The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying,Three Shameful Possibilities In Human Life
The second chapter of Jeremiah sets forth Almighty God as earnestly expostulating with his people. They had forgotten his mercies; they had trimmed their way so as to tempt idolatrous nations into alliance; they had not heeded the chastisements which were intended to bring them to repentance; and therefore God offers a remonstrance as tender as the appeal of a father, and, in the event of that failing to subdue the stubborn heart, he threatens to reject the confidences and to hinder the prosperity of Israel. Such is a general outline of the chapter. But following the order of the text, we are arrested by three considerations:
I. The possibility of dishonouring the great memories of life. "Neither said they, Where is the Lord, that brought us up out of the land of Egypt?" An event like that would fix itself in the memory for ever. Who could forget the Egyptian bondage, the sufferings, the groans, the horrors of a lifetime? Who could forget the joy of deliverance, the rapture, the ungovernable ecstasy of triumph? Yet ancient Israel was as little humbled and stimulated by divine mercy as if Egypt had never plagued it with intolerable oppressions. The dark night was forgotten, and Israel did not know who had lifted upon it the brightness and hope of morning.
The great memories of life are dishonoured (1) when the vividness of their recollection fades; (2) when their moral purpose is overlooked or misunderstood; (3) when their strengthening and stimulating function is suspended.
What would human life be without its hallowed memories? Man must have facts as well as hopes,—something to which he can go back with confidence; back to some place where he met God; to some bush that burned without being consumed; to some slaughtered lion, or overthrown giant of Gath; something about which he can say with confidence, God did this for me and it shall be holy to me for ever. There is, however, a possibility of forgetting sacred scenes, and of cheating the soul of reminiscences which ought to be a perpetual inspiration. The text says so; experience proves it. May we descend to every-day particulars? Let each man find the proofs in his own history: Sickness, Poverty, Danger, etc.
II. The possibility of under-estimating the interpositions of God. Look at the case in the text,—through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt. Viewed prospectively, men shrink from such difficulties; viewed retrospectively, a good many of the terrors are forgotten. In this description of the wilderness nothing is wanting to complete the horror,—deserts, pits, drought, solitude, shadow of death; yet through all God conducted them by the light of his mercy and the majesty of his power. That such an interposition could have been forgotten, or that the memory of it could have ceased to be operative for good in the soul, is a revolting illustration of human depravity. Granted that we have not the same outward difficulties, will any man deny that his moral pilgrimage is beset by many perils, and that the grave is constantly open at his feet? (Think of the training and defence of one human life, and multiply this by the number of lives in the world.)
Not only was the dark side of history forgotten, but the bright side was overlooked,—"I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof." What was the result? Were they who had been preserved in the desert glad when they were brought into the garden? Did they erect the altar, and bow in long-continued prayer, and unite in the loud, sweet psalm of thankfulness? Hear the answer: "Ye defiled my land, and made mine heritage an abomination."
If we try our own lives by these historical disclosures, shall we shame Israel by our purity and love? Have we not been conducted through dangerous places? Has the voice of the wild beast not shaken us with alarm? Have we not trembled on the edge of the pit, and been sad in awful loneliness? Remember the Deliverer! On the other hand, have we not been led into a garden of delights, into a land of which it may be said, "It is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven: a land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year"? Remember the Giver!
III. The possibility of the leading minds of the Church being darkened and perverted.
"The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit" (Jeremiah 2:8).
The most affecting of all subjects to contemplate is,—God grieved, God complaining! Would he complain without reason? Would he startle the universe for some trifling cause? He says, "Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate;" and again, "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord hath spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me." It is as though he would take inanimate creation into his confidence, and replace his children by the works of his hands. It is the voice of lamentation; it is the lamentation of God! Hear him, moving as it were through the chambers of the worlds, and shaking the heavens by the utterances of his great grief,—"Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid." Docs not the distracted parent often pace his chamber in the darkness of night, and mourn bitterly the revolt of his first-born, sobbing and groaning under the sting of a thousand recollections which throng upon the heart? God, abandoned by his children, grieved and wounded by those upon whom he has poured the resources of his love, calls upon the heavens to be astonished, and upon the works of his hands to be horribly afraid! It is as the cry of one whose heart is breaking; his great deliverances have been forgotten; his heritage has been defiled; his power has been despised, and his mercy been treated as an empty sentiment; what if the throb of his great sorrow should send a shudder of distress through the heavens and the earth! Look at Calvary for the full expression of all this divine emotion. The horrible darkness and the bursting rock show the sympathy of nature. All this agony was suffered by Jesus Christ in consequence of our sins; "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes are we healed."
Seeing that such pain was inflicted by sin, let us avoid it as the abominable thing which God hates.
For pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing.Christian Controversy
The text may be put into other words, thus: "Go over to the islands of the Chittim, the isles and coast lands of the far west; then go to Kedar, away in the eastern desert,—go from cast to west,—and ask if any heathen land has given up its idols (gods that are no gods), and you will find that no such thing has ever taken place; but whilst the heathen have kept to their gods as if they had real and strong love for them, my people, for whom I have done so much, whose names are on the palms of my hands, have turned away from me, and have given up their living and loving God for that which can do them no good."
There must be some way of accounting for conduct so clearly unreasonable and ungrateful. We may perhaps find our way to the secret step by step, if we notice one or two things that we ourselves are in the habit of doing. If, for example, a man shall say that he has a book in his hand, we who see the book will at once agree with him that such is the fact; but if he adds that it is a good book we shall wait until we have read it before we say anything about its value. Merely to say that it is a book is to secure unanimity; but to say that it is a good book is to open the way for difference of opinion. So, also, if a man shall say that he will train a young sapling in such and such lines, we may admit that the work is easy, and that success will follow it in due time; but if he adds that he will as surely train a child as he will train the young tree, we may point out to him that the one task is not so easy as the other, and we may feel sure that facts will soon prove the truth of what we say.
We see, then, that as a question rises in importance it rises also in difficulty, and as it rises in difficulty it opens the way for debate, and makes even ill-will between the debaters an easy possibility. It is in the light of such facts that we would first view the state of things shown in the text. We are told in the text that the heathen has not given up his god; that, find him where we may, in the far west or in the far east, he holds to his god (which is no god) with a firm hand. Quite so; let him have the full credit which is due to him for doing this, but do not overlook the fact that his god is not a god, for in that fact you may have the key of the whole secret. His god is made on a small scale,—it can be seen, it can be measured (in fancy, if not in reality), it can in many cases be pressed to the heart whose trust it has drawn out. It is, too, a god that will stand a good deal of patronage; and men like in some way (direct or indirect) to have their own god under their own care. But take away the stone, or the wood, or the sun, or the moon—whatever the god may be, and in its place put a thought, or a Spirit, and at once you create danger; you pass into that which is unseen,—so high, so wide, so deep, that no line can be laid upon it; and for a religion that looked so simple and so direct, you set up a religion that is ghostly and alarming! Tell the pagan that the true God is a Spirit whom no man has seen nor can see, that he fills all space and all time, and you will stun the man; and as his mind awakens, difficulties will crowd upon him, and new questions will bring new anxieties and tortures to a mind which, never having had a doubt, never really had a faith. The small god meant small difficulty, the infinite God means infinite difficulty. No words can tell all that is meant by his great name; where speech becomes dumb because it has come to the end of its mean wealth the music of God's eternity but begins; and where imagination falters, the cloud but begins to rise from God's infinity. Is it wonderful, then, that life should be harder in Zion than in Kedar, or that infinite mystery should be a heavy burden to finite strength?
If we can make it quite clear that as a subject rises in importance it rises in difficulty, we shall see one side of the text in a hopeful light; and therefore let us linger a moment on the threshold of the great theme. You have no difficulty with your hand, but what trouble you have with your heart! Why? Because the heart is so much more than its servant the hand. Your words may be well under your control, but what bit and bridle can hold your thoughts in check! You can fit the yoke to the beast of burden, and by your will you can make it serve in the furrow; but that sweet child of yours, so fair, so bright, can wound, can break your heart! So it is through and through life. It is easy to be good at Kedar; it is hard sometimes to pray in Zion.
One more illustration will bring us to the subject. We all know how much easier it is to keep up the form of religion than to be true to its spirit. Say that religion is a number of things to be done, some at this hour and some at that, and you bring it, so to speak, within range of the hand, and make it manageable; but instead of doing this, show that religion means spiritual worship, a sanctified conscience, and a daily sacrifice of the will, and you at once invoke the severest resistance to its supremacy. Or say that religion simply means a passive acceptance of certain dogmas that can be fully expressed in words, which make no demand upon inquiry or sympathy, and you will awaken (if any) the least possible opposition; but make it a spiritual authority, a rigorous and incessant discipline imposed upon the whole life, and you will send a sword upon the earth, and enkindle a great fire.
Thus we come back to the same point; that is to say, to the doctrine that importance is the measure of difficulty in all departments and phases of life: the man of renown has more difficulty than the man of obscurity; the man who has deep convictions lives a harder life than the man who is careless about vital questions; horticulture is more difficult than sculpture; spiritual teaching is severer than physical training; the magician is applauded, the Redeemer is crucified; and, by the same great law, he who is God over all suffers more than all other gods. "Pass over the isles of the Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit."
In view of these hints, and the whole line of thinking to which they belong, one cannot but regard hopefully all earnest and practical religious controversy, feeling that such controversy arises, as if by a kind of necessity, out of the very grandeur cf the subject; out of the demands which religion makes upon the present life, as well as out of the splendid destinies which it offers to the contemplation and acceptance of mankind.
Earnest religious controversy seems to be but the higher aspect of another controversy which has vexed man through all time. The study of God is the higher side of the study of man. It is a singular thing that man has never been able to make himself quite out, though he has been zealously mindful of the doctrine that "the proper study of mankind is man." He wants to know exactly whence he came and what he is; but the voice which answers him is sometimes mocking, and nearly always doubtful. He is not sure whether his years can be numbered, or whether he has come down from immemorial time. His age puzzles him much. His choice lies between thousands and millions of years. He is sensitive on the question of time. Once he found a piece of pottery deeply buried at the mouth of the Nile, from which he inferred (not then knowing the history of Roman pottery) that he must be, say, a million years old; then he found out—like other old-china dupes—that the pottery had been turned off the lathe of some comparative modern, whereupon he grew young again, and became modest with a sense of relative juvenility. This modesty became him well, and would have bloomed long but for the disturbing fact that he found a flint hatchet in an out-of-the-way place; and thereupon he resumed his antiquity, and gloried in it: in many expensive books. Nor has man been less troubled about his body. He has founded colleges upon it, and museums, and learned lectureships, and a profitable profession with many costly branches. He has taken himself to pieces, and written upon the dismembered parts some long hard words; he has made diagrams of himself, ghastly woodcuts, and blood-coloured pictures: and still he is a puzzle to himself; a puzzle in life: because he cannot tell how he came to live, a puzzle in sickness because he cannot tell how to get well again, a puzzle in death because he does not know whether so much antiquity should be inhumed or cremated. Once he was satisfied with the absurd physiology of the "Timaeus" (for even Plato was not always divine), and then he laughed at the rude guesses of the Greek. A strange course has man passed through, take him body and soul together. His body! He sprang spontaneously out of the earth; he evolved; he developed; he began existence as a cellular tissue, and fell under infinite obligations to an ethereal fluid; and, in short, he can trace himself back to a "primordial form." When he meets a certain animal he is not quite sure which of them is expected to speak first, and suddenly his face brightens with celestial light, as if "the divinity" had "stirred within" him! His soul! According to one ancient (Heraclitus) it "mutated," according to another (Empedocles) it "compounded," another (Anaxagoros) called it Nous, another (Diogenes, not the cynic) called it Air, and Pythagoras pronounced it a Number and a Harmony,—a judgment in which nonsense is finely set to music. Now, we are not going to ask any questions as to the soundness or unsoundness of any of these theories; at some of them we may smile as at a child's antics, and some of them we may remit for further consideration; but looking at them simply as parts of a history, they would seem to establish the fact that man represents a special majesty and grandeur, that his secret is itself a glory, and that not to be able to answer this riddle is itself a tribute to the very powers that are baffled. So the doctrine returns—little importance means little interest, infinite importance means endless controversy.
Is it wonderful that man, who has had so much difficulty with himself, should have had proportionately greater difficulty with such a God as is revealed in the Bible? On the contrary, it will be found that the two studies—me study of man and the study of God—always go together, and that the ardour of the one determines the intensity of the other. In this view the text might read thus: Pass over the isles of the Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see whether the inhabitants thereof have studied the physiology and chemistry of their own bodies; but the philosophers of Christendom have built themselves upon protoplasm. Kedar cared nothing about humanity, and therefore it cared nothing about divinity. When man is not deeply interested in himself it is not likely that he will be deeply interested in God. It will be found that every study that is keenly pursued has a strong effect upon the study that is immediately higher or otherwise greater than itself, as if no subject were self-terminating, but, contrariwise, part of some larger, though, it may be, imperfectly comprehended question. Thus political economy writes itself up to, and over the line which is supposed to separate it from, morals; and the moralist encroaches upon theology that he may illuminate and justify his highest theories. Thus, in every way, the higher and the lower, the universal and the local, the eternal and the temporary, are in continual interaction, and there is always something beyond! The individual fire seeks the universal sun; love of home rises into love of country; patriotism is a peak upon the vaster hill of philanthropy; home missions are the root of foreign evangelisation—herein the afflicted Psalmist sang sweetly of Zion, "Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord." It is the same law—the local spreading itself into the universal, the waves of the little sea rising and spreading until, in billow upon billow, they roll their foam upon the rocks of the Infinite.
In the doctrine that the very greatness of God is itself the occasion of religious controversy, and even of religious doubt and defective constancy, we find the best answer to a difficulty created by the words of the text. That difficulty may be put thus: If the people of Chittim and of Kedar are faithful to their gods, does it not prove that those gods have power to inspire and retain confidence? and if the people of Israel are always turning away from their God, does it not show that their God is unable to keep his hold upon their occasional love? Such a putting of the case would be valid if inquiry be limited to the letter. But if we go below the surface we must instantly strip it of all worth as a plea on behalf of idolatry. Clearly so; for, not to go further, if it proves anything it proves too much; thus—the marble statue which you prize so highly has never given you a moment's pain; your child has occasioned you days and nights of anxiety; therefore a marble statue has more moral power (power to retain your admiration) than has a child. Your clock you understand thoroughly; you can unmake and make it again, and explain its entire mechanism down to the finest point of its action; but that child of yours is a mystery which seems to increase day by day: therefore you have more satisfaction in the clock than in the child. So the argument in favour of Kedar proves nothing, because it not only proves too much, but lands the reasoner in a practical absurdity.
So we return to the starting-point We see the greatness of God troubling the nations as the ark of the testimony troubled the Philistines. Even when men pronounce God "inscrutable," they do not get rid of all uneasiness. It must always trouble a thoughtful man to have anything inscrutable pressing upon him and overlooking him. Yet even to say that God is "inscrutable," or that there is something "inscrutable" behind all force, is to be far enough from the old blank atheism. Such a creed admits of hopeful interpretation; it limits human inquiry; it humbles human pride; it makes men silent,—and there is a silence which is akin to worship.
We cannot be unmindful of the fact that there is a controversy which is both immoral and unprofitable; yet even this vicious and clamorous debate is traceable in some measure to the necessities of the case, for when a depraved heart interprets religion we may expect immorality, and when a depraved genius interprets theology we may expect unprofitableness. The apostle, writing his epistle to the Romans, says of some people, "they did not like to retain God in their knowledge," and to get rid of him they would probably indulge in wicked controversy. The text speaks of "that which doth not profit," and reminds us of the danger of taking up controversies without pith, substance, or spiritual nutriment in them. Unprofitable controversy has been the recreation of a certain order of mind—far from contemptible as to capacity and acuteness—from the very beginning of the world; but we protest against the encouragement of such controversy in the Christian pulpit. One would imagine that some ministers supposed themselves to be called of God to make as many mysteries as possible. No doubt it is quite within the range cf the power of eccentric genius to turn the multiplication table itself into a metaphysical jungle, and to show by an endless use of unintelligible words how dangerous a thing it is to risk anything upon the seductive but malign proposition that two and two are four. Do you know how exciting it is to live next door to a young analytical chemist, and candidate for membership in a microscopical society? It is a serious trial. His calls are alarming visitations. He has just discovered that in the household water there is something like 9 percent of lead; he has looked at the household bread through a microscope, and he simply forbears to state what he has seen. Altogether, you feel, when he has gone, that he has made a considerable subtraction from your comfort, and sent a general sense of uneasiness through the family. It is much the same, with more serious results, in hearing unprofitable controversy in the pulpit. When it is all over, you have a confused impression that you have been somewhere up in the clouds, that you have heard words which, though it is quite lawful, it is absolutely impossible to repeat; you have, too, a feeling that the less you have to do with religion the better, that to believe it is to be mad, and that to deny it is to occupy an exciting position somewhere between respectability and wickedness. Against such controversy we protest. It is trifling with human life; it grieves the Spirit of God. Earnest controversy we would honour. Out of its friction light will come, and warmth. In its very vehemence and desperateness we would see the grandeur of a religion whose aspects are innumerable, and the fascination of a truth which is now like a star alone in the dark, and now like a sun which can fill all worlds with light.
The foundation of this argument is, that of all subjects that engage the human mind, religion (whether true or false) is the most exciting; that in proportion as it enlarges its claims, will it be likely to occasion controversy; and that, as the religion of the Bible enlarges its claims beyond all other religions, assailing the intellect, the conscience, the will, and bringing every thought and every imagination of the heart into subjection, and demanding the corroboration of spiritual faith by works that rise to the point of self-crucifixion, the probability is that there will not only be a controversy between man and man as to its authority and beneficence, but also a controversy between man and God as to its acceptance; and that out of this latter controversy will come the very defection complained of in the text, and will come also the vexatious human controversies which may really be but so many excuses for resisting the moral discipline of the Gospel. This is the whole argument. Specially is to be noted that the principal controversy is not between man and man, but between man and God; our hearts are not loyal to our Maker; his commandments are grievous to souls that love their ease. The God of grace, rich in all comfort and promise, we do not cast off. We want such a God. But the God of law, of purity, of judgment, terrible in wrath and not to be deceived by lies, our hearts can only receive with broken loyalty, loving him today, and grieving him tomorrow. It is in this sad fact that we find the only satisfactory explanation of the slowness of the spread of the Christian kingdom. We are sometimes told that as rocks take a long time to build, and forests a long time to grow, so the kingdom of heaven requires a long time for its establishment upon earth. That analogy we cannot accept. Where does God blame the rock because it does not rise more rapidly? When did God rain fire and brimstone upon the forest because it was slow in growth? On the other hand, God never ceases to blame men for not loving him. Jesus Christ takes up the same complaint, and mourns, even with brokenheartedness and many tears, that men will not come unto him for life. Not in rocks and forests can we find the answer to such a difficulty; it is to be found in the heart itself, in the solemn and appalling fact that evil hates good, and resists it even unto the death. Everywhere you see this obstinate resistance. To say that the Christian religion cannot be true because it makes such slow progress in the world, is to say more than the speaker probably meant to affirm. It is to say that honesty cannot be good, or else it would be practised between man and man the world over; purity cannot be good, or at the mention of it all evil would be abhorred; temperance, candour, and goodwill cannot be good, or they would instantly prevail wherever they have been made known. Evil hates goodness, hates light, hates God; and as truth cannot fight with carnal weapons, or force itself upon the world by physical means, it can only "stand at the door and knock," and mourn the slowness which it cannot accelerate. It is God's will that the rock grow slowly, and that the forest hasten not its maturity; but it is surely not the will of the Lord that his children should grieve him long, and provoke him to wrath through many generations.
We have been speaking of the controversy respecting the Unseen and Invisible God. There is a distinct effort made in our day to turn the controversy out of historical channels, and to fasten it upon abstract speculation. We must resist this effort, for we at all events believe that the discussion concerning essential Deity was started from a new centre when Jesus Christ came into the world. Still, when philosophers tell us that God is Unknowable, Unthinkable, Incognisable, and Inscrutable, we are bound to reply that they have only put into uncouth language what the Bible had already told us in simple words. They say God is inscrutable; the Bible says, "Who can by searching find out God?" They say God is incognisable; the Bible says, "No man can see God and live." They say God is unknowable; the Bible says, "No man hath seen God at any time, neither can see him." Here is the modern philosophy, four thousand years old and more! But the point to be insisted upon is this: As distinctively Christian teachers, not mere Deists, Theists, or natural theologians, but as believers in the Christian revelation, specifically so called and known, we are bound to look, not at a speculative Deity, but at the God made known to us by Jesus Christ. To the branch of the argument let us now turn.
Suppose a man should arise and make this claim on his own behalf, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;" "As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father;" "I and my Father are one." The man would not be believed simply because he made the claim; perhaps, indeed, he would be stoned; perhaps he would be thought mad. If, however, we are at all interested in this speech—so novel, so startling—our first hope will be that from this man we may learn something about the Unknown God. We must listen further. How few men listen well,—how few listen with the soul! We must ask him questions. His character must be tried as by fire; his life must be watched with jealousy cruel as the grave; and every word he says must be stretched on the rack of a fearless criticism, for strait must be the gate and narrow the road to Godhood. No man must be allowed to vault the high barriers. Now it is only just to this man to say that this is the very test which he wishes to undergo. He does not thrust himself arbitrarily upon man; he stands at the door and knocks! Could the meanest servant do less? When we cannot grasp all the meaning of his unfamiliar words—so much background have they, and so vast a perspective—he says, If you cannot yet understand or receive the word, believe me for the work's sake; let my wonderful work done in your own home, or upon your own child, be as a telescope through which you may see the High and the Lofty One. Thus we are constrained to listen still; and as we listen, sometimes we are quieted by a tender music; sometimes we take up stones to stone him, because he says that God is his Father, making himself equal with God; and sometimes, when we are weary, and he speaks of Rest, we are tempted to throw our arms around him, and cry upon his breast for very joy,—for it is rest we need, we are so tired and so weak.
But, mark, how we are likely to be loyal, because so far the advantage has been on our side. A very subtle deceit may delude us. Up to this point we have heard new words, seen wonderful works, and received a promise of Rest, and therefore we are prepared to be loyal. But wait! The trial has yet to come. Now that we are healed and comforted with reviving rest, he says, "I must claim you, body and soul; he that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; except a man deny himself and take up his cross daily, he cannot be my disciple." So the religion to which Jesus Christ calls us is not a pleasant soporific, lulling us into dreamy repose, and filling the scented air with glittering fascinations; it is a cross, a yoke, a discipline, a service; it means continual sacrifice for the good of others; it sends us into all the world to preach the Gospel to every creature; it enjoins lowliness, patience, meekness, humbleness of mind, longsuffering, gentleness, and charity,—and at that point a great controversy sets in; from that time forth many of his disciples walk no more with him; some say, "This is an hard saying: who can hear it?" and all men exclaim, "Who then can be saved?" You see, then, how the argument repeats itself. A small god, small controversy; small claims, small opposition; great claims, and mighty rebellion!
Why is it, then, that we do not wholly leave him, saying, "We will not have this man to reign over us"? It is because he touches our life as no other power can touch it, and because our poor life requires to be so touched by reason of its many infirmities. Whether he be a sinner or not, one thing we know, and on that one thing we rest. We have known the pain of sin and the bitterness of sorrow; we have lost our firstborn and seen Death at his very worst; we have been driven into impassable paths, stripped, scourged, tormented; we have been hungry, cold, friendless; we have stolen away to the grave by night, and have had to grope for it in the dark, and then, when we have been blind with tears, and wild with grief not to be borne, then "never man spake like this man;" and if in our grateful enthusiasm we have in return called him Lord and God, pardon us, for when you arc in the same anguish you may commit the same crime.
Speaking from a controversial point of view, we have received this representative of God cautiously, and even with keen and hostile suspicion. And this advice we are prepared to give: Watch him, weigh his words, probe every deed that he does, sum up into one large exaggeration all the improbabilities arising out of his ancestry, birth, trade, obscurity; tell him that such garb of flesh is unbecoming God; mock him, that you may try his temper; smite him, that you may test his dignity; take him by surprise, that you may discover his resources; question him with hard and delicate questions, that you may entangle him in his speech; drive him out into the cold night, that you may prove his fortitude; call him mad, say he has a devil, sell him for silver, crucify him, crucify him, and—the God that answereth by fire, let him be God!
No name given under heaven amongst men has occasioned, and is now occasioning, so much controversy as the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Alas! there is a controversy between our own hearts and him, but it is not now to that sad controversy we refer. Let us glory in the fact that no name can excite the nations as they are excited by the name of Jesus. In this respect it is better to live in Christendom than in Kedar. Men do not know what to make of Christ. Their best books leave the secret unsolved. They sell him, and afterwards go out and hang themselves; they deny him, and then go out and weep bitterly; they destroy the temple of his body, but he builds it again in three days. You cannot get rid of Christ: you exclude him from your schools by Act of Parliament, but he, passing through the midst of you, says, "Suffer me and the children to meet; let the flowers see the sun;" you find him in statute-books, in philanthropic institutions, in literature; you find him now just as his disciples found him, in out-of-the-way places, doing out-of-the-way things;—"they marvelled that he spake with the woman,"—the eternal marvel, the eternal hope! He is speaking with the woman still; speaking with her in India, in China, in islands far out upon the sea; presently he will take up her children in his arms and bless them, and be himself as the child that is born unto every woman.
This leads us to remark that how strong soever Christianity may be in force and dignity of pure argument—and in that direction it has proved itself victorious on all fields—its mightiest force for good is in its vital and inexhaustible sympathy. Theology as a science no man will lightly underrate; but the controversy in which we are engaged is more than a battle of science; and there is probably no word which so fully expresses the infinite advantage of Christianity in the encounter as the word sympathy. Christianity can, of course, assume what we are pleased to call scientific forms, but no scientific form can hold all her truth and pathos any more than a bush could hold the infinity of the living God,—a ray unloosed to light a man to his great destiny. A science that distinguishes one attribute of God from another, that attempts to show where one ends and another begins, that determines their relationship and interdependence, that arbitrates in supposed controversies between Justice and Mercy, that holds the light of critical explanation over mysteries which even Christ never attempted to illuminate,—a science that builds a house for God in some set form of words, and an habitation for the Eternal in prescribed formularies that can be duly enrolled in the High Court of Chancery, may, by the spell of genius and the wealth of learning, secure the attention and hold the confidence of educated men; but Christianity as a sympathetic religion, tender, hopeful, patient, with morning light for ever falling on its uplifted eyes, leaning with all its trust upon the Cross of the atoning Son of God, calling men from sin, ignorance, and death, is a figure the world will not willingly spare in its day of anguish and sore distress.
It will be interesting to observe how God himself meets the controversy which he deplores; for in doing so we may learn a method of reply. When God answers, his reply must be the best. Look at the divine challenge: "What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me?" This sublime challenge you cannot find in all the sayings of heathen gods. And this is the invincible defence of the Christian religion in all ages and in all lands,—you have Purity at the centre, you have Holiness on the throne! It would be a comparatively easy task to collect from Greek and Roman history, and from other pagan sources, an array of charges against the gods themselves, that would show the pertinence and the justice of this high challenge.
The late Dr. Cotton, once Bishop of Calcutta, tells us, in one of his letters, of a youth whom he baptised, who gave as one of the; reasons of his abandoning Hinduism, "the crimes of the gods"! "What iniquity have your fathers found in me? saith the Lord." The gods of Olympus considered themselves emancipated from. the restraints of the moral law; they boasted their superior intellectual power, but cared not to conceal from men the tumult of their immorality. Amongst the Homeric gods we look in vain for courage, justice, prudence, temperance, or self-control, "What iniquity have your fathers found in me? saith the Lord." The Greek gave his god Titanic intellect, but left him without a rag of character. The Greek made his god immortal, but it was an immortal bacchanalian or an immortal debauchee. "What iniquity have your fathers found in me? saith the Lord." And if the gods of pagan Rome were not the outcome of "an unbridled and irreverent fancy," the religion which they were supposed to patronise was perhaps the purest selfishness the world has ever seen. Hence it has been truly said, "Ancient Rome produced many heroes, but no saint." The pagan Romans often took their gods into their own hands, and scourged them in sheer spite. When Augustus saw that his fleet was wrecked, he virtually deposed Neptune by solemnly degrading the statue of that negligent god. When the young and illustrious Germanicus died, the people stoned the altars of the gods, because the gods had not spared the life of one who might have been king. The pagans are everywhere ridiculed by the fathers for satirising in the theatres the very gods they worshipped in the temples.
Those who have read Augustine's immortal work, "The City of God," will remember with what fierce eloquence he scourges the gods of pagan Rome. How biting his tone, how keen his retorts, how broad his sarcasm! "Why," he sternly demands, "did the gods publish no laws which might have guided their devotees to a virtuous life?" And again, "Did ever the walls of any of their temples echo to any such warning voice? I myself," he continues, "when I was a young man, used sometimes to go to sacrilegious entertainments and spectacles; I saw the priests raving in religious excitement, and before the couch of the mother of the gods there were sung productions so obscene and filthy for the ear that not even the mother of the foul-mouthed players themselves could have formed one of the audience." History, as you know, is full of such instances. Remembering these things, you may see the force of the inquiry, "What iniquity have your fathers found in me?" This is the invincible defence of the Christian religion today. If you make it an argument, and elaborate it as a philosophy, what is to hinder you carrying the battle to victory as a purely intellectual contest? But there is something more, which must not be overlooked by the Christian teacher. God is not only the High, but the Holy One; and those who seek him must seek him in spirit and in truth. The watchword of Christianity is, "Be ye holy as your Father in heaven is holy." Seek "holiness without which no man can see the Lord"—so runs the Christian commandment.
Observe how Jesus Christ repeats the very challenge we find in the text,—"Which of you convinceth me of sin?" And, later on, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil." They had accused him often, but had convicted him never! We apply this doctrine with timidity, for who would wilfully slay himself, or bring judgment upon a thousand men? Yet the application is this: When the Church is holy, the Christian controversy is ended in universal and immortal triumph! "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." When we can say, "What iniquity have ye found in us?" we may take down the war standard, for the fight has become victory. But if we bite and devour one another, if our good words be few and our bad words be many, if we live in clamour, in distrust, in bitterness,—what does it avail if with a strong logic we have a contradictory life?" "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." "Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord." We put this weapon into the hands of young Christian soldiers as one which has never been bent or broken in any war,—the weapon of God's holiness. When men puzzle you with high, bewildering arguments, say, God is good. When their words are long and hard, and they run your imperfect skill to earth in hot logical chase, say, God is holy. When they are violent, bitter, resolute in enmity, and inflamed with rage, say, God is love,
Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD.Argumentative Questionings
This portion of the Book of Jeremiah is filled with penetrating questions. From the fourteenth verse to the end of the chapter inquiries are showered upon us. It would appear as if these verses were full of challenges and impeachments and accusations, subtly and delicately conveyed in the form of interrogation. Where there is not a positive statement made, there is a positive incrimination in the very form of the inquiry. These are what may be called argumentative questions. They are not inquiries asking simply which is the way, what is the hour of the day, what is the name of this or that individual or object,—innocent, pithless, all but needless inquiries: the questions are constructed upon a basis of argument and impeachment. What wonderful things can be done in a question! Is there any department of rhetoric or human utterance in which so much can be done with so little? It is difficult to print a question. Oftentimes the pith of the inquiry is in the tone of the inquirer. Here we are face to face with argumentative interrogations, and the interrogator is looking at us and looking into us and looking through us; it is a cross-examination of spears and darts and two-edged swords. In some places argumentative questions are deprecated; it is ruled by the authority of the occasion that such questions cannot be put, because they are too detailed and argumentative. In other places argumentative questions are constructed for the purpose of forcing the hand of those who for the time being hold the secret of policy and the destiny of empire; but the assemblies are very careful about the form in which the questions are put. Who shall challenge God's way of questioning? When he asks a question he pronounces a judgment; when he thrusts an interrogation upon an unwilling witness he delivers a verdict and a sentence.
Let us study the verses with these explanations in view. Take, for example, the fourteenth verse:—
"Is Israel a servant? is he a homeborn slave? why is he spoiled?" (Jeremiah 2:14)
"The young lions roared upon him, and yelled, and they made his lane, waste: his cities are burned without inhabitants" (Jeremiah 2:15).
That comes of going from home, leaving sacred discipline, taking life into one's own hand, assuming the mastership of one's own fortune and destiny. Woe betide the man who goes beyond the bounds which God has fixed! Immediately outside those bounds the lion waits, or the plague, or the pestilence, or the pit hardly hidden but deep immeasurable. Luther said: Who would paint a picture of the present condition of the Church, let him paint a young woman in a wilderness or in some desert place; and round about her let him figure hungry lions whose eyes are glaring upon her and whose mouths are open to devour her substance and her beauty. Is the Church in a much better condition today? That is the natural condition of the Church. The Church always challenges the lion, tempts the devourer, excites the passions of evil men. When an evil generation tolerates the Church, applauds its dogmas, and flatters its ministry, it is because that Church has surrendered her prerogatives and trampled, her functions in the dust. All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. That is not a historical statement limited chronologically; it is the eternal truth: wherever there is light it must fight the darkness; wherever there is holiness it must judge all evil, and make bad men afraid, and set them on the defensive, and extort from them the most vehement denunciations. Beware of a fictitious peace; beware of the flattery of bad men—it is because you are turning your eyes away from their false weights and scales and measuring-rods; it is because you wink when you pass by their revels and their orgies: it is because you are deaf when you hear their evil speeches and their cruel blasphemies. Know that the Church of the living God is alive, and is fulfilling her destiny, when ail round about her are men more cruel than ravenous beasts. Israel, the homeborn slave, who ought to have walked arm-in-arm with the son of the house, left the precincts of the family and plunged into the way of lions.
In the seventeenth verse is another illustrative instance:—
"Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, when he led thee by the way?" (Jeremiah 2:17)
Ah, that is the point of the sword! Is not all ruin suicide? To be murdered must indeed be awful, but to have put the knife to one's own heart, to have torn down the divine image from the human soul, to have choked the throat that was praying, or to have forced out the prayer by some profanity, and to know at the end that this is our own doing,—surely this will bow down a man in the day of judgment, will bitterly and heavily afflict him in the hour of self-examination: he will not be able to say, See what a rent this dagger made, or what a thrust was given by that cruel hand; he cannot point to the gashes upon him and trace them to spears of enemies: when he looks upon his whole condition he will be compelled to say—I did it; this is my work; this is the fruit of my own sin; this comes of the policy that has in it no element of godliness and no gleam of virtue. Is there not a cause? Are not things related? Do not events belong to one another by primary and secondary sequences, often difficult to trace in all their outgoings and contact with the rest of this mystery which we call life? Do not our dead selves spring up in sudden and frightful resurrection when we least expected the reappearance? Does not the spectre come to the feast and sit down at the right hand and make the right side cold? or sit immediately opposite and dare us to drink the foaming wine and enjoy the sweet viands? Is there not a cause? Can a man sow, and not reap? Can a man fight against God, and be at peace with the universe? Can a planet detach itself from its centre and create an action of its own that shall be in rhythm with the march of the heavens? The suicide cannot be hidden; the blood marks cannot be obliterated.
"And now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor? or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river?" (Jeremiah 2:18).
Apply this to life, and who can live? Nevertheless, we must not lower the standard. Although we cannot always so control circumstances as to realise an ideal character, yet the ideal itself must be held up and magnified, and nothing must be allowed to becloud the glory of that idealism. But were it to be applied to life, the city would be revolutionised, houses of business would be opened no more, commerce would be driven into the sea and be buried in unpitied oblivion. The city is full of plagues. Life is thick-sown with snares and gins and traps. Our prayers have in them an accent of worldliness; our adoration sometimes furtively turns its eyes away from the uplifted majesty and throne of heaven, and fixes its longing gaze on trees forbidden and fields proscribed. Who can live? "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe:" forbid that I should lower my ideal in order to excuse my shortcomings.
Now comes a solemn appeal—a repetition, indeed, of what is given in the seventeenth verse—
"Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts" (Jeremiah 2:19).
This is the appeal of experience. In detailing the so-called evidences of Christianity, never forget how much experience contributes towards the illumination of difficult doctrine and high demand. "Thine own wickedness shall correct thee"—shall show thee how far thou hast got wrong: the devil himself shall turn round upon thee, and face to face shall laugh at thee as a fool. Surely that is the hardest lot of all! He came to us like a white angel, clothed with light, and accommodated his voice to our hearing, and spoke to us musically and fascinatingly, and promised us life, liberty, almost godhead; we put out our hands, and took the forbidden fruit, and he lured us away mile after mile, and when he got us safely into stony places, where the great rocks frowned upon us and the hollow caverns seemed filled with sounds of mockery, he then broke out into a broad never-to-be-forgotten laugh of mockery, and told us we were fools! We know it. No man ever yet was honest to himself after doing that which was evil without saying that he had committed two evils: he had forsaken the right, and done the wrong; he had given up the fountain, and made himself a leaking cistern; he had turned away from the light, and had been condemned to carry the burden of darkness. Let the heart speak; let real life-experience be called into the witness-box, and be sworn on this matter. What comes of vice? The answer is, Hell! That is the universal answer: it is not a reply which admits of modification; but when reality takes the place of fiction, it shall be said again and again, "The wages of sin is death." No man can leave God, and live. "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me," To turn away from him who is the living One is to turn to death.
We read that Israel had become a "degenerate plant." The Lord says:—
"Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?" (Jeremiah 2:21).
The questions still roll on, the interrogations fall from heaven with crushing power, the most mocking of all we find in the twenty-eighth verse: "Where are thy gods that thou hast made thee?" The Lord said in the twenty-seventh verse, "In the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us;" the cowards will yet come back again; they who have mocked me shall pray to me: but I will say to them in their prostration, "Where are thy gods that thou hast made thee?" That is the attribute of a false god, that he always forsakes his worshippers in trouble. What will our gods do for us if their names be Money, Fortune, Fame, Popularity, Luck, Chance, Success, Selfishness? They will not bear the stress of hard weather; they have no objection to laugh with us in a sunny hour, but they are useless when the wind blows from all the points of the compass, and the horizon charges itself with threatening thunders. Only truth can stand all tempests and all judgment. Christ says he will be with us even unto the end of the world; the sacred voice of the unseen Comforter says, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." The characteristic of idols is that they fall away when they are most wanted; the characteristic of Christ is that he is nearest to us when we need him most. Who can abide the day of the divine mockery? Who can stand before divine contempt? Surely there is no passage so terrible in all Holy Writ as the one which says that God will laugh at the calamity of the wicked, and mock when their fear cometh. These are words that bear no paraphrase; they affright us; they overwhelm us; they extort from us the cry, My soul, come not thou into that secret!
Finally, it is good for us to hear the divine questioning; it is healthy for us to submit ourselves quietly to the criticism of God. He will not ask questions that he can avoid asking that would give us pain or afflict us with humiliation; when he comes with the surgical knife it is that he may only amputate that which is mortified or useless; when he sits in judgment upon us it is only that he may take away the dross; when he burns us it is that he may test the gold of our nature and prove our quality. The questions are not always in words; the divine inquiries may be in events, in those mysterious occurrences which we designate by the name of Providence: the child is taken away, and the bereavement is a question; the property is all gone so that the rich man becomes poor, and the poverty is an inquiry; all the stratagem, and wit, and cunning, and skill of the old energetic time forsake the fruitful, fertile mind, so that he who was wise in counsel is dumb and without resource, and his speechlessness, his infertility of mind, is a question. A man should puncture himself with many a "Why is this?" "How is this?" The more we examine ourselves the less God will have to examine us. Spare not the judicial interrogation; it may bring a hopeful death—the death which precedes true life. When God asks us questions, may we be able to hide ourselves in Christ. His Cross is the answer to the questionings of the law. His righteousness is the answer to the impeachment of outraged virtue. His sacrifice is the answer to sin. His priesthood is the reply to Satan.
O generation, see ye the word of the LORD. Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee?Divine Questions
This appeal was addressed to the men who were immediately round about the prophet. It was therefore direct, personal, and was to be answered by the living voice. This is the kind of preaching we do not like. This preaching would empty any church in the world! Yet it is the only preaching that is worthy of attention. It is in vain that we refer to ancient history if we cannot apply it to modern instances. We are trifling with ourselves—that is to say, with our souls—if we think only of truths that are abstract and without immediate application to our own condition. The prophets thus spake to the men that were near at hand. In a sense, they seemed to arrest those; men, and put questions to them. Surely, if we will not allow others to arrest us, we ought to arrest ourselves, and put down plain answers to plain questions, without hurry, or din, or noise; and we ought to take both plain question and plain answer into religious solitude, and look at them until we burn with shame, renouncing every plea of self-excuse, and accepting the divine judgment as divine righteousness: then will come healing, then we shall get at the bottom of things, and be real: the cure is not from without, it is from above, and goes immediately to the core and root of all human wrong.
The people were required to answer two questions: "Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? have I been a land of darkness unto Israel?" Speak out. If God is chargeable with wrong, say so. Put your finger directly upon his errors, and say in plain terms, God is responsible for this: these are not human slips—trifling, petty mistakes, but the miscarriages of justice, the perversions of providence, the mistakes of God. Let us have plain language all round. We may lose ourselves if we begin to multiply words indefinitely. The question is—"Have I been a wilderness unto Israel?"—have I pinched and starved my people? have I led them amongst stony places? have I been inhospitable to the lives that looked to me for bread and security and nourishment? Say so, if it be so. "Have I been a land of darkness?"—have I plunged Israel into night unlighted by a star? have I been cold, pitiless, cruel? If you have an impeachment to bring even against God, do not fear to bring it. He asks for it. Tell him when you have finished the infinite accusation that you have written at his bidding, and there is your indictment against his throne. A wondrous tenderness inspires the inquiry. It seems, indeed, to bring its own answer with it. There are some questions that are also replies: for the very tone in which they are put signifies the only possible answer that is correct. So the father might plead with his child—"Have I been a wilderness unto thee, or a land of darkness? have I been deaf to entreaty? have I been without sympathy in the time of affliction? have I but half-opened the door when you have sought to return to my love and my confidence?" The very inquiry is a defence; the very method of the inquiry means, It is impossible to answer this but in one way. Why not put this question to ourselves? Why not answer it in our mother tongue? We should indeed be writing our own judgment, and sentencing ourselves to deserved penal servitude. But it is always well to be true, to come at the whole truth, in all its roundness: it is painful at the time, it seems to rend a man in twain when he has to tell all the truth; but it is a rending that means reconstruction, salvation, health, growth, and progress evermore. But who can tell the whole truth? It can be told in letters without always being told in spirit; or the words of confession can themselves be so pronounced as to take out of them all that is essential to true acknowledgment of sin. Why do we play the fool with ourselves, and by dividing ourselves cheat ourselves,—by saying one thing to the understanding, and another to the imagination, a third thing to conscience, and a fourth to appetite and desire? Self-analysis, and telling the truth to oneself, may be said to be the beginning of reformation and the very pledge and seal of a lofty, noble life.
Having answered a question respecting God, they have next to answer a question respecting themselves: "Wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee?" Literally, why do my people say, We will rove at will. That is licence, not liberty? They have lost the centre, and are plunging evermore in chaos, without being able to give an account of themselves or to use what benefit might lie within their power. Why this new cry—namely, We will do as we like? Why this so-called freethought? why this progress which means running round and round and never advancing by one measurable inch? How very early men begin to be free thinkers! How soon sin. says to a man, Rove at will; do what you like: you are a man! Then the poor fool thinks he is a man, and begins to "play fantastic tricks before high heaven." He forgets that we have only liberty to obey. He ignores the metaphysics of the case, and blunders day by day amid its bewildering accidents. The reality of the case as between man and God is simply this: God is Creator, man is creature,—what is the duty of the creature to the Creator but to wait upon him, to ask his will, to say in his own tones, Father, teach me everything: the universe is very great, and I am very little: thy sea is very large, my body is very small: the darkness comes down quite suddenly, and I cannot make the most even of the light, because when it comes for a long time it dazzles and blinds me so that more than half my time is not at my disposal for high uses even if I could so employ it,—Lord, father-mother, gentle One, guide me in every thought and word and action all the day, and take care of me when I cannot take care of myself, even pretendedly, during the hours of unconsciousness, and thus feed me, lead me, guide me, O thou great Jehovah!
Then the Lord seems to adopt a kind of taunting tone:—
"Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me days without number" (Jeremiah 2:32).
Now the voice changes, and the element of accusation enters into it very sharply:—
"Why trimmest thou thy way to seek love? therefore hast thou also taught the wicked ones thy ways" (Jeremiah 2:33).
Mark the hardening process of sin as referred to in the thirty-fourth verse:—
"Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents: I have not found it by secret search, but upon all these." (Jeremiah 2:34)
"Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way? thou also shalt be ashamed of Egypt, as thou wast ashamed of Assyria" (Jeremiah 2:36).
Literally, Why all these shifting policies? why all these new alliances? why be performing a kind of moral conjuring? The bad man gads about, or walks about, from place to place, saying, "Where shall I settle next? what communion shall I take up with now? what novelty is there in the town today? Is there any new church built that I can go to, until I make the place too hot for myself by neglecting its institutions and turning my back upon its appeals? Is there anything new in Egypt? I am tired of Babylon: I lived a long time in Assyria, and now I have cast all that off, and I am looking in Egyptian directions for new alliances and new hopes." Is this only an ancient experience? Is it not a clear and simple reading of today's purpose and action? Are there not many people who are all things by turns and nothing long—men who are wanting in conviction and thorough persuasion of soul, incapable of enthusiasm, driven about by every wind of doctrine; men who have called at all the hovels cf heresy, and have never settled in the sanctuary of truth? We need not alter the terms; they are simple as our best-known mother tongue, and they will stand for the purposes of scrutiny all the while, not needing change or modification. Be something. Belong to somebody. Do not mistake roving at will for a safe dwelling at home. No Christian teacher will say, You must be this rather than that, so far as ecclesiastical relations are concerned; but every Christian teacher will say, Take advice: consider: come to conclusions, and be steadfast: prove all things; hold fast that which is good; in understanding be no more children, but be men.
What was the result of this trimming and gadding about, this changing between Assyria and Egypt?
"Yea, thou shalt go forth from him, and thine hands upon thine head, for the Lord hath rejected thy confidences, and thou shall not prosper in them" (Jeremiah 2:37).
After all, having been in the houses we have mentioned, either as owners or as visitors—the houses of wealth, health, invention, pleasure,—we can now say soberly, with the quietness of unalterable conviction, There is only one altar that can be trusted—the altar of the living God—the Cross of God's own Son. Let us renounce our false confidences, put away our new tricks, and come straight back to the eternal thought—the love which was before the foundations of the earth. Men will continue to be betrayed by novelties; but at the last they will say, The novelties were in vain. There are those who are speaking from other books than the Bible; and they are intellectual men, able men; they are persons who are capable of treating great subjects in a great manner; they have turned away from Moses and the prophets, from the minstrels and the evangelists of the Bible, and have taken up with new sensations and new manners: but "the word of the Lord abideth for ever;" it says concerning these men, "'They have forgotten me days without number;' but in some night of storm, in some stress of weather, bitten by some tremendous wolf amid the snows of the new lands they have sought, they will come back to me; and I am a forgiving book, I will open on the page on which it is written, 'Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.'"
Almighty God, in the day of battle thou art a shield and buckler, in our great fear and in our last distress thou art as a shining light and a delivering hand; and when we come to the last river, broad and black and cold, thou dost speak to it, and the waters separate, and we pass through as on dry land. Thou hast not neglected our life either here or there; in its strongest hour thou hast taught it to pray, in its utmost weakness thou hast taught it to hope, and when the last scene of all has come, the farewell, thou hast then been near at hand to speak kind words, old gospels in new tones, reviving the heart, establishing and assuring the faith. When we were a-hungered thou didst find bread for us in unexpected places; under thy blessing flowers arise in the wilderness and great stretches of green pasture in the desert, yea, and water springs for us out of the rock, and honey is found where man never found it before. So then thou dost cover our whole life with thy care, thy Spirit provides for every want, answers every question, accompanies us through every step, nor leaves us until our weary wandering feet stand on the safe side of the river. All this knowledge comes to us in Christ, and through Christ, and for Christ's sake. This is his sweet Gospel, his delivering word, his message of emancipation, his good tidings of great joy. Enable us now to find our sufficiency in God and not in ourselves, and under all stresses, perils, and agonies of life may we hear a word behind us and round about us, and in us, coming from every quarter of heaven itself, mighty as thunder, gentle as the breeze that injures not the weakest flower, full of music, full of strength, My grace is sufficient for thee. Amen.