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LUKE xxn. 31, 32. And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you^ that he may sift you as wheat: but I have* prayed for thee that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. We have occasion to observe in many places of the ew Testament^ that our Lord Jesus Christ is made to stand in the place of all Christians, so that what happened to him is jsl sort of image, as well as a pledge and assurance of what will happen to his true servants. He suffered and died; and we can none of us expect to escape what our Master did not escape : he rose again, so surely implying by this, that they who are his should rise likewise, that St. Paul does not hesitate to argue, that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then is not Christ risen : we are in a manner so
174 CO VERSIO . wrapped up with him, that if we are not to rise, he cannot possibly have risen : if he is risen, we shall most certainly rise also. But as our Lord himself is thus put in the place of his people, so also does it often happen with our Lord's first disciples. What is said to them, and of them, is said m very many cases to all, and of all : I do not mean only so far as
regards general principles of Ufe, or our common hopes as Christians ; but even what may seem to belong to the apostles per* sonally, as so many individual men, relates often to Christians of after times, standing towards one another, and towards their Lord, in the same relation as the apostles did then. A remarkable instance of this is given in the words of the text. They were spoken to Peter of himself, and the other disciples then seated with him round the table of their Lord. They contain a warning, a comforting assurance, and a solemn charge. And wherever two or three Christians are gathered together to the very end of the world, this same warning, this same assurance, and this same charge, may be equally addressed to them also. And first for the warning — " Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat" We must
CO YBRSIO . 175 remember^ that the word '' you " is not used here m the sense of our common language^ that is^ to express a single person. Our Lord does not say that Satan had desired to have Peter only^ but all the apostles ; this is perfectly plain in the original^ and^ indeed, to an attentive reader, it is no less plain in the translation ; for the translators never use the word *' you'' in rendering addresses made to a single person, but always the proper singular words, *' thee'* and " thou/' Satan then had desired to have all the apostles, that he might sift them as wheat The sense is expressed
nearly in these words of our Lord, spoken on the same evening, as recorded by St. John ; *' Do ye now beUeve ? Verily, I say unto you, the hour cometh, yea is now come, when ye shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave me alone." The hour was coming, when their faith was to be severely tried, when they were to be sifted as wheat, to see what in them was good com, and what was chaff. For this seems the meaning of Christ's expression ; '' Satan hath desired to have you, as he desired of old to have Job given up to him, that he might try him to the utmost. And so he will now try you, for it is God's will that you should be tried, that so being found faithftil under
176 CO VERSIO . trial, God may be glorified in you, and your crown of life may be the brighter."* This was Christ's warning to his apostles ; and to all Christians since, in however small a body they may be assembled, the words may be addressed with equal truth ; *' Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.** And this his desire will be granted ; we shall assuredly all be tempted according to the measure of our strength; not beyond it certainly, yet fully up to it. or does it matter much at what period of our lives we apply the warning, for they can never be otherwise than true. They will be sometimes more true than at others ; there will be to each of us seasons of extraordinary trial at some one part or other of our lives, when the strength or weakness of our characters will be most decisively proved; but still, no single day is
without its trials, no state of life is free from them. If we feel, as we surely must feel, that during no one day, I had well nigh said, during no one hour, of our lives, is it always easy to us to be good ; if we are sometimes too lively to think soberly, sometimes too indolent to act vigorously, sometimes too selfish to think or act for others, but bestow our care chiefly on ourselves, then we know that Christ's word is
CO VERSIO . 177 trae^ that every day Satan desires to have us^ that every day he is sifting us like wheat. But now let us mark Christ's comforting assurance : ** I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." This is spoken of Peter particularly ; it is, " I have prayed for thee,* not *' I have prayed for you ; " but though these words speak of Peter only, yet we have the assurance elsewhere, that it is true of us also. ay, on that very same evening, when he thus declared that he had prayed for Peter, we know that he prayed for the other apostles too, and not for them only, but for us also. '^ I pray for them,'' he says, speaking of all his apostles, except Judas ; '' I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil." " either pray I for these alone, but for them also who shall believe on me through their word ; that they all may be one, as thou. Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us." We are sure, therefore, that Christ prays for us all, that our faith fail not ; that though temptations will, and must come, yet that we may be able to bear them. And why do we think
that it was revealed to us that he so prays for us ? Surely it was meant as an assurance of comfort. But the very word comfort supposes VOL. III.
178 CO VERSIO . some trouble to be comforted; just as th^ word rest supposes that there must have been some exertion to require it It is idle to talk of comforting those who do not mourn ; it is idle to talk of encouraging where there is no fear and no anxiety. But Christ's words, and it is true not in this place only, but generally throughout the Scripture, are for those who need them. ''Come unto me, all ye that travaa and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest** '' Come unto me, all ye that grieve and struggle with, and are exceedingly dismayed at yom: temptations, and hear from me the comfortable word that I am praying for you, that your &ith fail not ow, then, be no more cast down, but struggle with a confident hope of victory, for greater is He that is with you, than he that is against you. Labour to keep the assurance of your faith like a jewel unto the end; and by labour, through the gracious mediation of my prayer, you shall keep it" We must consider this, however, a little more. The warning undoubtedly belongs to us all : *' Satan ^ath desired to have us, that he may sift us as wheat." Can we aU equally claim the assurance of comfort ? Can we each ' say, '' Christ prays for me, that my faith £ul
CO VERSIO . 1 79 not?" For all Christians generally, that is, for Christians of this age, as well as of that of the i^stles ; for Christians here or in America, as much as for Christians of Jerusalem, or Corinth, or Philippi, it is most certain that he does pray. But the individual question for each of us, " Does he actually pray for me ?** is not answered so immediately. They are Christ's express words, that for some he does not pray : " I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine.** ow, in one sense, we are not of the world ; but in another, perhaps, we may be. " He is not a Jew who is one outwardly,'* says St. Paul ; and it must be true, no less, that " he is not a Christian who is one outwardly." That is, he is a Christian in one sense of the word ; all the outward means of grace are his, and men may not dare to call unclean or common what God, by bringing outwardly, at least, within the number of his chosen people, has in a manner pronounced to be clean. But in another sense, he is not a Christian ; his own spirit must bear him witness that he has not Christ's spirit, that he has therefore not got Christ's seal, and cannot claim any interest, as yet, in that peculiar prayer, which Christ utters for those whom the Father has given 2
180 CO VERSIO . him^ and sealed with his Holy Spirit. His
own spirit must bear him witness, he knows, that he has not the mind of Christ ; that he is not grieved by his temptations, nor is earnestly resisting them, but is careless about them, and yields to them without much effort He knows full well that he is not troubled or cast down ; that, therefore, he does not need encouragement or comfort ; and that what he does not need, he may be very sure Christ has not given him. For such an one, then, Christ does not pray that his faith &il not. The blessing, at this moment, is not his. But what then ? He is shut out now ; but as yet, ** to him that knocketh it shall be opened." He has not the seal of the Spirit now ; but if we, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto our children, how much more shall our Heavenly Father give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him. As yet, God has more than one blessing to give ; they who are last may still be first. So soon as we feel the grief, we begin to have our share in the comfort; so soon as the spirit of penitence and of holy fear shall possess our hearts, and lead us to say in sincerity, " Lord, help me !" then He, who searcheth the hearts, recognizes in us the breathings of his own Spirit ; then
CO VERSIO . 181 Christ prays for us^ that our fiEuth fail not. Brethren^ if there be any of us for whom he does not pray now^ may he see in us such a contrite heart before the sun go down^ that he will pray for us as for his true disciples ! But I must not lose sight of the exact words
of the text : " I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not ; and thou, when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." I said before, that in these particular words, all are warned of the coming danger ; but one is especially prayed for, that, being converted himself, he might also strengthen his brethren. These words were addressed to Peter ; and if we read the first twelve chapters of the Acts, we shall find their fiilfilment. There we find him, indeed, strengthening his brethren, passing throughout all quarters, and by signs and wonders, by the word of wisdom, by fervent boldness and love unfeigned, convincing the unbelievers, opening the eyes of the ignorant, baffling the threats of the enemy, enlightening, cheering, and comforting his fellow-Christians. But this also was said, not to Peter only, but to us. In every society there are those like him, to whom it may be said, " When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." There are, and always must be, some who have more
1 82 CO VERSIO . influence than their neighbours. Age gives influence, money gives it, power gives it, station in society gives it ; and supposing all these points equal, yet, still men cannot be equal altogether, for then personal character gives it othing can hinder firmness, and wisdom, and virtue, firom exercising an influence over the minds of those who witness them. There must, then, be some every where, to whom Christ gives this solemn charge, " When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.'* Every advantage which we have over others, makes us subject to this charge. If we are older, we
should strengthen those who are younger ; if we have the ascendency given by strength, and activity, and decision of character, or by general ability, or by consideration of whatever sort^ then we, being converted, should strengthen our brethren ; we are answerable not for our own souls only, but also, in a certain measure, for those of others. And this is a point which especially concerns us here. Every one of us who becomes awakened to a real sense of what it is to be a Christian, has a double call upon him, to save himself and his brethren also. You may say. How can we do this ? How can we, — if we have no advantage of age, or situation, or great talents, or force of character, —
CO VERSIO . 183 how can we influence others ? I answer, that the Spirit of Christ is still the spirit of power ; that to this day, signs and wonders follow them that believe. I do not mean that you can bid the blind see, or the cripple walk ; that you can drive away the stroke of sickness, or bid the dead arise. But never yet did any soul turn sincerely to Christ, but the spirit of power was there. Goodness is power, and ever will be. Steady and consistent goodness, whether in young or old, in rich or in poor, must enjoy an influence, must make itself felt amongst those who see it; must, in some instances, I do not say in all, or in the majority, for the miraculous gifts of healing extended to few only amongst many sick; but it must, in some instances, open the eyes of the ignorant or thoughtless, bid the crooked walk uprightly, abate the fever of selfish and violent passions, nay, arouse the dead in trespasses and sins, till
he is awakened and lives. Assuredly, the leaven will spread, the leaven must spread : not so fast, or so surely, alas ! as the leaven of wickedness ; yet, to a certain extent ; they who are truly converted themselves, always, I believe, multiply the number of Christ's servants; they do find themselves enabled to strengthen their brethren.
184 CO VERSIO . And if the evil leaven be here of exceeding power, if evil influence be no where caught so readily, is it not so much the more needful, that all they who love the Lord Jesus Christ, should go forth between the living and the dead, and endeavour to stay the plague? Perhaps the very words, *' go forth,** require to be changed in our case : there should be nothing forward, nothing pretending, for that would rather defeat its object. I should dread nothing so much as our being talked of for a great show of religion ; I should fear that there might be less of the power of it. By a show of religion, I do not mean, God forbid that I should mean ! a fearless reverence and love for God and the things of God, a fearless enmity to evil, and fondness for good. But I mean peculiarities of language and manner; any thing that is too artificial to suit well with your age, which, above all other times of life, requires a manner simple, straightforward, and natural. And even where there are these blemishes, they are by no means inconsistent with the power of godliness in ourselves, but they interfere with it in others ; they make us less able to strengthen our brethren, because they excite a needless prejudice against us. This, however, is of far
less consequence than that there should really be a spirit of true Christianity among us, anxious for our own souls and for those of others. If it is the first, it will be the last ; for he who knows what God*s service is, cannot but be eager to teach it to others. And whether he succeeds with many or with few, two things he may be sure of; that as, on the one hand, they who hear will never be so many as those who refuse to hear, for the gate to life is ever narrow, and the way to destruction broad ; so, on the other hand, his labours will never be utterly vain. Some fruit it will surely find ; and infinite is the good, and infinite the glory, of having brought even one sinner to repentance. 1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books
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