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Seeking after God online

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disciples fail to see :

<* Bless the Lord, O my soul.
And all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
And forget not all his benefits :
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities ;
Who healeth all thy diseases ;
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction ;
Who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender

mercies ;
Who satisfieth thine age with good ;
So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.**

There has been a great deal of discus-
sion and far too much hot debate con-
cerning the relation of Jesus Christ to the
Infinite and Eternal. We do not know
— at least I do not know — enough to
define that relation, but we do know
enough to define his relation to us.
That definition may be very briefly given
in the following words : The supremest
work of God is man, whom he has made
[ 123 ]


in his own image. The supremest reve-
lation of God is therefore that afforded
by the life and character of man. The
supremest ideal of humanity is Jesus
Christ. Therefore the supremest revel-
ation of God to man is that to be found
in the life and character of Jesus Christ.
This is in my judgment the essence of
the theological teaching of Paul on this

We celebrate on Christmas, not the
birth of Santa Claus, the patron saint of
the children ; not merely the birth of the
Christ-child, symbol of all innocent child-
hood ; nor yet alone the birth of the
martyr-hero, leader and type of all who
have lived and loved and suffered for
their race. We celebrate a new unveiling
of God to humanity, the dwelling of God
in humanity. We celebrate the day when
the love of God dawned on the world and
the fear of the gods began slowly and sul-
lenly to give way before the coming of the
new day. Every year Christmas repeats
its message : Fear God no more. He
brings liberty to the enslaved, light to

[ 124]


the despairing, purer joy to the glad.
He is the Comforter of the sorrowing,
the Physician of the sick, the Healer of
the sinful, the Friend and Companion of

[ 125]





WHEN I was a child — whether it
was my fault or the fault of my
teachers or of the Church I do not know
— I thought I ought to feel that I was a
lost and ruined sinner, and was worthy of
eternal punishment for my sins. Yet, as a
little boy, I could not realize that I had
committed sins that were worthy of eternal
punishment ; and I remember that I used
sometimes to shut myself up in my room
in the gloaming of the twilight, while the
frogs were croaking in the not distant
meadow and everything would tend to
gloom, and try to make myself as miser-
able as I could, because I felt it necessary
that I should have a conviction of sin.
But I was also taught to think that if I
believed certain things or if I received
certain experiences, then I should be ex-

1 Copyright, 1900, by Thomas Y. Crowell & Co.
[ 129 ]


empted from the punishment which had
been pronounced against me. And this
was my conception of salvation. If I be-
lieved that Jesus Christ was the Son of
God and had come to earth and had suf-
fered in my stead, and really believed it,
then the punishment which was pronounced
against me would be transferred to him and
I should be set free. I suspect something
like that is not uncommon as a conception
of salvation to this day. But the Gospel
declares something very different. " Thou
shalt call his name Jesus : for he shall save
his people from their sins." Sin is not the
same as punishment for sin. The New
Testament says very little about saving
men from punishment; it says a great
deal about saving men from sin.

Turn over the pages of this same Gos-
pel of Matthew to the closing chapters.
Jesus Christ has brought the disciples
about him at the Paschal Supper. The
one traitor has gone out into the dark-
ness ; the eleven remain. Christ breaks
the bread and passes it to them ; he fills
the cup and passes it to them ; and he
[ 130 ]


says : " This cup is the new covenant in
my blood, which is shed for many for
the remission of sins." Remission means
"sending away," therefore: "This cup is
the new covenant in my blood for the
sending away of your sins." Turn to
Paul and see what is his conception of
salvation. " God, who is rich in mercy,
for the great love wherewith he loved us,
even when we were dead in sin, hath made
us alive together with Christ (by grace ye
are saved), and hath raised us up together
and made us sit together in heavenly places
in Christ Jesus." Observe it is in the
past tense, not in the future ; not he will
make us alive, will raise us up, will make
us sit together in heavenly places — he
hath made us alive, hath raised us up, hath
made us sit in heavenly places. Or turn
to John ^' The blood of Jesus Christ, his
Son, cleanseth us from all sin. If we say
that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves
and the truth is not in us. If we confess
our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive
us our sins and to cleanse us from all

[ 131 ]


Do you not see the difference between
these two conceptions ? The one thought
is: I am in danger of punishment — I
shall be saved from future penalty ; the
other : I am struggling with sin — I can
be delivered from that. The one is —
Jesus Christ has borne my punishment ;
the other is — Jesus Christ is bearing
away my sin. He is " the Lamb of God
that taketh away the sin of the world."
The one is — the pain and sacrifice and
suffering of Christ is necessary because
the wrath or the justice or the law of God
requires that somebody should be pun-
ished ; the other is — the sacrifice, the
blood, the suffering, the passion of Jesus
Christ is necessary that we should be
cleansed from sin. Jesus Christ has come
into the world to redeem us from sin : this
is the vital matter, not the other.

Exemption from penalty without de-
liverance from sin would not be salvation.
If a good man were to go to hell and stay
there, he would be saved ; if a bad man
were to go to heaven and stay there, he
would be lost. Peter says that Jesus
[ 132 ]


Christ preached to the spirits in prison.
Scholars differ somewhat in the interpre-
tation of the passage ; but if it be true
that Jesus Christ did go to hell and in
hell preached, he was not a lost soul
while he preached there. To be lost is to
be in sin, not to be in hell ; to be saved
is to be in virtue, not to be in heaven.
Heaven must be in us — and hell is in

This is the first truth I want to put
before you. Salvation is character. Not
on our condition but on our character
does life depend. And although it is true
that under God*s government penalty fol-
lows sin ; although it is true that under
God's government happiness, the highest
type and form of happiness, follows vir-
tue; the virtue is not for the happiness,
but for its own sake. It were better to
be a righteous man and suffer eternally
than to be an ignoble man and be clothed
in fine linen and fare sumptuously eter-
nally. Salvation is character; it is de-
liverance from sin ; it is lifting the man
out of the lower life and bringing him into
[ 133 ]


the higher life ; it is making a man of one
who is only in semblance a man or only-
half a man.

If this be true, then what is essential to
the salvation is a change in character, not
in external circumstance. If salvation is
a change in condition, then external causes
may change the condition and thus save ;
but if salvation is character, then the
change must be in the character. A mob
may tear down the Bastile and set free the
prisoners therein, but a mob cannot make
guilty men innocent. Guilty men can no
more be made innocent by being set free
from prison than innocent men can be
made guilty by being hanged without a
trial. If salvation is character, then the
condition of salvation is in the character it-
self; something wrought within ; wrought
perhaps by an influence from without, but
wrought within. A man who is attempt-
ing to commit suicide by drowning him-
self in the surf may be rescued ; but no
man can be rescued from the life of infamy,
dishonor, pride, appetite, greed, selfishness,
in spite of himself. Character cannot be

[ 134]


imputed. A guilty man may be treated
as though he were innocent, but he cannot
be made innocent unless he is transformed
from within.

This is what Jesus Christ came to do.
Not to show how we can escape hell and
get into heaven, but to show how we can
escape from ourselves and become other
selves ; to show how we may cease to be
what we are and become what we desire
to be. He came that he might teach us
and empower us to be the men we want
to be, the men we ought to be.

At least three things are necessary for
this salvation in character, this transfor-
mation which alone is salvation : First, that
the man should appreciate goodness ; sec-
ond, that he should have a purpose to at-
tain it; and third, that he should have help
from one stronger than himself in attaining
it. And at least these three things Christ
has come to give ; he has come to show us
what manhood is, he has come to put
into us the hope of attaining it, and he
has come to give us help in accomplishing
that hope.

[ 135 ]


Eighteen centuries ago a babe was born
in Bethlehem and grew up to manhood —
we know not how. He saw the corrup-
tion about him ; the vice that had entered
into society; the despotism in govern-
ment; the disunion and disruption of the
homes ; the ignorance and superstition,
the greed and selfishness and cruelty in
men's hearts ; and he set himself to de-
liver men from themselves. He had
wonderful power ; he never used it for
himself. He might have been rich ; he
says of himself: "The birds of the air
have nests, and the foxes have holes ; the
Son of man hath not where to lay his
head." He might have selected his com-
panions where he would ; he took them
from the humble, the lowly, and the ig-
norant ; not only that, but often from the
dull-headed, the low-spirited, and the poor
in mind as well as in estate. He never
saw sorrow that he did not try to comfort
it ; or a need that he did not try to help
it. There was no physical condition so
disgusting that it barred men from his
sympathy. There was no sin that could

[ 136]


separate men from his helpfulness. The
woman who was a sinner, whom other
men would not touch nor look at except
in scorn (whom they will not touch nor
look at even to-day except in scorn), he
looked at with pity, and said : " Go in
peace and sin no more." Men did not
understand it. He loved them, but they
did not love him. They applauded him
at times ; at other times they scoffed at
him. Three short years passed, and then
the men whom he loved, the men whom
he sought to save, hung him up on a cross
and put him to death.

All that love means is interpreted in
that unselfish life. And the first thing
that Christ says to us is this: Is that the
kind of life you want to live ? Is that the
kind of person you want to be ? Do you
want to live in this world to see what you
can get out of it, or do you want to live
in this world to see what you can put into
it ? Is your object self-service or the ser-
vice of others ? Do you want to make
yourself rich or your neighbor rich ? Do
you want to make yourself famous, or are

[ 137]


you willing to use all your powers only to
make others better and happier? What
do you want? He has told us in one of
his sermons what are the conditions of
happiness. Blessed, he says, are the poor
in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven. Is that what we want? When
we read the story of this Christ, spit
upon, beaten, reviled, and answering not,
we think we must admire it because it is
the story of the Christ, and in church we
do ; but when, in public life, a man is
abused and vilified, what is it that we like
best — to see him suffer in silence and
make no answer, or to see him write a
keen letter to the newspaper and put his
enemy to flight ? " Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth," — on
Sunday morning we believe in that, of
course, because it is in the New Testa-
ment ; but how about to-morrow ? how
about next week ? how about struggling,
grasping, energetic enterprising America?
Who is it that we really believe gets the
benefit of the earth ? If we wrote our
highest convictions, should we not write :

[ 138]


"Blessed are the enterprising and not
over scrupulous, for they shall get the
earth " ? " Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God." Open the novel,
go to the theatre, listen to the latest
drama, and tell yourself whether, if what
men to-day want in the realm of imagina-
tion be measured by what they buy and
pay for, they really are eager for that
which ministers only to purity of heart.

Faith in Christ is, first of all, this :
Such as he was I want to be ; his is the
kind of life I want to live ; his is the
kind of character I want to possess ; his
is the kind of blessedness I desire for my-
self and for my children. A man may
believe what creed he will, and if this is
not in his heart, he has not faith in Christ.
He may be baptized with holy water
taken from the Jordan, blessed by the
priest, bishop, archbishop, and Pope ; and
if this desire is not in his heart, he has no
faith in Christ. He may have joined in
succession all the churches in Christen-
dom, from the Quaker meeting to the
Roman Catholic hierarchy, and if in his
[ 139 ]


heart there is not the faith that desires the
lowliness of spirit which suffers long and
is kind, the meekness which inherits the
earth as a gift, the purity of heart which
sees God, he has no faith in Christ.
Faith in Christ cannot find its interpreta-
tion in any creed, however orthodox ; it
finds its interpretation in some hearts that
do not understand nor accept any recog-
nized orthodox creed.

But necessary to this salvation, this
character, is not only a perception of the
ideal, but an eager purpose to attain it.
We do not make anything by dreaming :
neither a building, nor an empire, nor an
individual character. We cannot sit and
sing ourselves away to everlasting bliss ;
we have to go out and fight our way to
everlasting bliss. All life is a struggle.
The seventh chapter of Romans comes
before the eighth. A man must know
the experience which cries out, " I do the
things I would not do and I hate the
things that I do,'' before he can cry out,
" Thanks be to God which giveth us the
victory ! " No man can be free who does
[ 140 ]


not desire freedom ; neither can any man
be free who is not willing to suffer for
freedom. The price of character is battle,
as the price of every victory is battle.
There must be not only the vision of this
beautiful character, that comes on Sunday
like a dissolving view, and on Sunday
night, like a dissolving view, disappears
again ; there must be also this faith :
That character is for me, I can be that
kind of a person, and, God helping me, I
will. The mere vision of a Christ, with-
out the vigorous attempt to reproduce the
Christ, is sentimentality in religion, and
we are never saved by sentimentality.
We are not religious because we go to
church and heartily applaud an eloquent
sermon, any more than we are religious
because we heartily applaud beautiful
music. ^stheticism is not spirituality.
Life does not consist in seeing beautiful
pictures, but in struggling toward a splen-
did result, and Jesus Christ has come not
only to put before men this vision, but to
put into the hearts of men this strong and
strenuous endeavor.

[ 141 ]

God a saviour from sin

But with this endeavor must be mingled
hope, anticipation, expectation, otherwise
the greater the endeavor the greater the
despair. And Christ not only puts before
us ideals of character to be pursued, not
only incites within us an ambitious purpose
to live his life and possess his character,
but by his inspiring presence, by his over-
mastering personality confers on us the
power to live that life and possess that
character. If we ask ourselves what Christ
meant by salvation, we have but to read
the Gospel and see how he saved men
when he was on the earth. He came to a
tax-collector sitting at the receipt of cus-
toms, — all tax-collectors in that day were
corrupt, — and he said to him, "Follow
me ! " and Matthew left his tax-collecting
to follow the new life. He came to some
fishermen, prosaic and common men, do-
ing service in common ways, and he said
to them, " Follow me, and I will make
you fishers of men ; I will give you a
higher mission and a nobler opportunity,"
and they left their commonplace vocations
to follow him. He came into Jericho,
[ 142 ]


and a corrupt politician of his time climbed
a tree to look at him — a man at whom
all men pointed the finger of scorn, the
man whom all men hated — the Jewish
" boss," who derived his power as a polit-
ical leader, not from his own people, but
from a despotic foreigner. To him Christ
says, I will stay at your house to-night ;
and when he came, there was something in
Christ that put such higher purpose into
that man that the man said, " I have been
dishonest, but I will restore fourfold to
those from whom I stole, and as I cannot
find them all I will give half of what is
left to feed the poor." And Christ said,
" Salvation is come unto this house."
Salvation — why ? Because change of char-
acter, new life, more than new vision —
new purpose, more than new purpose — a
purpose that costs something. When a
man says, I will hunt out every man I
have treated dishonestly and give him
back with compound interest what I have
taken, and then I will cut what is left of
my fortune in two and give it half away
— he has given better evidence of religion

[ nz ]


than Is generally given to examining com-
mittees in church.

This was the kind of salvation which,
as we read the story of his life, we see that
Jesus Christ commonly brought to men.
But this was not all. After he had put
this new motive, this new hope into men's
hearts, he put into them the power to ac-
complish the purpose. One of his disci-
ples was impetuous, impulsive, with no
strength of will, no stability of character ;
one who cried, " Bid me to walk on the
waves," but began to sink almost as soon
as his feet touched the waves and changed
his cry to " Save, Lord, save or I perish ; "
one who said to Christ, " Though all men
forsake thee, yet will I not deny thee,"
and yet before three hours had passed had
denied his Lord thrice with oaths. It was
to him Christ said, " Thou art a rock, and
on this rock will I build my church."
Faith in Christ made of him a rock, and
on men transformed as he was Christ has
built his church. John we think of as the
unworldly, unselfish, tender, loving disci-
ple ; but you remember that when James
I H4 ]


and John first came to Jesus he called them
" Boanerges, Sons of Thunder." It was
John who said, when a Samaritan village
refused to admit them, " Shall I call down
fire from heaven to destroy this village ? "
It was James and John at the time of the
triumphal entry into Jerusalem who with
their mother came to ask that they might
have the best places in the kingdom.
And yet when John had been transformed
by Christ he was preeminently the apostle
of love, so that we are told that in his old
age, when he could no longer preach, his
disciples brought him in a chair to the
churches and he repeated to the congre-
gation simply, " Little children, love one
another." Whether this be fact or not,
it is true to his new character.

This is the kind of saving Christ did.
He did not say to men, " You are going
to hell, for you are wicked ; but I will
save you from hell if you will believe cer-
tain theories." He never stated theories.
He said, "You are living a poor life ; fol-
low me and I will show you how to live a
better life and enable you to live a better
[ 145 ]


life. Follow me and I will take the con-
sciousness, the pride, the ambition, the insta-
bility, out of you, and will make you hum-
ble and unselfish and strong." This is what
he did for men in his earthly ministry, and
this is what he has been doing for men ever
since his resurrection. He put a new am-
bition, a new heart, a new purpose, a new
hope, into men. Men said, "We can-
not ; " he said, " You can." The very
command of Christ ought to be inspiration.
A father goes out in the hill country to
walk with his boys, and while they stop to
pluck flowers and play, the father goes
steadily up the hill, and by and by he ap-
pears far above on an out-jutting crag,
and calls " Follow me ! " The children
look up. How shall they follow him ?
how climb that great, steep precipice ?
But still the father calls, " Follow me ! "
And one says to himself and to his com-
panions, " Father would not tell us to fol-
low him if we could not follow. I do not
know the way and I do not see how we
can take it, but I will start, because if
father says ^ Follow me,' I know I can
[ 146]


follow him and where he stands I can yet
stand." So when Christ, our Heavenly
Master, looks out of heaven and says to
us, "Follow me," I know, because he com-
mands it, that I can ; when he says, " Be
like me," I know, because he says it, that
I can. Christ like ordinary men ? No ;
but ordinary men can become like Christ.
This bit of clay on the potter's table like
this beautiful vase ? No ; but this bit of
clay on the potter's table, if it submits it-
self long enough to the hands that are
framing it and to the skill that is working
on it, will become like that vase upon the
shelf. There are some of you here this
morning who say, I can never become like
Christ. You can. I am prosaic and com-
monplace ; these visions are not for me.
Are you more prosaic than Matthew? I am
ambitious and cannot keep my ambition
under control. Are you more ambitious
than James and John, who came to Christ
in the very hour before his Passion, seek-
ing the best places in the coming kingdom ?
I am proud. Is your pride greater than
that of Paul, the Pharisee ? I am in de-
[ 147 ]


spair; all men despise me; I have sinned
away my opportunity; for me there is no
chance. Is your despair greater than that
of the woman to whom Christ said,
"Neither do I condemn thee; go in
peace"? I am superstitious, brought up
under a bad creed. I have thrown it away
and have nothing else ; for me there is no
chance ; if only I had had Christian par-
ents, your education, the liberty of the
Gospel when I was a boy ! Were you
brought up in a more superstitious atmos-
phere, under a worse creed, under more
disadvantageous circumstances than Lu-
ther, the emancipator of Europe ? I have
an appetite which masters me; I eat the
things I know I ought not to eat, and
I drink the things I know I ought not to
drink. There is no chance for me. Are
you worse off than John B. Gough, the
victim of delirium tremens, rescued by the
power and the hopefulness of Jesus Christ ?
In the old Anglo-Saxon Bible the word
rendered in our English Bible " Saviour "
is said to be rendered " Helper." I have
sometimes almost wished that we had had


in place of the Latin word " Saviour "
that plainer, simpler Anglo-Saxon word
" Helper." Christ's saving is helping and
Christ's helping is saving. Independence
is a much praised word in America, but
there is no such thing as independence.
No nation is independent of any other na-
tion ; no community of other communi-
ties ; no individual of other individuals.
We are knit together and depend on one
another, not merely for the material com-
forts for the outer life, but for the inner
life as well. The child is born into the
family and is dependent upon the father
and mother for the beginnings of life.
He goes into school and becomes depend-
ent upon his teachers, and yet more on his
companions, for such life as they can im -
part to him. He learns from their exam-
ples, he imbibes their spirit. He goes
into business, and not only from the part-

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