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THE PILLAR AND GROUND OF THE TRUTH.
BY THE REV. CHARLES STANFORD.
"That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh."-1 TIM. iii. 15, 16.
FROM the measured periods and musical flow observable in the procession of sentences commencing with the words, "God was manifest in the flesh," the whole paragraph appears likely to have been quoted from one of those hymns in which, as Pliny relates, the ancient Christians sang praises to Christ as God. Perhaps we hear in these words the simple and definite confession of faith once uttered before the tribunal, and whispered in "deserts and mountains, in caves and dens of the earth;" by heroes who could say, like the Man of Sorrows, the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but we have not a place where we can lay our heads. It is not romantic to imagine that these lines were once set to solemn music sometimes heard at midnight from the prisoners' cell, and which sometimes lived on the lips of martyrs when they met the flash of the spear, the spring of the lion, or the sight of the cross.
If, however, we could prove this passage to be a clause of another composition and the writing of an uninspired man, now it is woven by an apostle into the sacred text it comes to us with the highest possible authority. When Paul announced along with the messages of God the sentiment of a heathen poet, Menander, "Evil communications corrupt good manners," he gave it currency henceforth as a divine saying; and so this fragment of an old confession not only stirs our reverence and asks our faith, as solemn with the rime of antiquity, but with the stamp of inspira
"There are totals in theology as well
as in arithmetic, which the mind in its widest reaches and most rapid action, cannot really imagine or comprehend."* There are breadths and lengths, depths and heights, which pass knowledge; and themes which we can only touch with the religion of wonder. So solemn and so crowded with meaning are the words on which we now venture to think. They give in a direct and inferential way a summary of instruction respecting three things: the Christian Church; Christian Truth; and the Christian Deportment.
The Christian church is called "the house of God, the church of the living God." We have met with many, even in the present educated state of society, in addressing whom it would be needful to make such a motto as the present the occasion for showing that a distinction should be made between the church and the building in which the church assembles; that masonry, however magically hung, however charmed into leaf, and flower, and fretwork, however lighted up with a shower of beauty from "storied windows richly dight," and however consecrated by the presence of ceremony and the devotion of ages, could never make a church ; that mere material things, as they cannot sin, nor love, nor pray, nor be holy, can never make a church; and that it could not be with reference to such a structure that our Lord said, “If thy brother will not hear thee, tell it to the church." It would on this occasion be needless to elaborate an argument to
Mr. Sheppard's Essay on Conversation.
show that the writer speaks of a spiri- | the truth." A "pillar" is an architectual building. Of old, God "dwelt" in tural contrivance, at once strong and a peculiar way in the 'temple, and he beautiful, to keep on high and set in who dwelt between the cherubim, light the statue or the sign ;-what the "shone forth." That presence in a pillar is to the statue the church is to locality shadowed his presence in sanc- the truth. The "ground" is the fountified thought and affection; and that dation of an edifice, its unseen strength, "shining forth" visioned the more bril- the secret of its durability; what the liant and beautiful fire, by which his ground is to a building the church is to Spirit shines in holy lives; that Temple the truth. Not the church of England of temples was the emblem of his nor the church of Scotland, nor the church. "Know ye not that ye are the churches to which we belong,—not the temples of the Holy Ghost, and that the churches but the church, all who love Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" "Ye the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and also as lively stones are built up into a truth, in every age and every clime, and spiritual house." "Christ dwells in every minor diversity of profession and your hearts by faith." The light of observance, considered in their collecthis truth seemed at times to tremble tive life, are to be the pillar and ground and dawn over the spirits of ancient of the truth; not through procuring saints, we hear, for instance, one say, acts of parliament in its favour, for the "Oh, Thou that inhabitest the praises of power of God needs no support from Israel:"-the privilege, however, of see- the power of man; not by persecution, ing it in its perfect brightness was for "the wrath of man'worketh not the reserved for us. We know that the righteousness of God;" but "by purechurch of Jesus which appears to hu-ness, by knowledge, by love unfeigned," man eye as “a chaos of disconnected by the natural action of their principles, units," shows to the eye of omniscient love the oneness and indivisibility of a building, a temple built of holy lives, of which He has said, "This is my rest for ever here will I dwell."
those principles which make the discovery and defence of "whatsoever things are true and beautiful," the incessant action and outforce of the life. Christ is the support of the church; the church is the support of the truth. In the "righteousness and strength" of the Redeemer, the church has a foundation equal to its extent and pressure.
come, the winds may blow, and beat upon that house," but it cannot fall, for it is founded upon a rock. Firm itself, it is the firm support of the truth. The truth is not the flower that withers, nor the grass that fades, "but the word of the Lord that abideth for ever."
The church is also called "the pillar and ground of the truth." This description is generally considered to apply to the "mystery of godliness," and not to the church. Chrysostom says, "The" The rains may descend, the floods church is not the pillar and ground of the truth, but the truth is the pillar and ground of the church." With all respect for this venerable name, it may be questioned whether this interpretation accords with the course of the argument, or the order of the sentence. The apostle appears to be urging upon the young We have also in this sentence of inminister the importance of care in the spiration a summary of Christian truth. appointment of servants to the church, What is the truth of which the church and of correct deportment in associa- is the pillar and ground? We are told tion with it, for this solemn reason,of manifestation and mystery. "God the church is the "pillar and ground of was manifest in the flesh." Socinians
Hear the disciple whom Jesus loved"The life was manifested, and we have seen it and bear witness." "He was manifested to take away our sins." That "Life which was the light of man" was manifested through the clear and soft transparencies of sinless human nature, that we might see religion moving, breathing, and going about to do good. God was manifested through the form of a servant, as thought is manifested through a word. "The word was made flesh, and dwelt among men, and we beheld his glory."
read in preference, "who was manifest,"
* Deos, contracted and in uncials, appears thus C; os, who, is written OC; the English reader will see how small a mark constitutes the differ.
VOL. XV.-FOURTH SERIES.
This fact, says the sacred teacher, is beyond all dispute, "The great mystery of godliness." The word mystery is used in allusion to the heathen mysteries, and here, simply means, a secret of religion, which when broken to the initiated is to him a secret no longer. The great doctrine of salvation, "kept secret since the world began," but whose "sound is now gone through all the earth," is revealed in this saying"God was manifested in the flesh." But though mystery in the popular sense is not here intended, it is also true and calls for passing notice. Directly the glorious idea of God in Christ comes before the mind, we feel in the presence of mystery. Many attempts are made to convict us of absurdity in the reception of mysterious doctrine. It would be said by some, "You have just told us that the appearance of God in the nature of humanity, though hidden from ages, is now open and plain; how then can it be at the same time a mystery?" We answer, a thing may be plain in one sense, yet incomprehensible in another. It is plain that you live, yet life is a mystery. It is plain that you think, yet the thinking power is a mystery. It is plain that you sin, yet the entrance" of sin into God's fresh and pure creation is a mystery. It is plainly revealed that we shall rise from the dead, but
how the dead are raised up is a mys-
is holy ground," speaks to us and says "Put off levity, put off pride, put off prejudice, put off exasperated opinion, and listen with eager and suspended soul to the teachings of God alone respecting the mystery of God." Like the child in the temple, we should answer, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." Like the awful solitary in the awful solitude, we should cry, "I beseech thee show me thy glory."
What should be the conduct of our spirits with reference to that part of the great doctrine which is plain? It is plain that God was manifested to save. It was appointed that the nature which had incurred the guilt should suffer the penalty. "God," the only being who had the right to interpose, was manifested in the "flesh," the only nature which had the power to suffer, die, and expiate. What was done by this wonderful enshrinement of divinity in humanity affords a ground and supplies an agency by which God can be just and the justifier of them that believe. A finished salvation has been prepared, and all required on our part is to accept it, to accept "the righteousness which is of God by faith," and be forgiven,-to accept the free Spirit, the living law of the Lord which is perfect converting the soul, and be holy; all this is plain. The deportment which becomes us to maintain towards the truth, considered on its lighted side, and in its saving aspect is that of continually accepting it. Faith is often spoken of as a past rather than a continued exercise, introduction to Christ rather than fellowship with him; but the building must be always on its foundation; daily life must be sustained by daily bread; faith must not be so much an act as a habit. Not to him who believed, but to him who believeth-not to him who came, but to him who cometh-are the promises addressed, and the victories of faith assured.
What deportment should we observe towards the church? The part of conduct to which the connection refers, and to which it supplies a minute directory, is that which relates to ministers. In tones which seem solemn as the trumpet of God, the Spirit speaking to them, and to those who have a voice in their election, gives "line upon line and precept upon precept," as to what they should be and how they should act, until we feel almost as if conscious of nothing but responsibility. Let each Christian spirit shiver at the thought of contributing to lure into the public ministry the young disciple whose call from God to serve him thus is a doubtful thing, and whose after-life may be spent in sighing for courage to retrace that first false step, or for power to proceed without fear and hesitation. Let each one feel bound to contribute his part towards the education of the ministry. Let each one pray for and strive with those who hold official position in that community which is "the pillar and ground of the truth."
The suitable deportment of Christians to each other is further hinted in the very term employed to describe their concentrated fraternity. We are the "house of God." Christians, though distinct as the stones, are one as the temple. "If one member suffer, all the members suffer with it." If you touch the leaf you touch the tree. This should stir a watchful and sensitive care over whatever is conducive to purity and peace, and should lead to a quick and lightsome recognition of a Christian wherever you may find him. To the "Israelites indeed" of every tribe, to the "strangers scattered aboard," will we shout, "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: grace unto you, and peace be multiplied!"
What deportment should we show towards the world? One end of our daily life is stated in the law that Christians are to be the pillar and ground of the truth. "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord." We are to "hold forth the word of life." Great power for usefulness is no merit, little power no sin, but it is demanded imperatively that what power we have, whether little or great, should be consecrated to Him who died for us; that we should lift up and show forth the precious revelations] of the gospel, and that there should be the greatest expenditure of thoughtful and affectionate life, in pressing the truth on the attention of the most sinful and the most forlorn. Say not, "O Lord, I cannot speak, I am a child." He can make "the weak things of the world confound the things that are mighty." The first announcement of the great mystery was made to, and then preached by, a company of shepherds. In the dead of night they were startled by a sudden glory. It was not a shoot of the white magical moonlight over the glistening grass, but it was "the glory of the Lord that shone round them, and they were sore afraid." And the angel said, "Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." These simple rustics were the first preachers of the gospel. They were not fitted by education to set in light the higher doctrines of theology, but they could tell "good tidings:" they could speed away to their village friends, and tell the men who handled the hammer, the plane, or the plough, their most amazing story. Shepherds can tell the news of a Saviour to shepherds, servants to servants, children to children, if they are unable to "speak of his testimonies before kings." In the homes of affection and by the waysides of life; in the