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involves the doctrine of Divine Providence (“The cup which my
Father giveth me, shall I not drink it ?''), and the doctrine of forgiveness (the father goeth out to meet his son, though a returning prodigal), and the doctrine of a future life (the Father will not leave His children in the grave, but will receive them into His own home); but these and other doctrines involved in the filial relation between us and God which Christ would establish, are necessarily interwoven with the whole of Christianity; and accordingly, while texts of Scripture may be adduced apparently for or against every doctrine that divides the visible churches, I have never heard of any one passage being brought forward against those fundamental religious truths on which rests that close personal union with God through Christ wherein Christianity consists. If there are some passages which appear to tell in favour of, and others against the various theories respecting the Divine nature and operations, there are none which appear to tell against the Divine perfections and an all-wise Providence. I can recall texts which would, at first sight at least, seem to uphold each of the several views respecting the life and the judgment to come; but as to immortality and a righteous retribution, there is no difference,—all is harmony. And so amidst the manifold speculations concerning the person of Christ, he was, by the universal assent of the sacred Scriptures, God's Son, our Saviour, full of grace and truth, alike an image of the infinite Father and an example of human perfection.
Thus, as Christians, we have never any occasion to choose between discordant authorities. Our Christianity depends not on the success with which we extract the meaning of a few obscure phrases or expressions, but lives and breathes in every page of the life and words of Christ and his faithful apostles.
But it is right to dwell somewhat more in order and at large on the great principle, that Christianity was designed to esta blish a living spiritual relation between us and God, and not to convey to us a theological system. * I have already alluded to our Lord's office of Mediator, and his teachings respecting the fatherly character of God, and his words respecting oneness with God. There are many statements in the Gospels and Epistles scarcely less significant. God is love; He must dwell in us and we in Him for us to be accepted of Him. “He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” “He that will do the will of God shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” God will manifest Himself to His obedient child, and Christ himself to his loving disciple. Out of such assurances as these we know a creed is not made, yet do they not lie at the very foundation of the religious life? And so is it with all those passages which most touch us with God's goodness and nearness and tenderness, which most intimately unite us with Christ, which make us most earnestly strive for patience and holiness, which most open our hearts in sympathy with our fellow-men, and brace our spirits for heroic work, and which most melt us into contrition, and most help to give us foretastes of heaven. And, blessed be God, of such passages the New Testament is full,—full of most endearing assurances of how God cared for His great human family, even when they had wandered far from Him; how, out of the fulness of His love, He sent to them His only-begotten and best-beloved Son; how rich He is in forgiveness and long-suffering; how He is always watching over us, and welcomes us into the closest communion ; and how He has prepared for us a home in His own more immediate presence! And hence it is that our Lord was at
* Since I wrote this sermon, a friend has quoted in my presence the same leading idea strikingly expressed by Prof. Maurice : “The Church of Christ has erred in nothing so much as in preaching faith in a proposition, instead of faith in a person.”
all times so earnest that those who listened to him should feel that God was in him, and by him drawing near to them !
And surely we have here, likewise, the true conception of miracles, viz., as manifestations of a living relation of God to
It is not a mere message from afar that they convey to us; it is not a mere work wrought by One dwelling above the clouds that we behold in them; they are to us One who is always with us, though so often forgotten by us, speaking to us in our own language, that we may feel that He is always with us,—One whose hand is ever around us, though so often unnoticed by us, making it visible to us, that we may never any more doubt Him and grieve His love. If the design of Christianity were to impart a system of doctrines, would it not have come to us in the shape of a written law, exact in its definitions, concise in its phraseology? whereas it has come by the living Christ, through his conversations with whomsoever he happened to be, friends or enemies, his own disciples or strangers, often apparently on whatever subject happened to suggest itself at the time. And this leads me to observe,
That the mode of Christ's ministry is another proof of the nature and design of Christianity. Not less in the manner than in the matter of what he said, do we see that the one thing he had in view was to make us fervent and loving children of God. When, at the commencement of his public ministry, the multitude assembled before him, he did not unfold in order a system of religious belief, but delivered the Sermon on the Mount, from which, as we imagine ourselves coming away, if we could not indite a creed, we have yet learnt what true blessedness is, where to rest our faith and how to direct our way. Nor was this the case only at the beginning of his ministry, when it might be said he would wish simply to produce a general impression preparatory to more systematic teaching; at the end of his ministry it was the same. With those even whom he called to be his chosen apostles, he did not begin by going through in order what are esteemed the
main theological subjects, and thoroughly grounding them in certain opinions thereon, but he said to them, Follow me; and they went with him, and were his friends, and talked with him by the way, and heard his conversations with others, and saw his works; they beheld God speaking and working through him; they were near when he communed with his Father; they saw that he was indeed God's child. Such was their training for the office of apostles. The first time we find what may be called the doctrines of Christianity in anything like order is in the Acts of the Apostles, where, as we know, of all the creeds in Christendom, we have the simplest.
Again, I would recall to your minds the origin of the Christian records. It would be wrong indeed to say that there was anything accidental in it, but it was in the Divine plan that there was method. Not only did our Lord not leave behind him any “ body of divinity" such as we have in books, to be transcribed and circulated after his crucifixion, and the apostles not frame one when they went forth after the resurrection to teach and preach to the people, but there was no public record of Christianity whatever for many years. At length, however, according to the testimony of those times, Matthew wrote his Gospel for the Hebrews; and Luke his for the Gen
and Mark his, under the sanction and with the aid of Peter, for the Christians of Rome and Italy; and, last of all, John his, that he might add what had been omitted by the rest, and reveal more of the inward life of Christ, by detailing conversations, discourses, and those parting words at the last Supper. The Epistles arose almost entirely from local and passing circumstances, and relate primarily thereto. Thousands of Christians must there have been who received the gospel orally alone, and never saw one of the Christian writings, and, at a later period, thousands who possessed only one or two books, and many a church and many a neighbourhood had little more. For about a century the collection was not entire. Now surely if we had to gather our holy religion, as much of our theological controversy would make it appear, from a pro
found knowledge and understanding of this verse in St. John, and that in St. Matthew, and that in St. Paul, and that in the book of Revelation--if there were any danger of losing the essential truths of Christianity,—if the Christian's spiritual relation to God and the Christian character and life were not plain throughout the New Testament,--surely the Gospels and Epistles would have had both a very different history and a very different form.
But, once more, does not our own natural judgment as to who are the most faithful Christians, confirm what I have endeavoured to trace in the nature and history of the Christian records ? When, in imagination, we would collect those whom we regard as among the best and foremost in Christ's invisible and universal church, whence do we gather them? From all ages, from all climes, from all parties. We ask not how skilful they are as interpreters, what are their theological conclusions ? but we look to their love of God and their desire to do His will --we recognize in them the Divine image, holy and beautifulwe see Christ in them—we see that they too are God's sons. As they rise before me in my mind, one comes from a far-off part of Europe, when the oldest sect in Christendom was but in its infancy-another was a dignitary of the Catholic Church in a neighbouring country a century and a half ago—a third dwelt in our own land and in our own day, and ministered in the pulpits of our Established Church- 1-a fourth had his home across the Atlantic, and worshiped after the manner which some call heresy; and the unlearned come as well as the learned, poor and rich, high and low, all whose faces and hearts are really turned towards God, and who have, as their pledge of faithfulness, the inner witness of Christ's spirit.
My fellow-christians : The grand truths of Christianity are simple, and can scarcely fail to be ours if we have been brought near to God by Jesus Christ. When the way to heaven has become familiar to us by prayer—when, by leaning confidingly on God, we have attained the peace which passeth understanding—when our very home has become a church when in