Zbe (Sreat prater baseo on (Sreat flMeas.
"Make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which ig well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ."—Heb. xiii. 21.
ASSIVE foundations prognosticate a great building. We do not dig deep, and lay large blocks, in order to rear some flimsy structure. We have seen, in the previous sermon, how the words preceding my text bring out certain great aspects of the Divine character and work, and now we have to turn to the great prayer which is based upon these. It is a prophecy as well as a prayer; for such a contemplation of what God is and does makes certain the fulfilment of the desires which the contemplation excites. Small petitions to a great God are insults. He is "the God of peace," therefore we may ask Him to "make us perfect," and be sure that He will. He is the God "that brought again from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep," therefore we may ask Him and be sure. He is the God who has sealed an "everlasting covenant" with us by the blood of the Shepherd, therefore we may ask Him and be sure. This prayer is the parting highest wish of the writer for his friends. Do our desires for ourselves, and for those whom we would seek to bless, run in the same mould? How strange it is that Christian people, who believe in the God whom the previous verse sets before us, so imperfectly and languidly cherish the confidence which inspires desires, for themselves and their brethren, such as those of our text this morning! Let us look at these great petitions, then, in the light of the great Name on which they are based.
I.—And, first, I ask you to consider the prayer which the Name excites.
"Make you perfect in every good work." Now, I need only observe here, in regard to the language of the petition, that the word translated "make perfect" is not the ordinary one employed for that idea, but a somewhat remarkable one, with a very rich and pregnant variety of significance. For instance, it is employed to describe the action of the fisherman apostles in mending their nets. It is employed to describe the Divine action which "by faith we understand" when He "made the worlds." It is employed to describe the action which the Apostle commends to one of his churches when he bids them "restore such an one in the spirit of meekness." It is the condition which he described when he desired another of his churches to be "perfectly joined together, in one mind and in one judgment." It is still again the expression employed when he speaks of "filling up," or "perfecting that which is lacking in their faith." The general idea of the word, then, is to make sound, or fit, or complete, by restoring, by mending, by filling up what is lacking, and by adapting all together in harmonious co-operation. And so this is what Christians ought to look for, and to desire, as being the will of God concerning them. The writer goes on to still further deepen the idea when he says, "make you perfect in every good work"; where the word work is a supplement, and unnecessarily limits the idea of the text. For that applies much rather to character than to work, and the "make you perfect in every good" refers rather to an inward process than to any outward manifestation. And this character, thus harmonized- corrected, restored, filled up where it is lacking, and that in regard of all manner of good—" whatsoever things are fair, and lovely, and of good report "—that character is "well-pleasing to God."
So, brethren, you see the width of the hopes—ay' of the confidence—that you and I ought to cherish. We should expect that all the discord of our nature shall be changed into a harmonious co-operation of all its parts towards one great end. We bear about within us a warning anarchy and tumultuous chaos, where solid and fluid, warm and cold, light and dark, calm and storm, contend. Is there any power that can harmonize this divided nature of ours, where lusts and passions, and inclinations of all sorts, drag one away, and duty draws another, so as that a man is torn apart as it were by wild horses? There is one. "The worlds" were harmonized, adapted, and framed together, and chaos turned into order and beauty, and the God of peace will come and do that for us, if we will let Him, so that the long schism which affects our natures, and makes us say sometimes, " I find a law in my members warring against the law of my mind," "Oh! wretched mim that I am; who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" may be changed into perfect harmony, and the "bear shall eat straw like the ox, and the lion shall lie down with the lamb; and a little child shall lead them"—the meekness of a patient love bridling all their ravening passions. It is possible that our hearts may be united to fear His name; and that one unbroken temper of whole-spirited submission may be ours.
Again, we should expect, and desire, and strive towards the correction of all that is wrong, the mending of the nets, the restoring of the havoc wrought in legitimate occupations and by any other cause. Again, we may strive with hope and confidence towards the supply of all that is lacking. "In every good "—an all-round completeness of excellence ought to be the hope, and the aim, as well as the prayer, of every Christian. Of course our various perfectings will be various. "Star differeth from star in glory," and the new man in many respects follows the lines of the old man, and temperament is permanent. But still, whilst all that is true, and while each shall ray back the Divine light and radiance at a different angle, and so with a different hue from that which his neighbour, standing beside him, may catch and reflect, on the other hand the Gospel is given to us to correct temperament, and to make the most uncongenial types of grace and excellence ours. It is meant to make it possible that men should "gather grapes of thorns and figs of thistles ": and to correct and fill up what is wrong and what is defective in our natural dispositions, so as that the passionate man may be made meek, and the hesitating man may be made prompt, and the animal man may be sublimed into spirit, and all that is proper to my peculiar constitution and character may be curbed and limited, and much that is not congenial to it may be appropriated and made mine. We are all apt to grow one-sided Christians, and it is our business to try to make ours the things that are lacking in our faith, and to supplement, by the grace of God working in our hearts, the defects of our qualities and the failures of our disposition and temperament. Do not grow like a tree stuck in the middle of a wood, which has only space to put forth branches on one side, and is all lopsided and awry; but like some symmetrical growth out in the open, equal all round the strong bole, and raising in perfect completeness of harmonious beauty to the topmost twig that looks up to the sky. God means to make us "perfect in every good "; to harmonize, to correct, to restore, to perfect us, that we, having all grace, may abound in all good to His glory.
Such is His purpose. Ah, brethren! has not the recognition of that as His purpose alarmingly died out of our minds; and do we live up to the height of this prayer? I would that we should all remember more, as defining our aims, and animating our courage, and directing our hopes, that " this is the will of God, even our sanctification "; and that, when faith is dim, and effort burns low, and we are ready to put all such hopes away as a fair dream, we might be stirred to more lofty expectations, and to open our mouths wider by the thought of the "God of Peace that brought again from the dead the Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the everlasting covenant"; and ask ourselves what result on us will correspond to that mighty name of the Lord.
II.—-And so, secondly, note the Divine work which fulfils the prayer.
"Working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ." Creation, Providence, and all God's works in the world are also through Jesus Christ. But the work which is spoken of here is yet greater and more wonderful than the general operations of the creating and preserving God, which also are produced and ministered through that eternal Word by whom the heavens were of old, and by whom the heavens are still, sustained and administered. There is, says my text, an actual Divine operation in the inmost spirit of every believing man.
I suppose that everybody must believe that, who believes in a God having any real connection with His creatures. Surely He is not so imprisoned in His own majesty, or shut out from His own creation by His own creation, as that He cannot touch the spirits which He has made. And surely we are not so walled up by our own separate individuality as that we cannot, if we will, open the door for Him to come in and dwell with us, and work on us. Surely if there be any reality in the Gospel teaching at all, there is this in it, that Christ in us, or God in Christ working in us by His Divine Spirit, is the crown of that hope and blessing of which Christ for us is the beginning and foundation.
I do not want men to think less of the Cross. God forbid! But I do feel, and feel growingly, that the Christianity of this generation has not a firm hold of this other aspect of Christ's work. Do not think less of what He has done, but, oh! think more of what He is doing. The perspective of our Christian faith is wrong: not that we draw the Cross too large, but that we paint the Dove too small. And I would, for myself and for you, dear brethren, lay this thought upon our hearts, as a far more important one than the ordinary type of Christian thinking makes it out to be—the present dwelling of God in Christ, through the Divine Spirit, in the hearts of all who believe, and working there that which is well pleasing in His sight.
If that be a truth, surely these things follow as our plainest Christian duty. Expect that operation. Do you expect it? You Christian men and women, do you believe that God will work in your hearts? Some of you do not live as if you did. Desire it. Do you desire it? Do you want Him to come and clear out that stable of filth that you carry about with you? Do you wish Him to come and sift and search, and bring the candle of the Lord into the dusty corners? Do you want to get rid of what is not pleasing in His sight? Would you like Him to come and search you, "to try you and see if "—ah, it is not an if!—" there be any wicked way in you, and lead you "—where, alas! our feet are often not found—" in the way of everlasting "? Expect it, desire it, pray for it. And, when you have got it, see that you profit by it •
God does not work by magic. The Spirit of God which cleanses men's hearts cleanses them on condition, first, of their faith; second, of their submission; and, third, of their use of His gift. If you fling yourselves into the roar of worldly life, the noise of the streets, and the whirring of the looms, and the racket of the children in the nursery, and the buzzings of temptations round about you, and tbe yelpings for food of your own passions, will deafen your ears so as that you will never hear the still, small voice that speaks a present God. If God dwells in us and works in us, let us yield ourselves to the workings and open our hearts to the Guest, and say, "Into every corner, 0 Lord, I would that Thou wouldst go, to restore and complete."
III.—Lastly, notice the visible manifestation of this inward work.
Now the writer of our text employs the same word in the two clauses, in order to bring out the idea of a correspondence between the human and the Divine Worker. "To work His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight."
God works in order that you and I may work. Our action is to follow His. Practical obedience is the issue, and it is the test, of our having this Divine operation in our hearts. There are plenty of people who will talk largely about spiritual gifts, and almost vaunt their possession of such a Divine operation. Let us bring them and ourselves to this test: Are you doing God's will in daily life in the little things? In the monotonous grind of the dusty, level road, with never a turn in it; and the same thing to be done tomorrow that was done to-day, and so on, for indefinite weeks and months are you, with the spirit that freshens monotony, doing God's will? If so, then you may believe that God is working in you. If not, it is of no use to talk about spiritual gifts. The test of being filled with the Divine operation is that our actions shall be conformed to His will. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." That is a pin prick that will empty many a swollen bladder, and bring it down to its real tenuity of substance.
Action is the end of all. We get the truth, we get our souls saved, we have all the abundance and exuberance of Divine revelation, we have the Cross of Jesus Christ, we have the gift of the Divine Spirit— miracles and marvels of all sorts have been done for the one purpose, to make us able to do what is right in God's sight- and to do it because it is His will.
This practical obedience to God's will is the perfection of human conduct. And, on the other hand, a man who does good things without reference to the highest—viz., the will of God—in the doing of them, lacks the fine gold that gilds his deed; and the violet of his virtue is scentless. A good thing may be done without reference to God—good from the point of view of morality, and the self-sacrifice and generosity that are embodied in it. But no good thing reaches its supremest goodness unless it be an act of conscious obedience to God's will.
And this doing of the will of God is perfect blessedness. All things are right for us if we submit to the will of our Father. No storms can blow us out of our course then. "Thou shalt make a league with the beasts of the field, and the stones of the field shall be at peace with thee." For all creatures, being God's servants, are in covenant with him who does the will of the Lord.
And how are we to do it, brother? The world says, " Cultivate your own nature ; correct your faults; strive to fill up your deficiencies." Christ says, "Cast away yourselves; and trust to Me; and I will give you new life, and a new spirit. Cultivate that!" If we are to do God's will we must have the spirit of Him who said, "I come to do Thy will, 0 Lord; and Thy law is within My heart." Let us open our hearts to Him; let us seek for Him to enter in. And then, "the God of peace, that brought again from the dead the Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, shall make vis perfect in every good work to do His will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ."