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THOSE who are unfamiliar with the life of Princeton Theological Seminary and desire to learn something of the nature and the early history of the “Conferences” held in the “Oratory” of the Seminary may be referred to the Life of Archibald Alexander by his son, James W. Alexander, pp. 420 ff; the Life of Samuel Miller by his son, Samuel Miller, vol. ii, p. 400; and the Life of Charles Hodge by his son, A. A. Hodge, pp. 453 ff; with the last of which may be compared the Preface to Conference Addresses by Charles Hodge.
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FAITH AND LIFE
‘CONFERENCES’ IN THE ORATORYOF PRINCETON SEMINARY
BENJAMIN B. WARFIELD
professor in the seminary
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
FOURTH AVENUE & 30th STREET, NEW YORK
39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON
BOMBAY, CALCUTTA, AND MADRAS
Ethelbert Dubley Warfield, D.D., TT.D., Litt.D.
president of wilson college sometime president of lafayette college
A BROTHER BELOVED IN THE FLESH AND IN THE LORD
BY BENJAMIN B. WARFIELD
Hope. Inspiration. Trust.
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The Cause Of God
Old Testament Religion
The Wrath Of Man
For Christ’s Sake
Light And Shining
The Glory of the Word
Looking to Men
A Half-Learned Christ
The Conviction of the Spirit
Christ’s Prayer for his People
The Outpouring of the Spirit
Prayer as A Means of Grace
Surrender and Consecration
The Summation of the Gospel
The Spirit’s Testimony to Our Sonship
The Spirit’s Help in Our Praying
All Things Working Together For Good
Man’s Husbandry and God’s Bounty
Communion In Christ’s Body And Blood
The Spirit of Faith
New Testament Puritanism
Paul’s Great Thanksgiving
The Fullness of God
The Sealing of the Holy Spirit
Working Out Salvation
The Alien Righteousness
Peace With God
The Heritage Of The Saints In Light
The Hidden Life
The Mystery of Godliness
The Inviolate Deposit
The Way of Life
The Eternal Gospel
Communion with Christ
Prayer as a Practice
God’s Holiness and Ours
Childship to God
About CrossReach Publications
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THOSE who are unfamiliar with the life of Princeton Theological Seminary and desire to learn something of the nature and the early history of the “Conferences” held in the “Oratory” of the Seminary may be referred to the Life of Archibald Alexander by his son, James W. Alexander, pp. 420 ff; the Life of Samuel Miller by his son, Samuel Miller, vol. ii, p. 400; and the Life of Charles Hodge by his son, A. A. Hodge, pp. 453 ff; with the last of which may be compared the Preface to Conference Addresses by Charles Hodge.
Faith And Life
The history of Elijah supplies us with one of the most striking, and, we may add, one of the most instructive, sections of the Old Testament. With him begins the wonderful history of Prophetism. Through him we obtain a glimpse which we would not willingly lose of God’s dealings with His people: His faithfulness to them when they were unfaithful to Him; His unremitting efforts to withdraw them from sin and keep them in that intimate and obedient relation to Him in which alone was safety to be found.
At first sight the narrative may appear objective to a fault. We are told nothing of who Elijah was, how he had been trained, whence he came as he passes across the page of history. In the midst of Ahab’s wicked rule suddenly he stands before the idolatrous King and pronounces the curse of God, which for his sake should fall on the land which he had polluted with his apostasy. And as suddenly as he appears, so suddenly he withdraws again. Hidden at Cherith or at Zarephath for a period measured by years, he appears on the scene of public history once again as unexpectedly and as much a messenger from on high as at first. Everywhere he goes the powers of heaven accompany him, and his appearances and disappearances are almost as sudden as the bolts of heaven themselves.
But, however rapid the action, and however much, at first view, the narrative may seem to wear the appearance of objectivity; however much it may seem to be concerned only with the history of Israel and God’s endeavour through the words and works of His prophet to awaken His people to righteousness and rescue them from the slough of their idolatry; the story of Elijah yet manages to be primarily and above all else the story of Elijah. Somehow, as in music sometimes a secondary strain is carried on, shot through the dominant theme of the composition, in harmony with it and yet separable from it, and needling but a little emphasizing to make it the chief burden of the whole; so within the bosom of this narrative of how God sent His prophet to Israel with His thunder-message calling it back to the service of Him, of how He dealt thus faithfully with His people and sought to save them from themselves and for Him, there lies, not hidden, but embraced and preserved for us, the touching account of how God dealt with and trained the prophet himself. As Jesus, when He sat in the judgment hall of Annas offering Himself a victim for the saving of the world, yet had time to turn a significant glance upon Peter as he stood denying Him before the courtyard fire, and thus saved His poor repentant follower in the saving of the world; so God in His use of Elijah for the teaching of Israel also found time to train the heart of the prophet himself.
These chapters are crowded with teaching for us. We must select, from the wealth they bring to us, some one thing on which our minds may especially dwell to-day. Let it be this instructive element in them: God’s way of training His prophet. Let us observe in the case of Elijah how God dealt with him in His grace so as to bring him to a better knowledge of himself, of God and of the nature of the work to which he was called. When once we approach the narrative with this purpose in view, it becomes difficult to see anything else in it. We forget Israel in Elijah. Israel seems only the instrument upon which and by means of which Elijah’s heart and soul were taught. We have in a word emphasized the subordinate strain until it becomes dominant; and the very possibility of this is a clear proof that the subordinate strain was planted in the music by the Great Composer, and that it was meant that our ears should hear it.
We are told, we say, nothing of the early life, the early training, or directly, of the character of Elijah. He appears suddenly before us as the messenger of God’s wrath. Like his great antitype—who was greater, our Lord being witness, than even he—he is a voice from the wilderness crying the one word, Repent! He is the human embodiment of the wrath of God. Wherever he goes destruction accompanies him. Drought, fire from heaven, floods of rain, death for the enemies of God, follow hard on his footsteps. He is embodied law. And as such he is a swift witness, against his people. Obedience, repentance, strict account, these form the essence of his message.
God chooses appropriate instruments for His work. And we have reason to believe that the sternness of Elijah’s mission was matched by the sternness of his aspect and the sternness of his character. We are therefore justified in having said that he was, not merely the messenger of God’s law and wrath, but their embodiment. He was by natural disposition, as framed under providential circumstances, and by virtue of the side of God which he had as yet apprehended, nothing loath but rather naturally inclined to act as the witness of God against his people, well-fitted to call down the vengeance of God upon them and to delight in the overthrow of His enemies. He was in danger of thinking of God only as a lawgiver and the just avenger of His wounded honour. Hence arose the necessity of the training of the prophet. Every incident of his career, as it is recorded for us, entered into this training. As we cast our eye over it, we observe that what Elijah needed to be taught was (1) dependence on God; (2) fellowship with man in his sufferings; (3) confidence in God’s plans; and (4) a sense of their essential and broad mercifulness.
These lessons are brought home to him by means of two stupendous miracles over nature, wrought for the purpose of teaching the people that Jehovah and He alone is God,—so closely intertwined were the two lines of Divine work, the training of the people and the training of Elijah. No sooner had the prophet declared to the apostate King the word of God sent to him, “As the Lord, the God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years but according to my word,” than a special personal message came from the Lord to him saying, “Get thee hence, and turn thee cast-ward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be that thou shalt drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.” Thus it was brought about that both Israel and Elijah were simultaneously learning the lesson of the littleness of man before God. But diversely. Israel was learning that it could not with impunity break God’s law; Elijah that even God’s servants depend on Him for their every want. The self-willed nation was learning to submit to its Lord; the perhaps too self-confident prophet was learning the weakness of flesh and man’s utter dependence on his Maker.
In the silence of the wilderness, hidden in one of those torrent-clefts which fall into the Jordan valley, Elijah was dependent on God’s hand for his daily food; on the water which flowed at first in quantities full enough for his needs over the rocks of the brook’s bed, but gradually grew less and less until it trickled in drops scarcely numerous enough to moisten his parched lips; on food brought to him by the unclean ravens. Thus gradually he learned to sympathize with his suffering fellows and to rest on God. It was meet that he who seemed to have the dominion of the heavens in his hands, who prayed that it should not rain and it rained not, should share in the want which resulted; and should learn to sympathize with poor suffering, even if sinful, humanity, like that greater one who was yet to come and learn also how to sympathize with us through His participation in our griefs. How fully he learned his lesson the subsequent narrative tells us in the beautiful story of his dealings with the widow of Zarephath with her cruse and barrel, and her sick and dying child—one of the most Christlike narratives among all the Old Testament miracles. Thus then as Israel was prepared for repentance, the prophet was prepared inwardly to be a fit messenger to his suffering brethren, bringing them relief from their sore affliction. We repeat it, God sends His messages by fit instruments.
And so, in due time, Elijah comes to bring the famished land relief. We all remember the story of the tremendous scene wherein Elijah—the “prodigious” Tishbite, as an old author calls him—challenges the prophets of Baal to meet him in a contest of worship on Carmel, and defeats them by simply calling on his God; and then draws down rain on the parched ground by the almighty virtue of his prayer. No scene of higher dramatic power is to be found in all the world’s literature. As we read, we see the prophet ruling on the mount; we see him bent in prayer on the deserted summit; we see him when, the hand of God upon him, he girded up his victorious loins and ran before the chariot of Ahab, the sixteen miles through the driving storm, from Carmel to Jezreel. No scene we may say could have been more nicely fitted to his mind or to his nature. Here the king of men was king indeed and his victory seemed complete. But God’s children must suffer for their triumphs. Were there no thorns in the flesh, messengers of Satan, sent of God to buffet them, there would be no one of men who could serve the Lord in the scenes of His triumph without grave danger to his own soul. And Elijah needed to learn other lessons yet. He needed to learn that God’s victories are not of the external sort and are not to be won by the weapons of men.
How quickly after the triumph comes the moment of dismay. “And Ahab told Jezebel,” says the simple narrative, “all that Elijah had done, and withal, how he had slain the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, ‘So let the gods do to me and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to-morrow about this time.’ And when he saw that, he arose and went for his life and came to Beersheba.” Thus, Elijah has his lesson to learn again after his miracle. We need not wonder at his sudden flight. It is the price that strong, fervent spirits pay for their very strength, that they suffer a correspondingly strong reaction. So it was with the prophet’s antitype, John the Baptist, when in the prison he lost his faith and sent to ask Him whom God had Himself pointed out to him on the banks of Jordan, whether, indeed, He was the Coming One. So it was with Peter also, who could venture on the waves, but only to cry, “Lord save me, I perish”; who could draw his sword and smite the High Priest’s servant, but only at once to deny his Lord at the challenge of a servant maid. So now it was with Elijah. God’s hand had been outstretched at his call. He had shut up the heavens at his bidding and had nourished him at Cherith and given him miraculous sustenance at Zarephath, and the widow’s son back from the grave. He had sent down His fire from heaven and delivered the priests of Baal into his hand and opened the heavens at his prayer. But Elijah could not trust God, now, to deliver him from a woman’s hate; and that, although her very message bore in it the betrayal of her weakness.
Was there not a deeper spring for this distrust still? With all his training, Elijah did not as yet know his God. His life had fallen on evil days, times of violence that demanded violent remedies for their diseases. And he could not believe in the efficacy of any but violent remedies. Fresh from Carmel and the slaughter of the priests he was impatient of the continuance of evil, and expected the miracles of Carmel to be but the harbinger of the greater miracle of the conversion of the people to God in a day. When Elijah awoke on the morrow and found Israel altogether as it had been yesterday, he was dismayed. Had then the triumph of yesterday been as nothing? Was Jezebel still to lord it over God’s heritage? What then availed it that the fire had fallen from heaven? That the false priests’ blood had flowed like water? That the rain had come at his bidding? Was the hand of God outstretched only to be withdrawn again? Elijah loses heart, because God’s ways were not as his ways. He cannot understand God’s secular modes of working; and, conceiving of His ways as sudden and miraculous only, he feels that the Most High has deserted His cause and His servants. He almost feels bitter towards the Lord who had let him begin a work which He leaves him without power to complete. Hence Elijah must go to the wilderness to learn somewhat of the God he serves. After his first miracle of closing the heavens, he learned what man was in his sufferings and in his needs. Now he has opened the heavens and is to learn what God is and what are the modes of His working and the nature of His plans.
There is no mistaking the purpose of God in leading the prophet into the wilderness; nor the import of the teaching He gives him there. The disheartened prophet, despairing of the cause of God because all things had not turned out as he had anticipated, throws himself on the desert sands to die. But there God visits him; and leads him on to Horeb, where the Law had been given, where it had been granted to Moses to see God’s glory, the glory of the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy and truth. Reaching the Mount the stricken prophet seeks a cave and lodges in it. And then the word of the Lord came to him with the searching question, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” We do not need to doubt that there was reproof in the question; but surely it is not reproof but searching inquiry that forms its main contents. The Lord had Himself led Elijah here, for his lesson. And now the Lord probes him with the deepest of questions.
After all, why was Elijah there? The question calls for reflection; and reflection which will bring light with self-condemnation; and with the self-condemnation, also self-instruction. “What doest thou here, Elijah?” The honest soul of the prophet gives back the transparent truth: “I have been very jealous” … and so on. Here we see distrust in God and despair of His cause; almost complaint of God, for not guarding His cause better; nay, more, almost complaint of God that He had left His servant in the lurch. The Lord deals very graciously with His servant. There is no need now of reproof; only the simple command to go forth and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And then the Lord passed by; first a great, strong wind rent the mountains and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but it was not in the wind that the Lord was. And after the wind, an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, a sound of gentle stillness. Elijah does not now need to be told where the Lord is. The terror of the storm, of the earthquake, and of the flame, is as nothing to the awesomeness of the gentle stillness. “And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out and stood in the entering in of the cave.” Did he already begin to suspect that he had mistaken the storm that goes before Jehovah for Jehovah’s self? The terror of the law for the very hand of Him whose essence is love? The terrible preparation for the Gospel for the Gospel itself? But there is still no word of direct instruction. Only the old question still sounds in his ears. “And behold there came a voice to him and said ‘What doest thou here, Elijah?’ ” To it he returns the same answer as before; but surely in deep humility of spirit. Be that as it may, however, the Lord proceeds to tell him that He has yet work for him to do and sends him back with instructions which imply that there is a long future for the fruition of His plans. And whether at once or more slowly we cannot doubt that the lessen had its effect and Elijah learned not to lose hope in God’s cause because God’s ways in accomplishing it are not our ways.
How full all this is of lessons to us! Let us at least not fail to learn from it: (1) That the cause of God does not depend on our single arm to save it. “I, I only, am left,” said Elijah, as if on him alone could God depend to secure His ends. We depend on God, not God on us. (2) That the cause of God is not dependent for its success on our chosen methods. Elijah could not understand that the ends of God could be gained unless they were gained in the path of miracles of manifest judgment. External methods are not God’s methods. (3) That the cause of God cannot fail. Elijah feared that God’s hand was not outstretched to save and fancied that he knew the dangers and needs better than God did. God never deserts His cause. (4) That it is not the Law but the Gospel, not the revelation of wrath but that of love, which saves the world. Wrath may prepare for love; but wrath never did and never will save a soul.
We close then, with a word of warning and one of encouragement. The word of warning: We must not identify our cause with God’s cause; our methods with God’s methods; or our hopes with God’s purposes. The word of encouragement: God’s cause is never in danger; what He has begun in the soul or in the world, He will complete unto the end.
“And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin.” It may almost seem that David escaped from his crime too easily. We may read the narrative and fail to observe the signs of that deep contrition which such hideous wickedness when once recognized surely must engender. There is the story of the sin drawn in all its shocking details. Then Nathan comes in with his beautiful apologue of the ewe-lamb, and its pungent application. And then we read simply: “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against The Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin.” After that comes only the story of how the child of sin was smitten, and how David besought the Lord for its life and finally acquiesced in the Divine judgment. One is apt to feel that David was more concerned to escape the consequences of his sin than to yield to the Lord the sacrifices of a broken and a contrite heart. Does it not seem cold to us and external, David’s simple acknowledgment of his sin, and the Lord’s immediate remission of it? We feel the lack of the manifestations of a deeply repentant spirit, and are almost ready, we say, to wonder if David did not escape too easily from the evil he had wrought.
It is merely the simplicity of the narrative which is deceiving us in this. The single-hearted writer expects us to read into the bare words of David’s confession, “I have sinned against the Lord,” all the spiritual exercises which those words are fitted to suggest and out of which they should have grown. And if we find it a little difficult to do so, we have only to turn to David’s penitential Psalms, to learn the depths of repentance which wrung this great and sensitive soul. One of them—perhaps the most penetrating portrayal of a truly penitent soul ever cast into human speech—is assigned by its title to just this crisis in his life; and I see no good reason why this assignment need be questioned. The whole body of them sound the depths of the sinful soul’s self-torment and longing for recovery as can be found nowhere else in literature; and taken in sequence present a complete portrayal of the course of repentance in the heart, from its inception in the rueful review of the past and the remorseful biting back of the awakened heart, through its culmination in a true return to God in humble love and trusting confidence, to its issue in the establishment of a new relation of obedience to God and a new richness of grateful service to Him.
Let us take just these four, Psalms 6, 38, 51, 32. In Psa. 6 sounds the note of remorse—it is the torment of a soul’s perception of its sin that is here prominently brought to our most poignant observation. In Psa. 38, the note of hope—not indeed absent even from Psa. 6—becomes dominant and the sorrow and hatred of sin is coloured by a pervasive tone of relief. In Psa. 51, while there is no lessening of the accent of repentance there is along with the deep sense of the guilt and pollution of sin which is expressed also a note of triumph over the sin, which aspires to a clean heart and a steadfast spirit and a happy service of God in purity of life. While in Psa. 32, the sense of forgiveness, the experience of joy in the Lord, and the exercises of holy and joyful service overlie all else. Here we trace David’s penitent soul through all its experiences; his remorseful contemplation of his own sin, his passionate reaching out to the salvation of God, the gradual return of his experience of the joy of that salvation, his final issuing into the full glory of its complete realization.
In some respects the most remarkable of this remarkable body of pictures of the inner experiences of a penitent soul, is that of Psa. 51. It draws away the veil for us and permits us to look in upon the spirit in the most characteristic act of repentance, just at the turning point, as it deserts its sin and turns to God. Here is revealed to us a sense of sin so poignant, a perception of the grace of God so soaring, an apprehension of the completeness of the revolution required in sinful man that he may become in any worthy sense a servant of God so profound, that one wonders in reading it what is left for a specifically Christian experience to add to this experience of a saint of God under the Old Testament dispensation in turning from sin to God. The wonderful depth of the religious experience and the remarkable richness of religious conception embodied in this Psalm have indeed proved a snare to the critics. “David could not have had these ideas,” says Prof. T. C. Cheyne, brusquely; and, indeed, the David that Prof. Cheyne has constructed out of his imaginary reconstruction of the course of religious development in Israel, could not well have had these ideas. These are distinctively Christian ideas that the Psalm sets forth, and they could not have grown up of themselves in a purely natural heart. And therein lies one of the values of the Psalm to us; it reveals to us the essentially Christian type of the religion of Israel; it opens to our observation the contents of the mind and heart of a Spirit-led child of God in the ages agone, and makes us to know the truly Christian character of his experiences in his struggle with sin and his aspirations towards God, and thus also to know the supernatural leading of God’s people through all ages.
For consider for a moment the conception of God which throbs through all the passionate language of this Psalm. A God of righteousness who will not look upon sin with allowance; nay, who directs all things, even the emergence of acts of sin in His world, so that He may not only be just, but also “may be justified when He speaks and clear when He judges.” A God of holiness whose Spirit cannot abide in our impure hearts. A God of unbounded power, who governs the whole course of events in accordance with His own counsels. But above all, a gracious God, full of lovingkindness, abundant in compassion, whose delight is in salvation. There is nothing here which goes beyond the great revelation of Ex. 34:6, “a God full of compassion and gracious, abundant in lovingkindness and truth; keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Indeed the language of the Psalm is obviously modelled on this of Exodus. But here it is not given from the lips of Jehovah, proclaiming His character, but returned to us from the heart of the repentant sinner, recounting the nature of the God with whom he has to do.
And what a just and profound sense of sin is revealed to us here. The synonymy of the subject is almost exhausted in the effort to complete the self-accusation. “My transgression, my iniquity, my sin;” I have been in rebellion against God, I have distorted my life, I have missed the mark; I have, to express it all, done what is evil in Thy sight—in the sight of Thee, the Standard of Holiness, the hypostatized Law of Conduct. And these acts are but the expression of an inner nature of corruption, inherited from those who have gone before me; it was in iniquity that I was born, in sin that my mother conceived me. Shall a pure thing come from an impure? Nay, my overt acts of sin are thought of not in themselves but as manifestations of what is behind and within; thrown up into these manifestations in act, in Thine own ordinance, for no other cause than that Thy righteous condemnation on me may be justified and thy judgment be made clear. For it is not cleanness of act merely that Thou dost desire, but truth in the inward parts and wisdom in the hidden parts. Obviously the Psalmist is conceiving sin here as not confined to acts but consisting essentially of a great ocean of sin within us, whose waves merely break in sinful acts. No wonder the commentators remark that here we have original sin “more distinctly expressed than in any other passage in the Old Testament.” Nothing is left to be added by the later revelation in the way of poignancy of conception—though much is, of course, left to be added in developed statement.
Accordingly, the conception of the radicalness of the operation required for the Psalmist’s deliverance from sin, is equally developed. No surface remedy will suffice to eradicate a sin which is thus inborn, ingrained in nature itself. Hence the passionate cry: Create—it requires nothing less than a creative act—create me a clean heart—the heart is the totality of the inner life—and make new within me a constant spirit—a spirit which will no more decline from Thee. Nothing less than this will suffice—a total rebegetting as the New Testament would put it; an entire making over again can alone suffice to make such an one as the Psalmist knows himself to be—not by virtue of his sins of act which are only the manifestation of what he is by nature, but by virtue of his fundamental character—acceptable to Him who desires truth in the inward part; nay, nothing less than this can secure to him that steadfastness of spirit which will save his overt acts from shame.
Nor does the Psalmist expect to be able, unaided, to live in the power of his new life. One of the remarkable features of the doctrinal system of the Psalm is the clear recognition it gives of the necessity, for the cleansing of the life, of the constant presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. “Take not thy holy Spirit from me and uphold me with a spirit of willingness.” Thine to lead: mine to follow. Not autonomy but obedience, the ideal of the religious life. The operations of the Holy Spirit in the sphere of the moral life, the ethical activities of the Spirit, His sanctifying work, are but little adverted to in the Old Testament, and when alluded to, it is chiefly in promises for the Messianic period. Here, David not merely prays for them in his own case, but announces them as part of the experience of the past and present. His chance of standing, he says in effect, hangs on the continued presence of the Holy Spirit of God in him; in the upholding within him thereby of a spirit of willingness.
Thus we perceive that in its conception of God, of sin, of salvation alike, this Psalm stands out as attaining the high-water mark of Old Testament revelation. It was by a hard pathway that David came to know God and himself so intimately. But he came thus to know both his own heart and the God of grace with a fullness and profundity of apprehension that it will be hard to parallel elsewhere. And it was no merely external knowledge that he acquired thus. It was the knowledge of experience. David knew sin because he had touched the unclean thing and sounded the depths of iniquity. He knew himself because he had gone his own way and had learned through what thickets and morasses that pathway led, and what was its end. And he knew God, because he had tasted and seen that the Lord is gracious. Yes, David had tasted and seen God’s preciousness. David had experience of salvation. He knew what salvation was, and He knew its joy. But never had he known the joy of salvation as he knew it after he had lost it. And it is just here that the special poignancy of David’s repentance comes in: it was not the repentance of a sinner merely, it was the repentance of a sinning saint.
It is only the saint who knows what sin is; for only the saint knows it in contrast with salvation, experienced and understood. And it is only the sinning saint who knows what salvation is: for it is only the joy that is lost and then found again that is fully understood. The depths of David’s knowledge, the poignancy of his conceptions—of God, and sin, and salvation—carrying him far beyond the natural plane of his time and the development of the religious consciousness of Israel, may be accounted for, it would seem, by these facts. He who had known the salvation of God and basked in its joy, came to know through his dreadful sin what sin is, and its terrible entail; and through this horrible experience, to know what the joy of salvation is—the joy which he had lost and only through the goodness of God could hope to have restored. In the biting pain of his remorse, it all becomes clear to him. His sinful nature is revealed to him; and the goodness of God; his need of the Spirit; the joy of acceptance with God; the delight of abiding with Him in His house. Hence his profound disgust at himself; his passionate longing for that purity without which he could not see God. And hence his culminating prayer: “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation.”
The Seventy-sixth Psalm is represented by a very old tradition—it is already embodied in the Septuagint version—as a hymn of praise to God for the destruction of Sennacherib. There is no reason why this tradition may not be supposed to preserve the truth. But its truth or falsehood does not particularly concern us. The Psalm was in any case written upon some such occasion as the destruction of Sennacherib. It celebrates a great deliverance wrought by the power of God; a deliverance beyond all expectation, wrought by God alone. The essence of its representation is that Jehovah is a man of war, above all comparison great. When He enters the field, all the machinery of conflict stops. The lightning-like arrows which fly from the bow cease in their courses; the shield and the sword fall helpless to the ground; the stoutest-hearted with their chariots and horses drop into the inactivity of death. For Jehovah is terrible. None can stand before Him when His wrath begins to burn but a little.
As the Psalmist contemplates the certain destruction that befalls all the foes of Israel, when Jehovah speaks, he rises from the particular to the general. He proclaims the praises of the eternal and universal providence of God, as it is illustrated in the great fact that even the most violent passions of men are under His control, and conduce only to the fulfilment of His ends. “Surely,” he cries, “the wrath of man shall praise Thee, and the residue of wrath Thou wilt restrain,” or “the residue of wrath wilt Thou gird upon Thee.” The fundamental sense is that the ebullitions of the wrath of man, however violent and outbreaking they may be, are, nevertheless, like all else that occurs, under the complete control of God and are employed by Him as instruments for working out His ends. Like all else that comes to pass, then, they illustrate God’s glory. For the rest, the passage teaches, according as we construe the last half of the verse, either that all the wrath of man which would not conduce to the divine glory God restrains and does not permit to manifest itself in action, so that the completeness of His control over man’s wrath is what is emphasized; or else, that after all the wrath of man raging in its utmost fury has exhausted itself in vain struggles against the rising wrath of Jehovah, there remains to Jehovah, in opposition to it, the fullness of wrath, with which He girds Himself for action, so that the resistless might of Jehovah as over against the puny weakness of man is what is emphasized. We need not now attempt to decide between the two interpretations; it is enough to fix our minds on the main declaration—this to wit: that the wrath of man also is under divine control, and it too, like all else that occurs in the world, conduces only to the divine glory.
It is well for us to remind ourselves of this great fact in a time like this. It may seem to us as if the fountains of the great deep were broken up and the world were on the point of being overwhelmed by the violence of human passion. Men seem to have broken away from the government of conscience, and even from the guidance of the common instincts of humanity. The whole earth appears to have become a churning mass of rage. We see millions of our fellow-creatures flying at one another’s throats in a ruthless struggle, and whole countries harried and reduced to ruin. Up from the battle-fields, and up from the wasted lands behind the battle-fields, rise only cries of rage and despair. It is good for us to remember that the Lord God Omnipotent reigns over all. That all this welter of blood and iron He holds well in hand. That none of it would have occurred without His direction; that nothing can occur in it apart from His appointment; and I do not say merely that He will overrule it all for His glory, but that all of it will conduce to His praise. For, “surely the wrath of man is to Him for praise, and the remainder of wraths will He restrain.”
It may be hard for us to understand or even to believe it—for our sight is dim and the range of our vision is narrow—but all things work together under God’s governing hand for good. Even the things which in themselves are evil, in all their workings work together for good in this world of ours; for it is God’s world after all, and He is the Governor of it, and He governs it for good, and that continually. John Calvin reminds us that though Satan may rage about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, yet he has a bit in his mouth and it is God who holds the reins. “Oh, Assyrian, the rod of My anger,” cries Jehovah. It was for his own ends—lust of conquest, delight in power—that the Assyrian on his part was doing it. He knew not that he was but the instrument in God’s hands for working higher ends, and that when they were secured, the sword would drop from his inert fingers and he would himself fall on sleep. “Glorious art Thou and excellent,” sings the Psalmist, “more than the mountains of prey: the stout-hearted are made a spoil, they have slept their sleep; and none of the men of might have found their hands. At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, both chariot and horse are cast into a dead sleep.” In the midst of the turmoil of war, let us remember that war too is of God, and that it, too, will in His hands work for good: that even the wrath of man shall be to Him for praise.
But there is more than even this in the Psalm for our learning, at least by implication. We read in it not only of the wrath of man, but also of the wrath of Jehovah; and the wrath of Jehovah is set over against the wrath of man as greater than the wrath of man—greater, more lasting, more prevailing. None can stand when the wrath of Jehovah only begins: when all other wrath is quenched the wrath of Jehovah abides—He girds Himself with it and is terrible to the kings of the earth. We must not then fall into the fancy that all wrath is evil, and that we must always and everywhere suppress it. There is a righteous anger, as well as an unrighteous. Else we would not read, “Be ye angry, and sin not.” If to be angry were already sin, we could not be exhorted not to sin in our anger. God is angry. He is angry with the wicked every day. His wrath is revealed from heaven against all that work iniquity. If it were not so, He would not be a moral being: for every moral being must burn with hot indignation against all wrong perceived as such. That is precisely what we mean by a moral being: a being which knows right and wrong, and which approves the right and reprobates the wrong. If we do not react against the wrong when we see it, in indignation and avenging wrath, we are either unmoral or immoral.
Therefore also, Christ was angry. The Gospels are filled with instances of the manifestation by Him of the emotion of anger in all the varieties of this emotion: from mere annoyance, as when He rebuked His disciples for forbidding the children to be brought unto Him, to burning indignation, as when the unfeeling Scribes would not permit Him to heal the suffering on the Sabbath day—yes, even to what the Evangelists do not scruple to call outbreaking rage which shook with its paroxysm His whole physical frame, as when He advanced to do battle with death and sin—the destroyers of men—at the grave of Lazarus. Even the Lamb feels and shows wrath. Christ is our perfect example. And if we are to be His perfect imitators, we not only may, but must, be angry; we not only may, but must, exhibit wrath—whenever, that is, good is assaulted and evil is exalted. We too, must be found, on proper occasion, with the whip of small cords in our hands; we too, must not draw back when righteousness is to be vindicated or when the oppressed are to be rescued. In this sense too, the wrath of man is to God for praise. We please Him when we are righteously angry. He who never feels stirring within him the emotion of just indignation is not like God in that high element of the image of God in which he was made—His moral nature. Indignation is an inevitable reaction of a moral being in the presence of wrongdoing, and it is not merely his right, but his duty to give it play when righteousness demands it.
No doubt we are to seek peace and ensue it. But this is the peace not of the condonation of evil, but of the conquest of it. We are to conquer evil in ourselves. We are to know no inordinate anger. We are to be slow to anger and quick to put it aside: we are not to let the sun go down upon our wrath. We are to remember that anger is a short madness, and not trust ourselves too readily in wreaking it on others—even when we think it righteous: not avenging ourselves, but giving place to the wrath of God, knowing that in His own good time and way He will avenge us. We are to conquer it in others: by the soft word which takes away anger, by the patient endurance which disarms it, by the un-wearying kindness which dissolves it into repentance and love. Love is the great solvent; and love is the bond of peace. Where love is, there wrath will with difficulty live, and only that wrath which is after all outraged love can easily assert itself. But so long as there is wrongdoing in the world, so long will there be a place in the world for righteous indignation.
It is only when the world shall have been remade and there is no longer anything in it that can hurt or destroy that the lion and the lamb shall lie down together—because now the lion has ceased to be a lion. These things are to us an allegory. They mean that peace is the crowning blessing of earthly life and comes in the train of righteousness. Peace is, in the strictest sense, a by-product and is not to be had through direct effort. He works best for the world’s peace who works for the world’s righteousness. It is only when the world shall come to know the Lord and obey Him, that the peace of God can settle down upon it. We may cry, “Peace, peace,” and there be no peace. But he who cries, “Righteousness, righteousness,” will find that he has brought peace to the earth in precisely the measure in which he has brought righteousness. Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, because He takes away sin; and you and I are workers for peace when we preach His Gospel, which is the Gospel of peace just because it is the Gospel of deliverance from sin. Sin means war, and where sin is, there will war be. Righteousness means peace, and there can never be peace where righteousness has not first been realized.
“He came to his own and his own received him not.” Though they had been for generations under the tutelage of the law, the schoolmaster to lead them to Christ; though the forerunner had come to prepare the way before Him, proclaiming repentance to be the gate to His spiritual kingdom; yet He found the majority of the people inflamed by earthly hopes and passions and wedded to their expectation of a kingdom of flesh, in which they as kings and priests should revel in the discomfiture of all their enemies. Consequently we find our Lord taking an early opportunity in His ministry, when He saw the multitudes before Him, to teach them the real nature of the kingdom which He came to found. In this aspect, the Sermon on the Mount is closely analogous to the marvellous discourse on the Bread of Life, recorded for us in the sixth chapter of John. In both alike our Lord found Himself in the presence of a carnal-minded crowd whose hopes were set upon an earthly kingdom of might and worldly glory, and who sought Him only in the hope that through Him they might gratify their ambitious aspirations. In both alike the purpose of the Divine teacher is instruction and sifting, or sifting through instruction. They knew not of what spirit they were; He would open to them the nature of the work He came to do, the nature of the spiritual kingdom He came to found.
By historical necessity, the Sermon on the Mount is, then, the proclamation of the law of the kingdom. How beautifully it opens! Not, as the listening crowd, hanging eagerly upon the lips of the wondrous teacher, expected, with a clarion call to arms, or a ringing promise of reward to him who fought valiantly for Israel. Not as we might expect, with a stinging rebuke to their carnal hopes and a stern correction and repression of their ungentle spirit. But gently and winningly, wooing the hearers to the higher ideal, by depicting in the most attractively simple language the blessedness of those in whom should be found the marks of the true children of the kingdom. When the Lord speaks to His children it is not in the voice of the great and strong wind that rends the mountain and breaks in pieces the rocks, nor in that of the earthquake, or of the fire, but in that still small voice or “sound of a gentle stillness” in which He spoke to Elijah in the mountain. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah had come and He opens His mouth and blesses the people in the voice of a Lamb.
Look at this ninefold twisted cord of the beatitudes and learn what the followers of the Lamb must be. As we look does it seem a mirror giving us back the lines and features of our own faces? Or rather, some strange picture of an unknown race brought home by some traveller to a far country—a race of almost unhuman lineaments, so different are they from our own? Indeed, here is the portrait of the dwellers in a far land, even a heavenly; here we trace in living characters the outlines of those who live with God; the citizens of His kingdom whose home and abiding city is above, where Jesus is on the right hand of God. They are not of lofty carriage—but “poor in spirit”; nor are they of gay countenance—they “mourn” rather, and “hunger and thirst” eagerly “after the righteousness” which they lack within themselves; they are “merciful, poor in heart, peacemakers.” Surely then, they are well-esteemed among men! Nay, this is another of their characteristics. They are supremely lovable; but men hate them. They are persecuted for their very righteousness’ sake. But they have their reward. Blessed are they—nay, “blessed are ye—when men shall reproach you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for Christ’s sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”
The promises of Christ are not earthly but heavenly. He promises His servants evils here below; so true is it that “prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, adversity of the New.” Yet in the midst of all this lowliness and evil, they are blessed. As heaven is higher than earth so high is their blessedness above any earthly success or glory or delight. Though they see their earthly house of this tabernacle being literally worn away, then, by afflictions oft and endurances many they need not faint; for even this affliction is light in comparison with the weight of yonder glory. More, they may rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is their reward in heaven. The more suffering for Christ here, the more glory with Christ there. As an old writer has it, the more the vessels of mercy are scoured here, the more may they be assured that God wants them to shine there; the more clear it is that we are being preserved not in sugar but in brine, the more clear that God is preserving us not for a season but for eternity. The last of the beatitudes thus pronounces blessed those who suffer affliction for Christ’s sake and bids them rejoice and be exceeding glad, because their reward shall be great.
Let us punctually observe, however, that it is not affliction in itself that is pronounced blessed. It is affliction for Christ’s sake. This is the key-phrase which locks up the whole list of beatitudes. For Christ’s sake. It is this that transmutes poverty of spirit into heavenly humility, that brings comfort to the mourning, and glorious riches to the meek, and plenty to those that hunger and thirst after righteousness. It is this that has been the spring of mercy in the merciful, of purity in the pure of heart, of peace in the peacemakers. And it is this and this only that makes it a glory to endure the scoffs and revilings and persecutions of men. As truly as we may say that the blessedness of affliction and persecution is due to its relation to the reward, is due to the fact that it is the gateway to the kingdom, so also may we say that it depends on its cause. For Christ’s sake is the little phrase that points us to its source and law.
When we selected these three words, “For my sake” as the centre of our meditation this afternoon, therefore, we elected to ask you to give your attention this hour to the great determining motive of the Christian life, above which the Scriptures know no higher, above which no higher can be conceived. Christ adverts to it as the great moving spring of Christian activity and endurance in the ninth beatitude. When reproach and persecution and reviling are endured on Christ’s account, then and then only are we blessed. But this is not the only place or the most moving way that this motive is adduced. The Scriptures are full of it. Let us sum up what we have to say of it in two propositions. (1) For Christ’s sake is the highest motive which could be adduced to govern our conduct. (2) For Christ’s sake ought and must be our motive in all our conduct. In other words it is the grandest and most compelling, and we should make it our universal and continual motive, in all our conduct of life.
Let us consider then, the greatness of this motive as a spring of action, and here let us observe, first, that its greatness as a motive is revealed to us by the greatness of the requirements that are made of us on its account. This ninth beatitude is an example in point. Men are expected to endure reproaches and persecutions and all manner of evil for Christ’s sake. That is, “for Christ’s sake” is expected to sweeten the bitterest cup, and to make every affliction joyful to us. Disgraceful scourgings, unjust imprisonments (Matt. 10:18), burning hates (10:22), malignant slanders (Luke 6:22), death itself (Matt. 10:39), and that with the utmost refinement of cruelty and the deepest depths of disgrace; all these are enumerated for us as things before which no Christian should hesitate when it is for Christ’s sake. All these are things which Christians have joyfully met with praises on their lips for Christ’s sake. The enumeration in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews is but a bare catalogue of what since then has been endured with delight by those who bore this strengthening talisman in their bosom, For Christ’s sake. These too have had trial of mockings and scourgings, of bonds and imprisonments, of stonings and sawings asunder, and of long lives of privation in deserts and caves and have for Christ’s sake witnessed a good confession. These all, in one word, have testified to us the supreme strength of the motive “for Christ’s sake,” by joyfully suffering everything for Christ, that they might be glorified with Him, becoming sharers in His sufferings that they might be participants in His glory.
And this leads us to observe, secondly, that the greatness of this motive is revealed to us by the greatness of the promises that are attached to living by it. So in this ninth beatitude, those who are afflicted for Christ’s sake are pronounced blessed, and are called upon to rejoice and be exceeding glad, because—because, so it is added, “great is your reward in heaven.” And so is it everywhere. “Every one” it is said, without exception (Matt. 19:29 ), “every one that hath left houses or brethren or sisters or fathers or mothers or children or lands for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold and shall inherit eternal life.” Thus it is that those whose eyes are opened may see the recompense of the reward and may be enabled to account the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. He that denieth Christ before men may, indeed, receive the applause of men; but men pass away and their applause is empty air. But, he that denieth men for Christ’s sake is received into the eternal habitations. “He that findeth his life shall lose it; but he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” If we suffer with Him so also shall we be glorified together with Him (Rom. 8:17). There is, indeed, no limit to the reward promised; truly “great is our reward in heaven.” And the greatness of the motive may be justly measured by the greatness of the reward. As high as heaven is above earth, as long as eternity is beyond time, as great as perfection is above lack, as strong as stability is above that which endureth but a moment; so high is the heavenly reward above the earthly suffering and so strong is the motive to act for Christ’s sake.
But, thirdly, let us observe that the greatness of this motive is revealed to us by the fact that God honours it as the motive of His own most mysterious acts of redemption. He not only asks us to do for Christ’s sake what is hard for us, but He Himself for Christ’s sake does what is hard for Him. What could be more difficult for a just and holy God than to pardon sin and take the sinner into His most intimate love and communion? Yet for Christ’s sake God does even this. “I write unto you, little children,” says the beloved Apostle, “because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake” (1 John 2:12). All the instrumentalities of grace are set at work in the world, only for Christ’s sake. It is for His sake that we are accepted by God, that we have the gift of the Spirit, that we are regenerated, adopted, justified, sanctified, glorified. Nay, even the little things of life are for His sake. It is not only for His sake that we are received by God, but for His sake that we are treated even here and now while yet sinners as God’s children, allowed freedom of access to the Throne of Grace, and have all our petitions (little and great alike) heard and answered. “Verily I say unto you,” says the Saviour, “whatever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do” (Jno 14:13).
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