Christian Individualism



Every man has his gift, and he is responsible for that. It was none of Peter's business what John had to do, and Jesus told him so. Peter's business was to follow Christ himself. Here we are taught the doctrine of Christian individualism. It is not every one who appreciates his individuality. Some people faucy that God creates things in lots; that he cares only for the species; that all the members of a race are essentially alike. But they should learn better. The telescope reveals a variety in God's works above us. Stars are of many magnitudes and many colors, single and double, satellites and suns. One star differeth from another star in glory, and the heavens in ten thousand ways illustrate the manifold wisdom of God. On the earth itself, the naturalist and the botanist find not only an ever-increasing number of species, but within the bounds of each species a greater and greater number of varieties. No two clover-leaves and no two blades of grass are precisely alike. Men of science are beginning to discern a seemingly endless versatility in nature. So inexhaustible are the resources of invention displayed, that no man can hope to accomplish anything unless he gives his life to the study of a very limited field. And if the inquirer be devout, he sees God in this variety of the world, and cries with the Psalmist: "0 Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all."

God's freedom is illustrated by individuality in nature, as his unifying and organizing mind is exhibited in the classes and laws of nature. Diversity in unity, and unity in diversity, seems to be his aim. There is no need that any two things should be precisely alike, for the wisdom of God is infinite. And if this is so in the irrational creation, much more is it true of man, whose glory is that he resembles God in freedom. No two faces were ever absolutely alike — even twins always differ. The few lines of the human countenance are so manipulated by the divine Artist, that there are ten thousand thousand distinguishable shades of expression. Why then should we think that noulx are alike? In that more delicate and plastic material, the invisible .spirit, what an incalculable multitude of differences there must be! The Germans call Jean Paul Richter " Der Einzige,"—"the unique," — and the epithet indicates the love they bear him as the communicator of a fresh and peculiar impulse to their literature. But each of us, as well as Jean Paul, is a unique personage. Each "dwells like a star, apart;" each is solitary, impenetrable to any other. Each has his own gifts, his own tendencies, his own powers, his own capacities for joy and for suffering.

* Preached at Vassar College, February 28, 188(1, as a sermon on the text, John 21: 21, 2i—" What shall this man do? What !s that to thee? Follow thou me."

Wo do not know ourselves, until some great crisis of our history reveals to us the unsuspected depths of our natures. Then we discover a capacity for almost boundless sorrow, for agonizing remorse, for consuming desiro, for overwhelming joy. We sec that there is more of us, a hundred times over, than we had ever imagined; that we are fearfully and wonderfully made; that there are powers of thought and feeling and will within us that make us immortal; that we stand over against God with personalities as single and unique as his own. So we step out from the crowd and become conscious of our manhood or our womanhood; but with the new sense of our dignity in the creation, we learn for the first time of a responsibility which we must bear, aud of a destiny which we must determine.

Now from this fact of individuality, which we recognize when once it is stated to us, there follow certain inferences which are not so obvious, but which it is my main purpose this morning to impress upon you, The first is this: If every man is a peculiar being, then ever// man is guilty of peculiar sins. By this I mean, that in your individual character and life there are certain embodiments and manifestations of sin such as are not to bo found anywhere else in the universe. You have not sinned just as other people have. You have had peculiar gifts and opportunities, which have made you capable of a peculiar sort of transgression. No one else could have sinned just as you have, because no one else is just like you. You have not simply repeated the common sin of the race; for in yon there is a new and unique centre of force which does more than express the past: it adds to the past, it makes a character and influence of its own. You have not simply imitated and reproduced the evil examples of others — you may have done that, but you have put your own stamp upon every deed. There is something very solemn in that word "character." It meant originally the mark which the engraver makes upon the metal or the stone. Thou it came to mean the collective result of his various chisellings and cuttings. And when we speak of human character, we imply that each human being is, with every act and desire and thought, making a mark upon the imperishable substance of his soul. And in this artistic work of carving out his character each one of ns shows a fearful originality.

If you should find in the woods some peculiar species of poisonous plant or venomous reptile, and should be told that it was no descendant from races of the past, but was a new creation, you would start back from it with an added horror. Now your sins are just such new creations. Man can create nothing else without God but that, but he can create sin, and he has created it. And you have exercised your mysterious prerogative by bringing into being acts, and desires, and thoughts of transgression, such as no other being in the universe has ever originated. Being yourself different from every other creature, yon have been able to use your will in a course of transgression perfectly individual and unique. There are peculiar aggravations of your sins, arising from the peculiar light you have had and the peculiar grace you have resisted. Your sins, for this reason, have constituted a peculiar insult to the divine holiness, and they have had a peculiar evil influence over others. There is a peculiar account that you have to render to God. God's righteousness could never be vindicated by judging you as one of a mass. You must stand singly and alone before the judgment «eat of Christ. There each shall receive according to the deeds done in hi own body. And there, for me and for yon, if we are unsaved, must be an unveiling of the secrets of the heart and the visiting upon each of a peculiar guilt, aud shame, and condemnation. Ah, when I think of my individual sins, with all their peculiar aggravations, I can see how, in some particulars and aspects, I may be in my unique personality an illustration of the enormity and hatefulness of sin such as neither earth nor hell can elsewhere show. And what is true of me is true of you. In virtue of this great fact of individuality, both you aud I should call ourselves, as Paul called himself, the "chief of sinners;" should acknowledge, with the prophet Amos, our "manifold transgressions " and " mighty sins ;" aye, each one of us should cry, as the Pnbliean cried, "God be merciful to me, the sinner," as if there were no other sinner upon the footstool so great as he.

A second inference is this: If every man is a peculiar being, then a peculiar wisdom and gra<-e of God are needed to save him. It is not enough for God to decree salvation for the church as a whole. He must set his love upon me and choose me. A merely general election might not include a case so singular as mine has been.—It will not do for Jesus to die simply for the race at large. He must die for me, as if there were no other to be saved : for only a most particular and personal sacrifice of the Son of God could reach my case and atone for my sins. And so the believer looks to the cross and says: "My sins gave sharpness to the nails, and pointed every thorn." "The Saviour died for me." "He loved me, and gave himself for me."—It will not do for Christ to offer a merely general pardon to offenders. No, there is something in every sinner's ease, when the Holy Spirit enlightens him, that seems so peculiarly wicked as to go beyond all ordinary bounds of sin, to make him an exceptional case of transgression, and to put him beyond the reach of mercy. The convicte 1 sinner feels like Peter, after he had denied his Master, that though there may be salvation for others, there can be none for him. But just as Christ after his resurrection said: "Go, tell Peter," and so intimated the granting of a special pardon for his particular case, so to every such sinner he sends by his Holy Spirit a special message of forgiveness, and says: "Thy sins, which are many, are forgiven thee; go in peace."—It is not enough that Jesus should usk blessings for his followers in the mass, now that he has ascended his throne; for my needs are such as are found nowhere else but in my own soul. He must intercede particularly for me, with my idiosyncrasies and special temptations; for the grace that saves others will never be sufficient to save me. Christ can say to me, as he said to Peter: "Ihave prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not."—It is not enough that Christ should bestow on me simply the common influences of his Spirit,— the same influences which are bestowed upon all. There are peculiar depths of my natnre that must be reached; peculiar and serpentlike convolutions of my wicked heart that must be untwisted; peculiar intensities of evil ambition and self-exaltation that must be subdued, if I am ever to be saved. To convert and to sanctify each sinner, demands a mighty operation and process of the divine Spirit, different from any other that he has ever wrought.—It is not enough that God should lead me by his Providence as he leads others. No, "he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out." "He leadeth me," aye, "he leadeth the blind by a way that they knew not "—knew not, because no other soul ever was so led, or could be.

Does not this strange fact of our individuality throw light upon our past experience? You have sometimes asked: "Why hast thou made me thus?" "Why hast thou so dealt with me?" Well, it is evident, at least, that there has been a peculiar dealing of God, corresponding to your peculiar nature. You needed a peculiar care and discipline, and just what you needed God has given to you. Is it not a matter of profound gratitude that infinite wisdom can give a personal attention to you and your salvation, as perfectly as if there were no other to care for in the universe? My friends, we are not saved in a lump. There are peculiar dealings of God with each individual soul. My experience is mine, and yours is yours, and there is no possibility of exchanging them. Just as each separate soldier has an experience of his own in battle, and just as each rescued passenger can tell a different story of shipwreck, so each history of salvation will have a thrilling interest of its own. No other being in all God's universe has been saved just as I have been. The multitude of God's thoughts toward me is more than I can number. In the record of its varied experiences under the mighty influences of God's Providence and God's Spirit, shall be made known by the church, to the principalities and powers in heavenly places, the manifold wisdom of God. Each soul redeemed and brought to glory shall have a new name, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it —the sign manual of God stamped upon him in a way unique and incommunicable. And each soul will sing with an emphasis and meaning all its own:

"Ama/.inpr (rrace, how sweet the sound,
That saved u wretch like me!"

There is a third inference: If every man is a peculiar being, then every man /tax a peculiar work for God to do. Just as there was a man sent from God whose name was John, and that John the Baptist had a peculiar work to do, corresponding to his nature and endowments, so there is another man sent from God whose name is — your name, whatever that may be. It is not for nothing that God has made you just as you are, and bus treated you just as he has. The children's hymn explains it all:

"Dare to do ri^ht, dure to 1ie true:
You have a iror/f that no other can do!"

"Every man for himself"—in a Christian sense. As you are peculiarly constituted, as you have peculiar gifts and opportunities, as you have had a peculiar experience of God's forbearing love and saving grace, so you peculiarly represent Christ, so you are to reflect a peculiar honor on your Savior and your King. There is a peculiar testimony you can give to Christ which no other man on earth can give. Secret communications of God's truth and grace have been made to yon. They are hid from all the universe besides. Your peculiar course of development and education is a matter of interest to angelic beings, and it is you who are to make known what God has done for you. There is a peculiar crown which you, and no other, can cast at the Redeemer's feet; aye, throughout eternity, there is a peculiar phase of the image of Christ which yon are to reflect, aud a peculiar service to him which yon are to render, and a peculiar glory which you are to give to his great name.

I confess that I rejoice to think that I am to be of some peculiar use: that I can do something that no other being can <lo; that God has made me an indispensable part of his plan of revealing himself to the universe. How is it with you, my hearer? Do you not think it a great thing to be made something of by God? And do you not see the folly and the crime of wishing to be somebody else ; of hiding yourself behind somebody else; of neglecting your own work because somebody else does not do his? When the master in the parable went into a far country, he apportioned to his servants, "to every man his work." The talents were distributed to every man according to his ability. Paul explains the parable when he says: "To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit, to profit withal." And Peter tells the whole story of our duty, when he says: "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." In other words: God's grace is manifold, varied, multitudinous, as the number of his redeemed. Each rescued soul, however humble, has his p euliar endowment of nature and of the spirit. According to the quality and extent of God's gift i to us, we are to minister to others, as faithful stewards who have received these gifts not that we may spend them upon ourselves, but that we may employ them for the interest of the owner, and for the good of the souls whom he died to save.

I would that this solemn thought of the peculiarity of our work might not b 3 lost upon us. It is so easy to think that if we do not do our work some one els3 may do it for us. Oh, remember that, being different from every other, no other man or angel can ever take your place. If you do not do your work, your work will not be done. It is so easy to say: "I will do this upon condition that some other person will do that." Oh, remember that you are a solitary individnal before God, and that he says to you as Christ said to P< ter, when he asked what John should do: "What is that to thee? follow thou me." It is so easy to make others doing, or ability to do, the measure of our ow n. Oh, remember that each one of us shall give account of himself to God; that to whom much has been given, of him much shall be required; that even he who had the one talent, and hid it, was cast ont and rej< cted, because he had not made it into two.

I have said that this individuality implies peculiar sins on our part and peculiar grace on the part of God. I have said that it implies that every man has a peculiar work for God to do. But our theme will not be complete without a fourth inference. If every man is a peculiar being, then for every faithful worker there is a peculiar reward. Rewards in GodVi administration are matters of grace, not of debt; and yet we are to be rewarded " according to our works." Not on account of our works, as if by working we could pnt God und,r obligation to us, but according to our works — in propoition to what we have done and the faithfulness with which we have done it. Th°re is a sense in which the rewards of all shall be the same. The laborers in the vineyard each one received his penny. So in the great future all souls will be equally fnll of the love and goodness of God — full to the utmost measure of their capacity. But then their capacities shall differ, and one shall be able to hold more than another. A small pail can be just as full as a great tub, but the great vessel can hold much more than the small one. And the difference in reward shall be determined by the peculiarities of the service each man has rendered. He who gives "even the cap of cold water in the name of a disciple shall in no wise lose his peculiar reward. The servant whose pound has gained five pounds shall be rewarded with authority over five cities, and the servant whose pound has gained ten pounds shall be rewarded with authority over ten.

But the peculiarity of the reward shall be graduated, not only to the peculiarity of the work that each has done, but to the peculiarity of the nature of him who receives it. Joy shall be the reward of heaven —but it shall be in each case a joy with which a stranger intermeddleth not. "Your joy no man taketh from you." It is a joy which the highest archangel cannot share, because it is the vibrating of all the strings of a peculiar nature at the soft touch of the fingers of infinite Love.—Power shall be the reward of heaven. The power of complete self-mastery will be a peculiar reward, because no other soul in the universe can know the struggles through which your soul has passed in resisting its peculiar temptations and in subduing its peculiar sins. George Eliot once said that the reward of a duty done is the power to do another. As with every new work for Christ accomplished we pass on to larger and larger achievement, peculiar power of service shall be the reward of the peculiar gifts and endowments which we lay at the Master's feet.—Love shall be the reward of the faithful — a love that shall admit the great love of God to fill up all the interstices and gaps and emptinesses of our natures, as water poured into a bowl not only fills it full, but adapts itself to the peculiar form of the vessel that contains it.—Holiness shall be the reward of the faithful. There is a mineral called diaphane that becomes transparent only in water. It shall be the blessing of heaven that this being of ours, now so clouded and opaque through the effects of sin, shall be immersed in the divine purity, and in that bath of regeneration shall be made pure as God is pure.—God himself shall be the reward of heaven — a God who can adapt himself with infinite inventiveness and wisdom to every peculiarity of the beings he has made, can be seen from a different point of view by every separate mind, and can be felt in a different way by each separate heart of all those he has redeemed. Shakspeare has been called the myriad-minded, but there is no end to the sides and aspects of God's being, and no finite mind can know the whole. The great reward of heaven will be that each redeemed soul can say: "O, God, thou art my God!"

80 the reward will be peculiar, as the nature, and the sin, and the grace, and the work, are peculiar. The reward will be the raising to the highest power, and the exalting to the intensest activity, of that peculiar faculty and endowment which God imparted to the soul at the beginning. Here is a Christian evolution that passes in grandeur and dignity all that material evolution of which scientific men delight to speak. They tell us of a world thrown off from a fiery revolving nebula, chaotic and formless at the first, but gradually assuming outline and order, and bringing forth a constantly increasing variety of life and beauty. I can hear the sons of God shouting for joy, as God says "Let there be light!" and the ordered sphere goes whirling by; and I can conceive of those same angelic hosts adoring yet more that wisdom that in the long course of its subsequent history has made the germinal world planted so long ago amid the great spaces of fhe universe to develope into such beauty and glory of mountain and field and flood. But there is another evolution grander than all this. It is found in the history of a redeemed soul. Springing at its beginning from the creative hand of God, a mere rudimentary germ of life and mind, it passes into the chaos and night of sin, until that same omnipotent Word that called the light out of darkness causes to shine in upon it the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Then the long training of the rescued spirit, through providence and grace, through temptation and affliction, through Christian work and achievement, until the soul reaches a full-orbed manhood in Christ Jesus. On and still on shall the process go, labor becoming more and more the highest rest, work becoming more and more reward, every faculty developed to greatness, every peculiar excellence brought to a unique and unexampled beauty, until as the sons of God see this spiritual product of God's wisdom go sweeping by, they shall be compelled to say that it passes in glory all the thrones and dominions and principalities and powers of their celestial hierarchy, that its history illustrates God's might and foreseeing wisdom better than all the material worlds that float in space, that its heights of intellectual and moral greatness are more glorious than the whiteness of Alpine summits when smitten by the first light of the rising sun, that its capacities for loving and expressing God are greater than the depths of ocean when they reflect the untroubled glory of the starlit skies.

When I think of the magnificent developments of individuality which the great future shall witness, of the grand array of crowned heads which heaven will present, each one a ruler over his own principality and all of them kings and priests nnto God, I look back with horror to the awful perversity of Satan's lie to our first parents: "Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil." Seeking to be a God to himself, all these noble prospects of endless development were blasted and swept away. But in Christ they are all restored. It is not yet made manifest what we shall be, but we know that if he shall be manifested we shall be like him, for we shall see him even as he is. Eye hath not seen, nor hath ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, what God hath prepared for them that love him. We shall judge angels, and all things shall be ours, because we are Christ's, and Christ is God's. It was written of ancient judges: "I said ye are gods." The name of gods was given them, because they were the representatives of God and were filled with his Spirit. So we shall be gods in the world to come, because in this unique and peculiar nature which belongs to each of us God shall dwell and manifest himself. We shall shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father, because we live forever in the light of him who is the one and only Sun.

God help us then each one to say: "I am unlike every other soul that God ever made. I have sinned as no other ever has. He has saved me, and led me, in a different way from any other. I owe to him therefore a kind and quality of service such as no other human being has ever rendered. I am bound to have views of truth and of duty such as no other Christian ever had. I am bound to mark out for myself a course of spiritual development and a plan of outward work that shall be as original as the leadings of God. So only can I be a true man in Christ, an independent actor in history, a living force linder God in the development of his plans, a king forever in God's kingdom." It is to this lofty development of Christian individuality that God calls us — to be Christ's lieutenants in the universe. Oh, you who love power! take the lasting, the eternal power that comes through serving Christ. Use mind, heart and will, your ability to plan and to give, your voice and influence, your capacity to work and your power of getting others to work — use all these in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ now and here, and he will not only fill you with his Spirit and make you a master of circumstances and a master of men, but he will perpetuate your power beyond death, and increase it throughout the great hereafter; for he himself has said: *' To him that overcometh, will I give to sit down with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne."