Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our example, that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope.--ROMANS xv. 4.
"Whatsoever was written aforetime." There is no doubt, I think, that by these words St. Paul means the Bible; that is, the Old Testament, which was the only part of the Bible already written in his time. For it is of the Psalms which he is speaking. He mentions a verse out of the 69th Psalm, "The reproaches of Him that reproached thee fell on me;" which, he says, applies to Christ just as much as it did to David, who wrote it. Christ, he says, pleased not Himself any more than David, but suffered willingly and joyfully for God's sake, because He knew that He was doing God's work. And we, he goes on to say, must do the same; do as Christ did; we must not please ourselves, but every one of us please our brother for his good and edification; that is, in order to build him up, strengthen him, make him wiser, better, more comfortable. For, he says, Christ pleased not Himself, but like David, lived only to help others; and therefore this verse out of David's Psalms, "The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me," is a lesson to us; a pattern of what we ought to feel, and do, and suffer. "For whatsoever was written aforetime," all these ancient psalms and prophets, and histories of men and nations who trusted in God, "were written for our example, that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope."
Yes, my friends, this is true; and the longer you live a life of faith and godliness, the longer you read and study that precious Book of books which God has put so freely into your hands in these days, the more true you will find it. And if it was true of the Old Testament, written before the Lord came down and dwelt among men, how much more must it be true of the New Testament, which was written after His coming by apostles and evangelists, who had far fuller light and knowledge of the Lord than ever David or the old prophets, even in their happiest moments, had. Ah, what a treasure you have, every one of you, in those Bibles of yours, which too many of you read so little! From the first chapter of Genesis to the last of Revelations, it is all written for our example, all profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished for all good works. Ah! friends, friends, is not this the reason why so many of you do not read your Bibles, that you do not wish to be furnished for good works?--do not wish to be men of God, godly and godlike men, but only to be men of the world, caring only for money and pleasure?--some of you, alas! not wishing to be men and women at all, but only a sort of brute beasts with clothes on, given up to filth and folly, like the animals that perish, or rather worse than the animals, for they could be no better if they tried, but you might be. Oh! what might you not be, what are you not already, if you but knew it! Members of Christ, children of God, heirs of the kingdom of heaven, heirs of a hope undying, pure, that will never fade away, having a right given you by the promise and oath of Almighty God himself, to hope for yourselves, for your neighbours, for this poor distracted world, for ever and ever; a right to believe that there is an everlasting day of justice, and peace, and happiness in store for the whole world, and that you, if you will, may have your share in that glorious sunrise which shall never set again. You may have your share in it, each and every one of you; and if you ask why, go to the Scriptures, and there read the promises of God, the grounds of your just hope, for all heaven and earth.
First, of hope for yourselves.--I say first for yourselves, not because a man is right in being selfish, and caring only for his own soul, but because a man must care for his own soul first, if he ever intends to care for others; a man must have hope for himself first, if he is to have hope for others. He may stop there, and turn his religion into a selfish superstition, and spend his life in asking all day long, "Shall I be saved, shall I be damned?" or worse still, in chuckling over his own good fortune, and saying to himself, "I shall be saved, whoever else is damned;" but whether he ends there or not, he must begin there; begin by trying to get himself saved. For if he does not know what is right and good for himself, how can he tell what is right and good for others? If he wishes to bring his neighbours out of their sins, he must surely first have been brought out of his own sins, and so know what forgiveness and sanctification means. If he wishes to make others at peace with God, he must first be at peace with God himself, to know what God's peace is. If he wants to teach others their duty, he must first know his own duty, for all men's duty is one and the same. If he wishes to have hope for the world, he must first have hope for himself, for he is in the world, a part of it, and he must learn what blessings God intends for him, and they will teach him what blessings God has in store for the earth. Faith and hope, like charity, must begin at home. By learning the corruption of our own hearts, we learn the corruption of human nature. By learning what is the only medicine which can cure our own sick hearts, we learn what is the only medicine which can cure human nature. We learn by our own experience, that God is all- forgiving love; that His peace shines bright upon the soul which casts itself utterly on Jesus Christ the Lord for pardon, strength, and safety; that God's Spirit is ready and able to raise us out of all our sin, and sottishness, and weakness, and wilfulness, and selfishness, and renew us into quite new men, different characters from what we used to be; and so, by having hope for ourselves, we learn step by step and year by year to have hope for our friends, for our neighbours, and for the whole world.
For that is another great lesson which the Bible teaches us--hope for the world. Men say to us, "This world has always gone on ill, and will always go on so. Tyrants and knaves and hypocrites have always had the power in it; idlers have always had the enjoyment of it; while the humble, and industrious, and godly, who would not foul their hands with the wicked ways of the world, have been always laughed at, neglected, oppressed, persecuted. The world," they say, "is very bad, and we cannot live in it without giving way a little to its badness, and going the old road."
But he who, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, has hope, can answer "Yes--and yet no." "Yes--we agree that the world has gone on badly enough: perhaps we think the world worse than it thinks itself; for God's Spirit has taught us to see sin, and shame, and ruin, in many a thing which the world thinks right and reasonable. And yet," says the true Christian man, "although we think the world worse than anyone else thinks it, and are more unhappy than anyone else about all the sin, and injustice, and misery we see in it, we have the very strongest faith--we are perfectly certain--we are as sure as if we saw it coming to pass here before us, that the world will come right at last. For the Bible tells us that the Son of God is the king of the world; that He has been the master and ruler of it from the beginning. He, the Bible tells us, condescended to come down on earth and be born in the likeness of a poor man, and die on the cross for this poor world of His, that He might take away the sins of it." "Behold the Lamb of God," said John the Baptist, "who takes away the sin of the world." How dare we, who call ourselves Christians, we who have been baptized into His name, we who have tasted of His mercy, we who know the might of His love, the converting and renewing power of His Spirit--how dare we doubt but that He WILL take away the sins of the world? Ay; step by step, nation by nation, year by year, the Lord shall conquer; love, and justice, and wisdom shall spread and grow; for He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. He has promised to take away the sins of the world, and He is God, and cannot lie. There is the Christian's hope: let him leave infidels to say "The world always was bad, and it must remain so to the end;" the Christian ought to be able to answer, "The world was bad, and is bad; but for that very reason it will NOT remain so to the end: for the Lord and king of the earth is boundless love, justice, goodness itself, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and cast out of His kingdom all things that offend, and make in His good time the kingdoms of this world, the kingdoms of God and of His Christ."
"Ah but," someone may say, "that, if it ever happens at all, will not happen till we are dead, and what part or lot shall WE have in it? we who die in the midst of all this sin, and injustice, and distress?" There again the Bible gives us hope: "I believe," says the Creed, "in the resurrection of the flesh." The Bible teaches us to believe, that we, each of us, as human beings, men and women, shall have a share in that glorious day; not merely as ghosts, and disembodied spirits--of which the Bible, thanks be to God, says little or nothing, but as real live human beings, with new bodies of our own, on a new earth, under a new heaven. "Therefore," says David, "my flesh shall rest in hope;" not merely my soul, my ghost, but my flesh. For the Lord, who not only died, but rose again with His body, shall raise our bodies, according to the mighty working by which He subdues all things to Himself; and then the whole manhood of each of us, body, soul, and spirit, shall have one perfect consummation and bliss, in His eternal and everlasting glory.--That is our hope. If that is not a gospel, and good news from heaven to poor distressed creatures in hovels, and on sick beds, to people racked with life-long pain and disease, to people in crowded cities, who never from week's end to week's end look on the green fields and bright sky--if that is not good news, and a dayspring of boundless hope from on high for them, what news can be?
But how are we to get this hope? The text tells us; through comfort of the Scriptures; through the strengthening and comforting promises, and examples, and rules of God's gracious dealings which we find therein. Through comfort of the Scriptures, but also through patience. Ah, my friends, of that too we must think; we must, as St. James says, "let patience have her perfect work," or else we shall not be perfect ourselves. If we are hasty, self-conceited, covetous, ready to help ourselves by the first means that come to hand; if we are full of hard judgments about our neighbours, and doubts about God's good purpose toward the world; in short, if we are not PATIENT, the Bible will teach us little or nothing. It may make us superstitious, bigoted, fanatical, conceited, pharisaical, but like Jesus Christ the Lord it will not make us, unless we have patience.
And where are we to get patience? God knows it is hard in such a world as this for poor creatures to be patient always. But faith can breed patience, though patience cannot breed itself;--and faith in whom? Faith in our Father in heaven, even in the Almighty God Himself. He calls Himself "the God of Patience and Consolation." Pray for His Holy Spirit, and He will make you patient; pray for His Holy Spirit, and He will console and comfort you. He has promised That Spirit of His, The Spirit of love, trust, and patience--The Comforter--to as many as ask Him. Ask Him now, this day--come to His holy table this day, and ask Him to make you patient; ask Him to take all the hastiness, and pride, and ill-temper, and self-will, and greediness out of you, and to change your wills into the likeness of His will. Then your eyes will be opened to understand His law. Then you will see in the Scriptures a sure promise of hope and glory and redemption for yourself and all the world. Then you will see in the blessed sacrament of the Lord's body and blood, a sure sign and warrant, handed down from land to land, and age to age, from year to year, and from father to son, that these promises shall come true; that hope shall become fact; that not one of the Lord's words shall fail, or pass away, till all be fulfilled.