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TRUE AND FALSE RELIGION.
PREACHED MARCH 22ND, 1867,
BY THE REV. G. BUTT,
VICAR OF CHESTERFIELD.
"The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” 1. Cor. iv. 20. THERE were certain persons among the Corinthians who put themselves forward in the Church, and were bold enough to oppose St. Paul. Elated in their carnal minds, and puffed up with some attainments they had made in the acquisition of religious knowledge, they proudly imagined that they had just as much right to give their opinion, and lay down the law in Church matters, as the great Apostle of the Gentiles himself. This impertinent and unwarranted interference on their part, created much dissension in the Church at Corinth, and St. Paul found it necessary to reprove them by letter, and to warn them that, when he came to Corinth, he would reprove them still more sharply in person—"I will know,” he writes, “not the speech of them that are puffed up, but the power.” It seems that they had not believed his promise of coming to Corinth, but cast discredit upon it, that they might the more easily compass their own self-exalting designs.
From the Apostle's manner of treating these vain and arrogant persons, we infer without difficulty his opinion of them, which was no doubt this, that they had never experienced in their hearts the renewing power of that religious knowledge, concerning which they boasted so loudly, and prated so impudently. For observe, he reminds them, “the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.' He declares that it was his intention to try them by this test, “ I will know not the speech of them that are puffed up, but the power,” even that holy influence which Christianity exercises over the hearts and lives of true believers—he would see how much of this might be manifest in them.
Tried by this test, the religion of some professing Christians, of some who entertain a very high opinion of their own spiritual attainments, and look down with pity, if not scorn, on others, will be found sadly wanting. As regards professors of godliness, our Lord says, by their fruits shall ye know them, or distinguish them; and when we call to mind what the tendency of the Gospel being duly received is, we shall perceive that those who are lowly in heart, and emptied of self, know the life and power of it, while the conceited and proud, and self-magnifying, are wholly ignorant of the power, though they
may very possibly be admirable phrascologists by aid of a good memory. Certainly the mere intellectual apprehension of the doctrines of the New Testament, tends like any other knowledge to make men, more especially smatterers, value themselves on their attainments, and court the applause of the more ignorant, by a pompous display of them. But it will be altogether otherwise with those who have received them into their hearts by faith, and have had them wrought into their very souls by Divine Grace, and fervent prayer, by much affliction, trial and teinptation, for these doctrines are purposely designed and admirably calculated to bring down human wisdom and mortal pride even to the very dust before God, so that he who knows God, alone knows himself properly. That pure revealing light of heaven, which dispels the darkness of sinful nature, and illuminates the chambers of the genuine Christian's heart, discovers to him such abominations there, such corruptions and evils there, that he is ashamed and confounded, and closes for ever the mouth of boasting.
He perceives what a poor ignorant being he is; how full of folly; how empty of all that is good; how worthless and sinful. The more he learns to know of God, the more he advances in grace and spiritual wisdom, the more sensible will he grow of his own defects. The Apostle asserts, that if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. Self-conceit is, indeed, always found to be the offspring of ignorance ; the more we know, so much the better shall we know how much there is which as yet we do not know. They who have learned most of the the things of God, know but in part, are very far removed from perfection in knowledge. Hence true knowledge makes the Christian humble, while ignorance perpetuates itself by pride, and a vain conceit, and pretence of knowledge. When God would instruct men, he first gives them the grace of humility. “Whom shall he teach knowledge ? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine P them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts." (Is. xxviii. 9.) Without the grace of humility men cannot be saved“ Unless ye are converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of heaven," says He, who holds the key of that kingdom. (Matt. xvii. 3.)
Having made these preliminary observations, I shall now proceed to consider:
1. What St. Paul signifies by the expression, "Kingdom of God."
II. What he intends by his statement, “The Kingdom of God is not in word." III. That it is in power.
1. And first we have to consider what the Apostle means by the expression—" Kingdom of God." The expression is used in Seripture evidently in more senses than one. It is used in an external sense to denote the Church visible of Christ. In an inward sense to denote the state of saving grace in the heart of man. It stands also for the
kingdom of heavenly glory, or it may be taken for the Gospel dispensation. The Gospel is called
the Gospel of the Kingdom,” because all who repent, and obey the Gospel, are brought into the Church by faith and baptism.
It may be observed, that as the Church of Christ is divided into visible and invisible, so the kingdom of God or of heaven may mean the whole multitude of those who profess and call themselves Christians, whether they are such in spirit and truth or no. Otherwise it may mean exclusively the sanctified company of those who are true disciples of Christ, such as
can say that Jesus is Lord by the Holy Ghost." (1. Cor. xii, 3,) In the wider sense it is used in a short parable by our Saviour, where he speaks of a net cast into the sea, which enclosed a multitude of fishes good and bad. In the narrower
sense too, Christ employs the same expression-"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for their’s is the kingdom of God or heaven." With respect to the Kingdom of God,” as used in our text, there can be no doubt but that St. Paul used the expression to signify the work of saving grace in the soul of man—the operation of the Holy Ghost in subjecting the sinner's heart to his Redeemer and Lord. Just so our Saviour used it, when the Pharisees demanded of him, when the kingdom of God should come-he answered them and said—“ The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation : neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke xvii. 20.)
The Church of Christ is his spiritual kingdom-what constitutes true membership in this kingdom is the reigning power of Christ's grace within the soul. Unless the Throne of the Lord Christ is actually established in our hearts, we may be called indeed, but we are not really his true subjects. His true subjects yield him the submission of love, and strive “to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” The Holy Spirit is ever working as the rod of Christ's strength, to make his people willing in the day of his power, setting up the Kingdom of God in their hearts.
The Kingdom of God is a believing heart in which God rules with power, overthrowing the former empire of Satan, the god of this world, and the reign of spiritual darkness. Here sin can no longer have the dominion, not but what it retains much life and strength to disturb the happy reign of grace and peace, yet it cannot prevail to demolish the Kingdom of God's dear Son. Here corruption is kept down and subdued by the hand of our Mighty Redeemer. Here the service of duty and love is gratefully paid to the Most High God; the homage of the soul rendered to its rightful Lord; prayer, and praise, and thanksgiving are offered as acceptable sacrifices before the High Altar of heaven through the Mediator. Here all the affections are engaged to God, being drawn off from self and the world. Here is faith which overcometh the deceits and enticements of the flesh. Here the flame of holy and heavenly love burns brightly in the Temple of the living God, and hence shines forth a pure light to the glory of the Eternal Father, which manifests and proves the indwelling of the Spirit of his Son.
2. Let us now proceed to consider what St. Paul means by saying that this kingdom is not in word. It is certain that he does not mean that the word has nothing to do with it; but rather, that this kingdom is not in word only, but in power also; or, that the word is not sufficient without the influence of the Spirit. It is not unusual to find this form of expression in the Bible, where the word "only seems omitted ; as, for instance, St. John writes, “Little children, let us not love in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth." Here the word "only” is evidently to be supplied after “tongue.” So here, it is not in word only, or it is not in word so much as in power. No disparagement is intended to the Word of God, which is the incorruptible seed of life eternal, being the means of quickening the soul, through the Spirit, when received by faith. Of His own will, St. James declares, He, i.e. God the Father of lights, begat us, i.e. the Children of God, with the Word of truth.
Great things are stated in Scripture concerning the efficacy of the Word. Yet, the word is only the means of dispensing light and life to the soul ; it can do nothing of itselt; the spirit must give it force and energy; therefore it is called the Sword of the Spirit ; and, as such, it is, indeed, "quick and powerful,” “ dividing asunder,” and “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Of some persons it is written, “the Word ached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it”-Heb. iv. 2. It is absolutely necessary, therefore, that the Spirit open the ear and heart
for the reception of the Word, and give it quickening energy to the enlightening of the mind, to the converting of the soul, to the setting of the affections on things above, and to the sanctifying and subduing the corrupt and stubborn will-yea, that he take of the things of Jesus, and show them unto us.
It may be observed, that where the Kingdom of God hath come in word alone, there may be some spiritual light. Light is a gift of the Spirit; not necessarily a grace, or a fruit of the indwelling Spirit. Wicked men have been enlightened, and have tasted the good Word of God, and been counted true servants of Christ, and yet have fallen away into apostacy. St. Paul seems to intimate as much in Hebrews. Balaam was an instance of this, who boasted so proudly that his eyes were opened, who could so clearly and eloquently describe the blessed prospects of God's chosen people, and the coming glories of Christ's Kingdom, and the eventual confusion of all his enemies. He had spiritual knowledge or light; but his heart was not changed, but still devoted to sin and the world. Though he could plainly see how desirable the end of the righteous is, nevertheless he perished with the wicked. Therefore, let us not deceive ourselves with any gift of spiritual knowledge we may have, or fancy we have; but consider whether we really love the truth, have experience of its power so far as to become new creatures through the Spirit, and are confessing in our lives its influence upon our inner man.
St. Paul, in Thessalonians, declares that we must receive the love of the truth to be saved; otherwise we provoke God to send us a strong delusion to believe a lie. Now, it is one thing to know the truth, and quite another thing to love it. Knowledge, saith the Apostle, puffeth up; but charity or love edifieth or buildeth up. Thus it is with some; they are puffed up with a notion of their high attainments in religious knowledge, but they are not builded up in the faith. Were they builded up they would not be puffed up with vain glory and pride, because they would have made considerable attainments in self-knowledge or humility-since that invariably grows with the growth, and strengthens with the strength of grace and true knowledge of Christ in the soul. Who dare measure his own with St. Paul's attainments; yet he not only asserted with his lips, “I am nothing," but showed by his lowly carriage that he felt it in his heart, “serving the Lord with all humility of mind. (Acts xx. 19.)
Again-They who have mere knowledge of the truth are wanting in obedience ; they forget our Lord's words, “ If ye know these things, happy
ye do them.” Godliness, my friends, is a practical religion. If we know the truth, love it, and feel the power of it, we shall certainly obey it. Men are too apt to pride themselves upon “clear views," as they are styled, of the things of God, and to rest satisfied with a barren and uninfluential orthodoxy. They can perceive plainly enough the gross corruptions of the faith as once delivered to the saints which the Church of Rome hath made; they may be, and with good reason, shocked at the blasphemy of the Socinian, who robs the Lord Christ of his eternal and divino glory; they may be strongly opposed to other false doctrines which are held and taught by ignorant persons ; and yet, all the while be wofully blind to their own state, which, in the sight of God, may be as bad or worse than theirs whom they condemn, bad as theirs undoubtedly is. They may not be living in accordance with their light, but holding, or as it may be otherwise expressed, withholding the truth in unrighteousness—not allowing it to exert its renewing influence upon their hearts and lives—that influence which it ought to have, and was purposely designed to have. Therefore, I say, their state may be so much the more evil in God's sight; because, where much is given, there much is
required, and because their error is one of which it is very difficult to convince them. Such are warned that the servant who knows his Lord's will, and does it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.
The errors of some ignorant persons, who are led astray by blind guides and have been nurtured in the cradle of superstition, demand our pity as much as our censure ; and hope remains, that when the true light shines upon them, they may renounce their errors, and heartily embrace the truth which is according to godliness. Saul was a poor, blind Pharisee, but conscientiously such ; what he did perversely he did ignorantly; but when the true light shone into his soul, and Christ was revealed to him, then his inquiry was, “Lord, what wilt thon have me to do p" and the remainder of his life testified his sincerity, and the power of divine grace in his heart.
On the other hand, there are no characters which afford more disquietude to the faithful ministers of Christ (who "watch for souls as they who must give account”) than those professors who live on in wretched self-delusion, evidently “minding earthly things," unhumbled and unsanctified, while they know, and confess the truth with their lips. Them the Word of God has not brought down low in the dust before the High and Holy One; but they are lifted
with proud imaginations of their spiritual attainments ; they regard others in the spirit of "Stand by, I am holier than thou ;" they will not receive the word of warning and reproof from their minister with meekness, because they consider themselves wiser than their teachers. Much that is called evangelical religion is not exempt from this reproach. And such will ever be the case when men satisfy themselves with the word and knowledge, without the power of godliness. Then the Word, which should have been unto life, tendeth only unto death ; for says Christ, in reference to the judg. ment of the great day, “Many shall say unto me, Lord, Lord, to whom I shall profess, I never knew you, depart from me ye workers of iniquity.” And here is the test of a true, saving faith and devotion to Christ; can we give up all for Christ, do whatsoever he commandeth us, relinquish every forbidden thing, and take up our cross and follow him, overcoming the world ? 0, that Christian who is walking towards heaven with his Saviour's cross in his heart is a widely different character from the man who is thinking to get there without self-mortification. The cross-bearing Christian may be as much despised by the world as his crucified Master; the wordy professor may now be reaping a splendid harvest of human applause ; but there is an eye upon them which seeth not as man seeth—an eye to which all hearts are open, and all desires known, and from which no secrets are hid. Blessed are they " whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
The Gospel is not to be regarded as sweet alone; it has its bitterness also. It must come home to the heart with a sin-condemning and sin-mortifying power, or it will not prove saving. Like that little book which the angel in Revelation gave St. John, and directed him to eat up, and it was in his mouth sweet as honey, but as soon as he had eaten it his belly was bitter (Rev. x. 10), just so is it with the Word of God; objectively, the doctrines of grace are very pleasant to the hearer, but subjectively, there is much that proves bitter to carnal sense in their requirements ; there is a cross to be put to the sensuality, and the pride, and the wisdom of the flesh; there must be a bowing down of the stubborn will to the will of God, and fellowship with the sufferings of Christ, and mortification of the earthly members. Therefore our Lord warns his disciples, in the parable of the sower, that some shall receive the Word at first with gladness, who afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth on account of it, shall be offended and fall away.
Persecution would winnow such chaff from among the wheat in earlier days of Christiapity, but where such sifting process is not going on, we may