Spiritual Discernment

Phil. 1:9,10.---' And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; so that ye may approve the things that are excellent ' [R.V.].

We speak of love sometimes as if it were a mere sentiment, a mere emotion. Though why we should speak of a emotion it is hard to conceive. The very word ought to have saved us from such a foolish collocation. Emotion can never be ' mere,' since it is that which moves us to some course of action. There is no mental characteristic of our age more short-sighted than our disparagement of feeling and emotion. The average man is oftener moved to action by his emotions than he is by his reason. Indeed, men are never moved to vigorous and effective action until their affections and emotions are engaged. Certainly, love was not to the Apostle a mere sentiment. It was a force, a power, an energy. It drove men to action. 'The love of Christ constraineth me.' And it not only drove men to action; it had also a mighty effect on character. It cleansed the heart; it illumined the mind; it made the spirit sensitive. It is this particular effect of love that the Apostle has chiefly in his mind here. 'This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment.' 'Knowledge' deals with general principle; 'discernment' with practical application. We might state what is in the Apostle's mind by saying that love increases the sensitiveness and accuracy of our moral perceptions. When moral issues present themselves we see more clearly, and we choose more surely. Knowledge and discernment are born of love. Love is not blind; it is sight. It is the gateway to the highest knowledge. It is so even on ordinary human levels. A man must have a love for art if he is ever to become an artist or even to understand and appreciate art. A man must love music if he is ever to know what good music is. And a man must love his fellows if he is to understand them. You will never get a fair or true account of a man from someone who is opposed to him. It is not, perhaps, that the opponent wishes to be unfair, it is simply that he does not know.

It is only the lovers who really see and understand. And it is just like that in the moral and spiritual realm. When the fishers had tossed all night and taken nothing, and the grey dawn was breaking on the beach, it was the eye of him who loved that discerned the figure of the Master standing beside the fire of coals, and John said to Peter, 'It is the Lord.' And not only does love make a man sensitive to the presence of the Lord, but it refines the whole character; it puts a fine edge on the spirit, so that a man becomes ever quicker to know the Lord's will and respond to it. That is why Augustine wrote that sentence which sounds so daring, 'Love God and do what you like'; for if a man loves God he will know what things are beautiful and pure and true, and only such things will he choose to do.

St. Paul desired this gift of knowledge and discernment for his converts for a definite practical reason---'that ye may approve the things that are excellent.' The Revised Version reads in the margin, 'that ye may prove the things that differ.' The refinement of their moral perceptions which would come through increase of love would enable the Philippians the more clearly to distinguish between truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Lightfoot, however, objects that it does not require any very keen moral perception to distinguish between right and wrong, and so he translates, not 'that ye may prove the things that differ,' but 'that ye may approve the things that transcend.' It is not so much a case of distinguishing the good from the bad as of distinguishing the better from the merely good.

Now, there are similar differences of appreciation and taste between men when we pass from the realms of art and literature and music into that of religion. Some men are content with the good; and some are content only with the best. And may we not illustrate the truth by reference to the Christian life in general? There is a conventional view of the Christian life---that it means joining the membership of a church, attending worship regularly, avoiding anything in the nature of open and flagrant sin, doing the decent thing in the way of benevolence and charity. That is the popular idea of what Christianity means. But how far removed that is from the New testament conception! For to be a Christian in the New Testament is to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; it is to follow Jesus to the place of prayer and the place of service, and the place of sacrifice. Most seem to take it for granted that the Christian life in its fullness is impossible to men and women who play their part in the workaday world. They confine the term 'religious' to those who give themselves up to lives of devotion. But it is in the world that our Lord means us to take up our cross and follow Him. It is in the world He means us to live the life of sacrificial love. Christ is not satisfied with the good; He wants the excellent.

What an impression we should make upon the world if, of two possible and legitimate courses of action, we always chose the nobler, and if we did our noble things in a gracious way! But how can we arrive at such a sensitiveness and refinement of moral perception? The text supplies the answer---by abounding in love more and more. There are three stages in the sequence as the Apostle traces it---enlarging love, knowledge and discernment, the choice of the excellent. Trace it backwards. The approval of the excellent depends upon enlarging love. The more we abound in love the more closely we shall walk with God, and the more closely we walk with Him the more deeply we shall enter into His mind and will, the more completely shall we share in His outlook. The man who enters into the love of God---its length and breadth and height and depth---as revealed in the Cross of His Son will not want a cheap and easy Christian life, a life that costs him nothing. He will be ready for the life of sacrificial service, and he will count the sacrifice a joy.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha The Sound of the Trumpet

Psalm 150:3.---'Praise him with the sound of the trumpet.'

JEWISH music was rather different from ours. Harmony, in the modern sense, was not understood. There was no such thing as the chording of the four parts of treble, alto, tenor, and bass. All the voices sang simply in unison. It was the musical instruments that gave emphasis and variety of expression---the trumpet, the lute, the harp and the cymbals. The trumpet was blown by the priests, which seems to mean that it was the most important note in the choir. And the trumpet note has always been a clear and exultant one, the note that is to go sounding through our songs. 'Praise him,' says the Psalmist, 'with the sound of the trumpet.' We pitch our tunes too often in the minor key, and are lacking in that note of confidence and joy which was the characteristic mark of the invincible apostolic Church.

As one listens to an orchestra play the "Pilgrim's Chorus" from Wagner's Tannhauser, where two themes, one dealing with sensual pleasure and the other with ideal aspiration and redemption, seek for the ascendancy, the significance of the horns as the chorus concludes becomes obvious. When they take up the theme, the motif of redemption not merely increases in volume and momentum, but gains the mastery, and the notes of bacchanalian revelry are submerged and lost. Holy love fills the air with unforgettable and thrilling dominance and triumph. When the trumpets speak the "Pilgrim's Chorus" becomes a pageantry of victory.

One of the great religious needs of the present day is a healthy objectivity. We want to think less of ourselves and more of our Lord. We have been far too introspective and subjective in our religion. We have thought far too much about our own moods and feelings. We have been far too absorbed in the contemplation of the obvious weaknesses of the Church. it is not surprising that, such being the case, we have been depressed and discouraged and have harped on the topics of reaction and arrest. What we need to do is to think less about ourselves and more about our mighty and conquering Lord! There are many things to discourage us in the condition of the Church; but, suppose we lift up our eyes, what do we see? We see Jesus 'crowned with glory and honor,' we see Him from 'henceforth expecting until all his foes shall be made the footstool of his feet.' The result is not a matter of doubt, it is only a matter of time. That is the vision we want to see---the vision of our enthroned Lord. That would bring the trumpet note back again, and fill us with confidence and courage. And confidence and courage would spell conquest.

There is a story told that during Napoleon's passage of the Alps the troops at a certain point were almost about to give up the effort in despair, beaten by the cold and the toilsomeness of the way. And then some genius suggested that the band should play the Marseillaise. As soon as the notes of that fierce and defiant song, into which the spirit of revolutionary France has instilled itself, fell on the ears of the tired soldiers, a new light came into their eyes, and a new strength seemed to come into their wearied limbs---they set themselves once again to breast the hill, with the result that soon the difficulties were all surmounted, and what looked like being a defeat was converted into a triumph.

When the Church has praised God with the sound of the trumpet, she has been invincible and irresistible. It was so in New Testament times. The apostolic Church was very small, and insignificant, but it was a Church blessed with magnificent courage and confidence. Its members flung themselves against an embattled world with a dash and an abandon that take the breath away. 'Maranatha' was their watchword---'the Lord cometh'---and in the strength of that mighty hope they went everywhere preaching the word and turned the world upside down. It was so in Puritan times. The Church in those troublous days was afraid of nothing. 'They praised God with the sound of the trumpet.'

What are the things that constrain or tempt us, at any rate, to lay the trumpet aside? Principally these---the perplexities of Providence, the appalling power of sin, and the fear of death. And yet in face even of these things, we can sing our song of exultation and triumph, and praise our God with the sound of the trumpet.

THE PERPLEXITIES of PROVIDENCE.---There are tragic happenings in life that almost silence the song on the lips of the bravest. What are we to say in face of an appalling catastrophe like that of an earthquake or a pit explosion? Why, we ask, if there be a good God, should so many people be involved in such sorrow and loss? Questions like these inevitably challenge us, and they are hard---more, they are impossible---to answer. And yet in face of these heart-breaking Providences we can put the trumpet to our lips. 'The Lord reigneth,' cries the Psalmist. If God rules it means this: that, spite of everything that seems to suggest the contrary, love rules, and goodness rules. Do we remember how Browning sounds that note again and again throughout his poetry? That was his fundamental faith: "Thou God art love; I build my faith on that." And, believing that, Browning had the trumpet continually at his lips! "This world," he cries, with all its tangled providences, with all its griefs and tears, "this world means intensely and means good." 'God's in His heaven," he cries in Pippa Passes, "all's right with the world." And with the same vision we, too, shall gain the same triumphant faith. To see God in Christ is to say "good-by" to doubt and fear.

That he and we and all men move Under a canopy of love, As broad as the blue sky above;

That doubt and trouble, fear and pain And anguish, all are shadows vain, That death itself shall not remain;

That weary deserts we may tread, A dreary labyrinth may thread, Through dark ways underground be led;

Yet, if we will one Guide obey, The dreariest path, the darkest way Shall issue out in heavenly day;

And we, on divers shores now cast, Shall meet, our perilous voyage past, All in our Father's house at last. R. C. Trench.

THE POWER of SIN.---The Scriptures do not hold cheaply the might of sin. Recall St. Paul's words, 'We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.' The Apostle would not have us underrate our foes. And yet, while we ought not to underrate the power of sin, neither ought we, as we confront it, to behave as if we were defeated men. The victory is not to lie with sin. sin is a broken and defeated power.

It looked, in our Lord's own day, as if evil had overcome good; when the Cross was set up in Jerusalem it seemed the very hour and power of darkness. But Jesus was in no whit dismayed. Facing it all, He sounded forth His note of conquest. 'I beheld Satan,' He cried, 'fallen as lightning from heaven.' 'Satan fallen!'---that is what our Lord saw. Sin broken! Wickedness overthrown! never a note of doubt or fear fell from His lips. And His disciples caught His spirit. The evil world rose in its might against them. It used fire and stake to destroy them. But they never flinched or faltered! they never imagined for one moment the world could crush the Church. They went forward to their battle with the assurance of victory in their hearts, and songs of victory upon their lips.

And we may sound the same triumphant note. In spite of seeming reaction, sin is a broken and defeated power. When our Lord went down to death and the grave, He came to grips with sin. And when He rose again, He emerged victor from the conflict. The decisive battle was fought and the issue settled then. It is true that there is often sporadic fighting after the fate of a campaign has been settled. There can be only one end to the war, and everyone can know it. It is so with the struggle against sin. The issue was settled on Calvary. A look back over the long stretches of history will show that its defeat is no imagination. It has been losing power. Its empire is breaking down!

THE FEAR of DEATH.---Not every one can use the trumpet in the face of death. Before Christ came, men feared the end. 'O spare me that I may recover strength ere I go hence!' cries one. 'The grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee,' cries another. But Christ has robbed death of its terror! He has revealed it to us, not as an end but as a new beginning; not as the finish of life, but as the commencement of a life richer and nobler; we look forward to a better resurrection. And in the faith begotten of Christ's resurrection men have been able to sound the trumpet in the face of death. Listen to St. Paul, 'O grave, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.'

The triumphant Church is the effective Church; the triumphant Christian is the finest witness for the faith. We want courage, confidence, triumphant joy, and we shall get them by laying a fresh hold upon God in Christ.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha