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Observer, Apr. 1, '75.
good or bad, in reference to themselves and to others, the sins of omission as well as of commission!
The wages of sin-the sin of neglecting to listen to God's voice and of neglecting to obey Him, of living in wilful ignorance of His truth--is death! Momentous and startling fact !
(To be continued.)
ON DRY SERMONS.
A DRY sermon is like a charcoal biscuit; very good for digestion, but somewhat hard to get down.
Were we to inquire the reason why men preach dry sermons, I suppose the reply would have to be," Because they can't very well help it, it is there nature to.”
Dry sermons are not in great demand, and few people appreciate them when they come, but if it be true that the uses of adversity are sweet, may it not be suggested that listening to a dry sermon, though it may be regarded as coming under the head of trouble, is not without its compensatory benefits.
1. There is the exercise of patience. Patience is not called into requisition when our ears are saluted by words of sweetness, beauty, good sense, and scriptural fidelity combined. These are like “ apples of gold, in baskets of silver,” both pleasant and valuable.
We readily give audience to an able and masterly exposition of some divine truth, delivered with feeling and good taste. But when the ideas (which may be very good,) are clothed in meagre and spiritless language, and delivered in a tame and lame manner, then the Job-like grace finds a very eligible scope.
2. We may receive mental discipline. A dry crust, well masticated, will minister greater good to the body than some spicy kickshaw. So have I heard a dry sermon which has greatly braced up my mind. A certain Right Reverend gentleman, to whom I have twice listened, preaches dry sermons, but in them are thoughts of instruction and power. A discourse on the alleged authority of a priest to forgive sins was a faithful protest against that arrogant and blasphemous pretence, and could not be carefully listened to without benefit. This was such a dry sermon that towards the end of it, many were seized with a fit of coughing. Dry sermons are sometimes rendered so by the abstract reasoning they contain-argument follows argument—and a heap of logic is piled up which, if people would only patiently and attentively store away in their minds (that is, if they have room enougb), would afford them a goodly degree of healthful discipline.
After all, it may be said that even argumentative discourses might be made more palatable by an occasional anecdote or illustration, or by some touch of feeling or play of fancy.
Undoubtedly; if those whose lot seems to be cast “in a dry and thirsty land where no water is,” could only manage it, but their nature is the opposite of moist, and they bring to mind what is said of a learned Scottish preacher who, having come to church in a heavy shower,
Observer, Apr. 1, '75.
complained of being wet, “ Never mind,” said his colleague, “ only get into the pulpit and you will be dry enough there.” Dry men are not conscious of their dryness; they feel interested in the gritty and tedious peregrinations of their souls, and naturally think that everybody else must feel the same. But on this point there is a wide divergence of taste.
An eminent living statesman when Chancellor of the Exchequer dealt so eloquently with the unromantic details of the Budget as to hold his audience spellbound. Might not dry speakers remember this ? At any rate those who are not too far gone into the desert ?
What discourses need is the marrow and fatness of gospel truth. They should not only present reasons which convince, but appeals which persuade. Tender compassion for poor sinners, such as that which led the Son of God to weep over doomed Jerusalem in the day of His triumph.—Love, such as that which is breathed forth in the invitation, “ Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”—Zeal, such as that which covered Jesus as a cloak and consumed Him as a sacrifice on the altar. Let these be in exercise and dry sermons will become less dry, and other methods of exercising patience and obtaining mental discipline will have to be resorted to, nur shall we have far to go to find them.
S. H. C.
Peter, in his first epistle, written A.D. 67, and addressed to the Jewish Christians of Asia Minor, says in Chapter iii. 18 19, according to the common version; “ For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit ; by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which sometimes were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah,” etc. Romanists, with a large number of the early fathers, and Dean Alford among modern critics, understand this literally. The latter says in his Greek Testament (1862, vol. 4, p. 368), “I understand these words to say, that our Lord, in His disembodied state did go to the place of detention of departed spirits, and did there announce bis work of redemption, preach salvation in fact to the disembodied spirits of those who refused to obey the voice of God when the judgment of the flood was hanging over them !”
To find the true meaning of this passage, three questions must be discussed.-1. How did He preach ?—2. To whom did He preach ?3. When did He preach
1. How did He preach ? Was it personally or spiritually? The common version apparently understands that the spirit by which he was quickened was the Holy Spirit, but the antithesis forbids it: lit. it is "put to death as to flesh, but made living as to spirit, in which
* Selected in answer to query, on cover for February, as to the import of Peter iü. 19.
Observer, Apr. 1, '75.
(spirit) having gone on He went and preached.” Now the phrase, " went and preached,” is a common Hebrew and Bible idiom, meaning simply " he preached.” (Verbs of posture and gesture, e.g. to go, sit, stand, walk, are often—"to be.") (See Acts ix. 7, and compare xxvi. 4): Eph. ii. 14—17, is a striking parallel; Christ“came and preached peace to you." Did He go to Ephesus and preach in person, or in spirit, by His ministers? Will Dean Alford explain why Eph. ii. 14-17, must be spiritualized, and 1 Peter iii. 18, 19, considered literal.
2. To whom did He preach? The common version says, “to the spirits in prison ;” but the Greek word here used means also or guard,” as in Rev. xviii. 2 (compared with Hab. ii. 1; Isa. xxxiv. 2; Jer. I. 39, li. 37); Luke xii. 38, etc., and so many inirepreters understand it of the eight persons of Noah's family being, as it were, in a " watch tower," waiting for direction from the Lord. The clause, "which sometime were disobedient,” is parenthetical; descriptive of the state of Noah's family before they were warned of God regarding the coming of the flood. If the rendering, " in prison " be preferred, it may and will naturally mean the prison of sin in this life, as in Isa. lxi. 1, " the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”
3. When did He preuch ? The punctuation of the Common Version would lead the reader to connect the word when with the term disobedient, but it should, or at least may, most legitimately be connected with the word preach, i.e., He went and preached when once the long-suffering of God waited, etc., the clause, “which sometime were disobedient," being a parenthesis, as already noted.
The notion of the disembodied spirit of Christ going to preach to other disembodied spirits, who were detained in purgatory, or hell, is so utterly unsupported by the general tenor of Scripture teaching regarding the dead (in that they are beyond the reach of change), that we might well pause before adopting it, and do so only on the safest and soundest argument, instead of which it rests on a most superficial basis, the mistranslations and mispunctuations of the English Version. Christ's going thither could only have one of two objects, either to make them better, or to make them worse. We see nothing in Scripture to support the one and very much to condemn the other.
TAE INABILITY OF EVIL-DOERS TO CEASE TO DO EVIL ?
Jer. xiii. 23 reads, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? then may ye also do good, who are accustomed to do evil.” Nothing is more clear than that in the Bible wicked men are commanded to forsake their wickedness and to turn to the Lord. And, most certainly, God never commands men to do what they are and always have been unable to do. Consequently what ever the text may import it cannot mean that sinners, generally, are unable to cease from evil and incapable of learning to do do well. If the verse be taken alone and understvod as affirming inability to turn from evil, it would not then present an affirmation applicable to all evil-doers. It would in
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that case only refer to a specified class—those accustomed to evil. Now, whatever may be found in the text, we are convinced that some men who could forsake their evil course have so resisted light and truth, so hardened their hearts and seared their consciences by persistently training themselves in sins, that the truth can no longer affect them, and they are consequently unable to turn to God. But such is not the normal condition of sinners : “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord” (Isa. lv. 7,) could have been addressed to such as we refer to, when they were able to respond, though now unable—their day of grace is ended.
We are not, however, of opinion that the text teaches this lesson. A thoughtful writer has put on record the following: :-" This text is one of the false refuges of that dogma which sets forth that man cannot move even in desiring salvation, much less in seeking and securing it, unless God directly set His hand to bring it about of His own accord, and in His own way and time. Many thoughtful and serious persons have been wonderfully distressed by this view of God's dealings in the matter of man's salvation; and have been forced to the conclusion that if it be true God is a respecter of persons, for He singles out but few for salvation while passing by the many; and further, utters against those whom He has not singled out thus for salvation the most frightful denunciations, simply because they are not saved. Of all the monstrous theories the world has ever seen or heard of relative to the conduct and character of God, it is difficult to conceive of one more aggravated or opposed to His glorious perfections.
If any one could be found to say I can scripturally assert “there is no God,” he could be promptly told he was only speaking after a fool. And yet those who would be so ready in correcting him would be among the first in quoting Jer. xiii. 23 as a Divine utterance; whereas the truth is, perverse Jews gave utterance to it, thereby to excuse them. selves from the responsibility of their own wilful apostacy from the God of their fathers. The clue to this rendering is given in the verse preceding :-“And if thou say in thine heart, wherefore come these things unto me?” This is the language of proud excuse and shameless rebellion from the lips of the suffering Jew; and Jehovah's answer is :
For the greatness of thine iniquity are thy skirts discovered, and thy heels made bare.” God thus charges their punishment upon themselves thereby to bring their pride low. But the sufferers are too high-minded to admit their own responsibility, and are ready with a proverb which they deem suitable for their extremity, and to excuse themselves they put the question, “ Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? ” Jehovah answers them—but how? Does he admit the validity of their excuse? will He. allow this proverb to exonerate them from blame, and prove a safe retreat for them in their assumed helplessness? The answer is : No. He denies it by saying, “ Then may ye also do good who are accustomed to do evil. Leaving out the un. authoritative then added to the statement by King James's translators, we see that God gives their excuses an unqualified denial. A transla tion of the Old Testament, by R. Young : gives it, “ You may also be able to do good who are accustomed to do evil.” Had not God answered
Observer, Apr. 1, '75
thus, He would have contradicted Himself, as reference to His
teaching elsewhere will clearly show. To the very same people he says, Isa. i. 13, “ Wash
make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes ; cease to do evil.” And again, Jer. iv. 14,“ o Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness that thou may'st be saved. How long shalt thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?” And again, Ez. xxxii. 11, “ Turn you, turn you, from your evil ways, for why will ye die, O house of Israel.” It is only possible to see or show the justice and perfection of God in His dealings with His creatures by receiving as an undoubted truth that man may turn from his wickedness in obedience to the divine summons. There would be as much sense and wisdom manifested by a man in commanding a well-constructed steam engine to do his bidding, without supplying the fuel and water needful to give the motive power, as in God commanding man to do a thing to him impossible, without being directly influenced by God to attend to it, and the man who would turn upon a machine to destroy it for not doing his will under such impossible circumstances would aptly illustrate the character and conduct of God if it were true that He deals thus arbitrarily with His creatures,
The truth is, God has vested in man certain powers necessary to depravity and purity, to vice and virtue, to the doing of evil as to the doing of good. These are the gifts of intelligence, thought, will, and determination, and to control and mould his will aright, God has supplied motives suited to man's circumstances and fallen nature, which only demand his personal attention, consideration, and action, in order that they may benefit him. Man cannot give himself mind, nor can he supply himself with motive, nor is it necessary he should attempt either, seeing that God has freely bestowed both. But having supplied them, and thereby all that is necessary to ensure and secure to man deliverance from the thraldom of sin, it is easy to see that God is just, and wise, and loving, and good in all His dealings with His creatures, although they foolishly and perversely reject the way of life, and choose for themselves the way of death.”
Good morning, Mr. B
A.— I have just been thinking about the young man who came to Jesus, enquiring—“Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” What a pity it seems he should have lacked the one thing, for really in some respects he must have been quite a spiritual
B.-Regretting to differ from you, I think that was just what was lacking in his character.
A.-) don't know how it is you and I should so often disagree on points of character, and in our estimates of, even our own circle of friends. It might be that we judged by different standards, instead of, as we profess, by the same, viz., the word of God.