Hillis -- God the Unwearied Guide


Newell Dwight Hillis was born at Magnolia, Iowa, in 1858. He first became known as a preacher of the first rank during his pastorate over the large Presbyterian church in Evanston, Illinois. This reputation led to his being called to the Central Church, Chicago, in which he succeeded Dr. David Swing, and where from the first he attracted audiences completely filling one of the largest auditoriums in Chicago. In 1899 he was called to Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, to succeed Dr. Lyman Abbott in the pulpit made famous by the ministry of Henry Ward Beecher. By his strong personality and mental gifts he draws to his church a large and eager following. His best known books are "A Man's Value to Society," and "The Investment of Influence."


Born in 1858


[Footnote 1: By permission of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Copyright, 1905.]

Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God, &c. -- Isaiah xl., 1-31. He shall not fail, nor be discouraged. -- xliv., 4.

This is an epic of the unwearied God, and the fainting strength of man. For splendor of imagery, for majesty and elevation, it is one of the supreme things in literature. Perhaps no other Scripture has exerted so profound an influence upon the world's leaders. Luther read it in the fortress of Salzburg, John Brown read it in the prison at Harper's Ferry. Webster made it the model of his eloquence, Wordsworth, Carlyle and a score of others refer to its influence upon their literary style, their thought and life. Like all the supreme things in eloquence, this chapter is a spark struck out of the fires of war and persecution. Its author was not simply an exile -- he was a slave who had known the dungeon and the fetter. Bondage is hard, even for savages, naked, ignorant, and newly drawn from the jungle, but slavery is doubly hard for scholars and prophets, for Hebrew merchants and rulers.

This outburst of eloquence took its rise in a war of invasion. When the northern host swept southward, and overwhelmed Jerusalem, the onrushing wave was fretted with fire; later, when the wave of war retreated, it carried back the detritus of a ruined civilization. The story of the siege of Jerusalem, the assault upon its gates, the fall of the walls, all the horrors of famine and of pestilence, are given in the earlier chapters of this wonderful book. The homeward march of the Persian army was a kind of triumphal procession in which the Hebrew princes and leaders walked as captives. The king marched in the guise of a slave, with his eyes put out, followed by sullen princes, with bound hands, and unsubdued hearts. As slaves the Hebrews crossed the Euphrates at the very point where Xenophon crossed with his immortal ten thousand. In the land of bondage the exiles were planted, not in military prisons, but in gangs, working now in the fields, now in the streets of the city, and always under the scourge of soldiers. When thirty years had passed the forty thousand captives were scattered among the people, one brother in the palace, and another a slave in the fields. Soon their religion became only a memory, their language was all but forgotten, their old customs and manner of life were utterly gone. But God raised up two gifted souls for just such an emergency as this. One youth, through sheer force of genius, climbed to the position of prime minister, while a young girl through her loveliness came to the king's palace. One day an emancipation proclamation went forth, from a king who had come to believe in the unseen God who loved justice, and would overwhelm oppression and wrong. The good news went forth on wings of the wind. Making ready for their return to their homeland, all the captives gathered on the outskirts of the desert. It was a piteous spectacle. The people were broken in health, their beauty marred, their weapon a staff, their garments the leather coat, their provisions pieces of moldy bread, and their path fifteen hundred miles of sands, across the desert. To such an end had come a disobedient and sinful generation!

In that hour, beholding these exiles and captives, a flood of emotions rushed over the poet; he saw those bound who should conquer; he saw that men were slaves who should be kings. Then, with a rush, an immeasurable longing shivers through him like a trumpet call. Oh, to save them! To perish for their saving! To die for their life, to be offered for them all! In an abandon of grief and sympathy, he began to speak to them in words of comfort and hope. At first these exiles, dumb with pain and grief, listened, but listened with no light quivering in the eye, and no hope flitting like sunshine across the face. Their yesterdays held bondage, blows and degradation; their tomorrow held only the desert and the return to a ruined land. Then the word of the Lord came upon the poet. What if the night winds did go mourning through the deserted streets of their capital! What if their language had decayed and their institutions had perished? What if the farmer's field was only a waste of thorns and thickets, and the towns become heaps and ruins! What if the king of Babylon and his army has trampled them under foot, as slaves trample the shellfish, crushing out the purple dye that lends rich color to a royal robe? "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people." Is the way long and through a desert? "Every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill shall be made low." Has slavery worn man's strength to nothingness until he is as weak as the broken reed and the withered grass? The spirit of the Lord will revive the grass, trampled down by the hoofs of war horses. Soon the bruised root shall redden into the rose and the fluted stem climb into the tree. And think you if God's winds can transform a spray and twig into a trunk fit for foundation of house or mast of ship, that eternal arms can not equip with strength the hand of patriot?

Is the Shepherd and Leader of His little flock unequal to their guidance across the desert? "Behold the Lord will come with a strong arm; he shall feed his flock like a shepherd and he shall gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom." What! Man's hand unequal to the task of rebuilding Jerusalem? Hath not God pledged His strength to the worker, that God whose arm strikes out worlds as the smith strikes out sparks upon the anvil? Is not man's helper that God who dippeth up the seas in the hollow of His hand? Who weighs the mountains with scales and the hills in the balance? What! Thine enemies too strong for thee? Why, God looketh upon all the nations and enemies of the earth as but a drop in the bucket. He sendeth forth His breath, and the tribes disappear as dust is blown from the balance. Then the trumpet call shivered through these exiles. "Hast thou not known? Have the sons of the fathers never heard of the everlasting God, the Lord, Creator of the ends of the earth? Fainteth not, neither is weary!" Heavy is the task, but the Eternal giveth power and strength. Even tho young patriots and heroes faint and fall, they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. While fulfilling their task of rebuilding they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Oh, what a word is this! What page in literature is comparable to it for comfort! Wonderful the strength of the warrior! Mighty the influence of the statesman! All powerful seems the inventor, but greater still the poet who dwells above the clang and dust of time, with the world's secret trembling on his lips.

He needs no converse nor companionship,
In cold starlight, whence thou can not come,
The undelivered tidings in his breast,
Will not let him rest.
He who looks down upon the immemorable throng,
And binds the ages with a song.
And through the accents of our time,
There throbs the message of eternity.

And so the unwearied God comforted the fainting strength of man.

Primarily, this glorious outburst was addrest to the exiles as heads of families. The father's strength was broken and his children had been crusht and ground to earth. The ancient patrimony was gone; he had gathered his little ones in from the huts where slaves dwelt. He was leading his little band of pilgrims into a desert. But the prophet spoke to the exiles as to men who believed that the family was the great national institution. With us, the family is important, but with these Hebrew exiles the family was everything. For them the home was the spring from whence the mighty river rolled forth. The family was the headwaters of national, industrial, social and religious life. Every father was revered as the architect of the family fortune. The first ambition of every young Hebrew was to found a family. Just as abroad, a patrician gentleman builds a baronial mansion, fills it with art treasures, hangs the shields and portraits of his ancestors upon the walls, hoping to hand the mansion forward to generations yet unborn, so every worthy Hebrew longed to found a noble family. How keen the anguish, therefore, of this exile in the desert! What a scene is that of the exiles upon the edge of the desert. Darkness is upon the land and the fire burns low into coals. Worn and exhausted, children are sleeping beside the mother. Here is an old man, lying apart, broken and bitter in spirit -- one son stands forth a dim figure -- looking down upon his aged parents, upon the wife of his bosom and upon his little children. Standing under the stars, he meditates his plans. How shall he care for these, when he returns to his ruined estate? In the event of death, what arm shall lift a shield above these little ones? What if sickness or death pounce upon a home as an eagle upon a dove, as wolves upon lambs, or as brigands descend from the mountains upon sleeping herdsmen!

Every founder of a family knows the agony of such an hour! We are in a world where men are never more than a few weeks from, possible poverty and want; little wonder then that all men seek to provide for the future of the home and the children. But to the exile standing in the darkness, with love that broods above his babes, there comes this word of comfort: God's solicitude for you and yours will not let Him slumber or sleep! God will lift up a highway for the feet of the little band of pilgrims. The eternal God shall be thy guide in the march through the desert. His pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night shall stand in the sky; He shall lead the flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the little ones in His arms, and carry the children in His bosom. And if the father fall on the march, the wings of the Eternal shall brood the babes that are left. His right arm shall be a sword and His left arm a shield. The eternal God fainteth not, neither is weary. Having time to care for the stars, and to lead them forth by name, He hath time and thought also for His children. What a word is this for the home! What comfort for all whose hearts turn toward their children! What a pledge to fathers for generations yet unborn! This truth arms every parent for any emergency. For God is round about every home as the mountains are round about Jerusalem, for bounty and protection.

But the sage was also thinking of men whose hopes were broken, and whose lives were baffled and beaten. These exiles, crossing the desert, might have claimed for themselves the poet's phrase, "Lo, henceforth I am a prisoner of hope." Like Dante, they might have cried, "For years my pillow by night has been wet with tears, and all day long have I held heartbreak at bay." For these whose glorious youth had been exhausted by bondage, life had run to its very dregs. Gone the days of glorious strength! Gone all the opportunities that belong to the era when the heart is young, the limitations of life had become severe! Environment often is a cage against whose iron bars the soul beats bloody wings in vain!

How many men are held back by one weak nerve, or organ! How many are shut in, and limited, and just fall short of supreme success because of an hereditary weakness, handed on by the fathers! How many made one mistake in youth in choosing the occupation and discovered the error when it was too late! How many erred in judgment in their youth, through one critical blunder, that has been irretrievable, and whose burden is henceforth lasht to the back! In such an hour of depression, Isaiah assembles the exiles, and exclaims, "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people. Tho your young men faint and be weary, tho the strong utterly fail, yet God is the unwearied one; with his help thou shalt take thy burden, and mount up with wings as eagles; with his unwearied strength thou shalt run with thy load and not be weary, and walk and not faint." For this is the experience of persecution and the reward of sorrow, bravely borne that the fainting strength of man is supplemented by the sure help of the unwearied God.

Therefore, in retrospect, exiles, prisoners, martyrs, who have believed in God seem fortunate. The endungeoned heroes often seem the children of careful good fortune and happiness. The saints, walking through the fire, stand forth as those who are dear unto God. How the point of view changes events. Kitto was deaf, and in his youth his deafness broke his heart, but because his ears were closed to the din of life, he became the great scholar of his time, and swept the treasures of the world into a single volume, an armory of intellectual weapons. Fawcett was blind, but through that blindness became a great analytic student, a master of organization, and served all England in her commerce. John Bright was broken-hearted, standing above the bier, but Richard Cobden called him from his sorrow to become a voice for the poor, to plead the cause of the opprest, and bring about the Corn Laws for the hungry workers in the factories and shops. Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.

Let the exile say unto himself: "Your warfare is accomplished; your iniquity is pardoned; the Lord's hand will give unto thee double for all thy sins that are forgiven." The great faiths and convictions of the prophets and law-givers, your language and your laws and your liberties, have not been destroyed by captivity; rather slavery has saved them. At last you know their value; in contrast with the idolatry of the Euphrates, the jargon of tongues, the inequality of rights, the organization of justice and oppression, how wonderful the equity of the laws of Moses! How beautiful the faith of the fathers! How surely founded the laws of God. Henceforth idolatry, injustice and sin became as monstrous in their ugliness as they were wicked in their essence. Everything else might go, but not the faith of the fathers. Persecution was like fire on the vase; it burned the colors in. Little wonder that the tradition tells us that for the next hundred years, at stated periods, all the people in the land came together, while a reader repeated this chapter on the unwearied God and the fainting strength of man that had recovered unto hope, men whose hopes had been baffled and beaten.

The thought of an unwearied God is also the true antidote to despondency. The ground of optimism is in God. When that great thinker described certain people as without God and without hope, there was sure logic in his phrase, for the Godless man is always the hopeless man. Between no God anywhere and the one God who is everywhere, there is no middle ground. Either we are children, buffeted about by fate and circumstances, with events tossing souls about in an eternal game of battledore and shuttlecock, or else the world is our Father's house, and God standeth within the shadow, keeping watch above His own. For the man who believes in God, who allies himself to nature, who makes the universe his partner, there is no defeat, and no death, and no interruption of his prosperity. Concede that there is a God, and it follows as a logical necessity that He will not permit any enemy to ruin your life and His plans. For a man who holds this faith it follows that there can be no defeat, or failure. Indeed, the essential difference between men is the difference in their relation toward God. Here are the biographies of two great men. Both are men of genius, both are marvelously equipped, but their end was, oh, how different. One is Martin Luther, who stood forth alone, affirming his religious freedom, in the face of enemies and devils thick as the tiles on the roofs of the houses. The few friends Luther had shut him up in a fortress to save his life, but Luther mightily believed in God. With the full consent of his marvelous gifts, he surrendered his life to the will of God. Knowing that his days were as brief as the withering grass, he allied himself with the Eternal. In his discouragement he read these words, "The Everlasting God fainteth not, neither is weary." In that hour Martin Luther shouted for joy. The beetling walls of the fortress were as tho they were not. Victorious he went forth, in thought, ranging throughout all Germany. And going out, he went up and down the land telling the people that God would protect him, and soon Germany was free.

Goethe tells us that Luther was the architect of modern German language and literature, and stamped himself into the whole national life. The Germany of the Kaiser is simply Martin Luther written large in fifty millions of men. But what made Luther? There was some hidden energy and spirit within him! What was this spirit in him? The spirit of beauty turned a lump of mud into that Grecian face about which Keats wrote his poem. The spirit of truth changes a little ink into a beautiful song. The spirit of strength and beauty in an architect changes a pile of bricks into a house or cathedral or gallery. And the thought of our unwearied God changed the collier's son into the great German emancipator. But over against this man, who never knew despondency, after his vision hour, stands another German. He, too, was a philosopher, clothed with ample power, and blest with opportunity. But he did evil in his life, and then the heart lost its faith, and hope utterly perished. The more he loved pleasure and pursued self, the more cynical and bitter he became. Pessimism set a cold, hard stamp upon his face, and marred his beauty. Cynicism lies like a black mark across his pages. At last, in his bitterness, the philosopher tells us the whole universe is a mirage, and that yonder summer-making sun is a bubble that repeats its iridescent tints in the colors of the rainbow. Despair ate out his heart. He became the most miserable of men, and knew no freedom from sorrow and pain. And lo, now the man's philosophy has perished like a bubble, his influence has utterly disappeared, for his books are unread, while only an occasional scholar chances upon his name, tho the great summer-making sun still shines on and Luther's eternal God fainteth not, neither is weary.

Are you weak, oh, patriot? Remember God is strong. Do your days of service seem short, until your life is scarcely longer than the flower that blooms to-day and is gone tomorrow? God is eternal, and He will take care of your work. Are you sick with hope long deferred? Hope thou in God; He shall yet send succor. Have troubles driven happiness from thee, as the hawk drives the young lark or nightingale from its nest? Return unto thy rest, troubled heart, for the Lord will deal bountifully with thee. Are you anxious for your children? God will bring the child back from the far country. For the child hath wandered far, the golden thread spun in a mother's heart is an unbroken thread that will draw him home! For things that distress you to-day, you shall thank God to-morrow. Nothing shall break the golden chain that binds you to God's throne. Are you hopeless and despondent because of your fainting strength? Remember that the antidote for despondency is the thought of the unwearied God who is doing the best He can for you, and whose ceaseless care neither slumbers nor sleeps.

Little wonder therefore that God became all and in all to this feeble band of captives, journeying across the desert back to their ruined life and land. God had taken away earthly things from them, that He might be their all and in all. When the earth is made poor for us, sometimes the heavens become rich. God closed the eyes of Milton to the beauty in land and sea and sky, that he might see the companies of angels marching and countermarching on the hills of God. He closed the ears of Beethoven, that he might hear the music of St. Cecilia falling over heaven's battlements. He gave Isaiah a slave's hut, that he might ponder the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. How is it that this prophet and poet has become companion of the great ones of the earth? At the time Isaiah rebelled against his bondage, but when it was all over, and the fitful fever had passed, and the fleshly fetters had fallen, he smiled at the things that once alarmed him, as he recalled his fainting strength and the unwearied God.

Gone -- that ancient capital. Babylon is a heap. Jerusalem a ruin! But this epic of the unwearied Guide still lives! Isaiah, can never die! Can a chapter die that has cheered the exile in his loneliness, that has comforted the soldier upon his bivouac, that has braced the martyr for his execution, that has given songs at midnight to the prisoners in the dungeon? Out of suffering and captivity came this song of rest and hope. At last the poet praised the eternal God for his bonds and his imprisonment. Oh, it is darkness that makes the morning light so welcome to the weary watcher. It is hunger that makes bread sweet. It is pain and sickness that gives value to the physician and his medicine. It is business trouble that makes you honor your lawyer and counselor, and it is the sense of need that makes God near.

Are there any merchants here who are despondent? Remember the eternal God and make your appeal to the future. Are there any parents whose children have wandered far? When they are old, the children will return to the path of faith and obedience. Are there any in whom the immortal hope burns low? The smoking flax He will not quench, but will fan the flame into victory. Look up to-day; be comforted once more. Work henceforth in hope. Live like a prince. Scatter sunshine. Let your atmosphere be happiness. If troubles come, let them be the dark background that shall throw your hope and faith into bolder relief. God hath set His heart upon you to deliver you. Tho your hand faint, and the tool fall, the eternal God fainteth not, neither is weary. He will bring thy judgment unto victory, immortalize thy good deeds, and crown thy career with everlasting renown.

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