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CHRISTIANS NEW CREATURES.
“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
SUCH is the change which passes upon Christians through the power of Christ their Lord: they are made new creatures. And this deep mystery of our own renewed being flows out of the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. He took our manhood and made it new in Himself, that we might be made new in Him. He hallowed our manhood, and carried it up into the presence of His Father as the first sheaf of the coming harvest, and the first-fruits of a new creation. And we shall be made new creatures through the same power by which He was made man—by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost. He was born in the flesh, we in the Spirit: His birth is the symbol of our regeneration, and we shall therefore be conformed to His likeness. “Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.”77 1 John iii. 1. In the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of His kingdom, that is, at the resurrection of the dead and the restitution of all things, we shall be born again of the earth, as Adam in the beginning. In the day-spring of the resurrection the dew of our birth shall be of the womb of the morning.
So much we know generally, and of the future. But St. Paul says, “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature.” There is, therefore, a particular and a present sense in which this is true; and this it concerns us most of all to know. We will see, then, how it is that we may be said to be new creatures now; and afterwards we may learn some useful lessons from it.
1. And, first, we are made new creatures by a present change working in our moral nature; that is to say, through our regeneration in holy baptism. By the love of God electing us to a new birth of the Spirit, and by the Holy Ghost working through that visible sacrament, we are translated from wrath to grace, from the power of darkness to the kingdom of His dear Son. Old things pass away, and all things become new around the regenerate man. We look upward to a new heaven; we stand upon a new earth: both are reconciled; heaven, through the blood-shedding of Christ, is opened to all believers; and earth, healed of the original curse, is pledged to restore its dead. We are brought under the shadow of the Cross, within whose do minion the powers of sin are bound. We receive that thing which by nature we cannot have—a baptism not of water only, but of the Holy Ghost. It does not more become us to search into God’s secret manner of working in holy baptism, than in the holy eucharist; both are sacraments, both mysteries, both symbols of the eye, both gifts of grace to the soul of man. In baptism we are made new creatures, so that we may grow daily to the sanctity of angels, or so that we may fall, and hold our regeneration in unrighteousness,—as angels that kept not their first estate hold their angelic nature still in anguish and in warfare against God.
2. But further; Christians are new creatures by present, ever-growing holiness of life—by the renewing of their very inmost soul. They are absolutely new creatures—new in the truth of moral reality: new altogether, but still the same. I will pass by the grosser kinds of sin, for instance, profligacy of life, mockery of religion, or unbelief, and take for example two men of opposite characters; a pure man, whose heart and imagination is hallowed by the Spirit of Christ; and an impure man, whose thoughts and associations are sullied and defiled. Or take a watchful, self-denying man, who brings under his body, and keeps it in subjection, so as to be ever vigilant, instant in prayer, thoughtful, fond of solitude and of lonely converse with God in secret; and compare him with the heavy, surfeited man—not the gross winebibber or glutton alone, but the man that gives himself a full range and measure in all things lawful, and of common life, so as to over-burden his soul with the cloying of the sated body, and deaden the keen tact of conscience, and smother the struggling pulses of his spiritual being. This is a very common character among people that are not religious. What can be more contrary, more altogether several and distinct, than two such men? Or, to take another instance. We see some men large-hearted and generous, denying themselves, almost above measure, that they may give to the poor and to the work of Christ. They kindle with every man’s joy, rejoice in his good, make festival with him for the abounding of his happiness; they have tears for the broken in heart, and seem to pass into the place of departed friends as if they were the same loved spirit in another guise—they live, as we say, in other men. And let us compare with such the man who is greedy of gain; who has an evil eye when his neighbour prospers, is busy and blithe when another is stripped and smitten. Such men are often seen. They are men shrewd in the world’s cunning; men of skill in doubling all the changes of life, and in meeting its emergencies. They have a sail for every wind; they are far-sighted and practical; careful of money, but not hard; not absolutely refusing to give, but giving scantily, as buying themselves off cheaply, yet always strictly within the constituted laws of right and honour. Or, to take a last and all-comprehending contrast,—look at the penitent sinner, calm and self-collected, of a gentle bearing and a gentler spirit; shrinking from the approaches of sin by an unerring and almost unconscious instinct; weeping for the sins of other men; mourning in spirit at the recollection of past falls; hating the passing thoughts of evil which overcloud his soul; not only confessing before His Father in secret the sins of every day, but condemning himself as guilty for the very susceptibility of temptation. And then look at a man of no great grossness of life—a sinner of the common sort—hardy, self-trusting, venturous in the midst of evil, unconscious of its dominion. Evil words and thoughts do not grieve him; he regards them as unrealities. After he has sinned greatly, perhaps he is a little grieved; for a passing moment he is angry and irritable: but he shrinks the more from God—turns to business—tries to fill his thoughts and wait for to-morrow, remembering how often a little time has deadened his first remorse, and put back his old heart into him again. Now, in all these contrasted characters there is one common basis; there is one common nature—moral and responsible,—a heart, a conscience, a will. They are individuals of the same race and family, so alike in kind as to be one; but so different in character, so diametrically opposed by the antagonist forces of moral energy, that no two other things can be more two than they are. They have no fellowship, no common language. They are each to the other unintelligible riddles.
And now let us take not two men of two characters, but the same man at two stages of his moral life.
If we could compare what the lurking power of our birth-sin would have made a man, who from holy baptism has been shielded and sanctified, with the actual energetic holiness to which the grace of God has wrought his inmost being, we should understand the deep mystery lying in the words, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” But as we can measure powers only in their effects, we must take the common case of a man in whom an after-repentance and change of heart abolishes his former self. Compare together the earlier and the latter state of the man who was once impure, and is now chaste; who was luxurious, and is now mortified in the flesh; who was grasping and worldly, and now vests the right and disposal of all he has in Christ his Lord; who was once dead and impenitent, and is now broken in heart; though, by the line of identity which runs deeply through all his life, in boyhood, youth, and man hood, binding all his years, with all their burden of good and ill, in one single consciousness; and by the stern rule of moral responsibility, which rivets with an iron bond his former self about him to the last,—though by these laws of our being he is one and the same man still, yet in all other things he is so two as light and darkness cannot be more distinct.
And that because two wills bent contrary ways are, in moral truth, not more two than one which has had two contrary determinations. It is not in the multitude of wills that men are so truly several and divided as in their contrary and conflicting bias. All the lights of heaven, and all the water-springs of the earth, all the angels of God, all spirits and souls of the righteous, are but one in the sameness of their common nature. They are all a perfect unity. It is moral contradiction—moral conflict—the clash of moral antagonists, that makes God and man to be two, and the race of man as divided as it is numerous; and so is it in every living soul changed by the grace of God. He was an evil being, he is a holy one; that is, he was an old, he is a new creature. Such were Manasseh and Magdalene; such the apostle Paul; such was even St. John, once ambitious and fiery, but afterwards meek and patient, taking the scourge with joy for his Master’s sake. For he, too, had grown into a new creature. He had learned things unutterable, lying on his Master’s bosom; he had there looked with stedfast gaze into the clear depths of the Redeemer’s love, and by gazing he had grown into the likeness of his Lord. Such is the law of our regeneration; and so must we be ever changing from old to new. It is a change as searching and as absolute as can be in the limits of the same being. When the flesh is subdued to the spirit, and Satan bruised under our feet, this old world passes away as a shadow, and the new stands out as the visible reality from which the shadow fell: and the whole man grows into a saint. The low liest and most unlettered man, to whom written books are mysteries—the tiller of the ground—the toiling craftsman—the weary trader—the poor mother fostering her children for God—the little ones whose angels do always behold the face of their Father in heaven,—all these, by the Spirit of Christ working in them, are changed into a saintly newness, and serve with angels, and look into the mystery of God with cherubim, and adore with the seraphim of glory.
Now, if this is to be a new creature, we may well stand in awe of our great and holy calling to be members of Christ. What an awful change has passed upon each one of us when we knew it not! How fearful is the relation into which we have been brought to the spiritual world! how nigh to the unseen presence of the Word made flesh, and to the person of the Holy Ghost! How appalling, then, is this view of our state as Christians! We are wont to look without reflection on the lives of men baptised like ourselves, and to think that such high mysteries cannot be literally understood; that they must needs be lowered by explanations, so as to accord with the mingled state of the visible Church; because we plainly see that the state of baptised men is, for the most part, very far from the spiritual condition expressed in these mysterious words.
For instance, what are we to say of sinful Christians? how are they new creatures? how are they in Christ? and if not in Christ, what is their state? and what must be their end? Surely, a man may say, they cannot be new creatures. In them old things are not passed away; their old sins are loved as much as ever, their old lusts as much pampered, their old habits as much indulged. All their old ways are still about them,—neglect of prayer and of the holy Communion, quick tempers, biting words, evil thoughts, trifling with sin, impenitent recollections of past wickedness—all these hang about them, and they are unchanged; and yet, for all that, they are in Christ: well were it if they were not so—this, indeed, is their condemnation. They are members of His body; they have received that thing which by nature they could not have; they have resisted God and held His grace in unrighteousness. Simon Magus was not sanctified, but he was baptised, and his baptism was his condemnation. The profaners of the holy Sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood at Corinth ate and drank their own condemnation; holy things turned in their hands to poison. Well were it had it been common water, bread, and wine,—but they were consecrated. We know not what sinning in holy things may do; nor what tampering with evil may challenge at God’s hand. Saul sought to witch craft, and the Lord raised up Samuel to foretell his death. Balaam tempted the Lord, and an angel withstood him in the way, and would have slain him while he knew it not. The sins of men baptised into Christ are worse than the sins of heathen. The handling of holy things without holiness is an awful mystery of condemnation. Yet all such men are branches in the vine, though dying or dead—twice dead, waiting for the sharp sickle and the burning—yet branches still; and in hell, it may be, the water of baptism shall scorch more fiercely than the fire that is not quenched, and the Cross which was drawn upon their foreheads eat into the soul as if it were graven with a finger of flame.
Again; we may ask the same question, not about greater sinners only, but about all Christians. There is no man that liveth and sinneth not; and how shall it be said of any living soul beset by sin, that he is a new creature? Where is the man that does not feel a conscious oneness with his former guilty self? Who does not feel within the smiting of conscience, the vivid recollection of past sins, with all their colour and aggravation; how he tempted the temptation, how he courted the sin, how forgot his resolutions; or how he remembered his prayers, but sinned against them; how he knew his own peril, but betrayed himself? Who does not feel himself at times haunted by the self of other days, which seems to rise up as a spirit of darkness, and cast a spell upon him, and fix him with its eye? It fascinates him, so as well nigh to draw his gaze from Christ. In such a time it is hard for a man to believe that he is indeed a new creature. And still the more when the power of old habits, and the strength of old temptations, seem for a time to prevail: when, even in the holiest seasons—in prayer and in the holy Eucharist—thoughts once pampered and familiar thrust themselves unbidden now into the abode where they were wont to be welcomed before. Some times we are all but driven to believe; Surely I am unchanged; old things lie heavily upon me, and crush the very life of my soul. “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
Let us therefore learn some lessons of encouragement. Unlikely as it may seem, our most confident and cheering hopes will be found to arise out of the awful reality of our regeneration. It is be cause we have been born again, that we have reason to be of good courage. You have the tokens of this change, faint though they be, upon you now. It is true of you, that in pledge and power old things are passed away. It is a new thing to hate what you once loved, to weep over what you once rejoiced in, to feel what was once unheeded. What is this but the yearning of the new creature to burst the bondage of corruption? In you, then, old things are passed, as the night is passed when the darkness is driven before the coming day; and new things are come, as the day is come when the white morning steals up the sky. There may be thronging clouds and weeping showers before mid-day, but to every penitent man the noon shall come at last. The gift of a new birth is in you; the earnest is given; and in every one that endureth, He that hath begun the good work will perfect it until the day of Christ. By one baptism for the remission of sins your transgressions are blotted out. They have passed from the book of God; and all of the former self that cleaves and clings about you, God shall disentangle and destroy. The past self of a penitent man is, after a wonderful manner, purged, and his losses, in some part at least, restored. “I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmer-worm.”88 Joel ii. 25. Though, doubtless, not without some tokens of an inscrutable forfeiture still abiding, they that truly repent and return to the grace of their regeneration are made to partake once more of the freshness and fragrancy of heart which is the inheritance of the sons of God. Be of good cheer, then; the trials and the buffetings of evil are no more than the churlish days and raving storms which come between the seed-time and the harvest. The clinging taint of sins gone by shall ere long be cleansed; only make sure of your repentance before God, a repentance that shrinks from a thought of evil as from the second death; and He will finish His own work.
And, lastly; live above this world, as partakers of the new creation. He that is “the beginning of the creation of God” is knitting together in one His mystical body, making up the number of His elect; and to this end is He working in each one of us, cleansing and renewing us after His own image. All things about us teem with a new perfection. For a while it must needs be that our eyes are holden: were they but opened, we should understand that even now are we in the heavenly city. Its walls stand round about us; and they that were seen in Dothan walk in its streets of gold. We know not how nigh are the great realities of the world unseen; how truly they are here, though we see them not; how closely and awfully we are related to them by our regeneration. Therefore be it our care to live under an habitual consciousness that we are new creatures, striving day by day to disentangle ourselves from the clinging toils by which this old and fallen world draws us to itself, and having our “life hid with Christ in God.” And, as a way to this severer life of faith, live according to the rule of His Church on earth. She bids you to confession, and prayer, and praise, to thanksgiving, and homage. She bids you to fasts and festivals, to sorrow and rejoicing. What are all her chants, and oblations, and solemn assemblies, but the voices, and songs, and gatherings, and marriage-feastings of the new creation? They are earthly shadows of an heavenly gladness. Brethren, look through them; and, as through a veil and a parable, you shall see Christ your Lord, changing old things into new. They do but slightly veil His unseen presence from the eye of flesh. To the eye of faith they are as trans parent as the light of noon. The whole Church is a sacrament of His presence; and in all parts of it, the man that seeks Him in purity of heart shall see Him with open face.
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