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BY JOSEPH PARKER MARK 10:29 ''But he, willing to justify himself said-"
MY intention is to examine some of the excuses which men make in this matter of the religious life ; to ascertain some of the causes or reasons which keep men back from entireness of consecration and completeness of Christian love. If the excuses are good, verily I shall embrace them myself, and repeat them with you, and help to heighten the thunder in which you speak them, when you are called up>on to avow the reason of your indifference or of your opposition. If they be bad excuses, and 272
Luke X. 29.] SELF'JUSTIFICA TIO . 273 if they will not stand fire, I shall ask you to renounce them, to disclaim them, to be ashamed of them, and, as far as possible, to do double work in the future, to make up, in some degree, for the negligence or wastefulness of the past ''The lawyer said— ^- " Then comes his own particular plea or excuse, to which I intend to pay little or no attention now, it was so completely and triumphantly answered by Jesus Christ Read his parable in reply. ext to the parable of the Prodigal Son, it is the sweetest word ever spoken even by the lips of Jesus Christ I intend each man to fill up the sentence for himself, only having from the lawyer the preface : " He, willing to justify himself, said • What words do you insert after the word ''said**? How is it with your self-justifying and self-excusing heart? Do I hear correctly when I say you are now reasoning thus : '' If I am sincere in my spirit and convictions, no matter whether I believe what is in the Bible or no^ all will be well with me here and hereafter ** ? Is that a correct statement of what you are now thinking ? It sounds well I admit, with all candour, that it seems to sound conclusive and to admit of no refutation.
Yet it surely will admit of a question or two being put, in order that we may fully understand the position. You speak of sincerity. I ask, What are you sincere in ? Does anything turn upon the object of your sinceri^ ? If you are sincerely giving to a customer over your counter what you believe to be the thing he has asked for, mil you be fully justified in the day that you find you have poisoned the man ? You sincerely believed that you were giving him precisely the very ingredient that he asked for, and that he had paid for, but you did not give him that ingredient, but something else, and ere the sun go down the man will be dead What does sincerity go for there ? If you indicate to a traveller, sincerely, to the best of your knowledge, the road along which he ought to go to reach a certain destination ; if it be the wrong road, and if in some sudden darkness the man should fall over a precipice, will your sincerity obliterate everything like self-reproach ? Were you sure it was the road ? *' o, but I was sincere in thinking it was." Did you explain to the man that you were speaking upon an assumption ? " o, I thought there was no occasion to do so, I felt so sure.* But you see that the mere VOL. z8
274 THE PEOPLE'S BIBLE. [Luke x 29.
element of sincerity goes a very short way in cases of that kind. We love sincerity. Without sincerity life is but a mockery, the worst of irony 1 But what are we sincere in ? Have we ascertained that the object of our sincerity is real, true, and deserving of our confidence ? We are responsible not only for the light we have, but for the light we may have. It sounds very well, I have no doubt, to some young men, when a man says, ^ I intend to walk according to the light I have, and to take the consequences." Believe me, the man who so speaks talks in mock heroics. There is nothing in his statement that ought to deter you from investigation, or from anxious and devout pursuit of truth. I repeat, we are responsible not only for the light we have, but for the light that is offered to us. If you go into some dark chamber, and say you can find your way about well enough, and I offer you a light before you enter the apartment and you refuse it, and trust to your own power to grope your way in the dark ; if you should fall into some mischief or be tripped up or thrown down, so as to injure yourself, V^ho will be to blame? You walked according to the light you had, but the light that was in you was darkness I
Your injury will be associated with a memory of neglect on your part, which, when the injury itself is healed, will yet be a sting in your recollection and your heart. Am I speaking, then, one word against sincerity ? Certainly not God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. I am speaking about that degree of sincerity which might be increased, and that quality of sincerity which might be enriched, by knowing more perfectly the object upon which it is terminating. Who are you, that you should be a revelation to yourself? Look at the mistakes of your lifetime and shut your self-written Bible. He ought to be a very wise man who can, gracefully and with aught of authoritativeness, close the Book of God and say, *'I can do without it'' He may be speaking sincerely, but he is speaking ignorantly. There is a sincerity of fanaticism, as well as a sincerity of philosophy. There is a sincerity of ignorance, as well as a sincerity of knowledge. Merely, therefore, to say, "I am sincere," is to say nothing. We must inquire. What is the object on which your sincerity fixes itself? What is the degree of its intelligence, and what is the degree of its conscience? When any man has
Luke X. 29.] SELF'JUSTIFICA TIO . 275 returned clear earnest answers to these inquiries, my belief is, that he will find himself short of something, and that that something which is absent will be found to be the truth as it is in Jesus, — the Cross, the one Cross, out of which every other cross that is true and useful must be made I But he, willing to justify himself, said — ** I have been looking round, and it strikes me that I am every whit as good as other people that are about me." Would it be rude to contradict you ? Will it be polite to admit the truthfulness, generally, of what you say ? Either on the one hand or the other it does not touch the point at all If the question lay between you and me, it would be right for each to compare himself with the other, and to exalt his superiority at the expense of his brother's infirmities. The case is not as between one man and another. We err in circumscribing the question so. The question is between the soul and God ; between the heart and the absolutely right ; between man and Jesus Christ; between right and wrong. How does the case stand when viewed thus? We injure ourselves by comparing ourselves one with another ; setting shoulder to shoulder, and saying, ''My stature is as high as yours;" laying hand beside hand, and saying, '' My fingers are as clean as the fingers
of other men." We are to come to the law and to the testimony ; we are to proceed to the Cross of Jesus Christ ; we are to go to the standards and balances of the sanctuary; we are to shut ourselves up with God, alone I He who can then boast, must be a madman or a devil ! There is a disposition, I know, amongst us all, and exercised more or less, to compare ourselves with one another. One flippant and cruel man will say, looking upon a number of professing Christians, who may not exactly have been pleasing him, " Well, if this is your Christianity, I don't think I shall have much to do with it." All the while he knows, perfectly well, that the men who have been doing anything wrong have been so doing, not because of their Christianity, but because of their want of it, or in spite of it. A man looks over a lot of copper and sees one bad penny in it, and says, " Well, if this is your currency, I do not think I shall have anything to do with it* What do you think of that man ? Would you introduce him to your family ? Would you make him the tutor of your boys ?
276 THE PEOPLE'S BIBLE. [Luke x. 29. Would you in any way express esteem for him ? A man goes into your orchard and picks up a rotten apple and says, "Well, if these are your apples, I don't think I shall have much to do with them." What do you think of him ? Do you say, '^ He is an admirable man ; a sagacious creature ; a counsellor to be consulted " ? You turn aside, and you say, "The man must be a fool." ot that I am going to say so about you on these solemn questions. But shall I say to you this? — When you compare yourself with another man, especially to your own advantage, you are not in the spirit which is likely to elicit the truth and lead you to sound and useful conclusions. Your disposition is wrong; your temper is wrong. You must cease such a method of comparing advantages and honours, and must go to the absolute and final standard of righteousness. But he, willing to justify himself, said — "Though I do not believe and act as they do who call themselves Christians, yet I trust to the mercy of God." The man who makes this plea talks in some such fashion as this : '' I do not care for doctrines ; I do not care for churches; theologies trouble me very little indeed ; if I live as wisely as I can, and do what is tolerably fair between one man and another, I shall trust to the mercy of God, and I believe all will be right at last." Do you know what you are talking about in talking so ? Do you understand the value and the force of your own words ? Are you aware that the
word mercy is one of the words in our language which it is very difficult to understand ? What is mercy ? In your estimation, perhaps, it is mere physical sensibility, simple emotion — ^a gush of feeling. Is that mercy ? o. What is mercy ? The highest point of justice, — justice returning and completing itself by the return. Mercy is justice in tears. Mercy is righteousness with a sword just transforming itself into a sceptre. Is mercy a mere freak of sentimentality 7 Do you think God will say at last, ^ Well, well, come in, come in, and say nothing more about it"? I would not go into his heaven if the conditions were such. It would be no heaven. Where there is not righteousness at the centre, there is no security at the circumference. Where the throne is not founded upon justice, mercy is but a momentary impulse, to be followed by a terrible recoiL
Luke X. 29. SELF-JUSTIFICATIO . a;; " The mercy of God," you say, " where do I find the mercy of the Living One ? " I find it in Bethlehem, in Gethsemane, on Calvary. Where is the mercy of God ? It is in that dying Son of his, who was delivered for our ofiences, and raised again for our justification. Your notion of mercy is superficial. You use the great word in one of its aspects only ; you do not seem to understand that the word mercy is a composite word, that has within itself many elements. As peace is not death, mercy is not sentiment You propose to trust to the mercy of God. So do I, but in a difierent sense. Is it right to trifle with his law, to despise his word, to crucify his Son afresh, and then to say, '' I ' will trust to bis mercy at last " ? Is that decent, fair, honourable, sensible? We are all living, in so far as we are living truly, in the mercy and grace of God. We trust to bis mercy now*. The question is not one of ultimate conditions, but of present experiences. Every morning we hallow the day with this prayer, '' God be merciful to me a sinner I ' and every night we recover the mistakes, the infirmities, and the sins of the daytime with this cry, ''God be merciful to me a sinner!" What do you mean, then, when you talk about trusting to his mercy at last? Trust to his mercy at first Where is his mercy? It is in the life, the ministry, the death, the resurrection, and the whole mediation of Jesus Christ But he, willing to justify himself, said,— *" There is so much mystery about religion that I cannot really attempt to understand it** I answer, There is mystery about religion, but there is ten thousand times more mystery without it There is mystery
with the Bible, but there is nothing but mystery without it There is a mystery of grace ; yes, and there is a mystery of sin. Life is a mystery. All that is great touches the mysterious. In proportion as a thing rises from vulgarity and commonplace, it rises into wondrousness, — and wondrousness is but the first round in the ladder whose head rests upon the infinite mysteries. Understand it 1 Who asked you to understand it ? You make a mistake if you suppose that religion is to be understood in the sense that you apparently attach to the word understand. It is to be understood by the heart, to be felt as the answer to the sorrow of the soul, to be understood through the medium of love
278 THE PEOPLE'S BIBLE. [Luke x. 29.
and sympathy, and not through the medium of dry intellect Do I understand the method of salvation ? o. Can I explain it intellectually, so as to chase away every lingering shadow of mystery? o. What then? I feel it to be right My heart says, " Though you have often brought me bread I coufd not eat ; you have now brought me this bread, — and it is life I " I cannot give the lie to my own heart. Would I part with the mystery ? ay, verily. Are not the clouds God's as well as the blue sky ? Are not the mists around the mountain tops his, as well as the bases of the mountains and the foundations of the earth ? Is not he, himself, the living God, the culmination of all mysteries, the sum of all wonder — the Alpha and the Omega — not to be understood, but loved and served ? There is a point in my religious inquiries where I must close my eyes, look no more, but rest myself in the grand transaction which is known as faith in the Son of God. But he, willing to justify himself, came at last to this : ''There are so many denominations of Christians that it is impossible to tell which is right and which is wrong." Think of a man going off on that line I Think of a man saying, that he has been looking round and sees that there are so many denominations^ that really he has made up his mind to give up the whole thing ! Does he know what he is talking about ? Is he really serious when he speaks so ? Shall I follow his example ? If I do it will be to show how great is his folly. '' I have been looking round, and see so many different regiments in the country that really it is impossible to tell which is right and which is wrong, and I do not think I shall have anything to do with the country .'^
Yes, there are many regiments, but one army ; many denominations, but one church ; many creeds, but one faith ; many aspects, but one life ; many ways up the hill, but one Cross on the top of it. Do not lose yourself among the diversities, when you might save yourself by looking at the unities. '' There are so many mountains about, that I really do not know that there can be any truth in geography." Many mountains— one globe 1 There are a great many denominations, and I do not regret it I believe that denominationalism, wisely managed, may be used for mutual provocation to love and to good works. It may be better that
Luke X. 29.] SELF-JUSTIFICA TIO . 279 we should be broken up externally, that each may do his own work in his own way, than that we should be bound together by merely nominal uniformity. When an enemy arises to make an attack upon the Christian citadel, when he writes a book against Christ, or against the Bible, or against any aspect of Christian truth — who answers him? ot one denomination in particular. o. When a hand is lifted up against the Cross, who seizes it ? ot one section of Christendom. o. When an assault is made upon Calvary, the whole Church, in all colours, all attitudes, rushes to protect — what indeed requires no defence except as a sign of love — the Cross of Christ, which sets itself above the storms and outlives the puny assaults of puny men I I have looked into all the excuses that I could find, and verily I now pronounce them, so far as my intelligence will enable me to judge — rubbish I Is that word understood ? It is my business, as well as the business of every man, to understand really what excuses are made of; what the value of self-justification is. Because I am as anxious to be right, I trust, as most other men ; and having examined all these grounds of self-justification, I say I would not risk so much as a day's health upon them, not to speak of an immortal condition. There is not one of them will hold good in the market-place if it were commercialised. Shall any one of them stand good as between 'us and God ? If, then, there is not to be self-justification, what is there to be? Selfrenunciation. A man must empty himself of himself before he is in the right condition to understand lovingly and gratefully the offer which Jesus Christ makes men. So long as there is, in the remotest chambers of his mind, anything like the shade of a shadow of a supposed reason to imagine himself in any degree right, he is not in a position to consider the offers of mercy.
Who receives the Eternal One as guest and friend ? ame him. Hast thou heard his name? Tell it His name is a brokenhearted man 1 God guests with the contrite and companies with the self-renouncing soul. I will go to my Father, then, and will say unto him, not, ** Father, I was tempted ; somebody lured me away ; I did not intend to leave thee, but I was beguiled ; ^ but I will say unto him, ** Father, I have sinned I ''
a8o THE PEOPLE'S BIBLE. [Luke x. 29. This, then, is the ground of coming to God; the ground of self-denial, self-renunciation, self-distrust, self- hatred on account of sin. " O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help." '' Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" ''Jesus cried and said. If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." ''I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." Who accepts the invitation ? Some have accepted it Pray that this word may not be in vain. Some require just one more appeal, and they will decide. Take this, then, as the appeal you want ow is the accepted time ; now is the day of salvation. I want to see men decide for Christ 1 want to know that men who have been thinking so long, have at last been enabled by the Spirit of God to say, " I will cast myself on Jesus, the one Saviour of a sinful race." Our fathers used to plead for decisions. The men who made the pulpit of England the grandest of its powers — pleaded with sinners that they would decide. If aught of their mantle has fallen upon me, even but for the occasion, I would speak with all their voices, now dead ; I would stand upon their dead bones and turn their graves into a pulpit, and cry, " Ho I every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy wine and milk without money and without price." " How long halt ye between two opinions?" I am not the one speaker; all the holy dead speak in my voice ; the general assembly and church of the first-born written in heaven; your dead pastors, your sainted fathers and mothers, all the companions of your life who have passed away into the other world, all prophets and apostles, make me their mouthpiece when I say. ow is the accepted time ; now is the day of salvation
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