Christ and the Unstable

“Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.”

James 4:17 (NRSV)

I want to share an excerpt from another amazing sermon of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Based upon Matthew 21:10-16, entitled “Christ and the Unstable”. Here, Schleiermacher talks about human fickleness and our reluctance to follow through on completing the good we know is God’s will for us, while exploring Christ’s response to such frailties. 

(You can find the sermon in its entirety here)

“And how much shame do we prepare for ourselves if that from which we in our cowardice drew back, is yet splendidly carried out! how much reproach if, just because of our cowardly instability, it is discontinued! For we are not, of course, to covet that every good work should be done through us, and we may rejoice just as deeply in that which, through the grace of God, is done by others; but this joy befits only those, and in fact they alone share it, who have themselves done all they could. And if we are disappointed of something that we had desired as a great blessing, there remains to us, it is true, the comfort that all is only for the best as the Lord orders it; but this comfort befits only those, and they alone actually enjoy it, who have risked everything in order to attain what they desired. Shame and confusion, on the contrary, on those who are compelled to say to themselves, If you had continued steadfast, you might now be among those who are thanking God that He has made use of them for the furthering of what is good; but now you have done everything that lay with you to hinder it. And a burning and grievous sting must be fixed in the hearts of those who are obliged to say to themselves,that God will now again prepare praise for Himself only out of the mouth of sucklings; that everything on which perhaps their hopes, with those of many thousands, were set, is again deferred for the next generation; nay, that perhaps only the stones are speaking of that which was then undeveloped and went back, while free and pious men might be joyfully thanking God if it had been accomplished; and that this also is their fault. For where an unstable disposition gains the upper hand, there the little number of the good and strong labour in vain for the present, and none but babes, who are witnesses of the great fault without sharing in it, dare to hope; when faint-hearted hesitation prevents the aim from being promptly met at the right moment, then all that men, moved by the presence of what is great and divine, have felt, is like sterile blossoms from which there remains no fruit. But monuments of ruin will speak; for where precious opportunities are missed for the kingdom of God, there ruin breaks in, there follow close behind, as they did then, the judgments of God. Yes, my friends, unstable souls are like that fig-tree, the account of which comes soon after our text, the tree to which, in returning to the city next morning from Bethany, the Saviour went to pluck fruit, and found nothing but leaves. So also those people, however much cultivation has been bestowed on them by the stirring and inspiring presence of what is good and beautiful, have never anything to show but the barren decoration of fine feelings and high-sounding words. But the Saviour’s heart was vexed; He said to the tree, Be thou forthwith dried up! And what have such people to expect, especially in so decisive a time, but that the power that exhausts itself in empty utterances will entirely leave them, and nothing but the outward life remain, as a warning monument.

Let every one then, trembling at the thought of such results, strive to have his heart kept steadfast, to be ready at any cost to cleave to what he has recognised as true and right. And that we may be able to do this, oh let us be branches in our vine, the Lord, so pervaded by His Spirit and His presence, that, far from being sounding brass or tinkling cymbals, we may enjoy the living faith that makes no difficulty about mountains being removed, and the living love of which our eternal fountain is the Lord, who clung even to the weak disciples with heartfelt fidelity, and bound them together, as may He also bind us, to loyalty in life and in death. “