If I go down to Hell, Thou art there also. Yea, the darkness is no darkness with Thee; but the night is as clear as the day. -- Ps. cxxxix.7, 11.
I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my calling. He brought me also out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon the rock. And He hath put a new song into my mouth, even a thanksgiving unto our God. -- Ps. xl.2, 3.
God hath delivered my soul from the place of Hell. He shall receive me. -- Ps. xlix.15.
It is sometimes true, that sunshine comes after storm. Sometimes true -- or who could live? -- but not always. Equally true that in most human lives there are periods of trouble, blow following blow, wave following wave, from opposite and unexpected quarters, till all God's billows have gone over the soul. How paltry and helpless in such dark times are all proud attempts to hang self-poised in the centre of the abyss, and there organise for oneself a character by means of circumstances. Easy enough it seems for a man to educate himself without God while he lies comfortably in idleness on a sofa. But what if he found himself hurled perforce among the real universal experiences of humanity; and made free in spite of himself, by doubt and fear and horror of great darkness, of the brotherhood of woe, common alike to the simplest peasant woman, and to every great soul, who has left his impress upon the hearts of after generations? Jew, Heathen, or Christian; men of the most opposite creeds and aims -- whether it be Moses or Socrates, Isaiah or Epictetus, Augustine or Mohammed, Dante or Bernard, Shakespeare or Bacon -- each and all of them have this one fact in common -- that once in their lives, at least, they have gone down into the bottomless pit, and there out of the utter darkness have asked the question of all questions -- "Is there a God? and if there be, what is He doing with me?" What refuge then -- when a man feels himself powerless in the gripe of some unseen and inevitable power, and knows not whether it be chance or necessity, or a devouring fiend -- to wrap himself sternly in himself and cry, "I will endure though all the universe be against me"? How fine it sounds! But who has done it? No, there is but one escape, one chink through which we may see light, one rock on which our feet may find standing-place, even in the abyss; and that is the belief, intuitive, inspired, due neither to reasoning nor to study, that the billows are God's billows; and that though we go down into Hell, He is there also; the belief that not we, but He, is educating us; that these seemingly incoherent miseries, storm following earthquake, and earthquake fire, as if the caprice of all the demons were let loose against us, have in His mind a spiritual coherence, an organic unity and purpose, though we see it not; that these sorrows do not come singly, only because He is making short work with our spirits; and because the more effect He sees produced by one blow, the more swiftly He follows it up by another; till in one great and varied crisis, seemingly long to us, but short compared with immortality, our spirits may be --
"Heated hot with burning fears,
Two Years Ago.
There is no darker temptation than that which comes over a man when the devil whispers to him such thoughts as these, "God does not care for me -- God hates me. Luck, and everything else is against me. There seems some curse upon me. Why should I change? Let God first change to me and then will I change towards Him. But God will not change; He has determined to have no mercy on me. I can see that; for everything goes wrong with me. Then what is the use of my repenting. I will go my own way -- and what must be must." Have you ever had such thoughts? Then hear the word of the Lord to you: "When, whensoever, wheresoever, the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness which he has committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Have I any pleasure in the death of him that dieth saith the Lord, and not rather that he should be converted and live?" Never believe the devil when he tells you that God hates you. Never believe him when he tells you that God has been too hard upon you, and placed you in such circumstances of temptation, ignorance, poverty or anything else, that you cannot mend. What does the promise of your Baptism say? "Be you poor, tempted, ignorant, stupid, be you what you will, you are God's child -- your Father's love is over you, His mercy ready for you." You feel too weak to change. Ask God's Spirit to give you a strength of will you never felt before. You feel too proud to change. Ask God's Spirit to humble your proud heart, to soften your hard heart; and you will find to your surprise that when your pride is gone, when you are utterly ashamed of yourself, and see your sins in their true blackness, and feel unworthy to look up to God, that then will come a nobler, holier, manlier feeling -- self-respect, and a clear conscience, and the thought that, weak and simple as you are, you are in the right way; that God and the Angels of God are smiling on you; that you are in tune again with all earth and heaven, because you are what God wills you to be. Not His proud, peevish, self-willed child, fancying yourself strong enough to go alone, when you are really the slave of your own passions and appetites and the playthings of the devil; but His loving, loyal son through the strength of God, and able to do what you will, because what you will God wills also.
To escape atheism and despair, let us remember that the Creator and Ordainer of the circumstances of life is not chance or Nature, but the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and of us.
When you feel you are in the deepest and gloomiest doubt, pray the prayer of desperation; cry out, "Lord, if Thou dost exist, let me know that Thou dost exist! Guide my mind by a way that I know not into Thy truth," and God will deliver you.
Letters and Memories.
Sad as your letter was, it gave me pleasure; for it is always a pleasure to see life springing out of death, health returning after disease, though, as doctors know, the recovery from asphyxia or drowning is always as painful as the temporary death itself was painless. Faith is born of doubt. "It is not life, but death, where nothing stirs." Take all these doubts and struggles of yours as simply so many signs that your Father in heaven is treating you as a father, that He has not forsaken you, is not offended with you, but is teaching you in the way best suited to your own idiosyncracy, the great lesson of lessons, "Empty thyself and God will fill thee." Take your sorrows to your Father in heaven. If that name Father mean anything, it must mean that He will not turn away from His wandering child in a way that you would he ashamed to turn away from yours. If there be pity, lasting affection, patience in man, they must have come from God. They above all things must be His likeness. Believe that He possesses them a million times more fully than any human being.
St. Paul knew well at least the state of mind in which you are. He said that he had found a panacea for it. And his words, to judge from the way in which they have taken root and spread and conquered, must have some depth and life in them. Why not try them? Just read the first nine chapters of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, taking for granted that they mean the simplest and most obvious sense which can be put upon them.
Letters and Memories.
When the hour of temptation comes, go back, go back if you would escape, to what you were taught at your mother's knee concerning the grace of God; for that alone will keep you safe, or angel, or archangel, or any created being safe, in this life, and in all lives to come.
Sermons on David.
What does it all mean? I cry. Night and day the heavens have been black to me. You may think it sinful to have such thoughts. My experience is that when they come, one must do battle with them; one must face them; do battle with them deliberately; be patient if they worst one for a while. By all such things men live; in these is the life of the spirit. Only by going down into hell can one rise the third day. I have been in hell many times in my life, therefore, perhaps, I have had some small power of influencing human hearts. But I never have looked hell so close in the face as I have been doing of late. Wherefore, I hope thereby to get fresh power to rise and to lift others heavenward.
I can only cry -- "O Lord, in Thee have I trusted, let me never be confounded. Wherefore should the wicked say -- Where is now his God?" But while I fret most there comes to me an inner voice, saying -- "What matter if thou art confounded. God is not. Only believe firmly that God is as good as thou with thy finite reason canst conceive; and He will make thee at last able to conceive how good He is, and thou shalt have the perfect blessing of seeing God." You will say I am inconsistent. So I am; and so, if read honestly, are David's Psalms. Yet, that very inconsistency is what brings them home to every human heart for ever. The words of a man in real doubt and real darkness, crying for light, and not crying in vain, as I trust I shall not.
. . . I only know that I know nothing, but hope that Christ, who is the Son of Man, will tell me piecemeal, if I be patient and watchful, what I am and what man is.
Letters and Memories.
Some things I see clearly, and hold with desperate clutch -- a Father in Heaven for all; a Son of God incarnate for all (that incarnation is the one fact which is to me worth all, because it makes all others possible and rational, and without it I should go mad); and a Spirit of the Father and the Son, the fountain of all good on earth -- who works to will and to do of His own good pleasure -- in whom? In every human being in whom there is one spark of active good, the least desire to do right, or to be of use. Beyond that I see little save that Right is divine and all-conquering -- Wrong utterly infernal, and yet weak, foolish, a mere bullying phantom, which will flee at each brave blow, had we courage to strike at it in God's name.
Letters and Memories.
There is not a sorrow which man can taste which Jesus Christ has not fulfilled. He filled the cup of misery to the brim, and drained it to the dregs. He tasted death for every man, and went down into the lowest depths of terror and shame and agony and death, and, worst of all, into the feeling that God had forsaken Him; that there was no help or hope for Him in heaven, as well as earth; in a word, He went down into hell; even into that lowest darkness where, for one moment, a man feels, that God is nothing to him, and he is nothing to God. Even into that depth Jesus condescended to go down for us. That worst of all temptations, of which David only tasted a drop, when he cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" -- Jesus drained to the very dregs for us. He went down into hell for us, and conquered hell and death, and the darkness of the unknown world, and rose again glorious from them, that He might teach us not to fear death and hell; that He might know how to comfort us in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment, when on our sick-bed, or in some bitter shame and trouble, the lying devil is telling us that we are damned and lost, and forsaken by God, and every sin we ever did rises up and stares us in the face.
Whatever may be the mysteries of life and death, there is one mystery which the Cross of Christ reveals to us, and that is the infinite and absolute goodness of God. Let all the rest remain a mystery so long as the mystery of the Cross of Christ gives us faith for all the rest. Faith, I say. The mystery of evil, of terror, of death, the gospel does not pretend to solve, but it tells us that the mystery is proved to be soluble; for God Himself has taken upon Himself the task of solving it; and Christ has proved by His own act, that if there be evil in the world, it is none of His, for He hates it, fights against it, and He fought against it to the death. The Cross says, Have faith in God. Ask no more of Him, "Why hast thou made me thus?" Ask no more, "Why do the wicked prosper on the earth?" Ask no more, "Whence pain and death, war and famine, earthquake and tempest, and all the ills to which flesh is heir?" All fruitless questioning, all peevish repinings are precluded henceforth by the death and passion of Christ.
Dost thou suffer? Thou canst not suffer more than the Son of God. Dost thou sympathise with thy fellow-sufferers? Thou canst not sympathise more than the Son of God. Dost thou long to right them, to deliver them, even at the price of thine own blood? Thou canst not long more ardently than the Son of God, who carried His longing into act, and died for them and thee. What if the end be not yet? What if evil still endure? What if the medicine have not yet conquered the disease? Have patience, have faith, have hope, as thou standest at the foot of Christ's Cross, and holdest fast to it, as the Anchor of thy soul and reason, as well as of thy heart. For however ill the world may go, or seem to go, the Cross is the everlasting token that God so loved the world, that He spared not His only begotten Son, but freely gave Him for it. Whatsoever else is doubtful this at least is sure, that God must conquer, because God is good; that Evil must perish, because God hates Evil, even to the death.
How shall the bottomless pit, if we fall into it, be a pathway to the everlasting rock? David tells us, "Out of the deep have I cried unto Thee, O God." He cried to God -- not to himself, his own learning, prudence, talents -- to pull him out of that pit. Not to doctrines, books, church-goings -- not to the dearest earthly friend -- not to his own experiences, faith's assurances, frames and feelings. The matter was too terrible to be plastered over in that way, or in any way. He was face to face with God alone, and in utter weakness, in utter nakedness of soul, he cried to God Himself. There was the lesson. God took away from him all things, that he might have no one to cry to but to God.
And it shall be with every soul of man who, being in the deep, cries out of the deep to God, as it was with Moses when he went up alone into the Mount of God, and fasted forty days and forty nights amid the earthquake and the thunderstorm, and the rocks which melted before the Lord. And behold, when it was past, he talked face to face with God, as a man talketh with his friend, and his countenance shone with heavenly light, when he came down triumphant out of the Mount of God.
Good News of God -- Sermons.
On the torturing cross Christ prayed for His murderers, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And this is the character many a man may get in the dark deep. To feel for all, to feel with all; to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep, to understand people's trials and make allowances for their temptations; to put oneself in their place till we see with their eyes, and feel with their hearts, till we judge no man, and have hope for all; to be fair and patient and tender with everyone we meet; to despise no one, despair of no one, because Christ despises none and despairs of none; to look on every one we meet with love, almost with pity, because they too may have been down into the deep of horror, or may go down into it any day; to see our own sins in the sins of others, to feel that we might do what they do, and feel as they feel at any moment, did God desert us; to give and forgive, live and let live, even as Christ gives to us and forgives us, and lives for us and lets us live in spite of all our sins.
Good News of God.
Rejoice that there is a fire of God the Father whose name is Love, burning for ever unquenchably, to destroy out of every man's heart and out of the hearts of all nations, and of the physical and moral world, all which offends and makes a lie; and that into that fire the Son will surely cast all shams, lies, hypocrisies, tyrannies, false doctrines. Is it not good news that that fire is unquenchable, that that worm will not die? The fire may be kindled for us -- the worm may seize our hearts. God grant that in that day we may have courage to let the fire and the worm do their work -- to say to Christ, "These too are Thine, and out of Thine infinite love they have come. Thou requirest truth in the inward parts, and I will thank Thee for any means, however bitter, which Thou usest to make me true. I want to be an honest man and a right man! And, O joy! Thou wantest me to be so also. O joy! that though I long cowardly to quench Thy fire, I cannot do it. Purge me therefore, O Lord, though it be with fire. Burn up the chaff of vanity and self-indulgence, of hasty prejudices, second-hand dogmas, -- husks which do not feed my soul, with which I cannot be content, of which I feel ashamed daily -- and if there be any grains of wheat in me, any word or thought or power of action which may be of use as seed for my nation after me, gather it, O Lord, into Thy garner." Amen.
Letters and Memories.
The Fire of God hardens a man and softens him at the same time. He comes out of it hardened to that hardness of which it is written, "Do thou endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ;" and again, "I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished my course;" -- yet softened to that softness of which it is written, "Be ye tender-hearted, compassionate, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven you;" and again, "We have a High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, seeing that He has been tempted in all things like as we are."
Happy, thrice happy, are they who have thus walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and found it a path that leads to everlasting life. Happy are they who have writhed awhile in the fierce fire of God, and have had burned out of them the chaff, and the dross, and all which offends and makes them vain and light, yet makes them dull, and drags them down at the same time; till only the pure gold of God's righteousness is left, seven times tried in the fire, incorruptible, precious in the sight of God and man. Such need not regret, will not regret, all that they have gone through. It has made them brave, sober, patient. It has given them
The reason firm, the temperate will,
and so shaped them into the likeness of Christ, who was made perfect by suffering; and though He were a Son, yet in the days of His flesh made strong supplication, and crying with tears to His Father, and was heard in that He feared; and so, though He died on the Cross and descended into Hell, yet triumphed over Death and Hell by dying and descending, and conquered them by submitting to them.
Good News of God -- Sermons.