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H O M I L Y
The Essential Condition of Orthodoxy.
My judgment is just ; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.”—John v. 30.
HE querulous and meddling spirit of the mere verbal and turgid religionists of our day, true to their history, is arrogantly projecting on public notice the heterodoxy of independent students
of the Holy Book. As this miserable spirit is now hooting in our ears, it will not be untimely, and we trust not unprofitable, to devote a little quiet thinking to the subject of the essential condition of True Theology.
We shall make our way to the subject by a few consecutive remarks on the points naturally arising out of our text :
First : The words suggest a moral difference in the judgments of men concerning divine truth. There are “just” and “unjust judgments.” There is no sphere of study into which man enters, where opinions are so various and even contentious as that of theology. In astronomy, geology, and the physical sciences, in general, students are comparatively agreed. But in theology there is an incessant, and frequently a violent, collision of sentiment.
The fierce battles that have been fought on the arena of the Bible, make up no small portion of the history of Christendom. Chapters too, of terrible depravity, are found in this voluminous history ;-would, for the honor of our nature they could be blotted out! This diversity of theological sentiment is remarkable. Antecedently, it might have been
expected, that in whatever other branch of study men differed in judgment, in the science of the God of Love, and the common Father of us all, our souls would meet in holy affection, and blend in sweet harmony of thought. Nor is this diversity merely remarkable; it is moral. It implies evil somewhere. Man is a moral being, and all his judgments must be either "just” or “unjust.” Thoughts have a moral character. The Omniscient penetrates the deepest secrets of the mind, marks its thoughts as they rise from their invisible source, and registers them either as good or bad. Thoughts being either virtuous or otherwise, their influence must be either advantageous or pernicious. They are not mere visions that flit before the mind for a moment, and then pass away for ever, making no more impression upon the heart, than the feathery clouds of a summer's sky upon the granite hills. They are for the most part germs. The most light and unsubstantial of them are like those tiny seeds that float in their downy bed on the softest zephyr ; they drop into a soil where they may germinate and grow. Or, to change the figure, the thoughts that rise in the soul, are like the exhalations from the earth, they form clouds in the over-arching heavens ;-clouds that discharge themselves either in fructifying showers, or devastating storms.
Another remark arising out of the text is :
Secondly: That the diversity of our judgment on divine truth is dependent upon our moral conduct. Jesus here intimates that had He been a self-seeker, His judgment would not have been “just.” It is a fact patent to every reflective observer of human nature, that our religious creed is rather the outcome of our general life, than the result of intellectual investigation; springs rather from the proclivities of the heart, than from the deductions of the head. In moral questions, life rules logic; feeling sways judgment; conduct grows the creed. The ancient philosophers recognized this fact. Aristotle considered a
man unfit to meddle with the grave precepts of morality, till the heat of youthful passions and the violence of youthful impulses had
passed away. Intellectually we look at moral truth through our lives; self is our medium of moral vision ; the glass through which we look at God and His holy laws. moral lives, the medium through which we view divine doctrine, be colored, or dimned by sin, all within the sweep of our vision will appear unnatural, unbeautiful, and without truth. You may as well expect to see a green landscape and an azure sky, through a crimson glass, as to see truth in its native beauty through a depraved life. The fact is you must have moral truth in you, as a feeling, before you can see it outside. Could any philosopher impart to you the conception of the taste of a fruit, the like of which had never touched your palate, or the fragrance of a flower, the like of which
you had never smelt, or the form or color of an object, the like of which you had never seen before ? Impossible. Equally impossible for you to understand the doctrines of love, if you not benevolent; the principles of justice, if you are not just. Spiritual things are only spiritually discerned. It is not enough to have the competent intellect; in order to form a "just judgment” upon the truth, you must have a pure life. Holy habits are indispensable to the formation of right theological opinions. “ The truth as it is in Jesus," is to be reached and realized only by the spirit that was in Jesus.
In the moral doings of man then, you have, as the Heavenly Teacher intimates, the philosophy of the diverse judgments on Divine doctrine which prevail amongst men.
Another remark arising out of the text is :
Thirdly : That man's moral condition is resolvable into one of two grand principles of action, self-seeking, or Godseeking. “My judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father.” Regarding Christ as speaking merely as a man, three thoughts are here suggested :-(1) That man has a will concerning himself. He is endowed with the power of free action.
He is by nature constituted the sovereign of his own activities. In other words he has a will. This will he uses ;—he rejects
this, and chooses that, pursues this in preference to that, because he has a will. He has a will concerning his own pleasures, interests, pursuits, self;-an individual purpose in relation to his own life. It is here suggested :-(2) That God has a will concerning man. “ The will of the Father,” The Almighty did not make us and then leave us to ourselves, to live and act as we list. He has a purpose as to how we should employ our powers, regulate our conduct, and spend our lives. It is moreover here suggested :-(3) That man's will and God's are not always in agreement. It is implied that the doing of our own will would not be the doing of our Father's. True, Christ's own individual will was ever in perfect and unbroken harmony with the will of His Father. But of mankind, as depraved, their will is antagonistic to the will of God.
In one respect indeed, the will of depraved man and that of the great God agree. Both are directed to man's happiness. Man's will is bent on his own happiness, so is God's. The will of the infinite Father concerning us is our well-being. It is not His will that any, not even the least, of the little ones should perish. The difference, however, is in the method of obtaining the happiness. Man aims at it as the end of his existence. He holds all things cheap in comparison to it, would subordinate the universe to his own gratification. The Almighty, on the other hand, wills that he should be happy, not by selfishly seeking it as an end, but by obeying universal laws, going out of himself, losing the very idea of his
own interests in the grand idea of universal good ; not by striving to appropriate all to himself, but by giving himself to all, and co-operating with the loving Creator, like stars and suns, and holy angels, for the good of the great creation. Which is the wiser of the methods ! The laws of mind, and the experience of humanity unite in answering, God's. Hence, to pray, as Jesus taught us, for the universal doing of the divine will “on earth as it is in heaven,” is the same as to pray for the happiness of the human race, the world over. To“ glorify God” is to do His will, and to do His will is to promote universal happiness. God's glory is in diffusing His own blessedness through all the districts of His immeasurable creation.
There is yet another remark which arises out of these words, and it contains the pith of the utterance, and the point on which I am especially anxious to fasten your attention :
Fourthly : That the adoption of the divine will is the essential condition of a true theological faith. Christ avers that His “judgment” was “just” because He did not His own will, but His Father's ;-which really means that He was not under the sway of selfishness, but of benevolence. Every mind in the universe is under the domination of one of these two moral dispositions. He is either selfish or benevolent, either doing his own will, or the will of the Father's. Now the grand point on which I am desirous of fastening your attention in this homily is :
THAT THIS BENEVOLENCE, THIS DOING THE DIVINE WILL, IS
ESSENTIAL CONDITION OF A SOUND THEOLOGICAL FAITH.
The truth of this will further appear both from the nature of the case and the testimony of scripture.
First: Look at the nature of the case. The selfish principle does two things which render a "just" judgment on moral questions impossible. (1) It gives a false medium of vision. Selfishness is a lense which reduces to the smallest point the truly great, and magnifies to the greatest proportions the mere puerilities of existence. It throws all in the moral domain into false shapes and fictitious proportions, and tinges all with hues untrue to fact. Can a man, for example, who looks at himself through his selfishness, form any truthful idea of himself? Will he not exaggerate his own excellencies, and overlook his own defects ? Whilst to other men he may appear truly contemptible, to his own eye there is no one so worthy of love and admiration. Selfishness precludes the possibility of self-knowledge. Nor will he be more able to form a "just" judgment concerning other men. The noble order of souls who act on the principle of self-sacrifice, he will not understand, but attribute to them the same