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MAN TO BE RAISED TO THE LEVEL OF THE
BY REV. CHARLES WICKSTEED, B. A.
1 THESSALONIANS v. 23 :
“And the very God of Peace sanctify you wholly; and your whole spirit
and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
No lower aim has the sacred gospel ever placed before itself, with no inferior result will it ever be content, than that man shall be sanctified wholly, and his whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless, till at length he shall be offered, complete and perfected, the discipline of earth accomplished, the work and mission of Jesus Christ fulfilled in him, a living sacrifice, acceptable to God.
Now when we consider what the human heart is, what human life is, how we are bound down to the earth by means of our many inferiorities and deficiencies as by so many heavy weights, it sometimes seems to us as if no power could possibly lift us up and keep us up, and as if that were a vain and impossible mission which proposes for itself such a purpose. And yet if there be a truth or a fact, this is one—that Jesus Christ proposed this purpose to himself and to the world ; that his apostles devoted their being in its entirety to the carrying out of this purpose ; and that whatever form it may take in worldly hands or in worldly churches, the cry of that religion in its records is, " Awake to righteousness and sin not. Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect; be ye holy as He is holy, and stand complete in all the will of God.”
But we are continually seeking to limit and derogate from this high object-proposing a dogma or a ceremony, a substitute or a sacrifice, in lieu of this perfect obedience which the gospel requires from man and which man does not render. But the gospel itself condescends to no such subterfuges. It never lowers its tone, it never changes its requirements. Men may give or withhold; but its demand is still the sameincreased it cannot be, diminished it will not be. The voice of its prayer, the object of its endeavour, is still that the very God of Peace may sanctify us wholly.
Now nothing, my brethren, can equal the grandeur and solemnity of this object and this labour. Its arduousness and extent—the greatness of the work when accomplished—the slow lapse of ages during which it is moving towards its goal --and the dim, removed distance to which its final accomplishment seems deferred, only add to the awe and seriousness with which we contemplate it. Men may make a trivial thing of Christianity, by choosing to lay hold of and to apprehend just so much of its grave character and purpose as to make it appear simply one of the ameliorating influences of society. But, in truth, this only shews themselves to be trivial—their religion to be a light, unearnest, unimpressive thing. It does not in the slightest degree alter the augustness of religion itself, the power of its instruments, the grandeur of its effects, or the infinite importance of its objects. The statesman may choose to regard it as useful and conducive to public orderthe man of the world may regard it as at least promotive of morality and repressive of the stormier passions and the more degraded vices of mankind; but seen in its own aspect, and
in the position in which alone it chooses to stand, at the head of eighteen centuries, as the fountain from which all good things during these ages have drawn their chief sustenance and life, it is the power which aims throughout at nothing else but to sanctify men wholly, and to preserve their whole spirit and soul and body blameless.
Every man who places the religion of his faith and his aspiration lower than this, enfeebles his own strength, degrades his own thought and soul, limits, consciously and intentionally, the possibility of his own future. If you say that your religion requires anything less of you than the perfect Christian life and temper,-instead of having it above you in such a position as that it may be continually calling, drawing, lifting you up to itself,--you have it on your own level, keeping company with yourself, partaking of all your feebleness and trammelled by all your unworthiness. Instead of having it firmly set and anchored in heaven, so that, where there is motion at all, it must be of you towards it, you loosen the rivet above, weaken the upward hold it has of you, and threaten to drag it down about your own feet, where your eyes can behold it without raising themselves up, and where religion, lowered to the level of your equal, falls from its height and grandeur, as your awe and aspiration, your strength and wisdom. deceive ourselves—we injure ourselves—we strike at the roots of growth and wound the power of conscience--we dishonour the august heavens themselves, in the ancient but everlasting language of the holy thought of a past age—we do despite to the grace of God and grieve his Holy Spirit—when in our secret hearts we maintain that the Christian faith requires from us anything less than the preservation of our whole spirit and soul and body blameless, the enduing ourselves with dispositions the purest and the kindest, with principles the loftiest and the strongest, with a love of God the most profound and filial, with a love of man the most hearty and fraternal.
I believe it is some vain feeling and desire of consistency that induces many thus to degrade their religion. They say that they do not like to profess a standard of which they are conscious that their daily life and disposition fall so short, and which they never expect to attain. A man says, “I am not so strictly and scrupulously honest as I should be. I do not feel so hearty an interest in the welfare of my
fellowcreatures as I should feel. I am a great deal more selfish, looking more to my own ease and comfort and prosperity and indulgence, than I should. Though I revere the Infinite Creator, have a true respect for sincere religion, wherever found, and a profound conviction of the wisdom of its laws, and the happiness obedience to them would impart, yet with all this I am not religious. I live but little in direct personal communion with God; I refer to Him but rarely, perhaps
I seldom carry my weakness unto Him, for his strength—my sins unto Him, for his pardon. I think that I am equal to a respectable and moral conduct, taking my part in some of the good, and having nothing to do with the more obvious evil, in human life ; and this is the standard of religion which I shall profess, because to this I think I may really attain. The higher standard of a super-secular and super-human goodness, I must leave to real saints, who attain it without professing it; or to pretended saints, who profess it without attaining it.”
The hour in which a man makes this speech to his soul, he brings down God from heaven, and Duty from its throne : he shuts
up the future ; he puts a barrier in the path of Progress; he lifts off the halo from the brow of Christ, and leaves him dead in the hands of enemies on the cross; he severs the ties that connect his own soul with the infinite and the immortal; he has done with all the highest possibilities of his spiritual existence, and to all the best purposes of being he might as well die. Directly you give up the expectation, and with the expectation the hope, and with the hope the effort, of being better than you are, more pure and heavenly-minded than you are, more bound in love and kindness to man, in love and obedience to God, directly you give up your belief that it is the province and the aim of religion to sanctify you wholly, to preserve your whole spirit and soul and body blameless, your career as an immortal being, for the time, is stopped ; your highest happiness has passed away out of your bosom ; you are patching up the garment of life to last your time; you are not weaving a robe in which to sit at the right hand of God in heaven for ever. You are forgetting, you are disbelieving in, a life to come ; you are only thinking of wearing through, as best you may, your time on earth. All the bright visions of your soul's youth are dissolved. The religion which was once above you, and to which you could have gone to lift you up again, is now lowered to your own level. You sit, companions now, alike degraded and in sorrow. There is no life but in motion : you have ceased to move ; you are ceasing to live. So is he that liveth without God and a true hope, who has ceased to believe that the religion of the Cross has the purpose and the power to sanctify us wholly. Every season of earthly life has its obstacles in the way of a hearty reception of this truth. With the young, the glitter of life is new and bright. Earth spreads so far before them, that they can conceive of nothing farther. Time seems so long, eternity can scarce be longer; old people seem so old, the saints can scarce be older. Desires and wishes are so prompt and unsubdued and earnest, that they fill up the whole soul, and scarcely anything else can be admitted. To lay the finger of arrest on their own nature,—to compel themselves to be serious and think a little,-to look at life and its duties and its future with some degree of thought and awe,—to subdue the tumult of passion, and apportion imagination in some measure to reality,—that is their difficulty.