The Christian's Best Dress
Sermon preached Sunday morning, April 24, 1948 by Rev. Roy L. Laurin, D.D., Executive Vice-President of the Fuller Evangelistic Foundation, Pasadena, California.
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”—Colossians 3:12-14
The process of approximating our daily condition of life to our heavenly position of grace has included putting to death the sins of the flesh and putting off the sins of the disposition. From here on it is a robing process. We are not ready for this until we have attended to the other. The robes of noble affections must not be put on until we have taken off the rags of sensuality. Nor is it fitting to come into God’s house wearing the rags of criticism and attempt to put on the garments of praise. In life also we must attend to the same. We need spiritual garments for a spiritual walk. We need a spiritual mind for a spiritual walk. We need a spiritual preparation for a spiritual service.
When Leonardo da Vinci was putting on canvas his great masterpiece which the world knows today as The Last Supper, he became quite angry with a certain man. He lashed him with hot and bitter words and threatened the man with vengeance. But when the great painter returned to his canvas and began to paint the face of Jesus he found himself so perturbed and disquieted that he could not compose himself for the delicate work before him, and not until he had sought out the man and asked his forgiveness did he find himself in possession of that inner calm which enabled him to give to the Master’s face the tender and delicate expression he so well knew it must have. We wear our emotions and traits of character as garments and we are not well furnished for the important tasks of life until we are wearing what is fitting for a Christian.
Seven garments of a perfect Christian character hang in this wardrobe. They constitute the Christians new wardrobe of grace.
A. Bowels of mercies. It was common for the generation of Paul’s day to consider the seat of the emotions as associated with the abdominal area and consequently called “bowels of mercies.” It is a phrase found at least five or six times in the New Testament and has the general meaning of compassion, pity and being tender-hearted. It refers in every case to a feeling of emotion with a physical reaction. We now know why they spoke of these as bowels of mercies. Two rows of nerve ganglia, which are connected with each other and with the brain and spinal cord, lie on each side of the spinal column. From this double chain of nerves, branches extend to most of the internal organs located in both the thorax and the abdomen. The largest of these sympathetic ganglia is the solar plexus, which is located just below the diaphragm and consists of a network of nerves. Anything which affects the emotions is felt in the solar plexus and in the viscera surrounding it. In this manner a sudden emotional shock will give a sickening feeling in the abdominal area; hence, the seat of our emotions is spoken of as bowels of mercies or the nobler viscera.
It is fitting that mercy should be the first of these garments of a perfect character for, having been the recipients of the mercy of God, we should display mercy as the basis of all human actions.
Sympathy is the ability to exchange places with another and to put yourself and your feelings into your relations with other people. It is putting feeling into your deeds as well as into your face and words.
B. Kindness. It is easy for Christians to be vocal, but there is also need for us to be vocational. When Christianity is vocal it comes out of the mouth, but when it is vocational it comes out of the hands. Words need to be clothed with deeds. Creeds need the explanation of demonstration. Words need the companion of works. Mercy is an attitude while kindness is an act. One motivates, while the other activates.
An unknown author tells this experience: Once I planted a vine beside a trellis. How carefully I tended the little sprout, watering it and teaching the tendrils to twine about the slats! Warmed by the strong sun and nourished by the refreshing rain, the vine grew, and little by little climbed half way up the trellis. Then the leaves began to unfold, and in a little while it began to provide cooling shade, and became a thing of beauty. But one dark night there came a storm. The wind blew furiously, and the rain fell in torrents. The next morning, when I looked at the little vine, it was lying prone on the ground, half submerged in muddy water. Then what did I do? I stooped down and tenderly lifted the fallen vine out of the mire, and twined it carefully about the trellis again. In places I fastened its tendrils to the slats with pieces of soft string, and it began to hold up its head once more. Then I watched it grow day by day, and observed with pleasure that the vine I had lifted up was taking fresh hold. Warmed by the genial rays of sunshine, it gave renewed promise of a strong plant, and I was happy.
Do I ever think to be as considerate of any fellow men—the men and women who suffer, and weep, and waver, and fall—as I was of that little vine, that knew neither pain nor pleasure? Am I as eager to lift up my brother man who has fallen low? Let us give men and women, with undying souls, as fair a chance to begin life over as we would an insignificant plant.
Prayers require more than words although the common conception is different. They require our willingness to do God’s will, which in our case may be to fulfill the very thing we are asking of God. Prayer must generate kindness and thoughtfulness in our own hearts or else it is a vain religious exercise.
C. Humility. Humbleness of mind means lowliness in contrast to self-sufficient arrogance. Any mercy we exhibit and kindness we show must be in the spirit of humility or the work will lose its worth. It is not, however, an abject attitude which leads a person to unreasonable length of personal depreciation, but is rather putting a true value on life in the light of Calvary and God’s mercy. It is “the attitude of a soul which has lost its pride in the discovery of the mercy of its salvation.”
D. Meekness. Meekness is not a synonym for weakness. It means mildness and indicates a tempered character where, on the one hand, there is freedom from an overbearing attitude, rudeness and harshness, and, on the other hand, freedom from a weak, fawning and servile submission so often thought of as meekness.
E. Longsuffering. This means the endurance of patience through successive stages of trial and suffering. If truth is often the balance of opposites, so is character. Jan Struther wrote about it under the title, “Our Anvil Moments,” in referring to the balanced qualities of patience in suffering and strength in action.
He referred to a couplet by John Florio in 1591, “When you are an anvil, hold you still; when you are a hammer, strike your fill.” Struther says this: “In order to live our lives we need the two balanced but related qualities of patience in suffering and strength in action. We are both object and subject…There are some situations in which we are unable to take action. Losses, bereavements, disappointments…these may strike at any hour with terrible force. All we can do is to brace ourselves against the shock. Those are our anvil moments. But there are other situations in which we have power to act, and at such times we need all our firmness and singleness of purpose. We must strike quickly, strike hard, and above all strike in the right place. With these qualities—patience and strength—we can endure all things, and achieve many.”
Paul is talking about patience for the long pull. Most people can suffer and endure and press on for a short time, but few can tolerate nuisance or monotony for long. When patience gives out they give up.
Victor Hugo wrote almost identically the same things when he said, “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones, and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”
Cervantes said, “The road is always better than the inn.” He pictures a road, a lone traveler and at the edge of the horizon an inn toward which the traveler is hurrying as fast as he can, oblivious of where he is and what there is to see about him. He has a goal to reach and to reach that goal he misses the profits and blessings possible to him on the journey. It is the way we hurry through life. We set up goals like inns and hurry and struggle and toil to get them achieved. We hurry to get the life insurance paid up. We hurry to get the mortgage paid off. We hurry to have the pension mature. We hurry to have the bank account grow. We hurry for the children to grow up. But all the while as we hurry down the road to achieve these goals and get to these inns, we are missing life. We never learn how to live. We pass up, in our hurry, the profits of every day living. We miss the blessing of God on the road, failing to see those we might help, the beauty as we pass, and the very purpose of our existence. We need the endurance of patience.
F. “Forbearing”—“Forgiving.” This is what is called an ensemble since it is two garments in one. They are separately described as tolerance and generosity. In forbearing we hold everything back, while in forgiving we hold nothing against. Forbearance refuses to demand what is due, while forgiveness gives more than is due. These produce in character a very beautiful balance of attitude. They enable us to be well proportioned.
There is a place for tolerance and also for intolerance. There is a genuine intolerance which belongs to Christians. Jesus had it. He was intolerant of sin, shame and hypocrisy. When are we entitled to be intolerant? It has been well put this way: “If Jesus Christ has done something upon which the salvation of the world depends and if that has been revealed in the Gospel, then it is the Christian’s duty to be intolerant of everything that seeks to deny, discount or discredit that work of Christ and the testimony of the Gospel that declares it.”
G. Charity. “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” This is the garment of Love and is the final garment from the wardrobe of grace. It is described not only as the last but also as the perfecting and finishing quality of character.
It is the garment which is to be “above all.” This means over all. Among the Orientals, dressing was always completed with a commonly and universally characteristic piece of clothing—the sash or girdle. This garment integrated all the rest. It held every other piece in place for its special purpose. Without it the other garments would not be in place or in form, but with the girdle it gave both beauty and composure to the human figure. More than this, it gave facility of movement in the exercise of the duties and tasks of life. It took otherwise cumbersome and awkward garments and united them in beauty and utility.
In the Revised Standard Version it says: “Put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Love thus becomes the climax of character. It is the integrating quality and the perfecting virtue. It is not only the last but also the first. It is not an addition but a condition. It is the capstone that binds the structure.
When we have put on these garments from the new wardrobe of grace, we are all dressed up with some place to go. We are a people with a life to live, a place to fill and a mission to fulfill. Grace provides the garments of character with which we are to go to our life and service. Not until we put on love, which binds all else together in perfect harmony, are we dressed for the occasion.