I am the LORD, and there is no other; there is no God but Me. I will equip you for battle, though you have not known Me,
I. UNCONSCIOUS HELP. "I girded thee." We have not seen a face nor even heard a voice, but an invisible arm has been around us. "It is of the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed." Our folly was sufficient to ruin us. Our obstinacy was wild and wilful. We cannot take credit to ourselves for deliverances from moral danger. We can look back and see that often there was but a step betwixt us and moral death. "Great deliverances," as the prophet says, hath God wrought,
II. HUMAN IGNORANCE. "Though thou hast not known me." The life has been destitute of fellowship with God and likeness to God. We have not retained the knowledge of God. There has been all through our life:
1. God's care without our cognizance.
2. God's love without our gratitude.
3. God's wisdom without our skill.
Verily the apostle was right: "By the grace of God I am what I am." - W.M.S.
I. GOD'S PLAN, AS IT AFFECTS SOCIETY.
I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me.
(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
1. It is comprehensive, sweeping from age to age, threading millenniums, building its structure from the dust of earth's earliest age to the emergence of the new heavens and earth at the close of time. But it is minute and particular.
2. He works through individuals. The story of man is for the most part told in the biographies of men. It is through human instruments that God executes His beneficent purposes, His righteous judgments. Through Columbus, He draws aside the veil from the coast-line of America. Through a Watt and a Stephenson, He endows men with the co-operation of steam; through a Galvani and an Edison, with the ministry of electricity. Through a De Lesseps, He unites the waters of the eastern and western seas, and brings the Orient and Occident together. Through a Napoleon He shatters the temporal power of the Pope; and by a Wilberforce strikes the fetters from the slave. Men do not know the purpose of God in what they are doing.
3. God's use of men does not interfere with their free action. This is clearly taught in more than one significant passage in Scripture — Joseph's brethren. Herod, Pilate, and the religious leaders of the Jews, were swept before a cyclone of passion and jealousy; and it was with wicked hands that they crucified and slew the Lord of glory: but they were accomplishing the determinate counsel of God.
II. GOD'S PLAN, AS IT AFFECTS INDIVIDUALS. We are all conscious of an element in life that we cannot account for. Other men have started life under better auspices, and with larger advantages than we, but somehow they have dropped behind in the race, and are nowhere to be seen. Our health has never been robust, but we have had more working days in our lives than those who were the athletes of our school. We have been in perpetual peril, travelling incessantly, and never involved in a single accident; whilst others were shattered in their first journey from their doorstep. Why have we escaped, where so many have fallen? Why have we climbed to positions of usefulness and influence, which so many more capable ones have missed? Why has our reputation been maintained, when better men than ourselves have lest their footing and fallen beyond recovery? There is not one of us who cannot see points in the past where we had almost gone, and our footsteps had well-nigh slipped: precipices along the brink of which we went at nightfall, horrified in the morning to see how near our footprints had been to the edge. Repeatedly we have been within a hair-breadth of taking some fatal step. How strangely we were plucked out of that companionship! How marvellonsly we were saved from that marriage, from that investment, from embarking in that ship, travelling by that train, taking shares in that company! It is God who has girded us, though we did not know Him.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
(H. Bushnell, D. D.)
1. The Holy Scriptures not only show us explicitly that God has a definite purpose in the lives of men already great, but they show us how frequently, in the conditions of obscurity and depression, preparations of counsel are going on, by which the commonest offices are to become the necessary first chapter of a great and powerful history. David among the sheep; Elisha following after the plough; Nehemiah bearing the cup; Hannah, who can say nothing less common than that she is the wife of Elkanah and a woman of a sorrowful spirit, — who, that looks on these humble people, at their humble post of service, and discovers, at last, how dear a purpose God was cherishing in them, can be justified in thinking that God has no particular plan for him, because he is not signalised by any kind of distinction?
2. Besides, what do the Scriptures show us, but that God has a particular care for every man, a personal interest in him, and a sympathy with him and his trials, watching for the uses of his one talent as attentively and kindly, and approving him as heartily, in the right employment of it, as if He had given him ten; and what is the giving out of the talents itself, but an exhibition of the fact that God has a definite purpose, charge, and work for every man?
3. They also make it the privilege of every man to live in the secret guidance of God; which is plainly nugatory, unless there is some chosen work, or sphere, into which he may be guided.
4. God also professes in His Word to have purposes prearranged for all events; to govern by a plan which is from eternity even, and which, in some proper sense, comprehends everything. And what is this but another way of conceiving that God has a definite place and plan adjusted for every human being?
5. Turning now from the Scriptures to the works of God, how constantly are we met here by the fact, everywhere visible, that ends and uses are the regulative reasons of all existing things?
6. But there is a single but very important and even fearful qualification. Things all serve their uses, and never break out of their place. They have no power to do it. Not so with us. We are able, as free beings, to refuse the place and the duties God appoints; which, if we do, then we sink into something lower and less worthy of us. That highest and best condition for which God designed us is no more possible. And yet, as that was the best thing possible for us in the reach of God's original counsel, so there is a place designed for us now, which is the next best possible. God calls us now to the best thing left, and will do so till all good possibility is narrowed down and spent. And then, when He cannot use us any more for our own good, He will use us for the good of others — an example of the misery and horrible desperation to which any soul must come, when all the good ends, and all the holy callings of God's friendly and fatherly purpose are exhausted. Or it may be now that, remitting all other plans and purposes in our behalf, He will henceforth use us, wholly against our will, to be the demonstration of His justice and avenging power before the eyes of mankind; saying over us, as He did over Pharaoh in the day of His judgments, "Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth."
(H. Bushnell, D. D.)
1. Observe some negatives that are important, and must be avoided.(1) You will never come into God's plan if you study singularity; for if God has a design or plan for every man's life, then it is exactly appropriate to his nature; and, as every man's nature is singular and peculiar to himself, — as peculiar as his face or look,-then it follows that God will lead every man into a singular, and peculiar life, without any study of singularity on his part.(2) As little will he seek to copy the life of another. No man is ever called to be another.(3) In this view, also, you are never to complain of your birth, your training, your employments, your hardships; never to fancy that you could be something if only you had a different lot and sphere assigned you. God understands His own plan, and He knows what you want, a great deal better than you do.(4) Another mistake is that, while you surrender and renounce all thought of making up a plan, or choosing out a plan, for yourself, as one that you set by your own will, you also give up the hope or expectation that God will set you in any scheme of life, where the whole course of it will be known, or set down beforehand. If you go to Him to be guided, He will guide you; but He will not comfort your distrust, or half-trust of Him, by showing you the chart of all His purposes concerning you. He will only show you into a way where, if you go cheerfully and trustfully forward, He will show you on still further.
2. But we must not stop in negatives. How, then, or by what more positive directions can a man, who really desires to do it, come into the plan God lays for him, so as to live it and rationally believe that he does?(1) Consider the character of God, and you will draw a large deduction from that; for all that God designs for you will be in harmony with His character. He is a being infinitely good, just, true. Therefore, you are to know that He cannot really seek anything contrary to this in you.(2) Consider your relation to Him as a creature. All created wills have their natural centre and rest in God's will.(3) You have a conscience, which is given to be an interpreter of His will, and thus of your duty, and, in both, of what you are to become.(4) God's law and His written Word are guides to present duty, which, if faithfully accepted, will help to set you in accordance with the mind of God and the plan He has laid for you. "I am a stranger in the earth," said one; "hide not Thy commandments from me"; knowing that God's commandments would give him a clue to the true meaning and business of his life.(5) Be an observer of providence. Study your trials, your talents, the world's wants, and stand ready to serve God now, in whatever He brings to your hand.(6) Consult your friends, and especially those who are most in the teaching of God.(7) Go to God Himself, and ask for the calling of God; for, as certainly as He has a plan for you, He will somehow guide you into it. This is the proper work of His Spirit. Young man, or woman! this is the day of hope to you. All your best opportunities are still before you. And what shall I say to the older man, who is further on in his course and is still without God in the world? The best end, the next best, and the next are gone, and nothing but the dregs of opportunity are left. And still Christ calls even you. There is a place still left for you; not the best and brightest, but a humble and good one.
(H. Bushnell, D. D.)
(T. G. Selby.)
(T. G. Selby.)
(T. G. Selby.)
(T. G. Selby, D. D.)I. Is it not A REASONABLE AND A CONSISTENT THOUGHT, that the providential equipment, vocation, and sovereignty in a man's life should transcend his knowledge of God and God's purpose?
1. God may sometimes use a man who seems half a heathen, to remind His people that His providential sovereignty is larger than all finite thought. In the early days of the British rule in India, the old Mogul at Delhi, and the mediatised native sovereigns in other cities, were allowed independent rights within their own palace precincts. The British rule did not intrude there. Now and again half-clad slave girls and palace dependents, in terror for their lives, and wretches waled and trembling with recent chastisements, would escape the palace precincts and seek protection under the humane governments that had been planted in the surrounding cities. These spacious palaces were like little islands of the old despotisms, cruelties, and oppresssions bristling above the tide of constitutional right and privilege and liberty that was rising far and near. In God's empire there are no spots of organised diabolism of that sort, that are separated from the control, direction, and over-rule of providential law. Alas! it is only too easy to find signs of individual and collective resistance to God's law; but there are no indrawn spheres or reservations, dominated by pagan ignorance, from which His power, sovereignty, and prerogative are shut out. He rules where He is not worshipped, directs where He is not recognised, girds where He is not known.
2. In going beyond the circle of the elect nations to choose an instrument for the fulfilment of His counsels, God seems to remind us that the motive of His providential activity is altogether Divine. He uses the imperfectly taught Gentile, and puts upon him honour that might seem to belong to the Jew, to illustrate the sovereignty of His grace.
3. Partial ignorance of God may be an appointed condition for the test and development of faith. It is not only the virtuous heathen who is girded by an unrecognised Hand and made the agent in providential plans and purposes he cannot fathom. The distinction between Isaiah and Cyrus, between Cyrus and ourselves, is one of degree. On its intellectual side, at least, our religious knowledge is still imperfect, fragmentary, hesitating. God suffers it to be so, possibly that we may be the better disciplined in that humility which is the basis of faith. I have sometimes thought that so long as heathen darkness does not involve a gross and demoralising misrepresentation of God, but only a partial privation of knowledge, it offers the occasion for the exercise of a higher faith than that which is possible amidst the breaking twilights of Christian knowledge. The devout and pure-minded pagan, like Cyrus, who trusts his moral instincts without any adequate knowledge of their Divine origin, who with touching fidelity follows an unsyllabled vocation from heavens that have not yet opened themselves in revelation and definite testimony, who accepts an equipment from a Hand that has touched and guided him out of the darkness, is perhaps a more splendid example of faith than the man who manifests the same trust and loyalty and obedience in the midst of clearer intellectual conceptions of God. The puzzle of the long pagan centuries is not so painful and oppressive if we look at it from this standpoint.
II. EXAMPLES OF THIS PROVIDENTIAL GIRDING BY AN UNKNOWN GOD will readily occur to us that seem to conform to the type represented by Cyrus.
1. If we think of the men, the tradition of whose teaching and example is intertwined with all that is highest and best in the life of the nations outside the range of Christendom, we shall see that these men have been girded for their moral conquests and guided to their ascendencies over their fellow-men by the same unrecognised Hand that guided and girded this elect Persian. It is, perhaps, impossible to recall the name of a great and permanently honoured teacher in the past history of India, China, Persia, Egypt, Greece or Rome, whose influence rested upon an immoral doctrine or a contradiction of conscience. There must have been such leaders in the insignificant races that relapsed into cannibalism, scalp-hunting, and animal debasement. But no such names appear in the histories of the great civilised empires.
2. We must not judge the issues of the social and political movements of the present and past times by the measure of Divine knowledge they exhibit. Some of these movements, however little they seem to recognise God, are empowered by His mysterious hand, and minister to the accomplishment of His secret purpose. The dark despotisms enthroned over the ancient world annealed men into stable communities. And there are doubtless providential issues of the highest value in the democratic movements that are agitating Europe to-day, however reluctant those movements may be to recognise God.
3. Does not the fact that the theology of the modern scientist is sometimes very dim and defective tempt us to deny the Divine authority of his vocation and to discredit the providential issue in the special work he is called to do? Some of the schools of research and experiment and invention to which we are most deeply indebted are indifferent and even hostile to the claims of religion. And yet God calls the man of science to his work, vouchsafes the needful equipment for success, and guides all the far-off issues to which that work may tend.
4. And all this is true for ourselves. The knowledge possessed by those of us who know God best is, after all, infinitesimal in amount and degree. It is nothing in comparison with what remains to be known. It seems we can scarcely be the true servants of God and doing Divine work unless we have broader and brighter and more penetrating views of God's nature. We are crushed by the inevitable secularisms of our life, and cannot believe that we are breathing the sacred atmosphere that encircles God's priests and kings. It seems, at times, as though God, and providence, and supernatural vocation, and the high sanctions under which we seek to bring ourselves, were dreams. We are haunted by the thought that there is some subtle curse of ineradicable atheism cleaving to our inmost souls. In spite of the limit in our vision and the miserable failure in the spirit of our service, He is guiding us to beneficent conquests, and strengthening us to achieve holy emancipations, and fitting us for eternal honours. He was making us ready for service of some sort, when we knew far less about Him than we know to-day. And it is so still. And even after God seems to have been revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ, how often do we find God becoming a hidden and an unknown God to us in His providential relations! At times it may seem rather as though some malignant demon were presiding over our lives, or at least sharing the sovereignty. But beyond the widest bound of our faith and knowledge there is providential guiding and girding and victory. And these words seem to suggest solemn comfort to us in view of the final conflict to which we shall all one day be brought. We shall enter the world to come as conquerors girded for our triumph by an unseen Hand. God's elect servants sometimes die in circumstances that make thoughts of God impossible. Perhaps they are snatched away by unexpected accident. They leave life in a struggle that petrifies thought and feeling. In that solemn hour of darkness and humiliation and mental inaptitude, God, unknown and unrecognised, girds for the victory still. Let us not forget that, though the girding is often in darkness, the motive of this girding in shadows is the inbringing of the perfect life.
(T. G. Selby.)
(T. G. Selby.)
(T. G. Selby.)Him: — "Man cannot exclude Me from his little universe; even though he deny My existence and denounce My claim — I am still there. I water the garden of the atheist, and bring his flowers to summer bloom and his fruits to autumnal glory. Men deny Me, curse Me, flee from Me — I am still round about them, and their life is more precious to Me than is their blasphemy detestable, and until the very last I will work for them and with them, and if they go to perdition it shall be through the very centre of, My heart's tenderest grace." "I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me."
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. IT SPRINGS FROM THE ALMIGHTY POWER OF GOD. God is not merely a passive object of worship. He exerts active influence. He did not only work in the past in creating the world. He is a living, active God now. Jesus said, "My Father worketh hitherto." Perhaps the poorest definition of God ever framed is that of "A power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness." Still, even this meagre description of Divinity recognises the fact of an active Divine influence. is not limited by our confession of it, nor by our willingness to submit to it. It inspired the eye of the Greek artist and the tongue of the Greek orator as truly as those of a Christian and .
II. IT IS DIRECTED BY THE INFINITE GOODNESS OF GOD. We circumscribe this goodness to a pale of grace and a day of grace; but it overflows our boundaries and breaks out, free as the air and broad as the sunlight. God does not wait to be called. He is the first to awaken His slumbering children. God thinks of the heathen, and gives strength to those who know Him not. Then no doubt if a Chinese Mandarin pronounces a just sentence, or a Hindu Pundit utters a true thought, or an African chief vindicates the rights of an oppressed tribe, the goodness of these heathen men is an outcome of God's goodness to them. Let us take heart: there is more grace in the world than we know of.
III. IT AIMS AT THE EXECUTION OF THE WILL OF GOD. Cyrus is called God's shepherd (Isaiah 44:28). So even Nebuchadnezzar, a man of a very different character, is called by God "My servant" (Jeremiah 43:10).
1. Some serve God when they think to oppose Him. As the gale that seems to be tearing the ship to pieces may be driving her the faster to her haven, so Satan, in Job, aiming at opposition to the right, occasioned the most glorious vindication of it. Persecutors often help the cause they hate.
2. Many, like Cyrus, serve God unconsciously. As the corn ministers to our sustenance unwittingly, and as science reveals the glory of God, even when the naturalists who pursue it are agnostics. Lessons —(1) The unknown influence of God should lead to our knowing God. We have not to search the heavens for the unseen God. He is nigh us. Our own experience and the blessings of our own life should open our eyes to the goodness of God.(2) This influence, once recognised, should lead us to trust God. If God girded Cyrus the heathen, will He not gird Israel His people?(3) This influence should warn us against neglecting the recognition of God. We cannot escape from God. To do so would be our own undoing. But the hand which girds can ungird!(4) This influence should prompt us to greater zeal in mission work. For God claims the heathen by His present influence on them. He has begun the work and will help His servants in it. It is sad that millions should be left in ignorance of the hand that girds them.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
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