The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Maschil of Asaph. Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.Day and Night Leading
Did some man imagine this? I thank him. Life is the sweeter for having such men among us. What a man it was that thought of this condescension and love on the part of the miracle-working God described in this most musical psalm! It was worth being born to imagine this conception of God. It is so tender, so fatherlike, so comforting; it is charged to the full with inspiration of the best kind; it makes all things feel securer; it brings to the soul contributions from all quarters, contributions that increase its wealth, that improve its quality, that inspire its courage. Are we, then, face to face with a poem? so be it: the society is good; the touch of this man has healing in it,—"In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire." Can men imagine such history as that without anything to go upon, without a germ to start with? Why we are told the universe began with a puff of smoke, and was whirled into its present rotundity and glory by persistent force; but this man had nothing to go by. His conception of God is a greater miracle than the creation of the universe itself, even according to the suggestions of physical science—for there is no providence, no father, no rhythm of movement, in all the great action of life; it is a tumble, a scramble, a fierce on-rush, a phenomenon of madness. Yet this man dreamed one night that God in the daytime led his people with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire. Thank God for such a vision: it brings with it its own authority; its music is its inspiration, its comfort is its indisputable credential. We may linger in the society of this poet; he may prove to be a prophet.
A startling statement that people were led in the daytime. Surely there is no need for leadership in the season of light. When all the heaven is aflame with glory, every man surely can lead himself. The audacity of the statement begets some interest in the speaker. An irony of this kind could only be uttered by a very great man, or by a very small one. Who needs a guide in the daytime? What man does not undertake to do all he has to do when the light is plentiful? It would seem to be wholly unnecessary to have leadership when the sun is at the zenith, or when he is climbing to it, or when he is descending from it. Surely the sun is an opportunity, and an inspiration, and a sufficiency. We might talk so with regard to all the outgoing and experiment and adventure of life. Man has reason. He says he can put things together. He claims what he calls a power of inference; he can set events in a line, mass them, redistribute them, interrogate them, and draw out of them what he calls conclusions. All this is done by virtue of the reasoning faculty—that distinguishing token of man, that sign-manual of semi-divinity. What need, therefore, has reason for being led? Reason says, I am leader, not led. Not only has man reason, he has experience. He claims to know what he is about. He bristles up into a kind of Papal conceit of infallibility when he says, I know what has happened, and therefore I can tell practically what is about to occur, and yesterday shall be the teacher of today and the hint of to-morrow. There is sound sense in that. Reason certainly has a great function to perform; experience ought not to be lost upon men; history ought to have something to say at the council-table of every man, in the family, and in the counting-house, and on the high-road. This is all admitted. Then some men have peculiar natural sense, nous, gumption, sagacity. In a moment they can say, That is not the road; this is a mistake; that ought not to have been done; the right way lies otherwhere. Generally, they are right. They are what may be called, and justly, strong-minded men. Can they not be left to go out by themselves, to find out all the rest when they have found out so much? Does it not "stand to reason" that in the daytime men do not require to be led? Then again there is that greatschool which is denominated human society. Men help one another. Men learn from one another. The mistakes of others ought to be warnings to those who look on. When men fall in the way those who follow should beware lest they too come to the same pitfall. Here, then, we have reason, experience, natural sagacity, human society, a thousand other ministries all operating in the daytime: what need have we for divinity, supernaturalness, providence,—that higher rule which is called divine? A very proper question, admitting of a very satisfactory reply. It is in the daytime men go most astray. Very few people go astray at night. There is a natural fear, which becomes a natural caution and restriction of liberty, and men say they had better wait until the light comes before they go out on any adventure. How tempting is the daylight; we had not thought of it so before, but it is in reality an infinite temptation. We can see so far, we can comprehend so much; we can see where the river goes down, down, down, and turns round into mystery. Let us pursue the fluent line! The whole horizon seems to be set with spectres that tempt men away over swamp and bog, and hill and dale, and through wood and water, and then we begin to realise what it is that has taken us from home as we grasp the mocking cloud. Now we think of it, it is really in the "daytime" that men make fools of themselves, by outwitting their own sagacity, and by following things that have no reality and that will not condescend to be appropriated to individual uses. How well it would have been for some men had there been no daylight! How much there is in that daylight to excite the spirit of adventure! Yet, properly used, it is the very blessing of God, the great opportunity of life,—so nearly do death and life lie together. There never can be but a step between life and death. When we say that death is a long way off, we say what we do not know. Death can never be far away in any mortal state. God led his people in the daytime with a cloud. It required a poet to think of that. It is just the thing for leadership—a wraith, a spectre, half-thought, half-thing, almost alive, taking up no room, or taking up so little as to leave space enough for those who want it: and there it goes! A man must have sharp eyes to see some clouds,—they are so thin, so vaporous, almost invisible, but always there, and when moving always moving in the right direction. We look for earthquakes, and report them; we tell all the tragedy of the volcano—how it rumbled, and heaved, and burst, and spit its infinite lava; we are fond of emphasis: but what is leading life in the daytime is but a cloud. It requires to be watched, yea, looked for; its very thinness is part of its religious influence; it may move so noiselessly that unless we keep our whole attention fixed we may miss the movement, and be left without guide or sign or token or help in the infinite wilderness. Never let it be said, Thy servant was busy here and there, and the cloud passed without notice. "Busy here and there?" no; a man can never be busy both here and there: he is ruined by the division of the places. A man can only be busy either here or there. We cannot serve God and mammon. The very cloudiness of the revelation of providence is a religious appeal, and ought to awaken religious vigilance and keep us on the alert, for at any moment, without blast of trumpet, the cloud may arise and move. Ye can discern the face of the sky: how is it ye cannot discern the signs of the times? God has other monitors than earthquakes. Oftentimes he is not in the great wind at all; he comes through the medium of a still small voice, and whispers eternity into the trembling heart Blessed are they that watch and wait and hope. No life need be without guidance. We must restrain impetuosity, and self-will, and defiance, which spoils everything, and be quiet, solemn, expectant. "He that believeth shall not make haste;" "in your patience possess ye your souls." Lose self-control, and the battle is lost also. The quiet waiting man always wins,—in religious phraseology, is brought to his desired haven, and is blessed with an abundance of benediction. Never imagine, then, that in the daytime men need no leadership. Men may boast and least suspect themselves when they are conscious of their own ability. "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." When a man says he is perfectly equal to the occasion, he knows every enemy and every difficulty on the road, and desires to be let alone; watch him, for you will see him no more. Fools are crowned and beheaded on the same day.
Even the night need not shut out the light of God,—"all the night" he led them "with a light of fire." There must be night. That is strange, but true. There must be darkness. Why cannot we always have holiday, festival, noontide? Why not have an infinite monotony of glory? If we close the Bible, we do not alter the facts of life. Better keep the Bible at hand as the deepest and wisest interpreter of all the mystery of existence. As we have before seen, it shirks nothing. This is no book with dainty fingers that will only touch dainty things. It blurts out the whole truth about everything. It stands up sometimes and talks so loudly and frankly that we shut our ears lest people should overhear who will only by their presence excite our shame. It goes up to the greatest questions, and solves them. It takes up little children and kisses them, and sets them down again to grow into men. It says to sorrow, What is the meaning of these red eyes and stained cheeks? Come near me, poor weeper, and rest awhile; I will give thee a new chance in life. The Bible comes into the night of our experience, and says, I will set it with stars all over, so that there shall not be room to put another diamond in all the coronal; and as for this cold night, I will light a fire—not a crackling flame, but a glowing fire—and the darkness shall make it the more precious. How providence adapts its communications to circumstances! A cloud would have been no use at night; a fire would have been wholly out of keeping with the poetry of daylight. Providence knows what is best. The fitness of things is a religious argument. It would be a marvellous thing for any man to take up an alphabet, ten thousand alphabets, and to shake them out of a sack so that they would fall into Paradise Lost. Yet Paradise Lost is nothing but an arrangement of the alphabet. I am not aware that that miracle has ever been performed. So it is an infinite marvel that life in all its activities, impulses, selfishness, goodness, badness, tragedy, comedy, should be but so many unrelated pieces all shaken down out of heaven into human history. No. There is a shaping Hand about. There is a Spirit somewhere. What is my proof of the existence of God? My own lifetime, that is a tract I never bought, and cannot sell, and the more I read it the more I pray.
Providence brings with it not only a light at nighttime, but "a light of fire." It might have been another light, but it would not have fitted all the occasion with so exquisite an adaptation. The night is cold, so the light is of fire. Other light may glare and dazzle, gleam upon the eyes so as to hurt the vision, but oh! there are two comforts in the household fire—the warmth and the light; not a light that could be seen afar, but a light just adapted to the next step or two—and so warm, it makes the house. There can be no house in the winter unless the fire is lighted. Even the library looks a more living library the moment you apply a match to the fuel in the grate; the fire and the books seem to know one another, seem to have been waiting for one another, and all the authors say, Now is our opportunity; let us confer and grow wise. And the fire is the crown of the winter. It is the very centre and joy of our Christmas festivity. However far you stray away in the snow it is the fire in the house that is getting ready for you the very delight of your enjoyment. Thus providence adapts its communications: here it is a book, there it is a conscience, yonder it is both; here an infinite civilisation, and yonder a barbarism that is waiting, struggling with its men, hardly knowing which is upward, which is downward, which is right, which left, but still working out its own grim problem. Could the world do without its barbarism any more than the earth could do without its sea? There is more water than land on what we call the earth. There may be more barbarism than civilisation, there may be more wickedness than goodness, there may be more desert than garden; and it is not for us to explain why these things should be or how they came to be; the counsel is in heaven, and we are living from without and from above, and by-and-by we shall be called in to hear how it all came to pass, and how the very darkness was made into a temple, how the very wilderness was needful for the culture of our life, and how our necessity was one of our chief riches. How regularly the day comes, how regularly the night; how regularly, therefore, the cloud and the pillar of glowing illuminating fire! But monotony itself need not be oppressive. Life is monotonous, and yet we could not give up the monotony. We could not give up our daily bread—bread in the literal sense. What must go if we economise? The luxury, the rich wine, the dainty confection: now let the bread go!—no! never! The bread must stop, whatever goes. No man begins by throwing the bread out, and keeping the confectionery. There is a great lesson here for the culture that is higher than the sustenance and training of the body. Jesus Christ described himself as "bread,"—not as some luxury invented by highest skill; he called himself "water,"—not some liqueur compounded by cunning fingers as the expression of a mind which alone held the secret of the concoction. Said Jesus Christ, "I am the bread of life." Blessed Christ, that was divine. No other man could have dreamed of saying that. How true it is, and gracious! Said he, "I am the water of life." Now we think of it, that simplicity is its own deity. Had he said, I am juice wrung out of rarest roots in places untrodden by human feet, and the price of the nectar is very high, we should have called him a dealer in nostrums, an empiric, a fraud; but coming closely to us, and saying, "I am the bread of life.... I am the water of life.... I am a cloud in the daytime.... I am a fire at night," he speaks our native language, works along the line of our conscious necessity, offers us the things we cannot do without. Men tire of luxury,—men never tire of bread: men tire of inventions and philosophies and new religions and fine experiments, but there stands ready for renewal of intercourse and love the blessed gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. Sometimes it has to stand back, and it can bear the affront. It is divine, because it can bear to be insulted. You never know whether a man is a Christian or not until you have insulted him. You cannot tell a Christian by his confession, his words, his creed. Many a man would sign a creed a mile long if it would serve his purpose. You know what he is when you have struck him in his weakest point Jesus Christ bears affronts, bears neglect, waits to be recognised, says, They will come again; they are going away today, and leave me, because some dreamer has thrown a spell upon them; but they will come back again to-morrow or on the third day, and I will keep the door ajar; I would not for the world they should think I had gone too: the time will come when I must go; but I will let the last moment throb out before I turn my back upon the world I have redeemed. Many men have gone away, leading themselves by day and by night, saying they have no need of the supernatural and no need of a guiding providence, and they will take result whatever it be. A few days' hunger will work miracles upon them. Do not run after them too soon. Nothing brings a man to his senses so soon as having nothing to eat. A week's hunger has a marvellous influence upon the temper. Starvation leads a man to alter his estimate of food. He who went out an overfed glutton, finding fault with everything, will after a month's absolute starvation be the easiest man to please in all the world. So it shall be in mental hunger, in spiritual desire. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." Blessed famine, gaunt teacher, grim, ghastly monitor, come! for some dainty, overfed, pampered epicures have turned away from the living God, and are making little divinities of stone and wood and gold and silver. Bring them home again, thou gauntest Leader sent from God. If, then, provision has been made for our leadership in the daytime and in the nighttime, our course is clear. We must accept the divinity that shapes our ends. We shall be more conscious of it the less conscious we are of ourselves. What is the name of that action by which a man projects himself out of words? Faith. It is not only a theological term, it is a most practical word; it indicates the supreme effort of life, that marvellous leap which finds its life in eternity, its springs, upper and nether, in God. He pleases God who has most faith. Without faith it is impossible to please him. We walk by faith, not by sight Faith is not indolence. Faith is not fatalism. Faith is not a languid acceptance of whatever may occur. Faith is a burning power, a tremendous energy, an infinite self-control, a trust that says, "God cannot lie."
Lord, evermore give us the bread of life, which cometh down from heaven. Thou hast created this hunger, and thou wilt satisfy it. Thou only canst give us what we need. Every good gift is thine, and every perfect gift; and thou givest unto thy children that which will make them still more thine, because under its nutriment they will grow up into manhood, into beauty, into all nobleness: Lord, evermore give us this bread! We labour for the meat which perisheth; we would labour more for the bread which endureth unto everlasting life. Herein is wisdom, true sagacity, and a right acceptance of the mystery of life. May we be found wise in these matters, and not fools. Let the time past more than suffice wherein we have wrought folly and wickedness, and may we rise betimes, a great while before it is day, that we may be ready to employ all the light thou givest unto us in doing good. If we have these desires, we can trace them to thyself. Once we knew nothing of their inspiration and their passion; but thou hast come down upon us with a mighty and gracious power, and now we are the sons of God,—not that we have already attained, neither are already perfect, but in our desire, our aspiration, our supreme wish, we are even now in heaven. For such miracles we bless the almightiness of God, but most we bless the all-compassion of his heart. When we were yet sinners Christ died for us; he was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification. We would eat his flesh and drink his blood that we may have life abiding in us. This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. Jesus came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly, as in wave upon wave when the sea is blown with a great wind. May we not be partially alive, but wholly, living through and through, body, soul, and spirit, having no faculty of slumber, but every desire of the soul purified and ennobled, and in beneficent action: thus shall our life be a daily sacrifice; we shall live and move and have our being in God, and shall be borne above all that is of the nature of cloud and fear and doubt and tempest; thus shall we be in heaven whilst yet we are travelling and toiling upon the earth. Our souls desire the bread of life, corn from heaven, angels' bread; we would eat and drink abundantly at the Lord's banqueting table, whilst his banner over us is love: there would we quench our desires in ineffable satisfaction, there would we abound unto God's glory because of our eloquent thankfulness. Help us to believe that what we take at thy table is meant to be used in nobler strength for the good of men; thus may the bread we eat, which is sent down from heaven, be turned into all manly and useful conduct, so that our strength itself may be offered in sacrifice unto God. Guide us with thine eye; hold us in the hollow of thine hand; may we feel that we are precious unto thee in Christ Jesus thy Son. These great revelations thou hast made to us whilst we lingered at the Cross. If at first we did not understand thy love, thou didst not chide us with great judgments; thou wast patient with us, thou didst continue to teach us, and instruct us, and lead us by a way that we knew not, and when we began to see the meaning of Jesus Christ's love then we were glad as men who see a great light. Confirm thy people in their most holy faith, building and stablishing them in all strength, and comforting them with all needful encouragement. Thus shall thy Church glorify thyself, and thou, Son of God, shall be incarnated again, in the spirit and conduct of thy followers. When life is hard with us, be near our side; when reason is shocked and almost affrighted from her throne, do thou give steadiness to the mind; when we have done wrong and have felt the sting of hell in the heart, may we not be swallowed up of despair, but may some evangel come to us, some sweet music-note from heaven, that will tell us that even the worst may die with Christ and rise again. Save us all. May no wanderer be lost; may the least likely be set in the front, that so being urged by those behind and nourished and comforted we may be brought safely home. Make the sick-chamber a church; make the lonely sea a temple of thy revelation for those who are tossed thereon; make the faraway land burn with somewhat of the sacredness of home when the Sabbath dawns upon its solitude; and bring us, up high hills, or across angry waves, or through burning deserts, or by blooming garden paths,—as thou wilt, but bring us altogether at last, into Christ's presence, that we may serve Christ's crown. Amen.
The reference, of course, is to the manna which fell in the wilderness; and there many people might be content to leave the whole case. We soon tell by our appearance what food we have been eating. You cannot hide the bill of fare. The face is a tell-tale. The more the sensualist eats the greater a sensualist he appears to be. He feeds the flesh. He gets coarser every day; what little music there was in his voice is all dead and gone; he has choked it with the food of beasts. Once there was a little child in him, well spoken of, thought to be the germ of a fine man; but that child-angel is dead. Every mouthful of meat the man now takes makes him more beast-like. You may eat out of the very basin with Christ, but if you eat with an Iscariot's digestion, it will turn into devil. Say not that it is of no consequence what a man eats. It is of vital consequence. The mystery, however, is this, that even the best food may be turned into evil nutriment, according to the nature of the man who partakes of it. All God's wheatfields are lost upon some natures. They would seem to have put themselves beyond the range of God's almightiness. What we take we turn into our own nature. The lion grows as a lion the more he eats; though it be of the daintiest food it all becomes lion. So with us bodily, intellectually, spiritually: we tell what our food is. The glutton grows flesh: call him successful when the beast can grow no more; hang his prize on his neck and let him lie down, a specimen of brutish nature. The poet turns his food into poetry; the suppliant at God's throne takes his food and becomes a more eloquent intercessor. The nature determines everything. Herein is a great mystery of nature, of physiology, of moral purposes controlling physical appetences, of spiritual inspiration subduing everything to its own design. Yet there stands the law, that we turn whatever we appropriate into our own nature—the lion into lion, the wolf into wolf, the angel into angel, the poet into poet. Blame not in all cases the food; there are instances in which it is to be blamed: but how much depends upon the nature! how mysterious are the processes of assimilation! Our intellectual food determines our intellectual quality. We can tell what books a man has been reading by his conversation. Why ask a catalogue from the student? Simply listen to him; the catalogue is of no use. He may have gone through all the books, and they have left no impression upon him; he must be judged by his intellectual quality, bulk, force, aptitude; there need be no doubt whatever as to the process through which he has passed; your examination may be a farce; the man tells his own tale by the first sentence he utters, by the first question he propounds. If we keep companionship with wise men we grow wiser if we profit by the opportunities which have been put within our reach: we may be the more foolish, because our companionship may have been used to feed our vanity; it may have been so used as but to enable us to tell others on what a ladder we have climbed, how we have simply climbed into nothing. But the rule taken in its natural operation ought to stand thus: That the companion of the wise shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed. We cannot now, supposing ourselves to have profited by our study and experience, read the books we were wont to read many years ago. Is there a more interesting exercise within its own limits than to take up the books that used to charm us? What has occurred? Nothing in the books themselves; they are just what they always were: why, then, not revive old delights? Why not re-enter into old enthusiasms regarding them? A change has taken place in the reader. Now he knows what was meant by the man who said: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." Yet the things are useful in their own time. There is a contempt that is ungrateful. The boy needed one kind of food, and the man requires another. How foolish it is for persons to suppose that they must always remain at the same point, with the same elections, and the same aversions, and must never change! That is not progress; that is fatuity, insanity. There be those who say that such-and-such persons were wont to be content with such-and-such things, therefore they ought still to be content with them. That is an insult to the genius of progress. Once you were quite content to lie in the little cradle: why do you not lie there now? That is what you were used to: why do you claim any larger accommodation? Remember your beginnings, and go back to your cradle! Once you were content with little painted toys, they amused you by the hour: what do you now want with painted picture, and poem in stone, and great castle, and an environment marked all round with what used to be considered luxury? Why did you not carry your toys in your pocket that you may amuse yourself down to old age? How we used to be delighted then with certain books! They were enough for us, they just touched our terminal line; they were a little above us, still we could avail ourselves of their suggestion, and we thought ourselves philosophers because we understood them in some degree: now we smile at the couplets that used to make us wild with joy, and turn away from the men who charmed us like magicians, asking for some, it may be, ruder, sterner, directer stuff, that touches the life in its pain, that thrusts a spear in the blood, and makes us plunge forward with fiery eagerness towards some further goal. Milk for babes, strong meat for men, angels' corn for those who can appropriate and assimilate celestial food. Grow in grace: ask for larger supplies of the best material, the material upon which you can feed the soul, nourish it and strengthen it, enlarging its capacities, and qualifiying it for the ready and useful discharge of all the functions and responsibilties of life.
Our intellectual food tells upon our face. You can tell when a man has been neglecting reading; you can tell when a man has been a diligent student—not by formal beauty, over which he has no control, but by expression, and radiance, and force, and quality, not always to be described in words; you feel that he has been eating with the prophets, and he has been finding nutriment in corn from heaven. There is no deception about this matter. They who have eyes made to see, and that are sharpened by keen uses, can tell every new wrinkle that comes into a familiar face, and can see where light begins to dawn upon the flesh and almost transfigure it into spirit. If this be so intellectually, it is infinitely more so religiously. Men speak about falling from grace as if it were some mysterious process: what is easier to detect than that a man has gone down in the spirituality of his tone? At first you cannot quite understand he change, because you think it impossible that such a man can have abridged his prayers, slurred over his sacrifices, waited perfunctorily at the altar; you will not allow the heart of trust to suspect a betrayal of the Lord; yet the talk is very different, the estimate of things is quite changed, the outlook is no longer vast, but is a prison of clouds, a line of encroaching night: what is the reason of this? The man has not been praying seven times a day; if he has been praying the number of times, his window has not been opened in the right direction; if he has been through the ceremony, he has omitted the sacrifice; if he has used the words, he has lost the blood. Only blood is accepted in heaven. Is that to be understood in some merely literal sense? Then indeed it had better not be understood. It is to be understood in the sense that nothing is accepted of God that does not carry with it life, fire, consecration, absolute love,—that is blood; all else is a foul and detestable offering. Hence, it becomes comparatively easy to tell when a man has not been eating angels' food, or walking on the right levels, or keeping up his commerce with heaven; for now any frivolity will satisfy him; the fool easily laughs, the empty nature is soon filled; but the immortal disdains the table of mortality. We are all eating, we are always eating; all life is a process of absorption, appropriation, assimilation. Eating, sleeping, praying, doing business, conducting all the processes of life, we are appropriating all the time, and what we do will reveal itself in the poet's eye, or in the beast's vacancy.
Under what circumstances may men be said to eat angels' food, corn of heaven, bread sent down from God? When earth cannot satisfy him any longer, the good food is beginning to tell upon him. Earth was enough for a long time; it was called "the great globe," and men passed up and down rebuking the dreamers who called the earth a vale of tears, a land of shadows, a garden of graves; but little by little, imperceptibly as to the advance of time, man began to feel that he had not standing-ground enough here; he said, This world is not so great as I was told it was: what is the measure of things in their totality? What are these lights that gleam upon me from on high? Are they flecks of amber which some cunning hand has set there to be gazed at? or are they golden portals that fall back upon infinite palaces? I feel as if I must go up there, as if I had some rights of property there, as if there I could understand the language, and begin the life of the place at once. Why lift up your eyes on high? Why not look below you? Because there is nothing to see below me. This poor little earth has but its transient opportunities, and if it be vigilant and faithful it may grow a little in the summer-time, and then want a whole winter's repose for the poor little effort which it put forth in the middle of the year: things here only grow in handfuls: I feel as if yonder "infinite day excludes the night, and pleasures banish pain."
What has a man been doing who talks thus ecstatically? He has been eating angels' food, and he is growing angel-like; already he is more in heaven than on earth; the food is telling upon him. A man may be said to eat angels' food when he grows in spirituality. You can no longer deceive him by the letter, or limit him by the narrow dogma; he says, All these things are beginnings, alphabets, hints, dawns; but yonder is the meaning of it all: I seek a country out of sight; I will not have your land flowing with milk and honey, a little Canaan that could be measured by field-surveyors; I pant, I yearn, for a land far off, infinite as God's infinity: meanwhile, being here, I will do the day's work, not with a hireling's industry, but with the consecration of one who is anointed from on high; this work shall not be spoiled because of its littleness, but done with all the patience and care and hopefulness of love: yet all the while I will feel that I would not do this little work in this little space, but for what lies beyond: an eternal impulse makes me do the temporal service. Growing in spirituality is not a metaphysical process; it is concrete, intelligible, patent to the observation; it is not a growth in mere sentiment, it is not an enrichment of the nature in mere foam of ecstasy and rapture: it is a larger outlook, a firmer grasp of things eternal, a clearer view of distant things; it is a growth in preparation, in the estimate of relative values, in sympathy with God. Growing so, the whole world changes; its duties become light, its burdens become comparatively easy, its wealth a handful of dust that may be thrown up and caught again and laid down with a conjuror's ease. Growth in spirituality means larger intercourse with God, keener perception of religious essences and moral affinities. Growth in spirituality means a throwing-off of mere burdensomeness and ceremony and ritual; a forsaking of the fleshpots of Egypt, and a yearning for the society of angels and spirits, blessed and immortal. There is no immodesty in claiming that there may be direct consciousness of these things. Where there could be any boasting about them that very boasting would destroy the reality of the claim. The nearer a man comes to God the more he says, "I exceedingly fear and quake." Moses did not grow in pious frivolity when he grew in intimacy with God. Now and again a man or two might follow him up the mountains so far; but there is a point on the mountains of God where every man must break oft from every other man, and go up alone. How high the hill, how solemn the silence, how infinite the outlook! Does the mountain tremble under the man's feet? Is heaven coming down upon him like a burden to crush him? Is the air peopled with innumerable: spirits? There is no one with whom to converse, with whom to exchange fears, an exchange that might mitigate the terror; there is nothing but solitude.
We can now do better than eat angels' food, a larger feast has been prepared for us,—we can eat the body and drink the blood of Christ: "Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world." When the disciples heard that they felt a new hunger in the soul, and they said, "Lord, evermore give us this bread." When Jesus Christ spoke about the water, he made the poor woman at the well thirsty, so that she, said, "Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw." What a way he had of preaching his gospel! When he said "bread," the heart hungered; when he said "water," the soul thirsted,—"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God." "Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.... I am that bread." Other men have died, said Christ, whatever they have eaten: "Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness," and called it angels' food, "and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." This is the table that is spread for the soul's satisfaction today. "Assuredly, assuredly, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.... This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever." They were offended, because they were literalists, and did not understand such poetry as this. At once they seized the most obvious idea, and thought of actually and literally eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus Christ! but he said: "The flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life,"—not the words as a doctrine, but the words he was now speaking about flesh and blood: when he said "flesh," he meant truth; when he said "blood," he meant life: when he said "eat my flesh and drink my blood," he said, Appropriate me, take me, have none other but me. Into this mystery the soul must enter if it would hold high sacrament. Without a realisation of this mystery, the sacrament becomes but a ceremony, a vain show, an empty ritual. What is it, then, that becomes the true factor in all the sacred emblemism and sacred worship? It is faith. Still faith removes mountains, works miracles, creates and establishes vital transformations. Faith is the soul's life. "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Without faith it is impossible to please him. Faith takes the bread, and turns it into the flesh of Christ; faith takes the emblematic wine, and makes it sacrificial blood. All that is outward and literal is but initial and helpful. If we stop there, we are like men who have gone to seek a king, and have halted beside the gate; yea, we may have opened the gate and gone inside, but we have gone no further. The king is not at the gate; the gate but opens upon the palace; we must pass the gate, ascend the road, go higher, and ask for the presence-chamber itself; and if Reason opened the gate, Faith must complete the pilgrimage, and originate the introduction, and secure the exchange of communications. Lord, increase our faith!
Let not the bad man think that he can disguise the processes through which he is conducting his life. Let that be insisted upon. The countenance cannot be made to tell a permanent lie. For a time it may be painted and decorated, for a moment or two a smile may light upon it which may deceive the simple and the unwary; but the countenance, caught at off times, watched narrowly all the day, searched through and through with a seer's eyes, tells at what tavern a man has been drinking, at what hostelry he has been sleeping, at what table he has been feeding his hunger. The most successful hypocrite can get through but one moment's real deception with wise men. Even the completeness of his mimicry tells against him. He is too successful in his mimetics. Were he to stumble and blunder now and then, such halting might be a tribute to his honesty; but living for the occasion, appealing to the immediate judgment, snatching a prize with a dishonest hand, he will be blown out, and there shall come down upon his candle, already far burnt, one drop of rain from heaven, and with a noise it shall go out and be lighted no more. The triumphing of the hypocrite is short; the candle of the wicked shall be put out, and nothing shall be known of it but an evil odour. There is bread enough in your Father's house: why perish with hunger? Let your hunger prove your manhood; let your necessities prove the divinity of your origin; let that panting for other water, that hunger for other food, which must now and again seize the soul that is not dead, testify to the fact that you were made to be guests of God, that you were meant to be children of the Most High. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness." "Eat and drink abundantly, O beloved." The Bible is the hospitable book. It is always preparing a table for the hungry, opening fountains in the desert for the thirsty and the weary. "The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink." "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water,"—springing water, water that comes up out of the rock, pure as the crystal river that flows fast by the throne of God. Lord, evermore give us this bread! Lord, evermore give us of this water of life!