Wednesday, June 7th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Parker's The People's Bible Parker's The People's Bible
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 4". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ jpb/ deuteronomy-4.html. 1885-95.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 4". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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Memory and Duty
In the ninth verse we have a very solemn possibility indicated. The words of Moses are: "Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons." The solemn possibility is the possibility of forgetting God and God's providence in human life. We fail not always through sin or vulgar crime, as if with both hands we would smite the sceptre of God and the throne of righteousness: we may be far enough from any such exhibition of a rebellious kind; but what is of equal fatality as to spiritual loss and consequent exposedness to every temptation of the enemy is the possibility of forgetting all that is worth remembering. We may not have endeavoured to expunge, as by an express and malicious effort; but memory is treacherous: the faculty of recollection is otherwise than religiously employed, and before we are quite aware of what has been done, a complete wreck has been wrought in the memory of the soul. The accusation will not found itself upon the thought that we have learned a lesson and have allowed the lines to slip, but our attention will be called to the fact that we who were eye-witnesses can no longer bear testimony because of the vacuity of our minds. There will settle upon the intellectual faculties themselves, and upon the senses of the body, a stupidity amounting to sinfulness. We may have no memory for words: had we committed the lesson to an intellectual recollection we might have been excused for forgetting somewhat of its continuity and exactness; the point is that we are called to remember things which our eyes have seen. The eye is meant to be the ally of the memory. Many men can only remember through the vision; they have no memory for things abstract, but once let them see clearly an object or a writing, and they say they can hold the vision evermore. God's providence appeals to the eye; God's witnesses are eyewitnesses not inventors, but men who can speak to transactions which have come under their immediate and personal observation: they have seen and tasted and handled of the Word of life. What a loss it is to forget the noble past! How treacherous is the memory of Ingratitude! All favours have gone for nothing; all kind words, all stimulating exhortations, all great and ennobling prayers, forgotten in one criminal act. To empty the memory is to silence the tongue of praise; not to cherish the recollection is to lose the keenest stimulus which can be applied to the excitement and progress of the soul. On the other hand, he whose memory is rich has a song for every day; he who recollects the past in all its deliverances, in all its sudden brightnesses, in all its revelations and appearances, cannot be terrified or chased by the spirit of fear: he lives a quiet life, deep as the peace of God. Can Moses suggest any way of keeping the memory of God's providences quick and fresh? He lays down the true way of accomplishing this purpose: "Teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons" in other words, speak about them, dwell upon them, magnify them, be grateful for them; put down the day, the date, the punctual time, when the great deliverances occurred, and when the splendid revelations were granted; and go over the history line by line and page by page, and thus keep the recollection verdant, quick as life, bright as light. What a reproach to those Christians who are dumb! How much they lose who never speak about God! "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written... And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels." To speak of the mercies of God is to increase the power of witness at another point. We first see, then we teach. The teaching of others is not to come until there has been clear perception on our own part. The eye-witness is doubly strong in whatever testimony he may make: not only can he tell a clear story from end to end, he can sign it with both hands, he can attest it with the certainty and precision of a man who has seen the things to which he sets his signature. Our Christianity amounts to nothing if it is not a personal experience. We cannot preach Christ until we have seen Christ. To preach salvation should mean that we ourselves have been saved.
Were all days alike, then, to the ancient Israelites a great monotony of light: for even the summer may become a burden, and men may long for cloud and pouring rain? The days were not all alike: the monotony was broken in upon. So we read in the tenth verse: "Specially the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children." There are "special" days even in the highest experiences; there are great high-tides in the soul's emotion; there are times of transfiguration, seasons when we see things as we never saw them before, glimpses of day, shootings, first, scarcely discernible, of bright lights across the whole firmament, which may be received by the soul as pledges of a whole heaven full of glory. Such moments may be few in number, but such is their quality that they require whole pages of our life-book for their clear and explicit writing. In all life there are "special" days: the birthday, the wedding day, the funeral day, the day when the letter came that brought a gospel of release from manifold and intolerable anxiety, the day when the epistle came from a hand which we thought would never write again. What is the day which Moses specialises? It is the day that ought to be the most memorable in every man's experience: the day when the divine Word was heard revelation day, conversion day, salvation day, say broadly resurrection day. The day when the soul first became conscious of its true relation to God, and answered the appeal of heaven, ought to be the all-absorbing day; it should be as the day when the ear heard music for the first time. Can the man cured of almost total blindness forget the moment when he first saw the blue sky and the beflowered earth under his feet? No more can the soul forget the time when it first saw through the letter the meaning of the Spirit when it first caught the music of heaven, when it first realised the meaning of life and duty and sacrifice. Whilst Moses would have nothing forgotten he would have a special remembrance made of the day when the word of the Lord was heard in the mount that "burned with fire."
A singular expression directly follows in the eleventh verse. Moses says: "And ye came near and stood under the mountain." This is a new view of humanity. Probably the people themselves to whom Moses immediately spoke this word did not come near the mountain: most of them may have been born after the promulgation of the law from Sinai; because, indeed, of their not having heard that law in its original promulgation these great Deuteronomic speeches were spoken by Moses: it was a repetition of the law to men who had not themselves actually heard it in the first instance; yet the people are spoken to as if they themselves in their own personality had been present, had come "near and stood under the mountain," and had felt the scorching of the fire which made that mountain unapproachable. This is the right view of human history. Human nature is one; humanity is a solid. We were at Horeb, and we heard the law. There is no recognition of such time as separates ages and races and revelations in the matter of devolving the responsibility of witness wholly upon dead men. We who now live crucified the Son of God. When the world believes that, it will rise to a new conception of its relations to the whole race and to all the ages of time. We were not born and shall not die, in any sense that shall insulate us from all the currents and significations of human history. We are the poorest of the city: we are the richest of the land; we who now live are great as kings, and are unknown as suppliants who hide themselves in darkness and speak their muffled prayers from obscurity. God "hath made of one blood all nations of men." We belong to one another. The child born yesterday was at Horeb, and will be present at the last great scene. Realise this thought, and instantaneously the true democracy is appreciated and valued in no pedantic or narrow sense, but in the holy sense that all nations are one, that whether we be conventionally and socially high or low, rich or poor, is a matter of mere detail: we are alive with the same blood, and are hastening to the same arbitrament. There are narrow and partial and transitory senses in which men differ from one another, and are separated and classified; but sinking down to proper depths we come upon a vital line which unites and consolidates the human family.
An extraordinary caution was addressed to the Israelites by Moses in the fifteenth verse: "Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire." The people were not to make any image of God "the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of anything that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth" ( Deu 4:16-18 ). We must not touch God in the matter of making similitudes of him at any point. It is quite true that God fills his creation, and that any pebble taken up from the sea-shore might be made a symbol of his presence; but, seeing that no object can represent him in his totality, there must be no attempt to engrave the image of the Eternal. He is without shape, without gender; he is in the beast of the earth; he is in the winged fowl that flieth in the air; he is not ashamed of any worm he ever made to wriggle in the meanest soil; he is not ashamed to hear the young lions when they cry, or to entertain the insects at his bountiful table; they are his: every pulse is his, every drop of blood is his; but he will not be figured, represented, or monumentalised in fragments and in detail. "God is a Spirit," a marvellous revelation of that which cannot be revealed! We seem to have heard something, but we have heard nothing; the soul is enchanted by the music of a new expression, but not helped by the carving of a new symbol. The soul delights in the meaning, seizes the purpose of the revelation, and in repeating the holy words brings itself into a sweet rhythm and harmony with all the movement of creation, saying, again and again, as if uttering the refrain of an eternal song, "God is a Spirit."
Why forbid the creation of a similitude? The answer is given in the sixteenth verse: "Lest ye corrupt yourselves." The answer is also given in the nineteenth verse: "And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven" and begin to worship sun and moon and stars, and all the hosts of light. There is a reason for the invisibleness of God. There is a reason for all the denials which God has addressed to human curiosity. Who would not know more of the future not the mere future of time, but the great future which we have learned to know by the name "eternity"? The answer is, "lest" and there the curtain falls. Who would not know more of the dead the holy, sainted crowned dead? Why this eternal silence? Why not an occasional glimpse of the outline of the soul's figure? Why not an occasional note of the individual voice to assure those who are upon the earth that the loved one is uniting in the songs of light? The answer is, "lest" meaning that it is for our good, that this denial is part of our education, that by the trial of our patience we might rise to some higher perfectness of faith. Who would not wish to have one moment's glimpse of heaven one opening of the cloud? If we could see the green land of paradise unblighted, unsullied, bearing upon it the light of an infinite blessing, responding to the smile of its Creator we never could be unhappy any more. So we think; it may be but mere supposition on our part. No good thing will God withhold from them that walk uprightly; if anything, therefore, is withheld, it is because the granting of it would interfere with the divine cultivation and perfecting of the soul. We are thus called to the rest of faith. We are educated by silence, as well as by speech. To have our liberty bounded may be to have our liberty perfected. There is an in tension of spiritual life as well as an ex tension; in the one case, the spiritual life is deepened, enriched in every quality, ennobled in all thought; in the other case, information is widened, multiplied, and so rapidly and unexpectedly that the soul is almost affrighted out of the most solid and enduring peace. The growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is not always ostentatious that is to say, an appeal to vision, to sense of any kind; much may be proceeding which no observer can discern and of which the subject himself may be to some extent uncertain. We are too much inclined to go by what we can measure and totalise in augmenting figures, saying, with the tone of a statistical inquirer, We have grown thus and so much, within a given period of time. How long shall we take that childish way of measuring our soul's progress? Let us remember for our comfort that there is a deepening process going on in silence, that providences may be so interpreted as to enter the soul with new vitalising forces, which are not yet ripe for expression; and when we open our whole being to the highest influences of heaven, and keep earnestly holding ourselves in readiness for light upon light and truth upon truth, instead of being able to measure the increments, we shall know that they have taken place in the soul, by some day, suddenly to ourselves, breaking forth into new songs, surprising the soul by a music within itself which it had not hitherto realised. Our duty is plain; our duty is simple; our duty is to keep our minds and hearts open to the inspiration of God, to read the law of the Lord, and meditate therein day and night, to gather richly of the word divine, letting it dwell in the soul like roots planted in good ground by the Husbandman of the Church. The great thing is to keep a clean heart towards God, never to invite the Most High into a complete and furnished heart, the very elegance of which involves a subtle compliment to the heart itself and a subtle patronage to the God who is invited, but to ask God to come into a broken heart, a contrite, helpless heart, a sighing, self-complaining, sin-confessing, sin-detesting heart, then the meeting will be a glad one, because it will be founded upon right relations; there will be no mockery on the part of the man, and there will be no interception of the whole almightiness of the living and redeeming God. Let us beware of materialising the spiritual. We must have the material, because we ourselves are not wholly spiritual. The senses need to be assisted that the forces which they represent may be sanctified; but it is one thing to have the house, and another to mistake the house for the tenant: it is one thing to keep the dead body in the house for a day or two before interment, another to keep it there as if the laws of nature could be set aside and a new economy established by the utter weakness of man. We must fall under the grand ideals which are everywhere brought to our attention in the Holy Book. The ladder we see is a ladder into heaven; the opened heaven is an opportunity of seeing the Son of man; and the written Book itself is God's nearest way of bringing his hand close to our life. We do not worship the built house, or the piled altar, or the living teacher, or the sculptured monument; in so far as we have these, we use them as lenses through which to see the furthest stars, the more distant lights, the very Shekinah of heaven.
In the twenty-fifth verse we find not only the possibility, but the disastrous influence of corruption in religious thinking. "When thou shalt beget children, and children's children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the Lord thy God, to provoke him to anger: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed." Out of what origin or fountain does this cataract of denunciation proceed? Moses sets before the children of Israel the possibility of their religion becoming irreligious, than which no greater curse can befall the human mind, or pervert the way of human progress. Wrong in your religion, you are wrong everywhere. Man is profoundly religious in senses that have not been altogether fully realised and applied. He not only worships instinctively that is to say, turns up his eyes to the heavens to find an object greater than himself, or falls down before an object which he supposes to be greater than himself; but he is so religious that when he becomes wrong or mistaken wilfully or unwilfully in his religious conception, the influence is felt in every point of the circumference of his conduct. Men soon turn away from the right religious thought. It is a painful thought in some aspects; it must be so, because it imposes discipline; it educates a man by humbling him; it will accept nothing of his patronage; it will insist continually upon the doctrine that without Christ he can do nothing; that all he is and has and does that is good is really a manifestation of the Son of God within him. Other religions might give him importance, might assign him a kind of superiority, might even deign to consult him, or to accept some addition from his hands; but the religion of the Bible is as unapproachable as the sun, and yet as friendly as the light. There is always a point gleaming in the infinite heights which can never be touched: a mystery in the clouds and above the clouds; and yet there is always a beautiful blessing round about the poorest life an hospitable, reinvigorating and hopeful light beating upon the poorest man's one-paned window, calling him to hope and energy and renewed prayer, and promising him still broader glory. It might suit our vanity to lay our hand upon the sun himself, but that is not permitted unto man; it is enough that he see the light, receive the light, walk in the light, toil in the light. His concern is not with the mysterious body out of which the light descends, but with the light itself. Jesus Christ teaches this doctrine in words characteristically his own; he says, "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" in other terms, If the religion that is in thee be wrong, if thy piety be impious, if thy prayers be profane, how profound the iniquity! how unutterable the blasphemy! How false is the supposition that religion will take care of itself in the human mind, that it will accept any course of conduct and be equally at home with the drunkard and with the pious man, with the thief and with the honest citizen; that it resides almost exclusively in the intellect, and in the imagination, and never descends into all the practical walks and relations of life! Say religion is a sensitive angel, shocked by evil conduct, affrighted by temper not sweet or gracious, turned away in great pale fear from all things unholy, unclean, undivine, that would be a right representation. We cannot keep our prayer and our profanity in the same heart. The final choice must be made. Allow the mind a false conception of God, and what follows? Necessarily a false conception of all life, all duty, all sacrifice. Given a profound and true conception of God, and what follows? Elevation of the whole character, an ennobling of the whole circuit and range of the mind, out of which will come the testimony of good temper, beautiful feeling, responsive sympathy, eternal charity. So, rightly understood, in no narrow or pedantic sense, everything really turns upon a true theology, by which is not meant a formal science, a shaped and articulated doctrine, but a right conception of the spirituality of God, the fatherhood of God, the invisibleness and mysteriousness of God ideas so received into the mind as to create reverence, and never to debase intellectual action into mere superstition. What becomes of those who corrupt religion and turn away from the light? Is God indifferent? Never do we find human conduct treated with divine unconcern. Our conduct seems to make a kind of other heaven for God when it is right. He loves to be with the soul when it prays, when it looks up with expectancy, when it claims, how mutely soever, its kinship with the Infinite and its association with the Eternal. "To this man will I look, to the man that is of a humble and contrite heart, and who trembleth at my word." In the heart of such a man God finds an under-heaven, a sanctuary he delights to dwell in, a place sacred to his presence. By so much as this is true on the one side there is a completing truth on the other. Let a graven image be set up instead of the spiritual Deity, and God will wither the life of the worshipper: "ye shall soon utterly perish." As the branch cannot bear fruit except it abide in the vine, so a man cannot bear fruit except he abide in the true God, and he can only abide in the true God by a true spirit a spirit of simplicity, trustfulness, burning sincerity, saying, in every look of his eye and every action of his hand: I would be like my Father in heaven. Let us never suppose that we can safely trifle with religious conceptions, thoughts, and disciplines; we are only safe as we are in the sanctuary; the outside seems inviting, the paths are full of flowers, the air trembles with the music of birds, and a thousand seductions endeavour to draw us forth into the open spaces and the boundless liberties, but we are soon taught that law alone is liberty, and that the sanctuary of right thinking and right conduct is alone exempt from the lightning and the tempest of judgment. No religion that is not true has ever come to anything in the world, viewed in the largest relations and in the amplest and clearest light of things. Great nations have had false religions, but what have the nations been great in? great in number, great in contemplation, great in poetry that never embodies itself in energetic and beneficent action. Only they account for it as you will who love the Lord God of heaven and earth, as revealed in the Bible, are found east, west, north, south, preaching gospels, seeking to reclaim human nature, to evangelise the world, and are prepared to suffer and to die for their faith. We are not unaware of the existence of stupendous idolatries and of great nationalities associated with false altars; but judging religion by the spirit of sacrifice, by the desire to do good, by the inspiration of beneficence, by practical conduct of every kind, no religion can stand beside the religion of the Bible. God will soon cause those to pass away who displease him by graven images. Moses said in effect: You shall have enough of them, you shall be humbled amongst the heathen; you, who have begun with speciality of name and function and destiny, shall dwindle away among the heathen whither the Lord shall lead you "And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell" if you will have idolatry, you shall have it in fulness, yea, to repletion; yea, until the soul mocks the divinity it began to adore. The way of wrong-doing is always downwards. Wrong has no radiant stairway up into heaven, its ways downward are more than a thousand in number, and easy is the descent of the way to the pit. It is easy to go downhill. There is something in wrong-doing that suits the complex nature of man: he goes to it so easily, as if he loved it; when the iniquity is cleansed out of his hands and his countenance is purified from its more obvious stains, so cunning is he that he rolls iniquity under his tongue as a sweet morsel: but he lives a life of decay; the sentence of death is upon him; though he spread himself like a green bay tree he will pass away so that he cannot be found yea, when men seek for him they shall obtain no intelligence of his destiny. Whom God wipes out who can find? Hence the point of the exhortation and the value of the warning. We should take heed unto ourselves and unto the written Book which we hold, so that we depart not from the simplicity of spiritual worship. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" often in silence golden, precious, expressive silence; the speechlessness which means that the thing cannot be spoken because of its majesty and sacredness and heavenliness. Do not trifle with religious convictions; do not play with religious institutions. Everything that is solid and useful and beneficent in life springs out of a right sound, true conception of the nature of God and the purpose of his kingdom.
In the twenty-ninth verse we have what may be described as the eternal Gospel. Hear the sweet words; say if in sweetness they do not make you forget the honey and the honeycomb: "But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto His voice..... He will not forsake thee." We may go back to God. He will not look at our blushing shame. He will interpret the set of our countenance, saying, Behold, they who went away have returned: their hunger shall plead with me: their necessity shall be their vindication; having come back they shall come home. What a proposal is this! Verily, human life needs it, and is the better for it. To hear that we may go home again and tell the tale of our sins, and have it interrupted by the very tears of God whoever dreamed that dream knew as no other man ever did know the deepest necessities of the human heart. The Old Testament is full of the word "return," "come," and other terms of welcome, and hailings, as of friendly expectation and assurance of hospitality. The Old Testament would almost seem to outrun the New in its broad welcomes and assurances of divine love. Nothing can stand against the Old Testament but Christ's own words. When the Apostles come to speak of these things, they seem to speak in a sterner language than did the ancient Hebrew prophets, psalmists, and leaders, as if the Greek tongue were edged, and sharp, and poignant, and the old Hebrew music were round and redundant in the amplitude of its love, having upon it no keenness, no hidden judgment concealed in all the harmonious roll of its musical thunder. Let us enter by some door. The Old Testament speeches may touch some hearts, the New Testament invitations may touch others, both mean the same thing; all came from the same Fountain. Jesus Christ's words are very simple "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Jesus Christ knew all about this departure from the Father's house, and he represented the exodus by the parable of the prodigal son, who said, "I will arise and go to my father, and tell him I have sinned;" and he who painted the prodigal in colours so true represented God in love infinite and ineffable, interrupting the penitential speech, and thrusting heaven upon the man whilst the prayer was yet trembling on his lips. Let us return unto the Lord. "Rend your hearts, and not your garments." We have to rid ourselves of many a corrupt thought, of many a debased course of conduct, and to return to simplicity, to the child's conceptions of God and to the child's sweet way of praying. Say, is there any picture known to the human imagination so expressive and tender as a little child upon its knees, with clasped hands, and eyes searching heaven with all the expectation of unsophisticated love? Except we be converted and become as that little child we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven We must not have a theology which the people cannot understand; religion must not be one of the fine arts or the most recondite of the sciences. It must be a gospel, a piece of music, a heart-welcome, a cry outrunning the sinner, and sounding upon his ears in the wilderness, telling him of home and sacrifice, of the Cross and of forgiveness. These are words which never can be displaced by the enticing words of man's wisdom.
A wonderful pathos is given to the whole speech of Moses by the words of the thirty-first verse: "For the Lord thy God is a merciful God." Who speaks this? A man who is about to die. This is a dying testimony. The man is old; no man of his time ever had such variety and range of experience; he is the principal man of his age; in many respects he is the principal man who has yet risen in all the ages up to the date of his birth; now his course is closing; he is to see the promised land from afar, but is not to cross the river; he is making a valedictory address, and this line comes into it "The Lord thy God is a merciful God." How nobly the old man said it! How his grand voice trembled under the emotion! Moses was not a sentimentalist: Moses was a legislator, a leader, the very captain of the Lord's hosts; a man that could break the tables of stone, grind the golden calf into powder and scatter it upon the water and make offending Israel drink the water so empoisoned; and he prince, king, mightiest man of his day closes his course by saying, "The Lord thy God is a merciful God" I know him; I have lived with him; I have been closeted with him in the secrecy of the mountain girded by light and by tempest; I know him; he has denied my desire to go and see the land flowing with milk and honey; all this is before me, and yet my dying testimony is "The Lord thy God is a merciful God;" he gave the commandments, and I brought them to you; but, though Legislator, I have seen his tears; though he speaks commandments, I have been close to his heart; though one hand is judgment, yet in another is mercy; the Lord thy God is no mechanical deity, no infinite Jove, seated upon a throne of ivory, without sentient response to all the tragedy of life, lifted high upon the circle of eternity, he "is a merciful God." Give me a man's dying testimony. We shall know the man's religion by what he says in the last extremity. When speculation can do nothing for him, when genius has blown out its flickering lamp, when the earth recedes, when time closes its dull days, when the cold river plashes suddenly against the approaching feet tell me what the man said then, and I may touch the reality of his conviction and his hope. Blessed are they, with heaven upon heaven, who are enabled to say, when life is closing and heaven is nearing, "The Lord our God is a merciful God."
Almighty God, thy mercy endureth for ever. We have read of it: our fathers have told us concerning it; but, blessed be thy name, we ourselves have tasted and felt and handled the word of life. We know somewhat of its power in the soul; we know what the Holy Spirit hath done for us. Once we were blind: now we see; once this world was enough: now it is too small. We look up: we look beyond; we search the distant lines of the sky to see if any opening reveal itself to tell of further spaces. Once we knew not God, and our life was dark and very cold, without sympathy, without hope, a great riddle without an answer; but now, having seen the Saviour with the eyes of our love, having been accepted in the Beloved, behold, all things are new, all nature is larger, written all over with messages full of holy suggestion; creation itself is an infinite altar at which we bow in holy, tender prayer. Behold, thou hast made all things new to us. If any man be in Christ Jesus, all things are new: old things have passed away; new heavens and a new earth, and a new future these are the gifts of God in Christ Jesus our Lord; then the promise of heaven heavenly study, heavenly service, heavenly progress. Our mind cannot follow the line of fatherly promise: we know not what it is in all its meaning; eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared, laid up in store for them that love him Truly, by the Spirit, we now see in part: we see through a glass darkly; but still thou dost hold before us the solemn truth that we have not yet begun to see or hear or comprehend as compared with our enjoyments of thy presence and thy light in the world to come. Help us to read thy Book with an understanding mind, with an acute and reverent attention; and may we hear all the tones of thy voice, and see in thy word some outline of thy shape, thine image, thy glory. Let thy mercy be extended unto us according to our need. We are the children of necessity: our life is one continual want; our eyes are unto the hills whence cometh our help. We bless thee for answered prayer and for prayer denied. We pray, and leave our prayers at the throne, sprinkled with atoning blood, made eloquent by the intercession of the Son of God; and thine answer, whatsoever it be, shall make us glad or content, or quiet us with the assurance that a denial is the most beneficent of answers. In this faith we stand; in this confidence we live It gives us strength and light and hope evermore. Amen.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"The Lord hath brought you forth... out of the iron furnace." Deu 4:20
Imagery is sometimes the most real method of representation. There was neither furnace nor iron in the case in any literal sense, and yet the moral experience of the people could not better be represented than that of having spent no small portion of their life in a burning fiery furnace. Sorrow creates its own imagery. What is exaggeration to one man is literal truth to another. We are indebted to sorrow for the sublimest imagery. The Psalms are full of proof that such is the case. The divine power is always magnified by spiritual worshippers. They do not look upon history as a scries of chances, but as a line along which the divine Being moves with dignity and beneficence. He allows men to be thrown into the iron furnace, and has profound reasons for so doing; it is not his pleasure that they should be there, but it is certainly for their good that they should know the ministry of fire: the Lord knows exactly how long we have been in the furnace: he knows precisely what benefit has arisen from our being there: he knows when to liberate us from distress and despair. There is no furnace too deep for the Lord to penetrate. Though the furnace be of iron he can melt it and lead forth the captive with a new song in his mouth. Do not regard furnaces as of men's construction, or as expressing the triumph of evil principles. There hath no temptation happened unto you that is not directly sent of God, in the sense of trial and discipline. He who has come out of the furnace can speak most tenderly of the power and compassion of God. Not to have been in the furnace is not to have been in one of the most fruitful schools appointed by Providence for the education of mankind. To have been in the furnace is to have learned the holy art of sympathy. To have been comforted ourselves is to be qualified to give comfort to others. He who has dug most graves can speak most tenderly to the bereaved. He who has stood in the midst of desolated acres without losing his confidence in God is by so much qualified to preach the duty and the joy of resignation. The whole human race will one day be led out of the furnace, but not until the lessons of that tremendous discipline have been fully learned and applied in all the progress and duty of life. Throughout the whole of the Scriptures it is the Lord who is magnified and not man who is praised for having found out some secret way of escape. To know the Lord as a Deliverer in great crises and straits is to be assured that, in all the minor difficulties and trials of life, his presence shall be our protection and our hope.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"I must not go... but ye shall go." Deu 4:22
This is a brave speech on the part of an old man. Such speeches ought to be uttered by the most advanced Christians today. This man utters his speech without complaint. It seems impossible to reconcile the imperfect revelation granted to some men with the goodness of God. They come so near seeing the perfect light, and yet die without beholding the noontide glory. It would have been very different with the people had Moses been a man of another spirit; querulous, discontented, complaining against God. The spirit of progress rejoices in the progress of others. We are not to limit the revelation of God by that which we see ourselves. We must look to the future of the race and see in that future something brighter than has yet shone upon our own vision. That thought may be applied to theological thinkers. There is nothing final in theological investigation. Interpretation will show the progressiveness even of the Bible itself. The greatest students of the book die exclaiming to the younger men, "Ye shall go over, and possess the good land." The thought should also be applied to Christian workers as well as to Christian students. Though we die without reaping the harvest, the harvest will surely be reaped by others.
We should so live that when we come to die our last speech may be one of encouragement to the men who are following. The man who dies thus does not die at all, in any degrading sense. Moses, though dead according to the flesh, lived in all the power of the spirit, and was a continual inspiration to the people whom he had led so many years in the wilderness. There is always a good land to be possessed; a land of larger liberty; a land of larger knowledge; a land of surer trust in divine realities. The spirit of the Church must be a spirit of conquest; when it drops from this noble elevation it inflicts upon itself a most humiliating disability.
The Speciality of the Bible
This is the eternal challenge of the Bible. The appeal may be regarded as a call to the study of comparative religions. There are many religions in the world; gather them up into one view, extend the inquiry far and wide, through time and space, and see whether the Bible does not separate itself from all other books by miracles that cannot be rivalled and by excellences that cannot be equalled. Other miracles are not denied, other excellences are not disputed; the point is whether the Bible after occupying common ground with many other religions does not represent forces and qualities unknown to any of them. Let it not be supposed that other good books are denied; let it not be imagined that idolatries are ignored; let it not be supposed that the Bible is afraid of comparison or competition. God himself inquires for all other gods; he will have them skilfully displayed: the best of our artists may be engaged in arranging all the deities that were ever named in mythology or philosophy, or the best dreaming of the human mind; God will have them well shown: there shall be no attempt whatever to underrate values and dignities, or to cover with the disadvantage of obscurity any god who can do anything. The God of the Bible says concerning gods, "Where are they?" and awaiting the production of other gods there is silence in the universe. If the Bible were a priest's book, or a mere trick on the part of some incipient divinity, it would keep all to itself: it would ignore the existence of all other gods and religious claims and even revelations, and it would turn darkness into an instrument of protection, and employ obscurity to add to the accent of its claim. The Bible does nothing of the kind. In the spirit of Moses it says, "Ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it?" ( Deu 4:32 ). Never forget this challenge on the part of the Bible. It is a noble speech. The Bible will not remain with us one day longer than it can supply what no other book can furnish. The Bible awaits to be displaced. As soon as any one can arise who can speak in a nobler eloquence, in a tenderer music, with a profounder wisdom, the Bible is willing that its old pages should be closed for ever. There are good men who have no Bible; there have been virtuous men who never heard of Christ; there are good writings which the world will not willingly let die that have not been baptised in the triune name of God. This is acknowledged, and must be broadly and frankly and gratefully confessed; the question still remains, Does not the Bible by some quality stand out above all other books the very pinnacle of the temple of literature? The inspiration of the Bible must be proved by the quality of the Bible. For a considerable period other books may keep pace with the Bible, but at a certain point it bids them farewell and rises into heights they can never ascend. The Bible lives by its peculiarities. Individuality is a matter of speciality. Up to a given point all men are alike: in repose it might be very difficult to distinguish between one man and another: both claim to be men, both lay claim to certain dignities and honours of citizenship: there is, no doubt, a broad and indisputable democracy; but in special circumstances, great national crises, in struggling with certain difficulties, and attempting the solution of special problems, men are distinguished from one another sharply, and the greatest man proclaims his ascendency not in words but in deeds, by giving the best answer, the largest reply to the necessities of the mind. This is substantially the case with the Bible in the first instance. When all other books have made their speeches, the Bible rises as though no voice had been heard, clears a space for itself, and by uniqueness of majesty and sympathy it claims the primacy of literature. If the Bible is merely held sacred as an expression of a superstitious feeling, it will daily lose influence, it will daily evaporate as to all the energies which have given it position and authority, and hence on it will do nothing but decay and die. The Bible simply wants to be heard, to be read, to be expounded, and to be understood. It asks nothing from its ablest teachers but a paraphrase true to its own spirit and tone. It will not have addition: it will have expansion; it will not be decorated from the outside: it asks that its root may have full scope to express in leaf and blossom and bud and fruit all the bloom of its beauty and all the wealth of its uses. This is the position Moses occupies; we cannot amend the position: we accept it.
Note the speciality which Moses fixes upon. He asks a question "Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?" if so, prove it. The challenge is not a lame one. The Bible awaits the evidences. We, if earnest men, should be in quest of the best book, without asking who wrote it or by what authority it was written. If it speak to us as no other book can speak, we are bound to accept it. Books must not be imposed upon us: they must consort with the soul, develop a latent and often unconscious kinship of mind and spirit, and so educate the whole man that at last the man will scarcely be able to distinguish between his own thoughts and the thoughts which are inspired: they are so alike in quality, in range, in purpose, in nobleness. How easily Moses speaks about "fire!" How early he seized upon the right word! the very keyword of the universe, for what is there in all the temple of space but fire? Is not thought fire? Is not spirit fire? How did Moses come to speak so familiarly about hearing God out of the fire and living afterwards? He came to do so because he himself had passed through this very experience: he said, I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is burned with fire and yet is not consumed. And as he drew near a voice said unto him, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Moses saw the fire, heard the voice, and lived. Personal experience is the great secret of preaching. If Moses had only heard of the fire as a possible vehicle of the infinite and eternal God, he might have spoken about fire in a very different tone; but he himself had seen the fire, had been warmed by its glow, had watched the whole miracle, had heard the God of history, and yet he lived. Such men must lead the Church; such men must preach to the world. Since the world began was it ever heard that God died, and yet faith in the existence of God was required on the part of man? When a man can say, I have seen that very miracle; I have watched at the Cross until it became a ladder reaching unto heaven; I myself have seen the dying Christ, and felt the cleansing of his blood, such a man begins with power, grows in power; age cannot wither him: and as tor preaching, custom cannot stale its infinite variety, because the man himself lives in God. The appeal of Moses is so rational, so broad in its common sense, as to be wholly invincible by logic. That is true in its moral purpose. By asking a question you may outlive an argument. An inquiry may be a reply. Sometimes men have to express their wonder in interrogation; simple affirmation would fall below the necessity of the case. Moses adopts this course: "Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?" The thing was historical: the argument was based upon facts, something had occurred that could be identified, and every assertion based upon that fact partook of the quality and strength of the fact itself. The pulpit cannot live upon dreams, impulses, or imaginations: it must be founded upon a rock, if it would survive the shaking wind, the tempest, the great rain. What was the gift of God? It was the gift of a word. Call that word by such names as "statutes," "judgments," "commandments," it comes to the same thing; it was the word of God, the speech of God, the mind, the will, and thought of God. What more can even God give? He has given wondrous framework in the matter of suns and stars and great gleaming fires that have not yet received baptism at the hands of men who would describe the universe in parcels and in names; but having set up all the framework, he must needs speak the word or, in other terms, breathe the word, and give meaning and dignity to the works of his hands. We have received nothing until we have received the word the word of wisdom and of grace; the subtle, spiritual music that sings in the soul and charms the life out of its tumult and fever. They miss the king who only see the palace. It is something to be permitted to walk over the state-apartments when the monarch is absent, then curiosity is touched, then vanity may in some degree be pleased; but what is really wanted to be seen by the truly earnest observer and inquirer is majesty, monarchy, living sovereignty, the I AM THAT I AM. Until we have heard the living word, we have but seen the exterior framework of the Most High.
Christianity adopts this challenge: Christianity says in effect, What other religion is there that deals with sin as I deal with it? I do not ignore it; I do not hasten over it; I do not treat it as a mere incident, or a cutaneous affection which superficial means may subdue and which proper attention may remove. What other religion, theory, philosophy, grapples with sin as Christianity does? It will penetrate it, cleave it asunder, analyse it, search into it, and never rest until it gets out of the soul the last fibre of the bad root, the last stain of the fatal poison. Let us be fair to facts; whether we are in the Church or out of the Church, whether we belong to this section or to that section, do let us in common decency acknowledge that Christianity, come whence it may, does grapple with infinite energy with sin. The appeal of Christianity also is, "Ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other," whether any other religion tries to make the same kind of men that Christianity makes? Let us judge the tree by its fruit. We are not superstitious or fanatical or narrow-minded; we do ask the question and insist upon an answer, Does any other religion make such men as Christianity makes? Here Christianity must be judged by its purpose, by its own written word and claim, and not wholly by the men themselves, because we are still in the land of bondage in many particulars: we are in the flesh: we suffer from a thousand weaknesses; Christianity, therefore, must be judged in its declared intention regarding the culture of manhood. What kind of men does Christianity want to make? Weak men? It never made one man weak. Strong men, valiant men, men of the keenest mind, men of the largest judgment, men of the most generous disposition; if that is the kind of men Christianity wants to make, where is the religion that can excel or equal Christianity in that purpose? Produce the men ! Judge by facts. Where Christianity has entered into a life, what has it done with that life? Can it be proved that Christianity, fairly understood and thoroughly received, has soured the temper, narrowed the sympathies, dwarfed the noble ambitions of the soul? Has Christianity ever made unhappy homes, unrighteous parents? Let the challenge be thoroughly understood and frankly replied to. Christianity lives visibly in the Christian. Christianity wants to put away all other evidence, argument, and wordy encounter, and to be able to say: Judge me by my children; judge me by my believers; I am what they are. Therefore, if the Church of the Living God could stand up complete in the purpose of its Redeemer and Sanctifier, the snowy pureness of its character, the lofty dignity of its moral temper would abash every assailant and silence every accuser. Do not be harsh, or point with mocking finger to some pool weak soul, and say: If this man represents Christianity, we do not want to know further what Christianity is. Christianity can only be judged by the Book which reveals it, by the Christ who founded it, and by the noble history which has surrounded it. So, we accept and repeat this challenge. Christianity has no reason to retire from the field if there is to be a thorough and impartial examination of the races which have been under its nurture and the races which have never known its influence.
The inference which Moses suggests is perfectly clear: If there is a religion anywhere for Moses gives the points within which the examination is to be completed "ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other" if there is a religion with equal credentials, equal miracles, equal morality, equal grasp of the future, produce it. Can a challenge be more rational, more dignified? We do not live in a corner, or perform the little miracles of Christian faith under the shadows of night. Christianity longs with eagerest solicitude to meet on an open field to contest any other religion that has ever touched the imagination or affected the will of man. We must, however, limit this matter of contest and comparison. Let us see whether the limitation be not reasonable. The challenge cannot apply to anything found in nominally Christian countries. Who can tell what Christianity has done even for countries that are not practically Christian? How soon we forget our indebtedness to the influences which shaped our life and blessed us in times of unconsciousness! No man can be permitted to rise in any Christian country and say he has a Bible which surpasses the Bible of Moses and the prophets, Christ and the Apostles. Why may not he arise and challenge? Because he was born in a Christian atmosphere, he was trained by Christian parents; there never was a moment of his life that was not influenced by Christian ministries of one kind or another; he lived under the light of the Cross, enjoyed the liberties of Christianity, was educated in the civilisations of Christianity; and, therefore, he cannot say, This is original: this has been invented by me without any obligation to Christian teaching, and therefore I produce it in reply to the challenge of Moses and of Christ. We cannot tell how much we are indebted to the earliest associations of life. It is pitiful to see some broken-down, vain-headed infidel starting up with some theory of morality which, consciously or unconsciously, he stole from the Christ whom he is anxious to depose. I know of no object more hideous and contemptible than some weakling boy, who was prayed over morning and night, loved with all Christian love, indulged because of the very excess of that love, turning out to play the infidel and to be wiser than his parents were; specially is he ineffable in contemptibleness when he wants to play off some other morality against the morality of Christ, saying he has found in Hindoo literature various beautiful proverbs, or seen in the Koran lines glittering with moral beauty, and has understood that long before Christ came into the world men spake morals and discussed ethics and set up philosophies of conduct. There is no speech permitted to well-regulated minds that can meet a case so morally contemptible. It is a cleverness that ought to be frowned down, an originality that ought to awaken the moral laughter and scornful derision of just men. We have been trained in a Christian country; we learned to read out of the Bible; one of our first little lessons on which we laid our young finger was "God is love," and another, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost," all words of one syllable, which our mother helped us to read. The child that learned these lessons, that uttered these syllables lispingly because of infantile weakness, can never rise to claim originality and to compete with Moses and the Lamb; he drank in these thoughts with his mother's milk; he was reared upon them; they are part of him: sooner can he part with his blood and remain a living man than he can take out of his intellectual and moral nature all these influences, and pretend to have invented civilisation or discovered a religion.
The Relation of Man to God
I should like it to be understood, that I occupy the position of a distinctively Christian teacher, with the Christian Scriptures open before me, and everything I say is to be judged by this fact. A pagan might argue for the existence of a Creator; but the pagan and I would mean different things, though we might employ exactly the same words. Mine is a Christian faith; therefore I seek to teach truth as it is in Jesus. This you must bear in mind if you would follow my meaning closely and correctly.
I can imagine a man of average education and intelligence, asking me some such question as this: How is it that God does not show himself more clearly to us than he does, and so put an end to all uncertainty concerning himself? I answer: Are we capable of understanding what is and what is not the proper degree and method of divine manifestation? Have we so proved our own wisdom as to be justified even to ourselves in saying that we are competent to judge how far God has manifested himself, and how much further he ought to have done so? Every day, as a matter of mere fact, we convict ourselves of making mistakes in the commonest affairs of life. Each day is marked by its own special sin. We are always going too far or not far enough. If we are just to ourselves, we shall apply the scourge of self-reproach to our hearts and understanding every day. Are we, then, with all these mistakes, like so many wrecks lying about us; are we, after all, the men to say how God should manifest himself, and when he should do so? Is it decent that we should take upon ourselves this high task of dictation? Is it becoming in men, who cannot certainly tell what will happen in one single hour, that they should write a programme for God, and appoint the way of the Almighty?
These things cause me to say that religious questions, if they are to be profitably considered at all, must be considered in a deeply religious spirit. You can make no advancement in this learning unless you bring a right heart with you. That is the beginning. If my scholar escape me at this point he will flounder through all the rest of the lesson. What is your sincere desire? What is the condition of your heart? Are you really and truly anxious about this matter? Are you self-sufficient, boastful, confident in your own strength? Do you light the candle of your own wit and judge the universe by such little light as it can shed? Or are you reverent, humble, meek, and wishful to learn things as they really are? Everything depends upon the tone and temper of your spirit in entering upon any course of religious inquiry and instruction. If a man shall spring into the arena, where Christian inquirers and worshippers are assembled praying and considering these questions, and say, "Now then, look about, I am coming to see what the whole thing means. I shall set up this standard and lay down this rule; I shall put things round about and set them in the right way; I shall examine and cross-examine, and none will get over me" if a man shall come into the arena talking with such vigour as that, he will one day certainly have an arena worthy of his incoherence. But God will not speak to him; the universe will be hushed, and the fool shall hear nothing but his own noise!
I shall not soon forget standing upon a lofty and magnificent hill, amidst some of the most romantic and impressive scenery in Britain. It was summer noonday. A spirit of rest seemed to be upon everything; the eternal hills were talking to me, and the great grey rocks, which might have been the tombstones of centuries, were standing there, witnesses of my youthfulness and comparative insignificance. I enjoyed the scene as if it had been the house of God and the very gate of heaven. But there came upon it half-a-dozen wanderers, laughing and jibing and exchanging their poor vulgar jokes with one another; and when they got upon the hill-top one of them said, "What have we come up here for? there's nothing up here." He was right; there was nothing for him there. He was a trespasser and ought to have been arrested as a criminal; he was out of his sphere; give such people sandwiches, and barrels of beer, and dancing bears, and brass bands, and then the scene would have been "worth going to." But the eternal hills spake not, and the grand old majesties of the rocks were silent! They have nothing to say to vulgarity, and rudeness, and boisterousness. Incline thine ear and they will speak to thee; be calm, be struck with wonder and reverence and intelligent admiration in their hoary presence, and the hill tops will tell thee many a story of the past, and the rocks will have sermons upon their rugged faces graven there by the hand of Time!
It is so in the consideration of great religious questions. A man is not to come into this school and say, "I have it; I will show you how it is; I have a measure in my pocket, and a plumb-line in my hand, and a pair of compasses; I will undertake to examine the whole thing for you and pronounce an opinion upon it." Never! "To this man will I look." When God looks, it is morning; when he does not look, it is midnight! "To this man will I look." The man that is going to square up everything the man that uses contemptuous expressions the man who says, "Hoity-toity," and takes the Bible and throws it into the fire, and tells his wife and children that "religion is all nonsense, you know"? No! "To this man will I look." Lord, to which man wilt thou look? To the man that is humble; to the man who is of a humble and contrite heart, and that trembleth at my word. This is a qualification for the religious school. A truly reverent and earnest desire to know what God's meaning is, and God's will. To the man who possesses these qualifications, every page of the inspired volume will bring messages of light and comfort and heaven.
I once heard a peculiar controversy or conversation in a garden; it quite entertained me. There were, after some heavy rains, two worms that had struggled out of the earth, and found their way upon the wet green grass; and they began to talk in a very decided and mocking manner about myself. One, the elder and better-to-do of the two, said, "Eh, eh, eh! we have been told that this garden has an owner, or somebody that takes care of it, that nourishes the roots of things, and that altogether presides over the affair. Eh, eh, eh! I never saw him. If there is such an owner why does he not show himself more clearly? why does he not come to the front and let us see him?" And the leaner of the two said, "That is an unanswerable argument. I never saw him. There may be such a being, but I care nothing about him: only, if he is alive, why does he not show himself?" They quite wriggled in contemptuous triumph; yet all the while I was standing there, looking at the poor creatures, and hearing them! I could have set my foot upon them and crushed them; but I did not. There is a way of wasting strength; there is also a way of showing patience. But the worms could not understand my nature. I was standing there, and they knew me not! What if it be so with ourselves in the greater questions? And if out of this homely illustration we may get a far-off glimpse of the fact that we who are talking about God manifesting himself, and asking him to come to the front, what if one day we are compelled to exclaim, "Lo! God is here, and I knew it not! This is the house of God; this is the gate of heaven!" That, whilst we are discussing about God and calling his existence in question, he is listening to us. He could put the tip of his finger upon us and destroy our life. He could touch our reason and wither our intellect. Yet he spares us. For judgment is his strange work, and mercy is his supreme delight.
Proceeding with our statement respecting the revelation of God, I ask you to believe with me, as a matter of fact First: That we stand to God in the relation of dependants. That is our actual position in life. "What hast thou that thou didst not receive?" Let a man begin his studies there, and he will become correspondingly reverent. Have you genius? Who lighted the lamp? Have you health? Who gave you your constitution? Do you find the earth productive? "Yes." Who made it productive? "I did. I till it; I supply all the elements of nourishment needful; I did." Did you? Can you make it rain? Can you make the sun shine? Come, I will set you a little task, mighty man, potentate! This: Change the quarter of the wind! Now, come, that is a very little thing for a great man like you. "Well," you say, "that is the sort of thing that I really cannot do." Then, clear a fog off the hill. You can do that. Look what a port you have, and what infinite impudence. Come, clear a fog! Where would your tilling, and your manuring, and your subsoiling, and your harrowing and rolling all be, and what would they come to, if God were to say to the wind, "Never leave the east;" if God were to say to the clouds, "Stand still;" if God were to say to the sun, "Do not show thyself for a year"? All these things show us that we are, notwithstanding our resources, which are undoubtedly numerous and great, dependants. There is a point at which we must give up and stand still, and say, "We can do no more." That is a matter of certainty in common daily life; and out of it will come such reflections as these: I have nothing that has not upon it God's signature and God's superscription. I can work; but my work may come to nothing. I may sow my seed; but if he withhold the baptism of the dew and the rain, and the benediction of the sunlight, all my labour will come to nothingness, mortification and pain! This must have some meaning. There must, in such a combination of circumstances as these, be a purpose which I ought to know, and understand, and work by. If a man once be started on that course of reflection, the probability is, that he who begins as a reverent inquirer, will end as a devout worshipper.
The very fact of being dependent should lead us to be very careful how we measure the sovereignty and the government of God. He has made us servants, not masters. We are little children, not old beings, in his household and universe. We are mysteries to ourselves. We need not go from home to seek mysteries. Sometimes it seems to be supposed that we have only to give up the idea of God and all will be light. There will be no difficulty about anything. Life will then be a straightforward course, and we shall have no enigmas to answer and no spectral mysteries to affright us. It is a misrepresentation of facts. Oh man, thou art thyself a riddle, but half answered! What is the secret of thine own life? Explain the secret of thy desires, thy restlessness, thy ambition, thy hunger which cannot be appeased by the stones and the dust of this world! Hast thou seen thine own soul? Where is it? What is its image, and what is its nature? Are there not secrets in thine own blood and life which have never spoken to thee? Are there not spaces in thy hidden being on which the candle of finite knowledge has never thrown its dim ray? Canst thou stop the throbbing heart that is within thee, and say to it successfully, "Tell me thy secret, let me know what it is in thee"? The heart has stopped. Can you start it again? You can touch it; you can put your finger and thumb upon it; can you not start it into action again? You are very clever; you want to know all about God, and you have turned your back upon the Almighty, because your little questions are not answered; why cannot you just take hold of that little heart that has stopped its beating, and say, "Begin again"? There is a man with blighted reason. Why do you not go and breathe a new summer upon the man's brain? There is a brain in which reason has lost her way. Why do you not find the poor wanderer and set her in the right course again? If you cannot do that who are you, I ask, that you should determine the measure and the method of divine manifestation, and pronounce dogmatic opinions upon the sovereignty and the government of God?
The very fact of the mystery of our own life should be the beginning and the defence of our faith in God. Reason from yourself upwards. There is a way out of the human to the divine. It is a commendable course of procedure to reason from the known to the unknown. If you are such a mystery to your own child, if the philosopher is such a mystery to the uninstructed nan, if you are such a mystery to yourself, why may there not be power around more mysterious still, higher and nobler yet? Reason from yourselves, from your own capacities and your own resources. Is not the maker greater than the thing made? Will you show me the machine you have made, and say to me, "I made that machine, and the machine is greater than I am"? Is it within the compass of any man's ability to make something that is greater than himself? Does not the thing made prove always to be less than the maker of it? It is so in our own life. The artist is greater than his picture; the engineer is greater than his viaduct, his tunnel, his railway, or his steam engine. The man is greater than the mere manual labourer. If it be so amongst ourselves, may we not carry the reasoning up to its religious application, and say, he who made the sun and the stars and the whole universe, what can he be but the sum of all mysteries, even God blessed for evermore! I am convinced of this, that for men of a certain type of mind to become religious profoundly and truly religious they must study this with care; they must work from the point of their own mystery, and carry the wondrousness of their own nature up to its highest and best applications.
Pascal said, "I am greater than the sun!" How so? "I am greater than the sun." Show it. "The sun could fall and crush me; but I should be conscious of defeat, whilst the sun would be unconscious of victory!" Herein is the wondrous greatness of man. Even his failures show the mystery of his being, he is majestic in ruin; he is all but divine even in death!
Take away the idea of God from human thinking, and mark the immediate and necessary consequences. This is a method of reasoning which I commend to the attention of young inquirers, who are earnest about this business, the method, namely, of withdrawment. If a man doubts concerning God, I shall withdraw the idea of God from human thinking, and see the necessary result. If a man has any argument to adduce against Christianity, take Christianity out of the country, and see what will be left. Take out the doctrine, take out the practice, take out, not only Christian theology, but Christian morality, and see how many hospitals would be left, how many refuges for the homeless and the destitute, how many penitentiaries, infirmaries, schools, and asylums for the deaf and the dumb and the blind and the idiotic. So take away the idea of God from human thinking, and see the immediate and inevitable consequences. There is no God: then there is no supreme supervision of human life as a whole; for none could have the eye that could see the whole orbit of things. We see points, not circumferences. There is no God: then there is no final judgment by which the wrongs of centuries can be avenged; there is no heart brooding over us to which we can confide the story of our sorrow, or tell the anguish of our pain: the promise of a cloudless morning, and a graveless world, is the bitterest irony of human speech: the weak must die under the heel of the strong: human culture is but the carving of so much dead wood: poetry is but falsehood set to music: the shining heavens, in whose every star we have seen a welcoming light to something higher, whose every golden morning has been to us as the gate of glory, instead of being the beginning of a better universe, those shining heavens are but the upper boundaries of a magnificent prison: and as for the mysteries of our own hearts, their hope, their pain, their struggles after something better, their dreams, their battles, "their fond desires, their longings after immortality," what are these, but the refinement of cruelty, and the very torture of hell! Set God again on the throne, and all that makes life worth having, even imaginatively, comes back again. Set God upon the throne, and all things take upon them a new, true, beautiful meaning; there is hope of judgment, and a certainty that right will eventually be done.
Need I ask you to remember that our little day has been too short to know the. full mystery of God? When an infant of yours has gone to school, do you expect the little one to come back at twelve o'clock on the first day and be able to read you a chapter even out of the simplest book? When your little boy, six years of age, first looked at his arithmetic, did you expect him to come back, after two hours' teaching, and be able to reduce a certain set of fractions to a common denominator? Did you expect him, after an hour's consideration of arithmetical questions, to be able to do the most advanced rules, and to throw the book up before your face and say, "No more of your arithmetic for me, let me go into algebra at once"? You did not expect that, did you? You would have said, "That boy, depend upon it, is half crazy; he does not know what he is talking about;" and you would probably consult the most prudent adviser about the prodigy. Yet we want to know all about God at once, and we cannot get the information! How old do you say you are? "Old! why, threescore years and ten." "No! threescore years and ten! Why, there is a tree two hundred years old, which has seen generations of your family buried." "How old?" "Getting on for fourscore years." "Are you? There is a star; look at it; ten thousand years ago that star was shining! You are an old man; yes, but a young being, an infantile being. Very old indeed, if you think of insuring yourself, or buying another estate, or laying out a great sum of money, very, very old indeed; but if you are talking of the universe, you are the insect of a moment hardly born! But you wish to read the book called the Universe through at one sitting, like a cheap novel. You cannot do so! When you have concluded your school day here, you have only begun just to turn over the first leaf, hardly that indeed, perhaps. Put your seventy years an expression which fills your mouth so, and which is intended to awe the human family into respect and veneration for your person put it down and look at it, multiply it by ten thousand, and then by ten thousand more, multiply the whole by millions of ages, and eternity has hardly yet begun!"
We are of yesterday and know nothing; and the teacher, what is he, but a man who having seen one ray of light amid thick and terrible gloom, comes to say you may see the same beautiful revelati6n? All this shows us what our spirit ought to be. All this ought to put young men upon their guard respecting such as suppose themselves able to answer every question, and to settle every difficulty, and to determine every controversy. Is there one of them can tell you what will happen in the next five minutes? At the very beginning, therefore, we must all agree that we are of yesterday, and of ourselves we know nothing, and that we are dependent for the revelations of God upon God himself. And this, let me say to you, young men, The greatest men I have ever known have been the most humble, docile, self-distrustful. If Isaac Newton likened himself to a child on the sea-shore, gathering a few pebbles brighter than the rest, and humbly said that the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before him; who are we that we should set ourselves up in mid-water and say, "We see the other side of the sea"? We must begin at the beginning; we must begin in a religious spirit; we must not come with any preconceived conclusions and prejudices, and argue along our own lines and in our own way. We must remember our ignorance, look our own mistakes fully in the face, and say: With these things around me, I dare not be boastful, I cannot be confident; I will say with my heart, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." And the Samuel who shall put himself in that attitude before God and his book, shall in due time become a learned and able man in the school of Christ, well controlled in his spirit and temper, charitable and noble in all his sympathies, gracious to the weak, a source of strength to those who have no helper, a very pillar and ornament of society.
Almighty God, thou dost, by thy Son Jesus Christ, take away the sin of the world. Thou dost not cleanse the outside, thou dost purify the inmost life. Out of renewed and sanctified motive thou dost bring pure and noble conduct. Other gods tempt us, and mock us; but thou dost take away the sin of the world. Who but thyself, thou Christ of God, could lift the infinite load? What power but thine could dispel the infinite cloud? We cannot take away sin; but the blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God taketh away all sin. We cast our sins on Jesus. We do not understand his love, but we answer it with tears and faith and sacred hope, if this is not the way of salvation, then is there no other. We have hewn out unto ourselves cisterns broken cisterns that could hold no water, and we have attempted to build towers that should reach even unto heaven. But we stand before thee now, convicted, burning with shame, having utterly failed to do the thing which we set our hand to accomplish. Thou dost teach us in many ways: by fear, by poverty, by joy, by wealth; and by all the ministry of life, thou art teaching us the holy truth, and shedding upon us the upper light, and drawing us more nearly to thyself. Being in a school, may we not forget the lesson. Having an opportunity of learning wisdom, may we not live and die as foolish men. May we know the rod, and him who hath appointed it. Enable us to kiss the chastening hand. Lift upon us the light of thy countenance, and our tears shall be beautiful. Take not thy Holy Spirit from us in the night of sorrow, suffering, disappointment, and pain. Sanctify to us all trouble, distress, and fear, and sadness, and out of death itself may we see a springing of immortal life. Work before our eyes this wondrous mystery. Show us how thou dost bring beauty out of that which is unbeautiful; how the morning rises upon the night, and how summer comes swiftly after winter. Thus may we have hope, through Christ, in the living God. Teach us that all things work together for good to them that love thee. When the cup is very bitter, may we drink it in thy strength, and because thou hast given it unto us. Teach us to bring all prayers into one, saying, with full hearts, with unbroken, ever-hoping trust, "Not my will, but thine be done." In that spirit there is triumph; in that faith there is no overthrow. Lord, increase our faith. Then from the place of darkness shall we see the stars. In the night-time of solitude shall we have angel-like companionship, and up the steep hill we shall feel the sustaining hand of God. Amen.