Copyright
William G.T. Shedd.

Sermons to the Natural Man online

. (page 1 of 26)
Online LibraryWilliam G.T. SheddSermons to the Natural Man → online text (page 1 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by G. Graustein and PG Distributed Proofreaders




SERMONS TO THE NATURAL MAN.

BY

WILLIAM G. T. SHEDD, D. D.,

AUTHOR OF "A HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE," "HOMILETICS AND PASTORAL.
THEOLOGY," "DISCOURSES AND ESSAYS," "PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY," ETC.


NEW YORK: CHARLES SCRIBNER & CO., 654 BROADWAY. 1871.


PREFACE.

It is with a solemn feeling of responsibility that I send forth this
volume of Sermons. The ordinary emotions of authorship have little place
in the experience, when one remembers that what he says will be either a
means of spiritual life, or an occasion of spiritual death.

I believe that the substance of these Discourses will prove to accord
with God's revealed truth, in the day that will try all truth. The title
indicates their general aim and tendency. The purpose is psychological. I
would, if possible, anatomize the natural heart. It is in vain to offer
the gospel unless the law has been applied with clearness and cogency. At
the present day, certainly, there is far less danger of erring in the
direction of religious severity, than in the direction of religious
indulgence. If I have not preached redemption in these sermons so fully
as I have analyzed sin, it is because it is my deliberate conviction
that just now the first and hardest work to be done by the preacher, for
the natural man, is to produce in him some sensibility upon the subject
of sin. Conscience needs to become consciousness. There is considerable
theoretical unbelief respecting the doctrines of the New Testament; but
this is not the principal difficulty. Theoretical skepticism is in a
small minority of Christendom, and always has been. The chief obstacle to
the spread of the Christian religion is the practical unbelief of
speculative believers. "Thou sayest," - says John Bunyan, - "thou dost in
deed and in truth believe the Scriptures. I ask, therefore, Wast thou
ever killed stark dead by the law of works contained in the Scriptures?
Killed by the law or letter, and made to see thy sins against it, and
left in an helpless condition by the law? For, the proper work of the law
is to slay the soul, and to leave it dead in an helpless state. For, it
doth neither give the soul any comfort itself, when it comes, nor doth it
show the soul where comfort is to be had; and therefore it is called the
'ministration of condemnation,' the 'ministration of death.' For, though
men may have a notion of the blessed Word of God, yet before they be
converted, it may be truly said of them, Ye err, not knowing the
Scriptures, nor the power of God."

If it be thought that such preaching of the law can be dispensed with, by
employing solely what is called in some quarters the preaching of the
gospel, I do not agree with the opinion. The benefits of Christ's
redemption are pearls which must not be cast before swine. The gospel is
not for the stupid, or for the doubter, - still less for the scoffer.
Christ's atonement is to be offered to conscious guilt, and in order to
conscious guilt there must be the application of the decalogue. John
Baptist must prepare the way for the merciful Redeemer, by legal and
close preaching. And the merciful Redeemer Himself, in the opening of His
ministry, and before He spake much concerning remission of sins, preached
a sermon which in its searching and self-revelatory character is a more
alarming address to the corrupt natural heart, than was the first
edition of it delivered amidst the lightnings of Sinai. The Sermon on the
Mount is called the Sermon of the Beatitudes, and many have the
impression that it is a very lovely song to the sinful soul of man. They
forget that the blessing upon obedience implies a _curse_ upon
disobedience, and that every mortal man has disobeyed the Sermon on the
Mount. "God save me," - said a thoughtful person who knew what is in the
Sermon on the Mount, and what is in the human heart, - "God save me from
the Sermon on the Mount when I am judged in the last day." When Christ
preached this discourse, He preached the law, principally. "Think
not," - He says, - "that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am
not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven
and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law
till all be fulfilled." John the Baptist describes his own preaching,
which was confessedly severe and legal, as being far less searching than
that of the Messiah whose near advent he announced. "I indeed baptize you
with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than
I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the
Holy Ghost and with _fire_; whose _fan_ is in his hand, and he will
_thoroughly purge_ his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but
he will _burn up the chaff_ with unquenchable fire."

The general burden and strain of the Discourse with which the Redeemer
opened His ministry is preceptive and mandatory. Its keynote is: "Thou
shalt do this," and, "Thou shalt not do that;" "Thou shalt be thus, in
thine heart," and, "Thou shalt not be thus, in thine heart." So little is
said in it, comparatively, concerning what are called the doctrines of
grace, that it has often been cited to prove that the creed of the Church
has been expanded unduly, and made to contain more than the Founder of
Christianity really intended it should. The absence, for example, of any
direct and specific statement of the doctrine of Atonement, in this
important section of Christ's teaching, has been instanced by the
Socinian opponent as proof that this doctrine is not so vital as the
Church has always claimed it to be. But, Christ was purposely silent
respecting grace and its methods, until he had _spiritualized Law_, and
made it penetrate the human consciousness like a sharp sword. Of what use
would it have been to offer mercy, before the sense of its need had been
elicited? and how was this to be elicited, but by the solemn and
authoritative enunciation of law and justice? There are, indeed, cheering
intimations, in the Sermon on the Mount, respecting the Divine mercy, and
so there are in connection with the giving of the Ten Commandments. But
law, rather than grace, is the main substance and burden of both. The
great intention, in each instance, is to convince of sin, preparatory to
the offer of clemency. The Decalogue is the legal basis of the Old
Dispensation, and the Sermon on the Mount is the legal basis of the New.
When the Redeemer, in the opening of His ministry, had provided the
apparatus of conviction, then He provided the apparatus of expiation. The
Great High-Priest, like the Levitical priest who typified Him, did not
sprinkle atoning blood indiscriminately. It was to bedew only him who
felt and confessed guilt.

This legal and minatory element in the words of Jesus has also been
noticed by the skeptic, and an argument has been founded upon it to prove
that He was soured by ill-success, and, like other merely human reformers
who have found the human heart too hard, for them, fell away from the
gentleness with which He began His ministry, into the anger and
denunciation of mortified ambition with which it closed. This is the
picture of Jesus Christ which Rénan presents in his apocryphal Gospel.
But the fact is, that the Redeemer _began_ with law, and was rigorous
with sin from the very first. The Sermon on the Mount was delivered not
far from twelve months from the time of His inauguration, by baptism, to
the office of Messiah. And all along through His ministry of three years
and a half, He constantly employs the law in order to prepare his hearers
for grace. He was as gentle and gracious to the penitent sinner, in the
opening of His ministry, as he was at the close of it; and He was as
unsparing and severe towards the hardened and self-righteous sinner, in
His early Judaean, as He was in His later Galilean ministry.

It is sometimes said that the surest way to produce conviction of sin is
to preach the Cross. There is a sense in which this is true, and there is
a sense in which it is false. If the Cross is set forth as the cursed
tree on which the Lord of Glory hung and suffered, to satisfy the demands
of Eternal Justice, then indeed there is fitness in the preaching to
produce the sense of guilt. But this is to preach the _law_, in its
fullest extent, and the most tremendous energy of its claims. Such
discourse as this must necessarily analyze law, define it, enforce it,
and apply it in the most cogent manner. For, only as the atonement of
Christ is shown to completely meet and satisfy all these _legal_ demands
which have been so thoroughly discussed and exhibited, is the real virtue
and power of the Cross made manifest.

But if the Cross is merely held up as a decorative ornament, like that on
the breast of Belinda, "which Jews might kiss and infidels adore;" if it
be proclaimed as the beautiful symbol of the Divine indifference and
indulgence, and there be a studious _avoiding_ of all judicial aspects
and relations; if the natural man is not searched by law and alarmed by
justice, but is only soothed and narcotized by the idea of an
Epicurean deity destitute of moral anger and inflicting no righteous
retribution, - then, there will be no conviction of sin. Whenever the
preaching of the law is positively _objected_ to, and the preaching of
the gospel is proposed in its place, it will be found that the "gospel"
means that good-nature and that easy virtue which some mortals dare to
attribute to the Holy and Immaculate Godhead! He who really, and in good
faith, preaches the Cross, never opposes the preaching of the law.

Still another reason for the kind of religious discourse which we are
defending is found in the fact that multitudes are expecting a happy
issue of this life, upon ethical as distinguished from evangelical
grounds. They deny that they deserve damnation, or that they need
Christ's atonement. They say that they are living virtuous lives, and are
ready to adopt language similar to that of Mr. Mill spoken in another
connection: "If from this position of integrity and morality we are to be
sent to hell, to hell we will go." This tendency is strengthened by the
current light letters, in distinction from standard literature. A certain
class, through ephemeral essays, poems, and novels, has been plied with
the doctrine of a natural virtue and an innate goodness, until it has
become proud and self-reliant. The "manhood" of paganism is glorified,
and the "childhood" of the gospel is vilified. The graces of humility,
self-abasement before God, and especially of penitence for sin, are
distasteful and loathed. Persons of this order prefer to have their
religious teacher silent upon these themes, and urge them to courage,
honor, magnanimity, and all that class of qualities which imply
self-consciousness and self-reliance. To them apply the solemn words of
the Son of God to the Pharisees: "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin:
but now ye say, We _see_, therefore your sin remaineth."

It is, therefore, specially incumbent upon the Christian ministry, to
employ a searching and psychological style of preaching, and to apply the
tests of ethics and virtue so powerfully to men who are trusting to
ethics and virtue, as to bring them upon their knees. Since these men are
desiring, like the "foolish Galatiana," to be saved by the law, then let
the law be laid down to them, in all its breadth and reach, that they may
understand the real nature and consequences of the position they have
taken. "Tell me," says a preacher of this stamp, - "tell me, ye that
desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law," - do ye not hear its
thundering, - "_cursed_ is every one that continueth not in ALL things
that are written in the law, to do them!" Virtue must be absolutely
perfect and spotless, if a happy immortality is to be made to depend upon
virtue. If the human heart, in its self-deception and self-reliance,
turns away from the Cross and the righteousness of God, to morals and the
righteousness of works, then let the Christian thinker follow after it
like the avenger of blood. Let him set the heights and depths of ethical
_perfection_ before the deluded mortal; let him point to the inaccessible
cliffs that tower high above, and bid him scale them if he can; let him
point to the fathomless abysses beneath, and tell him to descend and
bring up perfect virtue therefrom; let him employ the very instrument
which this _virtuoso_ has chosen, until it becomes an instrument of
torture and self-despair. In this way, he is breaking down the "manhood"
that confronts and opposes, and is bringing in the "childhood" that is
docile, and recipient of the kingdom.

These Sermons run the hazard of being pronounced monotonous, because of
the pertinacity with which the attempt is made to force self-reflection.
But this criticism can easily be endured, provided the attempt succeeds.
Religious truth becomes almighty the instant it can get _within_ the
soul; and it gets within the soul, the instant real thinking begins. "As
you value your peace of mind, stop all scrutiny into your personal
character," is the advice of what Milton denominates "the sty of
Epicurus." The discouraging religious condition of the present age is
due to the great lack, not merely in the lower but the higher classes, of
calm, clear self-intelligence. Men do not know themselves. The Delphic
oracle was never less obeyed than now, in this vortex of mechanical arts
and luxury. For this reason, it is desirable that the religious teacher
dwell consecutively upon topics that are connected with that which is
_within_ man, - his settled motives of action, and all those spontaneous
on-goings of his soul of which he takes no notice, unless he is persuaded
or impelled to do so. Some of the old painters produced powerful effects
by one solitary color. The subject of moral evil contemplated in the
heart of the individual man, - not described to him from the outside, but
wrought out of his own being into incandescent letters, by the fierce
chemistry of anxious perhaps agonizing reflection, - sin, the one awful
fact in the history of man, if caused to pervade discourse will always
impart to it a hue which, though it be monochromatic, arrests and holds
the eye like the lurid color of an approaching storm-cloud.

With this statement respecting the aim and purport of these Sermons, and
deeply conscious of their imperfections, especially for spiritual
purposes, I send them out into the world, with the prayer that God the
Spirit will deign to employ them as the means of awakening some souls
from the lethargy of sin.

Union Theological Seminary,
New York, _February 17_, 1871.

* * * * *

CONTENTS.

I. THE FUTURE STATE A SELF-CONSCIOUS STATE

II. THE FUTURE STATE A SELF-CONSCIOUS STATE (continued)

III. GOD'S EXHAUSTIVE KNOWLEDGE OF MAN

IV. GOD'S EXHAUSTIVE KNOWLEDGE OF MAN (continued)

V. ALL MANKIND GUILTY; OR, EVERY MAN KNOWS MORE THAN HE PRACTISES

VI. SIN IN THE HEART THE SOURCE OF ERROR IN THE HEAD

VII. THE NECESSITY OF DIVINE INFLUENCES

VIII. THE NECESSITY OF DIVINE INFLUENCES (continued)

IX. THE IMPOTENCE OF THE LAW

X. SELF-SCRUTINY IN GOD'S PRESENCE

XI. SIN IS SPIRITUAL SLAVERY

XII. THE ORIGINAL AND THE ACTUAL RELATION OF MAN TO LAW

XIII. THE SIN OF OMISSION

XIV. THE SINFULNESS OF ORIGINAL SIN

XV. THE APPROBATION OF GOODNESS IS NOT THE LOVE OF IT

XVI. THE USE OF FEAR IN RELIGION

XVII. THE PRESENT LIFE AS BELATED TO THE FUTURE

XVIII. THE EXERCISE OF MERCY OPTIONAL WITH GOD

XIX. CHRISTIANITY REQUIRES THE TEMPER OF CHILDHOOD

XX. FAITH THE SOLE SAVING ACT


SERMONS.

THE FUTURE STATE A SELF-CONSCIOUS STATE.

1 Cor. xiii. 12. - "Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also
I am known."


The apostle Paul made this remark with reference to the blessedness of
the Christian in eternity. Such assertions are frequent in the
Scriptures. This same apostle, whose soul was so constantly dilated
with the expectation of the beatific vision, assures the Corinthians, in
another passage in this epistle, that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,
neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath
prepared for them that love Him." The beloved disciple John, also, though
he seems to have lived in the spiritual world while he was upon the
earth, and though the glories of eternity were made to pass before him in
the visions of Patmos, is compelled to say of the sons of God, "It doth
not yet appear what we shall be." And certainly the common Christian, as
he looks forward with a mixture of hope and anxiety to his final state in
eternity, will confess that he knows but "in part," and that a very small
part, concerning it. He endures as seeing that which is invisible, and
cherishes the hope that through Christ's redemption his eternity will
be a condition of peace and purity, and that he shall know even as also
he is known.

But it is not the Christian alone who is to enter eternity, and to whom
the exchange of worlds will bring a luminous apprehension of many things
that have hitherto been seen only through a glass darkly. Every human
creature may say, when he thinks of the alteration that will come over
his views of religious subjects upon entering another life, "Now
I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. I am now
in the midst of the vapors and smoke of this dim spot which men call
earth, but then shall I stand in the dazzling light of the face of God,
and labor under no doubt or delusion respecting my own character or that
of my Eternal Judge."

A moment's reflection will convince any one, that the article and fact of
death must of itself make a vast accession to the amount of a man's
knowledge, because death introduces him into an entirely new state of
existence. Foreign travel adds much to our stock of ideas, because we go
into regions of the earth of which we had previously known only by the
hearing of the ear. But the great and last journey that man takes carries
him over into a province of which no book, not even the Bible itself,
gives him any distinct cognition, as to the style of its scenery or the
texture of its objects. In respect to any earthly scene or experience,
all men stand upon substantially the same level of information, because
they all have substantially the same data for forming an estimate. Though
I may never have been in Italy, I yet know that the soil of Italy is a
part of the common crust of the globe, that the Apennines are like other
mountains which I have seen, that the Italian sunlight pours through the
pupil like any other sunlight, and that the Italian breezes fan the brow
like those of the sunny south the world over. I understand that the
general forms of human consciousness in Europe and Asia, are like those
in America. The operations of the five senses are the same in the Old
World that they are in the New. But what do I know of the surroundings
and experience of a man who has travelled from time into eternity? Am I
not completely baffled, the moment I attempt to construct the
consciousness of the unearthly state? I have no materials out of which to
build it, because it is not a world of sense and matter, like that which
I now inhabit.

But death carries man over into the new and entirely different mode of
existence, so that he knows by direct observation and immediate
intuition. A flood of new information pours in upon the disembodied
spirit, such as he cannot by any possibility acquire upon earth, and yet
such as he cannot by any possibility escape from in his new residence.
How strange it is, that the young child, the infant of days, in the heart
of Africa, by merely dying, by merely passing from time into eternity,
acquires a kind and grade of knowledge that is absolutely inaccessible
to the wisest and subtlest philosopher while here on earth![1] The dead
Hottentot knows more than the living Plato.

But not only does the exchange of worlds make a vast addition to our
stores of information respecting the nature of the invisible realm, and
the mode of existence there, it also makes a vast addition to the kind
and degree of our knowledge respecting _ourselves_, and our personal
relationships to God. This is by far the most important part of the new
acquisition which we gain by the passage from time to eternity, and it is
to this that the Apostle directs attention in the text. It is not so much
the world that will be around us, when we are beyond the tomb, as it is
the world that will be within us, that is of chief importance. Our
circumstances in this mode of existence, and in any mode of existence,
are arranged by a Power above us, and are, comparatively, matters of
small concern; but the persons that we ourselves verily are, the
characters which we bring into this environment, the little inner world
of thought and feeling which is to be inclosed and overarched in the
great outer world of forms and objects, - all this is matter of infinite
moment and anxiety to a responsible creature.

For the text teaches, that inasmuch as the future life is the _ultimate_
state of being for an immortal spirit, all that imperfection and
deficiency in knowledge which appertains to this present life, this
"ignorant present" time, must disappear. When we are in eternity, we
shall not be in the dark and in doubt respecting certain great questions
and truths that sometimes raise a query in our minds here. Voltaire now
knows whether there is a sin-hating God, and David Hume now knows whether
there is an endless hell. I may, in certain moods of my mind here upon
earth, query whether I am accountable and liable to retribution, but the
instant I shall pass from this realm of shadows, all this skepticism will
be banished forever from my mind. For the future state is the _final_
state, and hence all questions are settled, and all doubts are resolved.
While upon earth, the arrangements are such that we cannot see every
thing, and must walk by faith, because it is a state of probation; but
when once in eternity, all the arrangements are such that we cannot but
see every thing, and must walk by sight, because it is the state of
adjudication. Hence it is, that the preacher is continually urging men to
view things, so far as is possible, in the light of eternity, as the only
light that shines clearly and without refractions. Hence it is, that he
importunes his hearers to estimate their duties, and their relationships,
and their personal character, as they will upon the death-bed, because in
the solemn hour of death the light of the future state begins to dawn
upon the human soul.

It is very plain that if a spiritual man like the apostle Paul, who in a
very remarkable degree lived with reference to the future world, and
contemplated subjects in the light of eternity, was compelled to say that
he knew but "in part," much more must the thoughtless natural man confess
his ignorance of that which will meet him when his spirit returns to God.
The great mass of mankind are totally vacant of any just apprehension of
what will be their state of mind, upon being introduced into God's
presence. They have never seriously considered what must be the effect
upon their views and feelings, of an entire withdrawment from the scenes
and objects of earth, and an entrance into those of the future state.
Most men are wholly engrossed in the present existence, and do not allow
their thoughts to reach over into that invisible region which revelation
discloses, and which the uncontrollable workings of conscience sometimes
_force_ upon their attention for a moment. How many men there are, whose
sinful and thoughtless lives prove that they are not aware that the
future world will, by its very characteristics, fill them with a species
and a grade of information that will be misery unutterable. Is it not the
duty and the wisdom of all such, to attempt to conjecture and anticipate
the coming experience of the human soul in the day of judgment and the
future life, in order that by repentance toward God and faith in the Lord
Jesus Christ they may be able to stand in that day? Let us then endeavor
to know, at least "in part," concerning the eternal state.

The latter clause of the text specifies the general characteristic of
existence in the future world. It is a mode of existence in which the
rational mind "_knows_ even as it is known." It is a world of
knowledge, - of conscious knowledge. In thus unequivocally asserting that
our existence beyond the tomb is one of distinct consciousness,
revelation has taught us what we most desire and need to know. The first



Online LibraryWilliam G.T. SheddSermons to the Natural Man → online text (page 1 of 26)