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Vol. IX.— NEW SERIES.
[MARCH 1, 1866.
"Built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being
the chief corner-stone.”
“WHAT THINK YE OF CHRIST ?"
Matthew xvi. 13—17. Our Lord's divine wisdom is seen as well in the questions he put as in the answers he gave. When he responded to inquiries, what truths he revealed! When he made inquiries, what truths he suggested ! From some of his brief questions more can be learnt than from other men's elaborate answers. Many essays have been written, and many sermons have been preached, upon the dignity of man's immortal nature, the supremacy of his spiritual interests, and the unspeakable importance of his salvation; but how weak they all are compared with that one solemn and searching inquiry, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” For restraining men from the intemperate pursuit of earthly business, and the intemperate ambition of earthly honours, nothing that has been written has been so mighty as one simple question from the lips of Jesus, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
In the Scripture passage at the head of this address we have another instance of the suggestive character of his questions. In these inquiries of the disciples as to prevalent opinions of himself, he opens up to us fields for earnest investigation, and leads us into regions of truth where it will be the fault of our own blindness and dulness if we are not able to say, "It is good to be here."
I. Our Lord's question reminds us that at the very beginning there were various and conflicting opinions concerning him. If in men's thoughts of him there had been perfect agreement, there would have been no need for asking particular individuals what were their respective opinions. Seeing he said to the Pharisees, “What think ye of Christ ?” and to the apostles, “Whom do men say that I am ?” we might be sure, even If we had no other evidence, that very different views were held of his claims and character, of the nature he possessed, and the work he came to do. It was the same Jesus at whom they all looked, but as they did not see him through the same atmosphere and with the same eyes, their opinions were as confused as the tongues of the Babelbuilders. Some held it for a certain thing that there could come no good from Nazareth, and that no profit could arise in Galilee; and looking at the Saviour through that prejudice, they could see no beauty in him that they should desire him. With others there was the pride of caste and wealth, and they flattered themselves that the whole matter could be summarily settled by one question, “Is not this the carpenter's son ?” From them all the deeper and diviner truths concerning him were hidden by that garb of poverty wherewith in the greatness of his love he had clothed himself. Other prejudices there were in other minds which proved an equally disturbing medium through which the Son of Man was so seen that none but false impressions of him were received. Herod looked at Jesus through his fears, quickened by a guilty conscience, and his conclusion was, “It is John the Baptist come back from the dead.” The scribes and Pharisees could see Christ only through their own jealous and polluted natures, and they said he was a wine-bibber and a sabbath-breaker, a man too familiar with publicans and sinners, a deceiver, a blasphemer. His character stands confessed by all who know it the greatest and only perfect thing in moral beauty and grandeur the world has ever witnessed, and yet there were many in Judea who pretended to see in it all manner of blemishes. To the pure all things are pure, and to the foul-hearted there is nothing clean. It is not enough to have some fair object to look at, we must have also the purged vision whereby we may discern all its glories.
Even amongst those who were well-disposed toward Jesus there were great varieties of opinion concerning him. What strange notions were evidently held by the impoverished woman, who, in search of health, had lost everything but her deep disease, and the heart-ache it caused! Shethought of some magical kind of power residing in him, and she would touch the blue fringe of his garment and silently steal the healing virtue. Probably, if her creed about Christ had been put into words, it would have satisfied no ecclesiastical council in the world, but her earnestness was greater than her ignorance, and so the Infinite Compassion stooped to her low level and suffered the blessing to reach her in a way somewhat adapted to her superstitious ideas, just as aforetime the wise men in the east, longing for Him who was the desire of all nations, acted according to their own astrological fancies, and looked amongst the stars for a sign of the coming mercy. God graciously met them in their weakness, and put the sign where they were searching for it; and so it came to pass that while Jewish shepherds, who believed in ministering spirits, were told of the Saviour's advent by angel voices, the Gentile strangers had other guidance adapted to their modes of thought, and came westward, exclaiming, “We have seen his star in the east.” From the first it was made clear that a chief thing “is to feel your need of him.”
There were other followers of Christ, who looked at him in the light of their own foolishly conceived and fondly cherished expectations. They wanted a temporal deliverer, and, despite Christ's protests to the contrary, they would have it that he was come to restore the kingdom again to Israel. Thus throughout all Jewry there was great confusion of opinion. Some said he was a good man, others said, “Nay, but he deceiveth the people;” some said that God was with him, but others said he was in league with the Evil one, and cast out devils by Beelzebub the Prince of the devils. Only here and there one was found who had glimpses of the real truth, and began to see the brightness of his Divinity as it lay veiled beneath his perfect manhood. A few there were who, by Divine help, were rising into higher light and broader views, and were gradually learning to say what was said by the Roman soldier, with faith born amidst the terrors and solemnities of the Crucifixion, “ Truly this Man is the Son of God.”
We often look back with longing and envy on those early days, as if then faith would have been a very easy thing, and piety have enjoyed many pre-eminent advantages denied to it now. But facts from the four Gospels show us that so far as regards attaining to correctness of opinion and a blessed certainty of conviction, the former days were not better than these. Then, as now, truth had to be searched after, and a right belief was not gotten apart from honest inquiry and hearty endeavour and God's blessing thereupon. Then, as now, the pearl was often buried deep beneath the polluted waters of popular heresies, and some merchantmen seeking for it secured it only after sore struggles. Then, as now, the only man who could warrantably hope to holl the truth-the whole truth, and nothing but the truth-was he who kept cose watch over his own spirit, who was always on his guard against the distorting influence of his own prejudices and the blinding power of his own besetting sins, who meditated in God's law day and night, and prared for the promised help of the Inspiring Spirit, and who was ready at all times to carry his creed where David carried his character-into the presence-chamber of Jehovah, that, baring himself before the Eternal Light, he might cry, “Search me, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
II. We learn from our Lord's question that amidst this diversity of Opinion we must look well to our own belief. “Whom do ye say that I am ?is Knowing inen's weakness, the Saviour was ever strenuous in his efforts to get them to look to themselves to find out their own failings, and labour for their own correction. On one occasion many in the crowd disliked the plainness of his teaching, went away in wrath, and would be his disciples no longer. The apostles were there, and saw the faithLess multitude forsaking their Lord ; and doubtless there were censures in their hearts and indignation on their faces for the fickle ones who Could not bear to hear the truth. But how promptly Jesus checked their upspringing condemnation, and turned their thoughts upon themelves"Will ye also go away?” The same spirit he shows in this Ocripture. It is true he asked the apostles what other men thought of him, but does it not seem that they went on with too much of fluency
to tell the various opinions ? They were almost too familiar with other people's beliefs, and in attention to them were in great danger of forgetting their own. So with this second question, the Lord soon stopped them and turned their thoughts into another track. “But whom do ye say that I am ? Never mind telling me at such great lengths what everybody else thinks. Look at your own creed, and see how far that harmonizes with the truth, and what influence it exercises upon your character."
Was there not then, and is there not now, need for this inspired rebuke? What readiness we are prone to display in exposing error in the creeds of others, when we might be much better employed in striving to secure the soundness of our own! How forgetful we are of the fact that it is for his own belief each man is responsible-is for his own conduct he will have to answer, and according to his own religion he will be judged! So lustily we call out, “ This man believeth this, and he is fearfully wrong. That man believeth that, can he he sincere ?" Oh for grace to be wise, that above the noise of our own voices we may hear the home question of the Saviour,—“But whom do ye say that I am ?”
This looking at home will serve many useful purposes. Wherein we find ourselves to be wrong, we may give ourselves to the work of correction, and wherein we find ourselves to be right, we may give ourselves to thankfulness; wherein we can before God cherish the conviction that we have the truth, we may give ourselves to the work of holding that truth in righteousness, and so yielding ourselves with power, that it may produce in us the fruits of holiness. This looking at home will help us in the spirit of forbearance and charity towards others. No other man can see the truth with our eyes. He must look at it with his own; and how many things there may be to influence his own vision, and make the truth seem somewhat different to him from what it seems to us—things many of them for which he may be pitiel, but can scarcely be blamed. The eyes with which a man looks at truth may be affected by the training of his childhood, by the influences that gathered around his cradle, by the very blood and bias he inherited from his father. We cannot tell how largely some men's heresies are the result of a vision distorted by all these things. The Judge of all knoweth, and we may be sure that in his judgment he will make righteous and general allowance for all this. Be that as it may, it is certainly not for us to be trying to clutch the thunderbolts of heaven and hurl them at our fellow-men. If we have the truth, let us be grateful to God for it, assured that it is the gift of his mercy, and not the reward of our own distinguished merits. Do we know what it is to have been born into an atmosphere of heresy, to have drunk in the Bubtle poison of error from our very childhood, to have received a wrong bias through the mistaken judgment of a fond-hearted mother, to have had a false creed handed down to us by a father who loved ng and laboured for us? This in the inscrutable dealings of God's provi: dence hath been the lot of many; and if we have been more favoured,
-- and can give a better answer to the question, “What think ye of
Christ ?" let us not exalt ourselves in Pharisaic pride over our brethren, but let us cast ourselves in humble, hearty thankfulness before our God, exclaiming, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but
unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake." : III. We learn from our Lord's question that he counts correct opinions
of himself to be of great importance. This is an inference that cannot be gainsayed. In this Scripture we see him not examining the characters of the apostles, not asking them as to the wisdom of their intentions, or the purity of their motives, but inquiring whether of him, the Son of God, their views were such as the Judgment-day would confirm. In the Saviour's ministry there was no feature more conspicuous than its practicalness. He might have discoursed upon subjects which had been the theme of speculation for ages. He might have talked about " fate, fore-knowledge, and free-will," and have touched upon a thousand topics which would have awakened controversial interest; but he kept to true useful themes—the love of God and the duty of man, the Fanity of this life and the importance of the life to come. Yet this intensely practical Teacher, who, as a general rule, spoke of actions rather than opinions, made an exception in favour of this one subject, and thereby showed that it does not, and never can, belong to the region of mere theory and fruitless speculation.
Dr. Priestley used to say that men's views of the person of Christ were of little practical moment; but against that assertion we may quote the Lord himself. Some have exalted intellectual correctness as high as moral consistency, and have even made more of the soundness of a man's creed than of the goodness of his life. This folly has driven uzhers to the opposite extreme, and they have cried out,
“For modes of faith,
Let graceless zealots fight." There is a safe middle path betwen the two, and because we dare not say "a correct creed is everything," we need not say “a correct creed is nothing." We must not forget the nature of that constitution of lungs under which we are placed. On the part of men there are mistakes of judgment and there are sins of heart; and do we not every has see disasters arising out of the former as well as out of the latter? Without any evil intention a man may fall into error upon some matter, and, acting in accordance with his erroneous views, he may involve himself in sad consequences for years—it may be for life. The manifold Tacts of experience prove that it is every man's interest to gain as much of the truth as he can; to “buy it and to sell it not." There may be some questions on which Churches divide and Christians quarrel, which are little better than mere matter of words. There have been points for which sects have anathematized each other, and yet simple-minded people have been compelled in their perplexity to cry out,
“Now tell us all about the war,