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God a Refuge
The Psalmist who wrote these words knew the happiness of their meaning, for the life into which God does not enter cannot be, in the deepest sense, happy. Yet the very name of religion has grown distasteful to many. Why is this?
'If I were to become what is called religious,' say some, 'I should be expected to give up my innocent enjoyments, to subscribe much out of my limited means which I cannot afford, to surrender to some extent my masculine freedom of action and my individual liberty of thought, to attend continually at services or meetings where what is said has but little real bearing on my actual daily life, and for which I have not the time, or if I have, I am too tired to wish for anything but rest. I look round on many of the churches, and I find that while claim is made of interest in my spiritual welfare, few show any desire to sacrifice the slightest personal comfort in order to help me in little things. I want less of the moralist and more of the man, less of theology and more true, broad-minded sympathy, less of the claim that religion is ancient, and more evidence that religion is modern, worth its salt today, and in living touch with present needs. Most of my daily experience has shown me that some who profess to be religious can be selfish, self-satisfied, fault-finding, and disagreeable. No, to speak plainly, if to be religious involves all this, I would much rather not be so.'
I. Here it is that the mistake is made. To think thus is like judging a noble portrait by a caricature. Do not let us look at the poor, human faulty copies, let us turn away from man to God. Open the New Testament, read there in those pages of the Gospels the life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. There you will see for yourself what true religion is, in that wonderful, perfect life of the Master. He went about doing good. True religion is not a mere profession, an assent or feeling. It is a love. True religion is to do the Will of God, to believe Him, and to follow Jesus Christ, to be tender-hearted, kind, forgiving, gentle, easy to be entreated, in thought to put ourselves in others' places, and to treat them as we ourselves would be treated. We are not asked to attempt the impracticable, or what the conditions of our life make impossible. True religion does not lay an additional burden on lives already taxed to the full. True religion only asks us to give up what is bad, bad in itself, bad in making us unhappy. There is intemperance. Yes, it must be given up; if not, there must be ruined health, lost peace, misery to others, and a premature grave. There is bad language. This, too, must go. Put down that in principle, once for all, and rein yourself in when the old habit crops up again and tries to be too strong. Betting and gambling, again, always in the end ruin those who follow them. Where in fighting such foes as these shall we find help but in God, in the personal experience of the sweet, strong words, 'God is our refuge and strength?' II. Our Refuge. Probably the experience of some is in union with those who are surrounded by lack of sympathy and lack of appreciation. It is a blessed thing to know Jesus Christ, the Friend who sticketh closer than a brother. God is our refuge from isolation and from human misunderstanding. Again, it is a hard, but it is a Divine, lesson to be calm and restrained under wrongful blame, a difficult, but a splendid victory. God is our refuge from provocation. Again, everything around us changes. The world itself is but for a time. We ourselves grow old and change, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yea, and for ever, and he that doeth the Will of God abideth for ever. God is our refuge from change. Then there is that terrible thing called sin, the remembrance of good left undone and of evil done. Christ died, that, believing on Him, sin might be put away. The forgiveness of sins is offered to us in Jesus Christ our Saviour. God is our refuge from sin. And when sickness comes, when the wife or the child is taken, when work is slack and expenses go on and the income is but small, if we can but look up to the face of our Father, without Whom not a sparrow falls to the ground, and say, 'Thou, O God, art my Refuge in the day of trouble,' God is then our refuge from sorrow. And God is our refuge from uncertainty. The agnostic and the materialist may excel in what is called destructive criticism, in declaring what is not; but when pressed to say what is, they are generally silent. By looking in the wrong way, the wise have never found, and, what is more, they never will find out God, because He reveals Himself to the childlike in heart, and His revelation addresses itself to the whole of our nature and not to one part, to the warm, loving heart, as well as to the cold, scoffing intellect. To the Greeks and Romans, as to the modern sceptic, everything was uncertain; but to the humblest believer light is sprung up in the darkness, for God is our refuge from doubt and from uncertainty.
References. XLVI. 1. J. Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 94. C. Kingsley, All Saints' Day and other Sermons, p. 200. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, A Year's Plain Sermons, p. 406. Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 124. XLVI. 1, 2. H. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv. p. 314. C. Kingsley, The Water of Life, p. 228.
The River of God
The River and the City hold such a place in Scripture that they cannot pass as mere casual illustrations. We read how in Paradise the streams of a river watered the garden. But what shall we specially associate with this river? We may be helped to find our way here if we take along with us a figure used to set forth the position and character of the children of God. They are compared to trees, trees from which fruit was expected and was found.
I. It is to be feared that some of us have no faith practically in the doctrine of the river. There is no true spiritual life that does not include a thirst for living water; there is no true faith that does not include an earnest belief that the river flows full of quickening and comfort; there is no true Christian progress that is not progress in understanding that there is a river, and that the streams of it make glad the city of God.
II. Some may be discouraged because they know so little of this blessing, because they seem to fail in any actual enjoyment of it. And you would not help them much by suggesting that they themselves may be to blame for wilfulness or unwatchfulness which have undone their peace. Think of the blessedness which this is designed to carry into the hearts and lives of men, which should be yours if you could, as it were, reach it, and then lay hold of this, that 'there is a river' and in that faith wait on God from Whom it flows.
III. If this river of God flows for us why should we be so weak as many of us are? How we fail to believe in earnest what we do in some sense believe. When He sets before our eyes more distinctly sins that must be mortified, duties that must be faced, and when we feel something in the heart stir, as commonly it will, to resist that call we say to ourselves 'this is not pleasant, this is not like the river of God, this promises toil and the dust of battle' whereas, indeed, that to which God calls us is the only road to the fuller experience of what the river of God can be, and can do for us.
References. XLVI. 4. T. Sadler, Sunday Thoughts, p. 65. D. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii. p. 276. XLVI. A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached at Manchester (3rd Series), p. 45. XLVI. 6. F. W. Farrar, Silence and the Voices of God, p. 51. XLVI. 8, 9. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 190. XLVI. 10. J. Keble, Miscellaneous Sermons, p. 363. J. Owen, Christian World Pulpit, 1891, p. 285. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 239. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 362. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (7th Series), p. 46. R. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. i. p. 17.
The Lord of Hosts, the God of Jacob
There is in these words a significant duplication of idea, both in regard of the names which are given to God, and of that which He is conceived as being to us; and I desire now simply to try to bring out the force of the consolation and strength which lie in these two epithets of His and in the double wonder of His relation to us men.
I. First, then, look at the twin thoughts of God that are here. 'The Lord of Hosts The God of Jacob'. What 'hosts' are they of which God is the Lord? I think that by that title the prophets and Psalmists meant to express the universal dominion of God over the whole universe in all its battalions and sections, which they conceived of as one ranked army, obedient to the voice of the great General and Ruler of them all. Next we turn from the wide sweep of that mighty name to the other 'The God of Jacob'. Whilst the one speaks to us of infinite power, of absolute supremacy, the other speaks to us of gentle and loving specific care, and holds out the hope that between man and God there may be a bond of friendship and a mutual possession so sweet and sacred that nothing else can compare with it.
II. Note, secondly, the double wonder of our relation to the great God. 'The Lord of Hosts is with us.' What does that say? It proclaims that wondrous truth that no gulf between the mighty Ruler of all and us has any power of separating us from Him. Through all the ages Christ Himself is with every soul that loves Him; and He will dwell beside us and bless us and keep us. And then the second wonder that is here set forth in regard to our relations to Him is, 'The God of Jacob is our Refuge'. The story of the past is the prophecy of the future. What God has been to any man He will be to every man, if the man will let Him. He will not suffer sin upon us; He will pass us through the fire and the water; and do anything with us short of destroying us in order to destroy the sin that is in us. He smites with judgment and sends us sorrows for our profit that we should be partakers of His holiness. We may write this as the explanation over most of our griefs 'The God of Jacob is our Refuge' and He is disciplining us.
A. Maclaren, The God of the Amen, p. 226.
Reference. XLVI. 11. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (7th Series), p. 129.
Before the battle of Leipsic, 17 September, 1631, Gustavus Adolphus asked his whole army to sing Luther's hymn, and after the victory he thanked God that the word was made good, 'The field He will maintain it'.
Heine called Luther's hymn the Marseillaise of the Reformation.
References. XLVI. International Critical Commentary, vol. i. p. 393. XLVII. 4. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 33. E. Paxton Hood, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii. p. 349. XLVII. 7. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 142. W. G. Horder, Christian World Pulpit; vol. xxvi. p. 309. XLVII. International Critical Commentary, vol. i. p. 397. XLVIII. 3. W. Arnot, The Anchor of the Soul, p. 138. XLVIII. 8. J. Keble, Sermons from Ascension Day to Trinity, p. 151.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 46". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Seventh Sunday after Easter