The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.Paul on the Heart
Paul could never get away from this word "saved." How much meaning he put into it as he wrote it or uttered it, we can never know. It was a great word to Paul. There are those who tell us to-day that the Church must not regard itself as a great soul-saving organisation. The statement can only be excused on the ground of its unconscious folly; or it can only be defended by assigning to the term "soul-saving" a narrow, and therefore an unapostolic and unscriptural, sense. What is soul-saving? It is not some new feat in sentimentalism, some more or less successful trick in mental metamorphosis: soul-saving is soul-creating, man-creating, man-restoring, man re-qualified for all the responsibilities of duty, for all the enjoyments of service, and for all the solemnities of the unknown destiny of the race. If you understand anything less or else by soul-saving, you are at liberty to pour your contempt on the efforts of the Church to save souls. But no man's soul can be saved without his eyes being opened and his ears, and all his faculties being quickened into new sensitiveness, into larger receptiveness, into keener association and profounder fellowship with God. When, therefore, you hear men who never knew the mystery of the soul's salvation, condemning those who seek the salvation of the soul, excuse them, if you can, on the ground that they are unconsciously and unintentionally foolish and almost profane. Paul would have men saved. He could do nothing with them until they were saved; they were plunging about in the sea until he got them saved; all their minds were in confusion and cloud and pitiful distraction until their souls were saved. He never left them without giving instructions of a disciplinary, military, and beneficent kind; he did not allow a man to say his soul was saved, and then to retire into elegant leisure, that he might nurse the soul that he supposed to be saved: instantly Paul set him to work, consumed him with the fire of sacrifice, and made him live through many a death. There is a soul-saving that is not worth thinking about. That is not the soul-saving of Christ, of Paul, of the Cross, of eternity.
In the opening of this chapter see how often the Apostle uses the word "heart": "Brethren, my heart's desire.... Say not in thine heart.... The word is in thy heart.... shalt believe in thine heart.... For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness....." When Paul gets hold of a word that has God's wine in it, he holds the goblet up until he has run every drop of that blessed wine into the souls of men. It is not tautology in the case of Paul. He is guilty of tautology who has nothing to say. He who has much to say will often say it over and over again, and even the change of words will never impair the substance and identity of the thought. Paul is now engaged with the heart of man—that is, with the heart in various aspects and uses, and it may be profitable to follow him in his sacred and animating thought.
"My heart's desire is that Israel might be saved." Is this an earnest heart? It is an earnest heart indisputably: but is there any other word that could be put here, that would express a further and a more delicate shade of meaning? What did the angels sing at the first Christmastide? "Good-will toward men." Paul's expression might be so rendered—Brethren, the goodwill of my heart is that Israel might be saved. We must not obliterate this word "goodwill." It is a domestic word, it is a sweet, simple, healthy word; we could say in strict conformity with the etymology of the text, "My longing is that Israel might be saved—my wish above all other wishes is that Israel might be saved." This might all be etymologically correct. Yet there is a sweetness about "the goodwill of my heart"—there is a womanliness about that description that suits the strong man well. Sometimes we think Paul's great strength will run away with him, and when he is in the very fury of his power some element of womanliness falls upon his passion and softens it into domestic music. Every Christian should be the trustee of goodwill for the whole world. If there is any Christian whose goodwill is limited to his own family, or to his own country, he is no Christian at all. Good-will is not a geographical term: it would be at home amid the throngs of the planets: wherever there is weakness or want, that word would take a supreme place in the language of desolation and necessity. Good-will is no stay-at-home; goodwill is not a local parishioner; goodwill is not a mere seatholder, regular in attendance and uncertain in payment; goodwill belongs to every wind, to every zone, to every sea; goodwill tarries all night that it may help some wayfarer who has lost his path; goodwill says to the blind man, Take hold of my hand, and I will guide you across this busy thoroughfare; goodwill stoops down to the little child and carries the kiss the child has not strength to raise itself and get. Good-will was part of the angels' song when the radiant host came down from the land of the morning to tell the children of men that the day was breaking upon the horizon of time. Let the Church be a brotherhood founded upon goodwill, animated by goodwill, ignorant of malice, clamour, censoriousness, and all manner of bitterness, and the Church will make itself felt yet
Was Paul unjust to anybody? Impossible. Where there is goodwill there can be no injustice. What then does he say? "I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." They are all missionaries. It is a mistake to suppose that missionaries are Christian instruments or agents only. The Jew was a missionary; he compassed sea and land that he might make the Gentiles proselytes. The Jew had something in him that he did not understand; something that had to be purified and ennobled, and bloom out into the beauty of Christian philanthropy. "They have a zeal of God": they burn for God. They know the letter of the law. Josephus says the Jew knew the law better than he knew his own name. That is zeal. The Jew overflowed "Asia Minor and Syria, and, to the great disgust of Latin historians, forced his way into Italy, and would not keep out of Rome, that he might convert the Gentiles and proselyte the Pagans. That is a zeal of God. There is nothing in zeal itself, any more than there is anything in sincerity. We are told that if a man be sincere that is enough. We deny it. We inquire, What is the man sincere about? What is the object or the motive of his sincerity? Saul was sincere when he took letters with him to Damascus, but his sincerity went for nothing when he was scorched by the white flame, and led into the city like a wounded baby—he, the murderer, led blindly into the city he meant to devastate. It is not enough for you to be zealots, to have your Bethels, and Salems, and conventicles, and cathedrals, and temples, and ministers; it is not enough for you to shut yourselves up within your own four walls, and say, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we! That is zeal; it is to be counted: but it is not "according to knowledge." The Jews knew the law and yet knew nothing about it. You cannot know any law by simply knowing the word of the law; law, if real law, anywhere, in county courts, or House of Lords, is equity turned to practical uses. Equity is an abstract term, it is a metaphysical symbol. Equity may be codified into law, but itself stretches back to eternity, and covers the very being of God. So the Bible is not so much stationery "authorised to be read, in churches"; it is a word, a logos, a spirit, a genius, an impalpable flame, an eternity. The Jews knew the law, remembered the law, quoted the law, fought for the law, counted all things but loss that they might excel one another in the knowledge of the law; and yet they knew nothing about it. It is possible to read the Bible without reading it. The Bible is in the Bible. If we could make this truth, so succinctly stated, felt, we should have new heavens and a new earth in the Church; a great Church would be created by that very doctrine, and man would touch man with a brother's sympathy, and not with a critic's suspicion. What part of the law do you know? What part of revelation fascinates you most? Make it your own, and never consider that the part is equal to the whole; remember that no one man is all men, no one Church is all the Church: we are all required—simplest, poorest blunderer in the A B C class, and the oldest angel that wrinkles the forehead of his wisdom whilst he bends over the ineffable mysteries—to make up the household of love. Fewer zealots, more Christians, must be the motto of progress.
In the sixth verse Paul seems to turn away from the earnest longing and goodwill of his own heart to describe the possibility of a speculative heart. His words are:—
"Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven?... Or, Who shall descend into the deep?" (Romans 10:6)
The Apostle passes on, but still keeps his hold upon the same theme, to say "The word is in thine heart." That is, a trusted heart, a heart that is made the depository of Divine revelation. How does the word get into the heart? Variously. Who has the key of the heart? God. There is a word of God in every heart; in some cases a long way down, and so blurred as hardly to have shape or accent. God hath not left himself without witness; everywhere there is some glint of conscience, some sting of self-reproach, or some wonder about the mystery of things, that may at any moment brighten into a realised revelation. A scribe was listening in the congregation and wondering at the fair beauteous young Man whose face was old with eternity, and yet whose voice was young with the morning's music; and when he heard that he answered them wisely, he said, "Well, Master, thou hast said the truth." That is the testimony that Christ elicits—testimony from observers, listeners, careful judges of his teaching. They listen to him and say, Yes! A thousand questions may be in charge of the angel or genius Speculation, but all the questions that the heart needs now to have answered Christ has abundantly satisfied. Be just to your best heart. Measure yourself when you are at your best. You are twenty men, and you should fix upon the real man and say, That is myself. Sometimes, even in the most iron eyes, there are indications of tears: seize that moment of sensibility, and say to your soul, Then thou art not yet dead. Sometimes an old strain of religious music will bring back all your yesterdays, and remind you of the time when you were fellow-worshippers with your father and mother, and there will be just a twinge of the heart, a sudden electric thrill: seize yourself at that moment, and say, I may yet live. There are devils enough to tell you to take the worst view of yourselves; when you are down in despair and self-disgust, they say, "That is you: what is the good of your praying, or singing, or thinking, or church going? you are almost in hell, why not go in? "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." God is born in every heart. Then he sometimes goes from the outside so to say to the inside, from the written to the receiving man, and in this sense the word of God is in thine heart. The Apostle advances and charges us to believe in this word.
"For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness."—(Romans 10:10.)
There is a great deal of confusion about the etymology of this word "heart." There are those who mark us out into mind, body, soul, heart, spirit. That analysis has its uses. The word heart is often used in the Scripture as being significant of the whole soul. Sometimes the word heart means the understanding, the intellect, the entire man, and it may do so here. "For with the heart, with the whole soul, man believeth unto righteousness." I have no objection to that construction of the grammar; at the same time there is a consciousness which precedes all grammar and will survive it. Sometimes we believe with our whole consent in a nem. con. sense; there is no hostile voting: the resolution is carried nemine contradicente. That is not enough, we want it cordially, heartily, rapturously, passionately carried; then it will not be a dead letter on the minute book of our recollection, it will be the genius, the motive, and the ardent, persistent policy of a consecrated life. In that sense, I, begging pardon of etymology, put in a word for heart, as signifying that fine accent which lights up with fire every word of reason, and solemn dictate of judgment. We are in reality what we are in our hearts.
"You may lay it down as an eternal truth," Archdeacon Farrar recently said in a sermon in St. Margaret's, "that what the Divine Majesty requires is innocence alone. You will be saved neither by opinions nor by observances, but solely by your character and life. A man is not holy merely because he observes the Rubric. He must do right." The Lord bless preachers who speak this bold morality! To hear such a voice under such a roof is to hear music under most favourable circumstances. The criticism I shall pass upon this is a criticism which the Archdeacon himself would instantly accept. Instead of saying man must "do" right I should simply say man must "be" right. The two words ought to be interchangeable and synonymous, but they are not always so in practice. A man may do right by reading the law, and yet he may miss the Christ of the law; a man may do right in going to church, and yet he may not be in church at all in any sense that really implies spiritual fellowship; his mind may be away flying on the uncertain winds, and his imagination may be distracted by the clamour of a thousand mountebanks: but when a man is—you cannot get away from that verb To Be; that is the great mother verb of all the tongues—when a man is right, everything he does is right—the motive is right, the nature is right; you have not only good work, but a good worker. "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." We cannot get the start of Christ, we cannot get to some deeper metaphysic; when we think we have discovered something original we find it marked by his blessed fingers; he has taken it up into his arms and blessed it, and only left it there to be discovered by us. He is from eternity. If we would be right, we must be in Christ; if we would be in Christ, we must go to him by way of the Cross. We cannot be left out of this. Sometimes riotous men, who have money in all their pockets, and who have only to touch the bell to call a roomful of servants, say, Ha, ha, we do not want this tragic Gospel. Nor do they; the ox in the field does not need it, the fatness of prosperity may exclude the Cross: but there comes a time when man can no longer enjoy his own luxuries, when appetite is sated by the fulness of its own delicacies, then the heart cries out, Am I an orphan? do I belong to any household? What am I? whither go I? Oh, this mystery of dying!—"the world recedes, it disappears": is there no one to touch my hand without hurting it? is there no one to touch my hand so that my hand shall touch his heart, and my heart again shall touch some kindred heart? Ah me! then ask the mockers who laughed at Christ what answer they have to the swellings of Jordan. The beauty, the blessedness, the grandeur of this Cross is, that it is most to us when we need it most.