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Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son ; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. GALATIA S iv. 7. THE week which has just passed has been specially distinguished by the number of festivals appointed to be observed in it. Round Christmas Day other days are grouped, to remind us how the ativity is of present interest to us, how Christ is ever born afresh in the souls of all who live and die for Him ; and the continuation of the use of the same Collect to-day leads us still to dwell on the thoughts which that holy season suggests. And there is nothing strange in this. The birth of Christ is, indeed, the new birth of the world, the spring of all our hopes, the power whereby the secrets of our hearts are laid open ; and to see the fruits of the Incarnation realised in the lives of saints is at once a warning and a comfort to us a warning lest we should think that the Christian has now no fierce warfare to wage ; a comfort lest we should faint under its pressure. It was for this reason that examples were set before us so widely differing as those of St. Stephen and St. John : that whether in word or thought, whether in spreading the truth with zeal or in guarding it with jealousy, we might 49 E
50 VILLAGE SERMO S vi learn how youth can be consecrated to God s service and age blessed by His power. And even thus the
lesson had been incomplete unless we had seen how the Holy Innocents were enrolled in the army of martyrs ; for in their glory all pride is abased. In them we behold the meek, the lowly, the simple placed side by side with him whom Jesus loved. In them these words of our Lord found fulfilment by anticipation, that His disciples must become as little children. And how great a blessing, my brethren, is attached to that command. And how great love hath the Father bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God. For the Christian is not a child only, but a child of God. He has a Father and a home in heaven. Here for a time he is under restraint and discipline ; but when the appointed day shall come, then will he enter on an inheritance which shall never fail. Yet in this we may see how our sense is blunted by familiarity. We have been so long accustomed to speak of God as our Father, that the ideas which the words involve seem a necessary part of our nature. The title has become synonymous with the very name of God. But it was not always so. There is a famous passage in which an ancient heathen writer sums up very briefly all that wisdom could find out of Him. " The Father of all things," he says, " cannot be discovered ; or if discovered, He cannot be made known to all." He knew, then, of no heavenly Father to listen to the sorrows of the poor, to enlighten the mind of the ignorant, to bind up the wounds of the broken-hearted ; but
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unto us Christ hath declared Him, and the first prayer of a Christian child proclaims the truth which wise men failed to grasp. And what, then, do we mean by this truth ? how is it realised ? and what are its practical results ? When we speak of God as our Father, we claim to be His sons, and as a seal of this we appeal rightly to our baptism. But though this be an unspeakable blessing, let us rightly apprehend its character. There is a danger lest we misunder stand the nature of the blessing which is assured to us as partakers in the Christian covenant. We are placed in a new relation to Him, but our constitution is not changed. We are introduced into a new order of being, and brought within the reach of new influences, but yet this is not in itself sufficient to ensure the preservation of our high estate or the right use of our privileges. Birth is no pledge of the continuance of life, much less of mature and perfect growth. Though it is the con dition which makes life and growth possible, they are not results necessarily springing out of it. This will appear yet more clearly if we notice in what it is that Holy Scripture places our sonship to God even in our union with Christ. For He Himself has taught us how man may break the con nexion which God hath blessed ; how branches of the true Vine may prove unfaithful, and in the end be cut off and cast into the fire. But while we do not find any encouragement for presumption in this title of sons of God, it is indeed full of joy and peace for as many as strive heartily to realise its full meaning. Because we are
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sons, God sent forth the Spirit of Christ into our hearts, that we might use our privilege and address Him as our Father. As members of Christ we know that His works are in some mysterious sense our works, and His righteousness our righteousness. Do we tremble before difficulties ? In Him we can do all things. Do we linger in doubt and per plexity ? In Him is perfect light. Do we feel that we have wandered far from God ? In Him, and in His blood, are we brought near. Do we shrink from God s presence ? In Him we have boldness and access. Do we mourn for those whom we have loved ? In Him is the resurrection. Do we sink in death ? In Him is life eternal. In every circumstance of our being in all the struggles of self-discipline, in all the trials of society this sense of a true union with Christ is the very ground of our confidence and the source of our strength. t> Thus we see what our sonship does for us and what it does not do : how it places us in a new position, of which we must, by God s help, make use. And thus we pass to our second point how we give reality to the new relation. In this there is need of great endurance, of watching, of labour. In God s dealings with us all is orderly and progressive. So it was with regard to His people in old time. So it is with regard to His children now. Long years of discipline and labour
must try the heart before Christ can be fully formed in it. But with what cheerfulness and patience will the son of God wait the decision of a Father s will. Though he is a son, he will remember that in one sense he is a servant too a servant of righteousness,
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a servant of Christ, a servant of God. And it was in this title above all that the apostles rejoiced, for it told them of the mighty work which they had to do both for themselves and for others. And in the same titles we too, my brethren, may find a fresh hope for the redemption of our own bodies and an all-powerful motive for Christian work among our fellow-men. Let me say a few words on each of these points on the results of our sonship slowly, painfully, trustfully wrought out in us individually, and made active in our dealings with others. As to ourselves : In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read that it became Him who brought many sons to glory to make the Captain of their Salvation perfect through suffering. And do we not see in these words the true explanation of all the doubts and trials, of all the assaults within and without, by which the Christian is harassed ? The life of Christ is the pattern to which his life is made conformable. He has to be made fit for the inheritance laid up for him, and to this end he has to be renewed from day
to day ever approaching by God s help more nearly to that likeness, ever becoming by the influences of the Spirit more worthy of his name. His life is not a bondage, but a progress to freedom. His sufferings are not the punishment of a slave, but the chastise ment of a son. In all he learns to see a Father s hand and to recognise a Father s love. And the same thought which supports us in our sorrow should sober us in our joy. For as sons of God we must remember that our gladness should ever reflect a heavenly light. And as we can do all
54 VILLAGE SERMO S vi things to God s glory, so should we seek in all things to realise His presence. For there is indeed no limit fixed in Holy Scripture to the extent of our Christian duties or of our Christian powers. We are told to be blameless children holy as God is holy, perfect as God is perfect. And these very com mands are given us to assure us of the infinite love of God to those who cast themselves on Him as an Almighty Father. To explain the words away or to narrow their force is only to doubt His truth or to distrust His power. But though the Christian has a mighty task before him in self-training, this, as we have said, is not all. As a son of God he is a member of a vast household, and consequently bound to His brethren by count less ties of affection and duty. His sonship is not a power for himself alone : it is a power also in his action towards others. And if the title of Father has become meaningless to us from frequent use, what shall I say of that holy title of brethren by which we are all united in Christ Is it not too often a mere idle phrase, used without any sense of
its depth or any regard to its consequences ? When we hear of some fearful crime committed even in this Christian land, do we indeed think that the poor wretch who has brought upon himself the just vengeance of our laws claims brotherhood with us : and that for him also Christ died ? When we pass along a crowded thoroughfare, and watch the busy stream of men hastening to their proper work, and bearing its image stampt on their eager faces, do we think that each one of these claims brotherhood with us : and that for him also Christ died ? It is, indeed,
vi VILLAGE SERMO S 55 a hard matter to gain any practical feeling of the union of man with man in Christ, and yet we cannot fulfil our Christian work as sons of God in any right way unless we seek by His help to realise its meaning : to sympathise with the cares of the powerful and wealthy to lighten the sufferings of the afflicted and poor to bear truth to the ignorant to mourn over the failings of others as though they were our own, and to welcome their success with unaffected joy. Our common brotherhood must then become to sons of God a ground of deepest sympathy, and is it not also a ground of surest hope ? With what joy was the teaching of our Lord received in old time by outcasts and sinners ; and shall it be less powerful now? He came to gather into one the children of God scattered throughout the world, and shall He not now by us continue the work which He has begun ? He died for the sins of the whole world ; and will He not be ready to give to all the inheritance which He purchased with His own blood ? Even if the prodigal has claimed his birthright and left his home and squandered his substance in riotous living even
if at last he has joined himself willingly to a citizen of a far country a Father is still waiting to welcome his return, to place again upon his finger the ring of honour and clothe him afresh with the robe of righteousness. The fault is all our own if our faith seem lifeless and our profession bring no fruit? The wickedness and ignorance and misery by which we are dismayed in this Christian land are an accusation of our indolence and not a proof of the inefficiency
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of the Gospel. If our hearts fail us at the sight of wider distress, let us ask if we have done all that which lies in our power, each in our own circle, to spread glad tidings of a Saviour. If we have even made any serious effort to do it ? Or rather, if we do not too often shut up our sympathies, when they are most sincere, within our own hearts ? If we do not too often not only fail to throw down the walls of partition which divide class from class and man from man, but ourselves make the separation more complete and lasting? If we do not too often by our works deny that we have any common Father while we call upon Him in our daily prayers ? If we do not too often claim to be called sons of God while we are not peacemakers, and sons of the Highest while we are not merciful ? But let us not therefore cast away the title
because we have proved ourselves unworthy of it. ay, rather let us cling to it with more zeal and cherish it with more affection, for while it witnesses against us in the past, it is as a message of comfort for the time to come. It tells us of the true source of our error, and holds out to us the perfect pattern of chanty. It is at once a test by which we may prove our sincerity and a pledge whereby we may anticipate our success. For hereby we know that we love the brethren by the love of God that is in us. Without this filial love the common impulses of sentiment will fail : with it weakness shall be made strong, and Christ Himself will not be ashamed to call them brethren who have sought in feebleness, though still in faith, to do His work and extend the glory of His name.
vi VILLAGE SERMO S 57 Still even to the last something will be wanting to complete the fulness of our sonship. Even to the last there will be evil within us and misery without Even to the last death will remain to proclaim the presence and the penalty of sin. But when the end shall have come, then in that kingdom of heaven for the advent of which we pray from day to day, all that shall be accomplished of which our present joys and our present works are but faint anticipations. Then the full meaning of our new relation to God shall be known and realised. Then the very title of children of God, full though it be of all peace and hope, shall be inadequate to convey an image of our bliss. ow are we children of God, but it doth not yet appear what we shall be : but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him ; for we shall see Plim as He is. Then we shall bear the image of a glorified Lord, as we have borne the image of a suffering Saviour. Then the world with which
we have battled during a life-long struggle shall be made subject to His power. Then the influence of our blessedness shall extend to all creation, which even now is waiting in travail-pain for the manifesta tion of the sons of God. Then all things shall share the blessing of man, as in old time they shared his curse. And at length will be made known to us what eye hath not seen nor ear heard, even that which God hath prepared for them that love Him. Such are some of the thoughts as to our divine sonship which are suggested to me by the happy services of to-day. They may by God s blessing follow us through life to cheer, to rouse, to strengthen : they may remain a living power with
58 VILLAGE SERMO S vi them who shall hereafter bear our names and carry forward to a riper fulfilment that which we have begun. We cannot measure the love of Gocl or track out all its workings. But we know that all symbols of human affection must fall short of that boundless compassion, and if the child brings to an earthly home the fulness of joy, shall it be that our heavenly Father welcomes less tenderly the son who recognises, however late, that he is a son, and claims his blessing ? ot so, my brethren let me use the sacred name not so : the prayer of the son shall never be unanswered ; that prayer is the voice of God s Spirit, who knoweth our needs even before we shape our petitions. Let us listen now how that voice is prompting each one of us, and welcome the words which it teaches us to utter ; let us gather them into one short effort of supreme devotion, and that will leave us stronger, purer, nearer to God as grateful sons to a loving Father.
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