Gather yourselves together, yes, gather together, O nation not desired;…
(with chap. 3. vers. Zephaniah 3:11 and Zephaniah 3:12): — The prophet spoke, and in fact it happened that judgment fell; the nations passed, Israel was chastised; it went into captivity. And there did come back that meek, that poor, that afflicted people, despised even of the Samaritans — those feeble Jews. They came back trusting in Jehovah; they laid the foundations of that piteous and miserable new temple. Its very foundations cause contempt; those who remember the old temple could but weep. But this new temple was to be clothed with a glory which the old temple had never known. It was the religion of humanity that Was to come out from that regenerated and purged people — that little band of the meek of the earth. Brethren, we speak of poetical justice, and we mean by that generally when we want to see the lines of ideal actions clear and unblurred. We have to look to our great works of fiction, to some great drama, or poem, or novel, and there, if they are great of their kind, we see the ideal lines of Divine judgment, and of human progress, standing out clear and vivid in that which the imagination of the artist conceives. And the artist must conceive it for us, and teach us through these ideal lines, because, in the most of our ordinary experience, the lines of Divine action, of human experience, are blurred and confused in the mixture and confusion of this common earthly scene. But it is not always so. There are days of the Lord. The days of the Lord are the moments in history when the ideal issues appear, and the Divine hand is plain. Such a moment was the judgment and the restoration of Israel. There have been other such moments in history, like the decay of Spain, like the French Revolution, like the collapse of Napoleon. There are moments in history when God bares His arms and speaks plainly. It might be so again one day upon what is proud and exalting in this English nation of ours. Anyway, God does it. Beyond our sight He will do it, or m our sight from time to time He does it. That is the Divine method. Always, it is through this discipline, whereby God must single out for progress those who will consent to be chastened into meekness. But for to-day let us leave again the scene of political and social history, and trace this method of God again in the individual soul. There again, the method of Divine discipline, the method whereby we, individual after individual, are prepared for effective fruitfulness, is this same method of chastening. One after another, in our pride and our haughtiness, we have to be chastened into that quality which — it is the very paradox of Divine justice — is the one really strong and effective quality in the progress of the human soul, and it is meekness. Disciplined into effective meekness — that is the verdict which might be written upon the history of every single human soul which fulfils in any real measure the purpose of God. Englishmen are proud; we know it. In a certain way we are proud of being proud. Look round about in the world. What are the spectacles, the strange and overpowering spectacles, which we behold of the insolence of human pride? From time to time the record of some millionaire in America or South Africa or England is laid bare to us — some one who confessedly, and before the eyes of men, bids defiance to all the laws of mercy, and simply sets himself to scrape together gold, almost professedly making gold his god, and trampling under foot the laws of mercy and of justice and of consideration. And there are smaller men who never rise into note, or come before the public either in their rise or their catastrophe, who are in their humbler sphere doing the same thing. Or, look at him, that rich young man, that Superbus, who feels that the land is made for him. Look at him as he goes out into life with his preposterous claim for amusement, for luxury, for self-satisfaction, with the recklessness of his selfish lusts, as he does despite to every law that ought to bind men in mercy and consideration and purity, because he must gratify his passion at all costs in that claim for amusement, in that almost riotous estimation of himself; so that, as one looks at him in his arrogance, one wonders why God stands it, and why a very little thunderbolt is not sent about its business to despatch him there in the impotence of his vanity. God does not strike them with thunderbolts; God has other methods. He is the Father of each one. In slow and patient silence God waits; God provides for them His judgment. It waits upon them; it will come at last in this world, so that we can see it; or beyond this world, where it is dark to our vision, God will judge them. But the question is this — When the judgment falls, how will it strike? Surely they will know that God is God, they will know at the last it is the fool that saith in his heart, "There is no God." Yes, they will know that they were fools. But the question is, in what disposition of mind? Will it be to them mere punish-meat, mere retribution, or will it be to them purging, healing, disciplining chastise. meat? That is the question. No question so far as the intention of God is concerned; in God's intention these judgments are for chastisement, for discipline, for recovery. But there is a soul that has worked itself into a stubbornness which will not bend, and perforce can only be broken. That is the question. Pharaoh is in the old story raised up in the scene of human history, to stand as the type of the soul that must be broken because it will not bend. But, on the other hand, our Bible, Old and New Testament, is full of the gracious pictures of those whom the chastisement of God has slowly, and at last, disciplined into that effective meekness which is the one charm, the beauty of the children of God. Moses, brought up in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and in the splendid opportunities of that court — we read of him how, in the pride of strong manhood, he went out to be the deliverer of his people. He met with nothing but rebuffs. "Who made thee a leader and deliverer?" and he fled alarmed and baffled, and, in the back side of the desert, through the long discipline of silence, away from all political interests, Moses learned the lesson of meekness, and he goes back, that old call of God not withdrawn, now effective because meek. Moses was very meek. "O Lord, I am not eloquent, neither now nor since. Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant." Pass to the New Testament. Think of those words to Peter, "When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself; when thou shalt be old, others shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not." It is the record of experience of every one. Limitations crowd in upon us. There are multitudes of things which in our hateful arrogance we thought we would do. We find we cannot do them. Limitations close in upon us — hindrances, disappointments, sufferings, pain. How are we to bear it all? Are we to become all the more querulous, resentful, irritating, or is each stroke of the Divine discipline to be the learning to us all a lesson, so that all the more, stroke after stroke, the soul learning its limitations, is forced into the line of Divine correspondence, and made meek is made effective? So it was with the proud and the impulsive Peter, so that that late writing of his, that epistle of his, is full, as hardly any other book of the New Testament is full, of the rich power of the spirit of meekness. Or Saul the Pharisee, yielding at last with one blow to the Divine claim, and becoming, for all that Jewish pride of his, once and for ever the slave of the meek Jesus. These are the meek of the earth; because they are meek, therefore, in the kingdom of God, the effective — the men who do fruitful things, the men whose work lasts because they are the followers of Him who was meek and lowly in heart. Jesus had no pride to be overcome. What are you expecting of this human life of yours? It matters so much what we expect. Pleasure, success? Ah, yes! There is in this human heart of ours an inextinguishable thirst for happiness. And it is there, God-given. Do not listen to those altruistic philosophers of our modern time who would tell us that to have care for ourselves is simple and radical selfishness. Nay, the Bible throughout is true to what I call the ineradicable instinct of the human heart. God made us, and because He made us we are made for happiness, we are made to realise ourselves. But the question is, How? Look for happiness, make it your aim, hunt for pleasure, and you are baffled. It is by the law of indirectness that we are to realise happiness. He that sayeth his life, seeketh his own life, he shall lose it; he that loseth it, he shall save it. That is the law. Here in this world we are set to gain character. So we are to expect discipline. It is one of the simple laws of human life, character develops by discipline, develops through pain. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." Therefore this is the point, a point of supreme importance when you come to think about your life. Am I, I as I am to-day, I being the sort of man I am, am I yielding myself so that God by disciplining me can make me meek and, in meekness, effective? That very thing which I have always said is the one thing I could not stand, when it comes, as it probably does come, if I set myself too much to rebel against it — when it comes, how do I take it? Have I that measure of spiritual insight and thoughtfulness which enables me to say, "This is just that moulding, graving tool which is so necessary to rub off that sharp angle, to blot out that dark stain, to do this or that or the other necessary work in my character? " Do I regard it as the trenchant treatment of the surgeon who is to again make me sound? Humiliation is the way to humility. Learn the lesson which the humiliation contains for us, to become the wiser man, the more docile while not the less resolute. That is the discipline of God — point by point, step by step, biting after biting of the tool, smiting after smiting of the hammer. So it is, moulding after moulding of the Divine hand, we are to be brought into shape. Now, I say it, there is not a day of our life in which it does not make a real vital difference whether we have had this expectation in our will, our intelligence, our heart, so that when the blow, little or great, comes, the disappointment, be it never so trivial, it may teach us the lesson. The little humiliation may come on its way and speed on as a messenger which has fulfilled its obligation and done its duty. For it has taught us something, and we go to bed something wiser men and women than we got up in the morning. There is hardly a department of life in which there are not great and vital changes which are needed. Yes, but are we fit to do them? That is the question. Perhaps we have willingness, but have we what is a part of meekness — patience? Do we arrive with our enthusiasm, our ideal enthusiasm, and then shrink altogether from the task of drudgery? Because you know there are only two qualities by which anything finally effective can be done — enthusiasm and drudgery, and they are no good apart. Or, is it vanity? Yes, I offered myself to work on that particular committee, I offered myself to do that good job which surely was for the bettering of mankind. But then I thought that I was to be secretary, or I was to be put into the chair, and somebody else who surely had no better claim than I was put there. Or, is it the refusal of pain? There it is, the pain, the ugliness, the dirt, and squalor, and to do anything effective I must be in contact with the pain and the dirt and the ugliness and the squalor. I must not be hiding myself from my own flesh. But I shrink from it, I think I cannot bear it, and the task is undone, and the Kingdom of God makes not the progress it might make because I am not with the meek and the patient, with the sorrowful and the suffering. Or, is it prayerlessness? I have my schemes, my plans, but I do not keep myself in correspondence with God. It is my own pride that guides me, my own ideas, my own schemes. The question is, whether in the larger or less sphere we will mould, mould to the Divine hand, or whether we will be that obstinate stuff, that moral character that will not mould, and which becomes the vessel of wrath, the vessel which the Divine Potter, after patient trying, finds unmalleable, and at the last must cast aside as of a stuff that will not make under the Divine hand. That is it, the Divine Potter would mould you. And is there anything to the spiritual imagination so beautiful, anything so lovely to think about, as the discipline of the soul, conscious of the hand of God upon it, and, for all its occasional wilfulness and sins and faults, ever coming back to be moulded according to the plan and will of the Divine Potter, according to the love of our Father, Who chastens us into effective meekness that at the last we may share in the glory of His kingdom as things that have realised their end in that fruitfulness which belongs to the meek? That is the consciousness which every Christian soul is sooner or later meant to have.
Parallel VersesKJV: Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired;