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as tipon our own? Over one application of this principle we must be permitted to linger for a moment, that we may press it home more closely. There are young persons who are postponing the devotion of themselves to God's service, refusing yet to wear his yoke, though they mean one day to assume it. What is this, youug friends, but to keep the best of life for self, and to give its refuse only to him P Its young, fresh bloom and power you will spend for the world and sin; its faded, dwindled energies you will award to God. Oh, put the base, ungrateful, impious thought away! We claim your first and best, the rich, ripe, golden first-fruits of your life for him, and your own conscience ratines and sustains the claim. Has he not given his best to you? He " spared not his own Son, but gave him up for us all." And can you put him off with the paltry promise of the reversion of wasted life and powers, whose prime has been spent in resisting him P He would be reckoned as offering an insult past all pardon who should drain the goblet himself, and hand the mere lees to his companion. And will you dare to present to God a gift which one worldling would scorn to receive at the hand of his fellow P Beware lest the pitiful offering be spurned, and the impious offerer with it! No! give your lest to him, for your best is all too poor to repay the love which freely gave its dearest and best for you.
3. Our All for God. How might we suppose two Israelites, the one only an outward observer of the commandment, the other a spiritual worshipper, to regard this injunction to offer the first-fruits to God P How would each feel when the injunction had been obeyed P The former would think, "There! now God has had his portion, his due, the rest is for myself. I may enjoy it freely, having satisfied this claim." The other would say in his heart, " Lord, I offer these first-fruits unto thee as an acknowledgment that all I have and am is thine; as a pledge of my desire to devote all to thy service and glory." And surely there can be no doubt which of the two would understand the commandment most as God meant it. You know that when a man allows to his neighbour some use of his property—say a right of way across his field—he claims some payment as an acknowledgment that that field is really his and not the other man's, and that the right is held and exercised subject to his will. The payment may be very small, but it suffices to establish his ownership. Something like this, we think, is the principle on which God claimed these first-fruits for himself. It was the assertion of his proprietorship over the whole of that of which the first-fruits were a part. This portion was to be set apart for him, not as a substitute, but as a specimen of the rest; as a confession that all was given by him and belonged to him. Here, once more, we have a principle susceptible of manifold practical application, and one, like those we have already enunciated, too much neglected by us in our daily religious life.
Take our Sundays for example. How do we regard these P As specimens of what our whole life, in its object and spirit, ought to be? or as substitutes for piety in common life, as days when we pay off our debt to God for another week, days which stand as proxies for all other days P We put the contrast strongly that we may more clearly indicate the tendency against which we desire to warn. It is well, it is needful, to have special seasons secluded and set apart for worship and holy exercises. Our Sundays are indispensable breakwaters against the ever encroaching tide of worldliness. The greedy world would swallow up all our time, the heartless world would harden all our feelings, if we did not thus fence off a portion of life from its intrusion. But we should do this, not that the world may be left in undisputed possession of the rest of our fife, but rather in assertion of God's claim upon it all. We should hallow the Sunday, not that our other days may be more worldly, but less. The Sabbath should be a breathing time for recruiting the energies and motives of the spiritual life; a hath, if we may so speak, to cleanse our soul from the dust of earth; a leverage by which we may lift all our life nearer to God. Formality regards the Sabbath as a kind of penance or price paid to God for the right to devote other days to self; it—
"Backs its rigid Sabbath, so to speak,
True piety accounts it rather as a standard to show what ought to be the essential character and tendency of all the life. Sunday is "the Lord's day," as thn pledge and confession that all our days are his.
The same thoughts are applicable to our daily seasons and acts of devotion. It is necessary to the health of the Christian's soul that these be regularly maintained. But it behoves us to beware lest, when we come forth from our closet, we leave our prayerfulness behind us there; lest the remainder of the day be less prayerful because we deem that we have done our praying at the outset. Stated acts of prayer are meant, not to excuse us from, but to help us in, the duty of praying "without ceasing."
All, All for God! All life, all thought, all work, all walking, in obedience to his will and with supreme reference to his glory, this is the claim which this law asserts. Our all is his by ancient, original, inalienable right. But he has added to this the further right of purchase. "Ye are not your own, but bought with a price." May we venture to enforce our lesson by a very homely illustration P The seller of corn meets the buyer in the market, with a sample in his hand, and asks and receives his price. But what if, when the transaction is complete, the seller sends home to the purchaser only the sample? Will not the reply be: "I paid for all, and I must have all"P And so it will be of no avail to put forward at the judgment-seat the dishonest plea of punctual prayers and sanctimonious Sabbaths against the charge of having "robbed God " of the service of our daily life. He has paid for all with the precious blood of his own Son, and these are of worth only as samples of what that all should be.
But these lines may meet the eye of some who know in their hearts that they are giving none of their life to God, are squandering all on self and the world. We beseech such to " consider their ways." Think who gave and who sustains your life; and shall He have no thanks, no service in return P Think, yet more earnestly, what he has done to attest his love, to win your affectionate and obedient trust; and shall your hearts render no response to this? Remember, too, that your life is his, and that however you may refuse to recognise the claim, you cannot annul it. That claim will be made good either by your willing obedience to his love, or your enforced submission to his justice. A life spent for self means an eternity far from God, means everlasting disappointment and despair.
But there is hope yet. Poor prodigals as you are, exiles from home, spendthrifts of life's treasure, do you feel the pinching hunger of the land of banishment P Weary of the world's empty husks, do you yearn after the peace and plenty of your Father's house ?" Arise and go to your Father." In his holy same we assure you of acceptance. Read the story of the prodigal once more; you will find your case so described that none need mistake or think his condition too abject for recovery; you will find such a welcome pledged as forbids the guiltiest to despair. Bring what of life is left; it is a pitiful offering indeed, one that man would refuse; but fear not that he will spurn it. "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord." "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
OFFENCE IN CHEIST.
BY THE BEV. W. BEST, B.A. "And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me."—Luke vii. 23.
To be offended in Christ! The expression conveys with it a shook of profound pain; and at those seasons when we are favoured by specially vivid perceptions of the Saviour's grace, and when we recognise the unbounded indebtedness of our race to him, and when the solace of his presence is imparting itself to our spirits, we can hardly believe that even the worst of men can fall into such a condition of sin. No! we might be tempted to say, they may choose sin rather than holiness, and put aside the hand that would renovate their nature; but 6urely they cannot but retain a secret admiration of Christ; they must be impressed by his magnanimity and love; in him they do not, they cannot find the material of offence. And the rejectors of the graca of God may arrive from a different starting-point to the same conelusion. The persuasion that though for a period they may decline the blessings and privileges of religion, they do not foster the feelings of enmity against the Lord, is doubtless a prevalent one, and is largely employed to drug the conscience into fatal repose. And therefore there is a supreme necessity for an explicit declaration of the truth upon the point, and that we should bring ourselves to see clearly that to reject the blessings which Christ has died to bestow, involves a personal and contumelious rejection of the Saviour, and that to take offence at any part of his teaching, and system, and operations, is to that extent to be offended in Christ.
I. How fearful then it is to notice, in the first place, that the person of the Saviour lias been from the first, and continues to be, a source of offence to men.
His person united in itself the lowliest and the loftiest, and in both respects it has been the occasion of bitter and relentless hate.
That a claim so comprehensive and grand as that of being the Saviour of the world, should be put forth by one who was in the form of a servant, who was without comeliness, and in whom there was no beauty that he should be desired, served to awaken for the most part the derision and hostility of society. And if in our -own day the circumstance that he was a carpenter's son seems to augment the "tay of his name, and if none appear to
find occasion of offence in the lowliness of his birth and condition, the apparent change is one to challenge our suspicion and scrutiny.
Nothing is more common than that professed followers of the Saviour should be dazzled by the glare of wealth and position; and this can never take place without a confusing and a falsifying of their moral estimates, and this again inevitably stamps their lives with a character of vacillation and unfairness. The heart that, after Christian training, can yield itself to any principle because it is in high favour and surrounded by fascinations of power and pomp, or that can desert any society or principle through the influence of public disfavour and the lack of secondary advantages, is one that has already yielded to the sin of those who found offence in Christ because he was lowly and poor.
But our Saviour is the Son of God. In his most depressed human condition he was still, as ever, the Son of God. To the humble followers whom he was training for apostleship the dignity of their Master was known. They learned it by express revelation. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," was the confession of Peter; and when he made it, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona," was the Lord's response; "for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." What was taught in the way of spiritual intuition to the disciples was announced publicly. Our Lord proclaimed himself the Son of God. He declared that he and the Father were one. His words were plain and his meaning understood. The Jews stoned him, as they said, for blasphemy, "because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God." Upon this charge they demanded his crucifixion. They said to Pilate, " We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God." He claimed to be Divine in the strictest sense, one with the Father. So the Jews understood him, and upon this understanding they procured his death, and in vindication of his claim so understood he died. His crucifixion, among other things, is his own attestation that he was the Son of God and one with the Father.
It ia equally an attestation that in the claim there is the material of offence. Many things excited the enmity of the Jew: this roused him to a frenzy of hate.
The servant form was the mode of the manifestation of God in the flesh. Jesus was the son of Mary and the Son of God. Blessed is he whosoever is not offended in him; who finds human solace and sympathy in the man Christ Jesus; who rests his soul with its eternal interests upon the Divine Redeemer.
II. Our Saviour's public life was a scene of strenuous and unceasing toil, of toil concentrated upon the accomplishment of a distinct purpose; and in this he suffered no failure through the malice of his foes. He finished the work that was given him to do. He made an atonement for sin. He brought salvation to men. Now that in the work of the Saviour there is something that gives offence, is too evident. From the beginning "Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness." The Jews and the Greeks of that age have been reproduced in every succeeding generation. The offence of the cross has never ceased.
And in what way are we to explain the fact? Whence arises the offence? To the general principles involved in the offer of mercy through Christ, there is little resistance.
God is merciful. This is the ultimate basis upon which salvation rests; and there is none that will dispute the statement, though many fatally pervert it.
Man is a sinner. Theories of sin are controverted, but who will deny his own sinfulness? It is in all cases conceded; and some even seem to imagine a kind of virtue in the shameless confession of habitual vice.
Salvation must be through sacrifice. It is the avowed creed of humanity. Sacrifice is necessary to religion. It may be excluded from schemes of philosophy and from some forms of perverted Christianity, but these exceptional cases weigh little against the voice of all ages.
Salvation must he accompanied by a renunciation of sin. There is no principle more firmly ingrained into the convictions of men. Let one avow himself to be Christian, and he and his religion are honoured by his actions being submitted to a higher standard than would have been previously employed.
We might suppose, from a review like this, that the work of Christ, the salvation offered through him, would
meet with universal acceptance. But though it embodies these recognised facts and principles, the form in which it is presentod to man is humiliating and repulsive. The sacrifice accomplished is the sacrifice of Jesus himself. Human offerings are utterly rejected. Sinners have brought the fruits of the earth, the beasts of the field, their captured enemies, their own offspring, and offered them as oblations: they have not refused themselves to become sacrificial victims. Nothing has been too costly if only they wight bring it as their own. Such offerings do but augment the sin they seek to expiate. The one Divine sacrifice reveals at once the riches of God and the unspeakable poverty of man. Salvation is bestowed through the sacrifice of Christ. > It is God's gift. Nothing that we possess can merit, nothing purchase, nothing procure it. It is dispensed by the King freely, lovingly, and without respect to moral condition in the past, to all who now are willing so to receive it at his hand.
The sanctity that accompanies salvation does not consist in the simple abandonment of sinful habits and practices. It consists in a renewal of the heart and nature by a Divine operation.
Thus the salvation of a soul is from its beginning to its consummation a Divine work. It is wrought for man; it is wrought in man; and though he is not passive in the hands of God, his whole activity, so far as respects salvation, is the result of new and supernatural power, of power Divinely communicated. In these things are to be found the stumbling-block and the foolishness. Our state is one of abject corruption and of spiritual helplessness. This we must realize, and in the bitterness of such knowledge sue for grace, and under a system built up and perfected apart from our counsel and co-operation receive our pardon as a gift of infinite and unpurchaseable value.
III. There is much also in the modes in which the work of Christ is rendered effectual among men that excites their enmity and aversion. For the religion that he has given to the world does not consist merely of forms, nor of a system of truths, but of both, with the addition of a Divinepower, that turns the one into the sustenance of the renewed heart, and the other into the mediums of communication between God and his children.
1. And this power is in itself an offence, A decorous form of religion is the requiremcnt of many, their sole requirement. Let doctrine and life never intrude to perturb mid arouse. Let them have religion as an opiate, and not as a quickening energy. Let the service of prayer be duly performed, and lessons duly read, and a brief homily duly recited, and what more is needed? Here is an orderly, quiet, respectable, and most tranquillizing religion. And how offensive to such as rest in it are the word that comes with power, the alarm, the awakening, the prayer in earnest, the converting efficacy, the grace that transforms. We read of the prayer-machine of Thibet, turned by crank and wheel, and wo are filled with sorrow and shame. Beligion at home is made as irrational and as mechanical by those who find offence in Christ as the power of God unto salvation.
2. Power and change are correlatives. Where the effieacy of the Gospel is found, change, many changes ensue; in individual men first—in masses—in institutions. Ail the forms of society are altering. The stone cut out without hands became a great mountain and filled the whole earth: everything was crushed to make way for it. There is material of deep offence here. Error and evil are sanctified in men's eyes by time. AU tilings become venerable by years. How easily may we fall into sin by clutching some mediaeval error, and seeking to uphold it in its integrity and influence against the silent and majestic power that is transforming all things. But let us distinguish between change Divinely wrought, and revolution. The latter overturns; the former builds up and renews. The one destroys; the other creates anew. Under tiie processes of religion the bud, the flower, and the fruit follow in ordered and beautiful sequence; and though each seems to pass away, there is nothing lost. In the higher growth the lower is absorbed.
3. The power of the Gospel refuses to operate within the conditions that man may prescribe. It overleaps his systems. It disregards his canons and regulations. And what can be more offensive to those t»no have employed the subtlety and force •»rf a trained logic in the forging of ecclesiastical systems, than to discover the vanity •of tkeir labours ?" The wind bloweth •sliere it listeth, and thou hearost the sound "thereof, tut canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." The hand of synod, eouiioil, or pope cannot lay hold upon a power like this, eannot compel it into subjection. It works—its law of working is
with God—and he reserves to himself the authority by which it is directed.
Children at the sea-side dig their tiny trenches for the tidal wave; but when it comes in its amplitude and sweep, how it rolls over the little channels, silting them up, and spreading its waters far and wide on every hand.
4. The power of the Gospel works without regard to the distinctions upon which the world places so high a value. When John the Baptist sent the question to our Lord, "Art thou he that should come?" one fact to which he referred as accrediting his mission aud Messiahship was, that "the poor had the Gospel preached to them." Coutrast with this the exclamation wrung from the sad heart of Jesus by the conduct of the "certain ruler," who had "great possessions :" "How hardly shall they that have riches enter the kingdom of God." Add to this that during the Saviour's ministry "all the publicans and sinners drew near to him for to hear him;" and bear in mind his stern rebuke of the respectable religionists of the day: "The publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." The work of Christ was, and is, with sinners as sinners; and in whatever social and moral degradation they lie, it matters not, hia mercy will receive them: he came to seek and to s«ve the lost. The Church is not a coterie of blameless and cultivated men. It is the centre and gathering-place of all who seek refuge in Jesus. Let them come from what haunts of shamo and degradation they may, for each as he comes there must be the hand of welcome and the word of love. A grave cause of offence lies here; for intense at times is the aversion of the cultured for the coaise, of the rich for the poor, of the moral for those who have known the depths of profligacy.
If, then, in the person of Christ, in his work for men, and in the modes he employs in disseminating the blessings of his Gospel, there is so much that is likely to give us offence, we need to maintain an eager and a prayerful watch over ourselves. Conformity to Christ must be our aim. It is realized only by those who are humble and reverent, and willing to be taught. To be like Christ, to find in him all excellency and perfection, is the highest form of life. It secures even now an unspeakable satisfaction. It inspires the sweetest expectations. "Blessed is he, whosoever frliy 11 not be offended in me."