Great Texts of the Bible
A Meeting with God
Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.—Amos 4:121. The writings of the prophet Amos have a peculiar interest to the student of the Bible. They are the earliest extant Hebrew prophecy of any length upon the date of which scholars are agreed. But it is not to students alone that the writings are interesting. Amos himself was not a scholar. He was a shepherd and a fruit-dresser. He had not been educated among the sons of the prophets. He had been trained in the school of nature. Hence it is that his writings reflect more closely the life and thought of the nation to which he belonged, and have a deeper interest for the ordinary man than they would have had if they had been composed by a divine in his study.
2. The story from which the text is taken belongs to the reign of Jeroboam, the son of Joash, when the kingdom of Israel was at the height of its glory and its frontier extended beyond the farthest point reached in the brightest days of Solomon. This was a period of unexampled material prosperity for the Northern Kingdom. It was not a country of great natural resources in itself, but it lay on the main trading route between Assyria on the one hand and Egypt on the other. It was therefore rapidly growing wealthy, and had produced an order of great merchant princes. The immediate result of this increase of prosperous intercourse with foreign nations was an outburst of luxury and vice. As usual, the concentration of great wealth in the hands of a few tended towards the oppression of the many. The lot of the poor was intolerable owing to there being no justice in the land. Slavery grew rapidly; there were crowds of foreign slaves in the palaces of the nobles, while the freemen of Israel were being reduced to the position of serfs on the soil they had formerly owned. These palaces must have been enormous structures, replete with everything that could minister to the senses. They were often built of marble and inlaid with ivory and gold. The women of the rich classes seem to have become demoralized and heartless. Religion was punctiliously attended to, but was almost completely divorced from morality. The priests accommodated themselves to the manners of the time, and taught that Jehovah was the God of Israel only, and that the national prosperity was a token of His favour. The worshippers believed that God was their God much in the same way as serfs believed in their feudal lord. It was His business to look after them and to secure to them material enjoyment and victory over their enemies; they, on their part, had to endow His sanctuaries and be careful to observe His feasts and sacrifices.
3. This, then, was the first thing Amos saw, that, although the land was full of religion, it was as full of iniquity, which, God being judge, could not go unpunished. In the next place he saw that the punishment was near. On the horizon was a cloud that would spread itself and overwhelm them—the great conquering empire of the Assyrians. Amos nowhere mentions the Assyrians by name, but the people knew whom he meant. That made the treason of his prophecy—to think that the kingdom could be overthrown; and that also made the blasphemy of it—to prophesy that Jehovahs people could fall before the heathen. The people knew quite as well as Amos that their land was in danger from the Assyrians, for it was through the Assyrian weakening of Damascus, with whom they had fought for years, that they had been able to extend their borders; and now that Damascus had fallen, nothing stood between them and the Assyrians. But for all that, they had no fear; they put their trust in the God of their fathers. By His stretched-out arm they had conquered the nations round about; the gods of the nations had fallen down before Jehovah. Who, compared with Him, was Baal or Moloch? Rimmon of Damascus had fallen; Chemosh had not saved Moab from His anger, nor Milcom the children of Ammon. And now that Asshur, the god of the Assyrians, was leading on his nation against them, it would be seen once more which of the two was the Lord of Hosts. And so they redoubled their sacrifices, and were confident of the issue.
4. And what had Amos to tell them about this impending struggle between Jehovah and Asshur? He told them that it was not Asshur but Jehovah who was leading the Assyrian army against them. We are so accustomed to the truth that God is the God of all flesh, that He has made of one blood all the nations of men, that we can hardly throw our imagination back to a time when this great fact was a new and startling revelation. But that is the truth Amos is labouring to impart to his countrymen—that although God had known them alone of all the nations, yet it was He who guided the blind movements of all the wandering peoples of the earth. “Jehovah, the God of hosts, is his name.” Yes, the God of hosts—as the Israelites were so proud to call Him; but of what hosts? Not of the hosts of Israel merely; they were but as dust in the balance. And so, because it was not Asshur but Jehovah that was bringing up the Assyrian army against them, Amos bade the people prepare to meet Him. That sentence, “Prepare to meet thy God,” which has almost lost power to arrest us from being placarded in waiting-rooms and stencilled on the pavement of our streets, had a terrible significance as it first comes into Scripture. It meant, The God of your nation is bringing up an army against His own people; when you prepare yourselves for battle, it will be to fight against your own God, who is advancing against you. “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.”
Lotze and those who side with him, though they are Monists inasmuch as they believe that there is only one substance in the Universe, viz., Spiritual Life and Energy, yet at the same time believe that the Eternal God, who by the partial differentiation of His own essential being calls into existence the world of nature and humanity, has also, while remaining immanent in all His creatures, given to these finite and dependent existences in progressive degrees a real selfhood; which selfhood culminates in that self-consciousness and moral freedom in man which enables him both to know and even to resist God. According to this view, God is immanent and active both in the inorganic and in the organic world; and in the latter He, without the animals consciousness of the purpose, controls and directs its instinctive life. And when, as Prof. John Fiske has so well explained, physical evolution reaches its acme and the all-important and unending process of psychical evolution takes its place, then for the first time the Creator begins to take the creature into His intimate confidence; and in mans rational, æsthetic, moral, and spiritual nature makes an immediate but progressive revelation of His own presence and His own character.1 [Note: The Life and Letters of James Martineau, ii. 411.]
1. There is a voice within every one of us, if we will but let it speak, which says solemnly, sternly, “Prepare to meet thy God.” If we hear not this voice now, we shall hear it hereafter; if not in the day of rude health, yet, unless the moral nerve has been cauterized, when we are sick or dying. Every man who believes that God exists, and that he himself has a soul which does not perish with the body, knows that a time must come when this meeting with God will be inevitable. At the hour of death, whether in mercy or in displeasure, God looks in the face of man, His creature, as never before. The veils of sense, which long have hidden His countenance, are then stripped away, and as spirit meets with spirit, without the interposition of any fibres of matter so does man in death meet with God. It is this that makes death so exceedingly solemn. Ere yet the last breath has fairly passed from the body, or the failing eyes have closed, the soul has partly entered upon a world altogether new, magnificent, awful. It has seen beings, shapes, modes of existence, never imagined before. But it has done more; it has met its God, as a disembodied spirit can meet Him. Surely, “Prepare—prepare for death!” is the voice of prudence. The one certain thing about life is that we must leave it. The one certain thing about death is that we must die. What will happen first, we know not. How much time will pass before our hour comes, we know not. What will be the manner of our death, violence or disease, an accident, or what we call natural causes, we know not. Where we shall die, at home or on a visit, in our beds or in the street, or in a railway train, or in a sinking steamboat,—this, too, we know not. Under what circumstances we shall die, in solitude or among friends, with the consolations of religion or without them, in spasms of agony or softly, as if we were going to sleep, we know not. The time, the place, the manner, the circumstances of death, are hidden from every one of us; but that which stands out from all this ignorance, in absolute, unassailable tragic certainty, is the fact itself that we must die, all and each of us. Scripture says, and experience echoes, “It is appointed.”
There is a light-hearted way of discounting death, and mocking the fear of it, which passes for courage, and is really mere slightness of intellect and poverty of conscience and imagination. The awfulness of death remains, felt by ineradicable instinct, and it was meant to remain. The subject may be called crude, harsh, morbid, if you like; but the winding-sheet, the coffin, and the six feet of earth are facts that wait for us. We may change the colour of its livery, but the fact we cannot change. It has been supposed to be a religious thing to meditate on death, and forecast its circumstances, and in this way religion has grown morbid. A well-known passage in Mr. Hardys Tess of the dUrbervilles illustrates the morbidness without the religion. Thinking of her birthdays, “she suddenly thought one afternoon, when looking in the glass at her fairness, that there was yet another date, of more importance to her than those; that of her own death, when all these charms would have disappeared; a day which lay sly and unseen among all the other days of the year, giving no sign or sound when she actually passed over it; but not the less surely there. When was it? Why did she not feel the chill of each yearly encounter with such a cold relation?” The only use of such speculations is to force death back into the region of actual realities that we may reckon with it, and pass on to the true business of life. Lost in the mists of the future, the event of death seems uncertain and life eternal. Did we know the hour, life, foreshortened by the exact sight of the end, would shrink to a very small appearance though the limit were at five-score years.1 [Note: John Kelman, The Road, i. 7.]
2. The text does not speak of to-morrow. Its cry, “Prepare!” has regard to the present. We are urged to the duty as a duty to be performed now. There is no “to-morrow” in the Christians calendar, as assuredly there is none in the texts exhortation. There is perhaps no expression in our language that has done more mischief to more souls than “by-and-by.” “Prepare to meet thy God!” “Time enough,” says the youth; “wait till manhood comes.” “Prepare to meet thy God!” “Time enough,” says the man; “wait till age comes.” “Prepare to meet thy God!” “Time enough,” says age; “wait till death comes.” And thus the present duty is constantly shifted off; the pleasures of youth hand the matter over to the business of manhood; the business of manhood bequeaths it to the infirmities of age; age takes up the accumulated legacy, and, with irresolute purpose, and feeble will, and exhausted strength, pushes it still nearer the grave, places it on the very confines of the eternal world, “resolves, and resolves, and dies the same.”
Whymper traces the stagnation of the South American Portuguese to their constant word “mañana” (to-morrow). It is an inseparable feature of genuine spiritual and moral truth that it demands earnestness, and presents a situation which is urgent and immediate.1 [Note: John Kelman, The Road, i. 75.]
It is said that when the late Prince Imperial was but a child he gained for himself the sobriquet of “Little Mr. Ten Minutes,” owing to an inveterate habit he had acquired of pleading for ten minutes longer when asked to do anything. Whether it were the dinner hour, or time for sleep, the invariable ten minutes were demanded and usually granted. When in the morning he was called to rise, too sleepy to speak, he would hold up his hands with the ten fingers extended, signifying the desired delay. Who could have dreamed that the habit was one day to cost him his life? Yet so it was. Ten minutes in a soldier-guarded palace in France was one thing. Ten minutes in the face of an agile enemy in Zululand made just the difference between safety and death. And the heir-apparent to an imperial throne sacrificed all his prospects for an unchecked childish whim. Terrible must have been the anguish of the royal mother in realizing that her indulgence had sealed a fate which timely firmness might have averted!2 [Note: F. de L. Booth-Tucker, The Life of Catherine Booth, ii. 103.]
Brownings Karshook appeared in 1856 in The Keepsake; but, as we are told on good authority, has been printed in no edition or selection of the Poets works. I am therefore justified in inserting it here—
“Would a man scape the rod?”
Rabbi Ben Karshook saith,
“See that he turn to God
The day before his death.”
“Ay, could a man inquire
When it shall come!” I say,
The Rabbis eye shoots fire—
“Then let him turn to-day!”1 [Note: Mrs. Sutherland Orr, Life and Letters of Robert Browning, 198.]
3. What makes a death-bed terrible? The consciousness that there has been no preparation for it. What makes a death-bed happy? The consciousness of a lifelong preparation. Why did St. Paul cry, when death in no gentle form stared him in the face, “I am now ready to be offered”? Because he could say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
Every day we are either fitting or unfitting ourselves for the final “meeting” with God our Maker. It behoves us to practise ourselves, to unlearn what we need to unlearn, making a right use of our time, doing our work well, availing ourselves of all our openings for amendment and improvement, living with a constant reference to the unseen, watching, praying, looking for the signals of the Masters coming. It is like preparing for an examination. We cannot recover the ground we have lost by making a tremendous effort to hurry up at the end; we cannot make up for past neglects by putting on a spurt at the last. The best preparation consists in giving constant attention to the regular daily lessons, to the steady plodding round of work, when as yet the examination is a long way off, and we do not feel the pressure of any immediate urgency. What should have been the slow result of years cannot be reached by any violent effort or sudden spring.
Bossuet, the great poet of the tomb, says:
“It is not worthy of a Christian”—and I would add, of a man—“to postpone his struggle with death until the moment when it arrives to carry him off.”
It were a salutary thing for each of us to work out his idea of death in the light of his days and the strength of his intelligence and stand by it. He would say to death:
“I know not who you are, or I would be your master; but, in days when my eyes saw clearer than to-day, I learnt what you were not: that is enough to prevent you from becoming mine.”
He would thus bear, graven on his memory, a tried image against which the last agony would not prevail and from which the phantom-stricken eyes would draw fresh comfort. Instead of the terrible prayer of the dying, which is the prayer of the depths, he would say his own prayer, that of the peaks of his existence, where would be gathered, like angels of peace, the most lucid, the most rarefied thoughts of his life. Is not that the prayer of prayers! After all, what is a true and worthy prayer, if not the most ardent and disinterested effort to reach and grasp the unknown?1 [Note: M. Maeterlinck, Our Eternity, 7.]
1. The words “Prepare to meet thy God!” taken in their general and not merely historical signification, are commonly used to warn men of the fact that they must meet God in the judgment to come. It is natural that the words should be applied in this manner. The reasonableness, one may say the necessity and the certainty, of such judgment can hardly be disputed by any who acknowledge the existence of a God, and the principle of mans responsibility to God. In this world neither vice nor virtue meets with its due reward; in many cases the worst men suffer least, and the best men most. It is to little purpose that dramatists, novelists, and poets so often represent retribution as falling upon the wrong-doer and vindicating the innocent. Such representations utter what we feel ought to be rather than what is. They are confounded and contradicted by the hard facts of history and of everyday life, which show that wrong is often triumphant to the last, and that the sinner is often spared, not only everything in the form of outward calamity, but also the uneasiness of a guilty conscience. The more we think of these wrongs that are never in this world rectified, the more does our moral sense cry out for a judgment to come.
Amos knew—as we Christians should know—that the ever-swelling tide of rebellion against the Ruler of the universe is, by a law which cannot fail to assert itself, bringing judgment nearer and nearer. It is not merely in the obedience of saints, in the conversion of sinners, in the extension of the Divine Kingdom, that we see the tokens of the approaching Advent; it is in the contemptuous rejection of the claims of God, it is in the resolute exclusion of the King of kings from large departments of human thought and life; it is in the coarse blasphemies which meet the eye and the ear in our streets, but yet more in the refined ungodliness which underlies the graceful sentences of well-educated infidelity; it is in the placid indifference to God, as if He had had His day, and it were high time to forget Him.
M. Renan says that a good deal of his gentleness is probably due to a bottom of indifference,—and, on the whole, I agree with him. Complacency with himself, a sentiment of kindliness to the world at large, a deeply-rooted horror of the selfishness of exclusive friendships, a vague feeling of gratitude to some one, “without exactly knowing to whom I ought to be grateful,”—this last naturally enough, as M. Renan is deeply convinced that there is no appreciable trace of the action of any Will in the world superior to that of man,—such is the stock of moral virtues of which M. Renan has made salvage, after the wreck of his faith. In fine, they do not leave me with any very deep respect for this smooth, humorous, learned, industrious, imaginative man, who has slipped so easily along the “charming promenade” of his extremely sentimental existence.1 [Note: R. H. Hutton, Criticisms on Contemporary Thought and Thinkers, i. 234.]
2. Is there not something startling in the reflection that it is a Being of a perfect holiness and a most absolute justice who is to be our Judge? Who can uncover his heart even to a friend without a sense of shame? And yet what is the holiness of the holiest saint compared with the holiness of God? But add to the thought of Gods holiness the idea of His omnipresence; think of Him as about our path and about our bed, no secret sin not set in the light of His countenance, no thought too transient to escape His notice, no desire veiled in the darkness of our in most soul, but telegraphed at once upon His pure intelligence; and who will not be solemnized by the thought that his Creator must be his Judge?
Not only are our hearts awed; we are afraid to go near to God. Why is it so? Why is a child that has disobeyed his parent in his absence afraid of that parents return at eventide? Why does he think the afternoon hours are posting very fast away? Why is a scholar who has committed some offence against rule afraid to meet the teachers eye? Why is a servant who has been unfaithful to his master afraid to be called to give account of his stewardship? Why is a man hiding from the officers of justice for some crime against the law ready to start at every knock which comes to the door of the house where he is staying? Why does a criminal in prison dread the bar, and the judge, and the assize-day? To all these questions the answer is the same. Sin leads in fear. It is this that makes us shrink from meeting the eye of God.
A Hungarian king, being sad one day, was asked by his brother the reason of his heaviness of heart. “I have been a great sinner,” said he, “and know not how to die, and appear before God in the judgment.” His brother laughed at him. It was the custom in that country for the executioner to sound a trumpet before the door of the man who was to be executed. At midnight the trumpet sounded at the door of the kings brother. He arose and came in great haste to the king, and inquired in what he had offended. The king replied, “You have not offended me, but if the sight of my executioner be so dreadful, then shall I not, who have greatly offended, fear to stand in judgment before Christ?”1 [Note: C. W. Bibb, Sharpened Arrows and Polished Stones, 273.]
3. Amoss prophetic call is accordingly not misapplied when directed to the final day of the Lord. Common sense teaches preparation for a certain future, and Amoss trumpet-note is deepened and re-echoed by Jesus. “Be ye ready also, for … the Son of man cometh.” The conditions of meeting the Judge, and being “found of him in peace,” are that we should be “without spot, and blameless”; and the conditions of being so spotless and uncensurable are what they were in Amoss day—repentance and trust. The words of the text bid us detach desire from unworthy and unsatisfying objects while yet we may. They bid us attach desire to the One Object which can ever-lastingly satisfy it; to the Being who made us, revealed in His Adorable Son. They bid us, while we may, wed desire to understanding; to that true understanding of the real meaning and conditions of our existence which God gives to those who would keep His law with their whole heart. Desire and understanding are the parents of will; will is but intelligent desire. And will is, or should be, the monarch among the faculties of the regenerate soul; shaping life in accordance with an apprehension of its true purpose; overcoming the obstacles which oppose themselves to the attainment of that purpose; bringing circumstances, habits, passions, even reasons, into harmonious co-operation for the attainment of the true end of man. “Prepare to meet thy God!” Yes! where will is supreme in a regenerate soul, soon “the crooked places are made straight, and the rough places plain,” as of old across the desert for the passage of God. Everything is welcome, because everything, either as an assistance or as a discipline, must further our purpose—that of reaching the supreme object of desire, the Vision of God.
It is not improper to explain the words of Amos in this sense—that though the people were almost past hope, he yet exhorted them to anticipate Gods wrath. Prepare then thyself to meet thy God, as though he said, “However worthy thou art of being destroyed, and though the Lord seems to have closed up the door of mercy, and despair meets thee on every side, thou canst yet mitigate Gods wrath, provided thou preparest to meet Him.” But this preparation includes real renovation of the heart: it then takes place when men are displeased with themselves, when with a changed mind they submit to God, and humbly pray for forgiveness. There is then an important meaning in the Prophets words, “Prepare thyself.” With regard to meeting God, we know what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9, “If we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged by the Lord.” How comes it, then, that God deals severely with us, except that we spare ourselves? Hence this indulgence, with which we flatter ourselves, provokes Gods wrath against us. We cannot then meet God, except we become our own judges, and condemn our sins and feel real sorrow.1 [Note: Calvin, Commentaries on the Minor Prophets, ii. 244.]
Repentance is not merely a change of conduct, but a change of conduct based upon a change of feeling and mind. It is a repudiation of what is now felt to be sinful. It is not enough to leave off doing wrong and begin to do right; there must be a sense of guilt, joined with sorrow for having done wrong in the past, and for being still tainted by inward evil. And in order that the repentance may be good, the motive for sorrow must be found not solely in the sinners hopes or fears for himself, nor even in the thought of the injury he has inflicted upon his fellow-men; but in the knowledge that he has grieved and offended God. The determination to make what amends may be possible, and the readiness to acknowledge to God and (where advisable) to man the whole extent of the wrong done, must be the outcome of a loving and unselfish grief, which bears the name of contrition. These, contrition, confession, amendment, are the three parts of repentance.1 [Note: A. J. Mason, The Faith of the Gospel.]
1. But the text in its original setting bears no reference to death and judgment after death; it is simply a warning of the destruction that was about to befall the kingdom of Israel. It is only natural that words so striking and so solemn should impress themselves upon the mind and conscience of every one who reads them, and that each should take them as a message from God to himself. And so, when men read this text in the Bible, or hear it preached upon in the pulpit, it is to death and judgment, to the meeting with their God there, that their thoughts are generally directed. They suppose that the preparation commanded by these words, “Prepare to meet thy God,” is preparation for that. But this reading of the verse, while not in itself incorrect, often leads to mistakes. “I shall have to meet my God there after death; but death is still a great way off, and I need not now prepare.” And so men quietly live on unprepared, and knowing that they are unprepared, presuming upon the chance of continued life, intending, when once they have reason to believe that their end is near,—intending then to prepare. They may be suddenly cut off without a moments preparation; the pains and anxieties of sickness may render them incapable of preparation. It is generally to very little purpose that men in the hour of death prepare to meet their God, when they have not in life prepared to meet Him. This is far from saying that such death-bed preparation is never sincere, or never accepted of God, but one must own that it is incapable of proof and verification. Surely preparation to meet our God is too serious and important a matter to be risked upon the thousand chances of our last hours and our capacity in those hours to make any preparation whatever. The fact is, that men make a great and miserable mistake in supposing that the only meeting with God for which they are to prepare, and indeed the only meeting with God that is possible, is that compulsory meeting with Him in the day of judgment.
2. In a manner sometimes unscriptural, God is frequently represented as at a great distance, seated on a throne in the highest heavens, entirely separate and apart from us now, but proposing at some future time to come and arraign us before His bar, that we may give account of ourselves to Him, and that our only meeting with Him will be on that occasion. Now let us remember Gods omnipresence. “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” “Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.” “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” Instead of having to meet God only at the day of judgment, we meet Him every day, or at any rate He meets us. Remember the words of Jesus: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” And again: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
Thus to meet with God is not the terror of the future; it is the privilege, the blessing, of the present. A Christian can say with truth and with thankfulness, “I meet my God every day of my life; in prayer I speak to Him as a man speaketh to his friend. To me He is not a God afar off, whom some day I meet in judgment; He is near me, He holds me by the hand, and leads me. No one is so near to me as He, so constantly with me as He. You need not tell me to prepare to meet Him. I met with Him long ago, and have been with Him ever since; and, meeting Him here so much as my Friend, I am perfectly prepared to meet Him hereafter as my Judge. I know that I have often sinned. But when I met with Him He convinced me of my sin, but also convinced me of His willingness to forgive it, and impressed upon my mind the glorious truth, that His dear Son died to make atonement for my sin, and to make peace for me with Him. And so I asked Him to forgive me for Christs sake; I asked Him to receive me as His child; I asked Him to remain with me to guide and help me. And He heard my prayer.”
The text of Bishop Lightfoots enthronement sermon was “And they shall see his face.” The prayer which from the first he asked his Diocese to offer for him was—
“That the Eternal Presence, thus haunting him night and day, may rebuke, may deter, may guide, may strengthen, may comfort, may illumine, may consecrate and subdue the feeble and wayward impulses of his own heart to Gods holy will and purpose!”
The “consciousness of an Eternal Presence”—that was the principle of his life. That made him strong; that made him sympathetic; that gave him absolute singleness of aim and simplicity of life; that filled him with a buoyant optimism which expressed itself in constant joyousness; that was the source of an almost unparalleled generosity which in life gave to God and the Church every gift which God gave him, and at death made his chaplains his executors, and his Diocese his residuary legatee; that was the strength which nerved the mind to think and the hand to write in the solitary room before the hard day of public life began and after it ended; that was the wondrous power of personality which made itself felt in Cambridge, in London, in Durham, by men of every degree. He was ever conscious of the Eternal Presence. He ever went to men from God, and the human presence was illumined by the Divine.1 [Note: Quarterly Review, Jan. 1893, p. 103.]
3. God has ordained prayer as the means whereby we may meet with Him. “To this man will I look, and with him will I dwell, even with him who is of a humble and of a contrite spirit.” The first sacrifice to bring to God is the sacrifice of a broken heart, the frank and full confession of utter sinfulness and worthlessness. And to this confession we must add the prayer that, for Christs sake, we may be forgiven. And we must ask for the inclination and the power to forsake sin, and to live a holy life. And then it is necessary to keep up this communion with God; to meet Him in prayer day by day; to go to Him in prayer with every temptation, every difficulty, every sorrow, every duty, and every sin. So meeting with Him, such Divine companionship of thought, and feeling, and will, and purpose will be an infinite blessing; it will keep us out of sin, it will render us joyful all our days, it will give us a confidence in Him which nothing can disturb. Meeting with God, and walking with God, our whole character will be ennobled; and beholding so constantly the glory of the Lord, we shall be changed into the same image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord.
So, meeting God in life, we need have no anxiety about meeting Him after death. Having met with Him and walked with Him; having been, through repentance and faith, forgiven and justified; having, through fellowship with His Spirit, been sanctified, having so lived on earth as to please Him, we can meet Him in the judgment with assurance and joy. We shall meet with Him then to know Him better than we can know Him now; we shall meet Him, so changed by a glorious resurrection as to be able to see Him; we shall meet Him prepared for whatever service He may ordain for us in His perfected Kingdom, for we shall have so learned to serve Him here as to serve Him better hereafter. There is no other way of preparing to meet our God than this,—repentance, faith, obedience—the preparation that results from a personal knowledge of God, in a life consecrated to His service, and lived in the consciousness of His presence, and in the desire to please Him.
The day following Erskines death, Dr. John Brown, who attended him, wrote: “Our dear sweet-hearted friend is away. He died very gently last night at a quarter to ten; laid his pathetic weary head on the pillow like a child, and his last words were, Lord Jesus. ” As might have been anticipated, the scene beheld at his death-bed was as heavenly as his life had been. His nephew, who was present, declared that if many loved him for his life, more would have loved him in his death. And thus, to quote Dr. Hannas beautiful words, “few have ever passed away from among their fellows, of whom so large a number of those who knew him best, and were most competent to judge, would have said as they did of Mr. Erskine, that he was the best, the holiest man they ever knew—the man most human, yet most divine, with least of the stains of earth, with most of the spirit of heaven.”1 [Note: H. F. Henderson, Erskine of Linlathen, 136.]
It is evident there is a genius of holiness just as there is a genius in music or in mathematics. But it is not enough to say that. When we speak of genius here, what do we mean? At bottom it is a greater receptivity. The vision of the unseen; the conception of a higher life that controls the lower one; the love of the Highest and the Holiest which these souls display does not mean that the saints are in possession of treasures denied to other men. The grace of which they partake is a common grace. The spiritual power they touch is a power which is around us all, waiting for entrance. What separates them from the rest of us is a finer faculty for discerning this, a thinner barrier for the obstruction of its inflow. All they know and feel is objectively there, the common property of the race. We must wait for their vision till we have reached their level.1 [Note: J. Brierley, The Secret of Living, 126.]
One feast, of holy days the crest,
I, though no Churchman, love to keep,
All-Saints,—the unknown good that rest
In Gods still memory folded deep;
The bravely dumb that did their deed,
And scorned to blot it with a name,
Men of the plain heroic breed,
That loved Heavens silence more than fame,
Such lived not in the past alone,
But thread to-day the unheeding street,
And stairs to Sin and Famine known
Sing with the welcome of their feet;
The den they enter grows a shrine,
The grimy sash an oriel burns,
Their cup of water warms like wine,
Their speech is filled from heavenly urns.
About their brows to me appears
An aureole traced in tenderest light,
The rainbow-gleam of smiles through tears
In dying eyes, by them made bright,
Of souls that shivered on the edge
Of that chill ford repassed no more,
And in their mercy felt the pledge
And sweetness of the farther shore.2 [Note: J. R. Lowell, Under the Willows and Other Poems.]
A Meeting with God
Beeching (H. C.), Inns of Court Sermons, 96.
Brown (H. S.), Manliness and Other Sermons, 24.
Campbell (R. J.), Thursday Mornings at the City Temple, 89.
Hodge (C.), Princeton Sermons, 23.
Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year: Septuagesima to Ash-Wednesday, 209.
Kingsley (C.), All Saints Day Sermons, 9.
Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, New Ser., v. 301.
Liddon (H. P.), Advent in St. Pauls, 317.
Robinson (F.), College and Ordination Addresses, 142.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xvi. (1870), No. 923; li. (1905), No. 2965.
Stewart (J.), Outlines of Discourses, 287.
Stowell (H.), Sermons, 297.
Stuart (J.), Sermons, 255.
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Christian World Pulpit, xiv. 385 (H. P. Liddon).
Churchmans Pulpit: General Advent Season, i. 135 (F. E. Lawrence); Sermons to the Young, xvi. 4 (J. Edmond).
Literary Churchman, xxxi. (1885) 501 (S. Pascoe).
National Preacher, viii. 233 (R. S. Storrs); xxx. 183 (D. H. Coyner).