"If I say the truth, why do ye not believe Me?"--JOHN viii. 46.
Is, or is not, the Bible true? To this question we must all come some day or other. Do you believe that that book which lies there, which we call the Bible, is a true book, or a lying book? Is it true or false? Is it right or wrong? Is it from God, or is it not from God? Let us answer that. If it is not from God, let it go; but if it is from God, which we know it is, how dare we disobey it?
That God, the maker of heaven and earth, should speak to men--should set His commands down in a book and give it to them--and that they should neglect it, disobey it--it is the strangest sight that can be seen on earth! that God in heaven should say one thing, and a human being, six feet high at most, should dare to do another!
If the Bible is from God, I say, the question is not whether it is better to obey it or not. Better? there is no better or worse in the matter--it is infinitely necessary. To obey is infinitely right, to disobey is infinitely wrong. To obey is infinitely wise, to disobey is infinite folly. There can be no question about the matter, except in the mind of a fool. Better to obey God's word? Better indeed--for to obey is heaven, to disobey is hell. That is the difference. And at your better moments does not the voice within you, witness to, and agree with, the words of that book? When it tells you to care more for your soul than your body--more for the life to come, which is eternity, than for the present life which lasts but a few years--does not common sense tell you that? The Bible tells you to reverence and love God the giver of all good--does not reason tell you that? The Bible tells you loyally to obey, to love, to worship our blessed King and Saviour in heaven. Does not common sense tell you that? Surely if there be such a person as Jesus Christ--if He is sitting now in heaven as Saviour of all, and one day to be Judge of all--by all means He is to be obeyed, He is to be pleased, whoever else we may displease. Reason, one would think, would tell us that--and it is just want of reason which makes us forget it.
What have you to say against the pattern of a true and holy man as laid down in the Bible? The Bible would have you pure--can you deny that you ought to be that? It would have you peaceable--can you deny that you ought to be that? The Bible would have you forgiving, honest, honourable, active, industrious. The Bible would have you generous, loving, charitable. Can you deny that that is right, however some of you may dislike it? The Bible would have you ask all you want from God, and ask forgiveness of God for every offence, great and small, against Him. Can you deny that that is right and reasonable? The Bible would have you live in continual remembrance that the great eye of God is on you--in continual thankfulness to the blessed Saviour who died for you and has redeemed you by His own blood--with daily and hourly prayer for God's Spirit to set your heart and your understanding right on every point. Can you deny that that is all right and good and proper--that unless the Bible be all a dream, and there be no Holy and Almighty God, no merciful Christ in heaven, this is THE way and the only way to live? Ay, if there were no God, no Christ, no hereafter, it would be better for man to live as the Bible tells him, than to live as too many do. There would be infinitely less misery, less heart-burnings, less suffering of body and soul, if men followed Christ's example as told us in the Bible. Even if this life were all, and there were neither punishment nor reward for us after death--does not our reason tell us that if all men and women were like Christ in gentleness, wisdom, and purity, the world as long as it lasted would be a heaven?
And do not your own hearts echo these thoughts at moments when they are quietest and purest and most happy too? Have you not said to yourselves--"Those Bible words are good words. After all, if I were like that, I should be happier than I am now." Ah! my friends, listen to those thoughts when they come into your hearts--they are not your own thoughts--they are the voice of One holier than you--wiser than you--One who loves you better than you love yourselves--One pleading with you, stirring you up by His Spirit, if it be but for a moment, to see the things which belong to your peace.
But what can you say for yourselves, if having once had these thoughts, having once settled in your own minds that the Gospel of God is right and you are wrong, if you persist in disobeying that gospel--if you agree one minute with the inner voice, which says, "Do this and live, do this and be at peace with God and man, and your own conscience"--and then fall back the next moment into the same worldly, selfish, peevish, sense-bound, miserable life-in-death as ever?
The reason, my friends, I am afraid, with most of us is, sheer folly--not want of cunning and cleverness, but want of heart--want of feeling--what Solomon calls folly (Prov. i. 22-27), stupidity of soul, when he calls on the simple souls, How long ye simple ones will you love simplicity or silliness, and the scorners delight in their scorning (delight in laughing at what is good), and fools hate knowledge--hate to think earnestly or steadily about anything--the stupidity of the ass, who is too stubborn and thick-skinned to turn out of his way for any one--or the stupidity of the swine, who cares for his food and nothing further--or worse than all, the stupidity of the ape, who cares for nothing but play and curiosity, and the vain and frivolous amusements of the moment.
All these tempers are common enough, and they may be joined with cleverness enough. What beast so clever as an ape? yet what beast so foolish, so mean, so useless? But this is the fault of stupidity--it blinds our eyes to the world of spirits; it makes us forget God; it makes us see first what we can lay our hands on, and nothing more; it makes us forget that we have souls. Our glorious minds and thoughts, which should be stretching on through all eternity, are cramped down to thinking of nothing further than this little hour of earthly life. Our glorious hearts, which should be delighting in everything which is lovely, and generous, and pure, and beautiful, and God-like--ay, delighting in God Himself--are turned in upon themselves, and set upon our own gain, our own ease, our own credit. In short, our immortal souls, made in God's image, become no use to us by this stupidity--they seem for mere salt to keep our bodies from decaying.
Whose work is that? The devil's. But whose fault is it? Do you suppose that the devil has any right in you, any power in you, who have been washed in the waters of baptism and redeemed by Christ from the service of the devil, and signed with His Cross on your foreheads, unless you give him power? Not he. Men's sins open the door to the devil, and when he is in, he will soon trample down the good seed that is springing up, and stamp the mellow soil as hard as iron, so that nothing but his own seeds can grow there, and so keep off the dews of God's spirit, and the working of God's own gospel from making any impression on that hardened stupified soil.
Alas! poor soul. And thy misery is double, because thou knowest not that thou art miserable; and thy misery is treble, because thou hast brought it on thyself!
My friends--there is an ancient fable of the Jews, which, though it is not true, yet has a deep and holy meaning, and teaches an awful lesson.
There lived, says an ancient Jewish Scribe, by the shores of the Dead Sea, a certain tribe of men, utterly given up to pleasure and covetousness, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. To them the prophet Moses was sent, and preached to them, warning them of repentance and of judgment to come--trying to awaken their souls to high and holy thoughts, and bring them back to the thought of God and heaven. And they, poor fools, listened to Him, admired his preaching, agreed that it all sounded very good--but that he went too far--that it was too difficult--that their present way of life was very pleasant--that they saw no such great need of change, and so on, one excuse after another, till they began to be tired of Moses, and gave him to understand that he was impertinent, troublesome--that they could see nothing wise in him--nothing great; how could they? So Moses went his way, and left them to go theirs. And long after, when some travellers came by, says the fable, they found these foolish people were all changed into dumb beasts; what they had tried to be, now they really were. They had made no use of their souls, and now they had lost them; they had given themselves up to folly, and now folly had taken to her own; they had fancied, as people do every day, that this world is a great play-ground, wherein every one has to amuse himself as he likes best, or at all events a great shop and gambling-house, where the most cunning wins most of his neighbour's money; and now according to their faith it was to them. They had forgotten God and spiritual things, and now they were hid from their eyes. And these travellers found them sitting, playing antics, quarrelling for the fruits of the field--mere beasts--reaping as they had sown, and filled full with the fruit of their own devices.
Only every Sabbath day, says the fable, there came over these poor wretches an awful sense of a piercing Eye watching them from above--a dim feeling that they had been something better and nobler once--a faint recollection of heavenly things which they once knew when they were little children--a blind dread of some awful unseen ruin, into which their miserable empty beast-life was swiftly and steadily sweeping them down;--and then they tried to think and could not--and tried to remember and could not--and so they sat there every Sabbath day, cowering with fear, uneasy and moaning, and half-remembered that they once had souls!
My friends, my friends, are there not too many now-a-days like these poor dwellers by the Dead Sea, who seem to have lost all of God's image except their bodies? who all the week dote on the business and the pleasures of this life, going on very comfortably till they seem to have quite hardened their own souls; and now and then on Sabbath days when they come to church, and pretend to pray and worship, sit all vacant, stupid, their hearts far away, or with a sort of passing uneasiness and dim feeling that all is not right--try to think and cannot--try to pray and cannot--and, like those dwellers by the Dead Sea, once a week on Sabbath day half remember that they once had souls?
So true it is, that from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he seemeth to have. So true it is, that the wages of sin is death; death to the soul even in this life. So true it is that why men do not believe Christ, is because they cannot hear His word. So true it is, that only the pure in heart shall see God, or love god-like men and god- like words. So true it is, that he that soweth the wind shall reap the whirlwind, and that he who will not hear Christ's words, shall soon not be able to hear them; that he who will not have Christ for his master, must soon be content to have the devil for his master, and for his wages, spiritual death. From which sad fate of spiritual death may the blessed Saviour, in His infinite mercy, deliver us.