Page images
PDF
EPUB

Now, this Christianity is the grand subject of all true modern ministries, the one primary text of religious discourses the world over and the ages through. I say

Christianity-not naturalism. Had man retained his primitive innocence nature would have been that grand text. All sermons would have been drawn from the budding earth and the sparkling skies; from the murmuring brook and the booming billow; the beasts of the forests and the fowls of heaven. Men would have seen in nature what they see not now-true ideas of God-and found there the food of souls:all the parts of material nature would have been regarded as embodiments of divine thought and symbols of eternal truths. But since the Fall men cannot reach the spiritual significance of nature; and if they could, it would not be what they required to meet their spiritual exigencies and improve their spiritual condition. I say, moreover, Christianity--not Judaism, Judaism, it is true, came to meet man's fallen condition; it worked on for centuries, rendered high services, and became effête. Do I dispårage this grand old institution? Far from it. It was here flaming as Truth's grand torch through many an age ; it broke the moral darkness of successive generations, and lighted great multitudes " which no man can number” into the calm heavens of eternity. But it had its day, and is no more ; it is done away.". On the great plains of human history it lies as a shell—a shell whose germ of truth burst it asunder, and expanded into a loftier and more enduring form :-" The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.

Christianity, then, and not either naturalism or Judaism, is now the grand subject of all true religious ministry. We are ministers of the “New Testament.” The text leads us to consider the twofold ministry of this subject and their twofold results.

[ocr errors]

I. THE TWOFOLD MINISTRY. There is the ministry of the “letter" and the ministry of the “spirit.” What does this mean? Not, I think, the two different dispensations of the

a

truth, the Mosaic and the Christian. Although the chapter contains a comparison between these, the text does not. On the contrary, the New Testament only is the subject of the text. Besides, it would scarcely be fair to denominate Judaism a “ letter." There was spirit in every part. Every rite symbolized a thought, every sentence a sentiment. Spirit, like the sap of a young and healthy tree in spring, filled the trunk, and throbbed from root to stem. Was there no spirit in the revelations of Sinai? Were Moses and Elias, David, Isaiah, and all the Hebrew prophets, passionless men of the “ letter ?" No, they were men of enthusiasm ; the spirit of eternal truth glowed in them as truly and as intensely, if not as clearly, as in any of the apostles of Christ. Nor does it mean, I think, a double interpretation of the

I Scripture. There are some interpreters who seek a mystic, as well as a literal, meaning in every utterance. The attaching of a plurality of meanings to the same Scripture utterance is a lamentable practice, and one of the saddest of the many profanations of ignorant pietism. It is an insult to reason, and an outrage on the grammar and the design of God's book. What, then, does "spirit and letter" mean here? Simply, the woril and the thought, the sentence and the sentiment. Christianity has “letter" and “spirit.” If it had no “letter," it would be unrevealed to men :-a thought shut up in the mind of God; and if it had mere “letter,” and no “spirit,” it would be hollow sound, empty jargon. All essences, principles, spirits, are invisible to us; they are only revealed through letters or forms. The spirit of a nation expresses itself in its institutions; the spirit of the creation expresses itself in its phenomena ; the spirit of Jesus, in his wonderful biography. By "letter," therefore, I understand the form of a thing in contradistinction to its essence, the word in contradistinction to its meaning, the institution in contradistinction to its genius. The text, therefore, refers to two distinct methods of teaching Christianity. Let us notice each of these.

First. The technical. Who are the technical teachers of

a

Christianity? (1.) The verbalists. There are those professed teachers of the Gospel whodeal mainly in terminologies. Words are almost everything. In the Corinthian Church there were those who unduly exalted verbiage. They thought much of the “words of man's wisdom.” Sonorous periods, polished sentences, and rhetoric ornament, they scrupulously studied. No word would I utter against the use of the choicest language in teaching Gospel truth. Our vocabularies have no symbols good enough fully to represent its heavenly sublimities. Still, the divine thing ever comes out best in the language which nature teaches, whether that language be rustic or refined. All thought runs into language as life into form, and the language into which the thought runs at first is, I trow, generally the best ; it is its native costume; the robe that nature weaves. He who studies to modify and decorate it, loses the spirit. The spirit of thought is so subtle that it goes off in the attempt to give it an artificial form. He, too, who ties men to the mere letter of Scripture conceals, both froin himself, and those who follow him, the divine spirit which words may indicate but cannot contain.

We ask again, who are the technical teachers of Christianity ?

(2.) The theorists. There are those who throw into logical systems the ideas they derive from the Gospel. These systems, which are mere human productions, they hold up as standards of truth, and use all the power they have to enforce them on the faith of others. I underrate not the importance of systematising the ideas we derive from the Bible--the soul has an instinct for throwing its thoughts into order, and linking them together in unity. But he who exalts his system of thought, and makes it a standard of truth, is a minister of the “letter.” Can any system of theology, however comprehensive, contain the whole spirit of truth? Can a nutshell contain the Atlantic? Who are the technical teachers ?

(3.) The Ritualists. I have but little sympathy with the unqualified denunciations of ritualism which ring, just now,

a

through the pulpits and press of England. Men must have ritualism of some kind. · What is logic, but the ritualism of thought ? What is art, but the ritualism of beauty ? What is rhetorical imagery, but the ritualism of ideas ? As life in the tiniest seed struggles after some form, human thought strives after visible embodiments. Civilization is but the ritualising of the thoughts of ages. But when the religious teacher regarls those rites, signs, and symbols as supernatural elements, or as some mystic media of saviny grace, he is a minister of the “letter" rather than of the "spirit" of Christianity.

Secondly: The spiritual. What is it to be a minister of the spirit? It is not to neglect the letter. The letter is a wonderful thing, it is a symbol of the Divine. The material uuiverse is a "letter.” Letter is the key that lets you into the great empire of spiritual realities. To be a minister of the spirit, is to be more alive to the grace than the grammar, the substances than the symbols of the book. Two things seem necessary in order to qualify a man to be a minister of the "spirit.” (1.) A comprehensive knowledge of the whole Scriptures. What is the spirit of Christianity? Not a doctrine contained in this book or that, this chapter or that, this verse or that, but the general principles that pervade the whole Book. Hence to reach the spirit it will not do to study isolate:l passages, or live in detached portions. We must compare "spiritual things with spiritual,” and, by a wise and a just induction, reach its universal truths. Can you get botany from a few flowers, or astromony from a few stars, or geology from a few fossils ? No more can you get the spirit of Christianity from a few isolated texts. There must bo (2) a practical sympathy with the spirit of Christ. The spirit of Christ is Christianity, and unless we have a practical sympathy with that spirit, we shall never understand it. We must have love to understand love. Those moral attributes of which we are utterly destitute, can never be appreciated by us. The faculty of interpreting the Bible is of the heart rather than the intellect. The

а

We may

unsophisticated heart sees truths in the light of the open day that are utterly concealed from carnal souls. understand biblical literature and be ignorant of the Bible. We

may be able verbal biblical expositors, acute reasoner3 on the doctrines, and eloquent discoursers on the great merits of the book, and yet no teachers. If we are mere intellectual teachers, we tread the cold fields of theory, not the realms of glowing love; and we never touch the path where the rose of Sharon blooms. We must be spiritual Christians to teach spiritual Christianity ; Christianity must be in us, not merely as a system of ideas, but as a life, if we wonld extend its empire. “ Great is the truth, and it will prevail," said Lord Bacon. This is often quoted on missionary platforms, and because Christianity is held to be true, men are urged to believe in its ultimate conquest of the world. But the aphorism requires qualification. The prevailing power

. of truth depends upon its meeting the antagonisi in its own form. If error existed merely in books, then by books truth would prevail; or if in argument, then by arguments . might truth prevail ; but error is interwoven into our institutions, our habits, our every-day life, our very souls; and ruth therefore, in merely book or speech, will never conquer it; it must come out in the form in which Jesus and his disciples brought it out-not in the “letter," but in the “spirit.”

II. THE TWOFOLD RESULTS. Tais TWOFOLD MINISTRY HAS TWOFOLD RESULTS. Observe

First: The result of the technical ministry of Christianity. It killeth.(1.) The verbılist " kills.” The man who is perplexing his readers with refined criticisms, or dazzling them with rhetorical language, or tying them down to the mere verbalism of Scripture, is killing his hearers. The sentence of Hobbes is become proverbial : “Words are the counters of wise men, but the money of fools.". Fools take words not as the representatives of worth, but as worth, as money itself. In the religious world there are worils such as

« PreviousContinue »