Preached in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, March 8, 1867, as part of a course of sermons on Christ as "The Victor in the Conflict."
The voice of Mm that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
ALL the four Evangelists refer these words to the ministry of St. John the Baptist; in St. John they received their highest and complete fulfilment. But their first and historical reference is to the return of the Jewish captives from Babylon. The Lord was the King of the chosen people; and in the vision of the Prophet, the promised return to home and freedom was to be a triumphant procession across the desert, headed by Israel's invisible Monarch. The cause of the holy people was the cause of God; their bondage and shame in Babylon, although a heaven-sent punishment, had been a humiliation for the majesty of Jehovah before the face of the scoffing heathen; their triumphant return would be the work of God, it would also be the manifestation of His glory. No obstacle should stop the path of His resistless advance: "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
Clearly, my brethren, there is here a wider reach of meaning than any which can be satisfied by the actual prospect or history of the return from Babylon. Say what you will about the highly poetical form into which the Prophet has undoubtedly thrown his fervid thought, still there is the thought beneath the form which clothes it. If it would be a degrading mistake to resolve this passage into a mere description of some vast engineering operations; if valleys were not literally to be filled up, and mountains were not literally to be levelled, something, at any rate, was to take place in the moral, social, or political world which should correspond to this vigorous imagery. And that something was to interest, not merely the Jewish race and their heathen neighbours, but the whole human family: "All flesh shall see it together." It is clear that the particular, local, temporal deliverance melts before the eye of the Prophet--as, gazing on it, he describes it--into a deliverance, general and world-wide in its significance, extending in its effects far beyond the limits of time. The Deliverance of deliverances is before him. He sees the great escape from bondage, of which all earlier efforts at freedom were but shadows; he sees it afar off, the pathway of mankind across the desert of time from the city of chains and sorrow, whereof Babylon was the earthly type, to the city of freedom and glory imaged in Jerusalem. And thus it is that the Evangelists so unhesitatingly apply the passage to St. John the Baptist. St. John was, as we Christians know, the immediate forerunner of the Deliverer of humanity; St. John, as a hermit of the desert and preacher of repentance, supplied, by his life, the connecting link between the literal and spiritual senses of the prophecy; St. John, gathered up in himself, embodied and represented the ages of prediction and expectation; he was the mind of the Old Testament in a concrete form, laying down its office and proclaiming its work of preparation finished, when the Reality Which it foreshadowed had come.
Now although, as we were reminded by our Bishop on Ash-Wednesday, it is a fatal error to speak as if the providences and the Being of God were a mere reflection of the wants and thoughts of man; although Redemption is an objective fact, the primary motive of which we may reverently but surely say was the setting forth before the moral universe the glory of the Divine Redeemer; yet still it is true that the Only-begotten Son of God, "for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven." It was not that He modified His original plan by adapting His Incarnation to the necessities of a fallen race. These necessities were foreseen; they entered into, they determined the form of His advent, which thus combined our dearest interests with His highest honour. He came indeed that, even by His deepest humiliations, He might set forth God's attributes of righteousness and love. But He came also at the voice and pleading of our deep necessity; He came to die for all, because, as His Apostle says, all were dead; He came for His own glory indeed, but also because, if He had not come, we must have perished irretrievably.
Accordingly, the preparation for His advent was rather of a character required by our need than essential to His glory or to His personal triumph. It has indeed been said by a great military leader of modern days that the first condition of success in a campaign is the possession of accurate information as to the strength and movements of the enemy. Certainly, the Captain of our salvation was already furnished with all necessary information; He had measured from the depths of His eternity the foe whom He would conquer, and the shame and penalty to which He would submit. But if man is to share in His Victory, man must be prepared for His advent, man must be educated for the blessing in store for him. Unless man is to be redeemed as he was created, without any consent or co-operation of his will; unless he is to be saved as if, instead of being a moral agent, he were a tree or a stone, man must enter in some measure into the designs of his Benefactor; the way of the Lord must be prepared, the highway of our God must be laid down in the desert of man's moral and intellectual wanderings.
It is plain, my brethren, that our subject is too wide to admit of any but a very partial treatment. Let us then observe that the most necessary element of this preparation for the Victor was to convince man that he needed redemption by a heavenly friend and conqueror. We know that in this country no political measure that really touches the interests of the people can receive the sanction and the force of law, unless the people themselves are convinced that the evils which the measure purposes to remedy are substantial and not fancy evils. No legislative genius on the part of the minister can dispense with this condition of success. If the country is not convinced that the measure is necessary, the minister must take measures that will produce this conviction. He must hold meetings; he must make speeches; he must write dissertations; he must deal in dry statistical demonstrations and in vehemently passionate appeals; he must set in motion all the complicated machinery of political agitation and enterprise which may be at his disposal. Supposing him to be himself satisfied of the necessity of the measure in contemplation, this is nothing more than his duty to his country: he would fail of that duty if he could neglect to diffuse, according to the best of his power, that amount of political information which is necessary to his success.
You will not understand me to be saying that here we have a strict and absolute analogy to the sacred matter immediately before us; because it is plain that the correspondence fails in a most vital particular. We all know that the enactment of a new law in a free country is, in reality, the act not of the legislature but of the people: the legislature is only the instrument of the popular will. But the Redemption of the world is in no wise the work of redeemed man: Christ is the One Redeemer in Whose redemptive triumph man could have no part save that of accepting and sharing its blessings. Yet this deliberate acceptance of Christ's Redemption by man is of vital necessity to man; man is not saved against or without his will to be saved; and it is therefore of the last importance that he should understand his need of the salvation, which he must desire and accept.
Now what was the evil which Christ was to conquer in man and for man? It was sin. Sin is the one real evil. It is certainly worse than pain, since pain may become a good. It is certainly worse than death, since death is only the effect of sin, and may be the gate of freedom. It is worse even than the devil, since it makes the devil to be what he is. The devil would be powerless, and death would have no sting, and pain would be unknown, if it were not for sin. But sin is not a thing always palpable to and recognised by the sinner. It is like the peculiar atmosphere in which we pass the great part of our lives here in Oxford. Looking down upon our homes from the top of Shotover, we see the thick damp fog burying this city and valley beneath a shroud of unwholesome vapour; but here in the streets of Oxford we scarcely observe it hanging in the sunlight, except when it becomes excessive in the depth of winter. Sin is just such a mist as this: it is a fog, a blight, impalpable yet real, about us, around us, within us. It bathes our moral life on this side and that, and withal it blinds us to the fact of its existence. If man would take a true measure of sin, he must be lifted out of it; he must ascend to some moral eminence whence its real character will be made plain to him, and where he may form strong resolutions to close with any offer of deliverance and escape from its importunity and thraldom.
Now such an eminence was supplied in early days by the gift of a moral law; and, first of all, let us, like the Apostle, in some passages of his Epistle to the Romans, use that word in its large inclusive sense, for any form of moral truth presented to the soul of man. Of all moral law God is the Author. And moral law was the chosen messenger whom He sent before the face of His blessed Son, to reveal man to himself, and to produce in man a conviction of the need of a Redemption. Of this gift of law there are plainly very various measures. To the heathen He gave the natural law, the law of conscience, the perception that there exists a real distinction between right and wrong, often going hand in hand with grave mistakes as to what was right and what was wrong. And yet still, in a true sense, the Gentiles, although not having the Jewish law, "were a law unto themselves, which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another." To the Jews God gave the gift of law in a form far higher and brighter. The Decalogue was, the Bible says, "written by the finger of God on two tables of stone." It came not from within the consciousness of Moses, it was presented to him from without; although Moses at once recognised, he could not but recognise, its truth. It came from God as an external, independent revelation; it did not gradually arise in one or in many minds by any process of gentle, imperceptible growth; Scripture represents it as having been flashed forth from heaven, suddenly, visibly, amid the rocks of Sinai. No law which God had placed in the conscience of any heathen people could compare with the revelation received by Moses; it shed an illumination upon human life, it held up a standard of human action, it implied an idea of the awful sanctity of its Author, with which nothing in heathendom was correspondent.
Undoubtedly, my brethren, the primary purpose of law is, that it should furnish a literal rule of conduct, or, in other words, that it should be obeyed. But if law is not obeyed, it may yet have a use which no wise man will underrate. It may lift up the voice of a perpetual protest against the society which falls short of its requirements, or which violates it, or which is in a fair way to forget it. In this case, instead of being a standard which creates a sense of satisfaction, by being fulfilled, it becomes an ideal, which stands in humbling, because reproachful, contrast to the dull, sluggish life which is so far below it, or which outrages its behests. Now this, according to St. Paul, was a main function of moral law, both Jewish and Gentile, before the coming of Jesus Christ. Even among the heathen, the natural law, which came from the light of conscience, prescribed a standard, which utterly condemned the actual life of the heathen. St. Paul enumerates a long catalogue of sins which the Pagan philosophers knew to be evils, no less certainly than did the Apostle of Christ, but which the Pagans nevertheless continued to practise on an organised system, and in a very business-like way. And although the Jews "made their boast in the law," that is to say, were not merely thankful for possessing so full a revelation of God's will, but compared themselves, self-complacently, with other peoples to whom that revelation had not been made, still, the question was, did they obey it? "Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?" To this question one answer only was possible: the Jew "rested" in a law which he did not obey. The revealed Law was his; it was his, not to bless but to condemn him; it was his to convince him that if he had a brighter light to guide him than the Gentile, he also incurred a proportionably deeper guilt by neglecting it. Thus both Jew and Gentile were concluded to be under sin; and in different degrees, it was true that by the law came the knowledge, the blessed salutary knowledge, of such sin. More than this, the presence of the law irritated the activities of that hidden mischief which it revealed. "I had not known sin," says St. Paul, speaking in the name of human nature, "but by the law: for I had not known lust unless the law had said, 'Thou shalt not covet.' But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came sin revived, and I died. And the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death." We are not to suppose that the moral law was really creative of evil which did not exist before: since the law comes from a Holy God, and is itself "holy, and just, and good." But although the law did not add to the stock of existing evil, it drew the unsuspected latent sin of man forth into the daylight; it irritated into intense vigour the principle of opposition which, even when dormant, is ever so strong in sinful human nature, and which shows itself, under the irritation, in its true light as sin. The law was like those remedies in medicine which rid us of a disease by bringing it to the surface, or, as we say, by precipitating it; it forced man to see what he really is, and to forget what he had fancied himself to be. "By the law is the knowledge of sin."
This was the function of the law of nature in the Gentile world, and of the law of Sinai, in a much higher degree, in the Jewish world. It was like a light shining in a dark cavern, and the forms of sin around were lighted up by it with a lurid glare, which only did them justice. The graceful wickedness of heathendom, the profound hypocrisies of the Jew, when confronted with this heavenly light, fell into their place. The law tore off the mask; it penetrated beneath the skin; it pierced even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow. It ranged the great palpable sins of the Jew and of the Pagan in their due order of malignity; but it did more than this, it put sin before man in a light which made its burden, as we say in the Communion Service, altogether intolerable.
For what is moral law, viewed in its essence? It is the proper Nature of God, the perfect Moral Being, unfolded in language. This language shows the bearing of God's Nature upon the life of man. The moral law is not an arbitrary code which God might have made otherwise, or might have left unmade altogether. God, being such as He is, could not have made the law otherwise. For God, I repeat, is the Moral Being: He is Love, He is Truth, He is Justice, He is Sanctity. He cannot legislate in contradiction to His Nature; He cannot but express His Nature in His legislation. If He had been a mere all-comprehending Intelligence, a mere all-producing, all-controlling Force, He might have ordered what He has proscribed, and have forbidden what He has commanded. As it is, God's freedom is bounded on this side of His action. God might have made a natural universe very different from that which we behold: the heavenly bodies, this earth and its tenants, the rocks, the plants, the animals around us are what they are only because He freely willed them to be so. He was under no kind of constraint when He gifted you and me with reason, and denied reason to the quadrupeds and the birds: He might have reversed the order of His gifts; He might have withheld them. But having surrounded Himself with creatures capable of moral action, He could not devise a law which should deny the truth of His own necessary Nature; He could not but legislate as He has. Moral truth, like truths of pure mathematics, is co-eternal with God; it must always have been true that "truth is a virtue," as it must always have been true that "things which are equal to the same are equal to one another." And if moral or mathematical truth is thus co-eternal with God, it cannot be something independent of God, a second, self-existing truth alongside of, and external to, the one original self-existing Being; it must have been, it must be, an integral part of God, a law or element of the Divine Nature. And therefore God could never have said, "Thou mayest bear false witness against thy neighbour; thou mayest commit adultery; thou mayest steal; dishonour thy father and thy mother," any more than He could have said, "Thou mayest have other gods but Me." Given a created moral agent like man, and God cannot but bid man obey the rays of moral truth which stream from His own uncreated Essence. Such rays are the law of an undivided love and homage towards Himself in all its bearings of reverence and worship, the law of honour due to parental authority, the law of reverence for the sanctity of life, the law of responsibility in the transmission of the deposit of life, the law of truth applied to property, and to language, and to the hidden desires of the heart. God would not be God if He could have reversed these commands; the Decalogue is God's Nature veiled beneath the language, and adapted to the facts of the life of man. And therefore a violation of the moral law is not the setting aside of a capricious order; it is the violation of a law which streams forth necessarily from God's holy Nature, being such as it is; it is a resistance to, a negation of, God's Nature; it is, without any exaggeration, an act or state of will which, if produced indefinitely, would annihilate God.
This may enable us to enter into the meaning of the two words for sin which, both in the Hebrew and the Greek languages, most perfectly unveil its fundamental character. These words call it "a missing the aim or mark," i.e.. the mark or aim of the life of man. My brethren, what is that aim? In other words, why were we sent into this world at all? Now, if we sincerely believe in a Creator to Whom we owe simply and altogether the gift of existence, must not each one of us answer the question as follows? "I was sent into the world to conform my will to the Will, that is, to the holy Nature of my Maker, so far as I know it. I was not sent here to please myself, but to please the Being Who gave me life. Had I been the unaccountable product of some stray chance, the upshot of some unintelligent force which in its capricious fertility happened to throw off into existence such a singular and complex result as are my body and my soul, although wholly without the consciousness and purpose of doing so, then I might have concluded that I owed nothing to any being but myself, and I might have lived selfishly to enjoy only the fleeting existence which belongs to me. As it is, I believe in a God Who has created and Who owns me; and being thus created and owned by God, being His creature and His property, it is my business, my first and truest business, to live for Him, to bring my will into harmony with His. I am unlike the lower creatures around me, unlike the beasts and the plants, unlike the forces of nature, the heavenly bodies, the sun and the stars, in that they must of necessity obey Him. But that I might obey Him freely He has enabled and bidden me to love Him. To make room for love there must needs be liberty. The earth incessantly revolves around the sun, but the earth does not love the sun. Why? because liberty is of the essence of love. The earth cannot deviate from her orbit. That I might render to my God the free service of love, He has given me the power of refusing obedience. It is my duty, then, and my happiness to obey a law which is not any arbitrary product of His will, but which results from the essential truth of His Nature. Each deed, each word, each thought which embodies such refusal misses the end for which I exist; it is that unutterable and radical misfortune which I recognise as sin."
Such is the language of a soul which believes in God, and is withal illuminated by moral law. In this high atmosphere of truth the glosses by which sin's true nature is too often disguised slough off and fall away. The soul is in the wilderness listening to the voice which is preparing the way of the Lord before her. In such bracing solitude, face to face with truth, men do not conceive of sin as of a mere external fact, or series of facts, of such and such quantity and bulk, which can be witnessed by the human eye, or felt or measured: sin is seen to be more than this, namely, a posture or warp of the will. In the presence of divine law men do not imagine that sin is limited to violations of human law: since human law does not always enact what is absolute right; and it never pretends to enact all that is right, or to proscribe all that is wrong. Human law rarely enacts more than is necessary for the well-being of society, it does not attempt to legislate for the well-being of individual men. A false and misleading standard in the things of the soul is human law; it is one thing to keep out of the police-court, it is another to be at peace with God. Taught by the law of God, men do not substitute for the stern, unyielding rule of right and wrong the plastic, varying, untrustworthy standards of "good taste" and "bad taste." No doubt virtue is always really in good taste, and vice is always in the worst taste possible: but this judgment is formed according to an absolute standard of taste which identifies it with moral truth, and not according to that relative and local standard which is "good taste," perhaps, with you and me at this hour, and may be "bad taste" with our successors twenty or thirty years hence. As a matter of fact, stern virtue is often voted by "good taste" to be awkward and graceless, while there are forms of polished ungodliness which "good taste" welcomes, or at least condones. When men understand that the law of God, in its essence, is the Nature, of God, they do not think lightly of sin; they do not think of an act of sin as of an act which has no consequences; they do not think of it as of a scar that heals in a few days, or as of a force which spends itself, or as of a colour which fades. They see that wilful sin necessarily empties the soul of God, and leaves it as the bed of the ocean might be without the waters which can fill it. They see that sin introduces a state which does not terminate until it be reversed by an act as definite as the act which introduced it. They see that sin, as being the moral negation of God, is not a fancy of the human mind, but a real fact in the universe, and that to have sinned wilfully is, until a man repents, to be in a state of spiritual death.
Such was the discovery of his moral state to man effected by the presence of moral law. But the moral law did more even than this. It showed man that there was an original warp and deficiency in his nature which made sin welcome, and conformity to moral truth difficult to him. My brethren, we here touch upon a truth of Revelation which is especially repugnant to some forms of modern thought, and which at first sight may appear to be in conflict with our notions of natural justice. "It is hard," say you, "that I should inherit a sinful nature because my ancestor sinned some six thousand years ago. I will not believe the dogma which tells me this." Very well, you reject the dogma: you make up your mind that you are born holy. But now that you have parted with Revelation, hear what nature tells you. You had, we will say, an intemperate great-grandfather, and he has transmitted to you an enfeebled constitution. You are scrofulous, or you are consumptive, or you have a heart-disease, or you are rheumatic: and this comes to you with the blood you inherit. You may say that your body ought to have been created like your soul, by a separate act of the Creator, which might have detached you from this entail of misery and pain. Still, my brethren, you cannot seriously revise the creation; and it is not common sense to resist unalterable facts. Here Revelation is perfectly at one with nature. Physical evil is transmitted from sire to son; and a like transmission of forfeiture of moral good is equally certain. It is plain that God deals with us men, partly as individuals, but partly also as one great family, I had almost said as one vast organism, with laws, wants, privileges, of its own. Certainly the sin which Adam transmitted was not anything positive, such as a poison, or bad blood. When Adam sinned, he forfeited that original righteousness, that robe of grace and beauty with which his Creator's mercy had endowed him in Paradise, and he simply could not bequeath what he himself had lost. But as the gift of righteousness which he had forfeited left his natural passions in rebellion, and his faculties dislocated and deranged, so he passed on to his children a nature thus enfeebled and disordered, and open to the solicitations of evil, and disinclined for goodness. It was in mercy, not in judgment, that he was still permitted to transmit the gift of natural life. God would not deny to millions the gift of life because the sin of an ancestor brought with it an inheritance of weakness and of shame. From the first God gave a promise of coming salvation. But still man felt his weakness, he felt his inherited degradation, the ruins of his earlier greatness survived in his intellect and in his heart to tell the tale: and when the moral law cast its clear, bright light upon his conscience, a David exclaimed not merely, "I acknowledge my own fault, and my sin is ever before me," but also, "Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me."
Thus it was that among the most gifted race of the ancient world there was observable in poetry and generally in art a vein of deep melancholy, which faintly confessed inward misery, and yearnings for a blessing which had once been promised. Nature herself was in sympathy with man; death was an inexplicable mystery in the world of the All-merciful; the whole creation groaned and travailed in pain together. The great mystery of pain, which is not solved in our chemical laboratories and museums, hung heavily on the thought of the ancient world. Paganism, too, had its sense of violated right, and its wild attempts at expiatory sacrifice; and, under a higher sanction, the courts of the tabernacle and of the temple reeked with the blood of victims, ever reminding the people of the covenant that they bore an accumulating load of sin of which they could not discharge themselves. Prophets reiterated, expanded, enforced the teaching of the lawgiver; they gave it sharpness of point and particularity of application, thus stimulating into keener consciousness the national and individual sense of sin.
Psalmists poured forth strains of penitence which pierce the souls of all who have felt the presence of moral evil within them, even in Christendom, revealing as they do, the majesty and the searching convicting power of the divine law. This was its function: "By the law is the knowledge of sin." But it discovered what it could not relieve; it quickened anxieties which it could not allay; it generated hopes and yearnings which it could not satisfy. It taught men that there is a divine life, but it did not give them strength to lead it; it furnished mankind with an ideal, but it left the ideal high out of human reach. In the presence of law man knew what he ought to be; he knew that he was not what he ought to be; he yearned for a pardon which should free him from guilt, and for a strength which should lead him heavenward. The law, said St. Paul, is like a Greek slave who leads his master's children down to the school of the teacher who will instruct them, but the slave has done his work when he has left them at the door. The law is a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.
Therefore the discovery of man's deep need was accompanied by another discovery, the revelation of a Deliverance. The hopes of man are as ancient as his despondency. At the gates of Eden was given the promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. We interpret that promise, and rightly enough, in the light of its fulfilment. But when it was given it might have seemed vague, and capable of many interpretations; nothing was certain from it except that man's deliverance would in some way be wrought out through humanity itself. Around this promise all the faith and hope of the earliest ages gathered, and from this point prophecy gradually narrows and becomes definite as it proceeds to unfold its true interpretation, until at length, when Isaiah and Zechariah had spoken, the whole life and sufferings of Jesus Christ had been written by anticipation. To Noah it was revealed that the promise would be realised among the posterity of Shem; it was then still further narrowed to the descendants of Abraham. Here we encounter the selection of a peculiar people, who were to be privileged, not for their own sakes, but for that of the human race at large: "In thee shall all nations of the earth be blessed." When Jacob foretells the coming Shiloh, it appears plainly that the deliverance is to spring from a single tribe, nay, more, from a single person. When Balaam speaks of the star of Jacob and of the sceptre rising out of Israel, we see that the Object of his vision will have the glory and power of a monarch. Moses himself predicts a Prophet to Whom Israel will hearken; a coming Teacher, not an order of teachers, Who will reveal the Mind of God with a truth and fulness unknown before. But it is in the age of David that these scattered rays of hope are brought into a focus. There we meet first of all with the limitation of the promise to David's family; next, with the sacred name Messiah, so pregnant with meaning and with hope; thirdly, with the guarantee of an endless kingdom, such as no merely human descendant of David could have been supposed to inherit. In these prophecies the hopes of the world are sometimes commingled with the more immediate hopes of Israel; a human king is in the foreground of the prediction, and yet the prediction contains much which would be applicable to no earthly monarch. Here we encounter the two aspects of the life of Messiah--His life of humiliation and suffering, and His life of exaltation and glory. Each of these is described with great particularity. One psalm is a picture of Christ triumphing over the rebellious heathen, another of His victory over death, another of His sufferings upon the cross eventuating in the conversion of the world, another of His mediatorial reign of glory. The Davidical outline, if it can with justice be called an outline, is filled up by the later prophets. Isaiah describes Messiah's supernatural Birth, the features of His ministerial action, the long line of titles, divine and human, which reveal His Natures and His office, the details of His humiliation and sufferings. Daniel determines the exact period of His coming, and the character of His kingdom; Zechariah anticipates even minute incidents of the history of the Passion; Malachi closes the Jewish canon with a prediction of His forerunner.
In so vast a field we must limit ourselves, and I would press upon your attention this one observation as being in harmony with the present course of sermons, and as being altogether borne out by the facts of the prophetical literature:--the coming Christ of prophecy is always a conqueror. So patent, indeed, is this note of victory in the prophetic utterances respecting Him, that the Jews materialised it in accordance with their political hopes, and expected a military leader who would defeat the armies and rival the empire of Rome. The Jews were fatally wrong in this perversion of the promises which they had inherited; their eyes were blinded by their political passions, and accordingly they missed the true Deliverer when He came. But they were right in laying emphasis on the victoriousness of the Messiah, though His victory was not to be won by material force. In prophecy Christ is pre-eminently the Victor; He conquers ignorance as a teacher, or He conquers sin as an example, or as a victim; He conquers moral rebellion from a heavenly throne; He conquers death in the chambers of the dead. It is sin, sin in itself, sin in its consequences, over which He triumphs; the iniquity of us all is laid upon Him, yet "He shall see His seed and prolong His days." He is not more victorious in the prophecy of Daniel, when He is brought to the Ancient of Days, and there is given to Him a throne and dominion, and a kingdom, than He is in the twenty-second Psalm or in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, when He sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied, and when all the kingdoms of the nations, converted by His self-sacrificing love, worship the true God. Prophecy, in short, is one long hymn in His honour, and it salutes Him across the abyss of intervening centuries as the Hope of humanity advancing to achieve its freedom. "Thou art fairer than the children of men; full of grace are Thy lips, because God hath blessed Thee for ever. Gird Thee with Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O Thou most mighty, according to Thy worship and renown. Good luck have Thou with Thine honour. Ride on, because of the word of truth, of meekness, and righteousness; and Thy right hand shall teach Thee terrible things."
Brethren, have we--have you and I--any true part, at this moment, in that victory of the Conqueror, which the moral law led man to yearn for, and which is the theme of prophecy? Surely here is a question for Lent. Lent should be to us something more than a name in the Calendar. Lent is no mere fancy observance of serious and old-fashioned Churchmen, who live by their Prayer-book; no mere relic of the thought and feeling of a bygone age. It is rooted in the moral needs of human nature; it speaks to every thinking man; it recalls us to the consideration of undying truths. It speaks of truths which, certainly, we never should forget, but of which it is well that we should be periodically and solemnly reminded. "Strip off," it says to each of us, "the disguise which hides thee from thy real self; and dare to look thy God in the face. One day thou wilt die; thou wilt pass into another world alone. Art thou now what thou wouldest be then? Dismiss fancy standards of goodness, and look higher and deeper for the measure of thy life. Cease to move in a vicious circle of morals, even as thou wouldest not knowingly reason in a vicious circle of argument. Cease to judge thyself by a self-made measure; cease to legislate when thou shouldest be standing at the bar of judgment. Dare to meet the law of moral truth. Thou art not a Pagan, that thou shouldest be judged by the twilight of thy natural conscience: thou art not a Jew, that thou shouldest read thy acquittal or thy condemnation in the two tables of stone. Thou art a Christian: Christ's Cross was traced once upon thy forehead: Christ's Creed and Law have sounded in thine ears, and been confessed by thy lips: nay, Christ's Nature has been given thee, whether thou retainest, or hast lost, that gift of gifts. Thou art a Christian: and as a Christian thou must be judged, thou must judge thyself, by a standard which Pagan and Jew knew not. The Sermon on the Mount, the law of love and of sacrifice--this, this only, is thy positive standard. Thou art not by rights a slave, grudgingly yielding the stinted meed of service which just escapes punishment: thou art by inheritance a son, upon whom a generous Spirit of freedom has descended, that thou mayest obey the law, not of bondage, but of liberty. The fruits of that Spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law of reproach and condemnation. Before thou canst bear these fruits thy lower nature must be trodden down and killed. They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. This is the standard of the conqueror of sin: is it thine? "
Is it so, my brother, that thou hidest thy face, and wouldest fain sink to the very dust for fear and shame?
Is it so, that not in the New Testament merely, but in the Decalogue, not in the Decalogue alone, but in the light of thy natural conscience, thou tracest the sin of Judah written with a "pen of iron and with the point of a diamond"? Dost thou hear the sentence which Eternal Justice must needs utter against thyself? Canst thou only tremblingly murmur: "The enemy hath persecuted my soul, he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath laid me in the darkness, as the men that have been long dead. Therefore is my spirit vexed within me, and my heart within me is desolate:" "Out of the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice"? Then take heart, for it is well with thee; thou, too, art ready for the advent, or rather for the return of thy Lord as conqueror of thy spiritual enemies. There would be but little hope for thee, if thou wert still dreaming of thy personal excellence: as it is, thou knowest that thou art "miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." Cease, then, from thy despondency: He, thy Redeemer, calleth thee. If thou wilt, He is ready not merely to forgive the guilty past, but to bid thee rise with Him to newness of life. Ask, and it shall be given thee: seek, and thou shalt find. His Cross and Wounds, His words of pardon, His robe of righteousness, His Sacraments of grace and power, are within thy grasp. He hath not given thee over unto death; thou shalt not die but live, and declare the works of thy conquering Lord.