The Certainty of the Gospel.

By R. . SLEDD,
"That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast
been instructed." — Luke i, 4.
These are the concluding words of the preface to
Luke's gospel. They are addressed to Theophilus —
a Greek name signifying a friend or lover of God.
He was no doubt a Gentile who had been brought to
Christ under the preaching of Luke, or of Paul, with
whom Luke traveled and labored. It is believed that
he was a man of education and influence, and held
official position.
The text sets forth Luke's specific object in writing
to him. He had already received oral or catechetical
instruction. But such instruction was liable to
misinterpretation; as it passed from one to another
it might be added to, or essential points might be
omitted; or with advancing years it might fade from
the memory. Luke therefore commits it to writing,
that Theophilus may have it ever before him in its
original purity, and that he may know, and that all
subsequent ages may know the certainty of " those
things which are most surely believed among us."
This was the more important because even at that
early day many had felt themselves authorized or
impelled to record the events of the life of Christ.
What a marvelous life that must have been to have
awakened such enthusiasm, and to have put so manv
pens in motion, and this too at a period when the
[27]
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modern passion for writing was entirely unknown !
What mere man ever so moved the intellect, the
heart, and all the noblest energies of humanity?
It is an inexplicable mystery unless Jesus of azareth
was something more than many of our modern critics
would make him.
These accounts or histories Luke does not criticize
or condemn. But he considers them defective and
unsatisfactory — defective perhaps in arrangement*
hence he proposes to set the facts in order — defective
as to fulness — they were mere fragments — detached
acts or sayings of Christ, and giving no adequate view
of his character and life, and many of them probably
mythical, or unauthenticated by reliable testimony.
Matthew and Mark had already written their his-
tories. They were accepted as authentic. Luke is
not to be understood as referring to them, or ab
casting any suspicion on their authority. Yet he sup-
plies much that they had omitted, and omits much
that they had recorded. early one fourth of his
gospel is original.
The human sources of Luke's information were
twofold. He had access to secular history, to which
he repeatedly refers in fixing the dates of important
events. The canonical narratives of Matthew and
Mark were before him, as well as the many frag-
mentary documents to which he refers in the context.
As a faithful historian he would of course examine
carefully and critically all contemporary records.
True Heroism and Other Sermons. 20
But the chief source of his information was tradi-
tional, or the oral testimony of those who " from
the beginning were witnesses, and ministers of the
word." He does not profess to have seen what he
writes; but declares that he " had perfect understand-
ing of all things from the very first " — that is, that
he had, by diligent investigation, traced up every-
thing to its source in order to obtain an exact account
of the whole matter. An educated and thoroughly
honest man, writing to an educated man, he would
naturally be painstaking and thorough in his in-
quiries. Moreover he was associated with Paul, one
of the most cultivated and astute thinkers of his day;
and no doubt his work was submitted to that Apostle,
and approved by him.
While he carefully sifted the documents at hand,
he would no less faithfully weigh the character of the
living witnesses. If they were of disreputable char-
acter, or imbecile, or if there were sufficient motives
to induce them to bear false witness, of course their
testimony was worthless. But instead of this they
were all found to be not only reputable, but men of
the strictest integrity. Their record had been sub-
jected to the closest scrutiny by their own and their
Master's bitterest enemies, and it had come forth
from the trial unscathed. Virtuous themselves they
devoted their lives to the promotion of virtue and
piety among their fellow men. It is true that they
jo True Heroism and Other Sermons.
were for the most part unlettered men. They had
been gathered from the humbler walks of life and
were inured to hardship and toil. They were stran-
gers alike to the discipline and learning of the schools,
the refinements of polite society and the luxuries of
wealth. But they were men of good natural ability,
clear perception and strong convictions. And they
were as competent to testify to what they saw and
heard as a Gamaliel, or any member of the Sanhedrim
could be. or could they have had any motive to
testify falsely. Their education, their inherited pre-
judices, the prejudices of their nation, were all against
their present position. All their worldly interests,
and even life itself was imperiled by adherence to the
azarene. And if they had sufficient motive and
sufficient intelligence and courage to devise and at-
tempt such a gigantic imposture, they could have no
reasonable expectation of its success. There were
multitudes still living who were contemporary with
Christ, who would at once have convicted them of
false witness had their testimony been untrue. The
things to which they testified were not done in a
corner, but in the presence of thousands. They were
well known through all the land and in Jerusalem
itself. It was the truth rather than the falsity of the
testimony that excited such deep resentment and
opposition on the part of the adversaries of Jesus.
From whatever standpoint the matter may be
viewed not the slightest suspicion can be cast on
True Heroism and Other Sermons. 31
the trustworthiness of the witnesses. Satisfied on
this point, Luke asks, What is their testimony? and
says, in substance, to Theophilus : " Rejecting what-
ever is mythical, or not fully substantiated by the
evidence, lopping off all exaggerations that have nat-
urally gathered about this wonderful story, the fol-
lowing account is most surely believed among us.
We hold it to be absolutely true in every particular.
You may accept it as a certainty, excluding com-
pletely and forever from your mind the remotest mis-
giving as to its truthfulness. "
And now he proceeds to record what? ot a
formal Confession of Faith, or Articles of Religion,
or an elaborate system of doctrine, but the facts —
the simple, but sublime facts of the life of Christ —
what he did, and said and suffered — his resurrection
power and ascension glory. And this is the grand
distinguishing characteristic of the gospel. It is not
a system of notions, or of speculative opinions, but
a series of facts — an authentic history. Its first
preachers could all adopt the words of John : " That
which we have seen and heard declare we unto you."
Or say with Peter : " We have not followed cunningly
devised fables when we made known unto you the
power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but
were eye-witnesses of his majesty." And herein has
the gospel infinite advantage over all the systems
that the genius of men has devised.
1. Facts are unchangeable. Sentiment is as un-
32 True Heroism and Other Sermons.
stable as the waves ; opinion as variable as the winds,
and often as false as fickle. The settled beliefs, the
convictions of one age are the laughing-stock of the
next. Well-nigh the entire realm of speculative in-
quiry is a scene of agitation, fluctuation and uncer-
tainty. Systems built as men supposed upon the
foundation of everlasting principles, with all the
elaborate beauty of human genius, and consolidated
by the suffrage of ages, like the splendid architectural
structures of antiquity, have fallen into hopeless ruin.
But facts are immutable. Deeds once done are done
forever. The granite cliff that lifts its head above the
waters in the calm, when the tempest comes may be
buried beneath the billows; but it is the granite still;
and when the storm has spent its fury it will again lift
its head into the sunshine. Facts may be obscured
by passion or prejudice, or pass into forgetfulness.
But they are facts still, and forever. The facts of the
gospel have been assaulted from every possible stand-
point, with every conceivable weapon for eighteen
centuries. But as each successive blow of the sculp-
tor's hammer and chisel brings the image into clearer
outline, so each successive assault has brought into
clearer light both the unimpeachableness of the wit-
nesses, and the beauty and glory of the facts they
relate, and has thus entrenched them the more
strongly in the faith and love of the race.
2. Facts appeal alike to all. They arrest the atten-
tion and carry conviction to the minds of those who
True Heroism and Other Sermons. jj
cannot or will not follow a chain of abstract reason-
ing. The astronomer may spread before the un-
lettered man a chart of the heavens, point out to him
the position and describe the movements of the
heavenly bodies, explain to him all the steps in his
calculations whereby he reaches the conclusion that
at a given time there will be a total eclipse of sun
The man may wonder, but understands nothing, be-
lieves nothing. But the clay, the hour, the minute
comes, and the moon wheels in between the sun and
the earth, gradually obscuring its light, until presently
nothing is visible to the eye but a zone of subdued
splendor apparently encircling the dark body of the
moon. As the man looks on the scene he is thrilled
with amazement and awe, and, while utterly unim-
pressed by the figures and conclusions of the as-
tronomer, he carries the impression of the wonderful
fact which he has witnessed through all the years to
come. Few persons may know or care anything
about the philosophy of history; but how few there
are who are not interested in and charmed by its facts.
The great multitude can know nothing of theology
as a science; they can know nothing of it as a
system — an orderly and compact arrangement of
profound and glorious truths perfectly adjusted the
one to the other and each essential to the harmony,
completeness and effectiveness of the whole. But
what child cannot grasp the simple facts of the
gospel? True, it is the wonderful history of the most
34-
True Heroism and Other Sermons.
wonderful life that was ever lived on earth; and no
other life ever ended in darker tragedy or more splen-
did triumph. But its wonders of wisdom and power
and purity, its ineffable tenderness and love, its humi-
liation and glory, somehow waken responsive echoes
in the inner chambers of the soul and take fast hold
on the mind and heart and conscience, and live in the
memory of the child or the pagan, and move them to
a new and higher life when abstract truth would find
no avenue to the soul and therefore be utterly power-
less to stir the sensibilities or move the will. It is
this historic element that makes the gospel suscep-
tible of universal appreciation and commends it to the
faith of the ignorant as well as the enlightened. And
herein we find one reason why, as a rule, it is accepted
by the untutored man more readily than by the
highly cultivated: the former accepts and builds his
faith and hope on the facts, while the latter, leaving
facts in the background, hesitates and stumbles over
difficulties of doctrine and questions of interpretation.
3. or can we overestimate the value and the
might of facts. They are what we all want when any
matter that affects our interests is presented, whether
it be secular or religious. A single fact well authen-
ticated, outweighs the strongest argument, baffles the
most inveterate prejudice, and overturns beliefs
cherished through a lifetime. The missionary finds
that nothing is so mighty as the story of Jesus and
his love, and that the more simply it is told the more
True Heroism and Other Sermons. 35
effective it is. The pastor, in his ministrations among
the sorrowing, and in the death chamber, finds the
same sweet story of old giving the richest solace to
the troubled, and courage and confidence to the
dying. The cry of every human heart that knows
anything of his love is " Tell me more about Jesus,
Him would I know, who loved me so; tell me more
about Jesus."
The reality of the facts once definitely ascertained
the certainty of the faith can no longer be questioned.
Here, if anywhere, we tread on the solid ground of
unalterable truth. Accept the history as authentic
and the only possible conclusion is that the Son of
Man was also the Son of God, " the Lord from
heaven " — the final and perfected expression of God's
love to our race — the Prophet, Priest, and King —
in whom we have redemption, even the forgiveness
of sins according to the riches of his grace.
Infidelity recognizing the inevitableness of this
conclusion, from the days of Julian and Porphyry
until now, has been taxing all its resources to in-
validate the history. Many have been its hypo-
theses — some puerile, some subtle and profound —
some' inspired by maligant hate, and some, it may
be, by honest doubt. When Jesus was on trial,
it is recorded that, " Many bare false witness against
him, but their witness agreed not together." So
with these opponents of the gospel. They find no
common ground of truth on which they can all stand
36
True Heroism and Other Sermons.
and from which a concentrated attack can be made.
The only tie that binds them together is the enmity
of the carnal mind against God — a deep all-pervasive,
all-controlling hostility to the simplicity, purity, and
love of the gospel. The Psalmist says: " The kings
of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take
counsel together, against the Lord, and against his
anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder,
and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth
in the heavens shall laugh : the Lord shall have them
in derision.'' Xo less impotent and certain of defeat
are the counsels of his enemies now. Xot a single
fact of the gospel history have they been able to
discredit after eighteen centuries of effort. Xot one
single stone in the foundation or in the walls of this
glorious superstructure have they jostled out of its
place.
The anxiety of some good men has been greatly
stirred by what is boastfully called " the higher criti-
cism," which attempts to reconstruct the word of
God and tell us what in it is fiction, and what is fact,
what to be believed and what rejected. But the
outcome of its work justifies none of its affectation
of profounder learning and greater courage and wis-
dom than belong to other men. And though its
exponents and advocates be, in many cases, in the
Churches, it is but one of the many forms of infidelity,
and they are on the highway to avowed unbelief.
But suppose all its claims be granted.' Xot one es-
True Heroism and Other Sermons.
37
sential fact of the gospel is touched. The history
remains in all its completeness, originality and glory.
The story of Jesus and the resurrection has lost none
of its sweetness and power, nor has a single note
dropped from the scale of the anthem of our triumph.
But we of the present day have an advantage over
Luke and all his contemporaries. We have entered
into their labors — enjoy the benefits of all that they
saw, and heard, and recorded. But the history was
not finished when the pen fell from their hands.
Jesus still lives, and has ever been living and moving
and working among men. " Lo, I am with you al-
ways," said he, " even unto the end of the world."
He is present in the word, in the soul of the
awakened sinner, and in the rejoicing believer — with
his servant in his darkest hours of trial, and sorrow,
with him in the valley and shadow of death. He is
present in the believing family, sweetening its ties,
refining and elevating its affections, and glorifying
its life. He is present in the Church, in its ordinances,
and in all its work, in its struggles and its victories,
presiding over its fortunes, and leading it onward to
its destiny of universal supremacy and heavenly glory.
All the results that have been accomplished by the
preaching of the word, by the holy living and dying
of the saints, and by the multiplied agencies of the
church from the day of Pentecost until this hour
are gospel facts. They are the irrefutable demonstra-
tion of the certainty of those things in which we have
j8 True Heroism and Other Sermons.
been instructed. This evidence, which has been gath-
ering volume and power through the ages, is all ours.
If Luke and Paul and their co-laborers began the
working out of the mighty problem, we have the
solution; and in the solution we have "assurance
doubly assured."
If now we have had any doubts as individual be-
lievers as to our foundation let us bid them be silent.
We are not building on superstitious fancies or fears,
nor on a mere balance of probabilities in our favor,
nor on the doctrinal formulas of this or that church,
nor on the church itself; but on the solid, everlasting
foundation of fact — the fact of a Christ incarnate,
suffering, dying, rising, reigning; the fact that over-
tops and includes all other facts of the divine love,
that reaches up to the throne of God and down into
the deepest abysses of human wretchedness and woe,
back into the depths of eternity past and forward
through all the sweep of our immortality; the fact
that " turns earth to heaven, lights life in death, and
to heavenly thrones transforms the ghastly ruins of
the mouldering grave." Devils believe this fact and
tremble; the angelic powers believe it and rejoice;
we believe it and rest. Infidelity has no fact with
which to rebut it, or to cast a shadow of doubt upon
it. There it stands upon the page of history un-
corrupted, and incorruptible forever. " Go ask
the infidel what boon he brings us, what charm
for aching hearts he can reveal;" and gloomy
True Heroism and Other Sermons.
39
silence, the jest and sneer, or philosophy and vain
deceit, is all that he has to offer. But turn to this
wondrous fact, and it distills an unutterable sweetness
into the aching heart, calms all its fears, inspires it
with lively hope, and fills it with a peace that passeth
all understanding. In this gospel of fact we rest se-
cure, certain of our foundation — certain of the issue
of our faith.
or need we have any fear with respect to the
present security and future triumph of the Church.
It does not depend for safety on the friendship of men,
the patronage of learning and wealth, the prowess of
the soldier, or the genius of the statesman. These
have all been leagued against it, and active and per-
sistent in their efforts to overthrow it or to stay its
progress. But their efforts, instead of succeeding,
seem only to have intensified its energy and activity
and quickened its progress. It rests upon the bed-
rock of an eternal fact : " Thou art the Christ, the Son
of the living God," said Peter. " Yes," and " upon this
rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell
shall not prevail against it." And not only does it
rest on this fact concerning the person and work of
Christ, but, in the exulting language of the Psalmist :
" God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God shall help her and that rigdit early."
Men talk about the decadence of Christianity, and
predict its coming overthrow. The truth is it was
never more vital and aggressive than it is to-day.
4.0 True Heroism and Other Sermons.
ever was its faith more steadfast, its purpose more
determined, its forces more consolidated, or its
achievements more splendid. Our own Church is
building and dedicating to God one house of worship
for every fourteen hours the year round. And it is
said that Protestant Christianity opens some new
sanctuary for Christ every hour in the year. Instead
of decadence there is amazing progress; instead of
the gathering shadows of night, the sun in cloudless
splendor is riding up the heavens to high noon, and
ere long its glory will " burst o'er all the earth."
God inspire us, as believing men and women, and
inspire the Church everywhere with an absolute faith
in gospel fact. Such a faith will kindle our love for
Christ to an intenser glow, deepen and broaden our
sympathies and our interest in humanity, increase
our activity, enlarge our hearts and fill us with joy
in God now, and rejoicing in the day of Jesus Christ.
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