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WHAT HAVE WE TO BEGIN UPON ?
" And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did cat: and no man gave unto him.
“And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and JE perish with hunger !
“ I will arise and go to my father.”—LUKE xv. 16–18.
THE scope of our observations in the last Chapter
was to show that saintliness is not something unattainable, or beyond our reach, inasmuch as the most eminent saints, both of the Old and New Testaments, are clearly proved to have been “men of like passions as we are." The next question will be, How are we to proceed in attaining it? and, first, How are we to begin? The answer to this first question is specially important. For the principles which must guide us in the prosecution of this great work are the very same which must guide us at its commencement. So that the beginning is not a beginning merely, but a beginning which has a development wrapped up in it; it is a seed which has only to burst and shoot up,
in order to become a blade, and then consecutively an ear, and the full corn in the ear. As
have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him," says the Apostle to the Colossians, showing clearly that Christian progress proceeds in the very same method as the commencement of Christian life. And therefore in this work, more perhaps than in any other, it is true (and the thought is most encouraging to those who are disposed to begin) that “Dimidium facti qui
coepit habet," "he who has begun has advanced half way
towards the end.” Upon what are we to begin then, if we desire to follow after Holiness? I answer, upon the grace of our Baptism : this is the grand starting-point of all Christian effort. And the special blessing of Infant Baptism is this, that God in it "prevents” us (in the old sense of the word "prevents "), anticipates us with His Grace, anticipates consciousness, anticipates temptation, anticipates sin, so that when the powers of evil throw up their approaches to the soul, they find the Holy Spirit in possession of the fortress before them. And thus, before one who is baptized in infancy can be soiled by evil, he is tinctured with good.
In order to the development of this thought, it will be necessary to say something of the relationship which is contracted by Baptism, and next of the grace which is bestowed in it.
I. First, the relationship contracted by Baptism.
Baptism, wherein I was made a child of God.” There is a strange confusion of thought on the subject of this relationship, a confusion which has the mischievous result of dividing good men, who, were it not for this, would all "speak the same thing." By Baptism a relationship with God is contracted, the baptized person being admitted into His family. It is strange that persons cannot see that a relationship stands clear altogether of the moral conduct of the person holding it, and cannot be in any way affected or shaken by that moral conduct. The prodigal son in the Parable was a son still, all his profligate and ungrateful conduct notwithstanding. His leaving the home of his childhood, his taking up his abode in a far country, his squandering his fortune, his connexion with vile outlandish women, his abject poverty, his ultimate degradation to the office of swineherd, all these things did not alter his lineage, nor drain his father's blood out of his veins. He said and he felt that he was not worthy to be called a son; but in the same breath he called his father “Father," showing that the relationship was not annihilated, however unworthy of it he had proved. It is so with God's children, who are adopted into His family by Baptism. Nothing which occurs in after-life can rase the seal off the bond of their Baptism. However they may dishonour and cast a stain upon their divine lineage, it still exists. And hence it was that Luther called
upon sinners, as the first effort in the direction of Repentance, to go back to their Baptism, and to stand
upon that before God.
He felt that the baptismal relationship must be for a christened man the very ground and foundation of all his subsequent dealings with God.
There are, it is true, passages of Holy Scripture (let us not blink one of them) which seem expressly to connect Divine Sonship with abstinence from sin and correspondence to grace, and which at first sight forbid us to predicate that sonship where these features of character do not exist. The strongest passages of this sort I can think of are, “ As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God;" and, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” But these and the like words are capable of an easy explanation, which renders them consistent not only with the doctrine of baptismal Regeneration, but also with the analogy of natural sonship. Might not a father
say of a very vile son, who had brought a stain upon the honour of his family, “He is no son of mine; I can trace in him nothing of my character and disposition; I disown him altogether, and recognize only those of my children who maintain the credit of my name"? In saying this, no one would understand him to deny the natural relationship of the bad son to him, but only to repudiate in the strongest terms he could find any moral affinity. In God's family too there is a sonship of moral affinity, as well as a far wider sonship of Sacramental relation, and of course it
is only those who exhibit the sonship of moral affinity who will be recognized as sons at the Great Day; all else will be repudiated and solemnly disowned by our Heavenly Father.
II. Having thus explained the baptismal relationship, we will now point out the grace which it carries along with it, and which may be defined as the first force,—the earliest motive power,—of the Christian life. Did I say I would point it out? But it lies under our hands, though, like other things which lie under our hands, we are apt to miss it, because we search for it too far afield. The shape which the baptismal grace takes in all men in general is good desires. You have these good desires attributed to grace, and to “special grace" in the Easter Collect :“As, by Thy special grace preventing us, Thou dost put into our minds good desires." Our esteem for devout and religious people, the wish to be good and to lead a devout and religious life, the wish to amend and shake off bad habits, and conquer faults of character—these at the lower end of the scale; and at the higher, the restlessness and emptiness engendered in the heart by a day without prayer, the calm which earnest prayer is felt to induce, and the desire after prayer which results from these experiences; the longing, too, after Holy Communion, combined, as it often is, with a fear of approaching the ordinance unworthily,—these are some of the impulses, more or less fluctuating, more or less allowed to colour the life, more or less strong, according