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St. Bernard of Clairvaux thus describes the death of his brother Gerard: 'Who could ever have loved me as he did? He was a brother by blood, but far more in the faith. God grant, Gerard, that I may not have lost thee, but that thou hast only gone before me; for, of a surety, thou hast joined those whom, in thy last night below, thou didst invite to praise God, when suddenly, to the surprise of all, thou, with a serene countenance and cheerful voice, didst commence chanting that Psalm, "Praise ye the Lord from the heavens; praise Him in the heights. Praise ye Him, all his angels; praise ye Him, all his hosts." At that moment, O my brother, the day dawned on thee, though it was night to us; the night to thee was all brightness. Just as I reached his side, I heard him utter aloud those words of Christ, "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit!" Then repeating the verse over again, and resting on the word Father, Father! he turned to me and smiling said, "O how gracious of God to be the Father of men, and what an honour for men to be His children!"
References. CXLVIII. 1. J. M. Neale, Sermons on Passages of the Psalms, p. 318. CXLVIII. 3. Archdeacon Sinclair, Words from St. Paul's, p. 20.
This verse tells us what God wants us to think about that most frequent of topics of conversation, the weather. The weather brings us into contact, immediate contact, with the forces of Nature. Here is a verse that strikes the keynote, true now, true then, always to be true.
I. The Will of God And what is the first word whenever we think of the weather? God has brought into existence in this universe of ours forces of two kinds, forces that can disobey His will, such as the forces that we call human nature, and forces that cannot disobey His will; such are the forces that make for the weather. So whenever we realize what a storm, thunder, lightning, mist, fog, and rain, are doing, we are realizing what is going on among agents that cannot help doing what they do we are witnessing the direct action of God, forces that are fulfilling His Word.
II. Therefore, No Grumbling. What is the second thought? It is a very practical conclusion, which we see to be a good one very plainly, though I quite admit it is not very easy to fall in with it. Do not let us ever grumble at the weather, do not let us ever grumble at anything that we cannot absolutely help, because if our will does not come in, why then it is God's will. I shall never forget the remark of an old Scottish gamekeeper, a good, old-fashioned Presbyterian. Some sportsmen were grumbling at the weather, and one of them went a step further and was cursing the weather; and the old gamekeeper said reverently, in a tone that the man could not help hearing, 'It wets the sods and fills the burns, and it's God's will'. The weather, and any other inevitable thing, is God's will.
III. An Ideal. The third thought is this. Let us take the weather as our ideal. Is that a lowering of ideals that we who have a will of our own should wish that we were like forces that have no will? That depends upon how we use the power given to us. If mankind always used the free will which we have, to a certain extent, so as to make us act far better than the forces of Nature, of course it would be a Divine conception of existence; but, alas, you need not live more than a single day in any place on the face of this world to find out that we have not made good use of our will! We have sinned, we are full of negligences and ignorances, forgetfulness of God's law. The best thing we can do is to ask of God, 'Make me subservient to Thy will, make my will Thine. I want to be like those forces of Nature who have not a will of their own, fulfilling Thy word.' It is the highest ideal to be in God's hands, to know that you are in God's hands. It makes a strong life, a life that brings influence to bear on the men and women of one's generation.
IV. Storms and their Results. The last thought I have time for is this: Observe results of the weather upon the physical world round about. Observe the result of every kind of weather, stormy weather, stress of weather, upon the face of Nature. Terrible storms, what we call catastrophes, sometimes gradually work upon the Nature upon which these forces are exerted that which is very striking, grand, and beautiful for us to see. From one point of view, in human nature, though the changes have sometimes come gradually and sometimes suddenly, these scenes of beauty would not have been there had it not been for the wind and storms and vapours fulfilling God's Word. If we are yielded up to God's will, every stress and every strain of trial is just helping to carve out, moulding and modelling a life that shall be beautiful in God's service.
Ruskin says: 'The snow, the vapour, and the stormy wind fulfil His word. Are our acts and thoughts lighter and wilder than these that we should forget it?'
Youth and Age
The young have special needs of their own which the Gospel must recognize if it is to be of any use to them; and the mature or aged, in like manner, have their own special wants, which cannot be met by the provision made for the young, but can only be satisfied by a Gospel which understands and sympathizes with them.
I. For the young He has the Gospel of Living; for the old the Gospel of Dying. A considerable proportion of those who have passed middle life have, by repeated experiences, been made acquainted with death. If you speak to them about it, you awaken a hundred tragic and tender memories, every one of which constrains them to prepare to meet their God. It is of life the young mind thinks, not of death. It must mingle with the warm rush of the healthy blood and keep time with the beating of the bounding heart. But is there not a response to this in the Gospel of Christ? Is it not preeminently a gospel of life? There is nothing else about which it is more constantly speaking, 'I am come,' said Christ, 'that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly'.
II. To the young Christ brings the Gospel of Inspiration; to the old the Gospel of Consolation. Youth looks around on the world in which it finds itself, and notes its defects with a fresh and inevitable glance. It burns to put them right. Christ taught the individual to realize his dignity as an immortal being; and the life He condemned most severely was that which accomplishes nothing. There is nothing too small to be done to the honour of God. The New Testament is from beginning to end a record of how men who were nothing in themselves became princes of thought and action through the inspiration of Christ.
III. For the young Christ has the Gospel of Giving; for the old the Gospel of Receiving. Christ has a cause on earth which can only be carried on by the energy of those who are willing to devote themselves to His service. He is not here any longer to carry on His cause Himself; He has left it to the charge of those who are willing to act in His name. It needs courage, initiative, sacrifice; it needs the lives of men. This appeal comes home especially to the young. There is a work you can do for Him in youth that none can do in old age.
J. Stalker, The Four Men, p. 178.
References. CXLVIII. 12. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 285. S. Gregory, How to Steer a Ship, p. 113. H. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii. p. 70.
The Religious Life of Young People
It is scarcely superfluous to ask, What is religion? for we cannot strive too earnestly for clear conception of such great terms. Definitions of religion are innumerable, but I think it would not be easy to excel that of Dr. Agar Beet, who states it as 'such conception of the unseen as makes for righteousness'. No part of your manifold life is so precious as your religious life. All else is moulded by it.
I. Characteristics of the Religion of Young People. Whilst in one sense religion is the same in men and women of all ages, in another sense it varies according to years. The essence is one, the expression differs. Even among young people religion is marked by variety. It is the glory of Christianity that it is adaptive to individuality. It helps to make each of you himself, herself. Intellectual inquiry is a usual mark of young people's religion. Their heart is set to know the reason of things. As we grow older most of us are less anxious for explanations. Age tolerates mystery. Youth resents it. Young people's religion is a religion of gladness. A mournful piety can never meet the needs of youth. Enthusiasm is a precious feature of the young people's religion. The august and winsome truth of godliness together with its cheering experiences kindle the ardour of youth. They fire the heart with the flame of Jehovah.
II. Temptations of the Religion of Young People. Young religionists are liable to over-criticalness. Everything is put under microscopic tests. There is ample room for legitimate criticism, but never seek to afford space for pedantic criticism. Hyper-sensitiveness often vitiates youthful religion. It is well to have due sensitiveness, but if it degenerate into touchiness it becomes a curse to ourselves and to our friends.
III. Advantage of the Religion of Young People. Reasons might be multiplied why young men and women should dedicate themselves to God's service. They have the advantage of physical strength. It is easier to be a Christian in health than in sickness. They have also mental alertness and freshness. Their potencies of mind, consecrated unreservedly, may be used for God and man. The religion of youth has the accumulated experience of the past to profit by. The universal past waits to enrich your future. That you live in this privileged age gives you an immense religious advantage. The means of being good and doing good are multiplied to an unprecedented extent.
IV. Obligations of the Religion of Young People. Your religion must be reflective. In all your thoughts let your God be. Let your religion be intensely Biblical. Make God's Book your book. Prayer must strongly mark your Christian life. Nothing must arrest your devotions. Your religion must be a religion of service. The Church needs you, and the world needs you.
Dinsdale T. Young, Messages for Home and Life, p. 123.
References. CXLVIII. 12, 13. W. Brock, Midsummer Morning Sermons, p. 58. G. Dawson, Sermons on Daily Life and Duty, p. 64.
A People Near Unto Him
There was a time when we could not take these words to ourselves. We were not a people near unto God. Our sins had separated us from God, and we had no idea that we had gone so far from God until we tried to come back again to God. The prodigal had no idea he had gone into such a far country until he tried to come back to his father. But whilst he was yet a great way off the father saw him, ran, fell upon his neck, and kissed him. And now we who once were far off are 'made nigh by the blood of Christ'.
I. How are we Brought Near? How are we brought near to God? We are brought nigh by the blood of Christ. Now this is true both objectively and subjectively. It is true objectively. The only power which will save us is the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. I know there are those who will tell you there is nothing objective in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; that that Cross was simply a manifestation of God's love, and that any idea of a sacrifice or an atonement for sin must be entirely put upon one side, for, unless we are willing to do so, we shall drive all thinking men to unbelief. There is only one old Gospel, that Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scripture. He died 'the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God'.
II. How Near have we been Brought? If it is by the Blood of Christ that we are brought near to God, how near, practically, have you and I been brought to God? Let me bring you to the Old Testament picture of that wonderful scene which is portrayed for us in Exodus XIX. and following chapters. God descends upon Mount Sinai. You may regard that mountain as a very pivot of the earth today, for God is there. And I want you in your thought to draw four concentric circles round about that mountain. And as we press through one circle to another, I want you to ask yourselves, Have I reached that point of nearness to God? The outermost circle is described in Exodus 19:16-17 , 'And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.' And when they heard God speaking to them it seemed as if the very earth trembled beneath the very breath of God. No wonder all the people trembled; no wonder Moses never allowed them to forget that day. Again and again in Deuteronomy he reminds them that they were brought so nigh unto God 'that the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire'. Those people were brought very near to God when God spake to them, and His Voice reverberated in the very inmost souls. Do you know what it is to be brought thus near to God, so near that we lose sight of everything else, and God alone is the great reality in your life, and God speaks to you, and as God speaks to you you tremble? This nearness of impression is very solemn, it is not something to be treated lightly; and yet the nearness of impression is not enough. This very people who stood there and trembled, and lifted up their hands in despair and said, 'All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient,' went away, and in a few days afterwards were dancing and playing round about the camp. And is not it so sometimes with ourselves? If you know what it is to get on the top of the hill with God, there will be a change in your life, in your character. As you come down to your daily life, there will be unselfishness, there will be consideration for others, there will be a spirit of self-sacrifice, a spirit of gentleness and a spirit of love, which will so overflow your very life and character that men will know that you are a man who is living in very close intimate communion with Jesus Christ.
References. CXLVIII. 14. G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 138. CXLVIII. International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 538.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 148". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13