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Alexander Maclaren on Earthiness of True Spirituality

I am currently teaching my class on John’s gospel and letters here at Union. In dealing with John 2 I came back across this quote I had gleaned earlier from Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), a prominent Scottish Baptist preacher. This is a long quote, but I kept it all because it makes a good point about the folly of dividing life along the false divide of sacred and secular. Particularly helpful is his point that because we are so accustomed to drawing pleasure from tainted sources we often are skeptical about joy and pleasure itself. There is much to help us here in pastoring Christ’s church.

“It is not without meaning that Jesus began His work by sanctioning and hallowing common, and especially family, life. What a contrast there is between the simple gladness of the rustic wedding and the temptation in the wilderness, from which Jesus had just come? What a contrast between the sublime heights of the prologue and this opening scene of the ministry! What a contrast between the rigid, ascetic forerunner and this Son of Man! How unlike the anticipations of the disciples, who would be all tingling with expectation of the first exhibition of His Messiahship! Surely the fact that His first act was to hallow marriage and family life has opened a fountain of sacred blessing. So He breaks down that wicked division of life into sacred and secular which has damaged both parts so much. So He teaches that the sphere of religion is this world, not only another. So He claims as the subjects of His sanctifying power every relation of manhood. So He says at the beginning of His career, ‘I am a man, and nothing that belongs to manhood do I reckon foreign to Myself.’ Where He has trod is hallowed ground.
The participation of the prince in the festivities of his people dignifies these. Our King has sat at a wedding feast, and the memory of His presence there adds a new sacredness to the sacredest, and a new sweetness to the sweetest, of human ties. The consecration of His presence, like some pungent and perennial perfume, lingers yet in the else scentless air of daily life. ‘Sanctity’ is not ‘singularity.’ We need not withdraw from any region of activity or interest for affection or intellect, in order to develop the whitest saintliness. Christ’s saints are to be ‘in the world, not of it,’ like their Master, who went from the wilderness and its fearful conflicts to begin His work amid the homely rejoicings of a village wedding.
Further, He manifested His glory as the ennobler and heightener of earthly joys. That may be taken, with a possibly permissible play of fancy, as a lesson suggested, if not as a meaning intended, by the change of water into wine. The latter is, in the Old Testament especially, a symbol of gladness. The Man of Sorrows brings the gift of joy. To make men glad is an object not unworthy of Him. If we may so say, it was worth His while to come from heaven and agonise and die, that He might pour everlasting and pure joy into weary and sad hearts.
We are so much accustomed to draw joys from ignoble sources, that in most of them there is a trace of something not altogether creditable or lofty, and hence we often fail to estimate rightly the importance of joy as an element in Christian life. But Christ came to give the oil of joy for mourning, and He does so in part by transforming the less potent and invigorating draughts from earthen waterpots into the new wine of the kingdom. The commonest joys, if only they are not foul and sinful, are capable of this transformation. If we bring them to Jesus, and are ‘glad in the Lord,’ He will ennoble them, and they will tend to ennoble us.”

-Alexander Maclaren, The Gospel of St. John (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1893), 24-25.

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