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" Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men, manifestly declared to be an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God ; not on tables of stone, but on tables that are hearts of flesh." — 2 Corinthians iii. 2, 3. Among other charges alleged against St. Paul by the Hebraists who followed him to Corinth was this, — that while they brought letters of commendation from the Apostles at Jerusalem, he had no such letters to produce ; that he was, therefore, an unauthorized intruder, thrusting himself from sinister motives, for selfish personal ends, into a ministry to which he was not called. To this charge St. Paul virtually replies, that the Lord of the Church was not dead, but alive again ; that He still called men into the service and apostleship of the truth ; and that as he himself had been called to the ministry of the Word by the living Lord of the Church, as he had neither received his Gospel from men nor been instructed in it by men, but had received it directly from Christ, he did not need letters of commendation from the other Apostles. He was an apostle himself,
PRESENT-DA V SCRIP TURES. 1 63 with a commission direct from Heaven. And the proof was that he himself had power to write epistles, or, rather, that the living Christ wrote living epistles by his hand. What need had he of call or commendation from men in whom Christ still manifested Himself as the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation ? Above all, what need had he of commendation to the
Corifithians who had recognized the wisdom and felt the power with which he had been charged by Christ, and had been raised by Him into a new and divine life ? This was St. Paul's leading thought ; but his heart is very full, his thought takes many forms ; and, as we can hardly fail to remark, his speech and figures of speech are broken and confused. His words throb with emotion ; his metaphors break down under their weight of thought and passion. First, the Corinthians are an epistle written 07t his heart, so dear are they to him, so much in his mind. Then, they are an epistle to the world, written and sent forth by him, as the minister of Christ. Then, the epistle is written on their hearts instead of his, by the finger or Spirit of God rather than by him. Nay, the very figure of an epistle, turn it how he will, proves insufficient to express his meaning, and he runs it into another. The letter, written, with ink, on parchment, changes into a law graven not on slabs of stone, but on the warm and vital substance of the human heart. Obviously, the Apostle is carried away by the tumult of his emotions, and crowds into words a burden of meaning they will hardly bear. Even to us, however, this broken and imperfect utter-
1 64 PRESENT-DA Y SCRIPTURES.
ance is the more impressive for its very imperfections, since through these we catch glimpses of St. Paul's heart, and learn what he felt as well as what he thought. And, to the Corinthians, the very sentence which to us seems defective by its broken metaphors and crowding thoughts, must have seemed one of those rare and felicitous turns of expression of which only the great masters of language are capable. While it was the
most graceful of compliments to them, it was also one of those swift controversial movements, turning the whole force of an adversary's argument against himself, which are peculiar to men of genius. "You, Paul, have no credentials, no letters of commendation," said his opponents and detractors. " Have I not ? " replied the Apostle. " I have the best in the world. These men of Corinth, quickened into a divine life, tliey are my letter of commendation. And who could have a better letter, or more convincing credentials, than these ? " It was a splendid stroke of oratory, of logic on fire with emotion : for what physician can produce a more cogent and persuasive testimonial than patients healed of many fatal diseases? or how can a teacher more convincingly demonstrate his fitness, his capacity, for his vocation, than in pupils proficient in the art, or science, he has taught them ? or what can prove a man a true minister of Christ, if not a whole community drawn into the faith and obedience of Christ by his toils ? Every man, then, may be, every church should be, a living epistle of Christ, read and known of men. This is the ruling thought, this the ruling figure, of the pas-
PRESENT-DA Y SCRIPTURES, 165 sage before us. Let us briefly inquire what it contains or implies. I. The first characteristic of a letter is, that it co7itains and expresses the mind of the writer. An upright man iises words to convey his thoughts, not to conceal them. His letters express himself — his true plans and purposes and wishes. Can men, can churches, convey the mind •of Christ as a letter conveys the mind of a friend } We might well doubt it, so imperfect are men, so imperfect are churches, while the mind of Christ is perfect and divine. We need to remember, therefore, both that
language itself, even at its best, is but an imperfect ^expression of human thought ; and that, in writing a letter, we do not carefully cull and select choice phrases, but let our words run pretty much as they come. We need to remember that a man, bent on communicating his thoughts and wishes to a friend, can write, if need be, on the most unpromising material — with a bad pen, .and muddy ink, on any scraps of waste paper on which he can lay his hand. Nay, we have all heard of men — prisoners, for example — who have contrived to dispense with ink and paper and pen ; who have scraped a little soot from the chimney to mix with water, or have drawn a little blood from an opened vein ; and with these poor substitutes for ink have written on a shred -of linen, or a chip of wood, with a splinter, a pin, a toothpick, and have thus maintained a secret correspondence with trusted friends or kept a record of their Jiopes and fears. The very image of my text, therefore, suggests that,
i66 PRESENT-DA V SCRIPTURES. while the best materials will conduce to secure the most intelligible and perfect expression of the mind of Christ, He may disclose his thoughts through men and churches by no means perfect. And the suggestion is confirmed, placed beyond all doubt indeed, by the moral and spiritual state of the Corinthian Church. They were " a living epistle of Christ : " but how far were they from Christian perfection ! They came behind no church in gifts ; they were enriched with all utterance and all knowledge; but in moral power and elevation, in the graces of the Spirit as distinguished from his gifts, none was more deficient. A community so restless, changeful, and unruly, so divided, so puffed up, so wanton and impure, is not to be found in the pages of the New Testament. And yet, even on this vile paper, Christ
wrote an epistle which shewed his pure mind to their heathen neighbours ; an epistle sorely blotted and defaced indeed, but still a genuine epistle of Christ ; an epistle which, despite all its defects, taught men the secret of a higher, a more generous, and even a purer life than they had ever seen before. It is not, therefore, our conscious infirmities and sins, it is not the defects which we mourn and against which we strive, that will disqualify us for the use and service of Christ. What men value in a letter is not the kind of paper on which it is written, but the mind of the Writer : and even through us, sinful and^ defective as we may be, Christ can shew our neighbours what his mind is. All He requires of us is a willing heart, a desire to be conformed to his image, a sincere ambition to be useful
PRESENT-DA Y SCRIPTURES. 167 in his service. Let Him but find this in us, and He can at least begin to write : — To write, for example, that it is his will that men should strive against the evil that is in them and their alienation from Him ; that they should be reconciled to God and to each other ; that they should value the most precious and love the best things most ; that they should live as heirs and fellowheirs of immortality ; that they should love and serve their neighbours. This is the mind, though not the whole mind, of Christ. And He would have us convey and express it. He wants men to know that God loves them, and will both forgive and take away their sins. He wants them to know that his life — the life of purity, righteousness, charity — is the true life of man. He wants them to know that this lifeis in Him, and in Him that He may give it to them ; that, by giving it to them. He can reconcile and restore them to God, and constrain them to love and serve their neighbours. Nay, He wants to convey these sacred and quickening facts and
truths to the world through us, — through our penitence for sin, our aversion from evil, through our amended lives, our trust in God, our love for our fellows. And if, despite our manifold faults and sins, we live, on the whole, in a vital faith in these great spiritual facts and truths, we do carry his message to the world around us ; we are epistles, written by Christ, read and known of men. 2. Let us see to it, however, that, like St. Paul, we are the living epistles of a living Writer, Paul would not admit for a moment that Christ was dead, or that He
i68 PRESENT-DA V SCRIPTURES. was no longer active or vocal in his Church. " He has called 7ne to the apostleship," he argued, " although I never saw his face in the flesh. He gives me the words I speak, although I never heard his voice." And it was this intense faith in a Lord who was present with him, who still lived and ruled both in the church and the world, that made St. Paul, not an epistle only, but a secretary, an amanuensis, of Christ ; capable of writing letters for the Lord, as well as of being a letter from the Lord. So, too, with the Corinthians. Faulty and defective as they were, they were sure that Christ was a living Saviour and Ruler ; that it was no mere story of what He had been, but also a declaration of what He was, that Paul brought them. These strange gifts of theirs — gifts of tongues, of healing, of prophesying, of ruling —were they not his gifts ? Were they not gifts of life, gifts therefore of One who was Himself alive 1 of One who was the very Source and Fountain of life "> And we need this conviction no less than they. The very form in which the Christian Faith comes to us — in
a book, in a history of what took place, and in letters which were written, centuries ago — tempts us to think of Christ as belonging to the past rather than to the present ; tempts us to think of Him as not being with us now in the real and vital sense in which He dwelt among men at the beginning, instead of as being more really and vitally, because more inwardly and spiritually, present with us. In so far as we yield to the temptation, and conceive of Him as belonging to the past, our life
PRESENT-DA V SCRIPTURES. 169 loses its vigour, our spirits their force ; we do not act and tell on the world around us as we should. Letters written by dead men may be very curious, very valuable even ; but we put them away in our cabinets. We do not read them with the keen vivid interest with which we read the letters the postman brought this morning. They will tell us nothing we did not know. They are not concerned with our present interests. They do not stir and rouse our hearts. They do not call for reply, or rouse us to immediate action. And if we are to be iiving epistles, present-day scriptures, we must convey, and know that we convey, the mind of a living Christ. We must know that we are not doing homage to One who zuas a power in the world once, but are declaring the will of One who is now in the world, and who has all power in heaven and on earth. We must know and feel that we are not serving One who once lived the noblest life possible to man, and made the greatest of all sacrifices, dying that He might both reveal the true life of humanity and give it its true life, but One who is still the pattern of all excellence, who at this very time thinks of us and cares for us, suffers in our afflictions, and gladdens in our joys. Besides the letters inspired by Christ centuries ago, we want the letters which He writes to-day — the living
epistles contained in the lives of neighbours whom He has just redeemed, and purified, and sent out to speak for Him. And if we are to teach and help the world, we ourselves must become living epistles, manifestly declaring a Christ who still lives and saves. When men
I70 PRESENT-DA V SCRIPTURES. " receive " us, i.e.^ when they come to know us as we really are, they must receive Christ ; i.e., they must no more doubt He is alive and operative in our hearts than they doubt a friend to be alive whose letter they have just read. It was thus that Christ drew the world to Himself at the beginning. " To sceptical Greeks and Romans Christianity appealed, not in manuscripts eighteen hundred years old," nor even in manuscripts just written : but in living epistles, " in the ardent faith and earnest life " of those who believed on Him, and w^ere willing even to die for Him. " It is, indeed, by the spirit and life of its confessors, more than by the eloquence or logic of its preachers (or even the inspiration of its scriptures), whether in the first century or the nineteenth, whether in nominal Christendom or in actual Heathendom, that Christianity gradually gains the verdict, and pronounces condemnation on its rivals and opposers." ^ Happily for you and me, therefore, it is still true that — Our dear Lord's best interpreters Are faithful human souls ; The gospel of a life like theirs Is more than creeds or scrolls. Only by a life which reflects the life of Christ can we hope to bring men to Him, to convey to them the conviction that He is alive, active, and ever seeking to win them to Himself.
We all know some men who do convey this conviction to their neighbours ; men whom we cannot meet without ^ Dr. Whiton, Beyond the Shadow, p. 128.
PRESENT-DA V SCRIPTURES. 171 feeling that we are the better for it, the nearer to God and to all good things : men who do not care for gain or success as we care for it, nor for self-indulgence, who do not give way to fretful or passionate tempers ; men who seem to live above the world, to breathe a purer atmosphere ; to whom Christ is more real than the neighbours with whom they sit and talk, and the truths He taught more dear and engrossing than all else that history records or books contain, more dear and engrossing than even the most pressing and momentous interests of the passing day. And nothing persuades us of the reality and worth of religion like contact with such men as these. They come to us as from heaven, breathing its very spirit. They are like letters which Christ wrote but the other day, and which He lets us read that we may be reminded of Him and of his claim on us ; that we may see how pure, how kind, how gracious He is, and remember that we only reach our true life as we live in and by Him. Although their very presence be a rebuke to our worldliness or our selfishness, we never love religion so well as when we see it incarnated in them. Are not they in very deed the living epistles of the living Christ ^ Do they not reflect his mind to us and convey his will ? If you would resemble them, you must not be content with any profession of faith in Him, with holding a creed, with observing sacraments, with enjoying the teaching and worship of his House, nor even with being much occupied with the affairs of his Church. You must so believe in Him as that He shall be formed in you, as that his mind shall dwell in you and become your mind :
1 72 PRESENT-DA V SCRIPTURES. for with his mind in you, you cannot fail to reveal his mind to your neighbours. What, then, is Christ to you in your daily life ? Do you take pains to frame as complete an image, as true and perfect a conception, of Him as you can ? Do you carry that conception about with you wherever you go, and live by it in whatever you engage ? Do you believe that his life, the eternal life which was manifested in Him, is at once the very life of God, and the true life of man, God's child ? Do you instinctively and habitually measure yourself — your thoughts, motives, aims, actions, words — by the standard of that pure life ; bringing your impurity into the light of his purity that it may be rebuked : contrasting your unrighteousness with his spotless righteousness, your selfishness and worldliness with his unworldliness and self-sacrifice, in order that the evil which is in you may be rebuked and overcome hy the good which is in Him ? Only by this constant and instinctive reference to Him amid the engagements of your common life, only by thus judging and renouncing whatever in you is unlike what you see to be in Him, can you become of one mind and heart and will with Him ; only thus can you become a living scripture of his love and goodness which all men may recognize and read. 3. Finally : if a man may be, much more may a church be, a living epistle of Christ, a genuine present-day scripture, manifestly declaring his mind and will. " Ye are our epistle, our letter of commendation," said the Apostle, who wrote so many epistles, to the members of the Corinthian Church. " Your life and conduct commend
PRESENT-DA V SCRIPTURES. i y^ me to the confidence of other churches, and other men, more than any Apostolic brief or letter." And, indeed, we can all see for ourselves that to have ransomed so many pagans in that wicked city from the bondage of evil into the service and liberty of Christ was the very best letter of commendation St. Paul could receive, that it was a deed speaking louder than any words, and saying : " We believe and are sure that this man was called and sent by Christ ; for Christ came to us through Him. Receive him, that ye also may receive Christ." And every church is, or should be, an epistle, commending, not its minister or apostle mainly, but the living Lord who speaks by him. When he appeals to the sinful, the indifferent, the thoughtless, and exhorts them to accept the salvation of God, that it may be well with them both in this life and in that which is to come ; does it lend no weight to a minister's words if he is pastor of a church whose members are conspicuous for their zeal in teaching the ignorant, succouring the distressed, and seeking to save the lost ? Is there, can there be, any letter which so forcibly commends the words which Christ has given him to speak, which makes them so influential and impressive ? Though you are for the most part dumb in the house of God, you nevertheless speak ; though you sit mute, you nevertheless add your gloss or comment on every word uttered from the pulpit Your lives say, " That is true, that is of the last importance ; O listen to it ! " or they say, " It may be true, but it is of no great moment : I don't much attend to it; why should you ? "
174 PRESENT-DA Y SCRIPTURES. If the speaker can confidently appeal to you as an epistle of Christ ; if he can say, " Here are men and
women who have accepted the truths I speak, and you can see for yourselves how much the better and happier they are for having received them," — will not "those who are without " hold that for his strongest argument ? Or if he do not say these things, but leaves the whole tenour of your lives to say them for him, still the force of this appeal and argument cannot fail to be felt. If when he urges men to repent, they see that you have confessed and renounced your sins ; if when he beseeches them to be reconciled unto God, they see that you have been reconciled to Him ; if when he exhorts them to be true, kind, pure, they see that you love and serve the truth, that you live together in charity, that you follow after holiness, must not the force of your example tell upon them, and tell for good ? Will you not thus convey and commend to them the mind of Christ? But if, while professing to have received the truth as it is in Jesus, you are practically indifferent to its claims, must you not hinder and thwart the proper effect of his words, even though the speaker were an angel out of heaven instead of a weak and imperfect man ? li yoit do not listen, you virtually say to others, " Why should you listen ? " If yo7c are not moved, you say, " What is there to move you in that ? " If yoic do not obey, you say, " Why should you obey ? " Bear in mind then, I beseech you, that, as a church, a Christian community, you are, or should be, a living epistle of the living Christ. Each of you is a word, or
PRESENT-DA V SCRIPTURES. 175 a sentence, in the Letter which Christ addresses to all who worship with us or come within the range of our influence. And words, or sentences, which have no meaning, or little meaning, in themselves, often have a most noble and impressive meaning when each is in its proper place and forms part of a connected whole. No
doubt our Lord often uses a single man for great ends, just as He often sends us much comfort or instruction by a single word or a single text. But, on the other hand, just as the word or the text owes much of its force to the fact that it is part of a book, so the man owes his power in large measure to the fact that he is a member of the Church ; that behind him there stands a whole community of which he is for the moment the mouthpiece and representative. It was the whole church at Corinth which formed the living epistle of Christ to the city of Corinth ; and it is still the entire church, and not any one member of it, which forms the living epistle of Christ to any town or neighbourhood. Li so far as we are, any of us, wanting in our duty, we mar and deface the Epistle which Christ sends by and in us to our neighbours ; we prevent them from seeing as clearly as they might what Christ would have them be and do. If we would be a true and potent scripture of the grace of God, we must each be in his place, each must do his duty, like the separate words of a letter ; lest even one word blotted or missing should obscure its meaning. We are gathered into the fellowship of Christ, not simply for our own salvation or comfort ; but that we may convey his mind and will to others, that we may
1 76 PRESENT-DA Y SCRIPTURES. help to quicken the new life in those who, ere long, will take our place and carry on our work. Or, as good old Cotton Mather quaintly put it : — " The Lord hath not set up churches merely in order that a few old Christians may keep one another warm while they live, and then carry away the church with them when they die ; but that they may nurse successively another generation as subjects to the Lord, to stand up in his kingdom when they are gone."
For our neighbours' and companions' sake, then, as well as for our own sake, for the sake of our successors in the service and kingdom of Christ, we should pray and strive that the image of Christ may be seen in us, that his mind may dwell and be read in us : for their sake, as well as for our own, we should endeavour to make our church a scene of brotherly kindness, of earnest devotion, of stirring and constant activity in the service and pursuit of the truth. For when we thus express the mind of Christ and do his will, we may be sure that God, even our own God, will bless, and cause his face to shine upon us, and shed his love and peace into our hearts. We may also be sure that his light will shine through us ; and that men, seeing our good works, will glorify our Father and Saviour in heaven. 1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books 2. ALL WRITINGS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=1000
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