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The Burden of Egypt
In the preface to a volume of travel-letters by Dr. Liddon, his sister says: 'Dr. Liddon's interests were always the same. This was nowhere more evident than in Egypt, which had for him extraordinary fascinations, because, as he would frequently explain, the life of the ancient Egyptians all pointed one way; their monuments and their literature alike show that they held the real business of this life to be preparation for death. It was neither on their palaces nor on their public buildings that they lavished their art and their wealth, but on their temples and their tombs. "What an example for us," he would often say; "one that can only fill us with humiliation and shame."'
I. That the true business of life is to prepare for death has ever been the belief of all serious, of all catholic, Christians, from Dr. Liddon to Thomas Carlyle's peasant father 'impressively pronouncing the words, "Prepare us for these solemn events, death, judgment, and eternity"'. It may have receded in the thin and washy versions of Christianity current in our day, but it must return. For life is a judgment as well as a discipline, and unless the moral nerve has been cauterized to death, the soul must seek the way by which alone the offended justice of God can be met in peace. And desire as well as fear, the desire of the soul created for God and restless till it finds Him, can be contented only with the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The faith that joins us to Christ and restores us to God must be maintained by steady preparation the preparation of prayer, labour, and self-scrutiny for the supreme hour when, in presence of the Lord of Truth, the spirit makes its answer.
But we are told 'other worldliness' has gone out of fashion, that our business is with the rectification of life on earth. Yes; but that can only be accomplished by souls detached from time, though detained within it. Nothing, said St. Paul, could separate him from the love of Christ; neither life nor death, things present nor things to come. Neque instantia . And neither did Christ's love separate him from things present Rather it made him and it makes all in the same case the true servants and rulers of the present.
To depreciate or stand aloof from the great tasks of social reform is a real denial of Christ. These questions will never be settled by war. They cannot be settled so long as personal passion and pique envy, jealousy, and malice are in the ascendant. They will yield only to those who are content to live and die humble servants of God, yet brave and free citizens.
II. This readiness will give us the transfigured courage of love. We shall not flinch at the slings and arrows of our foes; these cannot touch the immortal part. We shall not pander to the vain hopes of those we serve, but tell them plainly that stern limits are set to the efficacy of earthly good; and that all possessions will but leave them poorer if they miss salvation. We shall not be dismayed when foes and friends alike turn upon us. The best cause may come to such a pass that all men will seem to forsake it and flee; the rain will descend, the floods come, the winds blow and beat upon the house. But what is built on the rock will stand. The disciple is not greater than his Lord, and it may be, as Heine says, that wherever a lofty soul utters its thoughts there is Golgotha. Even so in the bold and free acceptance of death there is given perfect courage and perfect self-command. Jesus died among legions of peace-breathing angels, and His peace passes to the prepared soul in death. When the cruellest blow falls, when the few human faces that made our inner world are fading, the hope rooted in Christ remains, for we know they depart to shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of the Father. The affections are no more nerves to suffer with when in Christ, bereavement and death are met with the fullness of willing love.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 153.
References. XIX. 23, 24. J. Wordsworth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. 1899, p. 346. XIX. 23-25. W. L. Watkinson, ibid. vol. lii. 1897, p. 236; see also The Blind Spot, p. 21. XIX. 24. J. H. Shakespeare, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. 1897, p. 228. XIX. 24, 25. Hugh Price Hughes, Essential Christianity, p. 249. J. Scott Lidgett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxi. 1907, p. 156.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Isaiah 19". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany