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This puts an end to the time of John the Baptist, and to the Transition Period. It puts the law in its right place and the gospel in its right place. The law applies to external conditions of outward attainment, position, character .and desert. The gospel applies to the inward life of the heart and soul, to its deepest convictions, trusts and joys. Our life is hid with Christ in God, and so all is well with us while we trust in him. Our outward destiny depends on ourselves, and that results from our own fidelity to duty, to truth and to law.
The gospel gives us inward unity of faith and purpose. It gives us unity with ourselves, and till we have that unity we can be satisfied neither with ourselves nor with others. How difficult to please those who are not at one with themselves !
If a man is not at unity with himself by being at one with God, nothing suits him. He is like the children in the parable. Their companions said to them, “Come, let us play a wedding!” No, they did not wish to play that. “ Then let us play a funeral !” No, they did not wish to play that, either. For, until we have some inward union, there can be no real union with others.
So, when John came, an austere, stern man, teaching retribution, rousing the whole moral nature, stirring the conscience to its depths, people said: “He is a fanatic! He is mad! He is crazy! He has a devil! How singular to live in a desert! How improper, to preach out of doors ! It is bad for the health to sleep on the ground. He is responsible for the lives of the people whom he has carried out there. Religion is a rational thing. I don't believe in such enthusiasm. We ought to be moderate in all things. Religion is not sent in order to frighten people, it is to make them happy. I believe that religion was never designed to make our pleasure less. This John the Baptist is a mere demagogue.”
Then Jesus comes. He is not a fanatic. He allows his disciples to walk on the Sabbath, and to pluck corn when they are hungry. He heals a sick man on the Sabbath day. He enjoins no strict ceremonies, no hours of prayer, no fasts, no washings.. He goes to a wedding, and makes wine ; he visits rich and poor; he lays all stress on the spirit, the motive, and very little stress on forms of any kind. He will certainly please those who objected to John, you
think. Not at all. They say of him He is self-indulgent, a wine-bibber, not dignified enough; he is too lax altogether. What! Did you hear of his telling them to forgive a woman caught in an act of sin ? Why, he talks with improper people! What is the world coming to, I ask ? All the landmarks are breaking down between the respectable classes and the lower classes. Do you call such a man as that a religious teacher? I call him a mere man of the world. He preached a political speech, the other day, against the Pharisees, who are the most respectable people we have among us.
He must be a bad man, and he ought to be punished severely."
The difficulty was this : they did not like the austerity of John, because they were not ready to repent of their sins and begin a life of holiness. They did not like the gospel gentleness of Jesus, because they feared that if the terrors of the law were taken away, there would be nothing left. They believed in the law, but did not like it. They liked the gospel, but did not believe in it.
There are just such people nowadays. They do not like Orthodoxy because it is too severe in its demands; but still they believe in it. They like liberal Christianity, but they do not believe in it. They believe in terror and punishment as the only motives which can influence men; but they do not like them. They like the Sermon on the Mount, and the Good Samaritan, and the Prodigal Son,
but do not believe in them. They think something stronger necessary.
The difficulty, you see, is in themselves. There is no unity within, so nothing suits them. If they would earnestly follow what they believe, obey the law, be good Orthodox men; by that path they would reach the full light of the gospel, and be something better by and by.
When a man's conscience is pulling one way, and his heart is pulling him another way, nothing pleases him. If you ask him to do his duty, and tell him what he ought to be, his conscience assents, but he does not like it.
If, on the other hand, you make excuses for him, and tell him he is all right, then his feelings are soothed, but his conscience remonstrates, because he knows you are wrong in saying so.
Selfishness is thus always ill at ease, and has no inward unity so long as there is any conscience left.
Men at discord in themselves can have no lasting unity with each other. They may be united for a time by common interests, but there is always danger of a rupture.
The union of good men is internal, though there may be outward differences. The union of selfish men may be external, but there are always inward differences. The children of folly may unite for a common purpose, may be allied together as Herod and Pilate were allied against Christ. Pirates may join for plunder ; the children of this world, for power, pleasure and earthly gain. But there is no inward union, and as soon as the outward advantage of the alliance ceases, the partnership is dissolved. But good men, though separated outwardly, are inwardly at one. They belong to one invisible and indivisible church. By and by they shall come together outwardly, and see eye to eye. The inevitable logic of faith and reason shall at last unite them, and then wisdom shall be justified of all her
children. John the Baptist will understand Christ; Barnabas will comprehend Paul; Fenelon and Martin Luther, Athanasius and Arius, Dr. Channing and Dr. Beecher, will recognize each other's worth, and bless God together for what each has accomplished for the kingdom of heaven.
So shall wisdom be at last justified of all her children. So shall all good men, sincerely desiring to do right, be found at last to be walking together on the same road towards the best things. He who is faithful in the least will find himself belonging to that family of which Christ is the head, and will have for his brothers and sisters all the great and the good of all climes and of every age. le will find himself in the society of the great intellects, the cherubim with many eyes, and of the great lovers, the seraphim hiding themselves behind their wings from the intense glory of God's throne. Wisdom is not sectarian nor bigoted; she has a large church, and many children, and is iustified of them all.
THE WORD OF GOD NOT BOUND.
“THE WORD OF GOD IS NOT BOUND."
IBERAL Christianity may be defined, not as any be
lief, nor as any system of opinions, but as something going deeper. It is a habit of mind; a way of considering all opinions as of secondary importance; all outward statements, methods, operations, administrations, as not belonging to the essence of religion. Liberal Christianity comes from that spiritual insight which penetrates the shell and finds the kernel ; sees what is the one thing needful, and discovers it to be not the form, but the substance ; not the letter, but the spirit; not the body, but the soul; not the outward action, but the inward motive; not the profession, but the life.
In this sense, the Apostle Paul was the first Liberal Christian, and the founder of that Liberal Christianity which is not confined to any sect or party, any denomination or church ; but which inspires and animates to-day the best men in all denominations, from the Roman Catholics on the one side to the most radical come-outers on the other side. And the motto and maxim of Liberal Christianity, everywhere, is given in our text, that “The word of God is not bound.” The most zealous Roman Catholic is a Liberal Christian when, however strongly he believes in the superior value of his own church, he yet does not believe