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DIVINE WISDOM, AS SEEN IN THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL.pdf

DIVINE WISDOM, AS SEEN IN THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL.pdf

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Published by GLENN DALE PEASE
BY REV. WILLIAM ARNOT



" But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.— James iii. 17.
BY REV. WILLIAM ARNOT



" But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.— James iii. 17.

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DIVINE WISDOM, AS SEEN IN THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL. BY REV.

WILLIAM ARNOT

" But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.— James iii. 17. We now consider " the wisdom that is from above " in its secondary and subjective aspect ; as a lesson printed on the life of believing men by the type of revealed truth ; — as the image left on human hearts by the seal which came from heaven and pressed them. In the precedingdiscourse we looked on wisdom as it came down fi-om heaven ; in this discourse we look upon the impression which it has left on earth. There, wisdom represented the person and work of Christ ; here it represents the character and conduct of his true disciples. They speak, all too lightly sometimes, of " the divine in man ; " alas, his glory has departed ! The marks of his original excellence, as chief of creation and child of God, are ahnost entirely blotted out. Poor, and wretched, and miserable, and blind, and naked is man, until help from on high reach him. The divine in man ! — yea, but it did not spring indigenous there ; it came down from the Father of lights. If any of the fallen are now wise, the wisdom has come from above ; but when it comes it

] 5 6 DIVINE WISDOM, does not sink out of sight like water spilt on the ground. Saving truth received into a believing heart, and practised in the Christian life, asserts its origin and displays its character. For the original imprinting type you must

look to the gospel of om^ Lord and Saviour ; but the legible epistle you may read in tlie life of any true disciple. It is more easy to read the printed page than the printing type ; hence, when the Master wants witnesses, he calls and qualifies living men. Pointing to the Galilean fishermen who followed him, he said in his great intercessory prayer (John xvii.), " Father, I am glorified in them." The wisdom of which James writes comes from above, but it finds a dwelling-place here below. It lives in the heart, and labours in the life of believers. You may read the essence of the gospel from the page of the humblest Christian's history. The wisdom that is from above is, in this aspect, the character of a converted man. " The epistle of Christ," like the type which printed it, is, — I. First pm-e, then peaceable. II. Gentle, and easy to be entreated. III. Full of mercy and good fruits. IV, Without partiality, and without hj^pocrisy. I. The new creature — the work of the Spirit in believers — is "first pure, then peaceable." 1. In relation to God. In his approach to you there was first purity and then peace ; therefore, as an echo answers to the sound that waked it, the same two in the

AS SEEN IN THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL. 157 same order will characterize your approach to him. If he come to you in peace only, trampling on purity, you will not regard purity in your relations with him. It is thus that the denial or neglect of the atonement undermines the foundations of holiness. But v/hen peace reaches us through a purity which the Son of God secured by shedding his own blood, we cannot accept this salva-

tion and yet make light of sin. As the softened wax cannot show any other figure than the corresponding converse of the seal that has been pressed upon it ; so the broken, humbled, believing heart, when it has yielded to the v/isdom from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, cannot present upward to God any other character than a copy of his own. Owing to remaining hardness and obliquity in the recipient heart, the image is in no case perfectly transferred ; but in all cases of true conversion the man is more or less fully made partaker of the divine nature. As God would not come in peace to the sinful, except on the foundations of holiness, honoured first, true Christians, much as they desire peace, do not expect — will not ask it on other terms. The same mind that was in Christ is also found in Christians. The cross of Christ is the grand safeguard of purity in all who truly believe. If God had displayed justice ^\'ithout merc}^ we would have lost hope ; if he had displayed mercy without justice, we would have been encouraged to continue in sin. In the one case the manifestation would have produced despair ; and in the other, immorality. But divine wisdom, as well as justice and mercy, was in the plan. Peace through purity was pro-

158 DIVINE WISDOM, claimed from heaven ; happiness and holiness echoed the answer up from earth. In this way we reach a rule by which we may test the soundness of our hope. He who is at peace in impurity has not received upon his heart the imperial seal of the King Eternal, but the counterfeit of some false pretender. Your spirit will be cast in the mould of the mercy for which it hopes. God \Adll see in you a cop}^, more or less perfectly rendered, of what you see in him.

2. In relation to ourselves. Peace of conscience is sweet, whether it be false or true. In human beings it is like one of the appetites of nature. The desire to avoid or escape remorse is an instinct of humanity, acting as strongly and steadily as the desire to avoid or escape bodily pain. We have, in common with the lower animals, bodily members provided with nerves of sensation. In common with them, w^e endeavour to avoid pain in any member, and to escape from it if it has already begun. Conscience, though a faculty of the soul, is in this respect like another member in man, of which the brutes are destitute. This, as well as other members, is liable to be injured ; and when it is injured, we suffer as acutely as if the injury had been inflicted on hand or foot. While the desire to escape from the pain of an accusing conscience is so strong in our nature, there is reason to fear that the error of peace at any price will be common amono^st us. Althouo-h, in the constitution of human nature, admitted sin wounds the conscience and tends to give pain, peace in union with impurity seems, notwithstanding, to be a common attainment. Our own

AS SEEN IN THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL. 159 hearts are the chief of the false teachers who say, '' Peace, peace, when there is no peace." When the hope of mercy rests on any scheme of false doctrine, or any insinuation of self-righteousness, the man will stride forward to peace of conscience although he should trample purity under foot : but when we take divine wisdom, as it comes to us from above, we cannot walk towards peace over the body of holiness. What a depth of wisdom lies in this feature of the gospel ! The inscription which its type, wherever it is admitted, leaves in the deep of a human soul, is, Impurity disturbs peace. When I accept mercy through the blood of Christ, my desire for peace of conscience,

one of the strongest forces in my being, becomes a weight hung over a pulley exerting a constant pressui'e to lift me up into actual righteousness. 3. In relation to the world around. Those who have, through faith, gone down with Christ in his baptism of blood to wash their sins away, acquire a depth and solidity of character which enables them to bear unmoved the tossings of a troubled time. An established, experienced, hopeful Christian, is, in the world, like an iceberg in a swelling sea. The waves rise and fall. Ships strain and shiver, and nod on the agitated waters. But the iceberg may be seen from far receiving the breakers on its snow-white sides, casting them off unmoved, and where aU else is rocking to and fro, standing stable like the everlasting hills. The cause of its steadiness is its depth. Its bulk is bedded in calm water beneath the tumult that rages on the surface. Although, like the

160 DIVINE WISDOM, ships, it is floating in the water, it receives and throws off the angry waves, like the rocks that gird the shore. Behold the condition and attitude of Christians. They float in the same sea of life with other men, and bear the same bufle tings ; but they are not driven hither and thither, the sport of wind and water. The wave strikes them, breaks over them, and hisses past in foam ; but they remain unmoved. They were not caught by surprise, while they ha.d a slight hold of the surface. The chief part of their being lies deep beyond the reach of these superficial commotions. Their life, " hid with Christ in God," bears, without breaking, all the strain of the storm. Those who, through the blood of the Lamb and the ministry of the Spirit, become ** first pure,'' may well aflbrd to be " then peaceable,*' although they are swimming in the shifting sea of time, and not standing

yet on the stable shore of eternity. " He that believeth shall not make haste." In times of trial tlie deepest is steadiest. In as far as the w^orld consists of individual men, animated by an evil spirit, with whom Christians must hold intercourse in life, the rule is not peace, absolutely and in all circumstances ; but first purity at all hazards, and then, " if it be possible, as much as in you lieth," also peace. It is not enough to read this law in the Bible. It is not spoken into Christians ; Christians are moulded into it. Off" their Redeemer, in the act of cleaving to him for newness of life, the redeemed take this feature of their character. That characteristic lies in the wdsdom from above, and therefore it is found deposited beneath,

AS SEEN IX THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL. 1 6 1 in all wlio have been renewed in the spirit of their minds. Looking unto Jesus, a disciple perceives that though " God is love," he would not make peace with sinners at the expense of pureness ; being an " imitator of God," as a dear child should be, he strives to do likewise in his intercourse with men. II. The new creature — the work of the Spirit in believers — is " gentle, and easy to be entreated." These two features, also, of the heavenly t^^pe, may be read on the terrestrial page. This glory of the Lord shines dimly, indeed, but truly, in the life of those who have been created ao^ain in his imaece. Receivincr out of ooo his fulness grace for grace. Christians obtain, among other things, some of " the gentleness of Christ." Those who possess any of it long for more. They speak of virtue

being its own reward ; and this is eminently true of gentleness. Every one knows how pleasant it is to receive gentle treatment from another ; but as of other good things generally, so especially of this, "it is more blessed to give than to receive" it. Do not, however, expect that when you have believed, the features of Christ's likeness will come down upon you one by one, without any thought or effort on your ])art. This assimilation to the character of Christ which goes on " within you," gradual as the growth of a mustard-seed, and pervasive as the spread of leaven, ih none other than the kingdom of God — that kingdom which suffereth violence, and which the violent take by force. Strive to enter in. Do not count that you have 11

162 DIVINE WISDOM, already attained, or are already perfect ; but, forgetting the things which are behind, press on to reach this high calling which still attaches to divine wisdom when it has been transferred to the life of believing men, — gentle, and easy to be entreated. Although the lot of men is, on the whole, much more equal than it seems, yet at certain particular points some have more to bear and do than others. Hard knots occur in some persons as in some trees, while others are constitutionally smoother in the grain. But while I willingly confess that more gnarled natures must endure more pain in the process of being made meek and gentle, I hesitate to own that, in the end, these Christians remain ordinarily more harsh and ungainly than others. On them, indeed, were high, hard places which caught on everything that came near, giving much trouble both to themselves and their neighbours ; but when the whole man is

brought into subjection to the law of Christ, and placed, accordingly, under the inexorable processes of the Spirit's ministry, these highest, hardest places, are first rubbed down, and become at last, perhaps, the lowest and the smoothest. I think, although it is not a uniform law, it is, notwithstanding, a common experience, to find in the new man a very low place where in the old man there was a mountain-height. " AVhy should it be thought impossible wdth you that God should raise the dead ? " And why should it be thought impossible, when he undertakes to create a new world or a new man, that every valley should be exalted, and every mountain and hill should be brought low ? Where the old was harsh and

AS SEEN IN THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL. 1G3 ovei'bearing, the new may be gentle and easy to be entreated ; where the old was timidly yielding, the new may be faithful and bold. Beware of excusing, either to yourself or others, admitted defects of Christian meekness, by allegations of constitutional peculiarities. Eather, if the high things of nature still remain high, fear lest you be either not under grace, or not growing in it ; for " if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." III. The new creature — the work of the Spirit in believers — is "full of mercy and good fruits/' It is a principle of the gospel that he who gets mercy shows mercy. The parable of the servant who was forgiven much by his Lord, and then refused to forgive a little to his feUow, is intended to set off that beautiful truth by the dark contrast of the corresponding falsehood. The man who receives the gospel, and because he has received it, is, like the gospel, full of mercy. The little cistern is brought into connection with the living spring, and the

grace which is infinite in the Master, is transferred to the disciple in the measure of his powers. When a man is full of mercy in this sinning, suffering world, a stream of benevolence will be found flowing in his track, all through the wilderness. If the reservoir within his heart be kept constantly charged by union with the upper spring, there need be neither ebbing nor intermission of the current all his days, for opening opportunities everywhere abound. Small thouo^h the vessel be, it will distribute much in

164 DIVINE WISDOM, the course of a generation, if it is ever full and ever flowing. See that well on the mountain-side — a small, rude, rocky cup full of crystal water, and that tiny rill flowing through a breach in its brim. The vessel is so diminutive that it could not contain a supply of water for a single family a single day. But, ever getting through secret channels, and ever giving by an open overflow, day and night, summer and winter, from year to 3'ear, it discharges, in the aggregate, a volume to which its own capacity bears no appreciable proportion. The flow from that diminutive cup might, in drought or war, become life to all the inhabitants of a great city. It is thus that a Christian, if he is full of mercy and good fruits, is a greater blessing to the world than either himself or his neighbours deem. Let no disciple of Christ either think himself excused, or permit himself to be discouraged from doing good, because his talents and opportunities are few. Your capacity is small, it is true ; but if you are in Christ, it is the capacity of a well. Although it does not contain much at any moment, so as to attract attention to you for your gifts, it will give forth a great deal in a lifetime, and many will be refreshed.

IV. The new creature — the w^ork of the Spirit in believers — is " without partiality, and without hypocrisy." These features also remain in divine wisdom when it is transferred to the heart and life of Christians. These plants, though not now indigenous in human nature, may, when transplanted, and watched, and watered, grow

AS SEEN IN THE EFFECTS OF THE COSrEL, 165 there, and bear substantial fruit. If we would possess and exercise Impartiality and Sincerity in our intercourse with men, we must borrow them from the pattern of God's intercourse with us in the gospel of his Son. As he deals with us, we must learn to deal with each other. We have nothing which we did not receive. 1. Without partiality. It is not the impartiality of indifference, but the impartiality of love. Some people practically discover that to be impartial is an easy attainment. They contrive to care equally for all, by caring nothing for an}^ This is the equality of the grave. It is not the kind of regard which God has shown to us, and therefore should not be the kind which we show to a brother. Our text describes the impartiality not of v/ithholding, but of giving, — the impartiality of a heart that is fuU of mercy, and ever seeking a channel of overflow. The empty may easily be equal ; but with these we are not now concerned. Those who have through grace been filled, must seek more grace, in order that they may distribute impartially. As there is no respect of persons with God, there should be none with the godly. No partiality for ^7erso?is. There is room for gTeat advancement here. We have been too much in the habit of valuing a human being according to the texture of the dress that covers him, or the amount of his balance at the bank. Look to the wisdom that is from above, and

learn from it to love the poor as well as the rich ; the rude as well as the polished ; the ungainly as well as the winsome. How low we are ! How unlike Christ are even the best Christians !

166 DIVINE WISDOM, There is no law which requires or permits us to love filth as well as cleanliness, or falsehood as weU as truth ; but the man, — the immortal creature who has fallen by sin, and may be restored through the Redeemer, — the man we must learn to love and long for, in whatever condition he may be found, and whatever character he may manifest. The redemption of the soul is precious, and the opportunity of applying it in any given case wiU soon cease for ever. Look at the world as Jesus did, and let your compassions flow like his. No partiality for peoples. Care equally for drunken Sabbath-breakers on the Clyde, and ignorant idol-worshippers on the Ganges. What a length and breadth of exercise ground is open to Christians ! Impartiality, however, does not mean communism. It touches not the ties of family or neighbourhood. As radii in a circle are closest near the centre, and towards the circumference lie more widely apart, the affections of a human heart do and should fall thickest on those who are nearest. Expressly on this principle the Christian mission was instituted at first. Love, in the heart of the first disciples, was recognised by Him who kindled it, to be of the nature of fire or light. He did not expect it to fall on distant places w^ithout first passing through the intermediate space. From Jerusalem, at his command, and under the Spirit's ministry, it radiated through Judaea, and from Judsea to Samaria, and thence to the ends of the earth, (Acts i.) A certain proverb is much used, and much abused in

our day, by persons who discourage Christian missions to

AS SEEN IX THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL. 1 G7 the lieatlien : Charity begins at home. Expressing only half a truth, it is so employed as to be equivalent to a whole falsehood. It would be more tiue and more salutary if it were ^Titten in full : Charity begins at home, but does not end there. No partiality for sins. It is hard to learn what our errors are in this respect, and harder to correct them. Habits that rank as national, whether in conduct or costume, may deviate far from propriety, and yet not attract attention, much less elicit reproof. One huge partiality, for example, most offensive to God, and most hurtful to men, covers great dishonesties, and punishes small ones. A young man who had used for his own purposes a hundred pounds of his employers' money, as it was passing through his hands, told me in the narrow prison-cell where he was dreeing his punishment, that at the same time in the same city men were going at large and living in splendour, who had notoriously committed the same crime, but prudently committed it on a larger scale than he. I was compelled to own the fact, although, of course, I refused to accept it as an apology. Of the parties to the vices that grow in pairs, why is one accepted in the drawing-room, and the other banished to the darksome wynd ? The wisdom which plans and practically sanctions this distinction has not descended from above. The Church, too, must learn to copy more closely the impartiality of her head. She must not throw a mantle over one sin, while she brandishes the rod of discipline over another. The sin that excludes from the kingdom of heaven should exclude from the communion of saints. Oh, when shall

168 DIVINE WISDOM, Christians learn from Christ to he " without partiality?" It is not easy for the Church in the world to sail against the world's stream, but it is her business to strive in that direction, and her privilege to ask and receive the Spirit, as a breath from heaven, to enable her to overcome. 2. Without hypocrisy. It seems one of the plainest precepts of morality that we should not be one thing, and pretend to be another. God is true in showingmercy ; if we receive it in simplicity, we shall be true like him. When a sinner, softened in repentance, lays himself for pardon along a crucified Christ, he takes on from the Lord a transparent trueness which tells distinctly whose he is, to every passenger he meets on the highway of life. In our approach to God we should be without hjrpocrisy. Strange, that such an exhortation should ever be needed ! Lying unto men you can understand, while you condemn ; but lying unto God seems as inexplicable in fact as it is unjustifiable in morality. To assmne an appearance which is contrary to truth, in acts of direct intercourse w^th the All-seeing, seems so stupid, that, at first sight, we would suppose it to be rare. Alas, n(jthing is more common ! How much hypocrisy there is in prayer ! Nor is the sin confined to those who are hypocrites from the root. Some are all hypocrisy ; and even the best are not entirely free from it. It was to genuine disciples that Jesus said, " Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy.'' It spreads like leaven. Both prayer and watchfulness are needed to keep or cast it out.

AS SEEN IN THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL. 1 6 9 He who permits the wisdom that is from above to im-

press his heart and form his character, will be without hypocrisy in his intercourse with men. But although the seal is perfect, the human soul, at the best, imperfectly receives the image. Portions of the " stony heart" never fully softened, remain unshapely even after the heavenly type has been applied. None can compute the number or measure the magnitude of the defects. But in Christians a likeness to Christ's sincerity has been begun; it is their business to hold fast and press on ; it is his prerogative to make the likeness perfect in his own time and by his own power. As there was no partiality and no hypocrisy in redeeming love when it came down to earth, there will be none in redeemed men when they rise to heaven. There could not be "peace on earth" while these thorns were tearing us at every movement. " This is not your rest because it is polluted." When partiality and h5rpocrisy are wholly and for ever put off, the weary will be glad. When that which is perfect has come, there will no longer be any temptation to partiality, for all will be alike lovely ; no longer any temptation to hypocrisy, for each will truly be all that himself — that angels — that God could desire.

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