It is written: "As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before Me; every tongue will confess to God."
I. THE LORDSHIP OF CHRIST.
1. Christian freedom is not unconditional liberty. "Ye are not your own" is the watchword of grateful service. The emancipation of a slave does not set him free from all law; he is released from degrading servitude to be useful to his country and king. Modern civilization teaches the compatibility of numerous statutes with true essential freedom. The rule of Christ is recognized and illustrated in the Acts of the Apostles, "Thou, Lord, show which of these two thou hast chosen;" "The Lord added to them daily." "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" is the first question of the new life. There would be no difficulty in any department of Church-fellowship if the authority of Christ were fully recognized. "One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren." Finances, activity, brotherly regard, all flourish where hearts are surrendered in entirety to the sway of Christ.
2. This Lordship means protection as well as government. As under Roman law' each noble patrician had his clients, whose wrongs he redressed and whose interests he promoted, so the Saviour throws the aegis of his love over his subjects, directing them by his wisdom, shielding them by his interposition. "Fear not; no man shall set on thee to harm thee." The very end of government is the welfare of the governed. Old ideas that the monarch has no duties and the people no rights have passed for ever; and we are warranted in seizing nobler conceptions of the sovereignty of God than prevailed when despotism reigned unquestioned. Let men beware lest they lop off limbs from the body of Christ, and by their divisions and excommunications rend his seamless garment.
3. The dominion of Christ may well console us as we think of the dead. He is the Lord of all worlds, has "all authority in heaven and earth." His voice comforts the bereaved, sounding amid the stillness of the sepulchre, "Fear not: I have the keys of death and of Hades." "He is not the Lord of the dead, but of the living.' The dead pass not into a dreary unillumined state; they "depart to be with Christ." And where mournful reflections on wasted lives, sudden departures, check hopeful sorrow, and memory emits little fragrance from the past; yet we may leave all in his hands who, as the supreme Architect of humanity, rejoices in restoration rather than destruction. "Shall not the Judge... do right?"
II. THE MANNER IS WHICH THIS LORDSHIP WAS WON.
1. By stooping to the condition of his subjects. He is Lord by creation, but still more by virtue of his redemptive work. Well has he earned his title who entered into our humbling nature, tasted our sorrows, and drank the cup of bitterness as our Sin Offering. He himself passed through the gloomy portals of death, and in rising again revealed both the love and the might of God. Only he can be a true Master who first subordinated himself to service. For the suffering of death is he crowned with glory and honour. He can declare, "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore." "Because I live, ye shall live also."
2. After this model, service to the Church becomes the stepping-stone to honor. Christ has furnished the pattern to his followers according to which office and rank are conferred. He who is most profitable to the body is to be most esteemed by the members. Empty sinecures are unknown in his kingdom. And if we would benefit our fellows, we must by real sympathy share their need and trouble. "He that will be greatest, let him be your minister." Christ rose as the Firstfruits, and in Christ shall all be made alive, but every man in his own rank. - S.R.A.
As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.I. UNIVERSAL.
II. COMPLETE. It includes —
1. An acknowledgment of His supremacy.
2. Submission at His feet.
3. The confession of every tongue.
II. CERTAIN. God —
1. Has sworn.
2. Is true.
3. Is able to effect it.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)Exodus 10:17; Acts 9:6). This passage is taken from Isaiah 45:23, and predicts the universal subjugation of mankind to the Divine will. This does not mean universal salvation, for there is a twofold subjugation — the one represented by Pharaoh and the other by Paul.
I. The one is by conviction of God's terrible POWER; the other, by conviction of His LOVE. An overwhelming sense of God's great power compelled Pharaoh to "bow his knee" before the Almighty. He felt that further rebellion would be his ruin; and for a moment he yielded. Paul's subjugation sprung from a conviction of God's love in Christ. The voice said to him, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." This brought him down, smote his rebellious will, reduced him to subjection. So it is ever; wicked men and devils are made to bow by a sense of God's force and God's power. Good men and angels bow from a sense of His love.
II. The one subjugation involves moral ANGUISH, the other moral ENJOYMENT. What a state of agony and alarm was Pharaoh in! But what joy came into Paul at the heavenly voice of Mercy! The one subjugation therefore involves heaven, the other, hell.
1. In the one, there is the sense of slavery; in the other, a sense of freedom.
2. In the one, there is a sense of overwhelming terror; in the other, a sense of hopefulness.
3. In the one, there is the sense of Divine favour; in the other, the sense of Divine antagonism.
III. The one becomes a ministry of DESTRUCTION to others; the other, a ministry of SALVATION. Pharaoh, the moment the panic abated, rushes on and brings destruction on himself and his hosts. Paul begins a beneficent ministry which issues in the salvation of thousands. Conclusion: In which way wilt thou be subjugated? It is not for thee to determine whether thou shalt bow thy knee or not: thy knee must bow, thy tongue must confess; but it is with thee to determine how thou wilt do it — by a sense of God's power or of His love, by coercion or by choice.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
So then every one of us shall give account of himself to GodI. BY WHOM RENDERED.
1. By ourselves.
2. Respecting all that we have done, enjoyed, or suffered.
II. BEFORE WHOM.
2. The searcher of hearts.
3. Who sees in secret and rewards openly.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
I. THE UNIVERSALITY of human accountability. "Every one of us." The old and young, rich and poor, ignorant and cultured, rejector of religion and professor, etc. "I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God."
II. ITS INDIVIDUALITY. "Of himself." Christianity, while in some aspects the true socialism, is also the great individualiser. It teaches the right use of the pronoun "I" It empties it of pride, but crowns it with responsibility. In the judgment, "the books will be opened," and amongst them Memory and Conscience. These will be quite sufficient to condemn. Their revealings have made kings tremble on their thrones, and will make sinners quake before the judgment seat of Christ.
III. ITS SOLEMNITY. It is to God. He "with whom we have to do," is the All-wise, All-holy, All-good. And all sin is against Him, though it be also against His creatures. Conclusion: Our subject gives light —
1. On our tendency to pass judgment on others. We may not judge; but we all must be judged.
2. On the intervention of sacerdotal authority. All priestism is, by the principles of our text, cleared away, that the relationship of man to God may be intense, close, vivid.
3. The erection of social standards of right and wrong. We are to guide our life, not by maxims of markets, professions, Churches, but the law of Him to whom we must give account.
(U. R. Thomas.)
Essex Congregational Remembrancer.I. THE ACCOUNT TO WHICH THE TEXT REFERS (ver. 10) is —
1. Certain. It must be given.
2. Individual. "Every one of us."
3. Particular. Every one shall give an account "of all the deeds done in the body."
4. Near. Though the reference is to the day of judgment, death will summon us to an immediate interview with our Judge.
II. THE BEING TO WHOM THIS ACCOUNT MUST BE GIVEN. God.
1. Who is omniscient, and cannot therefore be deceived (Psalm 139:1-4).
2. Who is just, and cannot therefore be biased in His decisions (Romans 2:6-11).
3. Who is omnipotent, and able therefore to carry into full effect the sentence which He pronounces.
III. THE INFLUENCE WHICH THE PROSPECT SHOULD HAVE UPON YOU. It should induce you —
1. To apply immediately to Christ for His saving grace, and to devote yourselves unreservedly to His service.
2. Solemnly to think of your last account, until your souls are affected with such a strong and abiding sense of it, as shall give it an influence on your whole conduct.
(Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
I. LET US REGARD THE INDIVIDUAL IN RELATION TO HIMSELF. "Every one of us shall give account of himself." The exact meaning of the words is more specific: it is concerning himself, just as if a steward were called to give account of the particular properties entrusted to his management. God has laid to every man's charge the care of himself; not to each man the care of some other man; the dying flesh, but above all the never-dying soul. I do not mean that each man's care is to be a selfish one for himself alone, or that we are not called to labour for other men's souls as well as for our own. But this still springs from our solemn charge of ourselves. It must be our opportunities and powers, not the opportunities and powers of other men, of which we must make use. It is still the right use of ourselves, though it be for the good of others, for which we are responsible.
II. LET US LOOK AT THE INDIVIDUAL IN RELATION TO OTHER MEN, and to our actions in common with other men. Man can never act alone, and least of all in this age of associated effort. We act together, and thus we gain an idea of common action in which we drown out of sight our individual responsibility. However devout a congregation may be, for instance, there will be cause lament over some careless faces some unbended knees, some silent tongues. Think you that, were each of them placed singly face to face with the awfulness of God, they would dare to act in His presence if they stood alone, as they act in His house amid the general crowd of worshippers? Or, to take another case, can we doubt that the vastness of the number of unsaved souls in the world diminishes to each man's consciousness the awfulness of being an unsaved soul? In reality the number fearfully increases it, for Heaven might weep over such a spectacle as a world of lost souls.
III. LET US LOOK AT THE INDIVIDUAL IN RELATION TO GOD AND TO THE DUTY THAT HE OWES HIM. For here another common error at once starts to view. It is the notion of some men that the individual obligation of work and toil and self-sacrifice for God is lessened, because others share the obligation with ourselves. It is our duty to do our share, we say, but why should we take more than our fair proportion of the burden? Thus we are led, instead of doing each one his best in the service of our Master, to measure out just what we think to be our own share of the common work. Whether it be money, or labour, or talent, or time, we are asked to contribute, let us do it, each one for himself and to the utmost of his opportunity. If each man did his duty all men would do their duty.
IV. THERE YET REMAINS ANOTHER ASPECT OF THE MATTER, WHICH BELONGS EQUALLY TO ALL THESE THREE RELATIONS. It suggests the motive, graciously supplied in the rich harmony of the Divine dealings, which shall stimulate the effort that it sweetens. For the doctrine of individual accountability has its complement in the doctrine of individual recompense. If the obligation be personal, so will be the reward which will crown the discharge of it.
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. A SOLEMN SUMMONS, in the midst of all that is opposed to the Divine will. By this summons there are certain facts very plainly implied.
1. If "every one of us" is to give an account unto God, then the dream of the materialist is certainly false. There is a God, and with that God man has to do. The traditions of all people, the consent of the moral sense in man everywhere endorse that which the Scripture so explicitly implies.
2. This accountability before God is an ever-present fact. Do not postpone it until death comes. It is a constant relation in which man stands. To bring the whole nature into accord with the law and character of God — this is the dictate of our sense of true accountability.
3. But beyond this life work there is a final criticism and judgment to come. This is involved in the very relations we hold to this God, and the solemn thought of such an assize is constrained by the anticipation of death itself.
II. A DEFINITE LIMITATION. "Himself."
1. We are responsible in our mutual relations for the influence that we exert over one another. "No man liveth to himself," etc. But our responsibility for each other ends there. Our accountability for ourselves is more immediate, and cannot be evaded. We are not our brother's keeper in this world except for his good. Look well to thyself. Leave others to God. Thou hast enough to do with thine own vineyard.
2. But the account is not the less varied because it is so individual. Think of how many component parts you are formed, and for each one a responsibility exists before God. Therefore let other people alone, and look to your own house.
III. A SUGGESTED PREPARATION. We may give an account now; we shall do it finally in a more manifest way.
1. Recognise your individuality. Look yourselves in the face. Never allow yourself to be lost in the family, the Church, or in society. You came into the world subject to this solitary responsibility; you will go out of the world in the same way. It is the condition in which the gospel of Jesus Christ comes to you.
2. Train your conscience to utter distinct commands and prohibitions to you as an individual. Take not the worldly maxims of common living in this world; take not the practice of the Church. There is no rule except that which is contained in the character and the life of the God-man.
(S. H. Tyng, D.D.)1. The revelation of a judgment to come is one of the chief guarantees of human morality, and one of the most impressive illustrations of human greatness. Are we not in danger all of us of losing the vivid sense of personal responsibility for our own life? And if the sense of personal responsibility is lost, reverence for duty is lost too. There can be no morality apart from moral freedom, and it is to this that the revelation of future judgment appeals. Nearly everything else has been determined for you, but for your moral conduct you yourself are responsible.
2. Most of us had very little freedom of choice as to the trade or the profession that we should follow; but we can work honestly or dishonestly in the trade or profession in which we are engaged. It did not lie within our choice what language we should speak, but it does lie within our choice whether we shall speak the truth or not. The limits of our physical health and vigour are determined for us by the constitution with which we were born; but it lies with ourselves whether we will be sober or drunkards. It did not lie within our choice whether we would be born in a heathen or in a Christian land, among Romanists or among Protestants; but it does, lie within every man's choice whether he will honour and welcome whatever light comes to him.
3. In many of us, in these days, the sense of our personal responsibility is faint and feeble. We are awed by the vast range and irresistible action of material forces. What are we that we should assert a freedom that does not belong to the planets or to the ocean? But I decline to surrender my dignity in the presence of material immensity. The tides rise and fall by an eternal necessity, but the passions which ebb and flow in my heart I can check and control. The planets are bound by irreversible forces to the orbits in which they travel; but instead of being irresistibly swung by a force over which I have no control, I choose for myself the rough path of duty which leads to heights where I breathe the air of heaven and see its glory, or the smoother path which descends to darkness and death. I am greater than the planets and the sea: they are subject, I am sovereign; they are hound, I am free. My own conscience assures me of this, and it is confirmed by the voice of God. The living God who is above Nature declares that I, too, am above Nature, and that I must give an account of myself to Him.
4. Then the physiologist comes, and he tells me that I inherit in my very blood, in the structure of my brain, in the vigorous or feeble fibre of my nervous organisation the results of the vices and the virtues of a long line of ancestors. But though the conditions of life have been determined for me, my life itself is my own, and that has not been determined for me; the material in which I shall work has been given, the way in which I shall treat it has not been given. I may have been born with a craving for physical excitement; is that to be my excuse if I go home drunk? And to God some of the noblest forms of moral life may be found where, to your eyes and to mine, there is the least dignity and grace. One man is placed under conditions — not of his own choice — which make it possible for him to do very little beyond getting the rough ore of goodness out of the black and gloomy mine; he has got it with the sweat of his brow, with pain and peril. To him God will say: "Well done!" Another man has the ore at his feet to start with. It is not enough for him to bring that to God; he must bring pure metal extracted from it. And the third has the metal to begin with. He fails, and fails disastrously, unless he works it into form of noble usefulness and gracious beauty. Each man will have to give account of himself to God. And God only can judge of the worth of each man's work, because God only knows the conditions under which each man's work is being carried on. Channing's schoolmaster said to one of his schoolfellows: "Why are not you a good child like William Channing?" "Ah!" said the little boy, "it is so easy for William Channing to be good." And perhaps we have looked round upon friends of ours to whom a conflict that we have to maintain is altogether unnecessary. The foes we have to fight with they never meet; the victories which we have to win for ourselves were won for them generations ago by the ancestors whose blood is in their veins. Shall we complain? God forbid! Let us do for our posterity what their ancestors have done for them; and let us take the rough conditions of our actual life, making the best of them, rejoicing in this, that we have to give account of ourselves to God.
5. This conception of the relations between man and God relieves human life of its awful gloom and confusion, and contains the promise of a Divine order. You tell me that there are great masses of men that have never had a chance of moral goodness. They have to give an account of themselves without their chance, if so it be. And this conception of our relationship to God invests with dignity the life alike of the obscurest and most illustrious of our race. The material triumphs of which we are so proud are the result of a spiritual energy that has come to us from generations which believed that man was the lord of all. And when that consciousness of sovereignty has been extinguished, we shall decline to meaner levels and to inferior forms of life. But this is not to be our destiny. We are free, and we know it; and if to this freedom there are mysterious limitations, if achievement hesitates and falters, and follows far behind purpose, the Christian gospel has its word of power and of grace for us in this great trouble.
(R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
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