By John Percival
"He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son."--REVELATION xxi. 7.
Year by year as at this time, when the week of our Saviour's Passion and Death is just in front of us, and the shadow of His Cross is falling over us, one generation after another of the boys of this school gather here, and in the face of the congregation, young and old, they take upon them the vows of a Christian life. So we met last Thursday, and your vow is still fresh upon a great many of you, as indeed it can hardly fail to be fresh in the memory of every one in this congregation who has ever taken it. Let us pause for a moment and repeat its plain words. You have declared your faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, the Father, the Redeemer, the Sanctifier of your life. You have vowed that you renounce the devil and his works, that you renounce covetous desires, that you renounce the carnal desires of the flesh, so that you will not follow nor be led by them. And you have vowed that you will keep God's holy will and commandments, and walk in them all the days of your life. And you take this upon you, let us hope, in sincerity and honesty of purpose.
And, if so, the text I have read to you declares God's promise, if you persevere, just as another text in the same chapter declares that into the City of God there shall not enter anything that defileth or worketh abomination or maketh a lie. This, then, is the promise--"He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son." But as we think of this and look forward, we have to remember that this life to which you are dedicated is not an easy matter. If you are to succeed in it, you have to think of it always as a life under a vow, as in fact a consecrated life, consecrated by your own promise and profession. And this is a great safeguard if you bear it always in mind.
It is indeed the first condition of safety from the attacks and the impulses of sin, this consciousness which you will carry about with you, that you are self-dedicated--that there was a day on which you said "I will"--so that if you are to be true to your profession and declared purpose, you will strive to keep near to God in the spirit, and you will have no dealings with the devil and his works, and you will resist all the degrading solicitations of the flesh, and will live in the atmosphere of things that are pure and of good report.
To have conceived such a purpose as this, to have opened your heart to its influence, to have lived in it even for a little while, to have felt its purifying and strengthening breath upon your soul even for a few weeks, may be enough, as some of you know very well, to lift your life up to a new level, so that it becomes and is felt by you to be a quite different life from what you lived before--a life of new thoughts, of new notions about what is good or what is evil, about the degrading character of sin and the misery and hatefulness of it, as also about the happiness of a life that is inspired by good aims and purposes, and is free from a sense of God's wrath upon you for some low standard of conduct, or some sinful appetite or passion. If you have once felt the influence of this change in your heart, you know the difference henceforth between the higher life and the lower, the life that is clinging to God, however feebly, and is in the way of salvation, and the life of sin which will inevitably end in degradation and in death.
But this life in Christ to which you are dedicated is not an easy one; let us not suppose it. It is a noble life, and every one who strives to live it is doing something to ennoble his society; but it is not an easy life. It is never so represented to us in the Bible. There is a sense no doubt in which our Lord invites us to see how easy is His yoke compared with the yoke of sin--but He Himself calls upon every believer to take up his cross and follow Him. That call may bring to any of us not peace but a sword. St. Paul sets the Christian life before us as a race to be run with patience; as a conflict which will sometimes be very hard. In St. James we see it as the discipline of sore temptation, and in St. Peter it is the fiery trial that is to try us.
And again, in the Revelation of St. John, we have this picture of blessing only to those that endure, and to those who have not defiled their garments, and those who have come through great tribulation.
And all our personal experience confirms this language of Holy Scripture, reminding us, as it does, how hard it is for an individual to keep in the narrow way of the spotless Christian life, and how it is still harder to stamp the mark of Christian purpose upon a society.
Yet these are the two things to which God is calling us. These you have in fact vowed that you will strive after; and if you are unfaithful in either respect, if you give up your effort for an easy, drifting life, you are letting go your confirmation vows; and whereas you were intended to be the salt of your society, your salt will lose its savour. To consider this just now may save some of you from discouragement and some from waste and failure.
Men are stronger to meet their difficulties if they know that they have to meet them or else to fail and sink. And so it will be with you. You will be more likely to go forward strong in earnest purpose, strong in the strength which God supplies, if you bear it in mind that, as St. Paul would have expressed it, we are appointed unto these trials; and that a soldier of Christ must expect to have to endure hardness; and in fact that it is a law of our spiritual life that one of the chief roots of all growth in strength and goodness is suffering. We grow through trial and suffering to true manhood in Christ.
So, if you look at your own life and experience, you will find that some suffer through a sore struggle with their own temptations, or their own weaknesses--their desires, their appetites, their fears, or the habits they have contracted, and their struggle may be so hard that it needs all the grace of God to keep them firm in their purpose. Some again suffer not from internal but from external hindrances. Companions may be against them, or a low public opinion may be against them, and they may feel as if they could hardly stand firm in isolation, or under suspicion, or mockery, or enmity; and some may suffer because the conscience around them is depraved, and they feel too weak to fight against it, though they know and acknowledge its depravity. But however hard may be the fight there should be no discouragement, if only you are able still to say in all honesty that you are holding fast to the good purpose which you uttered in your confirmation vows. Two quite simple warnings may sometimes do us great service--one, is that we are very apt to exaggerate the forces against us. They seem very strong when we are feeling weak; but they sometimes break up and disappear if they are met with a little courage. And the other warning is this, that we sometimes let ourselves sink and drift into sinful ways or moral cowardice, by neglecting the helps which God gives us for the strengthening of a good life in us.
Thus if we neglect real prayer, or do not seek the support of good companionship, if we take no pains to live in a good atmosphere and amidst good surroundings, if there is little of devout thought or habitual worship in our life and still less of Holy Communion, if we thus allow ourselves to drift out of the range of the higher moral and spiritual influences, our vows are forgotten and our good purposes fade away, our will becomes weak, and the world with all its temptations is very likely to overcome us.
Feeling the infinite issues that hang on such considerations as these, let us carry about with us the inspiring and invigorating call and the promise contained in the text with which I began this sermon--"He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son."