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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : LECTURE V. COLOSSIANS i. 9.

The Christian Life by Thomas Arnold

LECTURE V. COLOSSIANS i. 9.

COLOSSIANS i.9.

We do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.

These words, on which I spoke last Sunday, appeared to contain so much, which concerns us all so deeply, and to suit the peculiar ease of many of us here so entirely, that I thought they might well furnish us with matter for farther consideration to-day. And though I noticed one particular cause, which seemed to have acted mischievously, in the last few years, upon the growth and freshness of the mind in youth, yet it would be absurd to suppose that before this cause came into existence all was well; or that if it could be removed, our progress even in worldly knowledge would henceforth be unimpeded. There are many other causes no doubt which oppose our growth in worldly wisdom; and still more which oppose our growth in the wisdom of God.

One of these causes meets us at the very beginning; it exists at this very moment; it makes it difficult even to gain your attention for what is to be said. This cause is to be found in the want of sympathy between persons of very different ages, between what must be, therefore, in the common course of nature, different degrees of thoughtfulness. It is the want of sympathy, properly speaking, which creates in these matters a difficulty of understanding; for the attention and memory are alike apt to be careless where the mind is not interested; and how can we understand that to which we scarcely listened, and which we imperfectly remember? Nature herself seems to lead the old and the young two different ways: and when the old call upon the young to be thoughtful, it seems as if they were but calling them to a state contrary to their nature; and the call is not regarded.

Is it then that we have here an invincible obstacle, which renders all attempts to inspire thoughtfulness utterly vain? and if it be so, what use can there be in dwelling upon it? None, certainly, if it were actually and in all cases invincible; but if it be every thing short of invincible, there is much good in noticing it. There is much good surely in trying to impress the great truth, that nature must be overcome by a mightier power, or we perish. There is much good in meeting and allowing to its full extent what we are so apt in our folly to regard as an excuse, and which really is the earnest of our condemnation. It is very true, and to be allowed to the fullest extent, that it is against the nature of youth in all ordinary cases to be thoughtful; that it is very difficult for you even to give your attention to serious things when spoken of, more difficult still to remember them afterwards and always. It is for the very reason because it is so difficult, because it is a work so against nature, to raise the young and careless mind to the thought of God; because it is so certain that, in the common course of things, you will not think of Him, but will follow the bent of your own several fancies or desires, that therefore He, who wills in his love to bring us to himself, knowing that without the knowledge of Him we must perish for ever, was pleased to give his only-begotten Son, that through Him we might overcome nature, and might turn to God and live.

I wish that I could increase, if it were possible, the sense which, you have of the difficulty of becoming thoughtful, so that you could but see that out of this very difficulty, and indissolubly connected with it, comes the grace of Christ's redemption. You have not strength of purpose enough to shake off folly and sin; surely you have not, or else, why should Christ have died? It is so hard to come to God; undoubtedly, so hard that no man can come unto God except God will draw him. Nature herself leads us to be careless, our very strength and spirits of themselves will not allow us to reflect. Most true; for that which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and we inherit a nature derived from him in whom we all die.

I believe that it is not idle to dwell upon tins; for it is scarcely possible but that good and earnest resolutions should often enter the minds of many of you; or, if not resolutions, yet at least wishes, wishes chilled but too soon, I fear, by the thought or feeling, that however much to will may be present with you, yet how to perform it you find not. Now, if this true sense of weakness might but lead any one to seek for strength where it may be found, then indeed it would be a feeling no less blessed than true; for it would urge you to seek God's help and Christ's redemption, instead of desperately yielding to your weakness, and so remaining weak for ever.

You may look at the prospect before you in all its reality: you may see how much must be given up, how much withstood, bow much, endured; how hard it is to alter old ways, not in itself only, but because the change attracts attention, and is received, it may be, with doubts as to its sincerity, with irony, and with sneers. There is all this before you: it cannot be denied; it must not be concealed. The way to life is not broad and easy; it is not that way which is most trodden. To pass from what we are to what we may be hereafter, from an earthly nature to an heavenly, cannot be an easy work, to be done at any time, with no effort, with no pain. It is the greatest work which is done in the whole world, it is the mightiest change; death and birth are, as it were, combined in it; but the Lord of birth and of death is at hand, to enable us to effect it. Think that this is so; and the more you feel how hard a task is set before you, the more you will be able to understand the language of joy and thankfulness with which the Scripture speaks of a human soul's redemption.

This great work may be wrought for every soul here assembled; the want of sympathy in sacred and serious things may be changed to sympathy the most intense; the carelessness of fools may be changed into spiritual wisdom. It may be wrought for all; but it is more happy to think that it will be wrought for some; -- for whom, no mortal eye or judgment can discern; but it will be wrought for some. If many should yield in despair to their enemy, yet some will resist him: if Christ be to many no more than foolishness, if his name convey nothing more than a vague sense of something solemn, which passes over the mind for an instant, and then vanishes, yet to some undoubtedly, he will be found to be the wisdom of God, and the power of God. There are some here, we may be quite sure, who will be witnesses for ever to all the world of men and angels, that what truly was impossible to nature, is possible to nature renewed and strengthened by grace.

Without such a change, it is vain, I fear, to look for any thing like wisdom or spiritual understanding; for how can such a seed be expected to grow in a soil so shallow as common thoughtlessness? and how can merely human motives have force to overcome so strong a tendency of nature? nay, how can such motives be brought to act upon the mind? for it is absolutely impossible that the middle-aged and the young should be brought into entire sympathy with each other, unless Christ's love be their common bond. Human wisdom in advanced life may be, and is to persons of strong faculties of mind, naturally pleasant: but how can it be made so to persons of ordinary faculties in early youth? There are faults which society condemns strongly, while the temptation to them in after life is slight. Persons in middle age may resist these easily, and abhor them sincerely; but how can we make young persons do the same when the temptation to commit them is strong, and the condemnation of them by their society is either very slight, or does not exist at all? And, therefore, we find that, do what we will, the same faults' continue to be common in schools, the same faults both of omission and commission; there is the same inherent difficulty of bringing persons of different ages and positions to think and feel alike, unless Christ has become possessed of the thoughts and feelings of both, and so they become one with each other in him.

But it was our Lord's charge to Peter, |Thou, when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.| As sure as it is that some who hear me are turned, or turning, or will turn, to God, so sure is it that these, be they few or many, will do something towards the strengthening of their brethren. Whatever good is to be done amongst us on a large scale, it must be done only in this way, the many half despairing prayer may be, |Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief;| but if any one is moved by Christ's call, and feels within himself that he should like to follow Christ, and to be with him always, let him cherish that work of the Holy Spirit within him, which has given him if it be only so much of the will to be saved. It is a spark which may be quenched in a moment; in itself it can give no assurance; but if any one watches it carefully, and prays that it may live and be kindled into a stronger spark, till at last it break out into a flame, then for him it is full of assurance; God has heard his prayer; and he has received the gift of the Holy Spirit, an earnest of his eternal inheritance. Will he not then watch and pray the more anxiously, lest the fruit which, is now partly formed should never ripen? Will he not see and feel that there is some reality in the things of God, that strength, and peace, and victory, are not vainly promised? Will he not hold fast the things which he has now not heard only, but known, lest by any means he should let them slip? May God strengthen such, whoever they may be, with all the might of his Spirit; and may he be with them even to the end.

But for those, -- who they are, again, we know not, nor how many; but here, also, there will too surely be some, -- for those who hear now, as they have often heard before, words which, they scarcely heed, which, have at times partially caught their attention, but have not produced in them the slightest real effect, for them the words are coming to an end; they will soon be released from the irksome bondage of hearing them; and another opportunity of grace will have been offered to them in vain. Tomorrow, and the day after, they will walk as they have walked before, the wretched slaves of folly and passion; half despairing prayer may be, |Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief;| but if any one is moved by Christ's call, and feels within himself that he should like to follow Christ, and to be with him always, let him cherish that work of the Holy Spirit within him, which has given him if it be only so much of the will to be saved. It is a spark which may be quenched in a moment; in itself it can give no assurance; but if any one watches it carefully, and prays that it may live and be kindled into a stronger spark, till at last it break out into a flame, then for him it is full of assurance; God has heard his prayer; and he has received the gift of the Holy Spirit, an earnest of his eternal inheritance. Will he not then watch and pray the more anxiously, lest the fruit which is now partly formed should never ripen? Will he not see and feel that there is some reality in the things of God, that strength, and peace, and victory, are not vainly promised? Will he not hold fast the things which he has now not heard only, but known, lest by any means he should let them slip? May God strengthen such, whoever they may be, with all the might of his Spirit; and may he be with them even to the end.

But for those, -- who they are, again, we know not, nor how many; but here, also, there will too surely be some, -- for those who hear now, as they have often heard before, words which they scarcely heed, which have at times partially caught their attention, but have not produced in them the slightest real effect, for them the words are coming to an end; they will soon be released from the irksome bondage of hearing them; and another opportunity of grace will have been offered to them in vain. Tomorrow, and the day after, they will walk as they have walked before, the wretched slaves of folly and passion; leaving undone all Christ's work, and greedily doing his enemy's. Yet even these Christ yet spares, he still calls them, he has died for them. Still the word must be spoken to them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear. It may be, that they will some day turn; and if not, Christ has perfected his mercy towards them; and Christ's servants have delivered their own souls in warning them. May there be but few of us on whom this horrible portion will fall; yet, is it not an awful thing to think of, that it will, in all human probability, fall on some? and that whoever hardens his heart, and resists the word spoken to him this day, he is one who has done as much as in him lies to make himself among that number.

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