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We have seen strange things to-day. — Luke v. 26. THIS exclamation appropriately follows every true view of the work of Christ, in the personal soul and in general history. Everything about Christianity is strange : it breaks up the commonplaces of history. If to-day we can read any part of the gospel narrative without surprise, it is because we have become indifferent through familiarity with the letter. Take the life of our Lord from his birth to his ascension, and the whole course is marked by wonder, surprise, amazement, sorrow, or unspeakable joy. Bethlehem had its unique wonder. The Sermon on the Mount was followed by the astonishment of all who heard its doctrine. Every miracle was followed by amazement. Even the personal habits of our Lord excited the wonder of friends and foes : " They wondered at the gracious
THE DISTI CTIVE ESS OF CHRISTIA ITY. 69 words that proceeded out of his mouth * ; " They wondered that he spake unto the woman"; "They all murmured that he had gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner " ; " They were amazed, saying one to another, What manner of man is this?" All these remarks point to the distinctiveness or uniqueness of the Man and his work. Loss of distinctiveness is loss of power. ot where Christianity is like other religions, but where it is unlike them, does it assert its real majesty and influence. It is the same with Christian conduct. " What do ye more than others ? " The emphasis is upon the " more " as well as upon the "others." Christ is not satisfied that his disciples should do as much as others : in a broad and deep sense, they only become his disciples when they surpass all other conceptions of moralities. We are acquainted with the studies of comparative theology and comparative morals. If we would do justice to Christ, we must pass from the comparative to the contrastive. o moralist can do the same work as the Christian is called upon to do, though there may be a strong superficial similarity between the two services. It is not only the conduct of the Christian ,*
that is good : it is the underlying motive that has been ^* y sanctified by the Cross of Christ, under the power of the^t*;*' Eternal Spirit. In the judgment of Christ the value of'* "'<-*> \ every action is determined by motive. Hence the work>;# ;'<«-/ of Jesus Christ is spiritual : it blesses the soul with pardon \YZ/cL it inspires the soul with unquenchable desire to do good " ^
to all men. Thus the morality of Jesus Christ is not an, *Jrt g^. / attitud e in conduct, or a mere cleverness in the adoptiorf% Y • *' of expedients : it is the expression of a renewe d and ^y % ^ sanctified condition of the soul. , * Christianity itself, as a doctrine, Is open to the challenge, What does Christianity more than other religions ? Here,
70 STUDIES I TEXTS. again, we come upon the standard of " doing." Does Christianity answer more questions, cover more ground, supply more succour, invest the soul with larger faculty and freedom, than other religions? We are told that pagan religions were characterised by reverence, by discipline, and by elevating aspiration : possibly so ; for my part, I believe that there is nothing good in any religion which is not the result of the operation of the Holy Spirit. God has not left himself without witness in the land. Christianity does not repel the good features and actions of other religions, but it distinctly claims I them as broken parts of its own integrity. Other religions are mere sentiments, speculations, expedients, or intellectual philosophies ; but Christianity is a cross, a redemption, an atonement, a great specie offer of the loving heart of God to pardon the sin of the world. Other religions are local — they belong to specific races and to peculiar conditions of personal and social develop-
ment : the religion of Jesus Christ is world-wide, and adapted to every member of the whole family of mankind. Christianity gives the whole world over to the charge of its believers. It binds those believers to make the Cross known in every language and under every sky. The religion of our Lord Jesus Christ will not allow men to be self-indulgent, to be narrowly patriotic, to be morally indifferent to the sin, the crime, the outrage, the poverty and suffering of the world. We can never consent, therefore, to look upon Christianity as one religion amongst many. Having tasted and handled the Word of Life, we hold it to be the one religion that can meet all the , conditions of fallen human nature. This is the point of V* wonder. This is the reason for the loud and triumphant hallelujahs that go up to the Throne through the medium of the Cross.
THE DISTI CTIVE ESS OF CHRISTIA ITY. . ^\ The day of the Christ-vision is the most memorable day in the experience of the souL Truly of that day a man may fitly exclaim, " I have seen strange things ! " What are some of the things which he has seen which impress him as being strange? First, he has seen / himself. o man can know himself through and through until he has seen the Son of God. Man has studied himself under broken lights and under partial conditions, but he cannot really see into his very soul until he has received the marvellous light of the Christ-presence. Men think they know themselves ; but, as a matter of fact, they only see aspects of their nature, and hear the louder voices of their life: they do not see their nature as a whole, and hear the finer music which is breathing through all the mystery of spiritual being. Men comparing themselves with themselves become selfsatisfied : not until they stand beside the stature and majesty of the only-begotten Son can they realise how far they fall short of the divine ideal. The first essential condition of spiritual progress is that a man should know himself, and this knowledge can only be obtained by a vision of Christ's infinite holiness. f\S In the next place, the man who has seen the Christvision sees a change in all standards of value. Those things that were gain to him, he counts but loss for the
excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ the Lord. ^ ; Birth, wealth, fame, social importance, all dwindle into // *"? nothing before the standard of the Cross. Paul rejoices,,^/'/ that he had suffered the loss of all things, and counted *~ ' them less than nothingness that he might win Christ ^'V -¦* ¦ "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let/i s~s the mighty man glory in his might ; let not the rich man ^ ' glory in his riches, but let him that glorieth glory in the^' .
72 STUDIES I TEXTS. Lord." Here, again, is a vital point of wonder. Strange that a man should think the whole world nothing in comparison with one Man — that one Man the Saviour that died for him. J In the third place, the man who has seen Christ is enabled to see the importance which attaches to every soul. Christianity raises up the poor out of the dunghill, and makes princes of men who were of no account. Of Christ it may be said, " He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree." Souls that he despised before are now become important to the believer who has seen that Christ tasted death for every man. " Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted." In every little child see an emblem of the kingdom of heaven. Christianity will enable every believer to see in every human soul, how lowly soever its social condition, a child of God, and a possible inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. Every Christmas morning the Christian may gratefully exclaim, " We have seen strange things to-day ! " There is a new song in the air ; there is a new light on all the spaces of life ; there is a new hope in the heart Christmas brings us the Babe that saves the world. At Christmas we enter into the joy of having ourselves become babes in Christ Jesus. He keeps truly the season of the ativity who feels that Christ has been born in him the hope of glory. Every heart must be the Bethlehem in which Christ is born. Has he been born in ours ? Is he cradled in our love? Is he the Child that makes all other children as angels? Every Easter the Christian may exclaim, " We have seen strange things to-day ! " We have seen the tomb opened ; we have seen death vanquished ;
we have the incoming of a glorious Immortality. Do not
THE DISTI CTIVE ESS OF CHRISTIA ITY. ?$ let us think of the resurrection of Christ as having been accomplished at a merely historical point of time : let us rather think pf it as the light of every Sabbath morning. The true history is not an accident or an event of a moment; its spirit runs through all time, and gives new significance to all events. At Easter-tide we feel as if within the social warmth and glory of a birthday, but we must never forget that the birth begun on one Easter-tide reaches through all the intervening days until the following Easter-tide shall dawn. " If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God " (Col. iii. i). The seeking of those things will keep us alive in the Spirit from one birthday to another. "Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. vi. n). Every Ascension-day Christians may exclaim, "We have seen strange things to-day ! " We have seen our blessed Lord enter into a cloud and passing away to his mediatorial throne. " While he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven" (Luke xxiv. 51). So it shall be with all Christians. They may here and now enter into the spirit of their Lord's ascension. " Set your affection on things above, and not on things on the earth/' This is the true ascension — the rising up of the soul that it may take possession of heavenly places, and live in the fear and love of God. " They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh ; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit" ever let us think of our own ascension as having to take place at the expiration of unknown years ; it may take place now, it should take place every day, for our life is hid with Christ in God. " How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein ? " "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature ; old things are passed away ; behold,
74 STUDIES I TEXTS. all things are become new." That great and strange things are to happen, in the order of divine providence, to in-
dividual souls and to the united Church, is perfectly clear to all who receive the Cross with a humble and obedient heart ; but I am guarding against the possibility of deferred enjoyment, whilst we might even now feel that our affections and interests are essentially in heaven. When Christ shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is ; but even now we may grow into the spiritual beauty of our Lord. "Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." When the season of Pentecost returns, Christians may exclaim, " We have seen strange things to-day ! " At Pentecost the Holy Ghost was poured out in all the plenitude of his power : ' They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." As with the ativity and with Easter-tide and with Ascension-day, so with blessed Pentecost. We may have Pentecost in all its highest spiritual signification day by day. "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal." " Covet earnestly the best gifts." The Spirit is the gift of God. We are living in the dispensation of the Spirit, and should not be satisfied until we are filled with all the fulness of his light and love. If we would escape the wonders of judgment, we must accept the wonders of redemption. All the wonders of God are not mere surprises ; they are warnings, or benedictions, or signs of love. God does not want to astonish us by his power ; he would rather astonish us by his compassion. It is not enough to receive the visions of God with natural wonder, or even with admiring applause. Many men admire who do not obey. There is an intellectual surprise which perishes in its own vapid expression. Our Lord
THE DISTI CTIVE ESS OF CHRISTIA ITY.
would have us live under the inspiration and comfort of that grateful surprise which expresses its sacred delight in endeavouring to bring every man to see the same glory, and to warm into fruitfulness under the warmth of the
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