A few days ago I wrote an introduction here to the topic of a large collection of sermons written and given by my Grandfather Gee, who rose to be a district superintendent of the Methodist Church in Wisconsin in the first half of the last century.
I am a convert to Lutheranism, and as such have had much to think about regarding my religious upbringing. That in itself shouldn't be of much interest to anyone else. But what may be of interest is the history of Christianity in America in the past century. I thought quoting sections of some of my father's father's sermons might give some insight--anecdotally of course--into the life and direction of the church as it fought its way through the bloodiest century in history.
This sermon was first given on December 31, 1910, was given nine more times and last given on January 2, 1943. I've edited for typos. Your mind's ear should be filled with a strong English brogue while reading, for best effect. Be patient: there is more Christ here than I've found in many other of his sermons.
When I first read this, having already read a number of his sermons, I was a bit shocked and disappointed that the great lead-in would end with "I must see Rome". This was Paul's persistent hope? C'mon, grandpa! Who are you kidding? But, as I discovered, grandpa had something else in mind.
A NEW YEAR MESSAGE
Acts 19.21; Phil. 1.21
"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."
No apostle of Christianity has made a greater contribution to the establishment of its principles or served with more devotion its wondrous leader than the man who utterd these words. To most of us it is of interest to know and to analyse the peculiar capabilities and endowments and opportunities that have carried men through and made them great. The study of these elements in the life of Paul is always interesting. I can imagine no more profitable a meditation now that we are in the midst of the formation of new resolutions and plans than a study of the most noble resolutions and in fact the all absorbing passions which led to a glorious end, this great apostle to the Gentiles.
Even the briefest analysis of his success will suffice to show us that although many things in the makeup of the man--his keen and cultured intellect, his resolute will, his unfailing devotion, his social standing--all these things stood him good in the struggle. Yet all that was attempted and all that was achieved was the outcome of ONE or TWO persistent hopes that filled his heart and one all absorbing passion that filled his life. Paul's soul was possessed of one passion and not a thousand. He had ONE clear vision and not a dozen hazy, indefinite outlooks. At the outset of his Christian life he came to know what he was after and he bent all that came his way to acheive THAT. And I venture to suggest to you that all that he did to help establish the kingdom was due to the fact that his life, year in and year out, was in the grip of a great desire.
I must see ROME. That was the desire and dream of his life. The one thing he YEARNED to do. For me to live is Christ. That is the one thing he COULD do. The living of the life of the Christ was the practical thing that occupied his soul as he saw his beloved city afar off..."
"...But Paul loved Rome because experience had taught him the wisdom of getting to the great centres of Roman life and rule. With his passionate zeal for the spread of the gospel, and his keen eye for true and great opportunities, with his splendid courage that would face freely the perils of the faith, the apostle felt that if he could gain a foothold in the metropolis of the world it would be one of the greatest opportunities that ever man had handled. He longed to preach in those spacious portals the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.
And the years of splendid patience and heroic toil passed away, and the old man's hair grew grey and it may be that he thought the the opportunity would never come.
BUT IT DID--AND OH THE PATHOS OF IT.
He entered the city in the charge of a soldier. He was tried after two years and then acquitted, and then after two or three years of liberty Rome seized him again. This time her temper was changed. Paul was held in close captivity until the heedless cruelty of Nero sent this great hero of the cross to martyrdom. THAT WAS HOW PAUL SAW ROME . That was the way in which the dream of the years was realized. And here and now as we stand on the threshold of another year, I want you to bring the desire of your heart and life to the judgement of this noble story.
We have to be devoutly thankful that all our lives are not measured by our experiences. That dull and irksome toil do not interpret the whole of life. A part of life--and a great part--is the unrealized. All we could never be--that to which we have not attained--the place and the condition that is ahead to which we hope to attain: THE DREAMS OF LIFE.
If we are frank with ourselves and with one another we shall confess that as we feel our limitations and the irksomeness of our toil that we all whisper in our heart, "I would see ROME."
And the FIRST thing that I want you to let Saint Paul teach you is this: that [it is] only the religion of Jesus Christ that makes your dreams of Rome worth the dreaming. What is Rome to you???? ALAS to most people it is not far off. It is the place of a thousand pleasures, the scene of unceasing variety, and change, the whirl of new sensations. Rome was the world's great marketplace, its streets like the streets of all great cities were paved with GOLD to the man who had never seen them. If the city of your dreams for 1911 [This is scratched out and"1920" penned in; in a typed copy of this sermon, he has "1915" written] is a city of gaiety, of pleasure, of wealth, of personal self advancement alone, with no desire to reach onto his habitation [both copies say this; I'm not familiar with the phrase] then I do not hesitate to tell you whoever you may be that the desire of your life is unworthy of the heart that contains it. You may say to me, 'Surely if I do my duty nothing else matters.' My time and my resources and my strength may belong to others but surely my dreams are my own. It is true my friends that if you do your duty nothing else does matter, but that is because your dream, your desire, your affections, and hope, your arm and your character all go to the doing of your duty. And so my friends the hopes & plans & dreams of the future must be in the hands of [G]od. And the Rome of your dream must be the habitation 'Jehovah'. We make a mistake of trying to isolate some parts of life. Life is one. Etc.Etc. [He actually wrote this! Remember these are sermon notes, not polished papers. More on that later.]
You cannot give the world some of your hopes and the Saviour all of your service. WHY? ---Because the dream[s] of the future are stamping an impression on the conduct of today. Thanks be to God, that Christianity's great offer to the world is not a splendid ideal, not a perfect ethic, it is a CLEANSED HEART, an INSPIRED WILL, a SURE & CERTAIN HOPE, a new life. If we want to know how St Paul entered Rome we must remember how Saul of Tarsus entered Damascus. "Saul, Saul, why Persecutest thou me?" The eternal love broke this man's heart, slew then and there his selfishness, and turned all his masterful wilfulness into a tender love & obediance. And do you see after that: One fact & only one shone thro his dreams; one voice, and only one spoke to his duties, life was unified. For it was the face & the voice of the Saviour of the world. We praise God for this that when any man, MARK YOU, ANYMAN thus gives himself to JC everything in his life, from his most distant dream to his nearest duty become righted and controlled. .."
Finally we come to it: the sermon is about the cross, and the cross in vocation. He even gives a nod to unlimited atonement! Here is a snippet of the end of the sermon:
"...May we all know that no man can find anything higher than the will of God for him just here & now. Paul reached Rome at last in chains, as a prisoner. If you want to render the greatest service, don't clutch at the crown, but be ready to wear the fetters.
Many a young man in the glamour of his morning time, many a great Roman at the zenith of his power, passed thro the gates of Rome, but the joy they found and the fame they won are forgotten. But still the world remembers one who, after years of toil passed along thro its gates, with the thought in his heart and the fruit of it in his life, "For me to live is Christ"
"Yea, thro life, thro death, thro sorrow, and thro sinning
He shall suffice me, for He hath sufficed;
Christ is the end, for the Christ was the beggining,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ"