THE SAVIOUR IN A SINFUL WORLD
CAROLINE FRY (1787Â—1846)
Christ, our Example
Jesus was a holy being, dwelling for a short season among sinful creatures in the dominions of that prince of this world, between whose seed and Himself there had been enmity from the beginning. How was it to be expected that such a one would live in such a world? Doubtless, had He consulted His own feelings, He would have withdrawn Himself from all contact with creatures of a character and destiny so unlike His own. He would have spared Himself their insults and reproaches, the sight of their sufferings, and the disgust of their sins, by living secluded till the hour of expiation came. This He did not; He could not thus have accomplished the Father’s will or fulfilled the purposes of His existence here. It is difficult to understand the delusion of those mistaken ones who have thought to follow Christ by a life of solitude and abstraction; soldiers that hid themselves in the day of battle; labourers that took shelter from the heat and burden of the day. In our time there is not much temptation to seclusion; but if anyone under the influence of a fervid piety feels disposed to leave the station in which Providence has placed him on account of the obstacles it opposes to his principles, he should well consider before he recedes whether they are difficulties or impossibilities: if the latter, he must fly from them. God places no man in a situation in which he cannot live a holy and religious life; therefore, come there how he may, he is not where God would have him be and must withdraw at any sacrifice;Â—but if the former, Christ never fled from difficulties, never shunned obloquy, nor hid Himself from opposition. Or when the newly awakened spirit feels the ties of natural connexion become onerous by reason of uncongeniality of sentiment, much is to be considered before those ties are severed. We must leave all for Christ, but then we must be sure it is for Christ; we must be sure it is not to lighten our own cross by flying from the influence we might have resisted and escaping the opposition we might have borne with. No earthly tie or earthly duties can be pleaded in excuse for sin. It is impossible; because God never places any man in such an opposition of claims that one or other of His laws must be broken.
There is a first commandment and the second is like unto it; they can never stand in competition. Perhaps we mistake our social duties, calling by that name some sinful compliances which stain our conscience whilst we want courage to refuse them. Perhaps the temptation to sin arising from our new connexions does not so much proceed from without as from within: we fear their censures when we should only bear with them; we desire their approbation when we know it to be against the mind of God. Thus it is our feelings,
rather than our connexions, that require to be changed. If no duty binds us to them and no bonds of Providential appointment unite us, we may better show our honest fear of sin and willingness to part with all for God by removing from the temptation than presuming on our power to overcome it. But we must not break the ties of nature where we need only loosen them. We must not cease to love where we should only love differently; and in all cases we must be sure it is the fear of sinning against our principles, not the fear of disgrace and difficulty in maintaining them, that induces us to abandon our position in life and hide ourselves from the legitimate intercourse of society. This did not Christ. “I spake openly to the world: in secret have I said nothing.”
On the other hand, Christ never wilfully exposed Himself to temptation. Pure and sinless as He was, and all-powerful to resist it as He knew Himself to be, Jesus did not go of His own choice into the wilderness to try His strength against the tempter. Wherever that event is mentioned, it is distinctly said. He “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,” an expression peculiar to those passages, as if on purpose to distinguish that act from every other of His life and show us that He, even He, went not willingly to meet His Father’s enemy and listen to the language of seduction. What a lesson, what a reproof! We, predisposed as we are to sin, incapable of resisting it as we know ourselves to beÂ—do we go boldly and without necessity where Satan keeps his court, where he spreads his blandishments, where he knows we must meet him, and either defeat his wiles or be seduced by them? Do we venture to say that if our own principles are good there is no risk to us in any company, in any place? Can we walk side by side with the enemies of God and sit in the councils of sinners, without any danger of being seduced from our allegiance to God? Jesus was not thus bold. If we set one step into the wilderness of temptation without the leading of the Spirit, unless for the fulfilment of some known command, we follow not in the footsteps of our Lord. God took Him there that He might in all things be more than conqueror. God may take us there: and if He does, it will be to conquer too. But of those who go thither unbidden to break a lance with the enemy for pastime; or, knight-errant like, to free the world from his enchantments, let no one think he does as Jesus did.
Next, of the choice our Saviour made of His companions. We all have companions, associates, friends; individuals more or less numerous, with whom we pass our time and hold a more intimate converse than with the world at large, exclusively of our domestic ties. I include all voluntary intimacies. The choice that Jesus made was so contrary to what men thought it should be, as to be an occasion of scandal and reproach: “A friend of publicans and sinners.” The charge was false; Jesus never chose profligacy or immorality for His companions; He endured their presence to accomplish His purpose of calling sinners to
repentance; but He abode not with them; He lived not in their intimacy. Men did not know, or would not know, that it was converted sinners, sanctified publicans, Jesus took for His companions; He changed their hearts when He chose them into His bosom. The favourite disciples, the family of LazarusÂ—all whom He particularly loved in earthly fellowship, whatever they had been before, became, by His influence, like-minded with Himself. Thus were they fittest and the only fit; they were servants of His God and children of His Father: “My God and your God. My Father and your Father.” He saw in them the crown of His rejoicing, the fruit of His Spirit, the companions of His eternity. With such only did Jesus hold the intercourse of friendship. He had intercourse with others in the common walks of life; in the streets, in the market-places, in the synagogues, wherever He could obtain a hearing from them; He sat as a guest at their tables, but still, as we shall presently observe, for the same purpose. Neither the Pharisee who mistook the way of life, nor the Sadducee who despised it, nor any subject whatsoever of the kingdoms of this world, became the companion of the Holy Jesus, save only “the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.”
As with the Master, so with the servant. The world wonders now, as it did then, at the exclusiveness of the Christian’s preference. Why like only the society of those who exactly agree with you in matters of religion? why not the good of all sorts? There are the moral, the intellectual, the agreeable. They may not be quite so spiritual as you could wish, but they are a great deal better company than the people of God! Jesus did not think so. His followers cannot think so, if they be in any wise like-minded with Himself. And in fact they do not. John says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” That very preference was a mark of their renewed state. And it is a mark now, and ever will beÂ—a distinctive feature of the recovered image of our Lord, with this peculiarity, that it is more visible than most other traces of His likeness; for whether it be understood or not, it is immediately perceptible to all.
Let me not be misunderstood: I do not say that the pleasure we take in some religious company is a proof of our fellowship with Christ. The times are peculiar in this respect. We live in an age when the religious are also the refined, the sensible, the cultivated, and we may like their company on that account. Religious conversation too is become very animating, very interesting; its themes are among the favourite topics of the day; there is as much opportunity for wit, and sentiment, and knowledge, and feeling, to exercise themselves, and charm their auditors, as in any other manner of discourse. Nature can love all this: it always did. Crowds followed wheresoever Jesus went: hundreds listened whenever He spoke. Unbelievers invited Him to their
feasts as the world now invites some eminent preacher or pious writer to gratify their company and hears his words; for the same purpose as they invite on the morrow a skilful musician or a sceptic poet. This is not that love of the brethren which John spake of; which Jesus manifested. That is a constant and exclusive preference which nature never felt. It is not the natural man that is beloved: it is the new name written on his forehead, the traces of the divine image drawn upon his bosom. It is loved wherever it is seen: it is loved in proportion as it is seen: it is loved in all conditions, amidst all alloy, and it is loved exclusively. Yes, exclusively;Â—because the preference which the people of God feel for each other as such, is quite distinct from every other preference.
I do not say it is the only love. There is the love of general benevolence due to all, the love of domestic relationship commanded by God, the love of natural assimilation implanted in our nature. Jesus knew some of them: but there was a preference that superseded them in a choice of His companions. They are not forbidden to us; but the time is coming when all must be supersededÂ—the tie must be severed, the charm must be dissolved, and the bosom’s sympathy be foregone for ever; we shall have only and love only those who are united with us in Christ. Can that be nothing now which must so soon be all? Impossible. On the contrary, every step that we advance in the divine life, this preference gains ground on every other. We may not have said to ourselves at the outset, I will change my friends: we may not have light enough to see the necessity of separation, nor grace enough to believe it, nor strength enough to effect it. But when we enter by the strait gate, our companions do not follow; as we walk in the narrow way, they are not by our side; insensibly the distance grows between us, and we soon perceive that we have changed our friends. There are a few cold efforts at reunion;
they come a little way upon our path to seek us, but it is too strait for them, they cannot walk there, they do not like the company; and though they scarce know why, they find us not the same we used to be: “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature.” Bygone associations may induce us to go awhile with them; but this is alike impossible. The broad-road company seem as much changed to us as we to them, although not really so. We wonder at its dullness and insipidity, and at ourselves that ever we found pleasure in it: “Old things are passed away:
all things are become new.” Reunion is impossible: our fresh-turned spirits can no longer sound one note in unison with theirs: our altered hopes and joys and feelings meet with no response. If we are compelled to stay, like them, in Babylon we hang our joyless harps upon the willows: we cannot sing the Lord’s song where all is heartless dissonance. Could the children of this world take one glance into the bosom of a child of God, to see the pained weariness of the renewed spirit in an assembly which they call gay, at a table which they
call convivial, they would learn more of the reality of the change than could be taught them by a thousand sermons.
But while worldly attachments are unloosed and the zest of worldly associations dies away, does the Christian bosom become a desert?Â—does the breath of the Spirit, like the autumn blast, consign it to wintry barrenness? Far from it: his feelings are changed, not blunted; his affections are transferred, not chilled. Nay. there is a warmth of attachment in God’s adopted family of which nothing is known in the selfish intercourse of the world’s society. It is thus described: “Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member he honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” This corporate sensitiveness is so perceptible as to become a cause of scandal and reproach. Men call it party spirit; eagerness to defend people, because they happen to be of our way of thinking; prejudice, partiality, because they are saints. Well, let it be all of these: we know to whom it was first said, “When saw we thee an hungred?” and Who first answered, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Where shall we find in all the world a union so intimate, a tie so strong? Let us never clear ourselves from such a charge. Preference for God’s people is the very badge of our profession. But if it be seen on the other hand, as, alas! it too often may, that these feelings of fellowship are wanting where they should be found; that the children of God’s family do not love each other now, as they did when they were a despised and persecuted few; let us confess it and be ashamed.
It is no sign of the vigour of the divine life within us:
it is no feature of the renewed image of our Lord, that we should feel equal interest in His friends and His enemies: that if we are told such a one is pious, it is no commendation to our notice;
and if we perceive them to be so, it makes no way to our affections till we can discover what they are beside. It was not so with Christ. He loved the impress of His Father’s grace, whether appearing in the impetuous zeal of Peter, the guileless integrity of Nathanael, or the gentleness of the beloved apostle. Must I say anything to those who like to find pious people in the wrong; and, when they are in the wrong, feel triumph of a rival rather than the shame of a brother? Or to those who have no objection to religious society upon occasions; find people amiable notwithstanding they are saints, and like them very well in spite of their devotions? The heart is said to be deceitful above all things; but his must be deceitful above all other hearts who can persuade himself that, so speaking, so feeling, he is of the mind of Him who chose no company on earth but these, and will have none other in heaven.
But Jesus did enter into other company. And why? He gives the reason for Himself.Â—He came not “to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Whenever there was a sinner Jesus had
businessÂ—His Father’s business. No sinful pleasure took Him there; it was not the social cheer or the unhallowed mirth; He never sat a silent spectator of ungodly sports. As if to make a mistake on this point impossible, there is no instance given of His going to a feast except we are also told what passed there. In what character did Jesus appear? in what character was He invited? At the marriage of Cana, which preceded His public ministry. His mother being also present, it is probable He was bidden as an ordinary guest; but not the smallest reason is given us to suppose that this was an ungodly assembly or any other than an innocent festivity on an occasion of domestic rejoicing. It was probably an entertainment of the poor, or the wife of the carpenter and his reputed son might not have been among the guests;
and the friends of Mary were likely to be those who feared the Lord. The paucity of provisions rather confirms the former supposition. A supply of hospitable refreshment might be miraculously given; but Jesus would not have put forth the energies of His Deity to gratify sensual appetite and promote excess.
In all other instances Christ was not bidden as an ordinary guest. He who was always in the streets, followed by multitudes, denounced by the authorities, preaching strange doctrines, and performing miraculous works, was the wonder and excitement of the day, whether men believed Him to be a prophet or impostor. All who invited Him, invited Him as such; expecting, no doubt, some manifestation of His extraordinary pretensionsÂ—and they were never disappointed. Jesus appeared always in His own peculiar character, a preacher of righteousness, a warning prophet, a witness for the Father. There is not an instance of His having sat at meat with sinners without reproving their iniquities; or sharing the hospitality of unbelievers without forcing them to listen to the words of truth. Wherever He was. He was about His Father’s business,Â—”Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.” If He had not. He would not have been at Simon’s table. The Captain of our salvation never hid His colours. He never passed in company for one who came to do as others did, who thought no otherwise than the convivial, unbelieving. God-forgetting circle round Him. Not only did He never forget His own character but He never allowed it to be forgotten or mistaken.
Are the followers of Christ in doubt where they should go? Are His people at a loss to know in what circle they may visit? Wherever they can do as Jesus did. Wherever sin will be discountenanced by the manifestation of their holiness, or thought-lessness be removed by the expression of their piety. Wherever they can say, “I have something to say to thee” from God. In short, wherever they can keep their light so burning that it will give light to all that are in the house. It must nowhere be hidden, nowhere be extinguished. When it begins to burn dim, when we feel less conscious of the divine life in our souls, less value for it, and less willingness to show it, when our thoughts are diverted
from God, and indisposed for prayer, it is time to recede from the unhallowed atmosphere, as the recovering invalid shrinks from the chill which recalls the symptoms of the disease. When men of the world take no offence at our religion, delight in our company, and cease to perceive any difference between themselves and us, it is time to remove our candle; it gives no light, it will go out and we shall be left in darkness.
There is a difference in this respect between ourselves and our divine Example; He could not be corrupted by association with sinners. Himself all purity, all strength, He incurred no risk by anything. But I think we need take no account of this difference. Christ is a perfect example;
He never presumed on His own safety to do what would be unsafe to usÂ—He never braved evil because He had the power to resist itÂ—He could not make pastime of the world’s vanities, and countenance its delusions, because secure from their contagion;
and as Christ never acted on His strength to go where His Father’s business did not call Him, so we need never act upon our weakness to draw back when the same business demands our presence. His strength is ours, to use it as He used it; His Spirit is with us, to go where He would have gone. If our purpose in mixing with the world is as single as His was, and our bearing and conversation are conformable to our purpose, all will be safe to us as it was safe to Him. But then to us, as to Him, all will be uncongenial, all unsuitable; intercourse with ungodliness will be an effort of self-denying love, made for the accomplishment of our Father’s will, for the fulfilment of our duties, the promotion of religion, and the salvation of sinners.
And what would be the consequences of such an assimilation?Â—the same as it was with Christ. The world would not have usÂ—would not bear us. The children of this world will never endure the high, consistent bearing of a child of God. “Whom makest thou thyself?” It is a high bearing. The believer comes into worldly company professing to know what those around him know not. He despises the things they hold in esteem, and sets no value on their applause. He refuses to conform to their fashions, or obey their rules, or speak their language. He will not enter into their amusements, and the reason he will not is because they are too frivolous, or too corrupt to become his character and expectations. This is a high assumption: no meekness, no lowliness of spirit will make it pass. He who was all goodness, could not reconcile the world to this. “For a good work we stone thee not; but because thou makest thyself God.” No terms of self-abasement in which we can clothe our pretensions avail us anything. We may confess with Paul that we are chief of sinners; with Job, that we abhor ourselves in dust and ashes; that we are even brands plucked from the burning, the elevation on which we assume to stand by grace is still the same rock of offence. Men
do not believe it, and they cannot forgive it. They will forgive us if we will conceal it, forbear it in words, and deny it in our deeds; if we will reserve our wedding garments for fit occasions, and appear in their company dressed in earthly fashion; if we will forget our Father’s house, and feed contentedly on their husks of vanityÂ—they would have borne with Jesus on such terms! If He would have withdrawn His claim to be the Son of GodÂ—if He would have denied before Pilate that He was a king. He need not have been crucified. Let us not believe that men will bear in us, miserable sinners like themselves, with nothing to show why we should be better or more beloved than theyÂ—no proofs of our adoption, but that Spirit within us which we cannot make manifest to unbelieversÂ—let us not believe that society will bear in us what it could not in Him who had all power and holiness to prove His Sonship. If we do in all company what Jesus did, society will soon discard us. They will not bear our indifference to their exhortations, and still less our warnings. Let us take the cross in our hands, and Christ’s name upon our lips, and the seal of the Spirit on our forehead, and walk before all men in the narrow road that leads to everlasting life, we shall soon be disembarrassed of all worldly company.
Young converts think and talk much about separation from the worldÂ—the how and the why, and the how much. It is a question, then, because it is a sacrifice, because the heart is still divided. We have all reasoned, and all written, to prove we must not do what, if our hearts were wholly with God, we could not do. When more established in the faith, instead of talking of separation, we find we have left the world; or God, with the outstretched arm of providence, has rent it from us. Separate purposes, separate affections, and a separate destiny, have wrought such a chasm between us, the difficulty is now to repass it, for the business, the duties, and charities of life. It is a common expression, when people act inconsistently with their character and station, to say, “They forget themselves.” O! did the children of God never forget themselves, there would be few mistakes about their carriage in an ungodly world. If they knew always, and felt always what they are, and whither they are going, ye “shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord”Â— “one with the Father, and the Son”Â—”I in them, and thou in me”Â—a single precept would be sufficient for all instructionÂ— “Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.”