All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full; to the place from which the streams come, there again they flow.
I. THE COMPLAINT OF THE UNSATISFIED. "All things are full of weariness" (Revised Version).
1. There are many obvious sources of satisfaction. Life has many pleasures, and many happy activities, and much coveted treasure. Human affection, congenial employment, the pursuit of knowledge, "the joys of contest," the excitements of the field of sport, the attainment of ambition, etc.
2. All of them together fail to satisfy the heart. The eye is act satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing, nor the tongue with tasting, nor the hand with handling, nor the mind with investigating and discovering. All the streams of temporal and worldly pleasure run into the sea of the human soul, but they do not fill it. The heart, on whatsoever it feeds, is still a-hungered, is still athirst. It may seem surprising that when so much that was craved has been possessed and enjoyed, that when so many things have ministered to the mind, there should still be heart-ache, unrest, spiritual disquietude, the painful question - Who will show us any good? Is life worth having? The profundity, the commonness and constancy of this complaint, is a very baffling and perplexing problem. We surely ought to be satisfied, but we are not. The unillumined mind cannot explain it, the uninspired tongue "cannot utter it." What is the solution?
II. ITS EXPLANATION. Its solution is not far to seek; it is found in the truth so finely uttered by Augustine, "O God, thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart findeth no rest until it resteth in thee." The human spirit, created in God's image, constituted to possess his own spiritual likeness, formed for truth and righteousness, intended to spend its noble and ever-unfolding powers in the high service of the Divine, - is it likely that such a one as this, that can be so much, that can know so much, that can love the best and highest, that can aspire to the loftiest and purest well-being, can be satisfied with the love that is human, with the knowledge that is earthly, with the treasure that is material and transient? The marvel is, and the pity is, that man, with such powers within him and with such a destiny before him, can sometimes sink so low as to be filled and satisfied with the husks of earth, unfilled with the bread of heaven.
III. ITS REMEDY. To us, to whom Jesus Christ has spoken, there is a plain and open way of escape from this profound disquietude. We hear the Master say, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you... and ye shall find rest unto your souls."
(1) In the reconciliation to God, our Divine Father, which we have in Jesus Christ;
(2) in the happy love of our souls to that Divine Friend and Savior;
(3) in the blessed service of our rightful, faithful, considerate Lord;
(4) in the not unavailing service we render to those whom he loved and for whom he died;
(5) in the glorious hope of immortal life beyond the grave, we do "find rest unto our souls." - C.
All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full.
I. THE YEAR HAS REACHED ITS PRIME THROUGH STAGES DIFFERING LITTLE FROM THOSE OF FORMER YEARS. Every now and then some meteorologist, careful day by day to register the markings of his rain-gauges, his thermometers, and such other apparatus as may enable him to compare the weather of to-day with that of yesterday, comes out of his observatory to tell us of extreme heat or cold, of excursiverains or drought, or of some other phenomena which mark the year as exceptional since — well, since some other year, not so very long ago, after all, when he or his predecessors had a like tale to tell, which even then was not new, but old as the hills. Now, how true all this is in relation to human life. Some historians never tire as they tell us of the changes wrought from one age to another. They point out, and very truly, how the age of Victoria differs from that of Elizabeth; and in eloquent periods they describe how the face of society has changed, say, from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth. But they forget that the face of society may have changed a very great deal, while the heart of it may have changed but slightly. Shakespeare's master hand has left us the widest range of human character ever sketched by one pen; and that we so quickly recognize the truthfulness of every picture in that vast gallery of portraits arises from the fact that, being true to nature then, they are true to nature now.
II. BUT THOUGH THE YEAR HAS REACHED ITS PRIME, IT HAS NOT ATTAINED IT'S MATURITY. It is not the midsummer, but the autumn that brings us the season of harvest. It is not when the days are longest, nor when the earth is covered with the brightest flowers, nor when the trees of the forest wear their richest green, that men thrust in the sickle and reap. It is rather when the prime, and, in some sense, the beauty of the year is past. Nor, happily, does human life attain maturity at its meridian. There is a sense, indeed, in which the earlier manhood possesses a freshness and a vigour in which the later years of life must necessarily be wanting, and those who have thrown away the glorious opportunities of youth have lost what can never be recalled. But they who have lived half the allotted span of life, have, humanly speaking, their richest and noblest days still before them. The promises of youth have now to be followed by the ripe performances of manhood. Each season has its appointed work.
III. THE TURN OF THE YEAR IS INDICATED BY APPEARANCES MOST FITTING TO THE TIME. Year by year, in spite of human forebodings, the summer comes, and "the earth is satisfied with the fruit of God's works." With Him, stability is not dependent upon uniformity; nor is diversity of operation inimical to the unity of His plans. Hence it comes to pass that while the seasons of succeeding years afford us the never-ending variety which ministers to our pleasure at the same time that it excites our admiration, our delight and wonder are not less excited by the unfailing unity which marks all the operations of the Divine hand. So, too, in the still more complex workings of human life. Take, for example, that period of which we have already spoken as the "turn of life," the age when the last tie that bound us to the days of youth has been snapped, and when, standing on the broad plateau of middle age, we can look forward only to such changes as shall prepare the way slowly but surely for the end. It is at this time we begin to realize most clearly how distinct are the successive generations of mankind. In earlier life there were about us many upon whom, in various ways, we were more or less dependent. But one by one they have gone; and so far at least as the past is concerned, we begin to stand alone. In later life, too, those about us will be found to belong to another generation — a generation younger than we, and destined to take our place when we have passed away. Some of us need, perhaps, to learn more thoroughly how little the world is dependent for its life upon us who dwell in it but for a little time. Creatures of a day, we are so apt to live as if assured of an eternal stay. It is thus we fail to regard the fitness of things, and forget that advancing age demands thoughts and words and deeds more becoming to it than would be those of our earlier life.
IV. THE TURN OF THE YEAR REMINDS US HOW SLOW RIPENING IS SUCCEEDED BY A SWIFT HARVEST. For months the grain has been growing slowly, and though the midsummer is past, it will yet be long before the fields will be generally "white unto the harvest." "Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it until he receive the early and the latter rain." Not less varied and protracted is the discipline by which our Father seeks to produce in us the fruits of His heavenly husbandry. The restraints of childhood, the education of youth, and the cares of manhood are but so many processes by which He would lead us onward towards that perfection which is His ultimate object concerning every one. As the steady warmth of July days will prepare for the harvest the corn-blades produced by the months just past, so may the discipline of a life that has outgrown the inexperience of youth be expected to bring into fuller and more perfect maturity those graces of which but the germs have yet been formed. Anyhow, let us never suppose that, having left behind us the days of youth which were so fittingly emblemed by the changeful shine and shower of the early summer, we have lost our best opportunities for growth. It may be hard to form new habits now; but those we have formed may become more consolidated, and so our after lives, by stability of growth, may go somewhat to compensate for the shortcomings and waywardness of youth.
V. THE TURN OF THE YEAR REMINDS US THAT NATURE PROVIDES FOR THE FRUITFULNESS OF EVEN SHORT-LIVED GROWTHS. Very early in the springtime there were buds and blossoms that were none the less beautiful because their stay with us was short. The snowdrop never drank in the glory of the summer sunshine; yet the world would not have been complete without it. There are other plants that have a lesson for us beside the corn that ripens slowly, and, so to speak, centres upon itself the labours of the year. There is but one standard by which we may infallibly judge of the products of the earth, a standard applicable alike to the plant that blossoms and fades in one summer day and to the aloe blooming but once in its century, and to the oak tree that outlives many generations of men. That standard is the testing question Is its Maker's purpose served? To live to Him and grow like Him — here is the great end of our being, by the serving or failing which we shall be approved or stand condemned.
(J. A. Campbell, M. A.)
(E. S. Hicks, M. A.)
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