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"give sight to the blind.” How few of us there are who know our own failings, who see into our own hearts, who know what is really good for us! That is the knowledge which the thought of Christ's death is likely to give us. That is the truth, which, above all other truths, is likely to set us free. “Lord, that I may receive my sight,” is the prayer which each of us may offer up for our spiritual state, as the poor man whom he met at Jericho did for his bodily eyesight.
For every one of these conditions he died. Not for those only who are professedly religious, but for those who are the least so,— to them the message of Good Friday and of Nazareth is especially addressed. Christianity is, one may almost say, the only religion, of which the Teacher addressed himself, not to the religious, not to the ecclesiastical, not to the learned world, but to the irreligious, or the non-religious, to those who thought little of themselves and were thought little of by others, to the careless, to the thoughtless, to the rough publican, to the wild prodigal, to the heretical Samaritan, to the heathen soldier, to the thankless peasants of Nazareth, to the swarming populations of Galilee. He addresses himself now, to each of us, however lowly we may be in our own eyes, however little we think that we have a religious call, however encompassed we are with infirmities; his love is ready to receive, to encourage, to cherish, to save us.
I pass to the other lesson which Good Friday teaches us here. It is that, whatever good is to be done in the world, even though it is God himself who does it, cannot be done without an effort,— a preparation,- a Sacrifice. So it was especially in the death of Christ, so it was in his whole life. His whole life from the time when he grew up," as a tender plant” in the seclusion of this valley, to the hour when he died at Jerusalem, was one long effort,- one long struggle
against misunderstanding, opposition, scorn, hatred, hardship, pain.
He had doubtless his happier and gentler hours, we must not forget them: his friends at Bethany, his apostles who hung upon his lips, his mother who followed him in thought and mind wherever he went. But here, amongst his own people, he met with angry opposition and jealousy. He had to bear the hardships of toil and labor, like any other Nazarene artisan. He had here, by a silent preparation of thirty years, to make himself ready for the work which lay before him. He had to endure the heat and the cold, the burning sun and the stormy rain, of these hills and valleys. “The foxes” of the plain of Esdraelon“ have holes,” “the birds” of the Galilean forests “ have their nests,” but “ he had ” often “not where to lay his head.”
And in Jerusalem, though there were momentary bursts of enthusiasm in his behalf, yet he came so directly across the interests, the fears, the pleasures, and the prejudices of those who there ruled and taught, that at last it cost him his life. By no less a sacrifice could the world be redeemed, by no less a struggle could his work be finished.
In that work, in one sense, none but he can take part. “He trod the winepress alone.” But in another sense, often urged upon us in the Bible, we must all take part in it, if we would wish to do good to ourselves or to others. We cannot improve ourselves, we cannot assist others, we cannot do our duty in the world, except by exertion, except by unpopularity, except with annoyance, except with care and difficulty. We must, each of us, bear our cross with him. When we bear it, it is lightened by thinking of him. When we bear it, each day makes it easier to us. Once the name of “ Christian," of “Nazarene," was an offence in the eyes
of the world; now, it is a glory. But we cannot have the glory without the labor which it involves. To “hear his words, and to do them,” to hear of his death, and to follow in the path of his sufferings, this, and this only, as he himself has told us, is to build our house, the house of our life; of our faith, of our happiness, upon a rock; a rock which will grow firmer and stronger the more we build upon it, and the more we have to bear.
“ The rains may descend, and the floods may come, and the winds may blow and may beat upon that house;” but the house will not fall," for it will have been founded upon the rock."
OUR COMMON CHRISTIANITY
LECTURE DELIVERED MARCH 22, 1877
HERE is such a thing as Christianity common to all
the various churches of Christendom. There are
common elements in our faith which may be found, if not in the actual practices and doctrines of the several churches, at any rate in the original documents to which they all appeal.
We are wandering to and fro in the labyrinths of our various churches and sects. What I propose to do is not to compare doctrine with doctrine, or institution with institution, although that might be a very interesting and instructive task, and might, perhaps, lead to the same result. But what I propose to do is to endeavor to penetrate, if possible, behind the forms and doctrines of the outward ordinances of Christendom, and to ask what are the inward principles which give them paramount value; what are the essential supernatural elements of Christianity which are above the
assaults of criticism, above the turmoil of the world, because above the level of our ordinary carnal, earthly nature. If we can arrive, in ever so rough and imperfect a measure, at those fundamental principles, we shall then be in a better position to understand what it is that gives a peculiar glory to our common faith.
We will endeavor, then, to answer this question as briefly and as plainly as we can. Let us only observe, first of all, that there are many principles in Christianity which it shares with other religions, and which, therefore, we cannot truly enumerate among its direct results. The unity of God, for example, which is one of the most important of all religious principles, was known to the Jewish people long before the Christian era. It assumed a new form of life; but it was still from Abraham, or at least from Moses, that we first received it. Again, the immortality of the soul was and is a truth which the psalmists in their highest moods had reached, which the Egyptian and Grecian priests and philosophers had accepted. He who was the Light of the world turned, indeed, the full rays of his lamp upon it, and revealed, as you see, its inner meaning; but the principle had already been received, and he illuminated and explained rather than expressly discovered it. But there are some principles which were so little known, or which existed in such feeble rudiments, before Christianity, that practically they were not known at all. Let us, in plain words, try to atate what those principles are. Some of them, through the influence of Christianity, have become so familiar to us that we shall, perhaps, be startled to hear them named as among its peculiar products. Some are even now so strange, so little recognized, that it may be almost difficult for us to acknowledge that they are Christian at all.
First, there is the principle of the universal benevolence of the Supreme Ruler of the universe, which is expressed in the words “ Father,” “ Our Father,” to believe that the relation of the Supreme Mind to man is that of a father. No doubt the word in relation to the Deity was known before, both in Jewish and heathen times; but it was not manifest, it was not brought to the front of religion as it was by Christianity. In the Old Testament it is used two or three times; but in the New Testament it is used two hundred times. It is the mode in which the Supreme Ruler is expressed throughout the Gospels. It is the name by which he is called in the form of devotion furnished in the New Testament. The Lord's Prayer, or, as it is called in Latin, the “Pater Noster,” teaches us these two things: That the Supreme Governor of the world, like a father, is careful of his earthly children; and,
Secondly, that there is not only a universal Deity, but a common humanity; in other words, there is something in every race of man which attracts the divine good will towards them. In the old heathen religions, each country had its own deity, each deity had his own country,- gods of Troy, gods of Greece, gods of Rome; and in the Jewish religion God for a long time was regarded only as the God of the people of Israel: but with Christianity all this was changed. The truth of the universality of God's care for man, and of the universality of a capacity for true religion in man, was known in some degree to some of the Jewish prophets; and it was expressed in one striking sentence by Alexander the Great, when he said, “ God is the common father of all men, especially of the best men.” But it was placed in the forefront of the Jewish doctrine only when Christianity was revealed. Read the description of the Judgment in the