IT is just such a thoroughly human outburst as this that attracts us so irresistibly toward the man from whom it comes. These are the last words of St. Paul's letter to the Church of Galatia--and they stand, in all his writings, without a parallel. If you would see how complete is their contrast to the closing sentences of other Epistles, turn to these latter and read them. They overflow with messages of affectionate greeting and farewell, and the great heart of the writer restrained from full expression till their close breaks out into the language of tenderest interest and regard.
But there is nothing of the sort here. The Galatians had gotten astray from their earlier and simpler faith, and had denounced the Apostle as a religious iconoclast. In name a Gentile Church, the converted (or half-converted) Jews among them were clever enough to carry their own point, and insist upon the authority of Jewish rites among Christian disciples. A Gentile convert, they said must, in order to be an orthodox Christian be circumcised, and the whole system of Hebrew Ritual became thenceforth a part of his duty.
Such a grotesque perversion of the truth which he had preached to them roused in the Apostle, the most intense resentment. He had come to bring them a Gospel of enfranchisement, and these Jew-Christians turned it into the bondage of Hebrew legalism. They disputed St. Paul's Apostolic authority, ridiculed his teaching and ignored his earlier work. And this letter is his answer to them. It would have been a complete and conclusive answer if it had contained nothing else than the text. His enemies had demanded his credentials. "I bear them," he replies, "written in characters that are unmistakable upon my own body." "Henceforth, let no man trouble me." It is time to be done with this questioning of my authority. Whose servant I am is no longer an open question. You identify a slave by the brand that he bears. Even so if you will, you may identify me, "I bear in my body the brand of the Lord Jesus." [3/4] The scars that you have seen across my stooping shoulders, the marks upon my limbs where fetters once and again have galled them--these half-sightless eyes that make my signature the large and straggling thing that it is--the wounds which tell where the men who stoned me wrote their autographs in lines, for them of enduring infancy, but for me of immortal honor, all these remain. And they are my patent of Apostleship. The claim to be the loyal servant of his master, of him who carries such scars, may not be disputed. "Henceforth let no man trouble me: I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." [See Galatians vi. 11.--"See with how large letters I have written," etc. (Revised Version.)]
With that rare genius for obscuring a simple and masculine truth, which belongs to the Church of Rome, it has explained these words of the Apostle's, as some of us will doubtless recollect, by associating them with a legend of Francis of Assissi. The saint, so the tradition runs, had meditated so deeply upon the wounds in our Lord's hands and side that one morning they appeared upon his own. And in the same way it is suggested by Roman commentators, that St. Paul's vision on the highway to Damascus, or that other one that came to him later, and which left him not knowing whether he had been "in the body or out of the body," left him also with nail-points in his hands and the scar of a spears head in his side. It is thus that a pious mysticism corrupts the simplicity of the truth. That nothing of the sort ever happened to the Apostle is as certain as that it never has happened to you or me.
But something else and of infinitely more consequence most surely did happen. The record of the man's discipleship was scored and burnt and beaten into his very body after the manner of the Japanese or the Niello work as it is called, of the Russian silversmiths. The Apostle had had his diploma as a, Christian disciple let into the very texture of his body. His wounds and scars were his witnesses.
And something more also, I venture to affirm of his bodily aspect. Could we have seen this Christian Soldier we should have read his commission in the tones of his voice, in the flash of his eye, in the very swing and movement of his eager form. How small he was---how near-sighted and spare and stooping; (as seems to be probable)--how little he had of physical presence or bulk he himself tells us in words of entire candor. But something had so informed that [4/5] slender frame of his that he seemed another man, and the spell of the Master whose servant and disciple he was, revealed itself in the fragile shell that just held, and no more, his eager soul.
The words which he uses thus open to us a most suggestive view of the human body as the transcript and witness of the spirit that animates it. What was true of St. Paul is true in one sense or another of every one of us. We bear in our bodies the marks of the Lord who rules over our lives. The interests, the ambitions, the occupations that absorb us write their signatures in every line of our faces and every movement and gesture of our form. If you have ever made a journey with a carload of local politicians the. thing chiefly noticable in looking at them was that they represented just as distinct a type or class as if they had each one of them been ticketed and labelled: The foreign parentage or ancestry, qualified (I fear it could not be said greatly ennobled) by American birth the smooth-shaven cheek, suggestive of a personage half-priest and half bar-tender, the over-fed outlines of form, indicative of indolence and good living and meagre thinking, the sharp, strident voice, imperious but not at all imperial, the eye not clear in the disc nor direct in the glance,--all these were physical traits, brands on the body, which told their tale and betrayed their wearers.
It would have been precisely the same, if the party had been made up of clergymen instead of politicians. The dyspeptic habit, the eyes enfeebled by excessive use, the pallor and sallowness of one who does no robust physical work and perhaps, also, smokes too much, these signs or others like them would have been discernable by any body who had looked for them. We are often tempted to dispute this truth because there are occasionally such glaring exceptions to its operation. "How old are you" said an English Judge to a witness at the bar. "Ninety-eight, my Lord!" "What an example of the effects of a temperate and well regulated life" exclaimed the Judge, addressing some young barristers who stood before him. "For I presume," he added turning again to the witness, "you have never been a hard drinker." "Alas! my Lord," broke in a sad-looking woman who sat hard by, "my husband can not answer "No" to that for he has hardly gone to bed sober once in forty years." Such instances are often enough cited to prove how little the manner of ones life has to do with any visible effects of it. But in truth such reasoning, if it can be called reasoning, ignores the necessary distinction between a general law and [5/6] a particular exception to that law. Nature never works mechanically, and the 'teacher who tells you so is false to the facts of his own observation and experience. It is not true, that, given certain-conditions, a certain result will inevitably follow. There is no single department of science in which the general law has not its unaccounted--for exceptions concerning which science is simply `dumb and can only say, we can not explain them. Now to any body but an atheist or an agnostic the reason of this is plain enough. Behind the natural law, there is a personal will, and the universe, instead of being a dead machine is the throbbing instrument of a never-ceasing and divine activity. No law works apart from this, and He who has ordained the law, suspends, seemingly contravenes, or intermits it at His will. By other causes that run deeper, He appears thus now and then even to contradict it, and so men are tempted often to "take their chance" as they say and risk the penalty for the risk of the indulgence.
But though these exceptions lift off from one the constraining pressure of a dead certainty, the law remains. What you are writes itself sooner or later, upon brow and form and feature. If a hundred lumbermen from Maine were marched down Broadway to-morrow you wouldn't find it difficult to distinguish them. And if a hundred men were marched out of Wall Street into the forest of Maine, the backwoodsmen would have no great difficulty in identifying them. They might not be able to designate their precise callings. But they would see enough to enable them to say "these men live in an atmosphere which, (in more senses than one) is over-heated. How pale they are! How tired and apprehensive they look! How prematurely gaunt and gray and worried they seem! Their life must be a feverish and anxious one, and they must be very poor sleepers!" It is the working of the same law which led some one to define an Anglo-East-Indian as "a compound product of curry powder and red-pepper." Out of the full habit of living that prevails in England there has been transplanted to the East a type of character which too often strangely illustrates Christianity to the Hindoo by the violence of its speech and the looseness of its morals. And to what is this due, but to that persistant abuse of the body, which, over-feeding and over-stimulating it, makes a man often to have the voice of the brute and the face of the animal. The evil (let us never forget it,) starts in the will, and is an act purely and supremely of that moral nature in us that judges and chooses. But the will uses the body [6/7] to serve its coarse purpose, and you can not drop your cloak into a sewer without having some stain of its companionship left upon it! It is the just penalty of our possession of the power of choice that if we choose the thing that is coarse and animal, our choice will ultimately stain through and show itself in the faces and forms that we call our bodies.
And these considerations, though they are certainly not the highest that ought to influence us, are at least worth recognizing at the beginning of Lent. It is a common-enough cry at such a season as this "Surely by this time the world has had enough of asceticism! Keep your Lent, if you will, for such special devotions as it may be convenient for such people as want them to observe; but with the history of monasticism and the ascetic life of other ages in our hands, let us not be guilty of the folly of reproducing their errors in this." Most surely not--and if any such asceticism were the danger of our time or of our land, I should as eagerly denounce it as any other. But who is there, I wonder, who fasts too much in New York, unless it be those unfortunate ones whose poverty and abstinence are identical? And who is there, I would ask also, who will care to deny that the drift of our modern life is steadily towards increased expenditure in matters of the table and the palate? When we talk to one another about things that we daily see, do we not agree that there is a vast difference between the habits not of fifty, but of a dozen years ago and of to day, and is it the only evil of our present extravagance that it wastes money? A great deal of the money has been so questionably gotten, that the sooner it is gone and men go to work again at some honest labor the better! But meantime there is a worse waste than the waste of money. There is a waste of manhood--a loss of fine powers slowly soaked into the flesh--a degradation of a noble instrument which is being every day coarsened and deteriorated by the over-feeding and over-drinking that daily dishonor it. And all this servitude to mere appetite (for it deserves no better name) is producing its inevitable results. One may not see it in himself, but believe me, if you never chasten an appetite, if you never deny a morbid or artificial hunger or thirst, or if you never restrain or chasten what seems to you a natural one, your hungers and thirsts will come at length to be your masters, and will write their coarse signatures upon your face as inevitably and as unmistakably as though they had been branded there.
And therefore Lent is a good time to emancipate ourselves from the [7/8] unreasoning declamation against asceticism. You would not be scared by that word, my young brother, if to-morrow you were to begin training yourself for a prize in athletics. Do not be afraid of it in a nobler service! Be an ascetic for at least forty days in its better and original sense! In that better sense, as the Greek derivative from which the word comes to us, indicates, to be an ascetic is simply to have a rule for ones daily discipline or bodily exercise. Is there no room for such a rule in your life and in mine? There is a service in this Church on every Wednesday morning at nine o'clock, lasting just a half an hour, and within reach of every man in this congregation who will have a definite rule about getting out of bed and breakfasting early enough to come to it. Make it a rule to be at that service and at least one other during the week, Take your Lent-card down town with you and put it where that engagement will be recalled to you as well as the host of other engagements which you are careful not to forget! Resolve that you will try the effect of remembering and owning from time to time in this House that you are a wanderer needing guidance, that you are weak and need to be strengthened, that you are a sinner and need to be forgiven.
And then when you go home challenge your appetite, now and then, even in things that may be innocent. "I keep my body under," wrote the Apostle, thus revealing that, even with him, there was a danger of the body's getting the upper hand. It is a danger that lurks in every single liberty of the senses that we allow to ourselves. Whether in eating or drinking one may easily over-step the line where due moderation becomes coarse indulgence and where the whole brood of baser hungers is set on fire by that fuel with which so inordinately we have fed some single one of them. And then it is that the shame at our own degradation becomes the shame of some other as well. With a wise discernment of the needs of these times our Church Temperance Society has prepared for signature a pledge or declaration like this: "I recognize my duty to be always temperate myself and to do what I can by the help of God, to keep others from intemperance. Without binding myself to Total Abstinence, I engage, as a member of this Society, to be watchful over my own habits of indulgence and no less watchful of the influence of my example upon others, and I promise by my practice and example, in all ways that commend themselves to my judgment and my conscience, to discourage such drinking usages as are plainly at variance with the interest of good morals."
 Is there a man in this Church who ought to find any difficulty in signing such a pledge as that? And who of us does not know that such a rule of earnest and brotherly vigilance and self-restraint, if only persisted in would break up a whole brood of vicious social customs which are the bane of our business hours as well of our social hours, and which are making drunkards of boys before they have scarce grown to be men!
Here then is something definite for each one of us to do in the interests of physical liberty. By a rule when we wake, that will forbid us to be slothful; by a rule, when we go to and fro from our business which will so arrange our day that we can turn in now and then at these doors, and commune for a little with God and our own hearts and be still--by a rule at the table, at the club, at the social gatherings which will hold our hand when we are over-eating, or over-drinking, or over-smoking; by a definite purpose which presiding over every habit and every appetite, and every indulgence, declares that in this complex kingdom of soul and brain and body, the sovereignty that is divinest shall be king, be it ours to brand our bodies with the marks of the Lord Jesus!
There is an asceticism of another kind with which we are all of us familiar. There are old men and old women--old before their time, whose watery eyes and trembling fingers and shattered nerves proclaim the doubtful victories of an enforced asceticism. As long as they dared they held on to their pet indulgences, and when death came and stood over against them, then only did they reluctantly let them go. They have some regrets now they tell you, but when you listen to them you find that they are only ignoble ones. "Yes, if they had to live their lives over again they would be more prudent," they say. But it is plain enough that they would not be one whit more aspiring. With them, the flesh has not merely eaten into the spirit--it has eaten it out. The dignity and nobleness of the human body as the organ of a noble communion with man and the world of truth as the instrument through which God reveals Himself to the mind and soul in nature in art in science, and above all in Christ, all this is simply unintelligible to them. Yes, they have detested asceticism as long as they dared, and they have shunned it to some purpose!
See to it, I pray you, that yours is a wiser rule. Redeem your body from all baser uses, and consecrate it to a clean and temperate and self-respecting service! And that you may do so effectually, consecrate that inner personality--the [9/10] citadel of your life--that heart which rules both brain and body alike to One who hath loved you and redeemed you by His blood! "I bear in my body" Paul could say at last, "the marks of the Lord Jesus." Aye, but only because long before he had had his Master's stigmata branded upon his heart! O my brother, this is a season for you to do no less! Settle first of all I beseech you, the question of leadership, and then that which will come afterwards will virtually settle itself. It is the poor sneer of the hour that every man is "owned" by somebody. Whose slave are you? If you would not be the property of a capitalist or a politician or a leader of fashion or a lover of pleasure, claim your privilege to be the slave of Jesus Christ. Bearing His brand upon your soul it will make itself manifest in your body. And accepting the yoke of His service, you will find how the Slave of Christ is the freedman of God!