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FREEWILL BAPTIST QUARTERLY.
No. LXIV. OCTOBER, 1868.
Art. 1.CHRIST'S VITAL RELATIONS TO MEN.
In the early summer, especially, Nature every where gives emphasis to the illustration of the conditions of spiritual life, which is found in the fifteenth chapter of John's gospel, where Christ sets himself forth as the Vine and his disciples as the branches. The illustration is equally forcible and beautiful. The branches that maintain their vital connection with the parent stalk are full of vigor. The boughs are green with foliage, each twig is bursting into buds, and all the buds are flashing into blossoms. The limbs of old trees, stiff with the toughness of their fibers or with the hardening influence of their many years, grow flexible and sway to the music which is poured all the day along the aisles of the forest. Roses are blushing as if at their own beauty; honeysuckles clamber up the lattices and breathe fragrance in at every open window; the clover nods in
field to the daisy; the lily puts on the robes which no attire of eastern monarchs can rival ; every bush by the road-side is hanging out its bannerets; the fruit-trees already bend beneath the weight of promises that are hastening into fulfillment, and the most barren mountains are carrying verdure far up their sides toward the crest, or bursting out into miniature oases wherever a little tuft of grass can push its way up through the crevices of the rock. The brownest heaths grow beautiful, the mosses upon the stone gather new greenness, and the desert blossoms without the help of metaphors. And all these struggles and swellings and triumphs of life owe themselves to the organic unity of vegetation ;—the stem keeps its hold upon the root, the branch abides in the vine, the loftiest twig preserves its vital connection with the deepest and minutest radicle.
Sever the thriftiest branch, and death hastens its work to completion. The sap stagnates in the channels, the chemical processes that went on without interruption are suspended, the twigs lose their flexibility and then stiffen into brittleness, the foliage wilts and then grows crispy, and decay and decomposition come in to end the process. No artificial appliances avail. Cement or string may keep the member in its old position, but they cannot restore nor preserve the vitality. The stream of life has been cut off from the fountain, and so the channels must run dry.
How different, too, is this life of nature from the best and highest imitations of it in the spheres of art! The best painting on the canvas is a poor thing compared with the landscape which it seeks to reproduce. The grass in the picture has no motion ; the clouds keep their old shapes day after day; the brook neither sparkles nor sings; there is no murmur through the forest ; the shadows cast by the sun neither lengthen nor change; the night dims the scene with no unusual suggestiveness, and the morning floods it with no new splendor. An oak in a pasture elaborated by the chemistry of a hundred seasons, is a thousand times nobler than a cedar of Lebanon in a picture-gallery, built up of painters' pigments. A rose of wax, however skilfully fashioned, is a contemptible thing when compared with the queen of the parterre swinging in the breezes of June. The painted cluster of cherries which tempted the bird to the window where it hung, how vastly inferior was it to the product of the fruit-tree, which would have fed instead of cheating, and called out a new hymn of thanksgiving from the throat of the warbler. By so much as substance is better than show, as realities are superior to shams, as great deeds are above skilful jugglery, as spontaneous movement is to be preferredto automatic
impulse, as a leap of life signifies more than a galvanic contortion, by so much are vital products to be chosen rather than mechanical, and God's inspiration before man's philosophy.
In these words of Christ, that show his vital relation to the true life of the human soul, are stated both the highest fact and the deepest philosophy of the gospel. All genuine spiritual life is the result of that vital influence which is poured from the divine heart into the currents of the human spirit. The amount of this influence received and appropriated measures the strength of the religious character and the fruitfulness of the religious life. Without this the soul is weak and effort ineffectual ; with
even frail natures become strong, and exertion that seemed to promise little, issues in achievements which wake the wonder of men and win the smile of God.
Vitality is the test of every thing. Whatever helps us does so by adding to our life. All true teachers quicken ;—they are not set simply to sooth and subdue. We do not want powers crushed out, but rendered normal and consecrated to vigorous work. The difficulty with men now is, that only half the faculties are av
ke, and those that sleep are the noblest. The intense and exhausting action that is complained of is usually partial action, which throws the soul out of tune ;-as the tyro musician injures his instrument and wearies out the patience of himself and his auditors by always playing music in the key of D. The test of a system or a sermon is its power to quicken the recipient and hearer. Anything that sets fettered powers free, that expands the sphere of thought, that opens new channels of enterprise, that exalts aim, that solidifies purpose, that enlarges the play of imagination, that makes the movements of the will resolute, and thus increases the dynamic forces of men, is set down as a blessing and a condition of real gain. The whole plan of the world is such that it is meant evidently to stimulate and normalize the human powers. The hiding of resources that they may be sought for; the curse and dishonor put upon selfishness and indolence; the reward held out to a wise industry; the victories promised to persevering toil; the joys that blossom in the pathway of learning and discovery; the honors that wait as a crown of heroism; the monuments which men build in their
hearts to philanthropy; the benedictions wherewith all good men hallow a human sainstship ;—all this shows that souls were meant to find stimulants rather than anodynes in the experience of life. And it is Christ himself who says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” “Go, work,” is the Master's commission whenever he finds a teachable and loyal heart, not, “ Lie down and dream.” “ Take up thy bed and walk,” is his cry to the palsied cripple ; and the mandate was aimed more at the torpid soul than at the droning nerves or the flaccid muscles. And he vitalized common natures till they became historic and wonderful. Peter had scarcely been known, save about the shores of Gennesaret, till Jesus commissioned him ;-after that, he filled all Jerusalem and Judea with wonder and alarm by his bold and magnetic speech. Paul had set as a student at the feet of Gamaliel till the gospel stung him into frenzy; and then, having accepted its ministry, he makes all Asia Minor ring with his name and become reverent before the messages which go out from his prison. Not more surely does morning dawn to wake the earth from its slumbers, than Christ comes to quicken humanity and vitalize stagnant souls. Not more surely do the monotonous forests change into fruitful gardens along the highways of civilization, than does the desert of human experience blossom out into beauty when the life-giving spirit of God finds a channel along which it may flow through the torpid heart.
It is this perpetual presence of Christ that constitutes the glory of his gospel, and gives it the chief promise of success. That pledge,—" Lo I am with you alway,” rightly interpreted, is the highest guaranty that his word shall not return void, nor his servants speak it in feebleness. It gives the speaker new authority and fervor, and it makes the hearer realize that he is listening to no common message. Christ's ministry was not simply the proclamation of a system, or the founding of a new religious party ; it was chiefly meant to bring a new vitality to the world. He did more than to make our planet a visit, to show his own condescension and assert the forgotten dignity of men. He comes to dwell in humanity, and build up successive generations of souls into heavenly majesty and beauty.
The manifestations of God which marked the earlier history of the world are not to be set down as exceptional developments and expressions of his interest in the human race. The old miracles are not the only symbols of the Father's heart. All the centuries are his children; each generation draws largely and freshly on his sympathy. If he brooded over the cradle of the race, he does not forget its youth nor leave its manhood unattended. The interests of our world grow constantly more numerous and more valuable. As its forces increase and become more operative, so must he follow them in their work with a deepening interest. The world's life of to-day stands related to its earlier life as the oak is related to the acorn, as the flower to the bud, as the fruit to the germ. The human race is a constantly growing element in the sum of being, and God's interest is always measured by the moral
The withdrawal of Christ's humanity from the earth is no index of loss. It does not denote the perishing of divine sympathy,—it rather suggests its enlargement and diffusion. The human channel could no longer hold the broad stream, as the banks of the Nile cannot enclose nor restrain the liquid fruitfulness which comes pouring down when the spring rains have given their baptism to the mountains. It was expedient that he go away; for only thus could the great Comforter and In