Thou hast proved and visited my heart in the night season -- Ps. xvii.3.
Nevertheless though I am sometimes afraid, yet put I my trust in Thee. -- Ps. lv.3.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? -- Ps. xxvii.1.
I sought the Lord and He heard me and delivered me from all my fear. -- Ps. xxxiv.4.
Who is there who has not at times said to himself -- "God is so holy, so pure and glorious; while I am so unjust, and unclean, and mean! and God is so great and powerful; while I am so small and weak! What shall I do? Does not God hate and despise me? Will He not take from me all I love best? Will He not hurl me into endless torment when I die? How can I escape from Him? Wretched man that I am, I cannot escape from Him! How then can I turn away His hate? How can I make Him change His mind? How can I soothe and appease Him? What shall I do to escape Him?"
Did you ever have such thoughts? And did you ever find those thoughts, that slavish terror of God's wrath, that dread of hell make you better men? I never did. Unless you go beyond them -- as far beyond them as heaven is beyond hell, as far above them as a free son is above a miserable crouching slave, they will do you more harm than good. This spirit of bondage, this slavish terror, instead of bringing us nearer to God, only drives us farther from Him. It does not make us hate what is wrong, it only makes us dread the punishment of it.
How then shall we escape the terror and misery of an evil conscience, and rise out of our sins? Believe the warrant of your baptism. Your baptism says to you -- "God is your Father, He does not hate you though you be the greatest sinner on earth. He loves you, for you are His child, and He willeth not the death of a sinner, but that all should come and be saved. He hateth nothing that He has made." This is the message of your baptism -- that you are God's child, and that God's will and wish is that you should grow up to become His son, to serve Him lovingly, trustingly, manfully; and that He can and will give you the power to do so; ay, He has given you the power already, if you will but claim and use it. But you must claim and use it, because you are meant not merely to be God's wilful, ignorant, selfish child, obeying Him from fear of the rod, but to be His willing, loving, loyal son.
God is not a tyrant who must be appeased with gifts, or a task-master who must be satisfied with the labour of his slaves. He is a Father, who loves His children, who gives and loveth to give, who gives to all freely, and upbraideth not. He truly willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live. His will is a good will, and howsoever much men's sin and folly may resist it, and seem for a time to mar it, yet He is too great and good to owe any man, even the worst, the smallest spite or grudge. Patiently, nobly, magnanimously, God waits -- waits for the man who is a fool, to find out his folly; waits for the heart which has tried to find pleasure in everything else, to find out that everything else disappoints, and to come back to Him, that fountain of all wholesome pleasure, that well-spring of all life fit for a man to live. When the fool finds out his folly; when the wilful man gives up his wilfulness; when the rebel submits himself to law; when the son comes back to his father's house -- there is no sternness, no upbraiding, no revenge; but the everlasting and boundless love of God wells forth again as ever. The Creator has condescended to wait for His creature, because what He wanted was not His creature's fear, but His creature's love; not his lip-obedience, but his heart; because He wanted him not to come back as a trembling slave to his master, but as a son who has found out at last what a father he has left him, when all beside has played him false. Let him come back thus, to find all is forgiven; and to hear the Father say, "This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
Discipline and other Sermons.
When the tempest comes; when affliction, fear, anxiety, shame come, then the Cross of Christ begins to mean something to us. For then in our misery and confusion we look up to heaven and ask, Is there any One in heaven who understands all this? Does God understand my trouble? Does God feel for my trouble? Does God care for my trouble? Does God know what trouble means? Or must I fight the battle of life alone, without sympathy or help from God, who made me and has put me here? Then, does the Cross of Christ bring a message to our heart such as no other thing or being on earth can bring. For it says to us, God does understand thee utterly; for Christ understands thee. Christ feels for thee; Christ feels with thee; Christ has suffered for thee, and suffered with thee. Thou canst go through nothing which Christ has not gone through. He, the Son of God, endured poverty, fear, shame, agony, death for thee, that He might be touched with the feeling of thine infirmity and help thee to endure, and bring thee safe through all to victory and peace.
Though we, happily, no longer believe in the terror by night, which of old was thought to come from witches, ghosts, demons, yet there is a terror by night in which we must believe, for it comes to us from God, and should be listened to as the voice of God, even that terror about our own sinfulness, folly, weakness, which comes to us in dreams and sleepless nights. We may learn from these night fancies and night thoughts; for they are often God's message to us, calling us to repentance and amendment of life. They are often God's Book of Judgment, wherein our sins are written, which God is setting before us, and showing us the things we have done. God sends dreams to men which enable them to look back, and recollect things past, which they had forgot only too easily; and these humble and penitential dreams are God's warning that (as the Article says) the infection of nature doth remain even in those who are regenerate, and that nothing but the continual help of God's Spirit will keep us from falling back or falling away.
Discipline and other Sermons.
The religion of terror is the most superficial of all religions. God's arbitrary will and almighty power may seem dark by themselves though deep, as they do to the Calvinists, because they do not involve His moral character. Join them with the fact that He is a God of mercy as well as justice, remember that His essence is love, and the thunder cloud will blaze with dewy gold, full of soft rain and pure light. All the deep things of God are bright, for God is light.
Letters and Memories.
I am not, and will not (please God to help me, as He has hitherto) be anxious about anything. Why should we weary out the little life we have left in us, when He has promised to care for us, and make us renew our youth, and heap us with everything that is good for us?
And as for our difficulties. Has it not been fulfilled in them -- As thy day so shall thy strength be? Have they not been God's sending? God's way of preventing the cup of bliss being over sweet? and consider, have they not been blessed lessons? Have we not had in all things with the temptation a way to escape? So out of evil God brings good; or rather out of necessity He brings strength. The highest spiritual training is contained in the most paltry physical accidents; and the meanest actual want may be the means of calling into actual life the possible but sleeping embryo of the very noblest faculties.
This is a great mystery; but we are animals, in time and space; and by time and space, and our animal natures, are we educated. Therefore let us be only patient, patient; and let God our Father teach His own lesson, His own way. Let us try to learn it well, and learn it quickly; but do not let us fancy that He will ring the school bell, and send us to play before our lesson is learnt.
Letters and Memories.
In all the events of life pray, pray take what God does not send as not good for us, and trust Him to send us what is good. Remember all these things are right, and come with a reason, and a purpose, and a meaning; and he who grumbles at them believeth not (for the time being at least) in the Living God.
Ah! do not fancy that I am not often perplexed -- "Cast down, yet not in despair." No; Christ reigns, as Luther used to say -- and therefore I will not fear, "though the mountains be removed (and I with them) and cast into the midst of the sea."
Letters and Memories.
All these anxieties will be good for you. They all go to the making of a man -- calling out that God-dependence in him which is the only true self- dependence, the only true strength. Well said old Hezekiah, "Lord, by all these things men live (by trouble, sorrow, sickness), and in these things is the life of the spirit."
Our Lord said, "Take no thought for the morrow; the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Matt. vi.34. And do we not find that our Lord's words are true? Who are the people who get through most work in their lives, with the least wear and tear? Are they the anxious people? Those who imagine to themselves possible misfortunes, and ask continually, What if this happened, or if that? How should I be able to get through such and such a trouble? Far, far from it. Let us not waste the strength which God has given us for to-day in vain fears or vain dreams about to-morrow. To- day is quite full enough of anxiety and care. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof, and sufficient for the day is the good thereof. To-day, and to-morrow too, may end very differently from what we hope. Yes. But they may end very differently from what we fear. Look not too far ahead, lest you see what is coming before you are ready for the sight. If we foresaw the troubles that are coming, perhaps it would break our hearts; and if we foresaw the happiness which is coming, perhaps it would turn our heads. Let us not meddle with the future but refrain our souls and keep them low, like little children, content with the day's food, and the day's schooling, and the day's play-hours, sure that the Divine Master knows all that is right, and how to train us, and whither to lead us, though we know not, and need not know, save this, that the path by which He is leading each of us -- if we will but obey and follow, step by step -- leads up to Everlasting Life.
All Saints-Day Sermons.