IT was observed in the last lecture that the force of our LORD'S example depends, not so much on the precise circumstances of the separate acts of His life, but rather on the principles lying beneath them, which actuated them, of which they are the human expression. One such principle which I would now lead you to consider, is that our LORD'S life was passed in the ordinary course of the world. Three years only of the thirty-three were passed in the special work of the ministry; the remainder in domestic life. Even in the course of those three years, He was present at the marriage feast of Cana, He accepted the entertainments of the rich, He journeyed from place to place, His not unfrequent retirement was in a family circle at Bethany, He moved familiarly among all classes, He was so little separated from earthly relations, that His mother and His brethren once endeavoured to draw Him back home, when they thought Him too sorely pressed with toil and persecution, as though He had given them reason to suppose, that He was theirs still in the bonds of His early ties.
This course was the more extraordinary, because a Prophet's life, the life of one specially sent from GOD, had its well-known form among the Israelites, in dress, in abode, in all outward aspect; and the messenger who went before His Face, did assume this distinctive character and manner of life. Why then should our LORD deviate from this, which was His own appointment? It was the more extraordinary, because His ministry, as far as human judgment can discern, would have been more favourably received among the people, had He, like S. John, appeared in the traditionary form of the Man of GOD. "All men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed." "Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan confessing their sins." It was one reproach urged against our LORD and His disciples, that they were not as ascetic, as the disciples of John." "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Thy disciples fast not?" They did not, i.e., exhibit to the apprehension of the Jews the acknowledged signs of a Divine mission. But why not take advantage of this predisposition of the people, to facilitate their reception of the truth? There were no doubt causes for this beyond our knowledge, but the three following reasons may be suggested as naturally tending to such a result.
1. It was impossible that our LORD should assume a peculiar, a single form of sanctity. He is GOD, and therefore the Source of all forms of sanctity. He giveth to all men severally as He wills, and is Himself the origin of all He gives. All vocations alike emanate from, and find in Him their type. All created forms existed first in His mind, had an actual existence in Him, as His living ideas, before they took substantial shape. He could live only as the Eternal Existence, containing in Himself all possible forms of being, created or uncreated. To take to Himself a distinctive form would be to limit His Being, Which is infinite, and so cease to be the origin and end of all life. And it could make no difference when He took a created nature. He could not but be all that the created nature, which He assumed, could express in its utmost extent of being, bringing out in human lineaments the living ideas of humanity pre-existing in the Eternal Mind. He must thus exhibit all such ideas, or they would cease to be. He was Himself perpetually all that humanity could be, though it is impossible for us to realise, except in detail, and even then only by glimpses, the several individual features. The several attributes, constituting the complex beauty and sanctity of His created being, come out to view separately, as He wills. Thus the illuminative life came forth on Mount Tabor; the contemplative life in His midnight retreats on the mountain; the Apostolic life in His toilsome ministry; the ascetic life in His long fast; the suffering life in His Passion; the social life in the entertainments of which He partook; the domestic life all through His early years. We catch one by one these several forms of sanctity, as in a mountainous country the eye follows the light falling on one peak after another in the range, while each in turn is flooded with glory. But though we can thus embrace His life only in its separate portions, He was in Himself a comprehensive Unity, at all times All in all.
2. As this combination of the several forms of sanctity was thus necessary for Himself, so it was equally necessary for us. Our LORD does not enter into any single manhood, but into our whole nature. He assumed our nature, and lives in our nature, as a whole; and He did so, in order that He might leaven the whole, that He might impart His image, dividedly on each, but wholly on the whole Body. When He gives life, He gives the mould, the form which He wills each separate life to be, in vocation, in character, in spiritual beauty. He infuses that portion of Himself which He wills to be the individual form of each one's life, the separate type into which each is to grow, in which each is to reach his predestined perfection. In Chemistry there is a substance, which, laid on prepared paper, though itself invisible, yet when exposed to the light of the sun, by degrees comes out to view in all the varied lines and colours of a perfect picture. Even so, the presence of our LORD'S Humanity is laid up in each one of the elect, invisibly, unconsciously; and when the soul within whom this presence is impressed, shall be brought at last into the full vision of the Face of GOD, the lineaments of the beauty of the life of JESUS, which He willed him to possess, will come forth to view; the likeness of our LORD will be seen upon him; he will be visibly transfigured into that which he had been ever receiving more and more into himself in this world, though he knew it not. But how could this be for every one alike in his own separate case, except our LORD both comprehended in Himself all forms of sanctity, all vocations, and could also adapt Himself to each individual member of His mystical Body, being in the truest sense "all things to all men?" How otherwise could He be to every man alike, whatever his distinction be, an example that "he should follow His steps?"
3. There is a third point touching us most closely in our daily life, which led to the same result. One great purpose of our LORD'S example was to teach us the true use of the creatures. As He showed in Himself what man was to become in Him, so, Himself living amidst the creatures, He would show to the renewed man his relation to the creatures and their true use. It was in misusing the creatures that man fell; his return to GOD must therefore be in the true use of them. And as our converse with the creatures is perpetual, and they and we act and react on each other all our life through, we cannot exaggerate the importance of our LORD'S example on this point.
There are, according to GOD'S will, chiefly three uses of the creatures.
I. They are intended for contemplation. S. Paul expressly reveals this use of the creatures. "The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and GODhead, so that they," even the heathen, "are without excuse." Created forms are as shadows cast from the substances of the inner world, and it is designed that we should attain to a gradual knowledge of GOD, as we look on and through outward nature with an illuminated eye. Our LORD bid His disciples behold in "the lilies of the field," "the fowls of the air," the "fields white for the harvest," the hidden mysteries of grace. His parables, like the language of the Psalmist and Prophets of old, continually suggest the symbolic character of natural objects. Holy Scripture thus suggests the conclusion, that the whole realm of nature is a symbol of the Invisible.
II. Again, the creatures of GOD are designed to serve us. They minister to our necessities, our convenience, or our delight. We may freely use them for such ends. "Every creature of GOD is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of GOD and prayer." We move everywhere amidst objects perpetually ministering to us, even as we are ourselves called to minister to GOD. They were created to serve us, even as we were created to serve Him. And it is the special blessedness of the faithful, that they may see in all objects of the natural world the impressions of GOD'S will, the purposes for which they were created, and for which they are given into our hands to be used for His glory. "To the pure all things are pure." The pure walk to and fro through the earth, as priests, perpetually offering up the works of their hands, using, as instruments of adoration and praise, whatever falls to their lot, equally whether it be for joyous-ness, for innocent convenience, or for pressing necessity.
III. They are intended, moreover, for our probation. The supreme will which commands the use of the creatures according to certain laws, causes them also, as a necessary consequence, to be the perpetual occasions of self-discipline, the opportunities of abstinence and self-denial. Such a result arises from the simple fact of the submission of the will being required in the permitted use of the things of GOD. There are various ways in which we may misuse the creatures of GOD. We may employ them according to our own will, without reference to the will of GOD; or, again, we may set undue affections on them, and in their enjoyment look not beyond them to their Creator. These are abuses from the simple fact, that the creatures are not our own, and that they are not our GOD; and they are the most palpable modes of misusing the creatures.
But there is a still more subtle evil, and one equally fatal, which requires a fuller explanation. It consists in valuing the creatures as ends, and not as means to an end; counting them good or evil in themselves, as they are pleasing or displeasing to our natural tastes, instead of good or evil from the results they produce, or the objects they further, according to the law of grace. We value riches as goods in themselves, when they may be the very snares to drown us in destruction and perdition. We regard poverty as an evil in itself, when it may be the surest means of chastening our being into disattachment and heavenly-minded ness. We are eager for high places, when they may be the very development of some base desire. We reject humiliation, when it is our very union with CHRIST. We choose what is pleasantest, when it is only feeding an intense self-love. We turn from pain, from a cross, when it would be the extinction of some hateful sin. Now this is to use the creatures by the standard of man's natural corruption; to look at them as we are under the bondage of appetite. Such a view is wholly of this world, and of self, and that not our higher, our redeemed self, but the self which is the root of all our misery and our shame. The evil lies in viewing the creatures irrespectively of their end, and it involves a complete perversion of their chief object. It is setting the present gain against the future, the infinite consequence. It is making ourselves subject to the creature, which is itself "subject to vanity," instead of rising above it, becoming master of it, making it instrumental to our destiny of boundless glory. It is viewing the creature in nature, and that a fallen nature, and not in grace; out of CHRIST, instead of in CHRIST.
It was, therefore, a momentous crisis for humanity, when our LORD descended among the creatures, and by His own example, restored the true order of man's relation to them. He did so in two different lines of manifestation. 1. By His Presence at the marriage-feast, and at many social entertainments, He showed how society, how even festivity, may be united with GOD: how earthly joy may be sacramental, and the splendour of the world's life made consistent with sanctity. This expression of our LORD'S mind has its bearing on all pure earthly happiness. 2. On the other, hand, in "learning obedience by the things which He suffered;" in showing that to forsake all was to be nearest to Himself; that the joy set before Him, was the result of the cross and the shame which He endured; that the not pleasing Himself and unceasing humiliation, were the means of raising humanity into the perfect union with the Divine nature,--He manifested another law in the use of the creatures. He thus revealed in His own person the momentous truth, that in refining and perfecting the nature of His elect, suffering through the agency of the creatures is a means expressly ordained of GOD. He made this an universal law, when He said; "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me."
Here then we discern a third reason why our LORD'S life on earth could not be limited to any special form of sanctity; for how could He have been an example to every man in the use of the creatures, unless His life covered the whole sphere of human existence, unless He had lived in the eye of the world, moving alike in all its vocations, bound about by all its manifold ties? Especially in this third respect His life becomes to every man the true counteraction to the world's evil influences, the type of every man's true relation to outward things.
In order to enter into our LORD'S example in its relation to the world, we must beware, lest we take a narrow view of what is meant by the world, and think that it is only to be found in actual intercourse with society. We carry the world about us. It creeps into our seclusion, into loneliness, into the cloister. Or rather being in us, as we enter into our retreat, it fastens on spiritual things, and through them as an inner spirit develops itself. It comes out in love of power, or in self-pleasing choices, or in jealousies, or in desire of praise, or in feeding self-complacency, or in love of notoriety, or in avoiding self-abasement, even in a religious Home. It may thus transform even outward sanctity into only another shape of worldliness. There is however a safeguard in a religious Home, which is not found in the world. The pressure of the outward rule, the constant contrast of a high spiritual standard, the reproof, the check, which can hardly fail to come sooner or later, the fact that even minute defects are seen in enlarged proportions, because they are viewed in the strong light of a complete religious profession,--these are stays to a failing will, and a stimulus against natural sloth.
But in the world, in society, where there is no fixed outward rule, where the standard around us is low, where reproof scarcely or seldom reaches us, and hardly any check is felt, except what we ourselves will, and where everything tends to dull all high, keen, sensitiveness of sin, -- then how great is the advantage which the world has over us; how does its influence penetrate, and cause one after another to fall off from the standard of pure faith and love, which may have once been conceived in the soul, when the minor details of ordinary life make their continual exactions and prevail; how do even slightest hindrances disturb devotion, and petty annoyances irritate the temper, and facilities to ease break down all attempts at austerity; how is time frittered away; how does purity of intention suffer in a self-pleasing conversation, and the wavering will tend to comply increasingly with the lax thoughts and habits of others; how by an ever exciting competition do small but increasing desires for what captivates the eye, or allures the intellect, fill up the leisure hours and vacant heart, causing constant dissipation! Or the provocations of controversy, and discussions of the characters or habits of men, eat out charity! Through such causes constantly acting, secondary motives and aims gradually get power and prevail over the once ardent singleness of the first love, or the strictness of early discipline; and, as the sure result, there grows a relaxed, selfish, aimless course of mere accommodation to circumstances, a consequent powerlessness in overcoming sin, a being grown over with infirmities, as moss settles on a decaying trunk; and at last a constant haunting sense of self-reproach alone remains to tell of former better aims unsatisfied, and of grace forfeited, as a ghost is thought to hover about the home where the living spirit had once dwelt.
Can such a soul stand, when there arises some unexpected call to high sacrifice, or patient suffering, and GOD tempts His Abraham by the command to offer up his Isaac? What a parable is to be drawn .from the great Patriarch's history! Abraham, inured to a life of faith, never inclined to care for the rich plains of Sodom and its gay courts, could mount the steepest ascent of Mount Moriah, for the purpose of slaying with his own hand his only son. Lot, too yielding to sense, and heedlessly risking himself amid the voluptuousness of Sodom, lured and enthralled by its abundance, could not climb the mountain even to save his life. Lot's wife, still more failing in will, though holding on to the skirts of her husband, too conscious of evil to remain in it, yet too inert of soul to hate the thought of it, could look at it with unrepentant eyes, and she became a pillar of salt. [The thought of this application, of the Patriarchal history is due to a striking passage in Mr. Williams's admirable volume of "Sermons on Female Scripture Characters." It occurs in treating the character of Lot's wife.] O marvellous illustration of the difference of a life ever striving against the world, and of one carelessly yielding to it! O the grandeur of the life of one who can tread with Abraham on the hills which overlook the rich soft luxuries of the plain, refusing to descend, though he may again and again be drawn, as he mounts upward, into the awful cloud of suffering, in the call to sacrifice the dearest object of his heart. But, O how more precious still, to be identified with JESUS CHRIST in the perpetual grace of self-oblation, in the sustained power of equanimity; the same whether being present at the marriage-feast, or drinking the cup of agony; alike sanctifying what is joyous in the confidence of its ministering to the glory of GOD, or enduring the Cross, despising the shame, in the consciousness of a yet deeper conformity to the will of GOD, and of the glory which through human suffering is being accomplished!
O JESU, what a different scene do Thine eyes too often behold, as they look closely into many a home, many a social circle, many a cell of devotion, even of Thine own elect; and yet, that Thy Soul might be satisfied with the springing up and perfecting in Thy redeemed, of a life like unto Thine own, Thou didst come very near to us, and Thou, the Impassible GOD, didst mingle Thyself with the creatures, becoming subject to pain, and shame, and death, to remedy our disease, and free us from our bondage. Yea, Thou art even now touching all created things, and hast taken into Thyself a created nature, and, O GOD, wilt ever be, what for us Thou hast become, "the Firstborn of every creature;" and this only in order that we may, by overcoming with Thee the vanity of created things, rise in Thee to the uncreated joy which Thou hadst with the FATHER from the beginning. Oh that we, Thine own, should thus grieve Thee still, still cause Thy tears to flow, and frustrate the fruits to which Thou didst look as the recompense of Thine awful Passion. But Thou hast still borne with us, and still drawest us, that we may turn unto Thee, and in Thee live the truer, holier, more perfect life. To Thee, O LORD, we turn, for Thou art "touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and wast tempted like as we are;" and we trust that Thou wilt have mercy upon us, and renew us, for we are Thine. "Turn Thou us, O good LORD, and so shall we be turned." "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for Thou art my praise."