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CHAPTER XIII.

ST. PAUL: CHRISTIAN CONSISTENCY.

In St. Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians there is a very instructive instance of the effect on his own character and conduct of his faith in the gospel which he preached. He is defending himself against the suspicion of fickleness as regards his purpose of visiting his spiritual children there ; and he assures them that his word toward them was not "yea and nay.” And why was it impossible that his own word should be of this character? Because (he says) the promises of God in the Gospel are not yea and nay, but “ Yea and Amen” in Jesus Christ. No one can in true faith receive those promises which God has confirmed to us in His only Son, and yet be in his own conduct fickle, unstable, and inconsistent with himself, saying “yea” at one time, and “nay” at another.

But it is very necessary to bear in mind that the stability and consistency which are produced

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by faith in the Gospel differ not a little from the natural firmness of character which the world admires. We sometimes hear men praised, especially after their death, for their consistent adherence to some particular line of conduct or form of doctrine ; while the stability has perhaps been nothing else than self-will, or that which in a coarser and more unintelligent nature we should call obstinacy; or it means only that such an one has been unprogressive, and instead of pressing forward to larger knowledge and broader sympathies with all that is Christ's, he has been content to remain stationary, and dream that he has attained the goal of perfection. And, on the other hand, much may appear to the world inconsistency in the Christian's work for God, simply because the same truth often has, in its outward manifestation, very different forms.

This question is one of so much practical importance in “my work for God,” that it will be profitable to consider briefly some circumstances in the history of St. Paul's work in which, to those who judged him “after man's judgment,” he doubtless appeared to fail in that consistency and steadfastness of purpose which he himself declares to be the result of faith in the Gospel.

(1) I refer, first of all, to that which has been often noticed, though it is not sufficiently considered in its application to our work for Godthe very different conduct of the apostle on different occasions with regard to the ordinances of the Mosaical law. For example, on the occasion to which he refers in his Epistle to the Galatians, when he went up to Jerusalem to consult the other apostles as to the circumcision of the Gentile converts, and to defend their liberty in Christ against those who would bring them under bondage to the law, he altogether rejected the proposal that his Greek companion Titus should be circumcised. He feared lest, by conceding this to the Judaizing party, he should compromise the Gospel of the grace of God, and supply the adversaries with an argument against it. Yet shortly afterwards, when the evangelical liberty of the Gentiles had been

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allowed by the Church, Paul himself circumcised Timothy, whose father was a Greek, and who, though brought up by a pious Jewish mother in the knowledge of God, yet had continued uncircumcised. The reason

was that he wished Timothy “to go forth with him: and he circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those parts; for they all knew that his father was a Greek;” and might therefore be prejudiced against him, and refuse to associate with him. St. Paul's principle in both cases was the same, first, that“ in Christ neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision ;” then that in all matters of indifference the true Christian rule is, “Let us follow after things that make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another." And is not much that is called consistency too often nothing else than a neglect of this fundamental law of the Christian life? Ought I not to be on my guard, lest either through my own self-will, or perhaps merely through the desire to maintain a reputation for consistency amongst men, I should, in the sight of God, not be steadfast in regard to that which is the highest and most important end of witnessing for the truth?

(2) The other circumstances to which I refer in St. Paul's history are instructive as indicating how entirely his own purposes as to his work were subordinate to the intimations of God's will. Not unfrequently men are admired for persistence in some particular work, as if this were in itself a virtue; and without doubt perseverance in God's work in spite of discouragements and difficulties is a virtue most necessary. Nothing can be more fatal than to be dissatisfied with that work which God provides for me, and ever seeking some new sphere which to my own judgment seems more hopeful. But St. Paul teaches us that there is a higher principle still, namely, to be guided by the will of God.

It seems that, for at least eight or nine years after the time when Paul, together with Barnabas, had been consecrated to his apostolic work, he regarded as his own proper sphere of labour

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