What good comes of believing in the God of the Bible? What are the practical effects of such faith? Is it. some thing which so remotely and inappreciably affects life as to be a matter of very small concern to us? or is it a faith which touches life at every point; the very sunshine of being, which brings its morning, its summer, its autumnal mellowness and satisfaction? The answer is suggested in the text,—"Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us."
You believe in God; that is to say, he has a place in your intellectual notions; you could not on any consideration allow his name to be blotted out of your creed; you are intellectually sure that he lives. Now, be true to your own creed, and trust in him. You believe that the river runs to the sea, and that the sea is large enough to sustain your ship,—then act upon your faith and launch the vessel. If you keep your vessel on the stocks when she is finished, then all your praises of the ocean go for nothing; better never have built the ship than leave her unlaunched—a monument of your scientific belief, but also a testimony of your practical infidelity. This figure will serve us still further. This faith in God is truly as a sea-going ship. It is not a little craft meant for river uses, nor a toy-boat to play upon the shore even of the sea, when the sun is shining, and the south wind is as the sweet breath of a sleeping child; this faith is meant for the wide waters of the great deep, where storms have scope for their fury, where the stars are as guide-posts, and where the sun tells the voyager where he is and gives him the time of heaven. You have this great ship; she is well-built; you know her preciousness,—but there you are, hesitating on the river, running down to the harbour-bar and coming back again aghast as if you had seen a ghost: have faith; pass the bar; leave the headlands behind; make the stars your counsellors, and ride upon the great sea by the guidance of the greater sun. This is faith: not a mere nodding of the assenting head, but the reverent risking of the loving, clinging heart. To have a God in your belief is to sit in a ship which is chained upon the stocks; but to have a God in the heart, ruling the understanding, the conscience, and the will, is to sail down the river, enter upon the great ocean, and pass over the infinite waters into the haven of rest.
"Trust in him at all times." This is a practical religion. "What time I am afraid, I will trust in God. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God; in him will I trust." Religion is not to be occasional, but continuous. In the daytime our faith is to shine as the sun; in the nighttime it is to fill the darkness with stars; at the wedding-feast it is to turn the water into wine; in the hour of privation it is to surround the impoverished life with angels of hope and promise; in the day of death it is to take the sword from the destroyer and to give the victory to him who is apparently worsted in the fight. It is not easy to do this. All this holy and happy issue does not come in uninterrupted sequence; great fights of affliction have to be endured, daily discipline has to be undergone; but, blessed be God, the issue is not a mere conjecture, a shining possibility which may or may not be attained; it has actually been realised by countless numbers of holy men, and upon their testimony we build the doctrine, that what the grace of God has once done it can repeat in full and abiding miracles.
In exercising this trust there are two things to be remembered. First: We get some of the highest benefits of life through our most painful discipline. The very act of trust is a continual strain upon the understanding, the affections, and the will. The trust is not an act accomplished once for all, something that was written down in a book long ago and may be made matter of reference and verification; religious trust is the daily condition of the soul, the state in which the soul lives and moves and has its being, the source, so to say, from which it draws all its inspirations, the feast at which it sustains its confidence, and the whole condition which underlies and ennobles the best life. We must remember, too, that the time of full explanation is not until by-and-by. No doubt our lives are surrounded by what may be called dead trusts; a thousand blighted hopes strew our path with ghastly figures and images: it is impossible for us to say that every trust has been verified or every hope has been realised; as Christian men we have suffered the sharpness and the bitterness of innumerable disappointments; hardly anything has happened as we wished it to occur; even when promises have been fulfilled they have come to us in unexpected ways, and have surprised us by relations and influences which had never entered into our reckoning. Amidst all these disappointments, we simply remember that the time of explanation will come when the whole drama of life is closed; then we shall see why the prayer was unanswered, why the child whose life we desired was taken away from us, why the one ewe lamb was removed, why the brightest flower in the garden was blighted. A mother may have prayed, for example, for her child"s recovery, but the agony of her prayer met with no response from Heaven; the child died, and the mother"s heart became an open tomb. The Christian belief is that this may be so explained in the upper worlds and the longer days, as to give occasion for still further praise to him who rules the land and the sea, in whose hand is every appointment, and whose dominion is over all as a perpetual benediction. We may have to thank God that many of our prayers were not replied to. It is hardly to be questioned that our disappointments may one day come to be reckoned amongst our blessings. We need thus to be taught the lesson of patience, to be chastened, mellowed, and subdued, and to be taught how good a thing it Isaiah, not only to wait upon God, but to wait for him, to wait through long days and weary nights, to stand outside heaven"s door and to abide there in the confidence that at his own time and in his own way the King will come, and do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. When the fortune of the day goes against us, after we have prayed that it should go for us; when the battle which was to have ended in our independence has terminated in our beggary, what think we of our trust in God? Has it not been misplaced? Has not the fact given the lie to the faith? Certainly it looks so. Appearances are very frequently against the Christian argument and the Christian confidence. Let us remember, however, that "there is a way which seemeth right unto a Prayer of Manasseh, but the end thereof are the ways of death." The young man said to his father: Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me: I will undertake life on my own account; I can do better for myself than you are doing for me. Such talk, loud and boastful, we have heard many a day; but has there been a single instance in which the vanity has not been punished, and the pride dragged through many a humiliation? It is only by bitter experience that we can be taught our weakness, our ignorance, and the whole meaning of our depravity. It is more than folly on our part to contend that God should have prevented us doing this or that The fact Isaiah, we are men, and being men we have the power of volition, and we are called to responsibility, not acting as mere machines, but as creatures who can think, reason, compare, deduce, and determine processes for ourselves. It is enough that God should state the whole case and give us the advantage of our own experience and the experience of the whole world, and then should leave us to decide for ourselves what we ought to do. By manifold suffering we come round to the right state of mind. "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God."
The exhortation takes another turn—"Pour out your hearts before him." Though he knows all, yet he must be told all. Make God your confidant "Arise, cry out in the night; in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord." Hannah said, "I have poured out my soul before the Lord." The figure represents the act of giving up the whole of the contents of the heart to God"s keeping. It is not a word now and then that has to be spoken, or a hint that has to be given, or a signal that has to be held out; the action is a complete emptying of the heart, the outpouring of every secret thought, purpose, motive, desire, and affection, that thus the man may stand in a right attitude and relation towards his God. Our communion with Heaven should be unreserved. What we keep back we keep back to our own destruction. It is not enough to plead the omniscience of God as an excuse for not telling him all, because that same reason would cover everything that we do tell him, and render that also unnecessary. Self-communion may be in a very high sense divine communion. There are some things which we ought to say aloud to ourselves, for in the very tone there may be the comfort and the stimulus of worship. We must keep back nothing from ourselves. We may suppose that this is impossible, but experience has proved it to be not only possible but real, to be indeed one of the saddest facts in all life. We throw a curtain over our own motives, we set the whole purpose of life in a false light, we confuse ourselves by the creation of bewildering noises; in a word, we do not deal faithfully and resolutely with ourselves. This being the case, how can we commune with God? The very act of communion would be a hypocrisy and a lie; it would seem to mean things which it does not really imply. The very first condition to true, profound, and edifying worship is that we should cleanse our hearts of every secret, and pour out the whole contents of our being in penitence and thanksgiving before God: then the vision of heaven will shine upon us, then the comforting angels will be sent with gospels from the throne of grace, then new heavens shall beam above us, and a new earth shall spread out all its flowers and fruits for our delight and our sustenance. O heart! so deceitful, so complicated, often so inexplicable, thou must learn this lesson of self-confession, self- Revelation, yea, even self-sacrifice, so that the very uttermost farthing of confession may be made, and the very last tone of contrition may be uttered!
Is there any folly equal to the folly of a man deceiving himself, telling lies to his own soul, and feeding his own spirit with vanity and wind? This is the point at which we must begin; to begin anywhere else is to trifle with the occasion, and actually to tempt God, and practically to blaspheme against his Spirit. Our communion should not only be unreserved, it should be long-continued: "Pray without ceasing." Prayer that is only occasional is not prayer at all, nor can it be, by the very necessity of the case. A man who tries to breathe but once a week cannot live; he attempts to perform an impossibility, and the attempt ends in failure. We live by breathing. As our breathing is continual so ought our aspiration to be unceasing. This is a mystery known only to those who have entered into the secrets of practical and experimental piety. The mistake is often made that prayer must be formal, of the nature of prepared and calculated homage, partaking indeed of the quality of a state occasion,—that is to say, something that must be done according to time and place, and being once done stands in completeness. The only true analogy about the soul"s life in reference to communion with God is to be found in the continual breathing of the bodily life. We breathe without knowing it. When we are in health we are not aware that we have a physical nature at all; everything works harmoniously and smoothly and without giving any reminder to the man that he is inhabiting a decaying or uncertain dwelling-place. It is even so with the soul. There is a sense in which we may enjoy an unconscious piety; that Isaiah, a piety that has lived itself out of the region of statute and machinery, scaffolding and external upholding, and that poses itself as on strong wings at the very gate of the morning. This is not carelessness: it may be the very last expression of long-continued spiritual culture.
There should be some difference of a most obvious and practical kind between those who believe in God and those who do not. Trust in God should express itself in calmness and beneficence of life. What hope ought he to have whose confidence is in the living God! Hope seizes the whole future, and treats it as an immediate present, for all purposes of edification and stimulus. Jesus Christ: for the joy that was set before him endured the Cross. Whilst we are upon earth we may yet in all high spiritual effects be in heaven, walking before the throne, drinking at the living fountains of water, and enjoying the ineffable calm of the celestial state. But all this may be of the nature of rhapsody or high contemplation. All this, however, is to be sustained and exemplified by actual practical generosity as between man and man. The Christian should live to give. Christianity is expenditure. We have nothing that we have not received, and because we have all things in Christ we are to give and labour with both hands earnestly, leaving God to provide for the future as the future may reveal itself. To a precious hope, and a lavish generosity, must be added the spirit of audacious enterprise in all matters pertaining to the kingdom of God. Those who trust in the Living One cannot rest until other men have been brought to him in simple faith and love. This indeed is the peculiarity of the Christian religion above all others,—namely, that it constrains its believers to go forth and preach the Gospel to every creature under heaven. What an irony it is to see men who professedly trust in the living God going up and down the earth gloomily and sadly, beclouded with forebodings, and affrighted by spectres and superstitions! Something, of course, may be traced to physical temperament, and to hereditary affliction; at the same time the very fact of professing religion ought to bring with it vivacity, hopefulness, courage, and lead a man to speak about the Father with all the calmness of personal certitude. What, then, are we to say to those who, looking on such gloomy minds, taunt us with the effect of the Christian religion? Surely they have some justification for their jibe and sarcasm. They say, Look at such men: they profess the religion of Christ, they attend the sanctuary regularly, they are numbered amongst the nominal saints; and yet how fearful they are, how easily dispirited, how they vex themselves concerning the market, the harvest, or the issue of adventure; belter not be a Christian if this is Christianity. The taunt is surely not without reason; let that be admitted once for all; but the Christian may instantly reply, It is true that such men are far from exhibiting the cheerfulness of Christianity, but what would they have been without the Christian religion? If they are so gloomy with it, what would have been their despondency without it? For such men to hold up their heads at all, to see even one inch of blue in all the dark firmament, is a miracle which only God could accomplish. Let us then fix our minds upon this aspect, and not yield the argument when it is contended that Christianity always brings with it peace, joy, and glad expectation. Life should be seen to be far-extending it its relations, and requiring long time for its full development and explanation. It is in the long reach that the great explanation lies. The very fact that our satisfactions are not immediate and complete may arise from the dignity and duration of our being. The insect may be satisfied here and now, little capacities may be filled without trouble; but in proportion to the largeness, the greatness, the dignity, the spiritual grandeur of any being, must be the time required for complete and enduring development. Blessed be God, then, for this cheering word. He wishes to elicit our trust. If we may so say it, we can give God no greater pleasure than to cast all our care upon him, to entrust to him every concern and every detail of life with absolute fearlessness and perfect consecration. The very hairs of our head are all numbered. Our downsitting is of consequence to God, and our uprising is matter of note in heaven; yea, our going out and our coming in would seem to touch the solicitude of our Father.
All this will be romantic to the man who has had no spiritual experience; but we must not consult the blind upon colours or the deaf upon harmonies, or the dead upon the duties, the enjoyments, and the sacrifices of life. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." The natural man does not understand spiritual things; they can only be spiritually discerned. Let us therefore never be afraid of confessing our faith because there are some men who seem to have no faith capacity. There is a native language which belongs to Christians alone, and they must never be deterred from speaking in their native tongue because they are in a land of strangers and foreigners. My soul, boast thou in the living God: boldly utter his name, lift up his banner, and say, He will take care of me; by his strength I will run through a troop and leap over a wall, and because his infinite comforts are round about me I shall be delighted in darkness, satisfied in famine, and filled with strength which no enemy can overthrow. We ought to have more of this loud thanksgiving in the Church. We are solid enough in doctrine; we are perfectly sure of our main theological positions: but all this is not enough; prayer should rise into praise, praise should become the very rapture of the soul, and in all the high excitement which is legitimate to the spiritual life we should abolish death, and forget all the meanness of time, and attach ourselves to all the solemnity and grandeur of eternity. Great thoughts enlarge the mind. Great conceptions should enlarge and cheer the heart. The Christian thinker deals with nothing that is not large, either in itself or its relations. How large-minded, then, should they be who are one with God in Christ, who are connected with all the eternal purpose of Heaven, and who are daily looking for the outshining of the infinite glory! We must lift up our heads and behold who created the heavens and all their host; and claiming these as the creation of our Father we must excite ourselves into holy rapture by the confident assurance that all the worlds are ours, and if even their treasures could be exhausted God could create more worlds and larger than have ever yet shone in all the infinity of space.
Almighty God, we thank thee that thou hast shown us unto ourselves. No man knoweth what is in him; only thy Spirit can reveal the soul to itself. When the Spirit of Truth is come it will convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come; it will read our inmost thoughts to us, and read all surrounding history in its right tone. We know nothing as it ought to be known, we cannot tell what we are thinking about, we do not hear our own voices; help us then to receive thy revelation of human nature, and to stand aghast at all the wondrous things which are shown to us concerning ourselves. Save us from self-delusion; destroy the deceit which tells any man that he is good; show us how impossible it is for us to show our goodness in the noontide of God"s purity. Thus abase us; take us out of ourselves, that, seeing the hideous sight, we may fall down and cry bitterly for the forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus the Saviour. We deceive ourselves, we say we are good, we think we are good, we count our virtues and our moralities, and add them up into reputation and character: save us from this lie, show us that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, that it has its gala day, its time of bannering and trumpeting, wherein it exceedingly lauds its own respectability and honour. We want to see the inmost heart, the real motive, and we want to see it as God sees it; then shall we cry out at midnight, What must I do to be saved? Thus do thou prepare us to receive thy gospel, O Son of God; may we listen to it as contrite men; may we pay attention to thy gospel as men would attend to those who are come to declare liberty to the captive. Destroy all inattentiveness, worldliness, reluctance on our part, and fill us with that solemn eagerness which asks that it may receive, seeks that it may find, knocks that the door may be opened unto it. We will sing of thy mercy, thou Giver of all good; thou hast not withheld thine hand from us; yea with both hands hast thou scattered upon our life-path the bounty of thy love. No good thing will the Lord withhold from them that walk uprightly: help us by thy Spirit to walk in uprightness before God, that we may claim things present and things to come, things on earth and things in heaven. Guide us every day. We need thy presence every moment: the days are mysteries, they are questions that require to be answered, they are problems that must be solved; but we have no light or truth or wisdom but in God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, as he is revealed to us by God the Holy Ghost. Come to us then, and undertake our whole training; leave nothing to ourselves, or we will play the fool before God: watch us at every point, and during every moment; before our thought has shaped itself do thou purify it, O Holy Spirit. Thou wilt not wait until our thoughts become words, and our words become actions; we want thee at the very first, before we know what we are thinking about, not to purify the thought, but to purify the thinker; make the tree good, and then the fruit shall be good. Thou hast led us by ways that we knew not; we said, This is the end, and, lo, it became but the beginning! we said, The next billow will overwhelm us, and lo, it died a mile away! we said, We cannot endure this great agony, and behold thou didst strengthen us so that we were wonders unto ourselves, and we came out of all the pain and havoc, saying, This is the Lord"s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. Thou dost train us wondrously; when we become ambitious, thou dost cut the capital from the pillar and leave it bare, unfinished, and naked, a stalk ashamed of itself; when we think we can do without God, behold thou sendest the wolves upon us that they may teach us how to pray; when we say we Shall die in our nest, thou dost tear the little straws to pieces and scatter them upon the winds. All this, if we accept it in thy spirit, blessed Saviour, shall be for our good, for our refinement and chastening, and we shall come out of it richer, because holier, meek and quiet because strong and triumphant in faith. Regard all for whom we ought to pray,—the old and the young, the weary ones who want to glide away and be tormented no more by earth"s activities and mockeries; and the young and the ardent, the enthusiastic and the passionate, who think they are going to storm all fortresses and take them, and lo! at the end they will say with the dejected prophet, I am no better than my fathers. Father in heaven, be our Father; Saviour of the Cross, cleanse us in thy blood; Holy Spirit, the mystery of all being, forsake us not, nor leave us, for we are the work of the hands of God. Amen.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Trust in him at all times." — Psalm 62:8
The emphasis must be upon the continuousness of the trust. Occasional trust is continual infidelity. Spasmodic religion is but a variety of unbelief. In the regularity, the continuousness, it may be even the monotony, of our religious sacrifices we find their genuine worth. It is difficult for some minds to distinguish between that which is regular and that which is monotonous. We may so live as to make sunshine itself a monotony; or we may so use it as to find every day a poem, every season a vision and an apocalypse. Jo said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." We are called upon to trust God where we cannot praise him. It is in the Garden of Gethsemane that we best can show the reality and force of our trust in God. Fair-weather religion is a mockery, a variety of selfishness, a mere sentiment that comes and goes with the sunshine. It is when our heart is overwhelmed within us that we should desire to be led to the Rock that is high and infinite. It is when our souls are filled with bitterness that we should declare we will not leave the strong tower of God. Here it is that the Christian has a constant opportunity for showing the completeness, the tenderness, and the practical value of faith. Even infidels may laugh at midday, and fools be glad in the time of abounding harvest; only he who lovingly trusts in God can be calm in the darkness, and sing songs of trust when the fig tree does not flourish. Trust of this kind amounts to an argument. It compels the attention of those who study the temper and action of our lives. Naturally they ask how is it that we are so sustained and comforted, and that when other men are complaining and repining we can repeat our prayer and sing the same song of trust, though sometimes, indeed, in a lower tone. We are watched when we stand by the graveside, and if there Christian faith can overcome human sorrow a tribute of praise is due to our principles. And many men may be prepared to render that tribute, and so bring themselves nearer to the kingdom of God. A beautiful refrain is this to our life- Song of Solomon, "Trust in him at all times"—in youth, in age, in sorrow, in joy, in poverty, in wealth; at all times, in good harvests and in bad harvests, in the wilderness and in the garden, on the firm earth and on the tumultuous sea; at all times, until time itself has mingled with eternity.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 62". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany