Sermon XIII

"If any man's w<|>rJt abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man•s wortp shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself ihall be saved; yet so as bj; flre."—1 Con. iii. 14, 15.

The •vivid imagination of the Apostle puts before us here a very solemn 'truth in a picturesque form. Two workmen are building 'side by side. One builds a palace, the other a hovel. Th•e materials which one uses are gold and silver, for decoration; and for solidity costly stones,—by which is not meant• diamonds and emeralds and the like, but valuable building material, such as marbles and granites and alabaster/ The other employs timber, dry reeds, straw. No doubt in Corinth, as in all ancient cities, side by side with the temples shining in marble and Corinthian brass, •were the huts of the poor and of slaves built of such flimsy materials as these. Suddenly there plays around both buildings a great fire, the fire of the Lord coming to judgment. The marbles gleam the whiter, and the gold and the silver flash the more resplendently, whilst the tongues of light leap about them ; but the straw hovel goes up in a flare! The one man gets wages for work that lasts, the other man gets no pay for what perishes. He is dragged through the smoke, saved by a hair's breadth, but sees all his toil lying there in wmWte ashes at his feet. It is a grim picture. Let us try and fir Bid out the meaning of it, and apply it to ourselves.""

I.—First, the two builders and their v>%•ork.

The original application of these wordsy is distinctly to Christian teachers. The whole section!', starts from a rebuke of the party spirit in the Corinthiaw a Church which led them to swear by Paul or Peter or ^.Kpollos, and to despise all teachers but their own favourite,!. The Apostle reminds these jangling partisans that all \teachers were but instruments in God's hands, Who was th•Je true Worker, the true Husbandman, the true Builder. Th ]at word opens up a whole region of thought to his arderjit mind. He goes on to speak of the foundation which (Bod has laid, namely, the mission of Jesus Christ. Tha•t foundation laid once for all in actual reality, in the historical facts of our Lord's life, death, and resurrection, had :been laid in preaching by Paul when he founded thte Corinthian Church. There cannot be two foundations. (• So all other teachers at Corinth have only to build on thr(it foundation, that is, to carry on a course of Christian tepiching which rests upon that fundamental truth. Let all much teachers take heed what sort of materials they I mild on that foundation, that is to say, what sort of "teaching they offer, for there may be gold, and silver, and precious stones—solid and valuable instruction; or there may be timber, and hay, and straw—worthless and unsubstantial teaching. The materials with which the teachers build are evidently the instruction which they give, or the doctrines which they teach.

Hence the wood, hay, stubble are clearly not heresies, for the builder who uses them is on the foundation; and if Paul had been thinking of actual heresies, he would have found sharper words of condemnation with which to stigmatise them than those which merely designate them as flimsy and tmsuJBstantial. But what is meant is the unprofitable teaching which good men may present, when

"The Aungry sheep look up and are not fed.'

While, on the otJner, the "gold and silver and precious stones" are the •*olid and permanent and soul-satisfying truths which, arle revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

Now it is no I part of my business to condemn this, that, and the other 3dnd of teaching, but I will tell you what is evidently w*>od and hay and stubble. Misplaced learning; misplacejd speculation; misplaced eloquence; sham philosophy ;preaching one's self; talking about temporary, trivial things ; dealing with the externals of Christianity, its ceremoniSil and its ritual; dealing with the morals of Christianity apart from that one motive of love to a dying Saviour which makes morality a reality in human life. All that kind of Christian teaching, remote from daily life and from men's deepest needs, however it may be admired, and thought to be " eloquent," " original," and "on a level with the growing culture of the age," and so on, is flimsy stuff to build upon the foundation of a crucified Saviour. There is no splidity in such work. It will not stand the stress of a gale of wind while it is being built, nor keep out the weather for those who house in it, and it will blaze at last like a thatched roof when "that day" puts a match to it. The solid •teaching is the proclamation of Jesus Christ, and of the great salvation which He has brought. On that rock-fact we calmly repose. In that great truth are wrapped up, as the plant in the seed, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. If a Christian teacher will cleave to his Master, and ever ponder the meaning of His life and person, of His passion and glory, he will find them opening out into depths of truth, and far-reaching laws of conduct which will supply him with lessons of weight and worth, that will outshine all the glare of tinsel novelties, and outlast the brief \t•{Iuration of the hay and stubble.

So, let all of us who are preachers.^—whether in the conventional and professional sense, oim in the wider and truer sense in which every Christian shoiwild be a preacher, or who, in any way, have to commujYmcate religious instruction—take the warning, that gcyod men, wellmeaning men, wishing to do good, btiiilding on the foundation, may, if they do not take ca.Yre, be building with rubbish instead of with the immortal 'and indestructible truths of God's Word; and let me beseech you, as I would warn and exhort myself, to see to ;it that we do not carry chaff in our seed-baskets, but only the winnowed and the pure seed of the Word of Go;d.

But the principle involved in this may * very well be extended to the whole Christian life. T•he life of a Christian man is represented in Scriptute, in many places, under the metaphor of a building; suggesting not only the idea of the whole life as resting v.jipon Christ as the foundation, but also suggesting the thcjught of slow, continuous progress, stone by stone, layer ,by layer, and in addition implying that the result is a .homogeneous whole. It is possible for two men, both o»f them being Christians, to be building two very different structures in their lives. The Apostle takes two extreme cases for the sake of illustrating his principle. Just as a mathematician takes a perfect triangle or a perfect circle, which does not exist in nature, for the purpose of working his problems, so the Apostle supposes two cases which cannot exist in fact—the one that of a man who builds with nothing but precious materials, and the other that of a man who builds with nothing but trash.

But although these two cases cannot exist in their perfect form, we know only too well by our own experience, and by observation of the life of the average Christian, that many a true follower of Jesus Christ may pile much upon the foundation which is unworthy of it. We too often perpetrate the most grotesque inconsistencies in building up the structure of our lives. We lay one course of precious stones and the next of reeds ; one of silver and the next of timber.' As you may see in the wretched huts in which wandering Arabs house amongst the ruins of some historical city, that half a man's house shall be of fluted marble and the other half shall be of crumbling clay, so, alas ! many Christian men and women are building their lives. With what are you building? and what are you building? A palace, a temple, a shop, a place of sinful amusement, a prison—which? We build inconsistently, and in our own persons combine these two builders. And my message to you now is to beseech you to look for yourselves into your building ; and to see how much, and what, of it is likely to last, and how much of it is sure to be burned up when the fire comes.

II.—And now, secondly, let me ask you to think of the twofold effects ftf the one fire.

The flame plays sound both the buildings. What fire is it? The text answers the questions for us, "the day shall declare it." The Apostle does not think that he needs to say what day. They know well enough what day he means. To him and to them there is one day so conspicuou sand so often in their thoughts, that there is no need to name it more particularly. The day is the day when Christ shall come. And the fire is but the symbol that always attends the Divine appearance in the Old and in the New Testament. Thus, for instance, we have the adumbration of the final judgment in one of the Psalms, in which God calls Heaven and earth to be assessors of His judgment of His people, and there we read "a fire shall devour before Him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about Him." The symbol of the fire is but the


expression for the searching, reveal) Ing, testing, destructive energy which comes with Christ whmen He comes to judge the world. That fire reveals, and it | tests. What abides the test is glorified thereby ; what do jes not is burned up and annihilated. When Christ coilnes to judge, light comes with Him, and the light pours *in upon the actions of men, and reveals them for what the;V are. The builders have been working, if I may say so, sis you see builders sometimes nowadays, under special •^circumstances, and in great buildings, working night-workj, with some more or less sufficient illumination. The df »y dawns, and the building at which they have been toilir(.g in the dim light stands out disclosed in all its beauty pr deformity. Its true proportions are manifest at last. ,

And how many surprises there will btj—both among the workers whose work abides, and amongst those whose work perishes! Many a man who thought he was building gold and silver and precious stones w ill find out that he was pleasing himself, and not preachi ng his Master ; that he was talking about trivial, transitory things, and not about eternal truths that nourish and save men's souls. Many a preacher on whose words crowds have hung, and whose name has been the symbol for eloquence and power, in that day will look on what he built, and see that it is all naught, wood and hay and stubble, according to that solemn word, "Lord! Lord ! have we not prophesied in Thy name? And He shall say unto them, I never knew you!" Many an humble and timid builder who did not know what he was doing will see that he has built gold and silver and precious stones, according to that blessed word, "Lord ! when saw we Thee .... in prison and visited Thee? And He shall answer, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, ye did it unto Me!" One of the most precious diamonds in Europe, that blazes now in a king's crown, lay on a stall in a

piazza at Rome for myonths, labelled, "Rock crystal, price one franc." And mafny of the most precious and noble deeds that ever were Alone on earth have been passed unrecognised by the crcftwd that beheld them, and forgotten except by Him.

So, dear friends, Itet us try to build for Christ, on Him and with Him, andt we may leave the revelations of the future to the futurfe; sure that He will never forget any of our works.

Not only is there, this revealing process suggested, but the one class of service, of teaching, and of life is brightened and beautified and glorified by the fire, and the other is destroyed and burned up. The gold and silver and costly atones are glorified because revealed, and heightened in ;beauty by being brought into contact with Christ Himse-lf, as a fair jewel is fairer for its setting, and flashes 'in the sunshine. And, on the other side how much of .all our lives will be sunken out of existence, crushed into nonentity, made as if it had never been at all, by the simple revelation of Jesus Christ! Of course, in so far as the outward body of our deeds is concerned, all our works, good or bad, are ended in thatday; and so far as the results on character and fate are; concerned, all the work of every man, be it good or bad, lives on for ever. But whilst these things are both true, there is a very real sense in which, whatever in our conduct is acceptable to Him, our Judge, will last —in His approving knowledge, in blessed results to ourselves the doers and, because it is in accordance with that Divine YTill which is the only permanent reality in the universe, will " abide for ever," as He does. It is also true that all our actions which have not in them the life-giving spirit of a loving obedience to a loving Christ, will, when the pure light of judgment falls on them, shrivel up like some unclean fungus in the sunshine, and be as they

had never been, except only foxV the pain that their perishing will give and the ugly voi^d which their annihilation will leave in the edifice of on. f lives. Suppose that process were anticipated, and thertte could come to you to-day a power which would swe |ep out of your consciousness, and out of the fabric of .your lives, all which that Day will annihilate,—what a j poor, unconnected huddle of confusion and broken fjragments your life would be! It would be like a house after bombardment, with great gaps in the walls where a ^hell had burst, and the whole tottering to fall. It wouL 1 be like a sail in a man-of-war riddled with shot, and sc sarcely enough of it left to hang together. There are im onsistent Christians in this congregation to-day, I have no doubt, whose years might be reduced, as it were, i nto moments, if all the deeds which were no better than straw and wood were deducted. Test yourselves as fir as you can before that time comes, and see how much of to-day, how much . of yesterday, how much of yourself would survive if that flashing light were to come now. The selfish deeds, the God-forgetting deeds, the lust, the greed, will all vanish and go up in foul-smelling smoke. And what is left will be the gold and silver and precious stones; all holy desires, and self-sacrificing service, and devout aspirations, and pure Christ-like character.

"Only the actions of the Just

Smell sweet, and blossom in the dust."

III.—And now, lastly, look at the twofold effects on the builders.

The one gets a reward, the other suffers the loss of all his toil; gets no wages for work that did not last, is dragged through the fire and the smoke, and, just saved from being burned up, he stands there, amazed and impoverished, amidst the ruins of his home.

They are both Christians, remember that! They are

both on the foundation : that is not to be forgotten. The one of them gets the consequences of his services. We do not need to shrink from admitting the idea of a reward, the wages that are paid for what a man has done. Christ perpetually speaks to us about Heaven as being, in a very deep sense, a reward. And so does the whole of the New Testament, not because men deserve any Heaven at all, but because the Heaven which they do not deserve, and which they get only by the merits of Jesus Christ, and through faith in Him, is given in the measure of their capacity, which depends on their character, and is largely determined by their habitual conduct.

And so whilst, on the one hand, the foundation of all our hope of Heaven is "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy He saved us," on the other hand, if we will take the whole scope of the Christian teaching of the future life, the notion of faithfulness rewarded by corresponding crowns is distinctly a part of it. Consequently, unfaithfulness receives a less reward and a starless crown; and a man who, in his deepest heart, may be a Christian, and who is thus, and so far, building upon the foundation, may live so inconsistently, and so forget his obligations and the character that he ought to sustain, that before that revealing fire all but his whole life may be burned up, and he himself only saved by being dragged, as^it were, through the flame.

One looks around upon Christian people, one looks into one's own heart, and one feels that the solemn picture of my text will apply to a great many professing Christians. How much of all our lives will be burned up then! For how much of it we shall not get any wages, because it will have ceased to exist! And yet—and yet—though our inconsistencies be so many, let us not despair. It is possible, after all our imperfections, that we may yet be resting upon that foundation; and if so we shall lose a great deal, but we shall not lose ourselves. The inconsistent Christian's inconsistencies shall be burned up. Thank God for that assurance! What better could happen to them or for him than that they should be destroyed and he set free from them? Such a saying is a promise and a gospel, quite as much as a threatening. Instead of the hovels, he may build a palace. The fire of London finished the plague of London, and statelier streets and solid stone buildings took the place of the fetid alleys and tumble-down houses that were burned. But still that imperfect Christian "shall suffer loss"—the loss of what he might have gained. He shall lose the difference between the ten cities over which some rule, and the far smaller territory over which he is able to exercise authority. He shall lose remembrances which are true wealth. He shall lose, in that he will stand further from the Lord, and possess, because he can contain, less of His glory. The two men are both Christians. They have both built on the foundation, whether in the true sense of the text we take thatas meaning teaching, or, in the wider reference which may be fairly given to the words, we take it as meaning life. The one has builded imperishable work of solid materials, which the merciful Judge accepts and rewards, for, blessed be His name, our deeds do not need to be perfect in order to please Him and win His smile. The other comes all but empty-handed, saved because he has faith, but saved so as through fire, because his faith was so nearly dead that it brought forth few works, and these of no high type of Christian excellence. His crown is far less resplendent and starry than the other's. His seat at Christ's table in the Kingdom is far lower. His heaven is narrower and less radiant. These two are like two vessels, one of which comes into harbour with a rich freight and flying colours, and is welcomed with tumult of acclaim. The other strikes on the bar "Some on

boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship, all come safe to land." But ship and cargo, and profit of the venture, are all lost. "He shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved."

My friends! There is one thing saves a man's soul, and that is faith in Jesus Christ. But if a man's faith be so imperfect that it has very, very slightly influenced his character—and that is the case with many professing Christians that are listening untroubled to me now—his faith will never fit him for a lofty place in the Heavens. He will need a great deal to be burned out of him in that coming of our Lord, and he will only be fit to be among "the least in the Kingdom of Heaven."

No doubt there is a great gulf between the last of those who are within and the first of those who are without. No doubt the poorest building that is built on the foundation will have something that will stand when the storm comes, becaxise it is founded on a rock, while the fairest that is on the sand will be swept away when the floods undermine its foundations, and the rain penetrates its roof, and the winds batter its walls. But do you, Christian men, cherish the noble ambition of being more than "a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord." Seek for high attainments in Christian character. It is well to desire for oneself a high place in the Kingdom, if the desire leads to the holy life and the earnest seeking after communion with Christ, to which alone such high places can be given. So build on the foundation, and you will build secure. Build on it gold and silver and precious stones, true thoughts and holy deeds, loving, pure, unselfish, and Christlike. Giving all diligence, add to your faith whatsoever things are lovely and of good report, and so you will not merely be " saved as through fire," but an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.