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THE MINISTRY OF SEEMLY BEHAVIOUR
Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul; having your behaviour seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well. For so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your freedom for a cloke of wickedness, but as bondservants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
THIS is an appeal for the evangelising influences of a chaste and winsome character. It is an apostolic entreaty to consider the immeasurable momentum of a beautiful life. It is a glorification of the silent witness of saintliness. It is not given to all men to have the faculty and function of the prophet, his clear sight, and his power of fruitful interpretation, The persuasive, 79wooing speech, of the evangelist is not an element in the common endowment. The evangelist and the prophet may be only infrequent creations, and their gifts may have only a limited distribution. But we may all exercise the ministry of beauty. Every man may be an ambassador of life, discharging his office through the medium of holiness. Every man may be an evangelist in the domain of character, distributing his influence through the odour of sanctity, in seemliness of behaviour, in exquisite fitness of speech, in finely finished and well-proportioned life. This is a ministry for every body, the apostleship of spiritual beauty. And so in the passage before us the apostle is engaged in delineating the features of the character that tells. He is depicting a forceful life. He is exhibiting the behaviour which is influential in leading men to reverent thought and religious inquiry and spiritual conviction. What are these public aspects of the sanctified life? By what kind of living can we best arouse the interest of the world in the claims and kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? How may we become powerful evangelists, even though we have been denied the gift of tongues? How may we arrest the world in fruitful wonder? Let us seek the answer in the apostolic word.80
“Abstain from fleshly lusts.” [ Verse 11] That is the first note in the forceful life. Do not let us so narrow its interpretation that the majority of us escape the grip of the apostle’s injunction. Let us attribute a comprehensive content to the unwelcome word “lust.” Lust includes the entire army of unclean forces which are antagonistic to the exalted realm of the spirit. It includes not only the carnal desire, but the jealous eye and the itching palm. It comprehends every form of heated and feverish motion which is destructive of spiritual treasure. Fleshly lust is anything in the life which steams the windows of the spirit. Fleshly lust is therefore inclusive of envy, jealousy, avarice, insatiable selfishness, and immoderate ambition. “Abstain from fleshly lusts,” from any excessive heat which maintains its fire by consuming the furniture of the soul.
Now, what is this but a plea for the ascendency of spirit? It is a plea for the magnificent passion of moderation, and for the imposing grace of a noble self-restraint. “Abstain from fleshly lusts.” Do not let any fire get outside the bars. Do not let the flames reach the furniture. Hold everything in its place. Suffer no usurpation. Do not let the lower supplant the higher. Rigidly observe the distinction of subject and sovereign, and 81preserve the purity of the throne. Such is the all-inclusive meaning of the apostolic counsel. In the constitution of man there is a Divine order. His powers are arranged in ranks and gradations. The science of life is the doctrine of gradation; the art of living is the recognition of gradation. I suppose that George Combe did a great service to the cause of practical thinking when, seventy years ago, he wrote his work on The Constitution of Man. I am not aware that there was anything new in the philosophy of the book. It only confirmed the teaching of the entire range of philosophy stretching back from his own day to the days of Socrates and Plato. And what was the teaching? That the powers of the human personality are arranged in heightening gradation, and that the secret of beautiful living consists in awarding to each rank its own precise and peculiar value. The service rendered by George Combe consisted in the attempt to make this philosophy a plain, practical rule for common life. I find in the resources of my personality regiments of diverse, powers. I find vital forces, affectional forces, social forces, moral forces, spiritual forces. I find elements whose kinship is with the swine, and I find elements which have the lustre and the preciousness of pearls. “What is 82the art of successful and forceful living. “Give not that which, is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.” Do not treat swine and pearls as though they were of equal value. Recognise an aristocracy among the powers, and to them give the preference and the sovereignty. When there are two calls in the life, the bark of the dog and a voice from the sanctuary, “give not that which is holy unto the dogs,” but ever keep the lowest under the severe jurisdiction of the highest. “Abstain from fleshly lusts.” Do not allow any lower power to prowl about in loose licentiousness. Keep the chain on. “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” Exercise the ministry of a well-ordered life. Let all the powers in the life be well drilled, well disciplined, healthily ranked, each one in its place, from the private soldier up to the commander-in-chief. “Abstain from fleshly lusts.” The primary characteristic of forceful, influential character is the ascendency of the spirit.
[Verses 13, 14] “Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well.” That is the second element that tells—“Be subject to every ordinance . . . to the king . . . or unto governors!” Is there any 83suggestion of forcefulness in the counsel? It appears to indicate the .cringing obedience of boneless weaklings. I thought that the influential character was conspicuous for its beauty. Is there anything of beauty in this apparent servility? John Ruskin has told us that one of the primary elements of beauty is the element of repose. But he is careful to explain that by repose he does not mean the weak passivity of a pebble lying upon the highway, but the repose of a mountain, with its protruding rocks revealing themselves like gigantic muscles. It is repose suggestive of might, hinting of splendid power in reserve. May we translate the axiom into our interpretation of spiritual beauty? Spiritual beauty must not have the repose and passivity of a pebble: it must display muscle, and be suggestive of irresistible strength. Character that tells must be the ally of power. Its very sub missions must be indicative of strong nobility. Its bendings must not be the bendings of the invertebrate, but the voluntary, reasonable homage of a splendid will. What, then, is all this about, this submitting to ordinances and kings and governors? Whatever else it may mean, it is not the bending of reeds, but the devotion of giants. Here, I think, is the secret. A Christian man is one who clearly recognises 84the necessity of social order. The sanctity of society is a cardinal element in his faith. The hallowing of human relationship is not one whit behind the hallowing of himself. The ultimate purpose of redemption is to make an orderly family out of a disorderly race. The Christian will not stand aloof from his fellows. He will not walk the lonely way of isolation, or assume an attitude of selfish aggression. He will not maintain a stern individualism, in which the claims and rights of others are ignored. He will recognise the hallowedness of social fellowships, and he will strongly accept his social obligations. He will bend himself to the discharge of civic duties, and put his shoulder beneath the responsible burden of national life. He will fit himself into the social order, into the body corporate, and he will willingly share his blood in the common life.
If this be evangelistic character, the character that tells upon “the Gentiles,” then Christian life is not perfected and beautified where the hallowing of the social order is ignored. When civic duty is neglected, and national obligation is overlooked, the fair circle of spiritual devotion is broken. “Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake . . . to the king . . . or unto governors.” Bend your strength into an intelligent obedience which will be creative 85of a larger and more fruitful corporate life. I have no personal doubt as to what we should do with kings and governors if their rule minister to moral chaos and disorder. The sovereignty is only hallowed when it works to hallowed ends. If this predominant purpose is violated by the supreme king or governor, a man’s very reverence for social sanctities will transform him into a rebel. It was because our fathers were possessed by hallowed civic instincts, and by a burning eagerness for pure and righteous corporate life, that they hurled Charles I. from the throne, and in his rejection and dethronement pledged their souls to a deepened devotion to the sovereignty of God. A primary characteristic of forceful, evangelistic character is the serious recognition of the sanctity of corporate life.
“As free, and not using your freedom for a cloke of wickedness, but as bondservants of God.” [Verse 16] Here is another aspect of the influential life—“Using your freedom . . . as bondservants.” All privilege is used with a sense of responsibility. All exercise is taken “as ever in the great Task master’s eye.” No freedom is permitted to become licence. Every liberty is under the dominion of a fine restraint. “Why, a sense of responsibility and restraint is essential even to the appreciation of freedom itself. Restraint is 86always creative of refined perceptions, The ascetic can discern finer flavours than the glutton. The man who puts reins upon his appetite has a more delightful appreciation of his food. He must be a bondslave to appreciate his freedom. It is even so with every manner of freedom. It is only responsible exercise that discovers their luxurious essence. Licence, in any kind of freedom, works to coarseness, to injury, and to waste. Is this word altogether inopportune for our own day? Are there no alluring freedoms which may entice us into licence? Freedom of thought! “Use your freedom as the bondservants of God.” No man has a right to think as he likes. No man has a right to think about the unworthy, or to contemplate the unclean. In the domain of the mind, it is the man who angles in narrow waters who has the wealthiest haul. Freedom of speech! “Use your freedom as the bondservants of God.” Exercise it with severe restrictions. “Let no communication proceed out of your mouth but what is edifying.” In all these freedoms the element of responsibility is the saving salt, and sometimes the element of responsibility will cause the freedom to be unused. If a man resign his freedom to take intoxicating drink that he may the better minister to an imperilled brother, I cannot 87but think that in reality he is no bondslave, but the Lord’s freeman, and that his deed will not appear unworthy when it is placed in the searching rays of the Eternal Light. In the character that tells, the responsible use of freedom is a great and influential factor.
“Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” [Verse 17] “Honour all men!” The injunction includes the entire circle of human relationships. “Honour!” “Fear!” “Love!” What do the counsels mean except this—that our entire life is to be passed in the exercise of an all-inclusive reverence. We are to move about in the spirit of homage, expecting that at any time, and anywhere, we may come upon crowned sovereignties before which it will be well for us to bow in serious and grateful regard. If we are irreverent, monarchs will be continually passing us, but they will not be known. They will pass “like ships in the night.” Reverence is the very spirit of perception. Frivolity has no eyes, and so it bestows no honour. Censoriousness is blind, and so is never aroused into love. Pride walks with a heavy veil. The cocksure never rest in the deep quietness of the Divine certainties. It is the man who walks in reverence, the man who feels the mystery 88of all things, whether he be contemplating common men or kings or God, who enters into the secret treasure-house, and discovers unsuspected wealth. We should see more in one another if the angel of reverence dwelt near the springs of our life. It is the man who stands in reverence before flowers, and little children, and his own loved ones, and his leaders, and his God, to whom are revealed the secret essences which turn life into a garden of unspeakable delights.
These, then, are some of the characteristics of the “seemly behaviour,” which, working through the medium of holiness, proclaim the glory of God the ascendency of spirit, the aspiration after social sanctity, the responsible use of freedom, and the ceaseless exercise of reverence. These are the primary aspects of the forceful life which works mightily in the evangelisation of the world. As to what would be the issues of such a life the apostle proclaims a triumphant hope. “The Gentiles,” [ Verse 12] the great unleavened mass of men, “by your good works, which they behold,” shall “glorify God in the day of visitation.” The beautiful life is to raise their thoughts in homage to the glorious God. When they behold the Divine realised in the human, they too are to be wooed into heavenly fellowships. They are to be wooed, not by the 89eloquence of our speech, but by the radiance of our behaviour. By the imposing grace of noble living we are to “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men,” [ Verse 15] and that silence will be for them the first stage in a life of aspiring consecration.90
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