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Romans 8.3 God's Remedey for Sin Alford.jpg

God's Remedy for Sin

God's Remedy for Sin

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,” (Romans 8:3, ESV)

We have advanced thus far in our statement of Christian doctrine, or rather of the introduction and preliminaries to Christian doctrine. We have laid down the sinfulness of our whole nature: the manifoldness and deceitfulness of sin: the guilt and eternal consequences of sin. So far we have spoken of the disease: to-day we deal with the remedy.

Our text will furnish us in this matter with safe and sufficient guidance. It tells us of a way in which sin could not be cured: and of a way in which God has brought about its condemnation and cure.

Now remember how we have been treating sin throughout: as a taint, a disease in our nature, destructive to it, but pervading the whole of it, so that it is all sinful, all guilty, all perishing: so that it has absolutely no power to renew itself unto good or to cast out evil from itself. The witness of conscience it has: the help of God promised, and vouchsafed, we believe, even in ignorance and degradation: but this is not of itself: this depends entirely upon and flows from that Redemption of which we are to speak to-day.

Behold then man, guilty, helpless, lost. And what do we now hear of? How first does God manifest himself to him? We now first hear of a law being revealed to him. But it might be said, of what use can a law be to one who has no power to obey it? The answer is very simple: to teach him that he has no power to obey it. This was the use of the law given on Sinai. We have already seen, that one of the most fatal symptoms of the disease of sin is, a man’s unconsciousness of its presence. The sinner goes on imagining all is well; saying peace, when there is no peace. And in this ignorance he would live and die, were there not something to bring out and detect sin within him. This office the Law performed: by the Law is the knowledge of sin. But the Law had, and could have, no power whatever to overcome sin, nor to enable any man to contend with sin; any more than a command to rise up and walk could have on the man laid helpless on a bed of sickness. And this is what is meant in our text, when it is said, that the law was weak through the flesh. Its only organ of acting was, the weak, powerless, helpless flesh of man: that flesh which is infected and penetrated by the taint of sin. And let us stop as we pass by, to remark, that this same must be the case with all human systems of morality, all rules for good conduct, all discipline and codes of law: they have not, and cannot have, any power whatever to renew human nature, or to help it to overcome sin. Sin reigns in spite of them: nay sin has reigned most, and most fatally, where they have been best known, and most deeply studied, and most implicitly trusted to. All of them are just what their far greater example, God’s revealed law, was; and that is, merely a means whereby sin might be brought to light and known: means whereby the sinner might be rendered inexcusable, the proud heart might be crushed down, the dry and tearless eye might be filled with tears of repentance, and the sinner, hardened and careless before, driven to fly to God for mercy and pardon.

But here comes in a question which requires an answer, and to answer which will materially further our enquiry. "You tell us," it may be said to me, "that the law on Sinai, that every moral law, whether in the conscience, or in man’s writings and declarations, was given just to prove man guilty, and to drive him for mercy to God. But you know, and we know, and this Christmas Day reminds us, that it was not till four thousand years after man’s fall, that God’s grace and mercy was revealed to mankind by the Redemption which is in Christ. Do you mean to tell us, that the great God of compassion and goodness, who alone knew the way in which this dread disease of sin could be healed, allowed men to go on in their disease all this time without that cure, contenting Himself with making provision that they might know their guilt, and, knowing it, perish in it?" No, my brethren, nothing of the kind was the case. This Redemption by Christ, which first began its real course on the stage of this world about four thousand years after the creation, was no mere worldly course of events then first brought about,—no happy discovery then first made: it had been fixed in the divine counsels, and its glorious effects anticipated in God’s infinite loving-kindness, before the world began, before man’s sin was ever committed. Nay, all creation, the whole of this visible universe, is but a part, but a trifling portion, of this great divine scheme of Redemption. Every thing ever created, every thing that ever happened or shall happen, all these are simply elements in, contributions to, the glorious issue of the mediatorship of our Blessed Lord. All things are by Him and for Him: by him the universe holds together. And accordingly, we believe that there never was a time, in the history of man’s sin and of God’s dealing with it, when there was not opened to man a way of pardon and peace with God, through a Redeemer to come, or present, or having come. The antediluvian church, the Patriarchal church, the Jewish church,—these were in the direct track of that ray of light from above, which was to shine ever more and more unto the perfect day. By sacrifices, by types, by prophecies, the great Redeemer to come was made known to them as God saw fit for them, as they could bear and profit by the knowledge: at no time was access to God, and reconcilement, and pardon, denied to the sinner. Before the flood, Enoch walked with God, Noah was perfect in his generations, and preached righteousness: before the law, Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness, Jacob wrestled with. God and prevailed, and, dying, waited for His salvation: before the Gospel, Joshua determined that as for him and his household they would serve the Lord: David, amidst grievous weakness and sin, sought pardon and found it, and was the man after God’s own heart: Hezekiah walked in all the ways of the Lord, turning not to the right nor to the left: Simeon waited, in the light of the promise of the Holy Ghost, for the consolation of Israel. And if we turn to the other nations of the earth, though the picture of man’s delinquency is dark and gloomy enough, though our knowledge of their state and opportunities is but scanty and surrounded by difficulties, yet the argument of the Apostle in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and other expressions here and there dropped in Holy Scripture, enable us safely to affirm, that God left not himself without witness even amongst them: and that no where and at no time has it been true, that man has been abandoned by God to live and die in his sins.

This reply has prepared the way for entering on the further portion of my text, which indeed forms our proper subject to-day. The Law,—any law,—could not save man from sin. But God has done what the law could not do. He has sent One into the world, whose express object, as testified by the very Name given him, is, to save his people from their sins. He sent One into the world:—and who was this? That it was no mere son of man, must be evident at first sight: any and every such person would be born with the taint of sin on him, powerless to save himself, to say nothing of others. Every such person would be a mere unit in manhood, bounded by the limits of his own responsibilities, and unable to transfer any thing or pass it on to another: so that even suppose he could save himself, that would be all. The same objection would apply to any created being whatever: and this besides, that the combining our nature with any other nature, however exalted and angelic, would not do for us that which was required to be done: no angelic being has, or can have, righteousness of his own: every such one stands by divine grace imparted, may fall by grace rejected. No such Savior could suffice for us, or could save us from our sins. Then what did God? The language of our text is very important and explicit on this point: "He sent His Own Son." There is here a peculiar and intended emphasis on the words His Own. Angels are sons of God: we are said to be sons of God: but neither angels nor men are God’s own sons; for that imports, of His very nature and essence, very God begotten of very God,—eternal as Himself,—equal to Himself. There is but One, there never was but One, of whom this term can be used. That One was in the beginning: before creation existed: in union with God, and himself God.

But the particular respecting Him with which we are now more immediately concerned is, that God sent Him into the world. The question, when? is readily answered: as on this day. The event was one which happened, and was recorded, like any other in the history of our earth. In Bethlehem, a town of Judæa, a place which may even now be visited and seen, a child was born, whom we and all Christians believe to have been, and to be now, this Son of God,—God’s own Son,—the Savior of mankind. Important as the fact is, it requires little dwelling upon by me: because it is so plain, so well understood, so universally known. But the question, how He was sent into the world, is one which does require dwelling upon: because on the rightly answering it depends our soundness in the Christian faith;—depends the fulness of our joy in believing, depends the firmness of our trust, and the acceptableness of our obedience, and the progress of our sanctification, and the measure of our heavenly glory. According as a man does or does not apprehend rightly the Christian doctrine of our Blessed Lord’s Incarnation, depends it, whether his belief will yield him full consolation in his daily want of pardon and grace, in his daily struggles with sin, in the solemn hour of death, and in the decisive day of judgment. So let us endeavor earnestly to lay hold on the truth revealed to us in this all-important matter.

God sent His own Son into our world: how? Our text tells us one most essential particular. It was in the likeness of sinful flesh: of the flesh of sin. The form in which He appeared in this world was this form of ours. He was made man. That flesh of ours, which had become tainted with sin, prone to sin, sure to commit sin,—did He take that on Him? Now observe the words of our text, and remember well what has been before said in these sermons. Remember how earnest we have been to impress upon you, that sin is not ourselves: is not our nature, but is something fatal and hostile to our nature. The Son of God took on Him our nature; became very man. He therefore took on Him our Flesh; for this tabernacle of flesh and blood is necessary to the nature of man, and none is full and very man, but those who bear it about with them. But sin is not man: sin is not necessary to our nature: sin is destructive of our nature: sin is the very negative of our nature. And for this reason, and by a reason also inherent in Himself, on account of His absolute and perfect holiness and purity, the Son of God did not, when he took our nature, take sin with it: did not, when he entered into our flesh, enter into sinful flesh. His flesh was our very flesh: it had the same attributes, the same necessities, the same pains, the same liability to death, even as had Adam before his sin: but sin it had not. He looked like sinful men: was of the same shape and form: mingled in their crowds, conversed with them, felt for them, wept when they wept, suffered as they suffer, died even as they die: but He was not sinful man, nor was His flesh sinful flesh. In Him was no sin.

But our text tells us, that besides sending Him in the likeness of sinful flesh, of that flesh which had become pervaded by sin, God sent Him into the world for sin. Sin was the reason why He came; the errand on which he was sent had regard to sin: "He was sent," says St. John, "to take away our sins:" "He himself," said the Prophet Isaiah, "bore our sins:" "He who knew no sin," says St. Paul, "became sin for us."

Now this taking away our sins He accomplished by two great things which He did: by His life, and by His death. The Apostle Paul puts this very plainly and clearly before us: "If," he says, "when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the Death of His Son, much more being reconciled we shall be saved through His Life." The whole process of this wonderful matter—how His Death reconciled us, how His Life saves us, will come before us, please God, hereafter: to-day we are concerned with the first step, leading on to both: His Incarnation—His being born into our world.

What then do we see in the event of this day; in that event which fills every Christian heart with joy, in spite of adverse circumstances,—in spite of national mourning? We see this eternal and holy Son of God, becoming man. Let us take care that we get a right apprehension of this. That clear and most valuable confession of our faith which we have used this morning, will guide us aright. "The right faith is that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man: God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and man, of the substance of His mother, born in the world: perfect God and perfect man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting: equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching His manhood. Who although he be God and Man: yet He is not two, but one Christ (i.e. not two persons, not two Christs, but veritably and only one Person and one Christ): one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God"—that is, when he united the Godhead and the Manhood in Himself, becoming God and man and still remaining one Person, He did it, not by sinking, as it were, the Son of God into the Son of Man, becoming a human Person and ceasing to be a divine Person: but by the very opposite: by continuing to be the divine Person which He was from all eternity, and into that divine Personality taking the nature of Man. And then the Creed in its next verse further explains the same by saying, "One altogether: not by confusion of substance"—not by mingling together in a confused manner that which constituted the Godhead and that which constituted the Manhood: "but," it goes on, "by unity of Person:" by the divine Son of God entering, with all His Divinity entire, into our nature: taking it on Him, as St. Augustine excellently says, "from the very highest boundary of the rational soul down to the very lowest boundary of the animal body."

Now, my dear brethren, let not these considerations seem to you dry refinements of technical theology. They are, I assure you, far otherwise. They are statements of great doctrines, on which rest the very foundations of our Christian life: and I could not make to you this year what I am very anxious to make, a full and clear statement of the doctrines which form the faith of the Church of Christ, if I did not thus try to lay them out and explain them.

It is only left for us now to shew, how thus the foundation is laid for the Redemption of our race and its restoration to righteousness. The Son of God has become Man: our nature is united to the Godhead. A new and righteous seed is implanted in it: a second and perfect Head is granted. The first Adam was tried and fell: but this new Adam shall be tried and shall gloriously conquer. The first Adam, being created liable to Death, lost by sin the means of escaping death, and bound it as a lasting curse on himself and his posterity: the second Adam, also born liable to death, was pleased to become obedient even unto death for our sakes; thus condemning sin, the cause of death, in our flesh. The first Adam brought the penalty of his sin on us, the Head on the members: the second Adam suffered the penalty of our sin for us, the Head for the members. Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life: for to believe on Him is to be united to Him, and to do as He has done, and to go where He is: and He did not perish, but rose up out of death, and was glorified, and when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of God.

It is His Birth into our world which we celebrate to-day. It is the day which the church has set apart as the Birthday of Christ. It is for us a day of joy, as it ought to be. Shall we not rejoice, that our deadly wound is healed—that there is pardon and peace provided for the guilty sons of men? And it need not be surprising to any, that this our joy is not confined to devotional exercises of prayer and praise, but spreads itself over our social life, and is, even by faithful Christian men, celebrated outwardly and visibly, in mirth and gladness peculiar to the season. To forbid such manifestations, would be surely to forget that He who took our whole nature upon Him, came to bless it not in one part only, but altogether: came to make our desert rejoice and blossom as the rose: and to hallow even those bodily recreations and enjoyments which sin has polluted and marred. To keep Christmas by excess and licentiousness, is to profane it, and to insult Him whose birth we profess to honor: to shew ourselves to have no part nor lot in Him who was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil. But to keep it in peace and good-will and hearty thankfulness, gathering our families about us, and making what cheer we may, to keep an English Christmas, open-hearted and open-hearthed, this is not to dishonor Him, but to do as He would have us, who rose as our day-star, that we might walk in His light; who left us His words and triumphed for us, that our joy might be full: at whose birth angels from heaven sung peace on earth among men of good-will.

With such joy as this no deep religious feeling need be inconsistent, no time of prayer need be incongruous, no note of praise discordant: with such joy as this not even times of national grief need interfere. For is it not this day’s birth which has taken the sting from death? is there not to-day, even for the bereaved and weeping, the joyous cry, "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given?" is not this the day above all others which calls back again, and places by our sides those who have gone before us? which fills up the gaps in families, and brings round us our long-parted friends? the day which carries our thoughts onward to that great second birth, when He who sitteth on the Throne shall make all things new?

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine. London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

Ezekiel 18.4 The Guild and Consequence of Sin Alford.png

The Guild and Consequence of Sin

The Guilt and Consequence of Sin

“Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV)

The guilt and consequence of sin,—these form our subject to-day. May God give us grace to consider it aright. In order to this, we must bear firmly in mind one most important fact. Sin dwells in us,—works in us,—prevails too often over us: but sin is not ourselves. Sin is no more a man’s self, than the disease is the patient. "It is not I," says St. Paul, "but sin that dwelleth in me." And this is closely connected with what I maintained in the first of these sermons; that the evil to which we are prone by the disease of our nature is not any thing necessary or natural to us, but something both hateful and hurtful. It is not our nature, but is destructive of our nature. And yet, at the same time, the tendency to evil which leads to sin is so universal, and our nature is so penetrated by it, that to separate man from sin is for man impossible. The taint is at our root, and every branch shares in it. It is not a mere act or set of acts; but a state, a condition of spiritual disease. The new-born babe, who never committed sin, is yet sinful, and it is certain to commit sin, as soon as its faculties begin to unfold themselves. Original or birth-sin is not merely a doctrine in religion; it is a fact in man’s world, acknowledged by all, whether religious or not. Let a man be providing for an unborn child in case of distribution of worldly property; he will take care to bind him by conditions and covenants which shall guard against his fraudulently helping himself to that which he is to hold for or to apportion to another. He never saw that child: he does not know but that child may be the most pure and perfect of men: but he knows it will not be safe to put temptation in his way, because he knows he will be born in sin, and liable to sin, and sure to commit sin.

Now the guilt of sin is a very important matter: and if you will give me your attention, you will at once see that the unbeliever, who denies the guilt of sin because it is a disease tainting our whole nature, has no ground to stand upon. If God had given us no means of resisting sin: if sin were identical with all our convictions and tendencies and desires, then sin would be equally destructive of our happiness and of our nature as it is now, but there would be no guilt in us personally: no one could find fault with us for falling victims to that which we should be powerless to withstand. We should be objects of pity, not of blame. But how different is this now. We have conscience, ever protesting against sin: the written law of God, guiding and enlightening the conscience: and more than all that, the great Redemption which is by Christ, providing a full and sufficient escape from and cure of the fatal disease.

Now you see, wherein consists the guilt of sin: why it is that though born in sin, and prone to sin, I yet am a guilty creature if I sin. It is because sin is not myself, but my enemy: because I know it to be my enemy. Wherever this knowledge is present,—and it is present in some degree in every son and daughter of Adam,—there is, speaking generally, no excuse for sin: it is known to be wrong, and he who falls into it is a guilty person. And observe, that in the just government of God, this guilt varies according to the degree of light and knowledge. The poor heathen, the very savage, has some light of conscience, however dim and insufficient. The Christian has the full light of God’s revelation of Himself in the face of Jesus Christ. Between the savage who lives in sin, and the Christian who lives in sin, the difference of degree of guilt is immense. It will hereafter be made manifest in the case of many a Christian, that it would have been well for him if he had lived and died a poor ignorant heathen. It shall be more tolerable in the day of judgment for the lowest and most degraded of our race, than for us, the favored of God, if we repent not, and serve Him with our hearts.

From guilt, we are naturally led on to punishment. If the sinner is guilty, what will happen to him? Now to any of you who have intelligently followed me, it will be plain, that I have not put this question exactly in the form in which we must first answer it. It will be evident, that the punishment of sin will not be in proportion merely to personal guilt, but to the mischief which it works on our nature. Our whole nature is diseased and perishing: and if I encourage the disease, and give it opportunity, and way, and power over me, then my punishment will be, not only just retribution for that my undoubted and inexcusable guilt,—but also the consequence, whatever that may be, of the prevalence and history of the dread disease itself. And notice, that in the Christian man this also is a direct punishment for personal guilt. He knew the cure, and he did not apply it. He chose to perish, and he perishes accordingly.

But now, you see, two questions rise before us. What is the consequence of sin, unchecked, encouraged, prevailing, pervading a man’s being? This is the first: and the second is, What have we reason to think will be God’s punishment for one who has allowed sin thus to conquer him? Will it be simply the consequences of the malady, or will it be something else, over and above them?

Let us apply ourselves to the former question. We said in our first sermon, that sin was, entering into evil:—thinking, saying, doing that which is bad. We have simply to enquire then, what is the effect on us of thinking, saying, doing that which is bad? Let me ask any one of you, what do you suppose you were made for? I imagine the general answer will be, or will amount to this: "Our Maker must be good and beneficent, and must have made His creatures to be happy. And if He has given us powers and faculties above His other creatures, it must be because He wills that we should aim at, and reach, a higher degree of happiness than His other creatures." This reply which I have put into your mouths, is, as far as we are concerned, undoubtedly the right one. God made us to be happy, to strive after happiness to the highest reach of our faculties and powers. Well, now let me ask again; How do you suppose that happiness is to be attained? Is it to be a happiness gained by the pampering of the body, by giving scope to the lower appetites and passions? If so, why were we endowed with reason, and conscience, and desires after higher and better things? Go a step further:—Is it a happiness to be served by the indulgence of present temper and feeling,—by the lust of wealth and of power, by serving a man’s own narrow interests, and earthly purposes? If so, again, how is it that such present indulgence constantly and proverbially does not bring with it happiness, does not bring satisfaction; but the man who gives way to it is ever casting it aside as worthless, ever seeking something beyond it; and the man who goes on for years giving way to it becomes at last a miserable disappointed creature, a burden to himself and all around him? Surely this cannot be the way to happiness. And if not, what is? Is it not this,—to flee from evil and seek good? Is not the man who does this as a principle, as a habit, is not this man every where and at all times the happy man? Has he not a happiness which the world with its varying circumstances cannot touch: which outward and seeming misery cannot deprive him of: which survives in the midst of desolation, of persecution, of sickness: which is not diminished but increased by that which to other men is the height of misery, the approach of death itself? And if this be so, if to depart from evil, if to fight with and overcome sin, be the way, and the only way, to real happiness, what do you suppose is the consequence of evil cherished, sin practiced and followed, sin overcoming the man and leading the man captive, and triumphing over him? What can it be, but misery and ruin?

Look at its course; watch its progress. Let us try to enliven a dull but necessary argument by setting an example before you. Some matter is proposed to a man which he knows to be wrong—knows to be sinful. But it is very tempting; it will serve his interests; it will add to his means; it will increase his comforts; it will help his family after him. He stands at the parting of the two ways: duty, with toil and privation, with humble means for many a year; sin, with ease and competence, with worldly plenty and worldly consideration. One thought, nay not a thought, an intuition, a flash of irresistible Light, tells him in a moment which path he ought to choose. But he hesitates, he parleys with the enemy, he looks twice and thrice, and he makes up his mind: he grasps the present advantage: he casts away the protest of conscience, and the dread verdict of the certain future, and he adopts the sinful course.

Now the question for us is, what has this man done? what has happened to him? First, he certainly is not a better man; he is, in our common language, a worse man than he was before. And what meaning is there in these words, a worse man? O what is there not, that is miserable, that is deadly to all health, that is fatal to all happiness? His sin has put him further from good: he has descended a step from God and from happiness. And what is the consequence, I ask again? What further is in store for him? Can he rest where he is? Having made this compromise with evil, can he say "Just thus much I find necessary to my comfort, to my advantage, and here I will stop? I cannot have the full field of goodness for my course—I have barred myself out of part of it, but within the limits which remain I will be a good man?" Ah, my brethren, this may not be. Many and many a sinner tries it; jealously fencing round his reputation, taking credit for all that he does or says that looks like good, keenly resenting any charge on his fair name. But alas, he who lets in evil into his practice, is letting in a wild ocean to which no man may say "Hitherto and no further." He is a worse man. Not only part of his good is gone, but all his good is marred, is poisoned; his heart is no longer simple, it is divided; he is become a hypocrite, an actor of a part before men; he has a dark corner which he does not want the world to see into,—a locked closet at the door of which he keeps watch with fear and trembling, lest any discover its contents. And if this before men, O what before God? Ah, my brethren, when and as long as a man makes an agreement with evil, fosters evil, lives by evil, there is no more God for him; prayer, praise, the sacraments, God’s word, God’s house, God’s ministers, God’s people, these have all become for him nauseous things, unwelcome reminders whence he has fallen: for appearance sake he goes to church, he even presents himself, sad to say, at the Table of the Lord,—because if he did not, neighbors would question, friends would drop off, customers would forsake him; but he hates all such things; and he hesitates not, when he thinks himself safe, and worldly interests not at stake, to unburden his pent-up thoughts by shewing his hatred. The fact is, he has chosen that God shall be his enemy; and he cannot bear to face the terrible fact: and so he wants to forget Him, and not to have the thought of Him ever making him miserable.

And from this to the life of the scorner and blasphemer there is but a very short step, and one which few can resist taking. Almost all such characters among us, almost all those who are bold against God, questioning His word, despising His ordinances, are not men whose unbelief is their misfortune, an unhappy turn of mind, or a conscientious form of doubt: they are ever, it is true, ready enough to take refuge under this: but almost all of them are men whose unbelief has become a miserable necessity to them by reason of their choosing to live in and to live by sin: so that a professed unbeliever of correct life is a very rarity in nature. But whether in profession or not, in heart the sinner is an unbeliever and a hater of God.

And then further; how does this state proceed, supposing it unrepented of? Life is full of new temptations, ever arising: and in such a life, the enemy who has gained one victory is not likely to relax his assaults: he who consents to sin, draws on him sin, as Holy Scripture has it, with a cart-rope: conscience, once overborne and silenced, speaks fainter next time, fainter still the time after, soon scarce audibly, after a while not at all. And so the sinner becomes hardened in his sins, more and more lost to true inward shame, less and less able to disentangle his feet from the net thrown round him: to conceal one sin, others have become necessary, and more again to varnish over those, until to stir without sinning has become well nigh impossible: he has to ask leave of evil, to let him speak or act at all. So life speeds on, and life’s end stands before him, and the new and final state has to be entered. God, whom he has so long striven not to know, is unsought by repentance. He goes out of the world as he lived in the world; and what is his state then?

Remember we are confining ourselves at present to the mere consequences of his sinful life, irrespective of any actual infliction of divine wrath. What is his state, do we ask? what can it be, but what it was here, only with every deceit laid open, and every door of hope shut? God he hated and fled from; and the joy of that state is the shining of God’s countenance: what has he to do with that? Good he deliberately refused: the delight of the blessed is to be purely good, to do nought but good, to bask in the beams of His light who is Good itself: what has he to do with this, or with them? What can the inward state of such a soul be but an enduring and living death?

Did we ever reflect on the terrible meaning of those words, eternal death? What is more dreadful to us here, than the process, the act, of bodily death? The great relief from our thoughts of it is, that it is short: it is the anguish of an hour, or of a few hours; or if it is prolonged to a day, or more than that, the announcement is terrible; "two days dying"—we shrink from the very mention of so distressing a fate. And why? Why, but because it is a time of sharp agony and fierce contention of hostile powers in man’s expiring frame: life struggling to continue, decay holding its own, and increasing its domain; the soul in dire apprehension, or at least in unknown conflict? And if this be so, if the prolongation of bodily death even for a short time be dreadful, what must be the eternal death of the soul—all its marvelous powers, no longer dulled by the world and the flesh, at wild variance with one another; self-accusation and remorse for ever inwardly working, conscience no longer to be silenced, but speaking too late,—all the elements which should have contributed to happiness made, by the poisoning power of sin, ingredients in ineffable misery? And there is no reason to think that state on the other side to be a passing one, as this is, or to be a preparation for another; every thing tells us that it is final, prefaced and determined by this present condition of trial. Sin here, earns death there; not annihilation, not a change into some further state, but the never-ending break up, and confusion, and unspeakable terror, and dismay, and dejection, and despair, of the guilty and corrupted soul.

We have however yet another question to ask and answer. Such are the consequences of sin in a man: so destructive, so irreparable, so final. But is this all? Are these natural consequences of sin the whole punishment which it will bring? If it consisted merely in acts done against our own happiness, this might be so: but recollect a moment what sin is. We explained it, after the Apostle St. John, as being transgression of God’s law. Now can we suppose that a just and almighty Lawgiver would make laws for His creatures which He knows to be for their welfare, promulgate them with all the sublime manifestations of His majesty, as of old on Sinai,—or with those of His infinite love, as by the mouth of Him who spake as never man spake,—can we suppose that He would do this, and then leave mankind, if they broke His laws, simply with the risk of the consequences upon them, as if those laws had never been thus made known? Is no penalty due to that God whom all sinners offend? Nor are we left to answer this question by our own speculations. God has again and again declared, that He will punish the sinner: that there are special punishments prepared for all who live and die in sin: punishments to which all the consequences of the sin itself, bad as they are, are as nothing in proportion. Holy Scripture exhausts the most terrible images in language and thought to make this clear to us.

But first, before them all, the plain words of our text demand our consideration, as announcing a punishment for sin, which is to be coextensive with its guilt: viz. that of death. There can be no doubt that bodily death in its present form as existing in our race, is the punishment of our sin,—the consequence of our sinful state. Whether we have any right to carry this further, and to say that death would not have come into the world at all but for man’s sin, is very doubtful: Scripture gives no authority for such an idea, and the appearances presented by nature are against it. But as now inflicted on all mankind, we are expressly told that death is the punishment of sin. There can indeed be little doubt that man, as he came from the hands of his Creator, was liable to death. This the Apostle Paul clearly shews us, when he declares that the first man was "of the earth, earthy:" this argument, and the propriety of the words "Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return," apply just as much to man before his sin as after it. But from a hint given in the third chapter of Genesis, it would appear, that had man remained pure and upright in Eden, the mysterious use of the tree of life would have wrought in him immortality and raised his body out of the power of decay. From this use however he was specially excluded on account of his sin. "Lest he put forth his hand and take of the tree of life and eat, and live for ever," a guard was placed which barred his access to that tree. So that death in us, with all its preceding evils, disease, weakness, pain, terror, and all its succeeding miseries, mourning, lamentation and woe, is the special punishment, by God’s own declaration, of our sin. We are sinful: therefore we die. And from this portion of sin’s punishment, no son or daughter of Adam is exempt. So entirely and of course is the whole of our nature subjected to it, that He who took that nature on him free from sinfulness either transmitted or personal, yet took it with this penalty attached to it, and became subject to all the approaches of death, and finally to death itself. It will come before us further on in our course to shew, how He by His death took the curse out of bodily death, and made it to us as nothing to them that believe in Him: it may be enough now to mention the blessed fact, and that by way of contrast: that we may be better able to declare that on them who live and die in sin, on the unbelievers in Christ, and the unworthy members of Christ, Death still retains all his hold and inflicts all his terrors. To them, death is not only the dissolution of the body, but the eternal misery of the soul: the state of the abiding wrath of God, from which there is for them no escape.

Thus much, my brethren, are we bound to believe, thus much to impress upon you, as to the consequence and punishment of sin. And all this is the deserved lot of every one among us; though by God’s infinite mercy in Christ, which we have yet to unfold, it will be the actual lot only of those who refuse His offers of grace, and prefer the service of sin to His service. The progress of that wonderful Redemption which He has wrought out, will open before us in that which we have to say on the morning of the approaching great Christmas Festival.

Meantime let us earnestly lay to heart the deadly nature, and the grievous peril, of sin. Our Collect to-day teaches us to confess that "through our sins and wickedness we are sorely let and hindered in running the race that is set before us." May we not only say this to-day and during the week, but may we every one of us deeply feel it: by searching and knowing our own peculiar faults and infirmities, by watching and praying against them, by ever living closer to Him whose bountiful grace and mercy can alone help and deliver us.

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine. London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

Hebrews 3.13 The Decitfulness of Sin Alford.jpg

The Deceitfulness of Sin

The Deceitfulness of Sin

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13, ESV)

We are warned, in the passage in which these words occur, to beware lest any of us be hardened through the Deceitfulness of sin. It is to this last quality of sin, as connected with its manifold working, that I would to-day bespeak your attention.

I described it last Sunday as one of the worst symptoms of our spiritual disease, that the more a man is affected with it, the less, in many cases, does he know that he has it at all. And herein consists the deceitfulness of sin: not in making itself appear more important, but in making itself appear less important, than it really is. It is, as we saw, a deadly taint in our nature, ever stealing onward, requiring ever the most active check to be put upon it; never shrinking back, or declining, as a matter of course, but, on the contrary, as a matter of course always waxing, always flourishing: creeping about our pure thoughts, entangling our good resolves, binding down our holy aspirations; even until all becomes overborne by it, and confusion and helplessness and hopelessness set in, and self is exalted as supreme, and God is forgotten in the chambers of the heart, and the voice of the good Spirit becomes silent, and the darkness of the night gathers round, and the spoiler only waits without, certain of his prey. And mind I am not speaking now, I do not mean to speak to-day, of what men call great sinners, or of what are known as deadly and shameful sins: I speak of us all, I want to benefit all: I speak of the course of sin, its manifoldness, its deceitfulness, in us who, I will suppose, abstain at least from its outward and grosser manifestations: us, who are not murderers, not adulterers, not defrauders, not false swearers, but who are lovers of self, vain, envious, seekers of applause from men, careless, indolent, unwatchful, unfaithful to Christ. It is of the ordinary character of the average Christian man that I speak; in its infirmity, in its capriciousness, in its unwariness. May I be guided to speak aright, and you to judge what I say.

It will be plain to you that, in order to deal with such a subject profitably, I must not linger amidst mere general matters, but must enter into particulars, and exhibit sin in some of its various modes of attack and access to us. I must divide our life and its energies into its several departments, and shew how the manifoldness and deceitfulness of sin beset us in each one of them.

And for this purpose the most convenient division will be the most ordinary one. Our vital energy finds issue in three great ranges and regions: those of thought, of word, of deed. In each one of these there is duty, and there is fault. In each of them there is the voice of God speaking in our consciences, there is the written law of God guiding, confirming, furthering, that inward voice: in each of them there is in us the constant disposition to set conscience and to set God aside, and to become our own guides, our own masters. Let us then take each one of these in turn, and shew in each, how manifold sin is, how deceitful.

Sins of thought. How best may we place ourselves aright to consider these? It is not easy to turn inward, and be faithful witnesses to what passes within us. Nothing is so deceitful, nothing so apt to become a delusion, as the taking account of our own thoughts and feelings. Memory cannot copy faithfully the picture which has faded away, but overlays and tricks it out with fresh and unreal colors. What, for example, so utterly empty and unprofitable as religious diaries, experience-records, chronicles of past states of mind, unless indeed traced by a master-hand, and laid down with rare and self-denying faithfulness? This very fact shews, how busy sin is in our thoughts: how it is ever waking and watching, and turning even the infirmities of our memory into occasions for itself. In this very matter, how deep is its deceit—how subtle its craft! Take a more special example. Often we find in such records, often we find in ourselves, a disposition to exaggerate our own sinfulness. All is put down as bad: nothing could be worse. Slight errors are magnified into great sins: real sins blackened into unpardonable enormities. O meekness, we may be disposed to say,—O humility! But pause a moment, and enquire, Is this really so? When self is both the accuser and the accused, both the prisoner and the prosecutor;—when again the crime charged is past, and the act of charging it is present;—when all the discredit is looked upon as belonging to a former and infirm self, and all the credit as accruing to a present better self,—O how strong is the temptation to get at the comfortable inference, I was worse then, but I am better now! How the treacherous self-gratulation mingles even with humility, even with thankfulness to God! How it lurks in and pervades all such recollections,—from the glorious confessions of the great African Augustine to the flattest memoirs of the most common-place religionist of our puny time!

But we must not stay talking about the difficulty of dealing fairly with our thoughts, though this very difficulty illustrates our subject: we must enter in, and grapple with the difficulty itself. There is no question that our real thoughts can be got at, and their liability to sin justly measured, if we will spend time and trouble over it. And it must be remembered, that here in public, and in dealing with the matter on a large scale, we are not beset by the difficulty in its full strength: we are not dealing with our individual selves, whom we love, alas, not wisely but too well; we are dealing with our public self, so to speak; with our whole species, of which we are at least somewhat fairer, though by no means infallible judges.

And, thus dealing, we may venture to say, that the great burden of our sins of thought will be found to consist in this, in a want of honest, conscientious adoption and following of what we know to be real and true;—in Scripture language, "an evil heart of unbelief." We are not unbelievers: the bare idea is dreadful to us: we hold and we cling to the glorious doctrines of our redemption: if an hour of trial came, I do not suppose we should desert them; there would be found, as there have ever been found in Christ’s Church, many ready to suffer, some even to die for them. But in spite of all this, it is too often certain that while the man, with his mind and his affections, thoroughly believes, the heart is, to a sad extent, an unbeliever. I mean that in the secret inmost chamber where ideas spring into life, where resolves are formed, and plans matured, the great truths which are believed are not given their due place, nor allotted their proper share. A man thoroughly believes that there will be a judgment of all things done in the flesh. But how often, in forming his plans and resolves, does he take this into serious account? How often, when called upon to decide on a course of conduct, does any one of us say within himself, How shall I give account of this to Him who is ready to judge the quick and the dead? Are not our determinations much more often principally brought about by considerations of a very different kind from this? Our own inclination, our worldly interest, the opinion of others, all these are first consulted, and first satisfied: if, when this is done, the path chosen happens to be that of duty and God’s will, we are ready enough to take credit for it, and to flatter ourselves upon it: if it turns out to be another path, we set to work, I am afraid, to invent some compromise wherewith conscience may be lulled into acquiescence. O for that clearness of inward vision, which shall ever see the great noonday sun of God’s presence shining upon every thought, detecting its errors and prejudices and self-leanings! O for that singleness of purpose which shall be able to labor by that light alone, disregardful of how the work will appear under the dim and artificial candle of human estimation! There is no prayer of which we have more constant and urgent need than this,—"Unite my heart to fear thy name:"—make it to be in its life-thinking and energizing, what it is in its reasoning, what it is in its praying, what it is in its confessing, what it is in its teaching of others.

Again: a man firmly and without hypocrisy believes in the great sacrifice of Christ for him. He knows he is bought with the price of the precious blood of the Son of God; that he is a baptized member of Christ, and bound to live for Him and to Him. And yet, when we come to motives, when we come to resolves within him, where does this belief appear? Are our thoughts governed, are they penetrated, are they constrained, by any such considerations? When selfish views spread before us in all their attractiveness, the fertile plains of Sodom tempting us to dwell in them, does the course of self-denial to which we are pledged instantly assert its claim—does our eye at once rise to the thorny upward path, and to Him who bore his Cross, and dropped his Blood along it? When the temper is roused by insult, when the pride is stung by contumely, when the self-opinion is buffeted by designed slight, and the tyrant fiend of revenge springs to his feet in a moment,—do our eyes see, or do they refuse to see, the Spirit of the Lord lifting His standard against him? Do we hear, or do we refuse to hear, amidst the rising gusts of passion, the still small voice "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart?"

I have purposely dwelt on this particular class of sins of thought, because they are the most subtle, the least guarded against, the most seldom held up for warning: because they poison the very springs of life itself: because they are manifold and deceitful in every one of us: because they are ever undermining the building which we are raising on the one Foundation, robbing us of our full reward, tarnishing the brightness of our future spiritual crown. O that we might each of us have grace to wake and watch against them, and apply ourselves in earnest to their removal and cure!

I now come to sins of word. And here I shall not speak of bad and unholy and impure words,—not of evil speaking, lying, and slandering: these are open and manifest: if we fall into these, we know it, we repent of it; but I shall speak of sins of word more beneath the surface, into which when we fall, we do not know it, of which, when we have fallen into them, we are little accustomed to repent.

And I believe such sins will mainly be found, as regards our dealings with men, in stating or not stating the very truth of our sentiments and feelings and beliefs. I am not now speaking of hypocrisy, nor of any willful and conscious disingenuousness, but of a general want of clear and fearless truthfulness, which pervades, it seems to me, the conversation of so many even good and religious persons. The motive for this frequently is, an over-cautious fear of the consequences of what may be said, or its effect upon those to whom it is said; a sense of the duty of taking a side, and fancying that this cannot be done without acting the partisan, and supporting that side at all hazards, even to the peril of truth and fairness itself. And thus in religious matters difficulties are glossed over, great questions which really agitate men’s minds are kept out of sight, institutions merely human are held up as perfect, or their imperfections acknowledged indeed in the general, where no harm can be done, but denied in every particular when the pinch really comes. And so our holy Religion becomes a thing upheld merely because it is right and expedient that it should be, not because of its own claims to our allegiance: and the Bible is upheld, not with an humble and intelligent examination of its real meaning and undoubted difficulties, but with a blind dogmatic spirit, finding fault with honest investigation, breaking the bruised reed of incipient doubt, quenching the smoking flax of awakened enquiry. Now human nature cannot stand this, either in a man’s self, or in others to or of whom he thus speaks. In himself, the consequences are deplorable. How many men uphold a rigid formal set of sentiments which in their hearts they do not believe! How many men are thus living at variance with their own reason and conscience, divided against themselves, and therefore, whatever may seem, of necessity falling into ruin and spiritual decay! How grievous it is, how sad it has been often in our own times, to see men from whose mouths has gone forth for years the pure language of religious truth, at last making wreck of faith and practice—proved to have been but counterfeits! And this, not in all cases, but I am persuaded in very many cases, because they never dealt ingenuously and fearlessly with their own hearts and with mankind about them: they professed to be fighting in armour which they had never proved, and so the enemy was too strong for them.

"What then?" I hear some one say: "are we never to take the side of God till we can understand Him? till we can penetrate the darkness in which He shrouds himself? Are we never to confess or to strive for a doctrine of religion, till we thoroughly and clearly see our way into it and round it?" Nay, my brethren, I said not any such thing. We never can by searching find out God: we must acknowledge many doctrines, which we do not understand. All I demand is that we freely and fearlessly confess these to be weaknesses. By all means let us stand on the side of God, on the side of the Bible, on the side of the Church, which we believe to be the best exponent of God as revealed in the Bible: but let this be done humbly, ingenuously, truthfully: not fearing to confess that there are matters regarding God which are as yet dark to us, that there are things in the Bible of which we cannot give an account, that there are infirmities and imperfections even in the best human setting forth of the Church on earth. When will we learn, that the consideration of the consequences of what we say is not to be entertained, when justice and right require of us to speak and fear not? When will men come to feel, that the blessed Gospel of Christ never was and never can be the gainer by any false statement, any equivocation, any shrinking from dangerous truth or unwelcome fact? Doubtless it is misery enough to be an unbeliever, even though honest in unbelief; but a dishonest believer is worse and more miserable than an honest unbeliever. And yet how many of the former, it is to be feared, have, in the history of God’s Church, stood in high and holy places, and dictated, and persecuted: and how many of the latter might have been reclaimed and persuaded, had they been dealt with more in the spirit of Christ!

If again the effect of this timid untruthful religion be bad on a man’s self, much more is it hurtful and fatal on others. The world outside, seeing the questions which it is ever too ready to press on Christians evaded, or insufficiently met, forms its own conclusion, unjust indeed, but hardly to be wondered at, as to the reasons why the Gospel of Christ is upheld by us; attributes it to the love of our position, care for our emoluments, or mere habit and use, and not liking to see the old faith decay: instead of that which is the real motive even in those who thus feebly advocate it, love to God and to man, and thorough persuasion of its truth.

And now let us advance to sins of act and deed: doing what we ought not to do, leaving undone what we ought to do. And here again, being anxious to speak of the manifoldness and deceitfulness of sin, I will not deal Math known sins,—plain omissions or flagrant commissions,—but with those which we seldom think of or charge ourselves with. And this being so, it is plain that our attention will be almost entirely confined to sins of omission: as it is in course of these mainly that the attention is set to sleep, and the watchful guard is relaxed, and the standard of positive duty is lowered. One of the commonest omissions in the ordinary lives of Christian men is, the neglect of the words of the Master of all Christian men: the disuse of taking into account, as rules of conduct, the injunctions and precepts of Christ. Our lives are mainly spent in obedience to the common conventional rules set by the opinions and practices of those about us. Thanks to God, those about us form a community regulated in outward and plain matters by Christian rules: so that men’s lives have become, by the leavening influence of Christianity, a decent approximation to the tenor of the precepts of Christ. Still there are many things yet left, in which public usage or opinion says one thing, and the Lord Christ says plainly another: many as to which the world’s rule lays down nothing, but our divine Master lays down very much. It is in such matters, I believe, that we Christians are continually falling into sin. We think our actions good enough, if they will bear comparison with those of the society in which we move, and of the time in which we live: forgetful that our rule has been prescribed by One who speaks not on earth but from heaven: that our standard has been set for us in words which shall not have passed away when heaven and earth are no more.

O that there were in any of us the habit of referring our questioning thoughts at once to His verdict whom we profess to serve; of guiding our actions simply, humbly, fearlessly, by His precept and His example! And in order for this, there would be no occasion to run counter in ordinary things to the habits and feelings of those about us: if we were earnest like Him, humble like Him, wise like Him, at whatever distance from His perfect example, we should recommend and adorn our unflinching course of Christian duty by quietness, by unobtrusiveness, by consideration for others, by knowledge what to say, and when, and to whom. It is not the busy protester against what other men do, it is not the man who is ever found up in arms against the usages of society, who does the good; but he who is gifted with sound judgment enough to overlook things indifferent, to join in practices which he himself would perchance not have chosen, if by so doing he may cheer, and bless, and hallow, and leaven, the society in which God has cast his lot. Here again I conceive good Christian men are often led, in our time, into sin. For O it is sin, to misrepresent the profession of a disciple of Christ by a morose and unsocial and forbidding aspect; it is sin, always to be found in opposition, and never in hearty concurrence, when schemes are proposed which interest and please others. If a man’s religion be so completely a matter of his own, of keeping himself so usually aloof from his brethren, all we can say is that it is not Christ’s religion, who pleased not himself: it is not St. Paul’s religion, who became all things to all men. An unsocial, uncomplying, individualizing life may be very flattering to pride: may serve as a salve to the conscience, and make a man fancy himself very good and pure; but there can be no doubt that such a course is a life-long sin, bringing dishonor on the blessed Gospel of Christ, and hardening men’s hearts against its influence.

It is time to draw to a close; and the special object which I would recommend to you1 to-day furnishes me with an eminent example of another branch of sins of omission on the part of Christian men. There are many things which Christ has expressly charged on His Church as positive and perpetual duties. The care of His poor, the instruction of His little ones, these are of this kind; and, not least among such, the evangelization of the whole world. Words cannot be more explicit than His parting command,—"Go ye into all the world: preach the Gospel to every creature." Whatever the time, whatever the appearance of things, whatever the state of the Church or the nations, whether hope or fear, exultation or dejection be our present attitude, these words change not: this holy command binds every Christian at every time. And remember the solemn words of Holy Writ—"To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." You know, every one of you well knows, that each of us is bound to-day to bring to God his contribution,—great or small matters not half so much,—to this His Society, by which this Church of England is fulfilling our Lord’s behest. You know this. Are you going to do it? Because if, having this knowledge, you pass by and refuse to contribute, it is sin—a new stain on your own souls—a new mark against you in that book which shall be opened the next time we all stand together in God’s presence.

Think of this: and God give you grace to act accordingly.

But, though my time has run out, and I have said what I had to say on my subject, none of you I am sure will to-day grudge me a few words more. I little knew, when I wrote of times of national dejection, what deep occasion we should have for it before that sentence was uttered here. A prince and a great man has this day fallen in Israel. At the very time when the vessel of the state requires most careful guidance, and none can tell what dangers are before her, one of those nearest the helm has been mysteriously snatched away. When none thought it—when it seemed as if unbroken prosperity were almost the heritage of our royal family,—in one night our princely house is fatherless, our Queen a widow. I pause not to-day to draw out the solemn lessons which such an event suggests. The blow is too fresh—the effect too numbing just now. All I say is this: First, pray, loyally, fervently, constantly, for her whose great grief is now uppermost in all our thoughts: and secondly, waken more than ever at this solemn moment to the claim of our national Christian duties. Let not the astonishment of your present grief supersede your zeal for God’s work to which, you are called; rather let the softened heart, the stricken spirit, acknowledge God as nearer, His voice as more plainly heard: and in this and all duties to which He summons you, make you more ready to say, Lord, what wouldst thou have us to do?

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine. London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

Romans 3.23 Sin as a Fact Alford.jpg

Sin as a Fact

Sin as a Fact

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, ESV)

The Gospel of Christ may be described as a glorious remedy for a disease fatal and otherwise incurable, with which our whole race is tainted. And the first step in treating of the Gospel must ever be to lay open, and make us sensible of, that disease. For one of its most dangerous symptoms is, that it makes men insensible to its own presence: so that the worse a man is afflicted with it, the less he knows that he has it at all. And, seeing that the remedy is not one which can be simply taken once and then all will be well, but one which requires long and painful and self-denying application, a man must be very thoroughly persuaded that he has the disease, and that he is likely to perish from it, before he will take the necessary trouble to be cured of it. Now this disease we call sin. And in consequence of what has been said you will see, that in beginning a course of sermons on Christian doctrine, I must deal first with this fact which lies at the bottom of all Christian doctrine, that all men are sinners. I may be at once met with the question, Who does not know that? Who does not confess himself to be a sinner? Doubtless, all do this by profession and with the lips. But, my brethren, there is as much difference between confessing with the lips and feeling intensely in the depth of the heart, as there is between confessing and not confessing at all. "Miserable sinners:" "Have mercy upon us miserable sinners." But what do we mean by sinners?

Let us try and lay hold of this—let us try to-day and see what sin means—what "all having sinned" means.

When any of us looks out upon mankind, or looks within himself, with ever so little attention, one thing can hardly fail to strike him. It is, the presence of Evil. We at once see that there is a something in the world, and within us, rebellious, destructive, altogether unwelcome, and which we would gladly be rid of. We want harmony among men, harmony in ourselves, for all purposes of human improvement, for all purposes of our own progress and enlightening. But instead of harmony, we find discord every where. From the first, man’s history has been a history of going wrong and doing wrong: from the first, our own personal history has been a history of interrupted good and interfering bad. Now observe, I am not at this moment speaking as a minister of the Gospel: I am speaking merely as man,—as a citizen of the world, as one of you, or one of any band of men gathered out of any age and any place upon earth. I am dwelling upon what is matter of universal observation. Who can deny this presence and this working of an unwelcome and a hostile element in all human matters? What deceit will ever enable a man to hide from himself this dark shadow which falls upon the fairest prospects and purest courses in life? What mind looking into itself is not found to confess that there is this night side of its thoughts and ways?

Now it is not my purpose, at all events not at present, to say a word about the reason why this evil ever came into God’s universe. I am concerned to-day with the fact, and the importance of knowing and acknowledging the fact, that it has come into it and is every where present. Some may say—some have said, conceal the fact, and you will get rid of it. Don’t tell people that there is evil in the world; forget that there is evil about and in yourself; and you and they will become good. It may be true, they continue, that there is such a dark spot in nature; that there are these black shadows amidst the shining of the Face of the universal Father: but gazing upon them is painful and useless: look at the bright side of every thing: believe things to be innocent and right, and infinitely more good will be done than by dwelling on the gloom and so increasing it. This, my brethren, not only has been the published advice of a whole school of writers,—it is also the view taken by many loose and shallow thinkers in every place at our own time. But let me ask you, do you suppose that the unquestioned evil in universal nature, and in our nature, can be thus got rid of? "Believe the world to be good, and it will become good," says one of these writers: "Believe yourself to be good, and you will become good." I answer, Try it. Try it for a day, for an hour. Then go into your chamber, and take strict unsparing account. And if it is urged that more time is wanted, try it for a year: shut your eyes to all that is bad in the world—to all that is bad in you: refuse to believe, refuse to entertain any suspicion of evil in yourself, or in others, for that time: then retire and trace your path during the time. Does not every man see what would be the result? Do not we all know, that it would be simply the tale of the silly ostrich over again, which imagines itself safe from the hunter by shutting its eyes, and by hiding him from its own sight? Do we not see, that such a person would only be delivered up far more and far more helplessly into the power of evil?

No, my brethren: a man who wants to get rid of evil in himself must open his eyes to the evil, not hide it: must not shrink from any pain which the sight may give him, if it also gives him the knowledge, what the danger is, and how to meet it. And he who wants to overcome evil in others, must not shrink from the gloomy and unwelcome task of speaking of it, exposing it, probing its extent and measuring its strength, that so they may be the more deeply and earnestly convinced of its existence, and the more active in combating it.

There is then this evil all about us and in us: and we must make up our minds to see it, to recognize it, to stand face to face with it, and conquer it. Now here come in two most important remarks. This evil is not the only disagreeable thing in life. There are bodily pain, discomfort, misery, common to us and all mankind—nay, common to us and the lower animals. And there is this circumstance about all these, worthy of our present notice. If we can manage to forget them, to flee away from them, to hide them from us, we thereby get rid of them. We need not look at them, nor study their nature. A man who wants to avoid breaking a limb, need not be always gazing on or describing broken limbs: he has but to avoid those risks which might occasion the mischief. A man who would avoid death will follow the ordinary instinct of self-preservation: he would not be for ever studying all the possible ways of dying. Such knowledge is not necessary; nay, it would be an incumbrance and a nuisance. But the man who wishes to avoid evil in this world, must be awake and alive to the forms and accesses of evil. He cannot do without such knowledge: his very safety consists in it. Therefore—and mark the inference as an important one in our progress to-day—evil is a matter of a totally different kind from bodily pain, misery, or death.

Again: evil is not by any means our only inward source of annoyance and hindrance. You have—I have—every one has—defects, infirmities, in his or her mind and disposition: things of which we would willingly be rid if we could: bars to our progress and hindrances to our perfection. But none of these do we look upon as we look upon evil. Let it be shewn that we are dull, or feeble, or inferior to some others, we put up with it, we excuse it, we make ourselves as comfortable as we may under the knowledge of it: but let it be once shewn, by others or by our own conscience that we have wished, said, done, that which is evil, and we know at once that there is no excuse for it. We may try to shew that we did it inadvertently, or by force of circumstances; or in some way to lessen our own share in it: but the very labor to construct an excuse shews that we hold the evil itself, as evil, to be inexcusable. Evil itself no one attempts to excuse: all take for granted that it is a loathsome thing, all desire that their character and their conscience should stand free from it.

So far then this evil is something which our nature itself teaches us to revolt from and abhor. We do not, we cannot excuse it; we cannot contentedly put up with it, we cannot be happy under its influence. Now do not mistake me. Many a man, as we have seen, excuses his share in evil, excuses his evil deed as not being evil, plays the self-deceiver and hides the evil of his ways from himself, abandons his helm and lets himself drift into evil, and so is contented, and fancies himself happy, under evil. But again, and for all this, the thing itself is simply a deadly enemy to us, whenever and wherever detected, and exposed as being what it is. No son of man ever said or could say, from his inmost heart, what the great poet sublimely represents Satan as saying, "Evil, be thou my good." It requires more than man ever to say this.

Well now, my brethren, what does all this shew? Does it not testify to there being a law within us, implanted in our nature, by which evil is avoided, and by consequence good sought and desired? And observe that this is true, quite independently of and previous to all circumstances in which a man is placed, all interests in which he is involved. Our abhorrence of evil as evil does not spring from our finding it to be hurtful to us: we know that it is hurtful to us, the moment we know any thing. The little child for the first time detected in evil, is as much ashamed of it as the experienced and mature man. Now this is exceedingly important: all-important, in our present enquiry. A law within us tells us what is good, tells us that we ought to be good, to say good, to do good. Mind I only assert this fact. That this law is broken in upon, that it is not always distinctly or properly or effectively asserted, is nothing to my present purpose. I know all this, and shall have to use it by and by. But I only care now for this great fact, that there is this law: that we all know it, all judge by it, all act upon it as a familiar and confessed thing. All our enacted laws, all our public opinion, even all our ways of thinking and speaking in words, are founded on there being such a law within man, sanctioning good, prohibiting evil.

Now then it is time for us to ask, when man becomes, says, acts evil, what sort of a thing does he do? For that such is the case, is but too plain. Evil thoughts, evil words, evil acts, are but too often to be found in the course of all of us; evil men unhappily abound in every place and society. How are we to look upon such evil thoughts, words, acts, and men? Are they necessary? In plain words, is it a condition of our lives that we must enter into compact with evil, as it is that we must eat and sleep? Certainly not. This is clear from what has already been said. Every protest against evil, every resistance to evil, every victory over evil, proves that evil is not necessary to our being; that He who made us has made us capable of existing without evil, and all the better for existing without evil. But now let us listen to what follows. True as this is, we must always remember, that this great and blessed state of our being, the freedom from and victory over evil, is not that after which all men are striving. There are all kinds of lower forms of our being, which satisfy men, and in some cases constitute their chief good. One man seeks the gratification of his bodily appetites and lusts: another, the heaping up of wealth: a third, the gaining of power: a fourth, the rising in the esteem of those about him: another again, several, or all of these together: and so, not man’s brightest aim, to be good and pure and calm and wise, but an aim very far below this, is followed by the worse part of mankind always,—by even the best of mankind sometimes.

Now, my brethren, every one of these lower and unworthy objects, if followed as an object, does necessarily bring a man into contact and compromise with evil. To be bent on gratifying lust, is of itself evil: to amass selfishly, is evil: to promote our own influence and push for precedence, is evil. Greed, intemperance, injustice to others, unkindness, overweening opinion of self, and a hundred other evil things beset every one of such courses of life; every one of such thoughts, words, actions.

Now we have advanced, I think, close to our point. When a man lives such a course, when any one of us gives way to such thoughts or words, or commits such deeds, he is disobeying that great first law of our being by which, as I shewed you, we choose the good and abhor the evil. How it is that men got the wish so to go wrong and so to disobey the law of their being, it is not my present object to enquire. But though it is not, I must simply remind you that we Christian believers know how this was; and more than this,—that our Bibles give us the only satisfactory account that ever was given of it. We know that it was by a taint at the root and spring of our race; by our first parents using that freedom in which their Creator made them, not to please Him by remaining in good, but to please themselves by entering into a compromise with evil. But I say no more, as to enlarge on this is beyond our subject to-day. Men are (there is no doubt of this) liable, every man is liable, thus to enter into compact with his worst enemy, evil, in order to serve his present lower purposes. We all do this continually.

Now whenever we do this, we sin. "All sin," says St. John, "is transgression of law." Where there is no law, there is no sin; wherever there is a law, there he who disobeys that law commits sin. And we have seen that this inward law which teaches us to abhor evil and choose good is broken and set at nought by us all. We do not choose the good which we know we ought to choose: we do choose the evil which we very well know we ought not to choose. The propensity to do this, the entertaining the temptation to do it, the doing it, all these are sin. Now sin is not, like evil, a mere general quality: it is committed against a person. And there is, properly speaking, but one Person, against whom sin is, or can be committed. There is One who is the source and fountain of all law, all right, all purity, all goodness. And this law of good and evil of which we have been speaking, this above and before all others, springs from that Holy and Just one who hath made us and to whom we are accountable. All sin is against Him: is a violation of His law, is a thwarting, by His mysterious permission, of His holy and blessed purposes with regard to man.

All have sinned. And in dwelling on this, the fact, that all men have inherited the disposition to sin, necessarily comes first. And this is no fiction: this is not, as the unbeliever of our day would try to persuade you, an exploded fallacy of a gone-by system; but it is sober and fearful truth. It is moreover agreeable to the analogy of all God’s works in nature and in spirit: a truth, as matter of experience, undeniable by any who is aware of even the most common phænomena of our nature. And, inheriting this disposition, but with it inheriting also the great inward law of conscience warning us against evil, we have again and again followed, not the good law, but the evil propensity: in wayward childhood this has been so: in passionate youth: in calm deliberate manhood. We have not chosen evil; we have hated evil by our very nature; but we have followed evil, fallen into sin, by reason of our lusts and our passions blinding us, dragging us onward and downward, and delivering us tied and bound into the power of the enemy whom we naturally shun and detest. We have done this,—we are doing it, continually: we shall ever be doing it more or less, in our manifold weaknesses, our besetting dangers, our abounding temptations.

Now then, this being so, what follows? Can sin be safe? Can a sinner be happy? Can a sinful man be gaining the ends of his being? The full answer to this question does not belong to our subject to-day; but I cannot and ought not to conclude without slightly anticipating it.

Sin is and must be the ruin of man, body and soul, here and hereafter. The born sinner—the tainted child of a tainted stock, living under that taint, with it working and spreading in him and through him,—how shall he be safe? how shall he be happy? how shall he ever grow on to good and to a blessed eternity? Without going any further into the matter to-day, do you not see that this cannot be so? Whoever sins, goes wrong: lays up grief, shame, all that is dreadful, for himself, by thwarting the gracious ends for which God created him, viz. to love, obey, and imitate Himself, that he may become like Him, and one day see Him as He is.

No more then at present but this. Every man’s work in life, sinners as we all are, is this: to find out his sins, to confess his sins to God, to struggle with God’s help against his sins, year by year and day by day to gain victories over his sins through Him who overcame sin for us; to believe in, and live in the reality of, the Atonement which His Blood has made for all and every sin. All the glorious process of that which He hath accomplished for us, will come before us as we proceed.

But now in this season of Advent, when we are to cast away the works of darkness, I must detain you some Sundays longer on our own need of Him for whose coming we are to prepare; and shall therefore, by God’s help, speak to you on the next two Sundays on the manifold nature of sin, and on its guilt and consequences.

Now to Him who hath loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to the Son of God, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be honor and glory for ever. Amen.

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine. London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

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Bought With a Price

Bought With A Price

Ye are bought with a price.  1 Corinthians 6:20.

Dr. Joseph Barber Lightfoot, Lord Bishop of Durham
Great S. Mary’s Church, 1st Sunday in Lent, 1879.

The words which I desire to consider with you this evening occur twice in the same Epistle. The connexion in the two passages is somewhat different; but the leading idea is the same in both. We have a Master, an Owner, Who has a paramount, absolute, inalienable property in us. We are His slaves, His chattels, His implements. All other rights over us are renounced, are absorbed, are annulled in His rights. He has acquired us by virtue of purchase.

In the first passage S. Paul is denouncing sins of the flesh. In his eyes these sins are something more than sins. They are flagrant anomalies; they are monstrous wrongs. There is a direct contradiction in terms, a flat denial of the first principles of justice, in the commission of them. God has set His stamp upon us. He impressed us with His image in our first creation. He re-stamped the same image upon us when He formed us anew in Christ. Thus we are doubly His. ‘Here is God enthroned in the sanctuary of your bodies. But you—you ignore the august Presence, you profane the Eternal Majesty; you pollute, you dishonour, you defy, with shameless sacrilege, the ineffable glory, the Lord seated on His throne, high and lifted up, His train filling the whole temple of your being, as if He were some vile and worthless thing.’ And then the Apostle suddenly changes his image: ‘You are slaves—you are live chattels—nothing more. You have renounced all rights over yourselves. You are not your own; you were bought with a price. God in Christ is your Master. He demands your life, your soul, your all.’

In the second passage the Apostle is discussing a wholly different subject. He desires to set the existing arrangements of society in their proper relation to the Gospel. From this point of view the most perplexing problems were suggested by the deeply-rooted institution of slavery. What would come of this institution, when transplanted into the Church of Christ? How would the relations of master and slave be modified by this transference? The Apostle declines to discuss the matter in detail. Before the eternal verities of the Gospel, the conventional arrangements of society pale into insignificance. Freedom and slavery are endowed with a higher meaning. The slave is no more a slave, for he is set free in Christ. The free man is no more free, for he is enslaved to Christ. Yes, enslaved to Christ, because purchased by Christ. In outward matters the old forms of bondage to man may remain for a time, till they melt away before the broadening dawn of a higher principle. But the allegiance of the heart, of the soul, of the life, henceforth is due to no man, but to Christ alone. ‘Ye were bought with a price; be not ye slaves to men.’

Not slaves to self, not slaves to men—this is the twofold lesson which we gather from the passages considered side by side. The ownership of self is done away. The lordship of our fellow-men is no more. One slavery alone remains, the most abject, most absolute, of all slaveries. We are the slaves of Christ.

The most abject slavery, and yet the most perfect freedom. This is the glorious paradox of the Gospel. We are free, because we are slaves. We are most free then, when our slavery is most complete. Our servitude is itself our franchise. Our purchase-money is our ransom also.

I ask you all—I ask you young men especially—to lay this truth to heart to-night. Of all pitiable sights in this wide world I know none sadder than the spectacle of a young man drifting into an aimless, purposeless, soulless existence—soulless and purposeless, I mean, as regards any higher consideration than the mere wants and associations and interests of the moment, the mean routine of this mundane life. He does not stop to ask himself, Whence came I? Whither go I? Whose am I? Or, if he asks the question, he lacks the patience or the firmness to wait for an answer. And so he drifts—drifts into worldliness, drifts into unbelief, drifts into positive sin. Without a helm, without a compass, without sun or star in the heavens to guide him, he is swept onward whithersoever the tide of opinion, or the current of temptation, or the wind of circumstance may carry him, till at length he finds himself far away from the haven of God, and return is well-nigh hopeless. So he tosses about on the barren ocean for a while, and then he sinks into the abyss of darkness and despair. He has had no ideal in life.

Believe it, if you would rescue your lives—you and you—from this cruel shipwreck before it is too late, you must put the question definitely to yourselves, and you must be prepared to abide by the answer: ‘What shall be the principle of my conduct? What shall be the goal of my life? What in short is my ideal, which shall animate, shall inspire, shall guide, my every act and my every word?’

Such an ideal is supplied you by the language of the text. It speaks of an absolute allegiance, a self-abandoning submission, an unswerving loyalty to One Who by an unquestioned title is your Lord and Master. It bids you find your truest freedom in your strictest servitude. It supplies you with a reason which is at once the seal of duty and the spring of affection. You were bought—bought at the heaviest price which God Himself might pay. You were purchased into servitude, but you were ransomed into liberty. You are no longer the slaves of self, because you are no longer the masters of self.

There is much foolish talk in these days about the relations of opinion to practice. It is not uncommonly assumed, even when it is not directly stated, that a man’s beliefs are not of any particular moment, provided that his conduct is right. The underlying assumption is that beliefs exercise little or no influence on conduct. But does not all history, does not all human experience, give the lie to this assumption? Ideas have ever been the most potent engines in social and moral change. They have upset the thrones of kings, and they have reversed the destinies of nations. See what miracles have been wrought in our own time by the idea of national unity. Remember again what convulsions and upheavals of society were caused in the age of our fathers, and threaten again to be brought about in the age of our sons, by the idea of the equality and brotherhood of mankind. And as with nations and peoples, so also with the individual man. An ideal of life, firmly grasped, is an untold power for good or for evil. An ideal is a sort of prophecy, which works its own fulfilment; it haunts the dreams, and it inspires the waking hours. To keep a definite goal in view and to press ever forward towards it—to know what you desire to attain, and to strain every nerve for its attainment—this it is which will give a distinctness, a force, a savour to your conduct—a savour of life unto life, if the ideal be well chosen, but a savour of death unto death, if it be some unworthy aim, such as riches or ambition or pleasure or worldly success in any of its manifold forms.

The ideal, which the text presents to you, is the most potent of all ideals. Its potency consists in this, that it appeals, not only to our truest moral instincts, our aspirations after righteousness and holiness, but also to our deepest affections, our gratitude, our devotion, our filial love; and thus it grasps the whole man. The centre of this appeal is the Cross of Christ.

The Cross of Christ. To S. Paul Christ crucified was the lesson of all lessons; it gathered and absorbed into itself all other truths; it was the power and it was the wisdom of God. But we—we have stultified its wisdom, and we have enfeebled its power, by our too officious comments. Theologians and preachers have darkened, where they desired to make light. The simplicity of the Scriptures has been overlaid by technical terms; the metaphors of the Scriptures have been overstrained by subtle definitions. Redemption, atonement, imputation, satisfaction, vicarious punishment—what storms have not raged, and what clouds have not gathered, over these terms; till the very heavens have been shrouded in gloom, and where men looked for illumination, they have found only darkness over head and only confusion under foot. But ever and again to simple faith and to loving hearts the Cross of Christ has spoken with an awe and a pathos, which has taken them captive wholly. They were bought with a price. They cannot resist the appeal. They cannot deny the inference. They are no more their own.

‘Bought with a price.’ In these few words the lesson of the Cross is summed up. Whatever else it may be, it is the supreme manifestation of God’s love. The greatness of the love is measured by the greatness of the price paid; and the greatness of the price paid defies all words and transcends all thought. When we try to realise it we are overwhelmed with the mystery, and we veil our faces in awe. We summon to our aid such human analogies as experience suggests or as history and fable record. The devotion of the friend risking his life to save another life as dear to him as his own—the bravery of the captain and the crew sinking calmly and resolutely into their watery grave, without a shudder, without a regret, disdaining to survive while one weak woman or one feeble child is left in peril—the heroism of the patriot hostage condemning himself to a certain and cruel death, rather than forfeit his honour on the one hand or consent to terms disastrous to his country’s welfare on the other—all these have the highest value as examples of human courage and self-devotion. But how little after all does any such sacrifice help us to realise the magnitude of the Great Sacrifice. The analogy fails just there, where we look for its aid. It is the infinity of the price paid for our redemption, which is its essential characteristic. It is the fact that God gave not a life like our lives, not a weak, erring, sin-stricken, sorrow-laden victim like ourselves, but gave His only-begotten Son, gave His Eternal Word, to become flesh, to work and to suffer, to live and to die, for our sakes. It is the fact that the Glory of the Invisible God condescended to visit this earth; to hunger and thirst, to be despised, to be buffeted, to be racked and mangled on the Cross. The sacrifice is unique, because the Person is unique. Herein was love—not that we loved Him—did we not spurn Him, did we not hate Him, did we not defy Him?—but that He loved us. While we were yet sinners, while we were yet rebels and blasphemers, Christ died for us; and by that death God commends His love towards us—commends it, so that henceforth no shadow of doubt or misgiving can rest upon it.

Do we marvel any longer that S. Paul determined to know nothing among his converts but Christ crucified; that to him it embodied all the lessons, and concentrated all the sanctions, of the moral and spiritual life; that this weak and foolish thing stood out before his eyes as the very power and the very wisdom of God? In this one transcendent manifestation of God’s purpose righteousness was vindicated, and love was assured, and ownership was sealed, and obedience was made absolute.

In the Cross of Christ righteousness was vindicated. At length sin appeared in all its heinousness. The greatness of the sacrifice was a mirror of the greatness of the sin. We are so constituted that we do not easily realise the magnitude of our wrongdoings, except by their consequences. I find that by my carelessness I have imperilled the life of another; and then my carelessness ceases to be a trivial fault. I am made conscious that by my selfishness I have deeply wounded the affections of another, and then my selfishness becomes hideous in my eyes. So it is here on a grander scale. Try to realise the significance of this death—its magnitude, its condescension, its goodness. And when you have realised it, go and sin, if you dare.

In the Cross of Christ love—God’s love—was assured. When we look out into the world, we see not a little which perplexes and distresses. Sorrow and suffering, error, ignorance, anarchy, decay, death; these are the characters written across the face of nature. Men will not suffer us to slur over the legend of this handwriting, if we would. They point to the profusion of waste in nature, the many thousands of seeds that decay and perish for the one that germinates and blossoms and bears fruit. They bid us look at the pitiless cruelty of nature, creature preying upon creature, life sustained by the destruction of life, the whole face of the universe crimson with carnage. They bid us reflect on the many myriads of human beings who are born into this world and live and toil and die, without a joy, without a hope, without one ray of light from a higher world. And, having paraded before our eyes these trophies of imperfection, and worse than imperfection, they ask with a scornful triumph where is the providence of God, where is the Fatherly goodness on which we rely? Nay, we cannot deny the filial instincts which He has implanted in us, if we would. This is our answer to our gainsayers. But we—we have a further assurance in ourselves which silences all misgivings. The Cross of Christ rises as a glory before us, carrying the eye upward from earth to heaven, stretching right and left across the field of view, and embracing the universe in its arms. It tells of a love transcending all love. What room is there for doubt now? God is with us, and who then can be against us? ‘He that spared not His own Son … shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?’

In the Cross of Christ ownership was confirmed. By all the ties of duty and of love we are henceforth His. No one else has a right to command us. Least of all have we a right to command ourselves. The purchase-money has been paid; and we are delivered over, bound hand and foot to do His pleasure. To hear some men talk, one would suppose that the Cross was a clever expedient for securing the favour of God without requiring the obedience of man. They lay much stress on the one statement, ‘Ye were bought with a price;’ they altogether overlook the other, which is its practical corollary, ‘Ye are not your own.’ They forget that, if we were purchased into freedom, we were purchased into slavery also. And so by the violence of a spurious theology, faith and conduct, religion and morality, have been divorced; that which God joined together man has dared to put asunder; the moral sense has been outraged by the severance; and the Cross of Christ needlessly made a scandal to many. What, think you, would S. Paul have said to this interpretation of his doctrine—S. Paul, to whom faith in the Cross of Christ meant the recognition of His sole ownership, meant entire submission, obedience, slavery to Him, meant the subjection of every thought and word and deed to His will?

And so lastly; by the Cross of Christ obedience is made absolute. How can it be otherwise? Master this amazing lesson of Divine love, and you cannot resist the consequence. Your own love must be the response to His love; and with your love your unquestioning loyalty and submission. There is that in your very nature which obliges you to obey, if you will only listen. Once again, let us summon to our aid the poor and weak analogies of human love. Have you never felt, or (if you have not felt) can you not imagine, the keen pain, which the sense of past ingratitude—unconscious at the time—will inflict, when long after it is brought home to the heart? A mother, we will say, has lavished on you all the wealth of her deep affection; you have accepted her solicitude as a matter of course; you have not been a disobedient son, as the world reckons disobedience; but you were wayward and thoughtless; you requited her attention with indifference; you almost resented her care at times, as if it were an undue interference with your freedom. And then death came. And some chance letter perhaps, found among her papers, revealed to you for the first time the riches of her love which you had slighted or spurned; and you are crushed with shame. No condemnation is too strong for your meanness, and no contrition is too deep for your remorse. Your ingratitude haunts you as a spectre, which you cannot lay. Death has robbed you of the power of making amends; and you are left alone with your baseness. And yet what is there in the tenderest mother’s love comparable to the infinite love of Him Who became man for you, Who toiled and suffered and died for you?

This then is the ideal which the Gospel offers for acceptance to you young men to-day—this absolute subjection and loyalty to the Master Who bought you. Welcome it now, before the inevitable years have pressed down the yoke of habit upon your necks. Welcome it now, while you can offer to Him the enthusiasm and the glory of a fresh and lifelong service. Do not think to put Him off to a more convenient season, purposing some time or other—you know not when and you know not how—to satisfy Him with the dregs of a wasted life. Each year, each month, will add pain to the effort. Lose your souls forthwith, that you may win them. Be slaves this very day, that you may be free.

Be slaves, and accept frankly the consequences of your slavery. To you, as to the chief Apostle of old, the mandate has gone forth, ‘Follow thou Me.’ Whither He may lead you, you cannot tell, and you must not too curiously enquire. It may be that in the years to come He has in reserve for you also some signal destiny, some work of unwonted responsibility, or some career of exceptional toil and pain, some cross or other, from which you would shrink with a shudder, if you could foresee it now. You are young yet. To-day and to-morrow you may gird yourselves, and walk whithersoever you will, roaming at large through the pleasant fields of life, and culling freely the joyful associations and interests of the passing hour. But the third day the grip of a Divine necessity will fasten upon you. Another will gird you and carry you whither you would not—far away from the home that you have cherished, from the friends that you have loved, from the work that has been a pleasure to you. Your ideal of life is shattered in a moment. Your hopes and projects for the future crumble into dust at the touch of God. Nay, do not repine. Follow Him cheerfully, whithersoever He may take you. Your cross will be your consolation; your trial will be your glory. The Lord is your shepherd; therefore shall you lack nothing. He shall lead you forth by the waters of comfort. Though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will fear no evil; for He is with you; His rod and His staff shall comfort you.

To you more especially, the younger members of the University, my present and former pupils, my best and truest teachers, I would say a word in return for the many lessons which I have learnt from you. To one, for whom the old things of Academic life are now passing for ever away, the predominant thought must be the inestimable privilege which you and he alike have so bountifully enjoyed, and (it may be) so lightly esteemed. Believe it, you have opportunities here for the development of the higher life, which to many of you can never return again. In the ennobling memories and the invigorating studies of the place, in the large opportunities of privacy for meditation and prayer, in the counsel and support of generous and enthusiastic friendships, in the invaluable discipline of early morning Chapel, bracing body and soul alike for the work and the temptations of the day, in the frequent Communions recalling you in the spirit to the immediate presence of your Lord, in these and divers ways, you have a combination of advantages which no other time or condition of life will supply. Here, if anywhere, you may stamp the true ideal on your life. Here, if anywhere, you may rivet on your necks the yoke which is easy, and lift on your shoulders the burden which is light.

And to you, my older friends, my contemporaries, to whom I owe more than can ever be repaid, what shall I say? Forgive me, if I seem to be condemning you, when indeed I am only condemning myself. But now that the associations of this place are fast fading into a memory for me, I can only dwell with a sad regret on the great opportunities which it affords of influence for good—opportunities neglected at the time, only because they were not realised. How little would it have cost to overcome the indolence and shake off the reserve, to express the sympathy which was felt, to put in words the deeper thoughts which seethed in the heart but never rose to the lips! The value which younger men attach to such sympathy is altogether unsuspected at the time. The discovery comes too late—comes through the gratitude expressed for trifling inexpensive words and acts long since forgotten; and, when it comes, it overwhelms with shame.

But to young and old alike my word of farewell, if such it should be, from this pulpit is one and the same. Remember that you were bought with a price. Remember that henceforth you are not your own. Remember to be slaves now, that you may be free for evermore.

Lightfoot, J. B. (1890). Cambridge Sermons. London; New York: MacMillan and Co. (Public Domain)

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And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.  Genesis 27:34.

Trinity College Chapel, 24th Sunday after Trinity, 1861.

It is to be feared that even those who are most ready to confess that all Holy Scripture was written for our learning, do yet practically derive very little instruction from large portions of the Old Testament History. There are certain broad features indeed which we can scarcely mistake. When the flagrant sinner is struck down by divine vengeance in the midst of his crimes, or when blessings are showered on the faithful servant of God, the lesson is too plain to escape us. The history of David or of Ahab cannot be misread. But there are other parts of Holy Scripture which appear to us very perplexing and unintelligible, which we are disposed perhaps to give up in despair. We cannot understand for instance why in certain cases grave sins are dealt with so lightly, or slight offences visited with so heavy a punishment. We feel that our measure of right and wrong would have been very different; that we should have established another law of retribution. There are many reasons for this. It arises in part no doubt because we are judging of past ages by the conventional standard of good and evil in our own, and are therefore unwilling to view some of the more current and respectable sins in their true light. But it is still more due to the circumstance, that the point which decides the true character of the action frequently does not lie on the surface of the narrative, and that it requires more pains perhaps than we are disposed to give, in order to appreciate its moral significance. And yet it is just those lessons requiring the most study to master which are the most valuable, when once learnt. For they not only give us the broad features of God’s dealings with His creatures. They bring out the finer lines in the portraiture of good and evil. They develope the faint shadows of the picture. They discriminate between the real and the seeming. And thus they bring home to us our true position in the sight of God. They pluck off the mask, which we have worn to ourselves as well as to others. They penetrate the inmost depths of our spirit. And thus ‘the word of God is’ indeed ‘quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,’ a very ‘discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.’

And it happens very frequently in such cases—where the lesson conveyed does not appear at once on the face of the narrative, and where consequently there is a danger of our passing it over in a careless reading—that our attention is arrested by some casual but pointed allusion to it in the writings of an Apostle or Evangelist, or in the words of our Blessed Lord Himself. And thus the light of the New Testament is shed upon the Old. The narrative assumes a new aspect. We at length recognise its importance. We are led to study it afresh, and each time we read it we are more fully impressed with the depth of the lesson it conveys.

The instances of Balaam and of Esau both illustrate the truth of what I have been saying. They are in many respects parallel. The difficulty is much the same in either case. We are at a loss to account for the extreme severity, as we are disposed to regard it, with which the offender is treated in the sacred narrative. Both alike are referred to in the New Testament. ‘The way of Balaam the son of Bosor’ is a by-word for disobedience and ungodliness. The ‘profane’ Esau, ‘who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright’, is the very picture and type of the hopelessly and irrevocably fallen.

Yet this is certainly not the estimate we should have formed by ourselves. Our first impression of Balaam is of one, who—if he fell short of the highest perfection, if his duty to God was not all in all to him—yet at all events cannot be said to have gone very far wrong. We read of his consulting God in all he does. We find him acting as God commands him to act. We marvel at his subsequent history, and we are perplexed at the language which Scripture holds regarding him. So again with Esau. We have a sort of feeling that he too, like Balaam, is somewhat hardly dealt with. We are not sure that we should have given the preference to his brother Jacob—nay, we more than suspect that we should have reversed the judgment: that, instead of depriving him of the blessing, we should even have restored him the birthright. We have a lurking regard for his rough, impetuous, simple character, for his undesigning and generous spirit. The treachery which is practised upon him, and the success which attends his brother’s plots, enlist our sympathies in his favour. It is only when we have examined the narratives more closely, giving them more thought and trying to divest ourselves of our prejudices, that we see their history in its true light. Then at length we acknowledge the justice of God’s rebuke of Balaam; and we cease to marvel at his fall, because we can now see that, when he acted aright, he acted from fear and not from love. Then at length we discover the superiority of Jacob; and we wonder no more that Esau was deprived of the blessing and rejected as a profane person: for we see that Jacob—though amidst many imperfections, despite many grievous sins—did place his reliance on God; did look to Him, as the Giver of all good things; did live for more than the passing moment. In short Jacob was spiritually minded; while Esau—with much in him to like, and something to admire—was careless and indifferent to all higher things, influenced only by passing impulses and momentary impressions, without foresight, without reflection, the type of that hopeless class of men, whose maxim is, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die’.

To this latter narrative, the history of Esau, I will ask your attention for a few moments this morning. I know of no sadder story. I can imagine none. If the character of Esau had been less attractive, his fall would have excited less pity. If his prospects had not been so brilliant, his fate would have been less terrible. But it is the combination of these two circumstances in the narrative—the ruin of a character which we are disposed to admire, and the unspeakable value of the birthright and the blessing which he recklessly threw away—that gives the interest to the story, and rivets our attention to the lesson which it contains. The destruction of so many bright hopes, the dissipation of so many glorious visions, the hopeless and irrevocable ruin of one so simple and honest and open-hearted—what can be more touching than this? And hence it is that we seem to hear ringing sharply above the most piercing shrieks of pain, and the loudest wailings of grief, that one exceeding bitter cry, uttered in the agony of despair, ‘Bless me, even me also, O my father.’

And perhaps it may be that the narrative comes home with peculiar force to ourselves, that we are conscious of some crisis in our own lives, or recall some incident in the career of others whom we have known and loved, which reminds us only too painfully of the fate of Esau, and gives point to the lesson. Is it so with any of us? May it not be so in some degree or other with most or all of us? Or is it a mere form that we bewail our manifold sins and wickednesses; that we confess the remembrance of them to be grievous unto us, the burden intolerable? Have we not each our special temptation, our besetting sin? And it may be that at one time or other this has culminated in some act, more heinous than we had supposed possible—some breach of the law of love, or of truth, or of purity, according to our special temptation—one act which has seemed to shut us out from the presence of God, and to leave us to darkness and despair. And then at length we have learnt in our bitter anguish to measure the exceeding great value of that heavenly birthright, which as sons of God we have inherited only to spurn and to set at naught, and—in remorse, if not in penitence—have striven by the importunity of our cries to arrest the blessing, ere it has passed away from us for ever.

I need scarcely dwell on the character of Esau, as it is painted in the sacred narrative. Making allowance for the rude habits of the patriarchal age, he is not essentially different in character from a very large number among ourselves. He has just the same virtues, and just the same faults. He is the father’s favourite son. He is born to great hopes. He has brilliant prospects before him. His career is in his own hands. His lot may well be envied by others. But all is thrown away upon him. He is reckless of his opportunities. He is insensible to his blessings. He loses everything by one desperate act of folly. He finds out too late the value of what he has lost. He would give anything to recover it, when recovering it is hopeless. And yet his character is far from utterly vicious. Of such a man we might say, that he is no one’s enemy but his own. If his bad passions are strong, his impulses for good are strong also. If he is reckless and undisciplined, he is simple and honest and open-hearted. He is in short not so very much worse—perhaps not at all worse—than a great number, who are admired and loved among ourselves, and whose manifest faults are forgiven for the sake of many rough virtues and generous affections.

Nor do I think that the guilt of Esau will seem so much deeper in comparison with that which we may incur, when we consider the nature of the privilege which he despised, of the blessing which he threw away. True it is that the promise which pertained to Esau—the promise given to Abraham and renewed to Isaac—was something more than the possession of lands and flocks and houses; that his birthright implied more than mere rank or wealth or earthly power. He knew that by virtue of his birthright he was destined to be the father of the chosen seed; that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed; that from his race as concerning the flesh Christ was to come, the Redeemer of the whole world. This he knew, or might have known. This inheritance he bartered for a morsel of meat. For this he is condemned and branded as a profane person.

It was no common offence then of which Esau was guilty. It was perhaps as great an offence as in his position he could have committed. Yet it is not greater than that which we shall commit, if like him we despise our birthright. For have we not an inheritance more precious still—we who are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ—a name more glorious than his, for it is a name better than of sons and of daughters? If he might have been the father of Messiah’s race, how much greater is our privilege, to whom is accorded a far more intimate, because a spiritual, relationship? ‘Whosoever shall do the will of My Father Which is in heaven, the same is My brother and sister and mother.’ Are we tempted for some worldly consideration, for some momentary advantage, for wealth or popularity or fame or ease or pleasure, to barter away this brilliant inheritance? Is not the price we give as ruinous, the exchange we get as worthless, as it was with Esau?

There are two circumstances however in the story of Esau, which it may be well to dwell on more at length: for from these we may derive the most valuable lesson. Yet at first sight they only perplex us. They seem not only to palliate the guilt, but almost to obliterate the offence. They lead us to look upon him as the victim rather than the culprit, as sinned against rather than sinning. The first of these is the circumstance that he is surprised into selling his birthright. It is a momentary, unpremeditated act; he falls into a snare laid for him; we feel disposed therefore not to judge him too harshly: we cannot regard his offence as very heinous. In the second place, though the loss of the birthright was certainly his own act, whatever excuse we may make for it, yet he was deprived of the blessing by no fault of his. By no reasonable foresight could he have prevented it. He made some efforts at least to obtain that blessing. He did not throw it away. He was robbed of it. Surely this can not be laid to his charge. Of this at least he is innocent.

In considering the first of these points, let us ask ourselves what is meant by being surprised into such and such a sinful act—what leads to it, what state of mind it supposes, how it comes about? In a certain sense indeed Esau is surprised into selling his birthright. He returns from the field hungry and faint. He asks for food. His brother will not give it him except at the price of his birthright. He yields. ‘Behold,’ he says, ‘I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?’ But is this yielding an isolated act? Does it not show a defective character? Does it not betoken a certain spiritual depravity, a low, worldly view of his position? He ‘despised his birthright,’ We are told, and therefore he is branded as ‘a profane person.’

For indeed surprise would be utterly powerless, unless the character were previously undermined. And so it is no excuse for a sinful act; it is scarcely in any degree a palliation. It is rather a revelation of secret depravity in a man, hidden successfully from his neighbours, ignored by, but not unknown to, himself. After the flagrant deed is committed, others may be at a loss to account for it. It is unexplained to them by anything in his previous career. But to himself it is clear enough. To him it is not an isolated act, but one link in a long chain of evil. He has been aware all along that he was sinking into sin. He has thrust away the troublesome thought, but he has been aware of it. He has taken no measure, it may be, of the growth of his guilt. It has ripened into grievous sin unnoticed. In no other sense can it have been a surprise to him. For all the while the seed was there, and had taken root, and the noxious plant was growing; and he knew it, and he hid it from others, and he would not confess it perhaps even to himself.

Is it an act of sensuality into which he has been betrayed? One act perhaps, which has poisoned the fountains of his spiritual life, which has bound his outward existence with heavy chains which he cannot shake off. The temptation took him unawares, we say. He was startled into sin. But is this the whole account of the matter? Is it natural, is it reasonable, that this should be so? Who shall dare to trace the secret history of that man’s soul, to lay open the hidden springs of his guilt? Who shall venture to say what forbidden thoughts he has admitted, perhaps welcomed, how recklessly he has lingered on the border line of good and evil, how longingly he has hovered about the accursed thing, before he dared to touch it?

Or again, is it a palpable breach of truth or honesty? He has committed some act of fraud or treachery, which has destroyed his good name for ever. How came this to pass? Were there no antecedents in his career which led naturally to that result? Had he not contracted a habit, for instance, of saying less or more than he meant, of expressing an enthusiasm or an interest which he did not feel, of paring down the truth to fit it into some conventional mould, of suppressing a little here or exaggerating a little there? Or if he fell, not from moral cowardice or from the desire to please, but from greed of gain, were there not here also insidious influences at work? There are many cases, where the question of right is doubtful. These he has decided in his own favour. There are others, where, if he investigated, he might find that he was defrauding his neighbour. These he will not enquire into. He will not be dishonest knowingly, but he will take no pains to find whether he is so or not. These are the beginnings of his guilt. By these a fraudulent habit is created. By degrees he goes on from bad to worse. He avails himself of his superior cunning; he defrauds his neighbour in little things where he is sure of escaping observation. By this time he has ceased to respect honesty as a thing to be prized in itself. To him it is so much capital to trade upon—and for this purpose the semblance is as good as the reality. Hitherto he has preserved his reputation before the world. But at length he is surprised, as we say, into some flagrant act of dishonesty. Society lays him under a ban. His character is irrecoverably lost.

And so it was with Esau. It was not that one act of selling his birthright which constituted his guilt. That was but the revelation of his true character, the summing up, as it were, of his depravity.

But fearful as is the lesson which this incident suggests, it is not half so fearful as that which we derive from his subsequent fate. He bartered away his birthright, but how was it with the blessing? It was by no act of his own that he lost this. There is nothing in the narrative which leads us to such a supposition. There was no unholy traffic here, no profane contempt here. He did not drive the blessing away. It went in spite of him. The key to this difficulty is found in the allusion in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The loss of the blessing is there represented as the inevitable consequence of the sale of his birthright. ‘Ye know that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected.’ His fate up to a certain point was in his own hands. After that it was placed beyond his reach. So it was with Esau, and so it is always with the downward course of guilt. We may wade for a time amidst the shallows of sin, feeling our footing and heedless of danger. A single step more places us at the mercy of the waves, and we are swept away into the ocean of ruin. When we read of God’s hardening the sinner’s heart, we are perhaps startled at the phrase, yet there is no doubt that it represents a fearful moral truth. The sinner after a time ceases to be his own master. He has coiled a chain about him, which binds him hand and foot. He is dragged helplessly down. There is no more terrible passage in classical literature than that in which the Roman poet describes the guilty man trembling in his secret soul, as he sees himself falling, falling headlong, unheeded and unsuspected by those nearest to him. With a true moral insight he regards this state as the just retribution of offended heaven—the heaviest punishment which can be inflicted on the most heinous guilt. Such indeed it is. Translating it into the language of Scripture we should say, that God has hardened such a man’s heart. Surely we need not call to our aid the terrors of an unseen world—however true those terrors may be—to deter us from the path of guilt. The thought that our hearts also may be hardened, that we too may shut ourselves out from the presence of God, should be sufficient to check us in our downward career.

And even supposing this deadness should not pervade our whole spiritual being, may not the yielding to our special temptation, the indulgence in our favourite sin, stiffen and paralyse some limb or other of our moral frame? Do we not every now and then see an instance of this? We are brought in contact with some one, who, thoroughly conscientious in most things, keenly sensitive on many points of duty, is yet hardened in some one point of his moral constitution, seems dead to some moral virtue. Yet such cases are exceptional. It is the tendency of this paralysis to spread. It seizes on one limb first, but presently it extends to all. The moral frame, like the bodily, is compacted and knit together in a marvellous way. There is a wonderful sympathy between limb and limb. ‘Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.’

In what I have said, I have been speaking the language of warning, and not the language of despair. Despair is no word of the Christian’s vocabulary. So long as there is any heavenward aspiration, any loathing of sin, any yearning after better things, however slight, however feeble, there is still hope. Cherish these higher feelings. Quench not the Spirit, though it flicker faintly and lowly. From these few sparks a bright flame may be kindled, which shall cheer your heart, and throw a light upon your path, and guide you home to your heavenly rest.

Lightfoot, J. B. (1890). Cambridge Sermons. London; New York: MacMillan and Co. (Public Domain)

The Heart of the Gospel

The Heart of the Gospel:  Sin And Repentance

SGM Dan Cartwright, USA (Ret)
Chairman, Board of Directors

Te Apostle Paul had some harsh words to the church in Galatia for those who would turn away from the Gospel of grace and return to trusting in human works for salvation:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9 ESV)

Paul clearly defined the message of the gospel to the church in Corinth with these words:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV)

Long before Paul was converted and began to preach the gospel and establish churches, John the Baptist laid the groundwork for the coming of Christ:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2 ESV)

Jesus began his earthly ministry with these words:

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17 ESV)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV)

When Jesus appeared to His disciples after the resurrection, he commissioned them with these words:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:45-47 ESV)

Well, so what?

Here's “what”:

Who am I, who are we, who name the Name of Christ, to change the message, or omit what Scripture tells us is the core and heart of the gospel message? How dare we presume that a “changed life” is the Gospel?

How dare we presume that making Jesus “attractive,” as the one who merely solves all of life's little problems, is spreading the gospel that saves a person from Hell?

How dare we presume that love, love, love, without including the issue of sin and repentance, IS even love at all?

Who am I if I presume any of the above?  Who am I if I don't hold as paramount, and address as of “first importance,” that Jesus died for our SIN, and if I don't speak of the need to REPENT from SIN?

I'll tell you who I am — I am a spiritual coward, a disgrace to evangelism, and a traitor to the One who saved me!

And at the end of the day, I am still a sinner — a sinner saved by the amazing grace of a sovereign God!

Debris Field

Debris Field

 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  2 Corinthians 11:3

 Have you ever been driving at the posted speed limit on the freeway and all of a sudden a truck loses a retread tire, an unknown object appears in your lane, or something just causes you to have to swerve and unfortunately sometimes hit the object doing either minor or major damage to your vehicle.  It is one of the moments that if no one is take away by ambulance from injuries,  you just sigh.

There is the 'debris' of sin that can pop up and catch you unaware especially if you are 'asleep at the wheel' no pun intended.  An opportunity for a college student to make the wrong choice morally and succumb to sin.  Maybe it the temptation to cheat on something.  Perhaps breaking a rule at your office.  Threatening divorce to your spouse. Lying about something.  Many 'debris fields' are confronting Christians each and every day.

 To be able to avoid debris fields of sin in life stay in the word of God.  Today for instance is the 3rd of the month so try reading Psalm 3 and then Proverbs 3.  Pray for God to open his truths to you and transform your thinking.

 PRAYER:  I want to avoid debris fields of sin in my life.  Help me to run the other way when the opportunity to sin presents itself.  In Jesus' name. Amen.

Blow Up Your TV

Back in ancient times (BC — Before Computers) in a land far away in the midst of a horrible war, I was looking through the resident collection of albums (the round plastic platters with a hole in the middle) when I spied one by some guy named John Denver (released before he was famous).  There was a song on the album whose first line lyric caught my ear, “Blow up your TV, try to find Jesus on your own.”  I don’t remember much about the song itself but the lyric has remained with me all of these years.

Having reached the age where my children have become adults, I now look back on the earlier years and see that life had some spots that were a blur of activity.  Being involved, because of my children, in little league, Boy Scouts, soccer, Sunday School, youth group and also being a full-time sailor didn’t leave much time for anything else.  Life seemed pretty full.  There are indeed so many activities in our lives!   Yet how many are profitable?  How many are profitable for the kingdom?  How much time do I devote to those things that are important to my health and well being as a believer?  Sometimes I think that the world does a better job of conforming me into its mold than I do allowing the Holy Spirit to transform me by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2 paraphrase mine).  I think in my case that the blur of activity was motivated more by my flesh (not wanting my children to miss out) than by the Spirit (wanting to draw me into a closer walk with Him).  This doesn’t mean I couldn’t have done both.  It means that my attitude wasn’t right.

Bob Flynn, President/CEO

As I was meditating upon Hebrews, chapter twelve, I was struck by the idea of “throwing off everything that hinders.” (NIV)  As I looked up from my easy chair I found myself looking full on at one thing in particular that took up a great deal of my time, the huge one-eyed monster we call Television.  My heart was shaken at its foundations.  The Holy Spirit was showing me in a very clear way that I would rather spend time watching the political talk shows than with Him.  Busted!  So I got up out of my chair walked across the room and pulled the plug!  I would like to say that the angels of heaven broke out in song (However, what really broke out was beads of sweat upon my brow.  Several times that evening, as I was trying to read, I found my hand reaching for the ol’ remote control.  I thought to myself, how many other things are in my life that have become a hindrance to fellowship with the Father.  Am I really trying to work out my faith with “fear and trembling” or am I just busy?  C.S. Lewis, in “Mere Christianity,” mentions that
one of the “cardinal virtues” is temperance.  The first word that the dictionary (my copy was of course printed in the last century) uses to define this is moderation, “bringing within bounds, avoidance of excesses.”

If you find yourselves breathing hard at the end of the day, might I suggest in all humility (because I promise you that I am NOT the fount of all knowledge and wisdom) that you take stock of your activities and see if there isn’t some time that could be better used in your relationship with the Savior.  “Blow up your TV (hyperbole mine) and try to find Jesus on your own!”

“As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses round us.  So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us.  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.  He did not give up because of the cross!  On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right-hand side of God’s throne.  Hebrews 12:1-2 TEV

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