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of sweeter sound than Amphion’s, which charmed stocks and stones to move, and form the lofty walls of Thebes. For by the heavenly music of these truths, hard and stony-hearted sinners are drawn forth, and polished, and built up as living stones into the indestructible temple of our God. But to have the music you must have the truths.
2. An exhibition of the truths of Scripture on Scriptural authority.
The practice—of late years become very prevalent-of placing the truths of Scripture not on a Scriptural basis, but upon a basis of reason, is to my mind almost as much an exclusion of the spirit of Scripture, as if the truths themselves were excluded. Instead of making Scripture the starting point, reason is made the starting point. Instead of declaring doctrine as the humble and honest exposition of Scripture, it is given forth as the result of human speculation. To our thinking, this method, besides being nothing better than sheer sophistry, has the pernicious tendency to extract the vital strength out of all revealed religion. It, in effect, lays a foundation which Scripture has not laid. The cry of the men of this school is "reason and-Scripture.” Our reply is “ Scripture and Reason.” We take this to be the only order in which the spirit of Scripture will deign to operate in our teaching. This was the order in which were knit together the systems of the reformers in every land, and which made their doctrines omnipotent. It made the heart revolt against the practices of Rome; it inspired the intellect to burst away from the bands of the schoolmen, as Samson brake the green withs of the Philistines. It degrades not, it does not even curb the legitimate exercise of our highest faculties. It puts them in their right place, and opens up a boundless arena for their exercise. Speculation sends her followers forth alone, like the first mariners, who, without chart or compass, passed the pillars of Hercules and spread their sails on the stormy Atlantic, to perish in the dark unknown ; or to return again to the point whence they set out, weather-beaten, dispirited, and only not a wreck. Scripture, on the other hand, is to her disciples a safe convoy over the wide ocean of mystery that rolls between earth and heaven ; now she gives chart or compass, now she points out beacon or guiding light, until we reach in safety the shining shore beyond. Yielding up reverently to Scripture the dignity of the supreme cominand as hers by right divine, our reasoning under her guidance moves and acts with a certainty and an authority it never could reach of itself, and never could deserve to reach. It is this authority we want, the authority of the master, and not of the scribe. And where this authority is present its hallowing influence is sure to be felt.
3. An exhibition of the truths of Scripture in their scriptural connections. Rightly dividing the word of truth is the outcome of rightly perceiving its divisions. These divisions often contain the very marrow of the truth. The connections of truths are not distinct and separate from the truths, but form a vital part of them. In them lies their vigour, as the vigour of the arm lies in its joints and ligaments. The central statement of a passage may have multitudinous subordinate ideas thrown all around, in order to poise, as it were, in its proper place the main idea. All these must have their due weight in our minds if we would preserve the true balance of that one. He who views the same truths always from the same point, and in the same connections,
and in the same applications, perceives nothing of the wealth of meaning which would instantly burst upon his mind, were he to use their various associations as so many different vistas through which to contemplate the manifold wisdom of God wrapt up within them. No man, for instance, can lay bare the true spirit of the eternal decrees, if he is content merely to dwell upon their certain fulfilment. Fixing the mind merely on that would insensibly but inevitably draw one on to the borders of fatalism. But when the spontaneous efforts of many men, acting far apart and each from selfish motives and to secure selfish ends, when human virtaes, and, it may be, human passions, are seen from diverse designs, blending and conspiring to work out the Lord's immutable decrees--as in the case of the blessing of Jacob and the rejection of Esau—then fatalism is an impossibility, antinomianism is an impossibility, and we gaze with wonder and acquiescence on the unfettered march of God's purposes and human actions, and see them in distinct, but converging lines leading to the same goal.
All over the Book of God we shall find these scattered lights which serve to show up the main theme. They must never be obscured or quenched. Just as every pillar, and gate, and fence marking the outlying grounds of ancient temples were deemed sacred, as well as the inmost shrine where the deity presided, so the scattered marks and waving boundary lines of any truth must themselves be accurately traced, if the individual conformations, the point and pith, would be faithfully represented. The scar on the cheek must not be omitted if you would paint to the life the warrior's visage. The rent that Cassius made, the place where the well-beloved Brutus stabbed, must not be sewn up, and the stain of Cæsar's blood must not be washed out, if Anthony would rouse the passions of the people at the sight of Cæsar's sword-pierced mantle!
You may snatch up a sentence from the middle of an argument, of an expostulation, of a parable, you may descant upon it with close adherence to what the sentence is in itself, and so you may cause the main stream of its meaning in that position to run away between your dry generalities. It is a serious consideration for our minds, that unless our discourse follow the main drift of the connection of the text—that is, the writer's use of it—we have no guarantee for ourselves, or for others, that we are proclaiming the truth of God; at any rate so far as that passage is concerned. It will, likewise, I think, be apparent that it is because this main drift, this individuality, of Scriptural statements is often missed by the preacher, so much unsatisfactoriness is felt in listening to sermons.
You have wondered what has been the matter. You have had glimpses of the truth, but they have been broken and imperfect. No deep emotions have been stirred, no solid instruction has been received. The sermon has but touched yon'and glanced off. You go away from hearing it very much like Plato's man in the cave, feeling that you have been gazing through a sort of twilight at shadows thrown before you, but you have not been brought up into the clear light of day to see the things them selves and to deal with realities. The main burden of our ministry is to place before our people the soul and not the shadow, the essence and not the loose outline, of truth. When with patient toil and devout carefulness the preacher has beaten every particle of his text, as the priest of old beat every grain in the composition of the holy oil, then the truth yields up its secret virtues, and preacher and hearer are alike refreshed with the divine aroma.
4. We should allow the general pervading spirit of Scripture to affect the particular theme.
If I were to name this pervading spirit of Scripture in a short phrase I would call it compassion for sinners. There are many other things in the Book, other great leading characteristics, but without this there never had been such a Book. To express this divine compassion the Book was brought into existence, and is still kept in existence. It touches everything in the Book: it begins with the Book and closes it. Over all, and through all that is brought into view this spirit rises and pierces. It finds out a way over the steepest rocks of divine justice, over the deepest floods of divine wrath. What the eye is to the face of man, giving tone and light and meaning to every feature, this compassion is to the Book of God; it casts its mild radiance round every expression. It is the eye of the Book, and it is a sleepless eye: it is ever gazing upon fallen men, even from amid the terrors of the law, sometimes with many a falling tear, at other seasons with bright beams of joy, but always revealing unutterable depths of divine love.
There need be no apprehension when we permit a full tide of this spirit to rise within the particular subject we are discussing that it will obliterate its distinct characteristics. On the contrary, it ever strengthens and enhances them. As the minute branches of the nerves, spreading through the most delicate portions of our organism, gain additional power in their direct control of the actions of these particular parts, in exact proportion as they more closely follow the impulse from the great centre of nervous force, so is it with particular truths in Scripture, and especially with that whole class of statements containing the expostulations and denunciations of offended justice, neglected mercy, and despised love. It breaks not the force of the warning or entreaty that it is uttered in the tenderest of tones. On the contrary, the compassionate intention often adds a new element of awe even to wrath itself. While looking into the face of the Son of God and listening to his words, uttered over impenitent Jerusalem, who is not struck with the tenderness which mingles tears of pity-real, scalding, human tears—with his words of doom ? and yet, who can go away from that scene without feeling convinced that it was those very
bitter tears which sealed irrevocably the sentence—but now thy house is left unto thee desolate.
But, my brethren, this spirit of the truth must reside in ourselves. We must be thoroughly possessed of the truth. Of old no oracle came from the Delphic shrine until the priestess who presided there was completely mastered by the god. Such a mastery must the truth bave over us, before it will wield through our ministry the power which makes others bend and submit to Christ. In the whole of Scripture, perhaps in the history of the world, there is no greater example of this than Ezekiel. Consider him for a moment. He is favoured with visions and manifestations of Deity, which in sublimity and grandeur are second
to none in Isaiah, Daniel, or John. After keeping company with cherubim and seraphim, what is his next employment? Why, to take a tile and pourtray Jerusalem thereon, to act a mimic siege against it, to live on the famine-fare of the beleaguered city, stooping almost to those abominations which are only tolerable when it is a question of life or death. What is the next ? Shaving and weighing and burning his hair, and binding some of it in the skirts of his garment. Then he is taken up a second time to mingle with the bright spirits that minister in God's immediate presence. What follows? The drudgery of removing his household stuff, eating his bread in stinted morsels, and with trepidation of heart. It was not sufficient for him to declare in fiery words the denunciations of God against the people's sins. It was not enough to use metaphor, and allegory, and parable to place in living colours before their eyes the penalty of their crimes ; he must be the things whereof he spoke. His message must be embodied in himself, and so become a visible incarnation of the mind of God. And when the man of God has thus in his own soul all things common with the truths he is charged to declare, there needs no vehement publication to make the fact known. The conviction of it steals silently and irresistibly over the people. It puts a tone into the voice it never had before ; it gives a new glance to the eye, and invests the whole manner of the man with an air of reality which kindles the enthusiasm of others. Even in the shortcomings and blunders of such a man there is a charm for good far excelling some men's highly-finished preciseness. In the volumes lately published of the memoir of Charles Dickens there was one incident mentioned which seemed to me, more than anything else, to give the clue to the magic skill with which that writer made his pages instinct with life. One of his heroines--a little girl-must be killed, for the sake of the artistic completeness and consistency of the tale. But the author could not lightly do the deed. Week after week he dwelt with fondness over the character, loath to sacrifice her ; and when he could no longer delay the putting an end to her life, he said, it was like thrusting a dagger into his own heart. Could we borrow this writer's love for his ideal creations, and transfer it, in its fervour, to the subjects of our ministry-could we so have the truths and our hearers in our heart-our rebukes would never savour of censoriousness, our denunciations of sin would never be tinged with vindictiveness, our defence of truth would be free from the charge of narrow-souled bigotry, and our zeal, to have all see eye to eye, would be tempered with the compassion of the High Priest towards the ignorant and those out of the way, seeing that we also, ourselves, are compassed about with infirmities. There might be the earthquake, the tempest, the fire in our discourses, but we would never omit the still small voice. There might be the hammer to break, the arrow to pierce, the two-edged knife of the priest to cut, but, more prominent than all, there would be the golden sceptre, which bids the suppliant hope and live.
Besides bringing the people into more direct and intimate contact with the word of God, which is the sustaining and controlling power of the life of godliness, we should by catching the spirit of Scripture reap, among many others, these two immediate advantages: first, that the harshness of offensive truths would be removed ; and secondly, that the better known doctrines would maintain, under our handling, a green and vigorous life.
1. We must not disguise from ourselves the fact that the truths we have to declare are frequently repulsive to many. They may be like the stone fences we see in some counties, looking very bleak and dismal in the distance. What then? Shall we cast these uncouth, and ungainly, and repulsive doctrines down, and never allow their dark lines to become visible in our teaching ? This is the opinion of many. It is not ours. Rather, it is our duty to search whether there may not be found on a closer investigation something attractive in the doctrines. For when one comes nearer and examines more closely those same dreary-looking fences, the harshness wears off, and the dismal air is dispelled, as he finds that even there the hand of nature has been busy in covering the bare stones with variegated mosses and lichens, and in causing the slender wild flowers to live and bloom from many a nook and crevice. And so, in the chinks and crannies of the more rigid doctrines of Scripture, the hand of God has strewn here and there the seeds of tenderer truths, which spring forth, opening their foliage and shedding their perfume. If we are instructing the weak, we shall point them to the protecting wall ; if we are wise as well, we shall, like that other wise man, point also to the hyssop that springeth out of the wall.
2. The second advantage is, that the better known truths would be set forth with greater life. That there is a vitality in truth we all know—that this vitality makes truth a motive power we readily acknowledge; but the most of us must likewise testify, from bitter experience, that truth may be so dealt with that its life may be extinguished by the very medium through which it ought to operate upon the hearts and minds of men. You have again and again heard sermons containing truths-indisputable truths—the very truths on which your hopes rely, yet no holy emotion responded to them as they fell from the preacher's lips. They fell like withered leaves, scentless and dead. You have afterwards opened your Bible, and, as you read line after line there, containing the very same statements as in the sermon, or ever you were aware, your soul was made like the chariots of Ammi-nadib. In the sermon they were dead, twice dead, plucked up by the roots ; in the book they were like the tree of life, planted by the river of the water of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits. Can they not be put in the sermon as they are in the Book ? Can they not live in both ? We know, we rejoice, they can and do. Could we not realise this to a far higher degree than the very best of us have done ? Let us try! Let us make our sermons a speaking trumpet for the text, tliat the very word of God may touch the hearts of the people. When the guide to the Killarney Mountains pauses at a certain pass and blows a blast with his horn, the sound is six times distinctly echoed from hill to hill. So let the blast, blown by the Divine Spirit in the text, be echoed on, from one part of our discourses to another, till the people awake, with gladness and delight, and feel the blessedness of those who know the joyful sound.