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not what He says. He says, if any man be willing to do God's will, if he be minded that way, if he have this disposition in his heart, if it be his suprcme desire to be right with God, then he shall know how to be right with God. O, how gracious! how wise ! how tender! how worthy of Him of whom it was foretold—“A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench; He shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” Only observe what He requires,-not a fit of obedience in a life of disobedience on the whole, not a mood of willingness to please God so long as things go well with us. It is a constant and abiding disposition, sought and cherished as the most precious, the most heaven-like thing on the earth,—that meekness, contriteness, that willingness of man to meet the will of God, which is the very essence of the Divine likeness formed in the human soul. Jesus had it in perfection, and He cries to every burdened soul, “Come to me, and learn it from me; for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
3. Now, lay the emphasis on the last "will" in the clause, "If any man be willing to do His WILL," i.e., the will of God, he shall know concerning the doctrine of Jesus Christ, whether it is truly from God. Let us ask, then, what “will of God” is that which we must be willing to do, that we may get a sure and certain hold of Christianity. Some would say, 'Why, it is just Christianity itself. Well, I should not put it so. It is hardly a fair interpretation. I cannot think that Jesus meant to put it so,
- certainly not to those to whom it was first spoken. He would not have said 'First do all that I tell you, and then you will know whether to believe all that I say. That sounds very like a contradiction. No, friends, Jesus Christ never mocks honest inquiries, nor honest doubts.
He would never say to any man, 'First be practically a Christian, and then you shall know the truth of Christianity. What He meant when He spoke these words to the Jews is clear. You see how often they were in doubt, and contention, and confusion, about whether Jesus was the true Christ; and here He hints broadly, as in other places He tells them quite plainly, the reason. Had they been willing to do the will of God as they knew it before in their own Scriptures ; had they only acted up to God's light as they had it, would they have made the terrible mistake they did about the Son of God ? “No!” says He, “If ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed Me.” They forsook the one path by which men can escape the perdition of unbelief ; they were not willing to do the Divine
will as they knew it; and so, when the Best of all Messengers came to them, they knew Him not. They stumbled over His lowly birth and humble state. They crucified the Lord of Glory.
Now, if any man in our day present himself in this mental attitude, in the way of saying that he wants to be convinced of the truth of Christ and of His Gospel,--he wants to get it clearly and firmly before him, I imagine that our Lord's principle touches him exactly. Are you willing to do God's will, so far as you know it already ? Are you living up to what is already binding on your own conscience as moral and religious duty ? Are you honestly, and humbly, and fully following what you already know to be Divine ? Then, assuredly, further and fuller light will come to you, and you shall know of this doctrine, this teaching of Christianity, whether it be of God.
II. Enough has been said, for the present, in explication of the meaning of this profound utterance. Let us now seek, with God's blessing, to make some application of it.
I am thinking mainly of those who are anxious to escape the whirlpool of unbelief that is sucking down to destruction so many in our time; and I speak, therefore, to those who have desires, longings, more or less strong and constant, to be grounded and settled in the truth. There is not a nobler passion in the breast of man, and there is no better promise in a man's youth, than when it gets him, and gets him wholly; when he reads, and works, and thinks as if there was nothing good but to know, as if life were worth living only that he might learn; when he can truly cry with that student lad of Carthage, fifteen hundred years ago, -St Augustine that was to be,—“O, Truth, Truth, thou knowest that the inmost marrow of my soul longeth after thee!”. You feel something like that; the heart within you stands up and says, “I must know; I can be in leading-strings no more; let me find truth for myself; let me come to the truth; let me have something I myself can rest on, when I must stand alone before Death and God, and judgment. Well
, shall we listen to Jesus about it? He was a giver of truth, and, as most of us believe, the very Truth itself. He asks, 'Do you come to the light of this present revelation with a desire and a determination to do the will of God, whatever you find that will to be?' Now, if there be any truth made clear to men's consciences by all that God has spoken, it is, that we need to be put right with God,—that the first step toward doing His will is to return to Him and be at peace with Him. The Lord Jesus will not ask you to do anything so vain as to make trial of the Gospel that you may
be satisfied with it,—to be a believer by way of experiment, that you may become a believer in reality; but He does ask (and so may His messsengers) with what disposition towards God do you come to the consideration of these questions?
Let me state some cases.
1. A man takes up religion speculatively, as a thing chiefly of arguments and evidences and proofs; he says, “I will accept revelation when I am satisfied as to its claims, but I must have these objections removed before I can come a step towards faith.' Now, when the disposition of a hearer is to throw the burden of proof upon God, when he virtually treats his Maker as one bound to render him a reason in everything, to remove out of his way all possibility of mistake before he can be expected to believe, it needs no saying that he is hopelessly distant from salvation. If he were to act so in common life,—if he refused to enter upon any partnership or enterprise till he was assured against all possibility of failure,-he would be, and would be reckoned, a fool. In the region of thought, such an one is simply a sceptic; and the position of the sceptic is always a mistake for himself. The doubter never is the discoverer. He may occasion discovery on the part of other men, but he himself is lost. It is the truthseeker that finds the truth. In divine things, the sceptical spirit —that is, the spirit which stands on the defensive against proof, which is ever seeking to find a flaw in the evidence,-is worse than mistaken; it is a spirit of error, of moral perversity, a sin against God. “He that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
2. Again, you find some, not so much sceptical as captious on these themes, and apt to shift the real question. They think they have decided for "evolution," not knowing much about it. They have gathered, from newspapers, reviews, and magazines, something of controversies among scholars about some of the books of Scripture; and, not having much furniture in their minds on the subject, they come more easily and rapidly to a conclusion, and are rather inclined to decide against standard beliefs. Now, whenever such things are presented as serious difficulties in the way of real faith, of faith in Christ and His Gospel, we must instantly go deeper. The real question is not one concerning scientific theories, or opinions in biblical criticism, but about how this man may be just before God. He has not lived
so long in the world without sinning against the will of God as it is already known to him. Is there in him the disposition to do the truth, to come to the light, to submit himself to the Divine method of repentance unto life? Is his real anxiety to be at peace with God ? If God has given His mind and will to man in any form at all, it is to bring about this end; and if the end for which he desires to know God's will be not chiefly to this purpose, it matters very little what a man holds about the Bible and Bible truths, or what he rejects. He may seem anxious, but his anxiety will die away unsatisfied, unless he is impelled by this deepest want of man's nature—"the thirst for God, even the living God." The Gospel comes first to save souls, to renew the heart. In doing this, its main and primal work, it promises to secure every other good that human nature, in its highest moods, can crave. There is no pure instinct of our nature which it will not satisfy,—the sense of fitness and beauty, the love of goodness, the longing for truth; but these it brings only as effects and consequences of the acceptance of its humbling, soul-subduing, world-crucifying claims,—" Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
3. Lastly, let me picture another, and a nobler disposition. It is that of one who seems to be in earnest. He is an inquirer, he is a truth-seeker; he examines, sifts, criticises, as one whose life depends upon the issue. He longs to know the truth and come to God. So you found him in the first warm colloquies of opening youth, when heaven and earth were searched to find a mental resting-place; and so, after the lapse of years, you find him still. You fear he is less earnest now, but still he is inquiring; his mind is open, he is still anxious to be convinced of the truth of Christianity—anxious, after his fashion, to be a Christian. He has a notion of what practical Christianity should be. He means, when he does attain to faith, to be a real Christian. He would not, for worlds, be such a man as many that bear that blessed name. He is quick to see the distance between the reality of Christian character and its poor embodiment in the Christians around him. His beau ideal towers far up towards perfection :
“O, such a life as he resolves to live,
When he has learned it,
Sooner he spurns it.” " Yet a little while is the light with you, walk while ye have the light; lest darkness come upon you !" To search for truth; to give, if need be, his whole life to the search ; to outsoar all doubt, and question, and imperfection, once he has reached it ;that is his dream, and he thinks it noble; but till then what? Wasted youth, and sentimental yearnings, and actual folly, and duty neglected, and plain convictions spurned. A dream? Yes, a vain and sinful dream! “Awake! thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." If the truth is to be of any use to me, whose life is but a breath,-if I am to live by it,-I must find it speedily; if God has given me truth in the Bible, He has given it not mockingly; if I am to work the work of God, I must do it to-day, for the night cometh, when no man can work.
This method of Christian evidence goes far beyond the case of of mere inquirers in Divine things; the principle is of manifold application to believers themselves. There are certain religious difficulties that all must meet in some form, and which continue to haunt Christian minds,—difficulties which lie along the boundary-line of human thought, and from which we must find relief, in great part, by simply acknowledging our inability to deal with them. These arise from considering the mysterious ways of Providence, the comparatively slow progress of the Gospel, the perishing of multitudes who never heard it, the ultimate fate of the heathen, the eternity of the unsaved. In this dark region of thought arise many mists of doubt to cloud the soul, and the puzzles of many minds over which such things seem to exercise an unhappy fascination. The principle of our text points us to the right solution. They are questions that have been often asked, and the answer has been not dimly indicated : “Why doth He yet find fault; for who hath resisted His will ? Nay, but, O man! who art thou that repliest against God ?” “Lord, are there few that be saved ? Strive to enter in at the strait gate." “Lord, what shall this man do? What is that to thee? Follow thou me." The answer of Christ to such questions is in substance this,-Do the will of God by being saved; be willing to do it, and leave the rest to Him. Hardly will any man venture to reply that the answer is narrow or ungenerous. The answer is that of One whose concern for mankind, whose love of man, outstrips all comparison. It is the answer of Him who brought true human love and brotherhood into the world, who gave it a new and before unheard-of impulse, “Love one another, as I have loved you."