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361

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHRISTIAN DUTY IN THE LIGHT OF THE LORD'S RETURN
AND IN THE POWER OF HIS PRESENCE

Romans xiii. 11-14

THE great teacher has led us long upon the path of duty, in its patient details, all summed up in the duty and joy of love. We have heard him explaining to his disciples how to live as members together of the Body of Christ, and as members also of human society at large, and as citizens of the state. We have been busy latterly with thoughts of taxes, and tolls, and private debts, and the obligation of scrupulous rightfulness in all such things. Everything has had relation to the seen and the temporal. The teaching has not strayed into a land of dreams, nor into a desert and a cell; it has had at least as much to do with the market, and the shop, and the secular official, as if the writer had been a moralist whose horizon was altogether of this life, and who for the future was "without hope."

Yet all the while the teacher and the taught were penetrated and vivified by a certainty of the future perfectly supernatural, and commanding the wonder and glad response of their whole being. They carried about with them the promise of their Risen Master that He would personally return again in heavenly glory, to their infinite joy, gathering them for ever 362 around Him in immortality, bringing heaven with Him, and transfiguring them into His own celestial Image.

Across all possible complications and obstacles of the human world around them they beheld "that blissful hope" (Tit. ii. 13). The smoke of Rome could not becloud it, nor her noise drown the music of its promise, nor her splendour of possessions make its golden vista less beautiful and less entrancing to their souls.227227   Omitte mirari beatæ
Fumum et opes strepitumque Romæ. (Horace.)
Their Lord, once crucified, but now alive for evermore, was greater than the world; greater in His calm triumphant authority over man and nature, greater in the wonder and joy of Himself, His Person and His Salvation. It was enough that He had said He would come again, and that it would be to their eternal happiness. He had promised; therefore it would surely be.

How the promise would take place, and when, was a secondary question. Some things were revealed and certain, as to the manner; "This same Jesus, in like manner as ye saw Him going into heaven" (Acts i. 11). But vastly more was unrevealed and even unconjectured. As to the time, His words had left them, as they still leave us, suspended in a reverent sense of mystery, between intimations which seem almost equally to promise both speed and delay. "Watch therefore, for ye know not when the Master of the house cometh" (Mark xiii. 35); "After a long time the Lord of the servants cometh, and reckoneth with them" (Matt. xxv. 19). The Apostle himself follows his Redeemer's example in the matter. Here and there he seems to indicate an Advent at the doors, as when he speaks of "us who are alive and remain" (1 Thess. iv. 15). But 363 again, in this very Epistle, in his discourse on the future of Israel, he appears to contemplate great developments of time and event yet to come; and very definitely, for his own part, in many places, he records his expectation of death, not of a death-less transfiguration at the Coming. Many at least among his converts looked with an eagerness which was sometimes restless and unwholesome, as at Thessalonica, for the coming King; and it may have been thus with some of the Roman saints. But St Paul at once warned the Thessalonians of their mistake; and certainly this Epistle suggests no such upheaval of expectation at Rome.

Our work in these pages is not to discuss "the times and the seasons" which now, as much as then, lie in the Father's "power" (Acts i. 7). It is rather to call attention to the fact that in all ages of the Church this mysterious but definite Promise has, with a silent force, made itself as it were present and contemporary to the believing and watching soul. How at last it shall be seen that "I come quickly" and, "The day of Christ is not at hand" (Rev. xxii. 12, 20, 2 Thess. ii. 2), were both divinely and harmoniously truthful, it does not yet fully appear. But it is certain that both are so; and that in every generation of the now "long time" "the Hope," as if it were at the doors indeed, has been calculated for mighty effects on the Christian's will and work.

So we come to this great Advent oracle, to read it for our own age. Now first let us remember its wonderful illustration of that phenomenon which we have remarked already, the concurrence in Christianity of a faith full of eternity, with a life full of common duty. Here is a community of men called to live under an almost opened heaven; almost to see, as they look 364 around them, the descending Lord of glory coming to bring in the eternal day, making Himself present in this visible scene "with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God," waking His buried saints from the dust, calling the living and the risen to meet Him in the air. How can they adjust such an expectation to the demands of "the daily round"? Will they not fly from the City to the solitude, to the hill-tops and forests of the Apennines, to wait with awful joy the great lightning-flash of glory? Not so. They somehow, while "looking for the Saviour from the heavens" (Phil. iii. 20), attend to their service and their business, pay their debts and their taxes, offer sympathy to their neighbours in their human sadnesses and joys, and yield honest loyalty to the magistrate and the Prince. They are the most stable of all elements in the civic life of the hour, if "the powers that be" would but understand them; while yet, all the while, they are the only people in the City whose home, consciously, is the eternal heavens. What can explain the paradox? Nothing but the Fact, the Person, the Character of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not an enthusiasm, however powerful, which governs them, but a Person. And He is at once the Lord of immortality and the Ruler of every detail of His servant's life. He is no author of fanaticism, but the divine-human King of truth and order. To know Him is to find the secret alike of a life eternal and of a patient faithfulness in the life that now is.

What was true of Him is true for evermore. His servant now, in this restless close of the nineteenth age, is to find in Him this wonderful double secret still. He is to be, in Christ, by the very nature of his faith, the most practical and the most willing of the servants 365 of his fellow-men, in their mortal as well as immortal interests; while also disengaged internally from a bondage to the seen and temporal by his mysterious union with the Son of God, and by his firm expectation of His Return. And this, this law of love and duty, let us remember, let us follow, knowing the season, the occasion, the growing crisis (καιρόν); that it is already the hour for our awaking out of sleep, the sleep of moral inattention, as if the eternal Master were not near. For nearer now is our salvation, in that last glorious sense of the word "salvation" which means the immortal issue of the whole saving process, nearer now than when we believed, and so by faith entered on our union with the Saviour. (See how he delights to associate himself with his disciples in the blessed unity of remembered conversion; "when we believed.") The night, with its murky silence, its "poring dark," the night of trial, of temptation, of the absence of our Christ, is far spent,228228Προέκοψε: literally, "made progress." The aorist may refer to the event of the First Advent, when our eternal Sun was heralded by Himself the Morning Star. But perhaps it is best represented by the English perfect, as in the A.V. and above. but the day has drawn near; it has been a long night, but that means a near dawn; the everlasting sunrise of the longed-for Parousia, with its glory, gladness, and unveiling. Let us put off therefore, as if they were a foul and entangling night-robe, the works of the darkness, the habits and acts of the moral night, things which we can throw off in the Name of Christ; but let us put on the weapons of the light, arming ourselves, for defence, and for holy aggression on the realm of evil, with faith, love, and the heavenly hope. So to the Thessalonians five years before (1, v. 8), and to the Ephesians four years later (vi. 11-17), he wrote of 336 the holy Panoply, rapidly sketching it in the one place, giving the rich finished picture in the other; suggesting to the saints always the thought of a warfare first and mainly defensive, and then aggressive with the drawn sword, and indicating as their true armour not their reason, their emotions, or their will, taken in themselves, but the eternal facts of their revealed salvation in Christ, grasped and used by faith. As by day, for it is already dawn, in the Lord, let us walk229229Περιπατήσωμεν: perhaps the aorist suggests a new outset in the "walk." decorously, becomingly, as we are the hallowed soldiers of our Leader; let our life not only be right in fact; let it shew to all men the open "decorum" of truth, purity, peace, and love; not in revels and drunken bouts; not in chamberings, the sins of the secret couch, and profligacies, not—to name evils which cling often to the otherwise reputable Christian—in strife and envy, things which are pollutions, in the sight of the Holy One, as real as lust itself. No; put on, clothe and arm yourselves with, the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself the living sum and true meaning of all that can arm the soul; and for the flesh take no forethought lust-ward. As if, in euphemism, he would say, "Take all possible forethought against the life of self (σάρξ), with its lustful, self-wilful gravitation away from God. And let that forethought be, to arm yourselves, as if never armed before, with Christ."

How solemnly explicit he is, how plain-spoken, about the temptations of the Roman Christian's life! The men who were capable of the appeals and revelations of the first eight chapters yet needed to be told not to drink to intoxication, not to go near the house of ill-fame, not to quarrel, not to grudge. But every modern missionary 367 in heathendom will tell us that the like stern plainness is needed now among the new-converted faithful. And is it not needed among those who have professed the Pauline faith much longer, in the congregations of our older Christendom?

It remains for our time, as truly as ever, a fact of religious life—this necessity to press it home upon the religious, as the religious, that they are called to a practical and detailed holiness; and that they are never to ignore the possibility of even the worst falls. So mysteriously can the subtle "flesh," in the believing receiver of the Gospel, becloud or distort the holy import of the thing received. So fatally easy is it "to corrupt the best into the worst," using the very depth and richness of spiritual truth as if it could be a substitute for patient practice, instead of its mighty stimulus.

But glorious is the method illustrated here for triumphant resistance to that tendency. What is it? It is not to retreat from spiritual principle upon a cold naturalistic programme of activity and probity. It is to penetrate through the spiritual principle to the Crucified and Living Lord who is its heart and power; it is to bury self in Him, and to arm the will with Him. It is to look for Him as Coming, but also, and yet more urgently, to use Him as Present. In the great Roman Epic, on the verge of the decisive conflict, the goddess-mother laid the invulnerable panoply at the feet of her Æneas; and the astonished Champion straightway, first pondering every part of the heaven-sent armament, then "put it on," and was prepared. As it were at our feet is laid the Lord Jesus Christ, in all He is, in all He has done, in His indissoluble union with us in it all, as we are one with Him by the Holy Ghost. It is for us to see in Him our power and victory, and to "put Him on," in a 368 personal act which, while all by grace, is yet in itself our own. And how is this done? It is by the "committal of the keeping of our souls unto Him" (1 Pet. iv. 19), not vaguely, but definitely and with purpose, in view of each and every temptation. It is by "living our life in the flesh by faith in the Son of God" (Gal. ii. 20); that is to say, in effect, by perpetually making use of the Crucified and Living Saviour, One with us by the Holy Spirit; by using Him as our living Deliverer, our Peace and Power, amidst all that the dark hosts of evil can do against us.

Oh wonderful and all-adequate secret; "Christ, which is the Secret of God" (Col. ii. 2)! Oh divine simplicity of its depth;

"Heaven's easy, artless, unencumber'd plan"!

Not that its "ease" means our indolence. No; if we would indeed "arm ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ" we must awake and be astir to "know whom we have trusted" (2 Tim. i. 12). We must explore His Word about Himself. We must ponder it, above all in the prayer which converses with Him over His promises, till they live to us in His light. We must watch and pray, that we may be alert to employ our armament. The Christian who steps out into life "light-heartedly," thinking superficially of his weakness, and of his foes, is only too likely also to think of his Lord superficially, and to find of even this heavenly armour that "he cannot go with it, for he hath not proved it" (1 Sam. xvii. 39). But all this leaves absolutely untouched the divine simplicity of the matter. It leaves it wonderfully true that the decisive, the satisfying, the thorough, moral victory and deliverance comes to the Christian man not by trampling about with his own 369 resolves, but by committing himself to his Saviour and Keeper, who has conquered him, that now He may conquer "his strong Enemy" for him.

"Heaven's unencumbered plan" of "victory and triumph, against the devil, the world, and the flesh," is no day-dream of romance. It lives, it works in the most open hour of the common world of sin and sorrow. We have seen this "putting on of the Lord Jesus Christ" victoriously successful where the most fierce, or the most subtle, forms of temptation were to be dealt with. We have seen it preserving, with beautiful persistency, a life-long sufferer from the terrible solicitations of pain, and of still less endurable helplessness—every limb fixed literally immovable by paralysis on the ill-furnished bed; we have seen the man cheerful, restful, always ready for wise word and sympathetic thought, and affirming that his Lord, present to his soul, was infinitely enough to "keep him." We have seen the overwhelmed toiler for God, while every step through the day was clogged by "thronging duties," such duties as most wear and drain the spirit, yet maintained in an equable cheerfulness and as it were inward leisure by this same always adequate secret, "the Lord Jesus Christ put on." We have known the missionary who had, in sober earnest, hazarded his life for the blessed Name, yet ready to bear quiet witness to the repose and readiness to be found in meeting disappointment, solitude, danger, not so much by a stern resistance as by the use, then and there, confidingly, and in surrender, of the Crucified and Living Lord. Shall we dare to add, with the humiliated avowal that only a too partial proof has been made of this glorious open Secret, that we know by experiment that the weakest of the servants of our King, "putting on Him," 370 find victory and deliverance, where there was defeat before?

Let us, writer and reader, address ourselves afresh in practice to this wonderful secret. Let us, as if we had never done it before, "put on the Lord Jesus Christ."230230From this point to the close of the chapter the writer has used, with modifications, passages from a Sermon (No. iii.) in his volume entitled Christ is All. Vain is our interpretation of the holy Word, which not only "abideth, but liveth for ever" (1 Pet. i. 23), if it does not somehow come home. For that Word was written on purpose to come home; to touch and move the conscience and the will, in the realities of our inmost, and also of our most outward, life. Never for one moment do we stand as merely interested students and spectators, outside the field of temptation. Never for one moment therefore can we dispense with the great Secret of victory and safety.

Full in face of the realities of sin—of Roman sin, in Nero's days; but let us just now forget Rome and Nero; they were only dark accidents of a darker essence—St Paul here writes down, across them all, these words, this spell, this Name; "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ." Take first a steady look, he seems to say, at your sore need, in the light of God; but then, at once, look off, look here. Here is the more than Antithesis to it all. Here is that by which you can be "more than conqueror." Take your iniquities at the worst; this can subdue them. Take your surroundings at the worst; this can emancipate you from their power. It is "the Lord Jesus Christ," and the "putting on" of Him.

Let us remember, as if it were a new thing, that He, 371 the Christ of Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostles, is a Fact. Sure as the existence now of His universal Church, as the observance of the historic Sacrament of His Death, as the impossibility of Galilean or Pharisaic imagination having composed, instead of photographed, the portrait of the Incarnate Son, the Immaculate Lamb; sure as is the glad verification in ten thousand blessed lives to-day of all, of all, that the Christ of Scripture undertakes to be to the soul that will take Him at His own terms—so sure, across all oldest and all newest doubts, across all gnosis and all agnosia, lies the present Fact of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Then let us remember that it is a fact that man, in the mercy of God, can "put Him on." He is not far off. He presents Himself to our touch, our possession. He says to us, "Come to Me." He unveils Himself as literal partaker of our nature; as our Sacrifice; our Righteousness, "through faith in His blood"; as the Head and Life-spring, in an indescribable union, of a deep calm tide of life spiritual and eternal, ready to circulate through our being. He invites Himself to "make His abode with us" (John xiv. 23); yea more, "I will come in to him; I will dwell in his heart by faith" (Rev. iii. 20; Eph. iii. 17). In that ungovernable heart of ours, that interminably self-deceptive heart (Jerem. xvii. 9), He engages to reside, to be permanent Occupant, the Master always at home. He is prepared thus to take, with regard to our will, a place of power nearer than all circumstances, and deep in the midst of all possible inward traitors; to keep His eye on their plots, His foot, not ours, upon their necks. Yes, He invites us thus to embrace Him into a full contact; to "put Him on."

372

May we not say of Him what the great Poet says of Duty, and glorify the verse by a yet nobler application?—

"Thou who art victory and law
When empty terrors overawe,
From vain temptations dost set free,
And calm'st the weary strife of frail humanity!"

Yes, we can "put Him on" as our "Panoply of Light." We can put Him on as "the Lord," surrendering ourselves to His absolute while most benignant sovereignty and will, deep secret of repose. We can put Him on as "Jesus," clasping the truth that He, our Human Brother, yet Divine, "saves His people from their sins" (Matt. i. 21). We can put Him on as "Christ," our Head, anointed without measure by the Eternal Spirit, and now sending of that same Spirit into His happy members, so that we are indeed one with Him, and receive into our whole being the resources of His life.

Such is the armour and the arms. St Jerome, commenting on a kindred passage (Eph. vi. 13), says that "it most clearly results that by 'the weapons of God' the Lord our Saviour is to be understood."

We may recollect that this text is memorable in connexion with the Conversion of St Augustine. In his Confessions (viii. 12) he records how, in the garden at Milan, at a time of great moral conflict, he was strangely attracted by a voice, perhaps the cry of children playing: "Take and read, take and read." He fetched and opened again a copy of the Epistles (codicem Apostoli), which he had lately laid down. "I read in silence the first place on which my eyes fell; 'Not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, 373 and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts.' I neither cared, nor needed, to read further. At the close of the sentence, as if a ray of certainty were poured into my heart, the clouds of hesitation fled at once." His will was in the will of God.

Alas, there falls one shadow over that fair scene. In the belief of Augustine's time, to decide fully for Christ meant, or very nearly meant, so to accept the ascetic idea as to renounce the Christian home. But the Lord read His servant's heart aright through the error, and filled it with His peace. To us, in a surrounding religious light far clearer, in many things, than that which shone even upon Ambrose and Augustine; to us who quite recognize that in the paths of homeliest duty and commonest temptation lies the line along which the blessed power of the Saviour may best overshadow His disciple; the Spirit's voice shall say of this same text, "Take and read, take and read." We will "put on," never to put off. Then we shall step out upon the old path in a strength new, and to be renewed for ever, armed against evil, armed for the will of God, with Jesus Christ our Lord.


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