By Frederick W. Robertson
Preached August 11, 1850.
"Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled."--Titus i. 15.
For the evils of this world there are two classes of remedies--one is the world's, the other is God's. The world proposes to remedy evil by adjusting the circumstances of this life to man's desires. The world says, give us a perfect set of 'circumstances', and then we shall have a set of perfect men. This principle lies at the root of the system called Socialism. Socialism proceeds on the principle that all moral and even physical evil arises from unjust laws. If the cause be remedied, the effect will be good. But Christianity throws aside all that as merely chimerical. It proves that the fault is not in outward circumstances, but in ourselves. Like the wise physician, who, instead of busying himself with transcendental theories to improve the climate, and the outward circumstances of man, endeavours to relieve and get rid of the tendencies of disease which are from within, Christianity, leaving all outward circumstances to ameliorate themselves, fastens its attention on the spirit which has to deal with them. Christ has declared that the kingdom of heaven is from within. He said to the Pharisee, "Ye make clean the outside of the cup and platter, but within ye are full of extortion and excess." The remedy for all this is a large and liberal charity, so overflowing that "Unto the pure all things are pure." To internal purity all external things 'become' pure. The principle that St. Paul has here laid down is, that each man is the creator of his own world; he walks in a universe of his own creation.
As the free air is to one out of health the cause of cold and diseased lungs, so to the healthy man it is a source of greater vigour. The rotten fruit is sweet to the worm, but nauseous to the palate of man. It is the same air and the same fruit acting differently upon different beings. To different men a different world--to one all pollution--to another all purity. To the noble all things are noble, to the mean all things are contemptible.
The subject divides itself into two parts.
I. The apostle's principle.
II. The application of the principle.
Here we have the same principle again; each man creates his own world. Take it in its simplest form. The eye creates the outward world it sees. We see not things as they are, but as God has made the eye to receive them.
In its strictest sense, the creation of a new man is the creation of a new universe. Conceive an eye so constructed as that the planets and all within them should be minutely seen, and all that is near should be dim and invisible like things seen through a telescope, or as we see through a magnifying glass the plumage of the butterfly, and the bloom upon the peach; then it is manifestly clear that we have called into existence actually a new 'creation', and not new objects. The mind's eye creates a world for itself.
Again, the visible world presents a different aspect to each individual man. You will say that the same things you see are seen by all--that the forest, the valley, the flood, and the sea, are the same to all; and yet all these things so seen, to different minds are a myriad of different universes. One man sees in that noble river an emblem of eternity; he closes his lips and feels that GOD is there. Another sees nothing in it but a very convenient road for transporting his spices, silks, and merchandise. To one this world appears useful, to another beautiful. Whence comes the difference? From the soul within us. It can make of this world a vast chaos--"a mighty maze without a plan;" or a mere machine--a collection of lifeless forces; or it can make it the Living Vesture of GOD, the tissue through which He can become visible to us. In the spirit in which we look on it the world is an arena for mere self-advancement, or a place for noble deeds, in which self is forgotten, and GOD is all.
Observe, this effect is traceable even in that produced by our different and changeful moods. We make and unmake a world more than once in the space of a single day. In trifling moods all seems trivial. In serious moods all seems solemn. Is the song of the nightingale merry or plaintive? Is it the voice of joy or the harbinger of gloom? Sometimes one, and sometimes the other, according to our different moods. We hear the ocean furious or exulting. The thunder-claps are grand, or angry, according to the different states of our mind. Nay, the very church bells chime sadly or merrily, as our associations determine. They speak the language of our passing moods. The young adventurer revolving sanguine plans upon the milestone, hears them speak to him as God did to Hagar in the wilderness, bidding him back to perseverance and greatness. The soul spreads its own hue over everything; the shroud or wedding-garment of nature is woven in the loom of our own feelings. This universe is the express image and direct counterpart of the souls that dwell in it. Be noble-minded, and all Nature replies--I am divine, the child of God--be thou too, His child, and noble. Be mean, and all Nature dwindles into a contemptible smallness.
In the second place, there are two ways in which this principle is true. To the pure, all things and all persons are pure, because their purity makes all seem pure.
There are some who go through life complaining of this world; they say they have found nothing but treachery and deceit; the poor are ungrateful, and the rich are selfish, Yet we do not find such the best men. Experience tells us that each man most keenly and unerringly detects in others the vice with which he is most familiar himself.
Persons seem to each man what he is himself. One who suspects hypocrisy in the world is rarely transparent; the man constantly on the watch for cheating is generally dishonest; he who suspects impurity is prurient. This is the principle to which Christ alludes when he says, "Give alms of such things as he have; and behold all things are clean unto you."
Have a large charity! Large "charity hopeth all things." Look at that sublime apostle who saw the churches of Ephesus and Thessalonica pure, because he saw them in his own large love, and painted them, not as they were, but as his heart filled up the picture; he viewed them in the light of his own nobleness, as representations of his own purity.
Once more, to the pure all 'things' are pure, as well as all persons. That which is natural lies not in things, but in the minds of men. There is a difference between prudery and modesty. Prudery detects wrong where no wrong is; the wrong lies in the thoughts, and not in the objects. There is something of over-sensitiveness and over-delicacy which shows not innocence, but an inflammable imagination. And men of the world cannot understand that those subjects and thoughts which to them are full of torture, can be harmless, suggesting nothing evil to the pure in heart.
Here however, beware! No sentence of Scripture is more frequently in the lips of persons who permit themselves much license, than the text, "To the pure, all things are pure." Yes, all things natural, but not artificial--scenes which pamper the tastes, which excite the senses. Innocence feels healthily. To it all nature is pure. But, just as the dove trembles at the approach of the hawk, and the young calf shudders at the lion never seen before, so innocence shrinks instinctively from what is wrong by the same divine instinct. If that which is wrong seems pure, then the heart is not pure but vitiated. To the right minded all that is right in the course of this world seems pure. Abraham, looking forward to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, entreated that it might be averted, and afterwards acquiesced! To the disordered mind "all things are out of course." This is the spirit which pervades the whole of the Ecclesiastes. There were two things which were perpetually suggesting themselves to the mind of Solomon; the intolerable sameness of this world, and the constant desire for change. And yet that same world, spread before the serene eye of God, was pronounced to be all "very good."
This disordered universe is the picture of your own mind. We make a wilderness by encouraging artificial wants, by creating sensitive and selfish feelings; then we project everything stamped with the impress of our own feelings, and we gather the whole of creation into our own pained being--"the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." The world you complain of as impure and wrong is not God's world, but your world; the blight, the dullness, the blank, are all your own. The light which is in you has become darkness, and therefore the light itself is dark.
Again, to the pure, all things not only seem pure, but are really so because they are made such.
1. As regards persons. It is a marvellous thing to see how a pure and innocent heart purifies all that it approaches. The most ferocious natures are soothed and tamed by innocence. And so with human beings, there is a delicacy so pure, that vicious men in its presence become almost pure; all of purity which is in them is brought out; like attaches itself to like. The pure heart becomes a centre of attraction, round which similar atoms gather, and from which dissimilar ones are repelled. A corrupt heart elicits in an hour all that is bad in us; a spiritual one brings out and draws to itself all that is best and purest. Such was Christ. He stood in the world, the Light of the world, to which all sparks of light gradually gathered. He stood in the presence of impurity, and men became pure. Note this in the history of Zaccheus. In answer to the invitation of the Son of man, he says, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have done wrong to any man I restore him fourfold." So also the Scribe, "Well, Master, thou hast well said, there is one God, and there is none other than He." To the pure Saviour, all was pure. He was lifted up on high, and drew all men unto Him.
Lastly, all situations are pure to the pure. According to the world, some professions are reckoned honourable, and some dishonourable. Men judge according to a standard merely conventional, and not by that of moral rectitude. Yet it was in truth, the men who were in these situations which made them such. In the days of the Redeemer, the publican's occupation was a degraded one, merely because low base men filled that place. But since He was born into the world a poor, labouring man, poverty is noble and dignified, and toil is honourable. To the man who feels that "the king's daughter is all glorious within," no outward situation can seem inglorious or impure.
There are three words which express almost the same thing, but whose meaning is entirely different. These are, the gibbet, the scaffold, and the cross. So far as we know, none die on the gibbet but men of dishonourable and base life. The scaffold suggests to our minds the noble deaths of our greatest martyrs. The cross was once a gibbet, but it is now the highest name we have, because He hung on it. Christ has purified and ennobled the cross. This principle runs through life. It is not the situation which makes the man, but the man who makes the situation. The slave may be a freeman. The monarch may be a slave. Situations are noble or ignoble, as we make them.
From all this subject we learn to understand two things. Hence we understand the Fall. When man fell, the world fell with him. All creation received a shock. Thorns, briars, and thistles, sprang up. They were there before, but to the now restless and impatient hands of men they became obstacles and weeds. Death, which must ever have existed as a form of dissolution, a passing from one state to another, became a curse; the sting of death was sin--unchanged in itself, it changed in man. A dark, heavy cloud, rested on it--the shadow of his own guilty heart.
Hence too, we understand the Millennium. The Bible says that these things are not to be for ever. There are glorious things to come. Just as in my former illustration, the alteration of the eye called new worlds into being, so now nothing more is needed than to re-create the soul--the mirror on which all things are reflected. Then is realized the prophecy of Isaiah, "Behold, I create all things new," "new heavens and a new earth."
The conclusion of this verse proves to us why all these new creations were called into being--"wherein dwelleth righteousness." To be righteous makes all things new. We do not want a new world, we want 'new hearts'. Let the Spirit of God purify society, and to the pure all things will be pure. The earth will put off the look of weariness and gloom which it has worn so long, and then the glorious language of the prophets will be fulfilled--"The forests will break out with singing, and the desert will blossom as the rose."