Romans 9:3
Great Texts of the Bible
Anathema from Christ

For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh.—Romans 9:3.

1. Those who have ever thought of these words at all must have thought of them with amazement. “I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ.” Anathema—that which is put under the ban and irrevocably devoted to destruction. Terrible enough would have been that word anathema, “accursed from Christ,” if it had brought with it only the thoughts which a Jewish reader would have associated with it. To come under all the curses, dark and dread, which were written in the Book of the Law; to be cursed in waking and sleeping, going out and coming in, in buying and selling, in the city and in the field; to be shunned as a leper was shunned, hated as a Samaritan was hated, shut out from fellowship with all human society that had been most prized, from all kindly greeting of friends and neighbours—this was what he would have connected with the words as their least and lowest meaning.

The Christian reader, possibly the Jewish also, would have gone yet further. The Apostle’s own words would have taught him to see more. To be delivered “unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh”; to come under sharp pain of body, supernaturally inflicted, and to feel that excruciating agony, or loathsome plague, was the deserved chastisement of a sin against truth and light; to be shut out from all visible fellowship with the body of Christ, and therefore from all communion with Christ Himself; to be as in the outer darkness while the guests were feasting in the illumined chamber, here too to be shunned by those who had been friends and brothers—this would have been the Christian thought as to excommunication in the apostolic age.

But beyond all this the Apostle found a deeper gulf, a more terrible sentence. To be anathema from Christ, cut off for ever from that eternal life which he had known as the truest and highest blessedness, sentenced for ever to that outer darkness, the wailing and gnashing of teeth—this was what he had prayed for, if it might have for its result the salvation of his brethren. He had but just asked triumphantly, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Now he is prepared, for that reward, if it were so possible, to separate himself.

2. But we must be careful not to treat the language of feeling as if it were that of reasoning and reflexion. St. Paul has proved that without Christ all men are lost, and lost hopelessly. He turns to show the abounding love of God, who in His Son has opened a way of salvation for all. He strives to express the magnitude of that salvation. Carried beyond himself, he breaks forth into the grandest of all his doxologies: “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Borne far beyond the present, and now bathed in the light of the Eternal love, he remembers the unutterable loss of those who will not go with him. Must he leave his people in their darkness? The thought wrings his heart. A counter-wave of horror rushes over him. It sweeps him from Hermon into Gethsemane. Never before, perhaps, has he approached so near the mind of Him who wept over His countrymen, crying, “O Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, and ye would not!”

His father, his mother—great Israel, with all its faults the noblest race the earth has seen; to whom first the promises were given, first the glory was offered; stem of which Christ Himself had come—these Israelites alone of all the world he sees rejecting the world’s Saviour. The Master’s own parable is in his brain. The great day is near, has come. He sees the chosen people, his own people, upon the left hand. He hears the words, “Depart from me, ye cursed!” That he sees, that he hears. For the instant he sees no more, hears no more. He cannot reason, he can only feel. “My brethren are doomed! My brethren are lost!” Love shrieks while reason reels: “Save them! Send me away, but save them! I am one, they are many.” In such a moment come the words: “I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake, … whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.”

An inferior, self-conscious spirit could not have spoken as St. Paul spoke. St. Paul himself could speak thus only when the unutterable vision had fused his soul and burned away its dross. The nearest approach to this glowing utterance was made by Moses when he too had been closeted with God, had talked with God as a man talketh with his friend, had caught enough of the Divine spirit to think of others more than of himself. Then for an instant he forgot who had taught him to love and to sacrifice; for that instant he fancied he loved men more than God loved them, and exclaimed in substance, “If thou wilt not forgive them, blot me, I pray thee, out of the book which thou hast written.” Moses had left the Divine presence but a little moment when he lost power to speak such words. Spoken deliberately, they would be blasphemy. Spoken in the supreme moment when the heaven-kindled heart melts the fetters of the intellect, they are doxologies. If we picture God in the image of a small-souled, jealous lover, of course we shall count such language blasphemous. If we remember that God is God, it will seem prayer.

When John Knox cried in an agony, “Give me Scotland or I die!” was he not setting his will against the Eternal? Was it not his business to live and work willingly, though it should not be God’s purpose to give him Scotland? Reason and reflexion are ready to answer “Yes!” What God Himself thought of John Knox’s prayer we may read in the way He answered it.

I like a bit of hyperbole in our hymns; for instance, I admire the extravagance of that verse of Addison’s—

But O eternity’s too short

To utter all Thy praise!

A gentleman said to me, “That cannot be, because eternity cannot be too short for anything.” If the Lord had put a drop of poetry into that critic’s nature he would not have dealt so hardly with the poet’s language; and if the same Lord had put a little of the fire of grace into the nature of some hard-headed commentators, they would have understood that this passage is not meant to be cut to pieces and discussed, but is intended to be taken boiling hot and poured upon the enemy, after the fashion of the olden times, when they poured melted lead or boiling pitch upon the besiegers who wished to take a tower or city. Such a text as this must be fired off red-hot; it spoils if it cools. It is a heart business, not a head business.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]

It will be our wisdom not to criticize the words, but to catch such gleams as we may of the spirit that shines through them. The text is a statement not of fact but of feeling. We will look at it first as it represents the mind of St. Paul the Christian, second as it represents the feeling of St. Paul the Patriot, and lastly as it represents the spirit of St. Paul the Preacher.


The Mind of the Christian

St. Paul had caught himself praying that he might be anathema from Christ for his brethren’s sake. In his prayer he is looking at his countrymen from the Christian standpoint. It is not their bodies but their souls that he longs for. Over them he agonizes and feels as though no sacrifice would be too great for him to make if thereby he could secure their salvation. True, St. Paul’s wish is checked, arrested in his heart; in thought, as in expression, it is imperfect; his feeling that it could not be realized keeps it from completion; so that probably there never rose before him those tremendous conditions and consequences of its fulfilment which have perplexed the critics of his words. But he cannot mean less than this: that as he thought of those with whom in God’s providence he was united by the bonds of a common kindred, and history, and nationality, and hope; as he saw them spurning their own peace, belying their true life, and falling out from that great Godward movement of mankind which they had been called and trained and singled out to lead; and as this sight, in all the pity of it, reached in him those deep capacities of joy and pain which are the strength of a man’s wider life, he felt as if no fulness or intensity or purity of personal delight could be too much for him to part with, even for ever and ever, if it were conceivable, that so his people might be brought into the peace of God through the knowledge and the love of Jesus Christ our Lord. As some have dared to die for the sake of their country, I as others for the common good have borne the parting of friends, the loss of fame and work and happiness, the taunts of inconsistency or cowardice, so to St. Paul even the everlasting joy that passes man’s understanding, even the communion that is beyond all human love, seem less decisive in their control over his desires than the thought of all his nation turning from their blindness and rebellion to adore the Saviour they had crucified, and to find rest for ever in the love they had despised.

1. St. Paul had not this spirit of himself, nor do we have it of ourselves. He was animated by the spirit of God and of Christ.

(1) God is zealous for the redemption of souls. He clad Himself with zeal as with a cloak. God so loved the world, with such exceeding might and weight of love,—pure love, undeserved love, love which had and could have no return,—that He gave, not angels, not worlds, not adopted or created sons, but His only begotten co-equal Son to death, that man might live.

(2) And who can speak of the spirit of Christ—the spirit of Him who became as one of us, who dwelt eternally in the bosom of His Father’s love, and thence, from His royal throne, came to take the sinful infirmities of our human nature? Throughout His earthly life He commanded winds, seas, the dead, and they obeyed Him; His creative Word passed upon the bread and it was multiplied. He died only because He willed; He rose when He willed. But for us and for our salvation He willed all His life long to suffer. Such was His zeal for souls, that they said of Him, “He is beside himself.” He had the same zeal for a single soul as for His whole people. He beheld and loved each single soul with an undivided love. He loved one soul with the same love as the whole human race. The conversion of one sinful, disordered woman is to Him “meat and drink.” One lost sheep, one prodigal, one son who repented and did his Father’s will, which he had insolently refused, pictures at once each single soul and all for whom He died. Each one He lays on His shoulders, and bears to His home, the heavenly courts. He falls on the neck of each single penitent, and gives him the kiss of peace. Each returned sinner, who at last does His will, He owns as having ever done it. During life, He was straitened until His Baptism in His own blood was accomplished. His love was pent in, as it were, His spirit was held in, confined, pressed together, not allowed to expand itself, as it would, in love, until that awful hour, when, rejected by those whom He came to save, He seemed to be forsaken by God also.1 [Note: E. B. Pusey.]

2. St. Paul’s spirit was not that of a beginner in the Christian faith.—A man’s religion, like most else within him, often begins in selfishness. If it is true religion, it cannot end in selfishness. The child sees in his mother at first only the reservoir of food and comfort. He seeks her bosom for his own sake. By and by he will love her in another way. Not what he can gain from her, but what he can do for her, then becomes his quest. “What must I do to be saved?”—that is often the sinner’s first cry. Religion is a fleet of life-boats: leap into them, cut away from the sinking vessel, row hard each for himself! “What must I do to be saved?” With that cry the sinner may come to Christ. But if he tarries with Jesus the cry will change into, “What may I do to save?”

Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,

May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;

While he who walks in love may wander far,

But God will bring him where the Blessed are.2 [Note: Henry Van Dyke.]

3. Such a spirit knows the joy of the Lord.—St. Paul himself, at the very moment when he prayed that he might be accursed from Christ, was entering more fully into the joy of his Lord than he had ever done before, because then, more than ever, that mind was in him which was also in Christ Jesus. As the Master “did not count equality with God a thing to be snatched at as a prize, but emptied himself” even of the “glory which he had with the Father before the world was,” of the conscious energy of the Divine attributes, so did the servant count that the glory yet to be revealed was not “a prize” for himself, was content, even while he pressed forward to the mark of his high calling, to forgo even that, and to “empty himself” also of the blessings of the adoption and the promises. And therefore the joy of the servant also, like that of the Master, was unspeakable and full of glory. As the heart knew its own bitterness, the bitterness of that self-surrender, so there was a joy with which the stranger did not intermeddle.

When Bishop Hannington was only a curate in Devonshire, he gave himself to Christ, and was at length able to write, “I know now that Jesus Christ died for me, and that He is mine, and I am His.” He had surrendered himself wholly to Christ. “I am His.” Now look at the love that broadened and deepened in the self-surrendered soul. In 1882 he started from the coast of Africa for the interior. He was beset with difficulties, but the love within him was unmoved. On the first of August he wrote the beautiful, triumphant words, “I am very happy. Fever is trying, but it does not take away the joy of the Lord, and keeps me low in the right place.”1 [Note: J. A. Clapperton.]

The Joy of Christ in His Sacrifice was the joy of man under conditions of heroic unselfishness. The Joy which was set before Him in His Sacrifice was in part this: that He perceived with the delight of heroic unselfishness how His sufferings were preparing Him an access into human hearts, an avenue to their deepest confidence. To one who deeply loves humanity, whose passion is the passion of helpfulness, there are moments when suffering, whether of mind or of body, seems worth all it costs, because of the added power that comes through it to understand those who suffer, and to gain their confidence. Though we may have known hours of darkness, hours of humiliation, hours when the burden of living seemed greater than we could bear, who regrets the sufferings of those hours, if, by means of them, we learned to read the secret of humanity’s sorrow in a way that fitted us to meet humanity’s need?2 [Note: C. C. Hall.]

A touching legend of filial piety has connected itself with one of the great bells in a temple near Peking. A famous worker in metals, it is said, had received the Emperor’s command to cast a bell of unusual size, the tone of which was to surpass in richness and melody all other bells. Severe penalties were threatened if he came short of the wishes of his exacting master. He tried and failed, tried and failed again, and was upon the point of giving up his task in despair. At this crisis in his fortunes, his only daughter, a maiden of great beauty and virtue, went secretly to consult an astrologer. The man of magic told her the work could be brought to a successful accomplishment only if the blood of a chaste virgin were mingled with the molten metal, when it was ready to be poured into the mould. Returning home she asked leave to watch her father’s work, and when the ingredients had been fused and were seething in the vast cauldron, in an outburst of filial piety she threw herself into the sea of fire. The bell thus cast proved of incomparable quality, and whenever it is struck, the natives of the district think they hear the girl’s dying cry, in the sweetness and pathos of its notes. Such filial piety, if achieved at all, could only be achieved through struggle and consummated in dire distress. The legend represents the last cry of the victim as a weird note of pain, a vox humana trembling up out of inscrutable abysses of tribulation. The Chinese imagination had scarcely soared into those spiritual realms where Divine love can change pain into contentment and deep joy.1 [Note: T. G. Selby.]


The Feeling of the Patriot

No sacrifice, St. Paul felt, was too great for him to make—for whom? “For my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” All Christian believers were his brethren spiritually, but it was the Jews who were his brethren by natural relationship. So let us look at St. Paul’s words as they express his patriotic spirit—his love for his fellow-countrymen and his fatherland. He has just finished his glowing description of the position and prospects of the elect people of God. And then, by contrast, the misery of the outcast people once called elect—his own people—wrings his heart with pain. The very idea that in his new enthusiasm for the Catholic Church he can be supposed to be forgetting those who are of his own flesh and blood, stirs him to a profound protest. He solemnly asseverates that the pain which Israel’s rejection causes him is acute and continuous. He has caught himself at the point of praying to be himself an outcast from Christ, if so be he could bring the people of his own kindred and blood into the Church.

For who indeed could seem to have so good a title to be there? They are the Israelites—that is, God’s own people; the eye of God was so specially upon this race that He redeemed it and made it His own son; to them was vouchsafed the shining of His continual presence in the Tabernacle; to them, in the persons of the patriarchs and of Moses, God gave special covenants, that is to say, pledged His word to them in an unmistakable manner and repeatedly that He should be their God and they should be His people; thus in pursuance of a Divine purpose they were brought under the education of the Divinely given law and ritual worship; and all this with direct and repeated promises of a more glorious position in the future to be brought about by the Divine king, the Christ who was to be. To them, finally, belongs all the sanctity which can attach to a people from having numbered among its members the holy ones of God; for of this race were the patriarchs, the friends of God; and of this race, so far as human birth is concerned, came in fact the Christ who, born a Jew, is Sovereign of the universe and ever-blessed God. Surely then, St. Paul implies, that this race, now that the Christ they were expecting is at last come, now that the goal of all God’s dealings with them is at last reached, should have fallen outside the circle of His people and should be no longer sharers in the sonship or the election would seem a result too monstrous to contemplate. The contrast between what they were and were intended for and what in present circumstances they are is indeed appalling.

1. Patriotism is not a Christian virtue.—It is not like humility, or meekness, or patient cross-bearing, which were not virtues at all till Jesus made them so. Much of the noblest patriotism that the world has known has been witnessed in countries that knew nothing of Christ Jesus: the love of country, like a mother’s love for her children, blossomed and fruited long before Christ was born. The tale of Thermopylæ is not a Christian tale, yet as an instance of patriotism it is well-nigh peerless. The most famous line in literature about dying for one’s country was written by a Roman and a pagan. The Greeks were all patriots; so are the Japanese. Long before Christ was born, and far beyond Christendom, the love of country has been powerful.

Danton the Titan rises in this hour, as always in the hour of need. Great is his voice, reverberating from the domes: Citizen-Representatives, shall we not, in such crisis of Fate, lay aside discords? Reputation: O what is the reputation of this man or of that? “Que mon nom soit flétri: que la France soit libre: Let my name be blighted: Let France be free!”1 [Note: Carlyle, French Revolution, iii. 134.]

During the Russo-Japanese War a Japanese officer wrote a letter to some friends in England. It was a very calm and business-like epistle, with little trace of sentiment. But after the signature, in true Western fashion, was a postscript, and in the postscript, as occasionally happens, was the news, for it said, “P.S.—I have just been ordered to the front, where it will be a pleasure to die for my country.” I wish all postscripts from our Christian homes were as instinct with magnificent sentiment as that. A duty? A stern necessity? Even that would have been something; but a pleasure to die!1 [Note: G. H. Morrison.]

I must be gone to the crowd untold

Of men by the cause which they served unknown,

Who moulder in myriad graves of old;

Never a story and never a stone

Tells of the martyrs who died like me,

Just for the pride of the old countree.2 [Note: Sir Alfred Lyall.]

2. But patriotism may be Christian patriotism.—Just as the sunshine falling on the trees kindles them into unsuspected splendours, and just as the love of the mother for her child has been ennobled and transfigured by Christ Jesus, so the love of one’s country, which is a common heritage implanted in the natural heart by God, has been touched into new glory by Christ Jesus.

If I were attempting a survey of the whole field of the literature of patriotism, the very first book to which I should need to ask your attention would be our sacred Scriptures; for nowhere will you find a more intense patriotism than glows in the words of some of its psalmists and prophets. And in New Testament times, when the Jewish nation had fallen upon evil days, even those who knew that her ancient glory had departed for ever still clung to her with passionate longing. Paul could wish that he himself were anathema from Christ for his brethren’s sake, his kinsmen according to the flesh. And who can forget Christ’s reverence for the great names in Jewish history, His observance of His nation’s customs, His tears over the doomed city of Jerusalem? Did He not say that He was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel? And when He sent forth His disciples on their world-wide mission did He not charge them to “begin at Jerusalem”? He who says that “Christianity kills patriotism” has misunderstood either one or the other or both.3 [Note: George Jackson, A Young Man’s Bookshelf, 132.]

(1) Let us look first of all at Jesus Christ the Patriot, and let us remember that though the patriotism of Jesus be obscured by His world-wide mission and His care for single souls, there has never moved across this earth a truer patriot than the prophet of Nazareth at whose feet we bow. He was a Jew after the flesh, and that is enough. With all the passion of a Jew He loved His country. We shall never understand Christ’s hatred of the Pharisees, nor shall we ever comprehend His tears over Jerusalem, unless we remember that the lover of mankind was also a lover of His little country. Patriotism is never so strong as when the country that inspires it is a little one. Britain is little, Switzerland is little, Japan is little, Palestine was little; and these are the countries, perhaps above all others, where love of the homeland has been supreme. Into that heritage, then, Christ Jesus entered. He was a prophet; He was the son of David. The past was alive for Him, and the hills and the lakes were dear—twice dear because consecrated with such holy memories.

Is it not a patriot of whom we read that “when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes”? Is there not deep love of country in the cry, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not”? It is a disappointed patriot who, when He finds a stranger ready to recognize in the Man of Sorrows the conqueror of disease and death, exclaims, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” In all the labour of Jesus Christ there seems to be a yearning desire that the Jewish people should be His fellow-workers, and it is only when He finds them determinedly opposed to Him that He goes to the Gentiles. It is hardly too much to say that we have evidence of the longing of the Founder of our faith that those of His own nation should be the missioners to the outside world. Few sharper pangs can have been felt by our Master than that one, to which the prophet had beforehand testified as one of the sufferings of the Messiah: “We hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not”; and to which reference is made by St. John in the first chapter of his Gospel, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”1 [Note: H. R. Wakefield.]

What is great in patriotism comes not from the love of one’s own country to the exclusion of others, but from the forgetfulness of one’s own self in the possession of a larger idea of humanity. Christ as a patriot would have been adored by the Jews, and probably recognized as the Messiah. They hated Him because He loved the Gentile.1 [Note: Lord Houghton, Life, ii. 492.]

(2) Let us look at St. Paul’s patriotism—that is, at Christian patriotism, as distinguished from all other. Christian patriotism concerns itself with the moral and the spiritual rather than the physical and the external. It can never be enough for a Christian citizen that each census gives a larger population than the last, that the Savings Banks are congested with money, that the volume of trade is swollen, that the rate of wages is rising, that the arms of the country have prevailed over foreign foes, or that we have annexed another province. For he knows that a land may be populous, and rich, and strong, and feared, whose people are miserable, and whose dependencies are spoiled. He has been taught that a nation is blessed only when its homes are full of peace and its power is used for righteousness. Patriotism must labour for the good of all and the injury of none, to build up a nation in faith towards God and love towards man. Jesus warned His contemporaries that if they persisted in their unreasoning fanaticism, the end would be a bath of blood; and can any one doubt that if the Jews had listened to His voice they would have possessed their own land to-day, and their glory have had no shadow?

He who does not desire the salvation of those who are his own kith and kin—“how dwelleth the love of God in him?” Christianity is expansive, it makes the bosom glow with love to all that God has made; but, at the same time, our love does not expand so as to lose force; and this is seen when it turns its power towards those who are nearest home. Are our neighbours unsaved? Let us lay them on our heart and cease not to plead till they are in Christ. Think much of the heathen; by all means regard India and China, and the like, but do not forget Newington Butts, and Lambeth, and Southwark. Next to our homes let our neighbourhoods be considered, and then our country, for all Englishmen are akin. Wherever we wander we are proud of our common country, and, like the Romans of old, we are somewhat quick to make known our citizenship; therefore, let us never cease to plead for this beloved island and our kinsmen according to the flesh. For his countrymen St. Paul prayed; and never let us bear within our bones a soul so deaf as to forget our native land.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]

(3) Christian patriotism recognizes that the worst enemies of a people are their sins. Christ would have said of countries what St. Paul said of himself, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness.” To the average Jew the great enemy was Rome, for Rome had enslaved Palestine. To the average Jew the first task of a true patriot was to hurl defiance at that intruding power. It is very significant and very strange that no such defiance fell from the lips of Jesus. How men would have hailed Him had He cried, “Woe unto you, ye Romans!” With His gifts and His eloquence and His Davidic birth, He would have been the hero of the people. But He never cried, “Woe unto you, ye Romans”; He cried, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees.” That, too, was the cry of a patriot, but it brought the patriot to Calvary. For it means that in the eyes of Jesus Christ there are worse enemies than spears and swords; there are national foes that can be far more deadly than the battalions of an invading army. In the long-run, if any nation perishes, it is not another’s guns, it is its own sins, that ruin it. Christ taught that by His life. Christ sealed that by His death.

It is not to be thought of that the Flood

Of British freedom, which, to the open sea

Of the world’s praise, from dark antiquity

Hath flowed, “with pomp of waters, unwithstood,”

Roused though it be full often to a mood

Which spurns the check of salutary bands,

That this most famous Stream in bogs and sands

Should perish; and to evil and to good

Be lost for ever. In our halls is hung

Armoury of the invincible Knights of old:

We must be free or die, who speak the tongue

That Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold

Which Milton held.—In every thing we are sprung

Of Earth’s first blood, have titles manifold.2 [Note: Wordsworth.]

Ruskin had to my mind one distinguishing mark of the true prophet—that he was no patriot. He was concerned with human rather than with national welfare. I am not decrying the force of patriotism, or the part it plays in the development of the human race. But there is a nobler enthusiasm than even the enthusiasm for race and nation; because the triumph of patriotism must necessarily carry with it the quenching of the aspirations of other nations, their defeat and their discomfiture. It is only tyranny on a larger scale. Ruskin no doubt miscalculated and misunderstood the nature of his countrymen, the insularity and the isolation which mark their conquering path. But no one who cares for the larger hopes of humanity can hope or dream that the end is to be limited by national greatness. That is not a popular vision in England, unless it is accompanied by a proviso that the seat of the federated government of the world shall be in London, and that English shall be the language of the human race. But Ruskin judged other nations not according to their resemblance to our own race, but by their virtue and nobility.1 [Note: A. C. Benson, Ruskin: A Study in Personality, 221.]

Once Babylon, by beauty tenanted

In pleasure palaces and walks of pride,

Like a great scarlet flower reared her head,

Drank in the sun and laughed and sinned and died.2 [Note: Richard Burton.]


The Spirit of the Preacher

Let us now look at the text as it manifests the true spirit of the preacher.

1. St. Paul the Preacher.—Some one has pointed out the striking contrast between the dominant interest with which St. Paul says, “I must also see Rome,” and that which the words would ordinarily reveal. The Apostle was eager to visit the imperial city only because he was eager to preach there also the Gospel of Christ. Every other ambition of his life had passed into this. All the waters of his soul had gathered themselves into one mighty flood to be poured through the narrows of this single purpose: “To preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which from all ages hath been hid in God who created all things.” The urgency of his message burned like a fire in his bones; his passion to win men was like a Divine constraint which gave him no rest.

2. The passion for souls, the spirit of true preaching.—Is not this passion to win men the very heart of preaching? It is the ultimate fountain of the prophetic preaching, the secret of both the pathos and the splendours of its style. “To the prophets preaching was no mere display, but a sore battle with the hard hearts of their contemporaries, in which the messenger of the Lord worked with the pity of his weakness upon him, at a supreme cost to himself and conscious that he must summon to his desperate task every resource of feeling and of art.”

It must be a passion: a fire burning with the steady flame of anthracite fed by a constant stream of oil. If it be less we will be swept off our feet by the tides all around, or sucked under by their swift current. And many a splendid man to-day is being swept off his feet and sucked under by the tides and currents of life because no such passion as this is mooring and steadying and driving his whole life. It must be a passion for winning men; not driving or dragging, but drawing. Not argument or coercion, but warm winsome wooing. To-day the sun up yonder is drawing up toward itself thousands of tons’ weight of water. Nobody sees it going, except perhaps in very small part. There is no noise or dust. But the water rises up irresistibly toward the sun because of the winning power in the sun for the water. It must be something like that in the higher sphere—winsomeness in us will win men to us, and through us to the master.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon.]

Whitefield’s favourite maxim was that a preacher, whenever he entered the pulpit, should look upon it as the last time he might preach, and the last time his people might hear. Or, take Wesley’s Journal. “There is hardly any book like it,” says Dr. Robertson Nicoll; “its shrewdness, its wit, its wisdom, its knowledge are bordered with a pale edge of fire—the spiritual passion of the great apostle’s soul.” Let one revealing sentence speak for the whole book. In 1742 Wesley visited Newcastle-on-Tyne for the first time. Never, he says, had he witnessed so much drunkenness, cursing and swearing, from the mouths of little children as well as of adults, in so short time. “Surely,” he writes, “this place is ripe for”—what? judgment? no, but—“for Him who came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”1 [Note: G. Jackson.]

3. The inspiration of this passion.—This passion for souls is the true apostolic spirit of preaching; and, be it remembered, it springs only from the true apostolic faith and experience. No man can know this vehement fervour of desire to win men for Christ who is not himself wholly swayed by that faith, and in whose soul that great experience has never repeated itself. “God give to us preachers,” said one the other day, “a perpetual sense of glad, wonderful surprise at our own salvation.” And when that prayer is answered, and we who preach preach as Brownlow North was sometimes said to preach—like one who had just escaped from a sacked and burning city, his ear still stung with the yell of the dying and the roar of the flame, his heart full of gratitude at the thought of his own wonderful escape—deaf ears will be unstopped and dead souls raised to life.

The great actor, Garrick, was asked by a clergyman why the stage seemed to have more power than the pulpit. This was his answer: “Too many preach truth as if it were fiction; we act fiction as if it were truth.”2 [Note: Francis Pigou, Odds and Ends, 153.]

With grief his head was bowèd low,

His heart, that heart so dear to me.

“Give him Thy light, O God,” I cried,

(I love him so: I love him so.)

“Give him Thy light, whate’er betide,

Let all the shadow fall on me:

And if my spirit faileth so,

Then let me die. (Lord, Thou hast died.)”

It may not be.

“Since sorrow is our lot below

I bow my head to Thy decree.

In darkness, then, let me abide,

(I love him so: I love him so.)

I will not fail although the tide

In whelming flood pass over me:

Let me but share his cross of woe.

(They pierced Thy feet and hands and side.)”

It may not be.

“Through the dread darkness must he go

Alone? Ah God, the agony

To see a soul made white and tried,

(I love him so: I love him so.)

To see a spirit purified

By Thy pure fires!—I ask of Thee

But this one gift—a heart to know

Thy love—to trust Thy mercy wide

For him—for me.”1 [Note: Margaret Blaikie, Songs by the Way, 26.]

Anathema from Christ


Clapperton (J. A.), Culture of the Christian Heart, 65.

Hall (C. C.), The Gospel of Divine Sacrifice, 131.

Jackson (G.), Memoranda Paulina, 154.

Kendrick (A. C.), The Moral Conflict of Humanity, 211.

Morrison (G. H.), The Unlighted Lustre, 96.

Paget (F.), Studies in the Christian Character, 199.

Plumptre (E. H.), Theology and Life, 30.

Pusey (E. B.), Parochial and Cathedral Sermons, 257.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxiv. (1878), No. 1425.

Wakefield (H. R.), in A Lent in London, 51.

Wright (W. B.), The World to Come, 209.

Christian World Pulpit, xxxi. 409 (Wickham); li. 273 (Fairbairn).

Preacher’s Magazine, v. (1894), 115 (Gregory); xii. (1901), 539 (Champness).

The Great Texts of the Bible - James Hastings

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