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Dimming of the Gold
Not changed in a moment, but changed imperceptibly. It evil things would only come at specified times, we should know how to prepare for them and to defend ourselves against them. Had the strong man known at what hour the thief would come, he would not have suffered his house to be broken through. But we cannot tell the time, nor the way, nor the speciality of the attack, nor the exact scope that will be taken by the enemy. "What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." It would seem as if life needed continual culture. Nature seems to teach us this, in so far as it is under our control. We cannot let a day go by in neglect without suffering loss, or being conscious of some change for the worse. The garden will not stand still. If you say, "Leave the garden to the laws of nature," the laws of nature will choke your garden, filling it with weeds, causing it to live with life not agreeable to you. So with your own person; so with everything round about you. Every day must have its own washing, cleansing, sweeping, watching. Life would seem to be set in circumstances necessitating continual critical and religious inspection and culture. This illustration can be carried all round the circle of life, and made to preach to us a great and powerful discourse. We cannot live one day in negligence, things slip down so suddenly and completely. The change, too, is written upon the man. It matters not how skilful the dissimulation, how perfect even to exquisiteness of management the whole hypocrisy, the evil nature will sign itself in unmistakable tokens upon the face and upon the manner of the man who succumbs to evil. He will not change in a moment; you will begin to wonder what has taken place in his thought of you and his relation to you; you will examine yourself to know if the reason be in you. He is not so punctual as he used to be, or regular; not so vivacious; not marked by that abandonment of perfect confidence which used to characterise his intercourse. He is more suspicious, more difficult to deal with, less easy to please. What is it that has taken place in the man? The revelation is there at present in dim characters and symbols, but it will grow into fuller expression and leave no doubt as to the origin of the change which you have watched with dislike. "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!"
We might so far alter the obvious meaning of the text as to lay great stress upon the meaning of the word "How" as if it involved a mystery rather than declared the fact. How is it pos sible? It is gold, but it is dim; it is fine gold, but it is changed how has it been done? Marvellous is the history of deterioration. The late Archbishop Trench in his most instructive little book upon "Words" has shown this in a very vivid manner in the matter of certain expressions and phrases which have gradually but completely changed their meaning in English speech and intercourse. Some of the instances given by Dr. Trench are of a striking character. He quotes the word "innocent." What could be more beautiful in its original application? A word of gold, yea, of fine gold, indicating beauty of character, simplicity of spirit, incapability of double-mindedness or ambiguity of thought and intent; all so plain, so pure, so straightforward. How is the word now employed in many cases? It is now used to indicate, the Archbishop tells us, people who have lost mental strength, or people who never had mental strength; weak-minded people; even those who are little short of imbeciles are described as "innocent" those having no longer any responsibility; having out-lived the usual obligations of life or never having come under them; persons from whom nothing may be expected. "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" A change of that kind does not take place on the surface; changes of that sort have history underneath them as their cause and explanation; the soul has got wrong in order to allow a word like that to be perverted from its original beauteousness. Another instance he gives is the word "silly." Originally the word silly meant holy. He quotes a poet who describes the Saviour as "that harmless, silly Babe," meaning "that harmless, holy Babe," the word, with a little variety of form, being used today in the German nation with the same old meaning of holy. But now what does it mean? Frivolous, senseless, pithless, worthless. "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!"
This is not a trick in merely vocal transition; underneath this is a sad moral history. Even words may indicate the moral course which a nation has taken. So with many other words. We find the change upon the gold even in the matter of speech. But why say "even in the matter of speech"? as though that were of secondary importance. The speech is the man. "The Word was God," and the word is man. We must not trifle with language, or endeavour to deceive ourselves by using soft words in place of hard ones. That is an evil game to play. It shows that already the heart has lost its jointing and true setting in God, and is abroad seeking for excuse, inventing palliations, and trying by tampering and conjuring with language to give a new view to moral nature, to moral action. Watch! Be careful even about the very words you use. Choose the very hardest word you can when speaking of wrong-doing, and do not deceive yourselves. I would say involving myself most of all in the great application of the sentiment Do not seek by a mere wizardry in the use of words to soften the accusation which ought to be addressed to every wrong-thinker and wrongdoer.
I will quote one more instance from the Archbishop's book. It is of another kind, but strikingly illustrates the uses to which the highest dignities may be dragged. The greatest of all the orators of his day was Cicero; and now the man in Italy who can show you over galleries of art and describe glibly what you see is called a "Cicerone," a follower, a descendant of Cicero, a talker, a chatterer, a man who can amuse you and partly inform you, or otherwise entertain you, by long speeches about paintings and statuaries and things curious and historical. "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" That ragged, ill-kept man, chattering about things he does not know, has come from the mere fluency of his speech to be called a little Cicero. It is thus that we trace many a declension, and thus we may trace many an apostasy in our own case. Unhappy phrases we have altered to fine euphemistic speeches, which fail to strike between the eyes the crimes which we ought to abhor.
What is true of words is true also of merely social manners. "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" How different you are now in some of your social relations from what you used to be! We need not go into detail of a special and vivid kind, but every man will supply his own illustration of the point towards which we direct attention. How civil we used to be; how courteous; how prompt in attention; how critical in our behaviour; how studious not to wound! What delicate phrases we used; what gracious compliments we paid! How we endeavoured to incarnate the very spirit of courtesy and chivalry! "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" How rough we are, and brusque! How blunt and we call our bluntness frankness! How positive, stubborn, self-willed, resolute, careless of the interests of others! What off-handed speeches we make! What curt answers we return! Where is the old gallantry, the old gentlemanliness, the fine old courtesy? "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" perhaps not changed upon one side more than upon the other, but still changed; the old patience buried, the old forbearance done away with; questions that could be asked in earlier times with ease and directness have now to be almost smuggled into conversation in order to extract information needful for the proper upholding and direction of the household. The gold has become dim. No suspicion is thrown upon the original character and value of the gold; but it has become dim. It is not enough to say, "It is still gold," it is the dimness we are speaking about in this immediate connection. It will not do to set ourselves up in righteousness and sterling honour and unquestionable veracity, and say, "We are as golden as ever." What about the dimness? the change of surface? Who can tell what that dimness may lead to? And the more sure you are of the gold, the more careful you ought to be of the dimness. What if that dimness should so deepen and extend as to lead some persons to question the reality of the gold? In these matters we must as Christian men be careful, thoughtful, watchful, critical. There is nothing little that concerns the integrity and the fulness of Christian character.
What is true of words and of manner is also true of the high ideals with which we began life. Let us be thankful for ideals. We cannot always live up to the ideal, but we can still look at it and cherish it; and from our uplifted ideal we may sometimes draw healing when we have been beaten by some flying fiery serpent whose bite has flung us in agony upon the ground for a while, like worsted and mortally wounded things. We cannot have ideals too lofty, too pure, too heavenly. Be ye holy as your Father in heaven is holy; be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect Behold the real lying in the dust; see the divinely ideal shining with infinite lustre in the skies. "Aim high; shoot afar, higher than he who means a star than he who means a tree." Let this wisdom of George Herbert be carried up into all our relations. We cannot strike the star, but the arrow goes the higher for the point is was aimed at. What ideals we used to have! Who dares bring back to memory all the ideals with which he started life? Where are they? "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" When I for I will speak thus in the first instance upon narrow grounds wished to become a preacher of the eternal Word, how lofty was the ideal! how devoted was to have been the life! how long and agonistic the prayers! how ardent the appeal! every sermon a sacrifice, every call delivered through the learning of God. "I am determined not to know anything among men, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." "God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Do I not thus quoting my own early ideal and purpose touch the experience and the pensive recollection of every minister of the Cross? "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" What deference to the customs of the times! What fear of offending men! What study to win the approbation of all! What resource to unhappy and unholy expedients in order to keep men together in unbroken consolidation, lest any evil-speaker should charge the preacher with want of public success. What a desire to accommodate the prayer and the sermon to the regulation hour of conventional impatience! What fear of striking directly and heavily! What temptation to be hard upon the absent, but to let the present go free from the scorching fire of divine criticism, and the appalling judgment of the eternal righteousness.
What is true of the minister is true also of nearly all other men. What a life yours was to have been in business! I think I see you now, when a fair-faced boy, without a wrinkle on your bonnie brow, how you said that when you began life in business, you would show how business was to be done: there should be no moral blot upon any stationery upon which you wrote; everything should be exact, liberal, just; you would endeavour to found a model business. Bless God for the boyish fancy that wants to found "model" things! I would not curb the boy who was going to be a model preacher, a model merchant, a model politician, or a model anything else that was really healthy and good. You used to like the word "model"; we used to detect it in your speech frequently, and point it out, and wonder when you would use it next. You would be a model man of business model in punctuality and regularity in payment; in all the relations involved in active commerce. Where is the ideal now? It is thirty years ago since you spoke thus about your model life; produce your books, let us see your record; what have you done in that span of a generation? You will not show the books? I know why. You turn my attention away from the record to the latest news from Egypt and Ireland. I understand. "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" But is it gold still? Be sure: you may have substituted the clay for the gold; you may have bartered away the fine gold for stones without value. I will not press the impeachment, for it cannot be urged in your direction without coming with added recoil in the direction which I myself occupy. What an ideal of home-life you used to have! You remember when you walked between the green hedges in the springtime among blossoms and singing birds, you used to remark upon the life which other people were living in the house such querulous lives, so discontented, so ill-kept, so wanting in natural and proper discipline, and you used to say that when you had a house of your own, it should be as beautiful outside as inside; all its windows should, morally and socially, look towards the south and the south-west, and the house should be full of music, and though you could not afford expensive pictures, yet whatever you had, even in the way of a little engraving, it should be of the very best thing of its kind, and you said that by a little giving and taking and little concession that a home might be made into a kind of heaven. I remember your sweet words; they were beautiful: how have they been realised? I have not been in your house for the last fifteen years: how are you going on now? Do not speak aloud; answer mentally: how is your house? It is not a big one, but is it a beautiful one? It is not full of riches that can be sold by auction, but is it full of the wealth of the soul and the mind and the heart? Is Love the spirit of the house? Is the good old altar standing just where it was? Is the big family Bible still the centre of the house and the chief of its riches? Do not answer me: answer yourself, answer God. But may we not say of some family life? "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" The meals are no longer sacramental; the sleep is no longer prefigurative of true rest, out of which shall come physical and moral recruital and preparation for the next day's fight; the front door is no longer so high or so wide, nor does it swing back so easily upon its hinges as used to be the case in the early time. Everything is wrong now: the old armchair is never in its former place, the fire is always dull, and stir it as you will you cannot get back the old glow and the old hospitable warmth. Everything is out of place, and everybody but you is to be blamed. "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!"
Then what a church-life you were going to live all of us. When we entered the church, what a model career we were going to complete! We were going to be gentle, courteous, true-minded, large-hearted; we were never going to take offence at anything; we were never going to listen with the ears of criticism, but with the inner ears of necessity, appreciation, penitence, and thankfulness; we were going to do everything in our power to make the church we attended such a place as was hardly to be found in any other part of the globe; we would not curl our nostrils even if an ill-dressed person came and sat next us in the pew; we were never going to complain of anything; the minister we were going to hold up in prayer and to sustain in love; our faces were to become bright at his coming, and the answer to his appeals was to be instantaneous and complete. How is it now? You remember the poor person that wanted to come into your pew, and you pointed her to the other end of the church. How is it now? Any critical remarks? Any desire to show your supernatural quickness in detecting mistakes and want of continuity in the discourse? Any little self-idolatrous pranks and antics of a kind unworthy of the holy Church of God? Any unkind and bitter little speeches about other people? Do not say "Yes." I ask questions. Oh! may the answer be such that you may not have to say, "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!"
Let me add to the criticism the gospel which says, We may every one begin again. I feel as if I had spoken a great warm truth that will go into every home, every church, and there do its gracious work. Brothers, fellow-breakers of the ideal we started with, common criminals, we may every one begin again. What say you to that gospel opportunity and gospel challenge? Let each say, "I will arise and go to my Father"; let each one say, "I will arise and go to my ideal, and say, I have wounded thee, dishonoured thee, fallen infinitely short of thee in every particular. I am no more worthy that thou shouldst be associated with my poor name." We may begin again. We have finished this immediate page that is now under our hands, and now we may turn over a new leaf white as snow, no trace of the bad writing upon it. We may begin at the very top, and write, line by line, down to the finis, without an erasure, a mistake, a blot, a blur. O brother! thy life's new page is now laid before thee, take heed how thou writest thereupon! At the end the best writer amongst us will have to say, "What is writ is writ; would it were worthy!'
The Incredible Things of Life
We are reminded by these words that there are many things in life quite incredible. On hearing them we say they cannot be true; reason is offended, feeling is revolted, the whole man almost instinctively rises to say, No; that report is impossible: "The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem." This was not the opinion of the inhabitants of the world only, in the lay sense men who knew nothing about fortifications and strong positions and strategical defences; people who simply looked upon the outside and said, Behold, that is invincible and that is impregnable. Such might have been a layman's opinion, but the opinion was shared by "the kings of the earth" the mighty men, the soldiers; men who knew the weight and value of every stone in the fortress; and "The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem" gates so high, gates so strong, gates welded for resistance, locked as with thunder and lightning they were not to be taken; they were not pasteboard gates, they were not portals of straw; they were meant to resist the world; and the impression made upon the world was that they were irresistible kings said so, and soldiers and laymen, and the unanimous opinion of mankind in that day and place was that Jerusalem was impregnable. Report to those people that Jerusalem can be taken, and they instantly receive the suggestion with disdain; they do not consider it worth while to answer such a thought: it is incredible, impossible, absurd; kings would not listen to it, and as for all other men, long ago they made up their minds that Jerusalem could resist any stroke of earth, and would yield only to the artillery of heaven. Very proud and haughty was Jerusalem, so much so that she fell into a mocking vein when her enemies approached her gates; she did not care to fight, it was enough to snort, to laugh, to puff enough to wave the hand in easy defiance. Jerusalem had counted her enemies, and had reckoned up their strength; and she sat down to her feasting and her piping and her dancing, and said, Let the mad men rave, they but bruise their own knuckles. When the enemy came nearer, Jerusalem indulged herself in great boasting and taunting. She would not bare her arm; she would but show a finger, and that the least. When the enemy was quite near she put upon her walls all her blind men, and all her little children, and all her cripples the very meanest, poorest, weakest of the population, and through them she said, When you have struck down these soldiers we will find you another relay; first beat the blind, first kill the cripples, and when you have got rid of these military persons you shall find there is strength behind them. And she laughed, she shook with laughter; she went back to her feasting, filled the goblet, kept the dance well up, and was secure in her pride.
"The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem." But the enemy did enter! They hanged her princes by the hand; the faces of the elders were not honoured. They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood. There was no elder in the gate; and the young men were taken from their music. The joy of the heart of Jerusalem ceased, and the dancing was turned into mourning; the crown fell from her head. Thus things that are incredible do happen. That which is held to be impossible often becomes quite easy. See Jerusalem; learn from history; do not let the facts of time go for nothing. Why do men waste history? Why do men pay no heed to that which is written as with a pen of iron on the tablet of Time? But history us lost upon most of us, If we were wise, the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes would save us from all experiments in the direction of attempting to find heaven in earthly things and eternity in the little moment of time. But who believes the testimony of Solomon? He swept the whole ground, drove madly throughout the whole line of the curriculum; and when he had done he said, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." But who believes him? Who does not leap upon the same steed, run the same career, and come to mourn the same fate? Let us understand therefore, at the very outset of this study, that the "impossible" is not impossible, the incredible may come to be true, that which revolts the sense and shocks the feeling may become a commonplace of life. Let us illustrate this.
All the neighbourhood, all the friends and acquaintances, would not have believed that the great rich man to whom scores were mean and hundreds trifles could have come to beg his bread. But it is possible. Riches take to themselves wings and flee away. Certainly, such an issue seems to be quite incredible. Were the man entrenched behind units, tens, hundreds, we should think but little of it, for they constitute but a poor cobweb security; but he goes into higher figures thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and sometimes the word "million" does not seem to be too great a word for his boastful lips. He can thrust his arm into gold, and fasten it there, so that he cannot move in the golden prison. He delights in this. He says to his soul, "Thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease; never heed domestic politics, or foreign politics, near or distant complications of states and empires; soul, be glad!" All the neighbours, friends, acquaintances, bankers, and men in the city would not have believed that that man would some day come with a suppliant's crouch and a beggar's appeal to ask an alms. Take heed! It is right to be rich, very rich, but it is wrong for the riches to be master of the man; hold them so that coming or going they never interfere with prayer, with faith, with charity, with noble, generous love; they are servants, helpers, great assistants in the philanthropic cause: hold them so, and you never can be poor. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." The Lord will stain the pride of all glory, "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away" a contemptuous phrase "he passed away" glided off, secretly departed: "yea, I sought him" I asked the wind whither he had flown, and the wind had no reply; I dug for his roots, and there were none; he had been living all the time upon nothing, and he vanished like smoke. Why not learn from history? Why not pause and consider, and put things wisely and solidly together, and say, These things are but for a moment; for a moment's use they are invaluable, but as securities, towers, defences, rather let me entangle myself in some elaborate cobweb, and trust to that against God's lightning and thunder.
Who would believe that the great strong man, whose every bone is, as it were, wrought iron, should one day be glad of the help of a little child? How humbling I how instructive! The man was an athlete. He lived a life of discipline. How erect! how energetic! how lithe! how gleesome always by the very redundance of life! Headache? He never knew the meaning of the term; he had heard of it by the hearing of the ear, that is all. Weariness? He was as energetic at the close of day as at the beginning; the sun in his course could not wear out that man's abounding strength. One day that same man, all steel and iron, will want the help of a little child to lead him over the road. Impossible! It is a fact. You may accost him, and ask him if he remembers the time when he could have lifted a man in each hand and felt he was not doing anything in particular as an exercise of strength; and with a hollow laugh he will say, Ay, I remember! How now? the sinews melted, the bones no longer iron, the great frame bent down, the sunken eyes peering for a grave. What did this? Ill-conduct? No. Wastefulness of strength and energy? No. What did it? Silent, insidious, mighty Time. Who calculates that element in making a reckoning? Who ever calculates the main forces that shape and direct and determine life? On what slate of what calculator can be found such words as Time, Spirit, God? Let me see the slate, and I will read it to you; and this is the writing of "rational" men! "Reports, telegrams, policies, actions of governments, the sharp practice of knaves add these up, to what do they total? To this chance, and to that I am left." Beware! Do not play the fool. Set down upon your slate one word, and that includes all God. We live and move and have our being in God. "Seek first the kingdom of God." "Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth," not only in the physical and natural sense, but at the beginning of every enterprise; in the youth-time of every endeavour, in the morning ere the dew be exhaled by the sun. Then old age will have a beauty all its own. Then ask the old man if he remembers the days of his riotous strength, and he says, Yes; but I have a nobler health in view; that was a strength that could be worn out, a strength that seemed to defeat itself; its very victories were failures; but now, "if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Strength? There was not a horse that could beat me, there was not an eagle that could go more quickly, nay, there was not a little bird in the hedge that could sing more sweetly or get across space more rapidly; it was animal strength, all good so far as it went, and most valuable in some directions; but the soul is now strong, the spirit is mighty; I seek a country out of sight, "a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God"; I shall soon "shuffle off this mortal coil," and stand in the strength and majesty of immortal power. Do not, therefore, trust to your great bodily strength and your great material resources; Jerusalem trusted to these things, and Jerusalem was overthrown. Servants ruled over Jerusalem; they gat their bread with the peril of their lives, because of the sword of the wilderness; their skin was black like an oven, because of the terrible famine. Learn betimes; be wise in anticipation.
Who could believe that a man of great capacity and great judgment in all earthly things should come to be unable to give a rational opinion upon the affairs of the day? Once the man was an oracle. People differed from his judgment with reluctance; however stubborn in their own opinions, when he spoke to the contrary they began, inwardly at least, to falter; their pride might keep them from ostensible recognition of what he said, but in their hearts they felt that a deadly blow had been struck at their own conceptions and line of judgment. He was made to be a counsellor. He saw things at once, and saw the whole of them. His was no little field of vision; his eyes were made to read horizons; he heard things other people did not hear; he omitted nothing from his calculations; and, to repeat, when he gave his conclusion they were hardy men who ventured to differ from him. Were I to say that such a man will come to be unable to write his own name, to read his own letters, to understand the correspondence of his own children, you would meet the suggestion with a kind of gracious disdain. Impossible! say you. How godlike in reason! How all but infinite in faculty! He will be to the last bright as a star. What if he stumble at noonday? What if he forget his own name? What if he cannot tell where his own house is? and what if they who trusted him aforetime so implicitly should say, Poor soul! he is gone; it is no use looking in that quarter for wisdom or direction; his genius is dead; alas! but so it is? If that be so, why should we not learn from that fact, and work while it is called day, for the night cometh wherein no man can work? Redeem the time, buy up the opportunity, knowing that our brightest genius shall be eclipsed, our strongest sagacity shall lose its penetration, and our judgment shall halt for the judgment of others. Why pretend to be wise when we have lost our wisdom? and why seek light when there is none? What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch Now is your day. We want to hear you now. Your voice is pleasant to us, your judgment gives us strength, your suggestions are inspirations; when you speak you speak light; God be thanked for your companionship and co-operation. Lay up against the day of evil, ere "the golden bowl be broken." Be now useful, attentive, and spend and be spent for the good of others.
And have we not often been shocked in another direction, worst of all? The instances now stated are but introductory to that which is greatest, saddest of all. To be told that some men will fail morally is a statement not to be entertained for one moment. The foundations would be destroyed. Who of us cannot name men who, if they were to fail in moral completeness, in probity, in honour, in truthfulness, would shake Society to its base? They are the trustees of Society; they are the very stewards of honour, the very bankers and custodians of the world's most precious wealth. To be told that their reputation, so brilliant, hides a character corrupt, is to shock our moral sense and to rouse us to indignant repulsion of the base and infamous slander. What! every word a hollow word, every action a selfish calculation, every attitude part of a fraud and conspiracy, every generous deed a new bid for self-promotion, signatures forsworn, bonds broken, by such men? Never! It is impossible, incredible; the suggestion is born of the pit. We are right in so saying. Have no faith in men who cannot be fired into godly anger when they hear great reputations assailed and when they see great characters slurred and defamed. At the same time let us learn from history. Great men have fallen from high moral excellence. He the unnamed "the starry leader of the seven" fell from heaven. Some angels "kept not their first estate." We remember these things, not to turn them into instruments of cruel and unrighteous criticism upon men, but to teach ourselves that boasting is dangerous, presumption is fatal. "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe"; never let me go out alone; always make me put my hand in thine, great Father, mighty God. That is the spirit in which to live. The moment we trust in ourselves the staff is broken; the moment we think we can do anything of ourselves that is essentially good and noble, we have severed the connection between earth and heaven, and the communication being interrupted, all the disastrous issues must eventuate. Let us, then, be wise. Rich men have become poor; strong men have become weak; capable men have become imbecile; men of high moral excellence have fallen from the heavens in which they shone like guiding stars. With these wrecks before us, what is our course of wisdom? To consider them; to weigh carefully what has been done; to remember that we are but dust; to consider our estate, how frail it is. Let us trust under the wings of the Almighty, let us live within the shadow of his presence, let us be hidden in his pavilion; then, come weal, come woe, our end will be heaven: say ye to the righteous, It shall be well with him, however black the immediate cloud, however storm-laden the immediate outlook.
The principle admits of being turned in many directions, but we have endeavoured to keep steadily by the line of the text itself; still, who can resist the gracious temptation to remark very briefly upon the fact that there are things incredible on the other side which will come to pass? Who would believe that the child of a poor couple, who kept no servant, who had to light their own fire, should stand up one day before kings, and be honoured by them for deeds of valour, for conquests of wisdom, for attainments of knowledge as scholars, adventurers in perilous lands, explorers? Who could believe that such children could rise from such roots? Take heart! One of the most learned books of the day in its own sphere, and the most useful of books for its own purpose, was written by a lad who had to study his Latin grammar under a street-lamp. He had no candle, he had no money to buy a light; so there in the open street under the flickering lamplight, he learned what Latin he first acquired. Impossible! A fact. Turn such "impossibilities" into the realities of life, and God bless you.
Who would believe that a Carpenter and the Son of a carpenter should save the world? Do we not know his father and mother? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence hath this Man his wisdom, since he never learned letters? Yet there is something about him we cannot deny, as to high quality and great strength of mind; he certainly is a wonderful Person; and he grows and his influence extends, and he says he will have the heathen for his inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession. The old Hebrew saints were full of music concerning him: he was to come down like rain upon the mown field, like showers that water the earth; kings were to fall down before him, and gold and incense bring. We say, Impossible! for the cause is not equal to the effect. No more it is it we limit it within the four visible points; but God is in it, the purpose of Heaven is in it, and the Lord's oath is that he, Christ, shall reign until he hath put all enemies under his feet This is indeed impossible, with a cross for a subject, a dying man for a theme, a crucified malefactor for a hero, that such results should accrue. Within these points the judgment is right, but truly this Man was the Son of God. His words do marvellously come to pass. We believe that Jesus Christ "shall reign where'er the sun does his successive journeys run." In this faith we live, and labour, and hope; and we ask no other faith in which to die.
We want to feel thy nearness, thou living Spirit. Thou knowest how much there is to bow us down to the earth, and how little there is to lift us up into heaven: our hope is in thyself, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Give us one glimpse of heaven; may we detect in the winter wind one odour from the garden of God. Save our souls in the hour of darkness; thou hast all the stars, thou canst command them to shine upon us; we know thou wilt not leave our souls to die in darkness. Thou hast given unto us thy Son, thine only Son. He tasted death for every man, he made the Cross the way to heaven: because thou hast given him thou wilt not withhold anything from us that is good for our souls. This is oar assurance, this is our daily song. Come then to us in the deep valley, in the faraway paths, and come to us in the wilderness; whilst thou dost commune with our hearts we shall know thy presence by their burning love. We bless thee for thy wondrous care; the very hairs of our head are all numbered; the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord; though he fall he shall not be utterly cast down: thou art the Light of the good; thou art the strength of them that put their trust in thee. How glad shall the Christian heart be from day to day! It is nearing the heavenly land, it is rich in promises, and we know that thou art able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. Give us the joy of our faith; clothe us in this holy hour with the gladness of them that live in God. Help us to live this little life wisely and well. It is but a span long, the last inch will soon run off, and then we shall see the light, then we shall have the answer la life's mystery. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Lamentations 4". The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent