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r I ^HE object of the present volume is to
bring together discourses addressed
to many congregations under very various
circumstances, so as to display many of the
feelings and interests of modern life, under
"the light of God's word." Some of the
sermons have been printed already ; and
others have found their place here on ac-
count of promises given that they should
one day be published.

As one or two quotations from other
writers are acknowledged in the notes, it
might be supposed that the author owned
no other literary obligations than those
which are thus admitted. This is by no



means the case. But the sermons were
written rapidly, and for the pulpit only ;
and the references, omitted as useless at the
moment, could not now be supplied. The
attempt would have involved more time
than the author could afford, and this with-
out doing complete justice.

If, in a time of much criticism of old ideas
and beliefs, these pages should happen to
supply to them that need an argument or a
motive, here and there, for hope in Christ,
and should aid in preventing some honest mind
from sinking down in sheer perplexity, the
author will have all the reward that he hopes
'for, and far more than he could claim.





IV. PEACE AND WAR, . . . .69
V. " I WILL GIVE YOU REST," .... 85


VII. BY FAITH, . . . . . .121


IX. THE NIGHT COMETH, . . . . '59

X. PRAYER, . . . . . .175

XI. MIRACLES, . . . . . .191


XIII. SHE IS A SINNER, ..... 239

XIV. HONOUR ALL MEN, ..... 26l

xvi. CAIN'S QUESTION, .... - 299




ISAIAH xxxni. 20, 21.

" Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities : thine eyes shall see
Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be
taken down ; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be
removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken : But
there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers
and streams ; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither
shall gallant ship pass thereby."

A GREAT and high promise for the chosen
** people is contained in these words. Jerusa-
lem, the centre of their worship, of their religious
affections, should be at peace. Her tabernacle
should not be the tent of their old wanderings,
but a fixed abode, with stakes that should not be
removed, and cords that could not be broken. No
broad river as yet refreshed the thirsty Jerusalem ;
but the glorious God would make river and stream
to flow, and these should cheer and enrich ; but
the war-ship should not find a passage over them
to destroy. On Jerusalem, often wasted with
misery and war, often careless about God, should
shine all peace and blessing. She should be for


ever a strong city, perfect in beauty, peaceful and

That this prophecy is not to be limited to the
visible city of Jerusalem, its own words show. The
living river shall never flow nigh her, nor a taber-
nacle with cord and stake replace the firm foun-
dations of the glorious temple that was her pride
already. Nor did it ever find its fulfilment in
the visible Jerusalem. That city fell to the warrior,
was destroyed at last in war. Her sceptre has
fallen out of her hands. Her fortifications, strong
and steep, became, as other prophets T said they
would become, sloping fields of waving corn.
Her stakes are removed, and her cords broken ;
and no one can renew her landmarks, so that we
might restore, even for our imagination, the fair
city, the joy of the whole earth.

But all things urge us to give the whole section
in which these words occur a larger scope. It is of
a higher Zion that the prophet speaks ; of a Zion
that has a corner-stone elect, precious, which never
was hewn with hands from the quarry ; of Zion, of
which it would be said, " Thine eyes shall see the
King in his beauty ; they shall see the land that is
far off." (Chap, xxxiii. 17.) The King is surely
1 Jer. xxvi. 18 ; Mic. iii. 12.


the Anointed One for whom the nation sighed ;
and the land far off is the enlarging borders of
that King's dominions, which embrace not Jewry
only, but the distant places of the earth, all made
subject to the one King of Zion. These promises,
then, refer not to the kingdom of Hezekiah, but
more truly to that Church where Christ is judge
and lawgiver and king, and where the people,
stricken with the sense of sin, look to Him alone,
and say with the prophet, " He will save us." The
prophet sees in the foreground a king and people
delivered from the fear of invasion and captivity ;
and these have their place in his inspired strain of
triumph. But his vision sweeps the space beyond,
pierces into the ages that shall be ; and a loftier
throne and a more glorious temple, and a kingdom
reaching over all the earth, grow upon his mind
and claim his words. Directed by him, the pious
listeners would long for that better time which was
never absent from their thoughts, which was so
essential to their conceptions of God's glory and
man's need. And thus, out of the temporary
distress of Zion, and her rescue from the hand of
Sennacherib, rises up a larger vision, beneath which
the local groups and circumstances seem to grow
less, and almost to disappear.


Will it remove all difficulty from this prophecy
if we apply it to the Christian instead of to the
Jewish Church ? I think that at a meeting like
this, we shall be reminded often of the same bitter
contrast between those high promises which we
inherit and our actual state, which must have
depressed the spirit of the Jews, when the hosts of
the enemy appeared in their borders. To our Zion,
to the Church of Christ, are promised explicitly
such gifts as these unity, truth, and success. Of
which of them, it may be asked, can we make our
boast? Which of these precious gifts do we en-
joy in that large measure in which they were all
promised to us ? And since He is faithful that
promised, what are the faults in us that bar us
from our birthright ? These are questions of most
serious import. Let us commence the proceedings
of this week by turning our minds to them for a
few moments.

i. The unity of the Church was to be one chief
note of its divine origin. " That they all may be
one ; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that
they also may be one in us : that the world may
believe that thou hast sent me." Here is no mere
assumption that as a matter of prudence Christians
will cling together ; but their unity, of souls united


by an interpenetrating love, is an image of the
mysterious union betwixt the Father and the Son ;
nay, and the sight of that unity will make the
world believe that the mission of the Son was true
indeed. What is our state ? Visible unity seems
to be no more a mark of the Church of Christ.
Of those whose faces are all turned one way, to
the place where Jesus the crucified sits on the
right hand of God, the east and west have been
rent asunder, so that none can re-knit the torn
garment of the Lord. And west and east are
again divided, each within itself ; and we that are
but a section of the western Church, are torn and
torn again. It is not that men are careless to pre-
serve their inheritance, and so suffer themselves to
be separated from indifference about the value of
union. It is that the good, the pious, the zealous,
are unable to reconcile the claims of truth with
those of love ; are unable to draw the line between
zeal and severity. It is sometimes that men doubt
the power of truth in itself, and add their anger to
it to give it weight. And this root of trouble is
not of modern planting. The dispute of Paul with
Barnabas, the error of Peter at Antioch when Paul
withstood him to the face because he was to be
blamed, show us that even men the holiest, the


most fervid, the most devoted, were the first to
shake a little the stones of the new wall that was
rising about the new Jerusalem, the Church, and
that they did it with the thought that they were
doing God service. We dare not blame either
side, since the one aimed at strict right, the other
at charitable indulgence. But it is remarkable
how fruitful of evil, down to this very day, was
that open rupture of Paul and Peter on account
of Peter's weakness at Antioch. The Ebionites
founded on this their gravest accusation against
Paul ; as the Gnostics did their prejudice against
Peter and the apostles of the Jews. The ration-
alists argue from it against inspiration ; and the
so-called critical school of the present day have
constructed upon it a theory of Church history
which supposes a constant and avowed hostility
between these two greatest apostles, commencing
at Antioch, never ending during their lives, the one
preaching a gospel strictly connected with the old
law, and the other desiring to emancipate the
Church from all traces of the law. Of this theory,
which pretends to discover a chasm dividing the
new Jerusalem into two parts from the very first,
I will only say here, that it was a great effort of
imagination to construct it out of few materials,


and in defiance of many obvious facts, and a great
effort too to take such a dream for history. It is
without any evidence ; it is against evidence. But
the sharp contention of apostles shows us already
what peril surrounds the Church, of permanent
division. Yes : the great idea of an undivided
Church, completely fused and compacted by love
and by truth, came down from heaven ; but the
treasure was received in earthen vessels, which
could not contain it : the vessels broke, and the
treasure was lost. I know that the Church of
Rome insists still that visible unity is a mark of
the Church, and that she alone exhibits that mark,
and that no other Christian body separated from
her can claim the title of a Church, because it
wants one of its essential notes. But such pre-
tensions cannot be admitted. The mirror in which
the ascended Lord was to be visibly reflected to an
admiring world has been broken to pieces. Every
fragment still reflects, but more or less perfectly,
the Lord of glory. To take up one of the pieces,
much defiled by the earth on which it has fallen,
and to set it in a gaudy frame, and to say, " This
fragment is the mirror, and all the rest are no-
thing," this may deceive some who yearn so much
for unity, that they would rather admit than sift the


claim. But earnest hearts sicken at the vain pre-
tension. From east and west, in parts of which
Rome knows nothing, voices of praise arise to the
one Lord of all believers ; and works of good are
done in the name and in the power of that Lord.
The Lord is their judge, the Lord is their lawgiver,
the Lord is their king. To deny that they are
Christ's seems hardly to stop short of blasphemy
against Him whose power is seen among them.
That Rome should claim to be the sole trustee of
that precious gift, because of the mark of unity, is
indeed a bold assumption. Rome, ever more ready
to cut off than to embrace ; Rome, that would have
nothing to do with those holy aspirations after a
purer worship, and a truer teaching, which brought
round the Reformation ; Rome, like her sisters,
may muse in sorrow over Christ's promise of unity
made seeming void by man's sin. But for her, less
than for others, is the arrogant pretension that she
alone is the divine Zion, and all that she has cut
off are useless fragments, cast into the darkness.
And yet so deep-seated is the love for unity, that
many have accepted her at her word, and sought
in her bosom what she had not to give. Because
the flower is withered, they have been fain to clasp
to their bosom an artificial flower, different even


to the eye from that which it would imitate, but
without the life or the odour. All we the rest, to
whom such pretensions are an idle tale, sit brood-
ing on the seeming frustration of a most blessed
promise. Where is the one fold, whose sheep in
one flock follow the leading footsteps of the one
Shepherd into green pastures that never fail ?
God's promise cannot have been in vain. Man
must have hindered it : God hath not forgotten it.
So much the greater is our inheritance of sin, so
much the more do we need to seek wisdom and
guidance from Him whose gracious purpose we
have failed for ages to understand.

2. But if unity has been lost, truth has been
preserved to us. And this is our consolation. If
the Church be not the great ocean, vast, bright,
fresh, a counterpart of the blue heaven above it,
still she is like the hundred lakes that nestle
among the sheltering hills ; they know not each
other, but every one of them reflects, and truly, the
firmament above. So far as salvation by Christ
is brought home to men by the teaching of the
churches, so long there is an underlying bond of
agreement which outward misunderstanding can-
not cancel. We are one in the one witness that
we bear to Jesus, in the one hope that we awaken


through His gospel, in the one common direction
towards which our faces turn, waiting till the dark
sky shall kindle with the orient flush of His glori-
ous reappearing. And yet we must admit that
even here we are not safe. The world, steeped in
material things, grown rich, grown wise, and full
of enjoyment, is waking to discuss the truths of
religion. In every country almost this is the
subject of the hour. And no tenet of our holy
faith shall escape gainsaying. Such trials have
been before, and the Church has come out of them.
We do not despair ; but we must be forewarned
against a state of real danger. Do you love the
Bible, and find it a sufficient guide ? Not a book
of it shall escape some critical doubt. Do you
think your soul is precious because it lives for
ever? Materialism, with curled nostril, tells you
that all that is gone, and that when man dies he
perishes utterly. Do you love the Redeemer for
all that His love has done for you ? New lives
have been written of Him we adore as Redeemer.
Redemption finds no place in that tangle of
enthusiasm, perplexity, and deceit, which some
would have us substitute for the living picture of
our eternal Lord. What, then, would become of
sinners without a Redeemer ? Sin, too, is to be


abolished by the command of pantheism, and sin
and goodness alike are necessary manifestations of
absolute being, and it would be absurd to condemn
what is inevitable and necessary. Leave us, at
least, out of this wreck of all things, the belief that
God is the Father of His creatures, and that we
can know Him ! Not so. Science forbids us to
deal but with facts of observation. For thoughts
such as yours science has no room. We do but
waste time in denying or refuting them ; they are
outside the path of reason altogether, as our dreams
are out of the course of our daily avocations. No
book to guide us ; no king to lead us ; no differ-
ence of right and wrong ; no life beyond this sick
and lame existence ; no father touched with love
for us whom we are permitted to love. Then has
winter darkness overtaken us on a bleak and windy
moor ; we must sit down in our blind despair until
the eager breeze shall search through blood and
marrow, and our torpid sleep deepen into a death
beyond what men call death. God forbid it ! We
shall not utterly die in this unbelief. But short of
death we may suffer much harm and loss. And a
Church with broken love and tainted truth, what
has she to assure her that she belongs any more to
Him who sent her forth to present to the world


the image or copy of His love and zeal, and teach
men all that He had commanded ? It is neither an
example nor a witness. What, then, is it ?

3. Not less humiliating to us are those promises
of great success which are a part of our charter.
The power of the truth we teach, the presence of
the Holy Ghost, to turn the outward Word into an
inward life, seem to assure us of great success in
gathering in souls to Christ. "All power is given
unto me in heaven and in earth," He said, when
He bade His disciples go and teach and baptize
all nations ; and He promised to be with them
always, even unto the end of the world. If, in-
stead of conquering evil in the heathen nations
round us, through that all-powerful One who has
promised to go out with us, our missions are
almost standing still, and round about our doors
at home much heathen ignorance prevails; if, in-
stead of pulling down strongholds by the power of
the Word, we are ourselves besieged in our Jerusa-
lem by errors that would ruin the very foundations
of our faith, here is one more disappointment, one
more source of perplexity in understanding the
ways of God.

Brethren, a Church Congress must take for the
basis of its discussions these admitted facts of our


condition : that our unity has long been broken
up ; that the precious truth entrusted to us is
threatened ; and that because of these the work
of evangelization proceeds but slowly. These facts
are terrible in themselves ; they are astonishing
when contrasted with the large promises that
attended the sending forth of the ministers of the
gospel. It is essential that we should realise that
the temporary failure of the divine purpose lies
with man and with his sin, and not with Him who
made the promise. The history of the Jewish
people is but a prophecy of our own. On one
side, Jehovah offered to His chosen every blessing
that love could give. The tabernacle with cords
and stakes that could not be moved, the streams
of water to quicken their arid soil, and yet to
refuse a passage to the hostile ships ; these are
some of the images under which the prophets
assure the people that the Lord Jehovah loves
them with an everlasting, with an unsparing love.
On the other hand, the chosen people, by wilful
apostasy, turn aside the gracious purpose, and the
great shower of blessing hangs in a cloud above
them, but cannot fall on this unthankful, stiff-necked
race. The pious Jew, in the decline of his country,
might ponder on the long catalogue of blessings


that had been promised but not sent. Were the
promises but visions, that never should have been
expected to issue in literal fulfilment ? No. Every
promise would have been performed ; but the sin-
ful will of man, impotent for good without God's
help, is permitted an awful power to the preven-
tion of good. It seems well-nigh profane to say
that God cannot act out His love for man, if
man resists Him ; yet this is, in one sense, true and
scriptural. We have heard in the lesson that " He
could there do no mighty work," and unbelief was
the cause. And so the words of the prophet seem
for a time to fall to the ground. Just thus it is
with the Church. God meant her to be a city set
on a hill, strong, undivided, beautiful, presenting
to an admiring world the copy of its Founder's
beauty. Christ meant to be with it always, its
lawgiver and king; meant that the Spirit's fire
should lighten every conscience and warm every
heart with the love of truth and of God. There is
only one cause for His diminishing aught of His
promises. Man would not have it so. The pas-
sions of our corrupt nature would not be still even
in that heavenly presence, and so two apostles fall
into sharp contention ; and Peter vacillates and
Paul denounces vacillation, even then when the


Lord is pointing them the way to gather in the
Gentiles into His fold. It was -His work. Oh,
that they would have stood still to see His salva-
tion ! If those holy men, our inspired instructors
in the faith, if those great spirits, consecrated to
such high and elevating functions, could be ruffled
into quarrel, though but for a moment, no wonder
that the strife of ages less faithful, bit deeper, and
made wounds that would not heal. And so the
Church, founded by the Prince of Peace, has passed
through eighteen stormy ages.

But God is very good to us. We are broken ;
our lips stammer over the truth ; we labour feebly
for the good of souls. Yet God is with us still.
If we have refused to be blessed according to His
plan, He has blessed us in another. And no
Church on earth has more cause for humble
gratitude than that which we claim as our own.
The pure Word of God, that Word written for us
in the age when the Holy Spirit was poured on the
Church in largest measure, is preserved to us, is in
every cottage, is learned by every child. The sacra-
ments are still ministered to us in their original
purity. There is much love amongst us, even with
our strife ; there is a warm and growing zeal in
works of good. Without the presence of the Spirit


these things could not be. This great assembly,
to which I am so unworthy to speak, is a proof of
divine life. We have come here to seek for the
wisdom that is of God ; to discuss the means
which, under God, may tend to restore the old
unity, to preserve the old truth, to bring back to
Christianity its ancient days of victory. We shall
best deliberate on such high themes if we refresh
our spirits with the music of those promises where-
with the Church, that should be peace on earth
with the Prince of Peace to guide it, was founded
at first. We shall wait for the consolation of
Israel, and seek peace and treasure truth, as
though eighteen centuries of disappointment had
not dashed down our hopes. Of practical activity,
of all the methods and devices of business, we are
sure to have enough ; this age abounds in them.
We need to go back to that pure and holy law,
given in the Sermon on the Mount, true from ever-
lasting, with its blessings for the merciful and the
seeker after peace, even though many of us that
are Christians cannot lift ourselves up to its level,
could not breathe in that rare atmosphere of per-
fect self-negation. We ought to long for a time,
and pray for it, when the earth shall be full of the
knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the


sea ; even though practical men (so they are called)
shake their heads at what they call a visionary-
hope. We shall not see it. If all the powers in
earth, civil and ecclesiastical, were to enact that
Christendom should be at one, it would burst the
enforced bond, and crumble again into the old
divisions, because the blending and combining
spirit was not there. But by looking to what the
Church was meant to be at first, we shall best
bring our own branch of the Church into the stats
in which Christ would have it. And nowhere else
could such an effort be made more hopefully. We
have sinned and strayed ; but what other Church
can cast the first stone at us ? Of increasing love
and unity this meeting is one sign among many.
Those painful errors of doctrine, to which I alluded,
grow rankest on foreign soil ; the pest that threat-
ens the lambs of our fold is wafted to us from over
the sea. Our interest in missions abroad, in edu-
cation at home, is a thing of yesterday ; but it

Carry we this spirit into our councils this week,
dear friends, the spirit that yearns for union and
hates division, that will keep and speak the truth,
but always in love, that knows it must work ever
towards that consummation of the Church whereof


the patent tokens are but few. Let no sharp con-
tention check our affectionate intercourse ; let no
despair prevent us from encouraging attempts at
good. When the spirit of unity, of truth, and of
zeal, is strong in our hearts, we shall be sure that,
though the Church lie long in ruins, we are made
by that spirit lively stones, fit to be used to build
it again. For not one promise of Jewish prophet,
of apostles, or of the Lord himself, shall in the end
be found to have perished. We have put back the
hand upon the dial, but it moves, and it shall one
day strike. Jerusalem was founded that there
might be " salvation in Zion for Israel my glory ; "

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Online LibraryWilliam ThomsonLife in the light of God's word : sermons → online text (page 1 of 15)