By Frederick W. Robertson
Preached January 30, 1853
"This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him."-John ii. 11.
In the history of this miracle two personages are brought prominently before our notice. One is the Virgin Mary; the other is the Son of God. And these two exhibit different orders of glory, as well as different degrees. Different degrees, for the Virgin was only human: her Son was God manifest in the flesh. Different orders of glory, for the one exhibited the distinctive glory of womanhood: the Other manifested forth His glory-the glory of perfect manhood.
Taking the Virgin as the type and representative of her sex, we found the glory of womanhood, as exhibited by her conduct in this parable, to consist in unselfish considerateness about others, in delicacy of tact, in the power of ennobling a ministry of coarse and household things, like the wine of the marriage-feast, by the sanctity of affection: in meekness, and lowly obedience, which was in the Fall her curse, in Christ become her glory, transformed into a blessing and a power: and lastly, as the name Virgin implies, the distinctive glory of womanhood we found to consist in purity.
Now the Christian history first revealed these great truths. The Gospels which record the life of Christ, first, in the history of the world, brought to light the Divine glory of those qualities which had been despised. Before Christ came, the heathen had counted for Divine the legislative wisdom of the man, manly strength, manly truth, manly justice, manly courage. The life and the cross of Christ shed a splendor from heaven upon a new and till then unheard-of order of heroism-that which may be called the feminine order, meekness, endurance, long-suffering, the passive strength of martyrdom. For Christianity does not say, Honor to the wise, but "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Not, "The Lord is a man of war, Jehovah is His name," but "God is Love." In Christ not intellect, but love, is consecrated. In Christ is magnified, not force of will, but the glory of a Divine humility. "He was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross: wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him."
Therefore it was, that from that time forward womanhood assumed a new place in this world. She in whom these qualities, for the first time declared Divine in Christ, were the distinctive characteristics, steadily and gradually rose to a higher dignity in human life. It is not to a mere civilization, but to the spirit of life in Christ, that woman owes ail she has, and all she has yet to gain.
Now the outward phases in which this redemption of the sex appeared to the world have been as yet chiefly three. There have been three ages through which these great truths of the Divineness of purity, and the strength and glory of obedience, the peculiar characteristics of womanhood, have been rising into their right acknowledgment. 1. The ages of Virgin- worship. 2. The ages of chivalry. 3. The age of the three last centuries. Now during these three Protestant centuries, the place and destinies of womanhood have been every year rising more and more into great questions. Her mission, as it is called in the cant language of the day-what it is-that is one of the subjects of deepest interest in the controversies of the day. And unless we are prepared to say that the truth which has been growing clearer and brighter for eighteen centuries shall stop now exactly where it is, and grow no clearer: unless we are ready to affirm that mankind will never learn to pay less glory to strength and intellect, and more to meekness, and humbleness, and pureness than they do now, it follows that God has yet reserved for womanhood a larger and more glorious field for her peculiar qualities and gifts, and that the truth contained in the Virgin's motherhood is unexhausted still.
For this reason, in reference to that womanhood and its destinies of which St. Mary is the type, I thought it needful, last Sunday, to insist on two things as of profound importance.
I. To declare in what her true glory consists. The only glory of the Virgin was the glory of true womanhood. The glory of true womanhood consists in being herself : not in striving to be something else. It is the false paradox and heresy of this present age to claim for her as a glory the right to leave her sphere. Her glory lies in her sphere, and God has given her a sphere distinct; as in the Epistle to the Church of Corinth, when in that wise chapter St. Paul rendered unto womanhood the things which were woman's, and unto manhood the things which were man's.
And the true correction of that monstrous rebellion against what is natural lies in vindicating Mary's glory, on the one side, from the Romanist, who gives to her the glory of God; and on the other from those who would confound the distinctive glories of the two sexes, and claim as the glory of woman what is, in the deeps of nature, the glory of the man.
Every thing is created in its own order. Every created thing has its own glory. "There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars for one star differeth from another star in glory." There is one glory of manhood, and another glory of womanhood. And the glory of each created thing consists in being true to its own nature, and moving in its own sphere.
Mary's glory was not immaculate origin, nor immaculate life, nor exaltation to Divine honors. She had none of these things. Nor, on the other hand, was it force or demanded rights, social or domestic, that constituted her glory. But it was the glory of simple womanhood; the glory of being true to the nature assigned her by her Maker; the glory of motherhood; the glory of "a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price." She was not the queen of heaven, but she was something nobler still, a creature content to be what God had made her: in unselfishness, and humbleness, and purity, "rejoicing in God her Saviour," content that "He had regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden."
The second thing upon which I insisted was, that the only safeguard against the idolatrous error of Virgin-worship is a full recognition of the perfect humanity of Christ. A fullrecognition: for it is only a partial acknowledgment of the meaning of the incarnation when we think of Him as the Divine Man. It was not manhood, but humanity, that was made Divine in Him. Humanity has its two sides: one side in the strength and intellect of manhood; the other in the tenderness, and faith, and submissiveness of womanhood: Man and woman, not man alone, make up human nature. In Christ not one alone but both were glorified. Strength and grace, wisdom and love, courage and purity, Divine manliness: Divine womanliness. In all noble characters you find the two blended: in Him, the noblest, blended into one entire and perfect humanity.
Unless you recognize and fully utter this whole truth, yell will find Mariolatry forever returning, cut it down as you will. It must come back. It will come back. I had well nigh said it ought to come back, unless we preach and believe the full truth of God incarnate in humanity. For while we teach in our classical schools as the only manliness, Pagan heroism of warrior and legislator, can we say that we are teaching both sides of Christ? Our souls were trained in boyhood to honor the heroic and the masculine. Who ever hinted to us that charity is the "more excellent way?" Who suggested that "he which ruleth his spirit is greater than he which taketh a city?"
Again, we find our English society divided into two sections: one the men of business and action, exhibiting prominently the masculine virtues of English character, truth and honor, and almost taught to reckon forbearance and feeling as proofs of weakness; taught in the playground to believe that a chaste life is romance; false sentiment and strengthlessness of character taught there: and in after-life that it is mean to forgive a personal affront.
The other section of our society is made up of men of prayer and religiousness: for some reason or other singularly deficient in masculine breadth and strength, and even truthfulness of character: with no firm footing upon reality, not daring to look the real problems of social and political life in the face, but wasting their strength in disputes of words, or shrinking into a dim atmosphere of ecclesiastical dreaminess, unreal and effeminate. Dare we say that the fall humanity of Christ in its double aspect is practically adored amongst us? Have we not made a fatal separation between the manly and the feminine sides of character? between the moral and the devout? so that we have men who are masculine and moral, and also men who are effeminate and devout. But where are our Christian men in whom the whole Christ is formed-all that is brave, and true, and wise, and at the same time all that is tender, and devout, and pure? Who ever taught us to adore in Christ all that is most manly, and all that is most womanly, that we might strive to be such in our degree ourselves? And if not, can you wonder that men, feeling their Christianity imperfect, blindly strive to patch it up through Mariolatry?
I gather into a few sentences the substance of what was said last Sunday. I said that Christianity exhibited the Divine glory of the weaker elements of our human nature. Heathenism, nay even Judaism, had as yet before him only recognized the glory of the stronger and masculine. Now the Romanist personified the masculine side of human nature in Christ. He personified gentleness and purity, the feminine side of human nature, in the Virgin Mary. No wonder that with this cardinal error at the outset in his conceptions, he adored; and no wonder, since Christianity declared meekness and purity more Divine than strength and intellect, in process of time he came to honor the Virgin more than Christ. That I believe is the true history and account of Virgin-worship.
The Bible personifies both sides of human nature, the masculine and feminine, in Christ, of whom St. Paul declares in the Epistle to the Galatians, "In Him is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female." Neither distinctively, for in him both the manly and the womanly sides of character divinely meet. I say therefore that the incarnation of God in Christ is the true defense against Virgin-worship.
Think of Christ only as the masculine character, glorified by the union of Godhead with it, and your Christianity has in it an awful gap, a void, a want-the inevitable supply and relief to which will be Mariolatry, however secure you may think yourself; however strong and fierce the language you now use. Men who have used language as strong and fierce have become idolaters of Mary. With a half thought of Christ, safe you are not. But think of him as the Divine Human Being, in whom both sides of our double being are divine and glorified, and then you have the truth which Romanism has marred and perverted into an idolatry pernicious in all; in the less spiritual worshippers sensualizing and debasing.
Now there are two ways of meeting error. The one is that in which, in humble imitation of Christ and His apostles, I have tried to show you the error of the worship of Mary-to discern the truth out of which the error sprung, firmly asserting the truth, forbearing threatening; certain that he in whose mind the truth is lodged has in that truth the safeguard against error.
The other way of meeting error is to overwhelm it with threats. To some men it seems the only way in which true zeal is shown. Well, it is very easy, requiring no self-control, but only an indulgence of every bad passion. It is very easy to call Rome the "mother of harlots and abominations"-very easy to use strong language about "damnable idolatries"-very easy for the apostles to call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans because they would not receive Christ, and then to flatter themselves that that was godly zeal. But it might be well for us to remember his somewhat startling comment, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of." There are those who think it a surer and a safer Protestantism to use those popular watchwords. Be it so. But with God's blessing, that will not I. The majesty of truth needs other bulwarks than vulgar and cowardly vituperation. Coarse and violent language, excusable three hundred years ago by the manners of that day, was bold and brave in the lips of the Reformers, with whom the struggle was one of life and death, and who might be called to pay the penalty of their bold defiances with their blood. But the same fierceness of language now, when there is no personal risk in the use of it, in the midst of hundreds of men and women ready to applaud and honor violence as zeal, is simply a dastardliness from which every generous mind shrinks. You do not get the Reformers' spirit by putting on the armor they have done with, but by risking the dangers which those noble warriors risked. It is not their big words, but their large, brave heart that makes the Protestant. Oh, be sure that he whose soul has anchored itself to rest on the deep calm sea of truth, does not spend his strength in raving against those who are still tossed by the winds of error. Spasmodic violence of words is one thing, strength of conviction is another.
When, oh when, shall we learn that loyalty to Christ is tested far more by the strength of our sympathy with truth than by the intensity of our hatred of error? I will tell you what to hate. Hate hypocrisy-hate cant-hate intolerance, oppression, injustice-hate Pharisaism-hate them as Christ hated them, with a deep, living, Godlike hatred. But do not hate men in intellectual error. To hate a man for his errors is as unwise as to hate one who in casting up an account has made an error against himself. The Romanist has made an error against himself He has missed the full glory of his Lord and Master. Well, shall we hate him, and curse, and rant, and thunder at him? Or, shall we sit down beside him, and try to sympathize with him, and see things from his point of view, and strive to understand the truth which his soul is aiming at, and seize the truth for him and for ourselves, meekly instructing those who oppose themselves?"
Our subject to-day is the glory of the Divine Son. In that miracle "He manifested forth his glory." Concerning that glory we say:-
1. The glory of Christ did not begin with that miracle: the miracle only manifested it. For thirty years the wonder working tower had been in Him. It was not Diviner power when it broke forth into visible manifestation than it had been when it was unsuspected and unseen. It had been exercised up to this time in common acts of youthful life: obedience to His mother, love to His brethren. Well, it was just as Divine in those simple, daily acts, as when it showed itself in a way startling and wonderful. It was just as much the life of God on earth when He did an act of ordinary human love or human duty, as when He did an extraordinary act, such as turning water into wine. God was as much, nay more, in the daily life and love of Christ, than he was in Christ's miracles. The miracle only made the hidden glory visible. The extraordinary only proved that the ordinary was Divine. That was the very object of the miracle. It was done to manifest forth his glory. And if, instead of rousing men to see the real glory of Christ in His other life, the miracle merely fastened men's attention on itself, and made them think that the only glory which is Divine is to be found in what is wonderful and uncommon, then the whole intention of the miracle was lost.
Let us make this more plain by an illustration. To the wise man, the lightning only manifests the electric force which i a everywhere, and which for one moment has become visible. As often as he sees it, it reminds him that the lightning slumbers invisibly in the dew-drop, and in the mist, and in the cloud, and binds together every atom of the water that be uses in daily life. But to the vulgar mind the lightning is something unique, a something which has no existence but when it appears. There is a fearful glory in the lightning because he sees it. But there is no startling glory and nothing fearful in the drop of dew, because he does not know, what the thinker knows, that the flash is there in all its terrors. So, in the same way, to the half believer a miracle is the one solitary evidence of God. Without it he could have no certainty of God's existence.
But to the true disciple a miracle only manifests the power and love which are silently at work everywhere-as truly and as really in the slow work of the cure of the insane, as in the sudden expulsion of the legion from the demoniac-as divinely in the gift of daily bread as in the miraculous multiplication of the loaves. God's glory is at work in the growth (of the vine and the ripening of the grape, and the process by which grape-juice passes into wine. It is not more glory, but only glory more manifested, when water at his bidding passes at once into wine. And be sure that if you do not feel as David felt, God's presence in the annual miracle, that it is God, which in the vintage of every year causeth wine to make glad the heart of man, the sudden miracle at Capernaum would not have given you conviction of His presence. "If you hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will you be persuaded though one rose from the dead." Miracles have only done their work when they teach us the glory and the awfulness that surround our common life. In a miracle, God for one moment shows Himself that we may remember it is He that is at work when no miracle is seen.
Now this is the deep truth of miracles which most men miss. They believe that the life of Jesus was Divine, because He wrought miracles. But if their faith in miracles were shaken, their faith in Christ would go. If the evidence for the credibility of those miracles were weakened, then to them the mystic glory would have faded off His history. They could not be sure that His existence was Divine That love, even unto death, would bear no certain stamp of' God upon it. That life of long self-sacrifice would have had in it no certain unquestionable traces of the Son of God.
See what that implies. If that be true, and miracles are the best proof of Christ's mission, God can be recognized only in what is marvellous: God can not be recognized in what is good. It is by Divine power that a human Being turns water into wine. It is by power less certainly Divine that the same Being witnesses to truth-forgives His enemies-makes it His meat and drink to do His Father's will, and finishes His work. We are more sure that God was in Christ when be said, "Rise up, and walk," than when He said with absolving love, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee:" more certain when He furnished wine for wedding-guests, than when He said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Oh, a strange, and low, and vulgar appreciation this of the true glory of the Son of God; the same false conception that runs through all our life, appearing in every form-God in the storm, and the earthquake, and the fire-no God in the still small voice. Glory in the lightening-flash-no glory and no God in the lowliness of the dew-drop. Glory to intellect and genius-no glory to gentleness and patience. Glory to every kind of power-none to the inward, invisible strength of the life of God in the soul of man.
"An evil and an adulterous generation seeketh after a sign." Look at the feverish eagerness with which men crowd to every exhibition of some newly-discovered force, real or pretended. What lies at the bottom of this feverishness but an unbelieving craving after signs? some wonder which is to show them the Divine life of which the evidence is yet imperfect? As if the bread they eat and the wine they drink, chosen by God for the emblems of His sacraments because the commonest things of daily life, were not filled with the presence of His love; as if God were not around their path and beside their bed, and spying out all their daily ways.
It is in this strange way that we have learned Christ. The miracles which were meant to point us to the Divinity of His goodness, have only dazzled us with the splendor of their power. We have forgotten what His first wonder work shows, that a miracle is only manifested glory.
2. It was the glory of Christ, again, to sanctify, i. e., declare the sacredness of, all things natural-all natural relationships, all natural enjoyments.
All natural relationships. What He sanctified by His presence was a marriage. Now remember what had gone before this. The life of John the Baptist was the highest form of religious life known in Israel. It was the life ascetic. It was a life of solitariness and penitential austerity. He drank no wine: be ate no pleasant food: he married no wife: he entered into no human relationship. It was the law of that stern and in its way sublime life, to cut out every human feeling as a weakness, and to mortify every natural instinct, in order to cultivate an intenser spirituality. A life in its own order grand, but indisputably unnatural.
Now the first public act of our Redeemer's life is to go with His disciples to a marriage. He consecrates marriage, and the sympathies which lead to marriage. He declares the sacredness of feelings which had been reckoned carnal, and low, and human. He stamped His image on human joys, human connections, human relationships. He pronounces that they are more than human-as it were sacramental: the means whereby God's presence comes to us; the types and shadows whereby higher and deeper relationships become possible to us. For it is through our human affections that the soul first learns to feet that its destiny is divine: It is through a mortal yearning, unsatisfied, that the spirit ascends, seeking a higher object: It is through the gush of our human tenderness that the immortal and the infinite in us reveals itself Never does a man know the force that is in him till some mighty affection or grief has humanized the soul. It is by an earthly relationship that God has typified to us and helped us to conceive the only true espousal-the marriage of the soul to her eternal Lord.
It was the glory of Christianity to pronounce all these human feelings sacred: therefore it is that the Church asserts their sacredness in a religious ceremony; for example, that of marriage. Do not mistake. It is not the ceremony that makes a thing religious: a ceremony can only declare a thing religious. The Church can not make sacred that which is not sacred: she is but here on earth as the moon, the witness of the light in heaven; by her ceremonies and by her institutions to bear witness to eternal truths. She can not by her manipulations manufacture a child of the devil, through baptism, into a child of God: she can only authoritatively declare the sublime truth-he is not the devil's child, but God's child by right. She can not make the bond of marriage sacred and indissoluble: she can only witness to the sacredness of that which the union of two spirit has already made: and such are her own words. Her minister is commanded by her to say-"Forasmuch as these two persons have consented together," there is the sacred fact of nature, "I pronounce that they be man and wife"-here is the authoritative witness to the fact.
Again, it was His glory to declare the sacredness of all natural enjoyments. It was not a marriage only, but a marriage:feast, to which Christ conducted His disciples. Now we can not get over this plain fact by saying that it was a religious ceremony: that would be mere sophistry. It was an indulgence in the festivity of life; as plainly as words can describe, here was a banquet of human enjoyment. The very language of the master of the feast about men who had well drunk, tells us that there had been, not excess of course, but happiness there and merry-making.
Neither can we explain away the lesson by saying that it is no example to us, for Christ was there to do good, and that what was safe for Him might be unsafe for us. For if His life is no pattern for us here in this case of accepting an invitation, in what can we be sure it is a pattern? Besides, He took His disciples there, and His mother was there: they were not shielded, as He was, by immaculate purity. He was there as a guest at first, as Messiah only afterwards: thereby He declared the sacredness of natural enjoyments.
Here again, then, Christ manifested His peculiar glory. The temptation of the wilderness was past: the baptism of John, and the life of abstinence to which it introduced, were over; and now the Bridegroom comes before the world in the true glory of Messiah-not in the life of asceticism, but in the life of Godliness-not separating from life, but consecrating it; carrying a Divine spirit into every simplest act accepting an invitation to a feast-giving to water the virtue of a nobler beverage. For Christianity does not destroy what is natural, but ennobles it. To turn water into wine, and what is common into what is holy, is indeed the glory of Christianity.
The ascetic life of abstinence, of fasting, austerity, singularity, is the lower and earthlier form of religion. The life of Godliness is the glory of Christ. It is a thing far more striking to the vulgar imagination to be religious after the type and pattern of John the Baptist, to fast, to mortify every inclination, to be found at no feast, to wrap ourselves in solitariness, and abstain from all social joys: yes, and far easier so to live, and far easier so to win a character for religiousness. A silent man is easily reputed wise. A man who suffers none to see him in the common jostle and undress of life, easily gathers round him a mysterious veil of unknown sanctity, and men honor him for a saint. The unknown is always wonderful. But the life of Him whom men called "a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners," was a far harder and a far heavenlier religion.
To shroud ourselves in no false mist of holiness: to dare to show ourselves as we are, making no solemn affectation of reserve or difference from others: to be found at the marriage-feast: to accept the invitation of the rich Pharisee Simon, and the scorned publican Zaccheus: to mix with the crowd of men, using no affected singularity, content to be "creatures not too bright or good for human nature's daily food:" and yet for a man amidst it all to remain a consecrated spirit, his trials and his solitariness known only to his Father-a being set apart, not of this world, alone in the heart's deeps with God: to put the cup of this world's gladness to his lips, and yet be unintoxicated: to craze steadily on all its grandeur, and yet be undazzled, plain and simple in personal desires: to feel its brightness, and yet defy its thrall:-this is the difficult, and rare, and glorious life of God in the soul of man. This, this was the peculiar glory of the life of Christ, which was manifested in that first miracle which Jesus wrought at the marriage-feast in Cana of Galilee.