intercession. I do pursue my Christian life in weakness and in
fear and in much trembling. For all the piety of the best of men
is in itself as grass, and the goodliness thereof as the flower of
the field. Therefore serve I the Lord with all humility of mind
and with many tears and temptations. Yet I am determined with a
confiding love. I am troubled on every side; my flesh has no rest;
without are fightings, within are fears; in presence I am base among
you, my bodily presence is weak and my speech contemptible; and if
I must needs glory, I will glory in the things which concern my
infirmities. Still, after all, I am determined, my right hand being
enfolded in the hand of my Redeemer. I know whom I have believed,
and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed
unto Him against that day. For my conversation is in heaven, from
whence I am to look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall
change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious
body, according to the mighty working whereby He is able to subdue
all things unto Himself. I say the truth in Christ; I lie not; I am
the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle,
because I injured the Church of God; I am less than the least of all
saints. Still I am determined; for by the grace of God I am what I
am; and this grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain, but
I labored more abundantly than they all; yet not I but the grace of
God which was with me; for I can do all things through Christ which
strengtheneth me, and therefore I am determined.

"Borne onward, therefore, by your fixed plan, and no one can succeed
in anything without a plan, yet you must never rely ultimately
upon your determined spirit. Allured further and further onward
by your delight in your plan, and no one can work as a master in
anything without enthusiasm in his prescribed course, still you
must not place your final dependence upon your affectionate spirit;
for if you take, for your last prop, either the sternness or the
cheerfulness of your own determination, then you will know your
determination, and you are not to know anything save Jesus Christ
and Him crucified. Here, then, is the third method in which you may
give the fitting prominence to the best of themes: You must rest for
your chief and final support on Him and only on Him, from whom all
wise plans start, by whom they hold out, and to whom they all tend,
who is all and in all, Jesus Christ and Him crucified."

My Christian brethren, you are all apostles. Every man, every woman,
every child, the richest and the poorest, the most learned and the
most ignorant of you - who have come up hither to dedicate yourselves
and this sanctuary to your Lord, all being sent of Him to serve Him,
have in fact and in essence the same responsibility resting on you
as weighed on the author of our text. And he was burdened by the
same kind of temptations and fears which oppress your spirit. But he
was held up from failing in his work by a threefold cord; and that
was his resolute determination, as loving as it was resolute, and as
trustful as it was loving, to know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him
crucified. The last that you hear of him as an impenitent man is in
the words: "And Saul, yet breathing out threatening and slaughter
against the disciples of the Lord." It was Christ whom the proud Jew
last opposed. The first that you hear of him as a convicted man is
in the words: "Who art thou, Lord?" It was Christ whom the inquiring
Jew first studied. And the first that you hear of him as a penitent
man is: "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" It was Christ to whom
the humble disciple first surrendered his will. And the first that
you hear of him as a Christian minister is: "And straightway he
preached Christ in the synagogs that he is the Son of God." And the
last that you hear of him as a Christian hero is: "I have fought
the good fight, I have finished my course. I have kept the faith;
henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." And
the secret of this victorious career is in words like those of our
text: "I adhered to my plan (when among the fickle Corinthians), I
was decided (when among the vacillating Galatians) to know nothing
(when among the learned at Athens and them of C├Žsar's household at
Rome) save Jesus Christ (when I was among my own kinsmen who scorned
Him), and Him crucified (when I was among the pupils of Gamaliel,
all of whom despised my chosen theme); still I was determined to
cling to that theme among the Greeks and the Barbarians, before
Onesimus the slave and Philemon the proud master; for I loved my
theme, and, suffering according to the will of God, I committed the
keeping of my soul to Him in well-doing as unto a faithful Creator."

And herein is it to be your plan, my brethren, and your joy, not to
make this sanctuary the resort of wealth and of fashion, but rather
of humble suppliants, who by their prayers may divert all the wealth
and fashion of the world into the service of your Lord; not to make
this temple the resting-place of hearers who shall idly listen to
the words of an orator, but a temple of earnest coworkers with
Christ - thinking of Him, speaking of Him, loving Him first, and
last, and midst, and without end. As you come to this house of God
on the Sabbath, as you go from it, as your week-day recollections
gather around it, may you renew and confirm your plan to know your
Redeemer, and not only to shut yourselves up to the supreme love
of nothing except Christ, but also - His grace will be sufficient
for you - to worship and serve Christ in the central relation of Him

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Online LibraryVariousThe World's Great Sermons, Volume 5: Guthrie to Mozley → online text (page 6 of 13)