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The Personal God
Every man has what practically amounts to a god of his own. That is to say, he has a conception of God which no other mind has seized, and that conception forms the living centre of his personal religion. There are several gods in Christendom which I have renounced, and against which every honest man should, from any point of view, inveigh with strong indignation. Three examples occur to me at this moment, (1) There is a god that specifically foreordains so many people to be saved and so many to be lost; this god calls upon all men to be saved, well knowing that the call will neither be heard nor answered, because of an arbitrary decree which he himself has issued. This god I abhor and renounce, and I treat his power with scorn and defiance. No such god could ever secure my confidence or tempt me into other than mocking prayer. (2) Then there is another god, in many respects the exact contrary of this. He is infinitely soft; he is "all tears"; he is constantly misspending his love and complaining of the daily waste; his life is a tumultuous sentiment, rushing like an unbanked river into any swamp that will receive it and turn it into fetid and barren greenness. This god I pity and avoid. There is further (3) a kind of gentleman-god who is the refined and respectable patron of a certain type of churches. He never attends any other place of worship; he is nothing if not genteel; he submits himself sabbatically to the mild encomiums of sundry feeble persons who use him for professional purposes and never make any vulgar or exciting allusions to him.
My God is wholly unlike these three idols. Were there but these three to choose from, I should in very deed be a godless man. My heart goes out towards another God, about whom I will say what little I can, the most being less than nothing, and the highest love being but dead coldness when spoken in the words of man. What I know about this God I have learned solely from the Son of the carpenter. He seemed to be a long time in saying anything about God. The first time he spoke of him, except by way of quotation, he did not call him God, or Lord, or Most High, or Eternal; he called him "your Father which is in heaven"! Not that he disavowed the more solemn name, for the next time he turned to the topic he said "God's throne." After long companionship with the Son of the carpenter, and even much loving intimacy with his most secret heart, I have come to know something about this Father who has a throne, and this God who is a Father.
Intellectually my God is as unthinkable as mathematically the horizon is immeasurable. We can lay one end of the tape upon the earth, but we cannot lay the other end on the horizon, yet the horizon is visible, and is just yonder ! But because God is unthinkable it does not follow that he is not to be thought about. The fatal mistake of some thinkers seems to lie just there. The unthinkable is not something contrary to thought, but is something above thought, as the immeasurable is not a quantity which disproves figures, but exceeds them. Astronomy gives us a universe whose orbit is so stupendous that any section of any circle ever measured by mathematics appears upon its circumference as merely a straight line. An unthinkable universe, yet objectively here, undeniable, most palpable, and not wholly without use! I like to think about it until thought falls into a dream, and the dream is too grand for words and becomes a dumbly religious amazement. If I think only of my own parish, I become small; of my own country only, a selfish patriot; of the universe, I heighten with the infinite idea. This experience has its inexpressible counterpart in religion. I am incomplete and restless without God. I grope for him in a great darkness, and my heart is pained with bitter crying and a very agony of desire. You must give me a God, or I will create one. Idolatry is philosophical; in its most tragic bloodiness it is but the desperation of a life that is nearly Divine. The God and Father of Jesus Christ fills me with ineffable satisfaction, not that he falls wholly within the lines of my intellectual capacity, but is as the sun which fills the earth with its glory and yet holds in reserve infinitely more than the earth can receive. It is open to others to call this phantasy on my part. I might call it phantasy, too, and endeavour to quench it, but that I am the better for it, coming out of the enrapturing reverie as I do with a sacred contempt for all meanness and a burning desire to help and bless all other human life. Such a phantasy is not without substance, and therefore is no phantasy, though seeming to be such to men whose intellectual guests are always less than themselves. If it perished like a cloud, I might value it at the price of a cloud, but so long as it constrains me to do good, to think nobly, to give generously, and to suffer patiently, I must encourage it, though it be called by no other name than phantasy.
Another thought. It is a mistake to suppose that knowledge tomes to us solely through what are known as intellectual proeesses. Some things we know intuitively, some sympathetically, some experimentally. Some knowledge is, so to say, startled into us by sudden distress or sudden joy. No image or superscription of reasoning is upon it, yet it rules us like a revelation, and it is consciously at the peril of a great loss that we refuse it place and utterance in our life. As human education is something both before school and after it the school being merely a bracket in the opening of youth so knowledge, in its highest reach and quality, comes before reasoning and continues after it, without any law or measure which science has yet determined. I put it down, therefore, as one line in my creed that man's knowledge is not the product or issue of his intellect alone.
The most powerful may I not say the most tremendous? hold which God has upon me is in a moral direction. He is in very deed a holy God. He cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. He gives me a final standard of right and wrong. If I could get rid of this God, I could easily get rid of all inconvenient morality. He will not allow me to yield to the temptation of circumstances, or to pit one suggestion against another in any argument whose conclusions would fraudulently enrich me, or separate my individual benefit from the security and completeness of the broad commonwealth. There is a law of righteousness in his mouth, a sword of justice is in his hand, and the whole royalty of his throne is set against all selfishness and corruption. This is my God. He is the continual torment of my sin, and the continual hope of my penitence. I am a better man with him than I could possibly be without him, and that is a test which no false religion can bear. Without him my morality would be a calculation, a public attitude, or a social investment; it might often have the semblance of the rarest virtue, and for all purposes of casual criticism might successfully float through the passing hour: but a vital and invincible morality it would not be; it would not wear well; any unequal strain might break it, and show the inner craft of an artificial exterior.
These two aspects of God give me all that I need in the way of intellectual speculation and moral rest. My mind is filled with the grandeur of the conception, and its highest moods are promised an ever-enlarging delight and satisfaction. On the other hand, I find the rest which every mind must ardently desire when looking at the collisions and tumults of all time. I feel that the end is not yet, and that my judgment would be as a word spoken out of season. More than this, I am assured that the world must be more to its Maker than ever it can be to me, and therefore that if he can keep the sunny roof over its stormy scenes, it would be imbecility and impiety on my part to complain of its inequalities and misadventures. I rest in the almightiness of God, and my patience is ennobled into a religion by the confidence that all things are working together by measures and compensations which must result in universal contentment and rest. Again and again, therefore, I am shown that my creed is not a phantasm, but a reality, not a dream which pleases one set of my powers, but a discipline that puts upon me great strains and summons me to gracious labours.
This Unthinkable and Holy God I humbly receive from Jesus Christ, the Son of the carpenter. "He only hath revealed him." He claims that he came from the bosom of the Father, and my experience of his grand and ever-ennobling teaching confirms the probability of his having done so. More than this: so far as the human intellect can go, Jesus Christ is not, in his word and works, distinguishable from God. Whether beyond the point attainable by the mind any inequality discovers itself we cannot now know. To my mind Jesus Christ is one with God. His words are unfathomable in meaning, though direct and immediate in the holy uses of comfort and illumination. More and more do I grow in the conviction that any God that cannot be made immediately available by the very simplest descriptions or definitions is neither the Father nor the Saviour of men. Though he be great, yet must he have respect unto the lowly; to the lowly he must accommodate himself in his revelations, and in no wise must he shut himself up as the monopoly of professional interpretation or sacerdotal pretension. These conditions are all realised in the God of Jesus Christ. God is love. God is light. God is life. God is a Spirit. God is Father. No other God ever admitted of such easy translation into the speech of men. This is MY God.
"Handfuls of Purpose,"
For All Gleaners
"Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern..." 1 Chronicles 28:11 .
David was determined to do as much as possible towards building the temple. The temple itself he was forbidden to rear; and yet, whilst obeying the letter of the word, he zealously did his utmost to facilitate the progress of his son. Some men can only give outlines, hints, suggestions, patterns. These men are of great consequence and value in the education of the human mind. A hint may be a stimulus. Some men can see a long way through a small rent, and yet they never could make the rent for themselves. In the Church we have statesmen and politicians that is to say, men who can grasp the entirety of a case, and men who can only see parts of it, or attend to the detail of the working out of some great scheme. Solomon can work according to a pattern when he may be destitute of original invention. We mistake originality when we think that it consists of adaptation of old materials. As a matter of fact, there is no originality. The only partial originality possible to us is the re-arrangement of old histories, facts, phenomena, inferences: but even this adaptation of what is already well known must not be discarded or despised as a secondary service. Let it not be supposed that men are doing nothing for the race who write its poems, outline its policies, or sketch new programmes of possible service. The builder could not proceed without the architect. From a common point of view, the architect may be said to be doing the easy work: seated in his office, and with dainty hands employing himself with clean paper, mathematical instruments, and availing himself of the treasures of knowledge gathered by other men, he might be thought to be doing the playful part of the business: but consult the builder, because the builder alone knows the true value of the architect. But this is part of an old and vexatious sophism. Men will value the material more than the spiritual; the manual more than the intellectual. How long will the time be in coming when men shall see that an idea is of more value than gold, that knowledge is power, and that wisdom is better than strength? There must be no undervaluing one of another amongst men, for one man can do what another can not do, or one man can do another kind of work better than he could render some lower service. Let each operate in his own way.
"Handfuls of Purpose,"
For All Gleaners
"All this, said David, the Lord made me understand in writing, by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern." 1 Chronicles 28:19 .
Thus David would not be a plagiarist. Instead of saying that his own genius had invented the pattern, he distinctly, as in the 12th verse, said, "The pattern of all that he had by the spirit," and again, in the 19th verse, "The Lord made me understand." In reality there is but one Architect. The Lord is the builder of all things. He supplies the material, he inspires the genius, he directs the skill; in short, they labour in vain that build the temple if the Lord be not with them and within them. Of every man it may be inquired, What hast thou that thou hast not received? We should look beyond the vessel to the treasure, beyond the instrument to the user of it. The organ did not build itself; the organ cannot play itself; it must be an instrument used mightily and wisely, yea, with cunning skill, and not a little tender sympathy, by a living soul. Have we correctly read the plans of God, so far as he has outlined them? Have we not worked much under them, rather than fully up to all their possibility of meaning and use? Have we not been afraid to mention all the ideas which God has communicated to us? We may have feared the people, we may have feared our equals, we may have feared some loss of reputation or remuneration, by going out of the common way and declaring that God has made a narration to us respecting the enlargement of his purpose or the variation of his providence. In this way we are to read the Bible. David would say the same about his Psalms that is said about the patterns of the temple and its contents. At the end of each psalm he would have written, This is what the Lord made me understand; or, This is the pattern that I have had by the spirit. The same may be said of the whole Bible: it is God's book, it is God's plan of his earthly sphere, it is God's outline of providence and redemption. We have to carry out many details, we have to readjust elements and materials to suit the image and aspect of the times passing over us; but we must never alter the plan, the essential thought, the ruling purpose of God. We must not regard the Bible as of human origin; in every line of it we must see the movement of the Eternal Spirit.
"Handfuls of Purpose,"
For All Gleaners
".... the princes and all the people will be wholly at thy commandment." 1 Chronicles 28:21 .
This is the way to mingle the classes and the masses. The only equalisation of human society possible or desirable is an equalisation wrought out by holy service community of effort, united and consolidated sympathy, on behalf of the poor, the helpless, and the outcast. The service was so great that the prince was as the peasant, and the peasant was as the prince. In the glory of the mid-day sun all lights of our kindling seem to be equal, because the glory of the sun rules all and excels all: so in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ all his servants seem to be equal; the wise man is not vain of his wisdom, the strong man makes no account of his strength, the weak man is not ashamed of his weakness; all are inspired and dominated by a common exaltation of feeling. When our spiritual zeal declines we begin to make invidious comparisons; we speak of great men and little men, leaders and followers: there is a sense in which this distinction will ever hold good, until, under the influence of the purest inspiration, all these differences will be but a variety of unity, and these distinctions themselves will be cited as a proof of the oneness of the Christian Church. The stars are many, but the heavens are one; the flowers are innumerable, but they are all warmed and fostered by one common sun. Let each do what he can; the first may be last, and the last may be first. When we are in a right mood of mind we shall be characterised by obedience, we shall know the voice of the leader and respond to it, we shall know the commandment of God, and never hesitate to carry it out. Princes and people were at liberty to reject the mere inventions either of David or of Solomon, but when David or Solomon became the obvious medium of divine communication the people looked at the message and not at the medium.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Chronicles 28". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19