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of their devotion and acknowledgment of the divine head, themselves
became prophets of a coming Savior. He rose by His own power. He
conquered death itself, the grave, and the whole powers of humanity.

Jupiter is represented by an old classic writer as saying to the
lesser gods that if all of them combined together and should
endeavor to throw down his throne - if all power was arrayed against
him - he, by his own might, would be able to overcome them all.
What was fiction with the ancients becomes gloriously realized in
Christ. Take all the powers of humanity - the Jewish power, the
Roman power; the power of learning, of art, of public opinion; take
all the powers of earth and hell, death and the grave, and combine
them all against the Savior and, without one effort, without one
single apparent movement - the Sleeper lies in death, His eyes are
sealed, and, as if all unconscious, for the warning had not been
given before - in an instant those eyes were opened, that frame
rises, the grave yields up its prey, death retires conquered, and
Christ demonstrates Himself to be the ruler of the whole universe.
He made the earth to tremble, the sun to put on sackcloth, the very
air to grow dark, the graves to open, the dead to come forth, and
proclaimed Himself to be the conqueror of death and hell. So we have
proof of His being the Son of God with power.

In that resurrection from the dead we have a pledge of our own
resurrection. Christ has become the first-fruits of them that slept.
You know the figure of the first-fruits as understood by the Jews.
Their religion was connected with the seasons of the year - with
the harvest crops; one of their feasts was called the feast of the
first-fruits, and was on this wise: When the first heads of grain
began to ripen in the field, and there was thus a pledge of harvest,
they cut off those first ripened heads and went up to Jerusalem.

Before that the grain was not crusht, no bread was baked out of
it, and nothing was done to appropriate that crop to man's use
until those ripened heads of grain were brought up to Jerusalem
and presented to the Lord as a thank-offering. He was acknowledged
as Lord of the harvest and they were laid up as a kind of
thank-offering before God. They were the first-fruits. Then they
went away to the fields and all through Judea the sickle was thrust
in, the grain was reaped and gathered into sheaves, and when the
harvest was secured they baked the bread for their children out of
this first grain. They came up to the temple, where the first-fruits
had been laid, and they held a feast of thanksgiving and shouted
harvest home. The old harvest feast seems to be descended from this
ancient custom.

Christ rose as the first-fruits, and there is to be a glorious
resurrection. Christ came, the first man to rise in this respect,
by His own power, from the grave, having snatched the crown from
death, having thrown light into the grave, having Himself ascended
up toward glory. He goes up in the midst of the shouts of angels;
the heavens open before Him; yonder is the altar; there is the
throne, and around it stand the seraphim and the cherubim; and
Christ enters, the victor, and sits down upon the throne, from
henceforth expecting until His enemies be made His footstool. He is
the first-fruits of the harvest, but the angels are to be sent out
like the reapers, and by and by humanity is coming.

As Christ, the first-fruits, passed through the grave and went up
to glory, so there shall come forth from their sleeping dust in
Asia, in Africa, in Europe, and in America, from every mountain
top, from the depths of the sea, from deep ravines, and from plains
outspread - oh, there shall come in the time of the glorious
harvest - the uprising of humanity, when all the nations, waking from
their long sleep, shall rise and shall shout the harvest home! Thank
God! At that time none shall be wanting.

Oh, they come, they come, from the nations of the past and from the
generations yet unborn! I see the crowd gathering there. Behold the
angels are waiting, and as the hosts rise from the dead they gather
round the throne. Christ invites His followers to overcome and sit
down with Him on His throne, as He overcame and sat down with the
Father on His throne. In that is the pledge of our resurrection from
the dead. Can I not suffer, since Christ suffered? Can I not die,
since Christ died? Let the grave be my resting-place, for Christ
rested there. Is it cold? The warmth of His animation is in it. He
shall be beside me in all His spirit's power. Does the load of earth
above me and beneath which I am placed press upon me? Christ hath
power to burst the tomb, tho deep it be, and I shall rise through
His almighty power.

Yet, let the malice of men be directed against me; let me be taken,
if it must be, as a martyr and be bound to the stake; let the fagots
be kindled, let the flame ascend, let my body be burned; gather
my ashes, grind my bones to powder, scatter them on the ocean's
surface; or carry those ashes to the top of yonder volcano and throw
them within its consuming fire - let them be given to the dust - and
yet I can sing:

"God my Redeemer lives,
And ever from the skies
Looks down and watches all my dust,
Till He shall bid it rise."

Thank God! it may be scattered on the wings of the wind - Christ is
everywhere present; He has marked every particle and it shall rise
again by His own almighty power. And what is it to sleep awhile if I
am Christ's? To die, if I am like Christ in dying? and be buried, if
I am like Christ in being buried? I trust I shall be like Him when
He comes forth in His glory. I shall be like Him, for the apostle
says, "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is"; "We
shall be changed from glory into glory, into the same image as by
the Spirit of God."

It would be a great change to be changed from glory to glory,
from saints to angels, from angels to cherubim, from cherubim to
seraphim, from glory to glory; but, thank God! we shall not stop
being changed; for the change shall go on from glory to glory
until we shall be transformed into the likeness of the Son of God,
brighter than angels ever shone, more glorious than were ever
cherubim.

We shall be near the throne; we shall sit beside Him, for He hath
made room for us there. Then, if we can calmly look at death and
face him, because his strength has been overcome, it reconciles us
to parting a little while with friends. A father or a mother may be
taken from us, but we shall see them again; they shall not sleep
forever. The little ones that drop from our arms, we can almost see
them this morning; some of us can almost feel them in our arms - can
see the glance of that beautiful eye and hear the sound of that
little prattling lip; they seem to be with us now, as a little while
ago they dropt from out of our arms. We followed them to the grave
and left them there, where the winter's storm has been howling
around them.

Sometimes loneliness like that terrible storm has swept over our
hearts and left them almost in despair; but through Christ's
resurrection we see our children yonder in glory, safe in the
Savior's arms. Their little forms shall rise all-glorious from the
tomb in the morning of the resurrection; we shall find them, for
Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

All this comes to us from the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
He died once; He dies no more; the condemnation of death is forever
gone; He sits on the throne of everlasting dominion; His kingdom
is an eternal kingdom; and as He died once and has risen to die no
more, so when we have died once and gone to the grave and entered
the dark valley and shadow of death, and we come up safely on the
other side, thank God! death is passed forever; we shall then put
our feet on the neck of the monster and shall be able to say:

"Oh death, where is thy sting?
Oh grave, where is thy victory?"

Looking at the resurrection of Christ we exclaim, Thanks be unto God
who hath given us the victory! Such is the eternity and blessedness
that awaits us. Thank God for a spiritual body! Here some of us long
to triumph over nature. We would grasp, if we could, angelic wisdom;
but our brows will ache with pain, our frames decay, our eyes grow
dim, our hearing fail. This flesh of ours will not stand hours of
painful study and seasons of protracted labor; but, thank God! when
the body that now oppresses us is laid in the grave a spiritual
body will be given to us, pure, ethereal, and holy. Oh, what an
extent of knowledge shall flash upon us; what light and glory; what
spirituality and power! Then we shall not need to ask an angel
anything. We shall know as we are known. Jesus will be our teacher;
the Everlasting God, the Man whose name is Wonderful, the Counselor,
the Prince of Peace. He Himself shall be our Leader. We shall know
then as also we are known.

Then rejoice in God. Dry up those tears. Cast away that downcast
look. Child of the dust, you are an heir of glory. There is a crown
all burnished for you; there is a mansion all ready for you; there
is a white robe prepared for you; there is eternal glory for you;
angels are to be your servants and you are to reign with the King
of Kings forever. But while you wait on earth, be witnesses for
God; attest the glory of your Master; rise in the greatness of His
strength; bind sin captive to your chariot wheels; go onward in your
heavenly career, and be as pure as your ascended Head is pure. Be
active in works of mercy; be angels of light; be names of fire; go
on your mission of mercy and convert the world unto God before you
go up higher. When you go, not only go forward to present yourself,
but may every one of you be able to say: "Here am I and those which
Thou hast given me."




THEODORE PARKER

THE TRANSIENT AND PERMANENT IN CHRISTIANITY




BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE


THEODORE PARKER, American divine and reformer, was born at
Lexington, Mass., in 1810. He was educated at Harvard and graduated
from the Divinity School of that University in 1836. The following
year he was ordained pastor of Roxbury Christian Church, and first
attracted attention by his sermon on the "Transient and Permanent
in Christianity," preached in 1841. This sermon was ultimately the
cause of his practical exclusion from the Unitarian body, and in
1846 he became minister to the Twenty-eighth Congregational Society
in Boston.

In this pastorate he became well known to all denominations from
the remarkable sermons he preached for seven years in Music
Hall. He died of consumption at Florence, Italy, in 1860. His
powerful intellect and vigorous eloquence were exhibited in the
many controversial sermons he preached, both as a believer in the
nonsupernaturalism of present Christianity and as a practical
humanitarian. He figured as one of the leading abolitionists of New
England.




THEODORE PARKER

1810-1860

THE TRANSIENT AND PERMANENT IN CHRISTIANITY

_Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass
away._ - Luke xxi., 33.


In this sentence we have a very clear indication that Jesus of
Nazareth believed the religion He taught would be eternal, that
the substance of it would last forever. Yet there are some who
are affrighted by the faintest rustle which a heretic makes among
the dry leaves of theology; they tremble lest Christianity itself
should perish without hope. Ever and anon the cry is raised, "The
Philistines be upon us, and Christianity is in danger." The least
doubt respecting the popular theology, or the existing machinery
of the Church; the least sign of distrust in the religion of the
pulpit, or the religion of the street, is by some good men supposed
to be at enmity with faith in Christ, and capable of shaking
Christianity itself. On the other hand, a few bad men, and a few
pious men, it is said, on both sides of the water, tell us the day
of Christianity is past. The latter, it is alleged, would persuade
us that hereafter piety must take a new form; the teachings of Jesus
are to be passed by; that religion is to wing her way sublime,
above the flight of Christianity, far away, toward heaven, as the
fledged eaglet leaves forever the nest which sheltered his callow
youth. Let us therefore devote a few moments to this subject, and
consider what is transient in Christianity, and what is permanent
therein.

* * * * *

In actual Christianity, - that is, in that portion of Christianity
which is preached and believed, - there seems to have been, ever
since the time of its earthly Founder, two elements, the one
transient, the other permanent. The one is the thought, the folly,
the uncertain wisdom, the theological notions, the impiety of man;
the other, the eternal truth of God. These two bear, perhaps, the
same relation to each other that the phenomena of outward nature,
such as sunshine and cloud, growth, decay and reproduction, bear
to the great law of nature, which underlies and supports them all.
As in that case more attention is commonly paid to the particular
phenomena than to the general law, so in this case more is generally
given to the transient in Christianity than to the permanent therein.

It must be confest, tho with sorrow, that transient things form a
great part of what is commonly taught as religion. An undue place
has often been assigned to forms and doctrines, while too little
stress has been laid on the divine life of the soul, love to God,
and love to man. Religious forms may be useful and beautiful. They
are so, whenever they speak to the soul, and answer a want thereof.
In our present state some forms are perhaps necessary. But they are
only the accident of Christianity, not its substance. They are the
robe, not the angel, who may take another robe quite as becoming
and useful. One sect has many forms; another, none. Yet both may be
equally Christian, in spite of the redundance or the deficiency.
They are a part of the language in which religion speaks, and exist,
with few exceptions, wherever man is found. In our calculating
nation, in our rationalizing sect, we have retained but two of the
rites so numerous in the early Christian Church, and even these
we have attenuated to the last degree, leaving them little more
than a specter of the ancient form. Another age may continue or
forsake both; may revive old forms, or invent new ones to suit the
altered circumstances of the times, and yet be Christians quite as
good as we, or our fathers of the dark ages. Whether the apostles
designed these rites to be perpetual seems a question which belongs
to scholars and antiquarians, - not to us, as Christian men and
women. So long as they satisfy or help the pious heart, so long they
are good. Looking behind or around us, we see that the forms and
rites of the Christians are quite as fluctuating as those of the
heathens, from whom some of them have been, not unwisely, adopted by
the earlier Church.

Any one, who traces the history of what is called Christianity, will
see that nothing changes more from age to age than the doctrines
taught as Christian, and insisted on as essential to Christianity
and personal salvation. What is falsehood in one province passes
for truth in another. The heresy of one age is the orthodox
belief and "only infallible rule" of the next. Now Arius, and now
Athanasius, is lord of the ascendant. Both were excommunicated
in their turn, each for affirming what the other denied. Men are
burned for professing what men are burned for denying. For centuries
the doctrines of the Christians were no better, to say the least,
than those of their contemporary pagans. The theological doctrines
derived from our fathers seem to have come from Judaism, heathenism,
and the caprice of philosophers, far more than they have come
from the principle and sentiment of Christianity. The doctrine of
the Trinity, the very Achilles of theological dogmas, belongs to
philosophy and not religion; its subtleties cannot even be expressed
in our tongue. As old religions became superannuated, and died out,
they left to the rising faith, as to a residuary legatee, their
forms and their doctrines; or rather, as the giant in the fable left
his poisoned garment to work the overthrow of his conqueror. Many
tenets that pass current in our theology seem to be the refuse of
idol temples, the offscourings of Jewish and heathen cities rather
than the sands of virgin gold which the stream of Christianity
has worn off from the rock of ages, and brought in its bosom for
us. It is wood, hay, and stubble, wherewith men have built on the
corner-stone Christ laid. What wonder the fabric is in peril when
tried by fire? The stream of Christianity, as men receive it, has
caught a stain from every soil it has filtered through, so that now
it is not the pure water from the well of life which is offered
to our lips, but streams troubled and polluted by man with mire
and dirt. If Paul and Jesus could read our books of theological
doctrines, would they accept as their teaching what men have vented
in their name? Never, till the letters of Paul had faded out of
his memory, never, till the words of Jesus had been torn out from
the book of life. It is their notions about Christianity men have
taught as the only living word of God. They have piled their own
rubbish against the temple of truth where piety comes up to worship;
what wonder the pile seems unshapely and like to fall? But these
theological doctrines are fleeting as the leaves on the trees. They -

"Are found
Now green in youth, now withered on the ground;
Another race the following spring supplies;
They fall successive, and successive rise."

Like the clouds of the sky, they are here to-day; to-morrow, all
swept off and vanished; while Christianity itself, like the heaven
above, with its sun, and moon, and uncounted stars, is always over
our head, tho the cloud sometimes debars us of the needed light. It
must of necessity be the case that our reasonings, and therefore
our theological doctrines, are imperfect, and so perishing. It is
only gradually that we approach to the true system of nature by
observation and reasoning, and work out our philosophy and theology
by the toil of the brain. But meantime, if we are faithful, the
great truths of mortality and religion, the deep sentiment of love
to man and love to God, are perceived intuitively, and by instinct,
as it were, tho our theology be imperfect and miserable. The
theological notions of Abraham, to take the story as it stands, were
exceedingly gross, yet a greater than Abraham has told us, "Abraham
desired to see my day, saw it, and was glad." Since these notions
are so fleeting, why need we accept the commandment of men as the
doctrine of God?

This transitoriness of doctrines appears in many instances, of which
two may be selected for a more attentive consideration. First, the
doctrine respecting the origin and authority of the Old and New
Testaments. There has been a time when men were burned for asserting
doctrines of natural philosophy which rested on evidence the most
incontestable, because those doctrines conflicted with sentences in
the Old Testament. Every word of that Jewish record was regarded
as miraculously inspired, and therefore as infallibly true. It was
believed that the Christian religion itself rested thereon, and must
stand or fall with the immaculate Hebrew text. He was deemed no
small sinner who found mistakes in the manuscripts. On the authority
of the written word man was taught to believe impossible legends,
conflicting assertions; to take fiction for fact, a dream for a
miraculous revelation of God, an Oriental poem for a grave history
of miraculous events, a collection of amatory idyls for a serious
discourse "touching the mutual love of Christ and the Church";
they have been taught to accept a picture sketched by some glowing
Eastern imagination, never intended to be taken for a reality,
as a proof that the infinite God spoke in human words, appeared
in the shape of a cloud, a flaming bush, or a man who ate, and
drank, and vanished into smoke; that He gave counsels to-day, and
the opposite to-morrow; that He violated His own laws, was angry,
and was only dissuaded by a mortal man from destroying at once a
whole nation, - millions of men who rebelled against their leader
in a moment of anguish. Questions in philosophy, questions in the
Christian religion, have been settled by an appeal to that book.
The inspiration of its authors has been assumed as infallible.
Every fact in the early Jewish history has been taken as a type of
some analogous fact in Christian history. The most distant events,
even such as are still in the arms of time, were supposed to be
clearly foreseen and foretold by pious Hebrews several centuries
before Christ. It has been assumed at the outset, with no shadow of
evidence, that those writers held a miraculous communication with
God, such as He has granted to no other man. What was originally
a presumption of bigoted Jews became an article of faith, which
Christians were burned for not believing. This has been for
centuries the general opinion of the Christian Church, both Catholic
and Protestant, tho the former never accepted the Bible as the
only source of religious truth. It has been so. Still worse, it is
now the general opinion of religious sects at this day. Hence the
attempt, which always fails, to reconcile the philosophy of our
times with the poems in Genesis writ a thousand years before Christ.
Hence the attempt to conceal the contradictions in the record
itself. Matters have come to such a pass that even now he is deemed
an infidel, if not by implication an atheist, whose reverence for
the Most High forbids him to believe that God commanded Abraham to
sacrifice his son, - a thought at which the flesh creeps with horror;
to believe it solely on the authority of an Oriental story, written
down nobody knows when or by whom, or for what purpose; which may
be a poem, but can not be the record of a fact, unless God is the
author of confusion and a lie.

Now, this idolatry of the Old Testament has not always existed.
Jesus says that none born of a woman is greater than John the
Baptist, yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than
John. Paul tells us the law - the very crown of the old Hebrew
revelation - is a shadow of good things which have now come; only a
schoolmaster to bring us to Christ; and when faith has come, that
we are no longer under the schoolmaster; that it was a law of sin
and death, from which we are made free by the law of the spirit of
life. Christian teachers themselves have differed so widely in their
notion of the doctrines and meaning of those books that it makes one
weep to think of the follies deduced therefrom. But modern criticism
is fast breaking to pieces this idol which men have made out of the
Scriptures. It has shown that here are the most different works
thrown together; that their authors, wise as they sometimes were,
pious as we feel often their spirit to have been, had only that
inspiration which is common to other men equally pious and wise;
that they were by no means infallible, but were mistaken in facts or
in reasoning, - uttered predictions which time has not fulfilled; men
who in some measure partook of the darkness and limited notions of
their age, and were not always above its mistakes or its corruptions.

The history of opinions on the New Testament is quite similar. It
has been assumed at the outset, it would seem with no sufficient
reason, without the smallest pretense on its writers' part, that
all of its authors were infallibly and miraculously inspired, so
that they could commit no error of doctrine or fact. Men have been
bid to close their eyes at the obvious difference between Luke and
John, the serious disagreement between Paul and Peter; to believe,
on the smallest evidence, accounts which shock the moral sense and
revolt the reason, and tend to place Jesus in the same series with
the Hercules and Appollonius of Tyana; accounts which Paul in the
Epistles never mentions, tho he also had a vein of the miraculous
running quite through him. Men have been told that all these things
must be taken as part of Christianity, and if they accepted the
religion, they must take all these accessories along with it; that
the living spirit could not be had without the killing letter. All
the books which caprice or accident had brought together between
the lids of the Bible were declared to be the infallible Word of
God, the only certain rule of religious faith and practise. Thus the


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Online LibraryVariousThe World's Great Sermons, Volume 5: Guthrie to Mozley → online text (page 8 of 13)