OUR subject is once again the service of God. Our relation
to Him was last Sunday described as that of slaves to a master. That description
was true, but not the whole truth, for our relation is nearer and dearer
than that of slaves who “know not what their Lord doeth” (S. John xv. 15),
and we are to render the service of sons.
THE EPISTLE. (ROM. viii. 12.)
We have here a full statement of the happiness of the Christian position.
A. A Position of Debt.
“Brethren, we are debtors.” The service of Christians is a service of
obligation, a bounden duty, but we are only debtors because we have been
receivers. God is no harsh creditor, crying, “Pay Me that thou owest.”
If we are not our own, it is because we have been “bought by the precious
blood of Christ.” God’s favour obliges, “the love of Christ constrains.”
B. A Position of Sonship.
The son works not for what he can get, but because he has received a
son’s birthright and a father’s care. The son works not because he must,
but because he shares his father’s desires and longs to finish his work.
Thus “as many as are led by the Spirit of God” find His work no bondage,
and work as “sons of God,” having received “the spirit of adoption.” All
their longing, all the language of their hearts, is Abba Father, as they
dwell on His name with tender affection, for this is the force of the twice-repeated
But it must not be forgotten that the son does more and not less than
the slave. The son gives his freedom, and gives it freely and fully, and
it is an ill son who does less than a hired servant.
C. A Position of Confidence.
The son is sure of his father; he is this in proportion to his faithfulness.
He may have this consciousness within himself, and have this conviction
strengthened by the Spirit of God—” for the Spirit itself beareth witness
with our spirit that we are the children of God.”
D. A Position of Expectancy.
“If children then heirs,” for the present relation is the earnest of
one yet more intimate. How intimate is expressed by the words “joint heirs
with Christ.” He hopes even to stand to God in the position of the man
Christ Jesus. But if we would share Christ’s glory we must not be ashamed
to share His Cross. We must not shrink from being treated like Christ here,
if we are to be treated like Christ hereafter.
Such is the Christian’s position—he is a slave under obligation, but
he is above a slave—he is a son, free, confident, expectant. Let nothing
make us miss so happy a present or so glorious a future.
THE GOSPEL. (S. MATT. vii. 15.)
THE TEST OF SONSHIP.
The teaching of the Christian year is essentially practical. We are
never allowed to dwell upon Christian privilege without stern reminders
of Christian duty. We learn from the present Gospel
A. The Universal Test.
Our Saviour gives the one universal test by which all things are tried
both in nature and in grace— "Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
It is important to observe that no comparison is here made between character,
which answers to the nature of the tree, and conduct, which is represented
by the fruits. It is by no means implied that faith, feeling, and principles
do not matter, for they together form the character and nature of the man.
What is intended is this—that the only test of these is supplied by
the conduct. As we would not cut down a tree to find whether it is good
or bad, but would be satisfied by inspecting its fruit, so, since we cannot
see the heart, we must judge by the actions and manifested feelings. The
visible is the one test of the invisible, and what we see will enable us
to judge whether the man himself is good or bad.
It must also be noticed that though we can only judge by the results
of conduct, and argue from that which is without to that which is within,
yet in education it is necessary to make the tree good, in order that the
fruit may be made good, and generally while we consider most of the fruit
in the case of others, in our own case we must consider both root and fruit,
both character as the root of conduct and conduct as the fruit of character.
In judging others we have but one test, while in judging ourselves we have
B. The Test of Christianity.
It is easy to miss from very familiarity what seems the exact point
of this solemn declaration, viz., that Christ will judge us not according
to our relation to Himself, but according to our obedience to the Father.
(1) Sonship is the Test of Christianity.
As Christ came to make us the sons of God, and to reveal the pattern
of sonship in His own life, so He will judge us as faithful or faithless
sons to His Father. Christianity does not dispense us from doing the will
of God, but rather enables us to do it. The atonement and other doctrines
of Christianity are not to be regarded as an escape from obedience, nor
prayer as a means of changing the will of God, for we are to pray, “Thy
will be done.”
(2) Obedience is the Test of Sonship.
As Heaven is a kingdom and a place of order, reverence, and obedience,
so none can enter it who have not learned to obey, and to do the will of
God as it is done in Heaven. The joy of Heaven will be to be ruled by such
a King and Father, and to be able to obey Him perfectly; to have all disobedience
for ever shut out, and to do without difficulty what we have hitherto done
in spite of difficulty, and wholly what we have tried to do in part.
THE COLLECT. THE DISCIPLINE
This Collect evidently falls into two parts, of which the first is closely
connected with the last part of the Gospel.
A. The Father’s Care.
Our Father which is in Heaven, of Whose kingdom the Gospel has spoken,
ordereth all things in Heaven and earth. His providential care is unfailing
(cf. S. Matt. x. 29), extending to things the most insignificant.
B. The Father’s Discipline.
We pray that this care may be exercised in the discipline of His children,
and this in two ways—that He would, as a true parent, both deny us all
that would do us harm, and that He would give us those things which would
be profitable for us, according to Christ’s assurance in S. Matt. vii.
7.’’, the chapter from which the Gospel is taken