Guest Writer Sabine Baring-Gould
“What think you of Christ?” (Matthew 22:42).
Many men are Christians neither in understanding nor in heart. Some are Christians in heart, and not in understanding. Some in understanding, and not in heart, and some are Christians in both. If I were to go into a temple of the Hindus, or into a synagogue of the Jews, and were to ask, “What think you of Christ?” the people there would shake their heads and deny that He is God, and reject His teaching. The heathens and Jews are Christians neither in understanding nor affection.
But there are, and always have been, pious men who have not known Christ, but have lived good self-denying lives, lived a great deal better than most Christians, and have died, yearning to see God, whom they groped after, but did not find. I should say these were Christians in heart, though not in understanding.
If I were to put the question to you, “What think you of Christ?” you would answer at once that He is very God, of one substance with the Father, and also very Man, of the substance of His Mother, the God-Man, your Redeemer, and Savior, and Lord. When I hear the answer, I say—Well! here we have indeed Christians in their understanding.
Now, I want to know further: Are you Christians in heart and affection? Paul says that in his time there were some who were Christians in profession, that is, in understanding, and there their Christianity came to an end. “They profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and to every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16). Is it in any degree so with you?
The true Christian is he who is such in understanding and in affection, or, in other words, in profession and in practice.
It is necessary to have a good understanding of Christ and His truth. “Without faith it is impossible to please God; for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). There are certain truths, the knowledge of which we believe are necessary to salvation. That is, without an understanding of certain definite revealed truths, there is not much chance of salvation, for the ignorance of these truths is proper in a Christian, and without a knowledge of them, a Christian is not able to live a spiritual and a Christian life. These truths are contained in the Creed [catechism], and are taught to every child. It is not enough to repeat the Creed like a parrot, but the meaning of the truths contained in it must be grasped by the mind and understood. This is the advantage of Christian instruction, and I think it would be well if we Clergy, instead of so generally appealing to your consciences to lead good lives, were more frequently to refresh your minds with the truths you must embrace with your understanding. I believe one great reason why you make so little advance in the spiritual life is that you so little understand what God requires of you to believe.
After the children of Israel had been carried into captivity by the Assyrian king Shalmanezar, a number of persons were sent from Babylon to inhabit Samaria, the capital, and other cities of Israel. They settled there, but did not thrive, for this reason: the land was overrun with lions. You will find the story in 2 Kings 17. A great many of the colonists were killed by the lions. “Therefore they spake to the king of Assyria, saying, The nations you have removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, have lions among them, and behold, they slay them” (17:26). What course did Shalmanezar adopt, on hearing this? Did he send them hunters, expert in killing lions? No. Or dogs to drive them? Did he supply them with snares, and teach them how to make pitfalls for the lions? No! Listen to what he did. “Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry there one of the priests whom you brought from there; and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land” (17:27).
This succeeded, for we learn that the lions ceased to trouble the colonists when they had learned to know and fear the God of Israel.
What a lesson this heathen king sets us! “The devil walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, whom resist, steadfast in the faith” (1 Peter 5:8, 9). Do you notice the words of Peter? The lion who seeks to devour you, who lays waste the land, who destroys so many souls, can be mastered and expelled, but only if you are steadfast in the faith, only if, like these settlers in Samaria, you have been taught the manner of the God of our land. Evil of all sort, temptations and snares, evil spirits and seductions, will draw you into destruction, and you will be quite powerless to escape or resist, unless you know the manner of the God of our land, or—in Peter’s words—are “steadfast in the faith.”
It is not enough to understand, you must also love and follow the law of your God with all your hearts. Not only must you know God, but you must obey Him. Not only must you be instructed in the manner of the God of our land, but you must also observe it. Now, there are a great many who are Christians in profession only: they draw near to God with their lips, and say, “Lord! Lord!” (Matthew 7:21), but their “hearts are far from Him” (15:8; cf Isaiah 29:13).
One day a philosopher came before King Herod Atticus, and when the king asked him what profession he was of, what office he held, the philosopher answered, “Look at my robe, and you will see what I am.” For the philosophers affected a certain sort of garment. Then Herod answered, “Pardon me, I see the habit, but not the philosopher.” That is to say—”I see what you call yourself, and pretend to be, but I do not know whether you are the wise and learned man for which you give yourself out.”
I fear that if I were to follow and watch you during the week, I should be obliged to say—”I see the habit, but not the Christian.” It is true there is the profession. You say you are a Christian, you assure me you believe in God, you undertake to live a sober and godly life, to resist evil, and cleave to what is good. All this is the outside habit, the mere name and profession. I see the habit—but in your acts I do not see the Christian. No! There is not the Christian in you when you tell lies. Not the Christian when you slander your neighbor. Not the Christian when you deal dishonestly with your masters. Not the Christian when you fly into a passion and swear and curse. Not the Christian when you use foul words. On Sundays you have on your Sunday coat, or your Sunday gown, and you are as demure as saints, and attend church regularly. There is the habit. I see the habit. But where is your Christianity in the week? How much prayer? How much thought of God? How much self-restraint? I see the habit, but not the Christian.
Remember, then, that it is not enough to know Christ, and to believe. You must also love Christ and obey. Only by acting up to your profession, by walking worthy of the vocation whereby you are called, can you be regarded as a true disciple of Christ. He is not the true soldier who is enrolled, and deserts; he is not the good servant who says to his master, I go, and goes not (cf Matthew 21:30). If you know of Christ, you have a greater obligation laid on you to follow Him in love and obedience, than if you knew Him not. “What think you of Christ?” That is not enough. “How live you as Christians?” is needed as well.
“If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Harbor, Brixham, Devon, England
*Adapted from Sabine Baring-Gould [1834-1924], The Village Pulpit, Volume II. Trinity to Advent / A Complete Course of 66 Short Sermons, or Full Sermon Outlines for Each Sunday, and Some Chief Holy Days of the Christian Year (London: Skeffington & Son, 1886), sermon 55. Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.