I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
IT is a great misfortune for a clergyman if he is compelled to speak of himself; in a majority of cases, perhaps, it will be his fault as well as his misfortune. I must suffer this misfortune and confess the fault--of judgment, not I hope of heart--which has been the cause of it; then I will pass very thankfully to my proper subject.
Many of you will have seen it reported that I was purposing to resign the charge of your Chapel because I had some objections to the Creeds of the Church, taken in their simple, natural sense; or because I had some sympathy with those who think a Bible a less sacred book than our fathers thought it. You must have been surprised by such rumours. For I told you when I came among you--I have been telling you ever since--that I regard the Creeds of the Universal Church, the Catechism, Prayers, Articles of our English Church, as the most blessed witnesses I can find for those eternal truths which bind us together, against those sectarian opinions which rend us asunder. You know also that if I ever object to popular explanations of the Scripture, it is on this ground, that they evade the broad divine message which I read in Lawgivers, Psalmists, Prophets. These Lawgivers, Psalmists, Prophets, declare that a Living God was speaking in acts and words to their generation, and that He would be speaking through similar acts and words to every generation. I have tried to convince you that they said the right thing, and the thing which we want to hear.
My friends! What I have said to you about the Creeds and the Bible I have felt more intensely during the last few months than I ever felt it before. I have seen more than I ever saw before how much the family life of England, how much the common morality of England is connected with the acknowledgement of a Father who sent His only-begotten Son to redeem mankind, His Spirit to adopt us as His children, and to make us witnesses to the world of the deliverance which he has wrought for it. I have been at times almost overwhelmed by the thought how much the great message of Redemption is giving place to one of a directly opposite kind, one which practically denies that God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, made under the law, to claim men as His sons and daughters; one which limits God's truth to those who believe it. I have been convinced that the faith of England and the morality of England must perish together if this teaching drives out the other. I have trembled therefore at any attempts that have been made to graft the theology of the sectarian pulpits upon the theology of the universal Church--that theology which is contained in the Creeds--that theology which was vindicated for us at the Reformation, when the good tidings went forth that we do not make God propitious to us, but that He bestows on us His free mercy in Christ, with power to do His gracious will.
But I could not doubt that the old faith will be able now, as it was able then, to shake off the notion and habits which are threatening to destroy it, if we cling, as the Reformers of the 16th century clung, to the books which contain the gradual history of that Redemption whereof the Creeds record the complete result. While our countrymen confess a God who called out a poor idolater to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, while they think that He revealed Himself to the Israelites as the Deliverer of captives, as the enemy of tyranny visible and invisible, the Gospel that Christ accomplished the purpose of His Father by sacrificing Himself for the world will overcome the schemes of sacrifice which men have devised for themselves, the news of a redemption from the Everlasting Death of evil and hatred which the Apostles proclaimed to Jews and Gentiles, will sound clearer and mightier than the most terrible rhetoric concerning a God who is the Author of everlasting death.
I heard, as you have heard, that some who had strongly asserted the doctrine of our Catechism that God has redeemed us and all mankind and has made us His children, had denied the history of redemption contained in the Scriptures to be a history. I heard, as you have heard, that inaccuracies of dates and numbers, which, if they are proved to exist, may trouble those who worship the letters of a book, but never need cause the slightest trouble to those who worship the God whom the book declares, had been the excuses for this denial. Such teaching was far more offensive to me than it could be to any who had not discovered in the Bible the great testimony against those dark and heathenish conceptions of God into which we all naturally fall, who had not appealed to it in every sermon as containing a distinct, self-affirming record of the revelations of the true God, one which, illustrates and explains all the thoughts of Him which men have mixed with their idolatries. Yet I could not raise my voice against this kind of criticism without speaking harshly of men who were my superiors, to whom I was under many obligations, who were likely to be the objects of popular hostility. I thought that I should put myself in a better position with respect to them if I relinquished all outward and material interest in the doctrines which I had taught. I thought you would then see that I was in earnest, and that my act would speak to you if my lips were silent. Therefore I contemplated--with what pain I need not, and cannot tell you--the resignation, not for a moment of my ministry in the Church, but of my charge over you.
I see clearly that I was wrong. I should have produced exactly the opposite effect to that which I had dreamt of. I should have wounded persons. when I desired to assert principles. I should have been supposed to be leaving the Church, when I wished to show how fervently I love it; to be discontented with its teaching, when I sought an opportunity of testifying on behalf of its teaching; to ask for some latitude in construing the Bible, when I care for nothing so much as that we should abandon our feeble deductions from it, and listen to its own grand discoveries.
If means do not conduce to the ends for which alone they are of any value, they must have been ill chosen; we are bound to abandon them. I was slow in perceiving that the means which had seemed to me the best for my purpose were ill chosen, for I was jealous of the bias which my wishes might give to my judgment. But the comments which have been made upon my purpose during the last week leave me in no doubt. I should be misleading you and unsettling you by an act which was only justifiable if it removed confusions from your minds and made you more stedfast in the faith. With great delight, therefore, as to the result, but with no little humiliation for my own error, I tell you that I think this sacrifice was not one of those which God would have approved. I hope that to abide at my post, to speak the truth as far as it is shewn to me, and to encounter any consequences of speaking it, may be a more acceptable sacrifice.
And so I am led to the subject of the text. I may be very ill fitted to exhort you to Sacrifices or to shew you what they should be. Let us hear the Apostle exhorting us all. He had a right to speak. His life answered to his language.
1. I beseech you, brethren. As if he had said, I ask you to do that which I have found my highest blessing. I ask you to do it because you are members of the same family with me, united in the same elder brother. I ask you because the same Father who has made me His child has made you His children. I ask you because the same power which is working in me is working in you.
2. And therefore he soon leaves his own entreaties, with all the force which they derived from his acts and his character, for higher arguments. I beseech you by the mercies of God. The mercies of God are not used by the Apostle in any vague, loose sense. He did feel the mercies of every new sunrise, of every breath which he drew. He did feel that there was an atmosphere of goodness and forgiveness all around him; that above him and beneath him were mercies which he could not measure, in which he could only lose himself. But all these became intelligible to him through the great Sacrifice. There he studied the Nature of God. There he discovered Him to be in very deed a Father. There he saw the full meaning of a sacrificing Will--a Will in which there is no darkness nor selfishness. There he saw that no sacrifice can be pleasing in the eyes of God which is riot filial sacrifice, which does not consist in a cheerful trust in His Will and an entire readiness to do it. There he saw how the sacrifice can only be complete when there is this union of a fatherly and a filial purpose, when each is seen in the other. And since this divine purpose is one of deliverance and blessedness to mankind, since it is designed to overcome the great enemy and curse of mankind, he beseeches those who read or hear his Epistle by these mercies of God to present their bodies to God. It is not only a reason; it is a power. You can do it because God has done it, because you are His children created in His likeness.
3. I beseech you--this is the third point--to present your bodies living sacrifices to God. You ask what you have to give. There is a dream haunting us all that we can bring something to God which will conciliate Him, and make Him accept us. We cannot divest ourselves of this thought, wild as it is, well as we know that we have nothing which we did not receive. For something, we are sure, is demanded; and we turn hither and thither considering and questioning what it can be. St Paul makes an answer which cuts off any special ambition, and applies alike to all. Present your BODIES. These are God's. These are what He has made so curiously and wonderfully. These are what He has redeemed from the dominion of natural things and evil powers. These, with all their senses, energies, capacities, He asks you not to devote to some false use, some vile purpose. They are vessels consecrated for all noble and glorious uses. He will make them effectual for such uses. Therefore present them to Him.
4. A living sacrifice; this is the fourth point. As if He had said: Of dead sacrifices there have been enough. These have or have had their worth. The dead animal has expressed the law of death under which all things exist, the death into which man has fallen by acting as if he were only an animal. The dead animal has expressed the intention and desire of men to give up themselves. The dead animal has been ordained by God as the symbol of His reconciliation with His creatures. But now, seeing that Christ has offered Himself alive to His Father, seeing that He has given up His whole body, soul and spirit to Him, seeing that He has brought His body and soul through death, seeing that He is the Lord of Life, present your bodies living sacrifices to God. Let none persuade you that He wishes for death and not for life; for any mixture of death, and not for the fullest, freest life. Surrender your bodies to Him that He may conquer their gravitation to death, that He may quicken them with His Life.
5. Present your bodies living sacrifices, holy and acceptable; this is the fifth point. This sacrifice, you may be sure, will be holy and acceptable. No earthly priest is required to make it so. The body is a holy thing. Christ, the High Priest, has clothed Himself with a body. The body is an acceptable offering. Christ has presented it. And He presented it as that which He had received. There was in Him none of the pride which professes to offer something more than has been received. His was simple obedience. He rendered back whole and perfect that which had been entrusted to Him. And what a trust had been committed to Him! All humanity was in His keeping. He brought that to His Father spotless and entire. And now every one of us who shares His nature, who is a member of His Family, is commanded as a duty, is encouraged as a blessing, to offer his body a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.
6. And St Paul adds; this is the last point, which is our reasonable service. We offer to God our animal nature. But we are reasonable spiritual creatures. God asks of us a reasonable spiritual service and worship. We can give up our bodies to do His Will. We ourselves are to enter into His Will, to trust it, to delight in it. The oblation is to be with gladness.
Here, my friends, here is the difficulty. To make sacrifices if we think that they will bring us in some return--if they will buy off some punishment--to this we can force ourselves. We can even put ourselves to mortal pain for such an end. But to offer joyfully to God all that we are and all that we have, not feeling that there is any merit in the service, but that the love is His, and flows forth from Him, how can this be done? Only if the Spirit of God, the Spirit of gladness, possesses and rules over our spirits, if He prepares and consumes the sacrifice. To seek for this Spirit we come to the altar. We know that we belong to God; that we have a right to offer ourselves to Him. We believe that Christ has offered us, and that the oblation has been accepted. We believe that He has baptized us with His Spirit that we may partake of His Sacrifice, and that we may be capable of serving Him. The simpler the service, the more it will have of Christ's life and power in it. Of all those saints whom we remembered yesterday, how few did any great achievements that the world knows of. They offered their bodies sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God in every hourly duty. They sought no praise of men and they found none. They sought the good of men, and they did men more good than they knew. And those of them who subdued kingdoms, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, won their victories through that childlike faith which forgets itself; which thinks only of its object; which out of weakness is made strong. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; therefore are they with us when we desire to join them in saying Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy Glory.