Sermons by Alexander Maclaren has 19 sermons by Alexander Maclaren. Some of his titles are A confession and warning, a pattern of Prayer, Absent present Christ, Anxious Care, Christ “must” Die, God’s peacemakers, Grace-mercy-peace, gradual healing of the Blind man, growth, guiding pillar, hope perfectly, Jehovah Jireh, love and fear, measure of the immeasurable power, shepherd, take up the challenge, water of life, Zion’s joy and God’s joy.


by Alexander Maclaren


This work has 19 sermons by Alexander Maclaren. Some of his titles are A confession and warning, a pattern of Prayer, Absent present Christ, Anxious Care, Christ “must” Die, God’s peacemakers, Grace-mercy-peace, gradual healing of the Blind man, growth, guiding pillar, hope perfectly, Jehovah Jireh, love and fear, measure of the immeasurable power, shepherd, take up the challange, water of life, Zion’s joy and God’s

Table of Contents

A Confession and a Warning
A Pattern of Prayer
Absent Present Christ, the
Anxious Care
Christ “Must” Die
Cross the Proof, the Proof
God’s Peacemakers
Grace, Mercy, and Peace
Gradual Healing Of The Blind Man, the
Guiding Pillar, the
Hope Perfectly
Jehovah Jireh
Love And Fear
Measure Of Immeasurable Power, the
Shepherd – The Stone Of Israel, the
Take Up the Challenge
Water of Life
Zion’s Joy and God’s

A Confession and a Warning

THE FIRST WORDS OF these wonderful discourses were, “Let not your heart be troubled.” They struck the key-note of the whole. The aim of all was to bring peace and confidence unto the disciples’ spirits. And this joyful burst of confession which wells up so spontaneously and irrepressibly from their hearts, shows that the aim has been reached. For a moment sorrow, bewilderment dullness of apprehension, had all passed away, and the foolish questioners and non-receptive listeners had been lifted into a higher region, and possess insight, courage, confidence. The last sublime utterance of our Lord had gathered all the scattered rays into a beam so bright that the blindest could not but see, and the coldest could not but be warmed.

But yet the calm, clear eye of Christ sees something not wholly satisfactory in this outpouring of the disciples’ confidence. He does not reject their imperfect faith, but He warns them, seeing the impending hour of denial which was so terribly to contradict the rapture of that moment. And then, with most pathetic suddenness, He passes from them to Himself; and in a singularly blended utterance lets us get a glimpse into His deep solitude and the companions that shared it.

My words this morning make no attempt at any further connection than is involved in following the course of thought in the words before us.

Note the disciples’ joyful confession.
Their words are permeated throughout with allusions to the previous promises and sayings of our Lord, and the very allusions show how shallow was their understanding of what they thought so plain. He had said to them that, in that coming day which was so near its dawn, He would speak to them no more in proverbs, but show them plainly of the Father; and they answer, with a kind of rapture of astonishment, that the promised day has come already, and that even now He is speaking to them plainly, and without mysterious sayings. Did they understand His words when they thought them so plain? “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world. Again I leave the world and go unto the Father.” That summary statement of the central mysteries of Christianity, which the generations have found to be inexhaustible, and which to so many minds has been absolutely incredible, seemed to the shallow apprehension of these disciples to be sun-clear. If they had understood what He meant, could they have spoken thus, or have left Him so soon?

They begin with what they believed to be a fact His clear utterance. Then follows a conviction which they infer from the fact, and rightly infer, and which has allusion to His previous words. “Now,” say they, “we know that Thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask Thee.” He had said to them, “In that day ye shall ask Me nothing;” and from the fact that He had interpreted their unspoken words, and had anticipated their desire to ask what they durst not ask, they draw, and rightly draw, the conclusion of His Divine Omniscience. They think that therein, in His answer to their question before it is asked, is the fulfilment of that great promise. Was that all that He meant? Certainly not. Did He merely mean to say, “You will ask Me nothing, because I shall know what you want to know, without your asking?” No! But He meant, “Ye shall ask Me nothing, because in that day you will have with you an illuminating Spirit who will solve all your difficulties.” So, again, a shallow interpretation empties the words which they accept of their deepest and most precious meaning.

And then they take yet a further step. First, they begin with a fact; then from that they infer a conviction; and now, upon the basis of the inferred conviction, they rear a faith. “We believe that Thou camest forth from God.” But what they meant by “coming forth from God ” fell far short of the greatness what He meant by the declaration, and they stand, in this final, articulate confession of their faith, but a little in advance of Nicodemus the Rabbi, and behind Peter the Apostle when he said: “Thou art the Son of the living God.”

So their confession is a strangely mingled warp and woof of insight and of ignorance. And they may stand for us both as examples to teach us what we ought to be, and as beacons teaching us what we should not be.

Let me note just one or two lessons drawn from the disciples’ demeanour and confession.

The first remark that I would make is that here we learn what it is that gives life to a creed—Experience. These men had, over and over again, in our Lord’s earlier utterances, heard the declaration that “He came forth from God”; and in a sort of fashion they believed it. But, as so many of our convictions do, it lay dormant and half dead in their souls. But now, rightly or wrongly, experience had brought them into contact, as they thought, with a manifest proof of His Divine Omniscience, and the torpid conviction flashes all up at once into vitality. The smouldering fire of a mere piece of abstract belief was kindled at once into a glow that shed warmth through their whole hearts; and although they had professed to believe long ago that He came from God, now, for the first time, they grasp it as a living reality. Why? Because experience had taught it to them. That is the only thing that teaches us the articles of our creed in a way worth learning them. Every one of us carries professed beliefs, which lie there inoperative, bedridden, in the hospital and dormitory of our souls, until some great necessity or sudden circumstance comes that flings a beam of light upon them, and then they start and waken. We do not know the use of the sword until we are in battle. Until the shipwreck comes, no man puts on the lifebelt in his cabin. Every one of us has large tracts of Christian truth which we think we most surely believe, but which need experience to quicken them, and need us to grow up into the possession of them. Of all our teachers who turn beliefs assented to into beliefs really believed none is so mighty as sorrow; for that makes a man lay a firm hold on the deep things of God’s Word.

Then another lesson that I draw from this glad confession is—the bold avowal that always accompanies certitude. These men’s stammering tongues are loosed They have a fact to base themselves upon. They have a piece of assured knowledge inferred from the fact. They have a faith built upon the certitude of what they know. Having this, out it all comes in a gush. No man that believes with all his heart can help speaking. You silent Christians are so, because you do not more than half grasp the truth that you say you hold. “Thy word, when shut up in my bones, was like a fire”; and it ate its way through all the dead matter that enclosed it, until at last it flamed out heaven high. Can you say, “We know and we believe,” with unfaltering confidence? Not “we argue;” not “we humbly venture to think that on the whole;” not “we are inclined rather to believe;” but “we know that Thou knowest all things and that Thou hast come from God.” Seek for that blessed certitude of knowledge, based upon the facts of individual experience, which makes the tongue of the dumb sing, and changes all the deadness of an outward profession of Christianity into a living, rejoicing power.

Then, further, I draw this lesson. Take care of indolently supposing that you understand the depths of God’s truth.

These apostles fancied that they had grasped the whole meaning of the Master’s words, and were glad in them. They fed on them, and got something out of them; but how far they were from the true perception of their meaning! This generation abhors mystery, and demands that the deepest truths of the highest subject, which is religion, shall be so broken down into mincemeat that the “man in the street” can understand them in the intervals of reading the newspaper. There are only too many of us who are disposed to grasp at the most superficial interpretation of Christian truth, and lazily to rest ourselves in that. A creed which has no depth in it is like a picture which has no distance. It is flat and unnatural, and self-condemned by the very fact. It is better that we should feel that the smallest word that comes from God is like some little leaf of a water plant on the surface of a pond; if you lift that you draw a whole trail after it, and nobody knows how far off and how deep down are the roots. It is better that we should feel how Infinity and Eternity press in upon us on all sides, and should take as ours the temper that recognizes that till the end we are but learners, seeing “in a glass, in a riddle,” and therefore patiently waiting for light and strenuously striving to stretch our souls to the width of the infinite truth of God.

So, then, look, in the second place, at the sad questions and forebodings of the Master.
“Do you now believe?” That does not cast doubt on the reality of their faith so much as on its permanence and power. “Behold the hour cometh that you shall be scattered”—as He had told them a little while before in the upper room, like a flock when the shepherd is stricken down—”Every man to his own.” He does not reject their imperfect homage, though He discerns so clearly its imperfection and its transience, but sadly warns them to beware of the fleeting nature of their present emotion; and would seek to prepare them, by the knowledge, for the terrible storm that is going to break upon them.

So let us learn two or three simple lessons. One is that the dear Lord accepts imperfect surrender, ignorant faith and love, of which He knows that it will soon turn to denial. Oh! if He did not, what would become of us all? We reject half hearts; we will not have a friendship on which we cannot rely. The sweetness of vows is all sucked out of them to our apprehension, if we have reason to believe that they will be falsified in an hour. But the patient Master was willing to put up with what you and I will not put up with; and to accept what we reject; and be pleased that they gave Him even that. His “charity suffereth long, and is kind.” Let us not be afraid to bring even imperfect consecration to His merciful feet.

Then another lesson is the need for Christian men sedulously to search and make sure that their inward life corresponds with their words and professions. I wonder how many thousands of people will stand up this day and say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ His only Son,” whose words would stick in their throats if that question of the Master’s was put to them, “Do you now believe?” And I wonder how many of us are the fools of our own verbal acknowledgements of Christ. Self-examination is not altogether a wholesome exercise, and it may easily be carried too far, to the destruction of the spontaneity and the gladness of the Christian life. A man may set his pulse going irregularly by simply concentrating his attention upon it, and there may be self-examination of the wrong sort, which does harm rather than good. But, on the other hand, we all need to verify our position, lest our outward life should fatally slip away from correspondence with our inward. Our words and acts of Christian profession and service are like bank notes. What will be the end if there is a whole ream of such going up and down the world, and no balance of bullion in the cellars to meet them? Nothing but bankruptcy. Do you see to it that your reserve of gold, deep down in your hearts, always leaves a margin beyond the notes in circulation issued by you. And in the midst of your professions hear the Master saying, “Do you now believe?”

Another lesson that I draw is, trust no emotions, no religious experiences, but only Him to whom they turn.

These men were perfectly sincere, and there was a glow of gladness in their hearts, and a real though imperfect faith when they spoke. In an hour’s time where were they?

We often deal far too hard measure to these poor disciples, in our estimate of their conduct at that critical moment. We talk about them as cowards. Well, they were better and they were worse than cowards; for their courage failed second, but their faith had failed first. The Cross made them cowards because it destroyed their confidence in Jesus Christ.

“We trusted.” Ah! what a world of sorrow there is in those two final letters of that word. “We trusted that it had been He who should have redeemed Israel.” But they do not trust it any more, and so why should they put themselves in peril for One on whom their faith can no longer build?

Would we have been any better if we had been there? Suppose you had stood afar off and seen Jesus die on the cross, would your faith have lived? Do we not know what it is to be a great deal more exuberant in our professions of faith—and real faith it is, no doubt—in some quiet hour when we are with Him by ourselves, than when swords are flashing and we are in the presence of His antagonists? Do we not know what it is to grasp conviction at one moment, and the next to find it gone like a handful of mist from our clutch? Is our Christian life always lived upon one high uniform level? Have we no experience of hours of exhaustion coming after deep religious emotion? “Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.” There will not be many stones flung if that law be applied. Let us all, recognizing our own weakness, trust to nothing, either in our convictions or our emotions, but only to Him, and cry, “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.”

Lastly, note the lonely Christ and His companion.
“You shall leave me alone.” There is sadness, though it be calm, in that clause. And then, I suppose, there was a moment’s pause before the quiet voice began again. “And yet I am not alone, for the Father is with Me.” There are two currents there, both calm; but the one bright and the other dark.

Jesus was the loneliest man that ever lived. All other forms of human solitude were concentrated in His. He knew the pain of unappreciated aims, unaccepted love, unbelieved teachings, a heart thrown back upon itself No man understood Him, no man knew Him, no man deeply and thoroughly loved Him or sympathized with Him, and He dwelt apart. He felt the pain of solitude more sharply than sinful men do. Perfect purity is keenly susceptible; a heart fully charged with love is wounded sore when the love is thrown back, and all the more sorely the more unselfish it is.

Solitude was no small part of the pain of Christ s passion. Remember the pitiful appeal in Gethsemane, “Wait here and watch with Me.” Remember the threefold vain returns to the sleepers in the hope of finding some sympathy from them. Remember the emphasis with which, more than once in His life, He foretold the loneliness of His death. And then let us understand how the bitterness of the cup that He drank had for not the least bitter of its ingredients the sense that He drank it all alone.

Now, dear friends, some of us, no doubt, have to live outwardly solitary lives. We all of us live alone after all fellowship and communion. Physicists tell us that in the most solid bodies the atoms do not touch. Hearts come closer than atoms, but yet, after all, we die alone, and in the depths of our souls we all live alone. So let us be thankful that the Master knows the bitterness of solitude, and has Himself trod that path.

Then we have the calm consciousness of unbroken communion. Jesus Christ’s sense of union with the Father was deep, close, constant, in manner and measure altogether transcending any experience of ours. But still He sets before us a pattern of what we should aim at in these great words. They show the path of comfort for every lonely hears. “I am not alone, for the Father is with Me.” If earth be dark, let us look to Heaven. If the world with its millions seems to have no friend in it for us, let us turn to Him who never leaves us. If dear ones are torn from our grasp, let us grasp God. Solitude is bitter; but, like other bitters, it is a tonic. It is not all loss if the trees which with their leafy beauty shut out the sky from us are felled, and so we see the blue.

Christ’s company is to us what the Father’s fellowship was to Christ. He has borne solitude that He might be the companion of all the lonely. And the same voice which said, “Ye shall leave Me alone,” said also, “I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”

But that communion of Christ with the Father was broken, in that awful hour when He cried: “My God why hast Thou forsaken Me?” We tread there on the verge of mysteries beyond our comprehension; but this we know—that it was our sin and the world’s made His by His willing identifying of Himself with us, which built up that black wall of separation. That hour of utter desolation, forsaken by God, deserted by men, was the hour of the world’s redemption. And Jesus Christ was forsaken by God and deserted by men, that you and I might never be either the one or the other, but might find in His sweet and constant companionship at once the fellowship of a man and the presence of a God.

A Pattern of Prayer

WHEN YE PRAY, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do” —Mat. 6:7. But earnest reiteration is not vain repetition. The second is born of doubt; the first, of faith. The prayer that springs from a deep felt need, and will not cease till that need is supplied, may say the same things over a hundred times and yet they shall not be vain. Rather, as the same blood is repeatedly driven through the veins by the contraction and dilating of the heart, so all true prayer will flow forth over and over again as the spirit opens in yearning and closes itself in calm fruition on the grace it has received and then dilates again in longing and sense of need. So the Master, who warned us against empty repetitions, enjoined upon us the persistent prayer which prevails; and of Himself it is written, “And he left them and went away again the third time, saying the same words” (Mat. 26:44).

This faithful and prevailing reiteration remarkably characterizes the striking series of supplications in the text, Psa. 86:1-5. Substantially they are all one, but the varying phases of the one wish show how familiar it was in all its aspects to his mind, and the accumulation of them is the token of his earnest longing and profound sense of need. Like the great ancestor of his nation, Jacob, he wrestles with God and prevails.

The psalm has quotations from earlier songs-especially David’s. In all probability, then, we have here a devout man in later ages, breathing out his cries to God and using, as we do, consecrated words of earlier Scripture, which he freely reproduces and blends with his own petitions. That is no sign of cold artificial prayer, any more than our petitions are to be so regarded because they often flow naturally in Bible words which are hallowed by many associations. Rather, in using them, we unite our poor lives with those of the saints of old who “cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses” (Psa. 107:13).

The fulness and variety of these petitions deserve careful consideration. My object now is mainly to bring out the richness of meaning which lies in them. Note the invocations, the pe 6tions, and the pleas.

Calling on God

Is any part of our prayers, more formal, mechanical, unmeaning than our repetition of the name of Him to whom we speak? We round off sentences with it. We make beginnings of our prayers with it; we finish them conventionally, and properly, as we think, with it; but if we rightly understand the meaning of that element of the prayer which the old divines in their catechisms called an invocation, we shall understand that it is the foundation of all and that it professes very distinctly a faith which is anything but formal.

For when we call upon the name of God, if we do it correctly and come not under the condemnation of that commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”- what do we mean? What do we do thereby? Three things. We summon up before our thoughts that aspect of the divine character which lies in the name that we utter. We do not pronounce a mere syllable. We utter a significant word that tells us something concerning God, and when we use it, unless the majestic image which it is intended to flash into our mind does indeed sparkle and glow there, it would be better for us to be speaking in an unknown tongue than to have an unfruitful understanding.

Further, we profess that we are exercising an act of faith in the character as revealed in that name. We say in effect: “This aspect of thy divine all-sufficiency, this fragment of shine ineffable perfection, on this I build, and to this I make my appeal.” Further, we bring before God His own character as a motive with Him. We say in effect: “I bring thee myself, and in that mighty name, for the sake of what it declares, I ask that these goods may be bestowed upon me.” So, to call on God is to contemplate His character, to trust in that character which we contemplate, and to believe that He responds to the obligations that are involved therein.

If the foregoing then is the general idea of calling on God, we may now advance to notice how comprehensive and various are the names by which the psalmist calls upon his helper, God, and steadies his own confidence.

In general, this Psalm is remarkable for its frequent use of the divine names. In almost every verse they recur, and their frequency gives us a vivid impression of earnestness, of consciousness of need, and of faith so sore pressed that it could only sustain itself by perpetual renewal of its grasp of God. Five times in these verses of our text does he call on Him, and that by three different names—Jehovah, My God, Lord. These three sacred names have each a distinct meaning when used in prayer; they bring up aspects of the character of God as the basis of our confidence and the ground of our petitions.

He calls on Jehovah. As to that first name, let me remind you in the briefest possible way that it has a double force in Scripture—one derived from its literal, philological meaning, the other derived from its historical use and development. As concerns the former of these two, as we all know, I suppose, the word substantially implies eternal, timeless being, underived self-existence. His name is, “I am that I am,” He who is and was and shall be, the one fontal source of all transitory and creatural life, who “himself unmoved moveth all things.”

And, then, the name derives a force from the history of its origin in and use. It was given as the seal of the covenant, as the ground of the great deliverance from Egyptian bondage. The national existence rested upon it. The vitality of Israel was guaranteed by the eternity of Israel’s God. The bush that burned and was not consumed was the emblem of Him who gives and is none the poorer, who works unwearied, who pours forth life and light through all ages to all creatures and diminishes no whit the fulness of the fountain of life which is with Him. And that undecaying, inexhausted being is the pledge of Israel’s security, the guarantee that “He will not alter the thing that is gone out of His lips.” It was the pledge and the basis of the great deliverance which made Israel a nation-it was a name that expressed God’s purpose to form that people into His people, who should show forth His praise.

When we use it in our prayers, we contemplate and trust in and plead with Him with all these grand thoughts of eternal subsistence: inexhaustible power, unwearied strength, resources that never fail, purposes that never alter, a being that never fails, a nature lifted high above the mutations of time, who dwells in a region above all tenses and moods and is, and was, and is to come in one ineffable and mysterious present. Nor only so, but we likewise say, “and this rock of ages, the basis of all that is, has spoken and entered into the bonds of love and covenant with men, so that they can plead with Him His revealed character and appeal to Him on the ground of His ancient promise and begin all their believing petitions with that cry, ‘O Jehovah, who livest for evermore; O Jehovah, the God of the covenant and the deliverer of thy people!”‘

And, further, note the other name on which the psalmist rests both petitions and pleas, “O thou my God.” I need only remark that, so far as its own proper meaning is concerned, this name contains only what one might call the natural conception of divinity, as distinguished from the former, which is emphatically the name of the God of revelation. The word implies the abundance and fulness of power and so may be found, and often is found, on the lips of heathens. It contemplates the Almightiness rather than the moral attributes or covenant relations of God, as the ground of our hopes.

But then note how this general conception, which in itself does not travel beyond the idea common to all men of an unseen might throned in the heavens, becomes special on the psalmist’s lips by the little word which he prefixes to it, “my God.”

So far as we can judge from the Scriptures, it was David who first ventured to claim by that name the might of the God of Israel for his. “My God” is the token stamped upon David’s psalms. The warmth of personal affection which throbs through them and the firmness of personal confidence are wonderfully expressed by that one word, which appropriates the strength and grace of the covenant for the solace of the single soul, “my”.

Whether this psalm be his, or, as seems most probable, the work of a later lover of God, it is moulded after the type of his psalms. This second invocation of God derives its force from that one word which contemplates the unlimited strength and divine loftiness as completely possessed by and enlisted on the side of the poor soul that cries to Him. His bold and reverent hand stretches out to grasp the whole fulness of God. Thou art the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the whole earth-but thou art my God, mine for my faith, mine for my help.

Then, the final name which the psalmist here employs-“Lord”-is not, as a mere English reader might suppose, the same word as that which is rendered “Lord” in the first verse. That, as we have said, is Jehovah. This means just what our English word lord means; it conveys the general idea of authority and dominion. If you will observe, it is the most frequent name in this psalm. Its force on the psalmist’s lips, and the thoughts which he associated with it, may be gathered from succeeding verses. “Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord, neither are there any works like unto thy works,” where incomparable elevation and supreme dominion are ascribed to Him. So, the psalmist goes on, “All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord, and shall glorify thy name, for thou art great,” where the thoughts of universal sovereignty and exaltation above al! are deduced from that name.

So, then, when we blend all these together, it is as if the psalmist had said, “The ever living, the covenant Jehovah, my God in whom I claim a personal interest, who loves me with an individualizing love, and cares for me with a specific care, the absolute monarch and sovereign of the whole universe is He to whom I come with my supplication. I think of His names, I trust in them, I present them to Him whom they all but partially declare; and I ask Him-for His own name’s sake, because of what He is and bath declared Himself to be-to hear my poor cry, to answer my imperfect faith, to show Himself yet once again that which His name has from of old proclaimed Him to be.”

For us to know and trust that name is the highest exercise of all faith. To utter it believing is the very essence of all true prayer. Not as a formal beginning and as a formal close, but as the only ground of acceptance, do we connect it with our petitions. It should begin our prayers as their foundation; it should end them as their seal.

The bare utterance of a name may be the purest formalism, or it may be the most intense faith. The deepest love often finds that all language fails and that to breathe the beloved name is enough. All tenderness may be put in it- all rapture, all praise. Do you remember the wonderful story of the resurrection morning: “Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She . . . saith unto him Rabboni?” (Joh. 21:16). Her name on His lips was enough for unveiling His heart and revealing His person; His name on her lips was enough to express the confession of her faith, the eager rush of her spirit to Him, the outpouring of her heart, the ecstacy of her gladness that had died with Him and lived now, raised again from the dead.

Did any of you, parents, ever hear your child wake from sleep with some panic and shriek the mother’s name through the darkness? Was not that a more powerful appeal than all words? And, depend upon it, that the soul which cries aloud to God, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” though it have “no language but a cry,” will never call in vain.


We have examined our calling on God, and now we turn to the petitions which these verses give us.

As I have said, they are all substantially the same, and yet they so vary as to suggest how familiar all the aspects of the deliverance that the psalmist desired were to him. We may discern, I think, a progress of thought through them, upon which I touch for a moment. The petitions are: “Bow shine ear,” “hear me,” “preserve me,” “save thy servant,” “be merciful unto me,” “rejoice the soul of thy servant.” There is, first, the cry that God would hear, the basis of all that follows. There is then a three-fold description of the process of deliverance: “preserve,” “save,” “be merciful.” Then there is a longing for that which comes after the help, a consequence of the hearing: “Make the soul of thy servant glad.”

It is very significant, and may teach us some lessons worth learning, that the psalmist, prior to all special supplication, begins with that cry-“Incline shine ear; hear me.” “What!” you say, “does not God know everything?” Oh, yes, no doubt. And do you think that what I may call the cold, passionless, natural knowledge of omniscience is enough for our hearts? Something more goes to the “hearing” of prayer than the necessary omniscience of an infinite divine nature. There is an act of loving will, which is most clearly conveyed by that strong, and yet plain and intelligible, metaphor, “Bow down shine ear,” as an eager listener puts his hand to his ear and bends the lobe of it in the direction of the sound.

He prays, too, in that petition, for what we may call hearing embedied fed in an act of deliverance. With God, to hear is to answer. As soon as we desire, He knows our longing; as soon as He knows our longing, He meets it with His gift. No appreciable time is occupied in the passage of the imploring message from earth to heaven, none in the return message of blessing from heaven to earth. As David says, in the grand psalm which recounts his deliverances, “My cry came before him, even into his ears. Then the earth shook and trembled” (Psa. 18:6-7). He hears when He lovingly regards our prayers; He hears when he mightily answers our cry- and these two are one.

The psalmist further prays for acts of help and deliverance: “Preserve my soul;” “save thy servant;” “be merciful unto me.” These petitions are all substantially the same, but yet there are shades of difference between them which deserve notice. The first of them might be rendered, “guard” or “watch” my soul, and that rendering helps us to distinguish it from the others. Looking at all three, we see that the first prays for protection, the second goes a step further and prays for happy issue of that protection in safety, and the third digs deeper and prays for that mercy which is the sole foundation of both the protection and the safety which it ensures. God’s guardianship achieves our salvation, and His saving guardianship is the fruit of His mercy.

While these three petitions then differ thus, in that they contemplate the process of our deliverance in its deepest root, in its patient, sedulous method, and in its happy end, they also differ in that they embody varying thoughts of the need and weakness of the suppliant. In the first two petitions he regards himself as defenseless and in peril. He needs a great hand to be cast around him, in the hollow of which he may be safe. His soul lies open to the assaults of foes like some little unwalled village in the plains, and he craves the garrison and guardianship of God’s presence, the watchfulness of His unslumbering, omnipresent eye.

In the last petition, he thinks of himself as lowly and unworthy-for “mercy” is love shown to inferiors or to those who deserve something else. The consciousness of helplessness has become a consciousness of sin. Protection is not all that we need; there must be pardon too. That hand which is to be outstretched to guard and save might justly have been outstretched to smite. The sole ground of our confidence that God will be “our guard while troubles last” and will save us with a full salvation at the last is our trust that He will not refuse mercy to those who own their sin and seek forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

It is worth notice, too, that in all this variety of petitions for deliverance there is not a word about the exact manner of it. The way in which God’s mercy is to guard and save is left, with meek patience, to God’s decision. Let us not prescribe to Him the path which He shall take, but commit that to His own loving wisdom. There are two methods of lightening a burden-one is to diminish the load, the other is to strengthen the shoulders that carry it. The latter is often the more blessed-and often the shape in which God answers our prayer. “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee” (2Co. 12:8-9).

Then, in the final petition, the Psalm rises still higher and-not satisfied with imploring that God would hear, guard, and save-asks for gladness, too, “Rejoice the soul of thy servant.”

We may venture to ask for and expect gladness if we are God’s servants. All His creatures have a claim on Him for blessedness according to their capacity, so long as they stand where He has set them. And we who have departed from that obedience which is joy may yet, in penitent abasement, return to Him and ask that He would rejoice the soul of His servant. David’s deepest repentance dared to ask, “Make me to hear joy and gladness that the bones which thou hath broken may rejoice” (Psa. 51:8). Our most troubled utterances of sore need, our sighs and groans, should be accompanied with faith which feels the summer’s sun of joy even in the midwinter of our pain and sees vineyards in the desert.

We should believe in and hope and ask for more than bare deliverance-hard though it may be to think that gladness is any more possible. Blossoms and flowers will come again, even though untimely frosts have burned the young leaves into brown powder. No sorrow is so crushing and hopeless, but that happiness may again visit the heart where trust and love abide. Only let us remember that this psalm seeks for joy where it seeks to help, not from earthly sources but from God.

They who find their deliverance in God are often tempted to find their pleasure somewhere else. It is often easier to pray with tears, “Preserve me and save me,” than with undistracted love to choose Him as our only delight. But the true devout heart turns equally to God for all its needs, and its prayer ever is, “Judge me, O God, and plead my cause . . . O deliver me . . . Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy (Psa. 43:1, 4).


Finally, we have to consider the pleas on which these petitions are based.

The logic of prayer here is so remarkable and beautiful. Every feature of the psalmist’s condition and character, as well as all that he knows of God, becomes on his lips a reason with God for granting his prayer. The same ingenuity of faith-if one might use such a phrase, which that Syro-Phoenician woman showed when she laid hold of the apparent rejection of her plea and gave back to Christ His own parable as a reason for His compliance comes out here.

These pleas part into three. He pleads his necessities. He is “poor and needy,” or rather, perhaps-giving a distinct meaning to each word-“afflicted and poor,” borne down by the pressure of outward calamity and destitute of inward resources. So the one phase of our need is the evils that oppress us from without, and the other is the lack of power from within to bear up against these. Circumstances and character both constitute an appeal to God. Or, more simply, we are weighed upon with sore distress, and we are likewise deprived of all means either outside of us or within us.

Yes, Christian friends, by God’s mercy we are emboldened to take our weakness, our helplessness, as pleas with Him. We know how often the sight of misery touched the heart of Christ and how He was “moved with compassion,” and we believe that the compassion of Christ is our truest image of the pity of our God. The yawning emptiness of our parched hearts, thirsting for God like the cracked ground during a drought, is a plea with Him.

And when we draw near to His throne, we do not need to present our merits but our necessities in order to receive the answer. “Lord save, we perish” is our best cry to awaken to energy the hand that never sleeps. Let no consciousness of evil drive us from Him, but rather let it impel us close to Him. The devil’s lie is that we are too bad to go to Him. The truth is that our necessities-yes and our sins too-may be made pleas with Him. “Pardon mine iniquity; for it is great” (Psa. 25:11).

He pleads his relation to God and his longing for communion with Him. “I am holy.” That sounds strange. There seems to be flavor of self-righteousness about it which startles one. But there is no such thought in the word, and the “holy” of the English version completely obscures the psalmist’s thought. It will be enough here to say that the word of the original simply means “one who is a recipient or object of mercy.” It is passive, not active, in signification. Of course the mercy meant is God’s mercy, so that the meaning is as our Bible has it in the margin, “One whom thou favorest.”

The plea then here is drawn, not from the righteousness of the man, but from the mercy of God. It sets forth the relation between God and His suppliant from the divine side, and pleads God’s gracious bestowal of mercy upon him in the past as a reason for its continuance and perfecting. “Thou hast been pleased to love and favor me, to enrich me with thy grace. Be what thou hast been: do what thou hast done: forsake not the work of shine own hands.” And God, who begins no buildings which He is not able to finish, recognizes the strength of the plea and will perfect that which concerneth us.

There follows the same relation contemplated from the human side, and that, too, is a plea with God. “Thy servant that trusteth in thee.” I am knit to Thee, as a servant I belong to Thy household, and the Master’s honour is concerned in His dependent’s safety. The slave is cared for by His Lord. I belong to Thee-do thou watch over what is shine own. I trust in Thee. We do not plead our faith as constituting a claim of merit with God, but as constituting a plea with Him. It is not that it deserves deliverance-else we might well hesitate to urge it, when we think of its weakness and often interruptions-but that it is sure to bring deliverance. For anything is possible rather than that the most tremulous trust should go unblessed and unanswered.

The human side of the relation between God and His servant is further urged in the subsequent clauses which refer to the Psalmist’s longings and efforts after fellowship with God. “I cry unto thee daily” – he does not think that his cry deserves an answer, but he knows that in God’s great mercy He has bound Himself to “hear our cry and save us”, and he appeals to the faithful promise. He has put in practice the condition, and he expects the answer. It can only happen that he who calls on God will be answered. Anything is credible rather than that our prayer ascending should be flung back unanswered, as if it had struck against heavens which were brass. Let our faith clasp His promise, and then the fact of our prayer is with God a plea, and with us a pledge of His answer. Let us not doubt that we do wield power with God when we pray – and we shall prevail.

Again he pleads, “Unto thee do I lift up my soul.” Such a plea expresses the conscious effort to raise his whole being above earth, to lift the heavy grossness of his nature, bound in the fetters of sense to this low world, up and up to the Most High, who is his home. And can it be that that yearning and striving after communion shall go unsatisfied? Is it possible that I shall stretch out feeling hands and grope in vain for God? Is it possible that He shall not take note of me, that my poor faith shall be disappointed, that my prayer shall be lost in empty space, that my soul shall not find its rest? Never. “What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? . . . How much more shall your father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Mat. 7:9, 11).

And, finally, because our necessities and our desires derive their force as pleas from God’s own character, he urges that as his last and mightiest appeal. He began with invocation, and he ends as he began. The name of God is the ground of all our hope and the motive for all His mercy. Turn away, Christian friends, from all thoughts of self, of your own needs, of your own trust, and prayer, and aspiration. Forsaking all other confidence, flee to that “name of the Lord” into which, as “a strong tower,” we may “run and be safe.” The one prevalent plea with God is the faithful recounting of all that grace and pity which He is exercising and has exercised. All others are subordinate and possess only a power bestowed by this. “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” Our need is the occasion; faith and desire, the channel; but God is the reason and the source of all our deliverance and all our salvation. “Because he could sware by no greater, he sware by himself” (Heb. 6:13)-and because we can pray by none other, we implore Him by Himself, for the sake of His own Holy Name, because He is that He is, to have mercy upon us who cry to Him.

And, friends, when we call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and ask that our prayers may be heard “for the sake of Christ,” we are taking no other plea into our lips than that ancient and all prevalent one of this psalm. It is His own mercy in Christ which we present. It is the work of His own love which we bring as our plea. “I will declare thy name unto my brethren” (Psa. 22:22). Christ is the Revealer of the Father’s name, and they who pray in the name of Christ have for their confidence this promise, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (Joh. 14:13) – and this, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you” (Joh. 16:23).

The Absent Present Christ

THE SWEET AND GRACIOUS comforting with which Christ had been soothing the disciples’ fears went very deep, but hitherto they had not gone deep enough. It was much that they should know the purpose of His going, whither He went, and that they had an interest in His departure. It was much that they should have before them the prospect of reunion; much that they should know that all through His absence He would be working in them, and that they should be assured that, absent, He would send them a great gift. But reunion, influence from afar, and gifts from the other side of the gulf were not all that their hearts needed. And so here our Lord gives yet more, in the paradoxes that, absent He will be present, unseen visible, and dying will be for them for ever, life and life-giving. These great thoughts go to the centre of their needs and of ours; and on them I now touch briefly.

There are in the words I have read, though they be but a fragment of a closely-linked together context, these three great thoughts then: the absent Christ the present Christ; the unseen Christ the seen Christ; the Christ who dies life and life-giving. Let us look at these as they stand.

First, then, the absent Christ is the present Christ.
“I will not leave you comfortless,” or, as the Revised Version has it, “desolate-I come to you.” Now, most of us know, I suppose, that the literal meaning of the word rendered “comfortless,” or “desolate,” is “orphans.” But that is rather an unusual form in which to represent the relation between our Lord and His disciples. And so, possibly, our versions are accurate in giving the general idea of desolation rather than the specific idea conveyed directly by the word. But still it is to be remembered that this whole conversation begins with “Little children “; and there seems to be no strong reason for suppressing the literal meaning of the word, if only it be remembered that it is employed not so much to define Christ’s relation to His brethren as to describe the comfortless and helpless condition of that little group when left by Him. They would be like fatherless and motherless children in a cold world. And what is to hinder that? One thing only. “I come to you.” “Then, and only then, will you cease to be desolate and orphans. My presence will change everything and turn winter into glorious summer.”

Now, what is this “coming?” It is to be observed that our Lord says, not “I will,” as a future, but “I come,” or “I am coming,” as an immediately impending, and, we may almost say, present, thing. There can be no reference in the word to that final coming to judgment which lies so far ahead; because, if there were, then there would follow from the text, that, until that period, all that love Him here upon earth are to wander about as orphans, desolate and forsaken; and that certainly can never be. So that we have to recognize here the promise of a coming which is contemporaneous with His absence, and which is, in fact, but the reverse side of His bodily absence.

It is true about Him that He “departs from” His people in bodily form “for a season, that they may receive Him” in a better form “for ever.” This, then, is the heart and centre of the consolation here, that howsoever the external presence may be withdrawn, and the “foolish senses” may have to speak of an absent Christ, we may rejoice in the certainty that He is with all those that love Him, and all the more with them because of the very withdrawal of the earthly manifestation which has served its purpose, and now is laid aside as an impediment rather than as a help to the full communion. We confuse bodily with real. The bodily presence is at an end; the real presence lasts for ever.

I do not need to insist, I suppose, upon the manifest implication of absolute Divinity which lies in such words as these. “I come.” “Being absent, I am present in all generations. I am present with every single heart.” That is equivalent to the Omnipresence of Deity; that is equivalent to or implies the undying existence of the Divine nature. And He that says, when He is leaving earth and withdrawing the sweetness of His visible form from the eyes of men, “I come,” in the very act of going, “and I am with you always, with all of you to the end of the ages,” can be no less than God, manifest in the flesh for a time, and present in the Spirit with His children for ever.

I cannot but think that the average Christian life of this day woefully fails in the simple, conscious realization of this great truth, and that we are all far too little living in the calm, happy, strengthening assurance that we are never alone, but have Jesus Christ with each of us more closely, more truly, in a more available fashion, and with more Omnipotence of influence than they had who were nearest Him during the days that He lived upon earth.

Oh, brethren, if we really believed, not as an article of our creed, which has become so familiar to us that it produces little impression upon us; but as a vital and ever-present conviction of our souls, that with us there was ever the real presence of the real Christ, how all burdens and cares would be lightened, how all perplexities would begin to smooth themselves out and be straightened, all the force would be sucked out of temptations, and how sorrows and joys and all things would be changed in their aspect by that one conviction intensely realized and constantly with us! A present Christ is the Strength, the Righteousness, the Peace, the Joy, and as we shall see, in the most literal sense, the Life of every Christian soul.

Then, note, further, that this coming of our Lord is identified with that of His Divine Spirit. He has been speaking of sending that “other Comforter,” but though He be Another, He is yet so indissolubly united with Him who sends as that the coming of the Spirit is the coming of Jesus. He is no gift wafted to us as from the other side of a gulf, but by reason of the unity of the Godhead and the Divinity of the sent Spirit, Jesus Christ and the Spirit whom He sends are inseparable though separate, and so indissolubly united that where the Spirit is, there is Christ, and where Christ is, there is the Spirit. These are amongst the deep things which the disciples were “not able to carry” at that stage of their development, and they waited for a further explanation. Enough for them and enough for us, to know that we have Christ in the Spirit and the Spirit in Christ; and to remember “that if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”

We stand here on the margin of a shoreless and fathomless sea; and for my part I venture to think that the men who talk about the incredibilities and the contradictions of the orthodox faith would show themselves a little wiser if they were more conscious of the limitation of human faculty, and remembered that to pronounce upon contradictions in the doctrine of the Divine Nature implies that the pronouncer stands above and goes round about the whole of that Nature. So, for my part, abjuring omniscience and the comprehension of Deity, I accept the statement that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit come together and dwell in the heart.

Then, note, further, that this present Christ is the only Remedy for the orphanhood of the world. The words had a tender and pathetic reference to that little, bewildered group of followers, deprived of their Guide, their Teacher, and their Companion. He who had been as eyes to their weak vision, and Counsellor and Inspirer and everything for three blessed years, was going away to leave them unsheltered to the storm. And we can understand how forlorn and terrified they were, when they looked forward to fronting the things that must come to them, without His presence. Therefore He cheers them with the assurance that they will not be left without Him, but that, present still just because He is absent, He will be all that He ever had been to them.

And the promise was fulfilled. How did that dispirited group of cowardly men ever pluck up courage to hold together after the Crucifixion at all? Why was it that they did not follow the example of John’s disciples, and dissolve and disappear; and say, “The game is up. It is no use holding together any longer?” The process of separation began on the very day of the Crucifixion. Only one thing could have stopped it, and that is the Resurrection and the presence with His Church of the risen Christ in His power and in all the fulness of His gifts. If it had not been that He came to them, they would have disappeared, and Christianity would have been one more of the abortive sects forgotten in Judaism. But, as it is, the whole of the New Testament after Pentecost is aflame with the consciousness of a present Christ, working amongst His people. And although it be true that, in one aspect, we are “absent from the Lord” when we are present with the body, in another aspect, and an infinitely higher one, it is true that the strength of the Christian life of apostles and martyrs was this, the assurance that Christ Himself-no mere rhetorical metaphor for His influence or His example, or His memory lingering in their imaginations, but the veritable Christ Himself-was present with them, to strengthen and to bless.

That same conviction you and I must have, if the world is not to be a desert and a dreary place for us. In a very profound sense it is true that if you take away Jesus Christ, the elder Brother, who alone reveals to men the Father, we are all orphans, fatherless children, who look up into an empty heaven and see nothing there. It is only Christ who reveals to us the Father and makes our happy hearts feel that we are of His children. And in the wider sense of the word “orphans,” is not life a desolation without Him? Hollow joys, fleeting blessednesses, roses whose thorns last long after the petals have dropped, real sorrows, shows and shams, bitternesses and disappointments- are not these our life, in so far as Christ has been driven out of it? Oh! There is only one thing that saves us from being as desolate, fatherless children, groping in the dark for the lost Father’s hand, and dying for want of it, and that is that the Christ Him- self shall come to us and be with us.

The Unseen Christ Is A Seen Christ.
It is clear that the period referred to in the second clause of our text is the same as that referred to in the first, that “yet a little while” covers the whole space up to His ascension; and that if there be any reference at all to the forty days of His earthly life, during which, literally, the world “saw Him no more,” but “the apostles saw Him,” that reference is only secondary. These transitory appearances are not of sufficient moment or duration to bear the weight of so great a promise as this. The vision, which is the consequence of the coming, has the same extension in time as the coming-that is to say, is continuous and permanent. We must read here the great promise of a perpetual vision of the present Christ. It is clear, too, that the word “see” is employed in these two clauses in two different senses. In the former it refers only to bodily sight, in the latter to spiritual perception. For a few short hours still, the ungodly mass of men were to have that outward vision which might have been so much to them, but which they had used so badly that “they seeing saw not.” It was to cease, and they who loved Him would not miss it when it did; but the withdrawal which hid Him from sense and sense-bound souls would reveal Him more clearly to His friends. They, too, had but dimly seen Him while He stood by them; they would gaze on Him with truer insight when He was present though absent.

So this is what every Christian life may and should be-the continual sight of a continually-present Christ. It is His part to come. It is ours to see, to be conscious of Him who does come.

Faith is the sight of the soul, and it is far better than the sight of the senses. It is more direct. My eye does not touch what I look at. Gulfs of millions of miles may lie between me and it. But my faith is not only eye, but hand, and not only beholds, but grasps, and comes into contact with that to which it is directed. It is far more clear. Senses may deceive; my faith, built upon His Word, cannot deceive. Its information is far more certain, far more valid. I have better reason for believing in Jesus Christ than I have for believing in the things that I touch and handle. So that there is no need for men to say, “Oh, if we had only seen Him with our eyes!” You would very likely not have known Him if you had. There is no reason for thinking that the Church has retrograded in its privileges, because it has to love instead of beholding, and to believe instead of touching. That is advance, and we are better than they, inasmuch as the blessing of those who have not seen, and yet have believed, comes down upon our heads. The vision of Christ which is granted to the faithful soul is better and not worse, more and not less, other in kind indeed, but loftier in degree too, than that which was granted to the men who saw Him upon earth. Sense disturbs, faith alone beholds.

“The world seeth Me no more.” Why? Because it is a world. “Ye see Me.” Why? Because, and in the measure in which you have “turned away your eyes from seeing vanity.” If you want the eye of the soul to be opened, you must shut the eye of sense. And the more we turn away from looking at the dazzling lies with which time and the material universe befool and bewilder us, the more shall we see Him whom to see is to live for ever.

Oh! Brethren, does that strong word “see” in any measure express the vividness, the directness, the certainty of our realization of our Master’s presence? Is Jesus Christ as clear, as perceptible, as sure to us as the men round us are? Which are the shadows and which are the realities to us? The things which are seen, which the senses crown as “real,” or the things which cannot be seen because they are so great, and tower above us, invisible in their eternity? Which world are our eyes most open to, the world where Christ is, or the world here? Our happy eyes may behold and our blessed hands may handle the Word of Life which was manifested to us. Let us beware that we turn not away from the one thing worthy to be looked at, to gaze upon a desolate and dreary world.

Lastly, the present and seen Christ is life and life-giving.
The last words of my text may be connected with the preceding, as the marginal rendering of the Revised Version shows. But it is probably better to take them as standing independently, and presenting another and co-ordinate element of the blessedness arising from the coming of the Christ. Because He comes, His life passes into the hearts of the men to whom He comes, and who gaze upon Him.

Time forbids me to dwell upon that majestic proclamation of His own absolute and Divine life, from lips that were so soon to be paled with death. Mark the grand “I live”-the timeless present tense, which expresses unbroken, underived, undying, and, as I believe, Divine life. It is all but a quotation of the great Old Testament name “Jehovah.” The depth and sweep of its meaning are given to us in this apostle’s Apocalypse, where Christ is called “the living One,” who lived whilst He died, and having died “is alive for evermore.”

And this Christ, coming to all His friends, possessor of the fulness of life in Himself, and proclaiming His absolute possession of that life, even whilst He stands within arm’s length of Calvary, is life-giver to all that love Him and trust Him.

We live because He lives. In all senses of the word life, as I believe, the life of men is derived from the Christ who is the agent of creation, the channel from whom life passes from the Godhead into the creatures, and who is also the one means by whom any of us can ever hope to live the better life which is the only true one, and consists in fellowship with God and union to Him.

We shall live as long as He lives, and His being is the pledge and the guarantee of the immortal being of all who love Him. Anything is possible, rather than that it should be credible that a soul, which has drawn spiritual life from Jesus Christ here upon earth, should ever be rent apart from Him by such a miserable and external trifle as the mere dissolution of the bodily frame. As long as Christ lives your life is secure. If the Head has life, the members cannot see corruption. “Take me not away in the midst of my days: Thy years are throughout all generations” was the prayer of a saint of old, deeply feeling the contrast of the worshipper’s transiency and God’s eternity, and dimly hoping that the contrast might be changed into likeness. The great promise of our text answers the prayer, and assures us that the worshipper is to live as long as does He whom he adores.

We shall live as He lives, nor ever cease the appropriation of His being until all His life we know, and all its fulness has expanded our natures-and that will be never. Therefore we shall not die.

Men’s lives have been prolonged by the transfusion of blood from vigorous frames. Jesus Christ passes His own blood into our veins, and makes us immortal. The Church chose for one of its ancient emblems of the Saviour the pelican, which fed its young, according to the fable, with the blood from its own breast. So Christ vitalizes us. He in us is our life.

Brethren, without Jesus Christ we are orphans in a fatherless world. Without Him our wearied and yet unsatisfied eyes have only trifles and trials and trash to look at. Without Him, we are dead whilst we live. He and He only can give us back a Father, and renew in us the spirit of sons. He and He only can satisfy our eyes with the sight which is purity and restfulness and joy. He and He only can breathe life into our death. Oh! Let Him do it for you. He comes to us with all these gifts in His hands, for He comes to give us himself. And in Himself, as “in a box where sweets compacted lie,” are all that lonely hearts and wearied eyes and dead souls can ever need. All are yours if you are Christ’s. All are yours if He is yours. And He is yours if by faith and love you make yourselves His and Him your own.

Anxious Care

FORESIGHT AND FOREBODING ARE two very different things. It is not that the one is the exaggeration of the other, but the one is opposed to the other. The more a man looks forward, in the exercise of foresight, the less he does so in the exercise of foreboding. And the more he is tortured by anxious thoughts about a possible future, the less clear vision has he of a likely future, and the less power to influence it. When Christ here, therefore, enjoins the abstinence from thought for our life and for the future, it is not for the sake of getting away from the pressure of a very unpleasant command that we say, He does not mean to prevent the exercise of wise and provident foresight and preparation for what is to come. When this English version of the Bible was made, the phrase “taking thought” meant solicitous anxiety, and that is the true rendering and proper meaning of the original. The idea is, therefore, that here there is forbidden for a Christian, not the careful preparation for what is likely to come, not the foresight of the storm, and taking in sail while yet there is time, but the constant occupation and distraction of the heart with gazing forward, and fearing, and being weakened thereby; or, to come back to words already used, foresight is commanded, and, therefore, foreboding is forbidden. My only object now, is to endeavor to gather together by their link of connection, the whole of those precepts which follow my text to the close of the chapter; and to try to set before you, in the order in which they stand, and in their organic connection with each other, the reasons which Christ gives for the absence of anxious care from our minds.
I mass them all into three. If you notice, the whole section, to the end of the chapter, is divided into three parts, by the threefold repetition of the injunction, “Take no thought.” “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.” The reason for the command as given in this first section follows:—Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? The expansion of that runs on to the close of the thirtieth verse.

Then there follows another division or section of the whole, marked by the repetition of the command, “Take no thought, ” saying, ” What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink: or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” The reason given for the command in this second section is ‘for after all these things do the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God. ” (Mat. 6:31-33).

And then follows a third section marked by the third repetition of the command, “Take no thought for the morrow.” The reason given for the command in this third section is ‘for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself ”

Now if we try to generalize the lessons that lie in these three great divisions of the Sermon on the Mount, we get these: anxious thought is contrary to all the lessons of nature, which show it to be unnecessary. That is the first, the longest section. Then, secondly, anxious thought is contrary to all the lessons of revelation or religion, which show it to be heathenish. And lastly, anxious thought is contrary to the whole scheme of Providence, which shows it to be futile. You do not need to be anxious. It is wicked to be anxious. It is of no use to be anxious. These are the three things, contrary to the lessons of Nature; contrary to the great principles of the Gospel; and contrary to the scheme of Providence. Let us try now simply to follow the course of thought in our Lord’s illustration of these three principles.

Anxiety Is Contrary to Nature
The first is the consideration of the teaching of nature.

“Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (Mat. 6:25). And then comes the illustration of the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field.

The whole of these four or five verses fall into these general thoughts: You are obliged to trust God for your body, for its structure, for its form, for its habitudes, and for the length of your being; you are obliged to trust Him for the foundation—trust Him for the superstructure. You are obliged to trust Him, whether you will or not, for the greater—trust Him gladly for the less. You cannot help being dependent. After all your anxiety, it is only directed to the providing of the things that are needful for life. Life itself, though it be a natural thing, comes direct from God’s hand, and all that you can do, with all your carking cares, and laborious days, and sleepless nights, is but to adorn a little more beautifully or a little less beautifully, the allotted span, and to feed a little more delicately or a little less delicately, the body which God has given you! What is the use of being careful for food and raiment, when down below these necessities there lies the awful question—for the answer to which you have to hang helpless, in implicit, powerless dependence upon God— Shall I live, or shall I die? Shall I have a body instinct with vitality, or a body crumbling amidst the clods of the valley?

After all your work, your anxiety gets but such a little way down; like some passing shower of rain, that only softens the hard-baked surface of the soil, and has nothing to do with fructifying the seed that lies inches below the reach of its useless moisture. Anxious care is foolish; for far beyond the region within which your anxieties move, there is the greater region in which there must be entire dependence upon God. “Is not the life more than meat? Is not the body more than raiment?” You must trust Him for that; you may as well trust Him for all the rest.

Then, again, there comes up this other thought: Not only are you compelled to exercise un-anxious dependence in regard to a matter which you cannot influence —the life of the body—and that is the greater; but, still further, God gives you that. Very well, God gives you the greater; and God’s great gifts are always inclusive of God’s little gifts. When He bestows the thing, He bestows all the consequences of the thing as well. When He gives a life, He swears by the gift that He will give what is needful to sustain it. God does not stop halfway in any of His bestowments. He gives royally and liberally, honestly and sincerely, logically and completely. When He bestows a life, therefore, you may be quite sure that He is not going to stultify His own gift by retaining unbestowed anything that is wanted for its blessing and its power. You have had to trust Him for the greater; trust Him for the less. He has given you the greater; no doubt He will give you the less. “The life is more than meat, and the body than raiment.” “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment?”

Then there is another thought. Look at God’s ways of doing with all His creatures. The animate and the inanimate creation are appealed to, the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field, the one in reference to food and the other in reference to clothing, which are the two great wants already spoken of by Christ in the previous verses. I am not going to linger on the exquisite beauty of these illustrations. Every sensitive heart and pure eye dwells upon them with delight. The “fowls of the air,” “the lilies of the field,” “they toil not, neither do they spin;” and then, with what an eye for the beauty of God’s universe—”Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these !” Now, what is the force of this consideration? It is this: There is a specimen, in an inferior creation, of the same principles which you can trust, you men who are “better than they.” And not only that: There is an instance, not only of God’s giving things that are necessary, but of God’s giving more, lavishing beauty upon the flowers of the field. I do not think that we sufficiently dwell upon the moral and spiritual uses of beauty in God’s universe. That everywhere His loving, wooing hand should touch the flower into grace, and deck all barren places with glory and with fairness—what does that reveal to us about Him? It says to us, He does not give scantily: it is not the mere measure of what is wanted, absolutely needed, to support a bare existence, that God bestows. He taketh pleasure in the prosperity of His servants.

Joy, love, and beauty belong to Him; and the smile upon His face that comes from the contemplation of His own fairness flung out into His glorious creation, is a prophecy of the gladness that comes into His heart from His own holiness and more ethereal beauty adorning the spiritual creatures whom He has made to flash back His likeness. The flowers of the field are so clothed that we may learn the lesson, that it is a fair Spirit, a loving Spirit, a bountiful Spirit, and a royal heart that presides over the bestowments of creation, and allots gifts to men.

But notice, further, how much of the force of what Christ says here, depends on the consideration of the inferiority of these creatures who are thus blessed; and also notice what are the particulars of that inferiority. We read that verse, “They sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns,” as if it marked out a particular in which their free and untoilsome lives were superior to ours. It is the very opposite. It is part of the thing that marks them as lower than we, that they have not to work for the future. They reap not, they sow not, they gather not; are ye not much better than they? Better in this, among other things, that God has given us the privilege of influencing the future by our faithful toil, by the sweat of our brow, and by the labor of our hands. These creatures labor not, and yet they are fed. The lesson for us is how much more may we, whom God has blessed with the power of work and gifted with force to mold the future, be sure that He will bless the exercise of the prerogative by which He exalts us above inferior creatures, and makes us capable of toil.

You can influence tomorrow. What you can influence by work, fret not about, for you can work. What you cannot influence by work, fret not about, for it is vain. “They toil not, neither do they spin.” You are lifted above them because God has given you hands, that can grasp the tool or the pen. Man’s crown of glory, as well as man’s curse and punishment, is “in the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.” So learn what you have to do with that great power of anticipation! It is meant to be the guide of wise work. It is meant to be the support for far-reaching, strenuous action. It is meant to elevate us above mere living from hand to mouth; to ennoble the whole being by leading to and directing toil that is blessed, because there is no anxiety in it, labor that will be successful, since it is according to the will of that God who has endowed us with the power of putting it forth.

Then there comes another inferiority. ” Your heavenly Father feedeth them.” They cannot say “Father!” and yet they are fed. You are above them by the prerogative of toil. You are above them by the nearer relation which you sustain to your Father in heaven. He is their Maker, and lavishes His goodness upon them, He is your Father, and He will not forget His child. They cannot trust, you can. They might be anxious, if they could look forward, for they know not the hand that feeds them; but you can turn around, and recognize the source of all blessings. So doubly ought you to be guarded from care by the lesson of that free joyful nature that lies around about you, and say, No fear of famine, nor of poverty, nor of want; for He feedeth the ravens when they cry. No reason for distrust! Shame on me if I am anxious! For every lily of the field blows its beauty, and every bird of the air carols its song without sorrowful foreboding, and yet there is no Father in the heaven to them!

And the last inferiority is this: “Today it is, and tomorrow it is cast into the oven. ” Their little life is thus blessed and brightened. Oh, how much greater will be the mercies that belong to them who have a longer life upon earth, and who never die! The lesson is not—these are the plebeians in God’s universe, and you are the aristocracy, and you may trust Him; but it is—they, by their inferior place, have lesser and lower wants, wants but for a bounded being, wants that stretch not beyond earthly existence, and that for a brief span. They are blessed in the present, for the oven tomorrow saddens not the blossoming today. You have nobler necessities and higher longings, wants that belong to a soul that never dies, to a nature which may glow with the consciousness that God is your Father, wants which “look before and after,” therefore, you are “better than they;” and “shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?”

Anxiety Is Contrary to Revelation
And now, in the second place, there is here another general line of considerations tending to dispel all anxious care—the thought that it is contrary to all the lessons of Religion, or Revelation, which show it to be heathenish. There are three clauses devoted to the illustration of this thought: “After all these things do the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mat. 6:32-33).

The first contains the principle, that solicitude for the future is at heart heathen worldly-mindedness. The heathen tendency in us all leads to an over-estimate of material good, and it is a question of circumstances whether that shall show itself in heaping up earthly treasures or in anxious care. They are the same plant, only the one is growing in the tropics of sunny prosperity, and the other in the arctic zone of chill penury. The one is the sin of the worldly-minded rich man, the other is the sin of the worldly-minded poor man. The character is the same turned inside out! And, therefore, the words “ye cannot serve God and mammon,” stand in this chapter in the center between our Lord’s warning against laying up treasures on earth, and His warnings against being full of cares for earth. He would show us thereby that these two apparently opposite states of mind in reality spring from that one root, and are equally, though differently, “serving mammon.” We do not sufficiently reflect upon that. We say, perhaps, this intense solicitude of ours is a matter of temperament, or of circumstances. So it may be; but the Gospel was sent to help us to cure worldly temperaments, and to master circumstances. But the reason why we are troubled and careful about the things of this life, lies here, that our hearts have got an earthly direction, that we are at heart heathenish in our lives, and in our desires. It is the very characteristic of the Gentile (that is to say, of the heathen) that earth should bound his horizon. It is the very characteristic of the worldly man that all his anxieties on the one hand, and all his joys on the other, should be “cribbed, cabined, and confined” within the narrow sphere of the Visible. When a Christian is living in the foreboding of some earthly sorrow to come down upon him, and is feeling as if there would be nothing left if some earthly treasure were swept away, is it not, in the very root of it, idolatry, worldly-mindedness? Is it not clean contrary to all our profession that for us “there is none upon earth that we desire besides Thee”? Anxious care rests upon a basis of heathen worldly-mindedness.

Anxious care rests upon a basis, too, of heathen misunderstanding of the character of God. “Your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.” The heathen thought of God is that He is far removed from our perplexities, either ignorant of our struggles, or unsympathizing with them. The Christian has the double armor against anxiety: the name of the Father, and the conviction that the Father’s knowledge is co-extensive with the Father’s love. He who calls us His children thoroughly understands what His children want. And so, anxiety is contrary to the very name by which we have learned to call God, and to the pledge of pitying care and perfect knowledge of our frame which lies in the words “our Father.” Our Father is the name of God, and our Father intensely cares for us, and lovingly does all things for us.

And then, still further, Christ points out here, not only what is the real root of this solicitous care—something very like worldly-mindedness—heathen worldly mindedness; but He points out what is the one counterpoise of it—seek first the kingdom of God. It is of no use only to tell men that they ought to trust, that the birds of the air might teach them to trust, that the flowers of the field might preach resignation and confidence to them. It is of no use to attempt to scold them into trust, by telling them that distrust is heathenish! You must fill the heart with a supreme and transcendent desire after the one supreme object; and then there will be no room and leisure left for the anxious care after the lesser. Have in wrought into your being, Christian man, the opposite of that heathen over regard for earthly things. “Seek first the kingdom of God.” Let all your spirit be stretching itself out towards that Divine and blessed reality, longing to be a subject of that kingdom, and a possessor of that righteousness; and “the cares that infest the day” shall steal away from out of the sacred pavilion of your believing spirit. Fill your heart with desires after what is worthy of desire; and the greater having entered in, all lesser objects will rank themselves in the right place, and the “glory that excelleth” will outshine the seducing brightness of the paltry present. Oh, it is want of love, it is want of earnest desire, it is want of firm conviction that God, God only, God by Himself, is enough for me, that make me careful and troubled. And, therefore, if I could only attain unto that sublime and calm height of perfect conviction, that He is sufficient for me, that He is with me forever—the satisfying object of my desires and the glorious reward of my searchings, let life and death come as they may; let riches, poverty, health, sickness, all the antitheses of human circumstances storm down upon me in quick alternation, yet in them all I shall be content and peaceful. God is beside me! And His presence brings in its train whatsoever things I need. You cannot cast out the sin of foreboding thoughts by any power short of the entrance of Christ and His love. The blessings of faith and felt communion leave no room nor leisure for anxiety.

Anxiety Is Contrary to Providence

Finally, Christ here tells us, that thought for the morrow is contrary to all the scheme of Providence, which shows it to be vain. “The morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Mat. 6:34).

I interpret these two clauses as meaning this: Tomorrow has anxieties enough of its own, after and in spite of all the anxieties about it today by which you try to free it from care when it comes. Every day, every day will have its evil, have it to the end. And every day will have evil enough for all the strength that a man has to cope with it. Thus it just comes to this: Anxiety, it is all vain. After all your careful watching for the corner of the heaven where the cloud is to come from, there will be a cloud, and it will rise somewhere, but you never know in what quarter. The morrow shall have its own anxieties. After all your fortifying of the castle of your life, there will be some little postern left unguarded, some little weak place in the wall left uncommanded by a battery; and there, where you never looked for him, the inevitable invader will come in! After all the plunging of the hero in the fabled waters that made him invulnerable, there was the little spot on the heel, and the arrow found its way there! There is nothing certain to happen, says the proverb, but the unforeseen. Tomorrow will have its cares, spite of anything that anxiety and foreboding can do. It is God’s law of Providence that a man shall be disciplined by sorrow; and to try to escape from that law by any forecasting prudence, is utterly hopeless, and madness.

And what does your anxiety do? It does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows; but, oh, it empties today of its strength. It does not make you escape the evil, it makes you unfit to cope with it when it comes. It does not bless tomorrow, and it robs today. For every day has its own burden. Sufficient for each day is the evil which properly belongs to it. Do not add tomorrow’s to today’s. Do not drag the future into the present. The present has enough to do with its own proper concerns. We have always strength to bear the evil when it comes. We have not strength to bear the foreboding of it. As thy day, so thy strength shall be. In strict proportion to the existing exigencies will be the God-given power; but if you cram and condense today’s sorrows by experience, and tomorrow’s sorrows by anticipation, into the narrow round of the one twenty-four hours, there is no promise that as that day thy strength shall be! God gives us power to bear all the sorrows of His making; but He does not give us power to bear the sorrows of our own making, which the anticipation of sorrow most assuredly is.

Then, contrary to the lessons of nature, contrary to the teachings of religion, contrary to the scheme of Providence—weakening your strength, distracting your mind, sucking the sunshine out of every landscape, and casting a shadow over all the beauty—the curse of our lives is that heathenish, blind, useless, faithless, needless anxiety in which we do indulge. Look forward, for God has given you that royal and wonderful gift of dwelling in the future, and bringing all its glories around your present. Look forward, not for life, but for heaven; not for food and raiment, but for the righteousness after which it is blessed to hunger and thirst, and wherewith it is blessed to be clothed. Not for earth, but for heaven, let your forecasting gift of prophecy come into play. Fill the present with quiet faith, with patient waiting, with honest work, with wise reading of God’s lessons of nature, of providence, and of grace, all of which say to us, Live in God’s future, that the present may be bright; and work in the present, that the future may be certain! They may well look around in expectation, sunny and unclouded, of a blessed time to come, whose hearts are already “fixed, trusting in the Lord.” He to whom there is a present Christ, and a present Spirit, and a present Father, and a present forgiveness, and a present redemption, may well live expiating in all the glorious distance of the unknown to come, sending out from his placid heart over all the weltering waters of this lower world, the peaceful seeking dove, his meek Hope, that shall come back again from its flight with some palm branch broken from the trees of Paradise between its bill. And he that has no such present, has a future, dark, chaotic, heaving with its destructive ocean; and over it there goes forever—black-pinioned, winging its solitary and hopeless flight, the raven of his anxious thoughts, and finds no place to rest, and comes back again to the desolate ark with its foreboding croak of evil in the present and evil in the future. Live in Christ, “the same yesterday, and today, and forever,” and His presence shall make all your past, present, and future—memory, enjoyment, and hope—to be bright and beautiful, because all are centered in Him!

Christ “Must” Die

The work of Jesus Christ could not be done unless He died. He could not be the Savior of the world unless He was the sacrifice for the sins of the world.

. . . It was because of the requirements of the divine righteousness, and because of the necessities of sinful men. And so Christ’s was no martyr’s death, who had to die as the penalty of the faithful discharge of His duty. It was not the penalty that He paid for doing His work, but it was the work itself. . . He “came to give His life a ransom for many.”

. . . He must die because He would save, and He would save because He did love. His filial obedience to God coincided with His pity for men. . .

Oh, brethren! nothing held Christ to the Cross but His own desire to save us. Neither priests nor Romans carried Him tither. What fastened Him to it was not the nails driven by rude hands. And the reason why He did not, as the taunters bade Him do, come down from it, was neither a physical nor a moral necessity unwelcome to Himself, but the yielding of His own will to do all which was needed for man’s salvation.

This sacrifice was bound to the altar by the cords of love. . . Jesus Christ fastened Himself to the Cross and died because He would. . . . His purpose never faltered, think that each of us may say, “He must die because He would save me.”

. . . It is guaranteed by the power of the Cross; it is certain, by the eternal life of the crucified Savior, that He will one day be the King of humanity, and must bring His wandering sheep to couch in peace, one flock round one Shepherd.

Glad obedience is true obedience. . . . Obedience is obedience, whether in large things or in small.

Joy and liberty and power and peace will fill our hearts when this is the law of our being: “All that the Lord has spoken, that must I do” (Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. John, I-VIII, pp. 174-180).

The Philippian jailer cried out, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Act. 16:30-31).

The Cross the Proof

GOD COMMENDETH HIS LOVE. That is true and beautiful, but that is not all that the apostle means. We “commend” persons and things when we speak of them with praise and confidence. If that were the meaning of my text, it would represent the death of Christ as setting forth, in a manner to win our hearts, the greatness, the excellence, the transcendency, of God’s love. But there is more than that in the words. The expression here employed strictly means “to set two things side by side,” and it has two meanings in the New Testament, both derived from that original signification. It sometimes means to set two persons side by side, in the way of introducing and recommending the one to the other. It sometimes means to set two things side by side, in the way of confirming or proving the one by the other. It is used in the latter sense here. God not merely “commends,” but “proves,” His love by Christ’s death. It is the one evidence which makes that often-doubted fact certain. Through it alone is it possible to hold the conviction that, in spite of all that seems to contradict the belief, God is Love. And so I wish to take the words in this sermon.

The Need for Proof That God Does Love

To hear some men speak, you would suppose that one of the simplest, clearest, and most indisputable of all convictions was the love of God. People are found in plenty who reject the distinctive teaching of Christianity because they say that the sterner aspects of the evangelical faith seem to them to limit, or to contradict, the great fundamental truth of all religion, as they take it, that God is Love. My friends, such people are kicking away the ladder by which they climbed. I venture to say that instead of the love of God being a plain, self-evident axiom, there needs very B evidence to give it a secure lodging-place amongst our settled beliefs.

Do the world’s religions bear out the contention that it is so easy and natural for a man to believe in a loving God? I think not. Comparative mythology has taught a great many lessons, and amongst others this, that, apart from the direct or indirect influences of Christianity, there is no creed to be found in which the belief in a God of love and in the love of God is unfalteringly proclaimed, to say nothing of being set as the very climax of the whole revelation. If this were the place, one could pass in review men’s thoughts about God and ask you to look at all that assemblage of beings before whom mankind has bowed down. What would you find? Gods cruel, gods careless, gods capricious, gods lustful, gods mighty, gods mysterious, gods pitying-with a contempt mingled with the pity-their sorrows and follies of mankind. But in all the pantheons there is not a loving god.

Before Jesus Christ there was no such thought, or if it were there at all, it was there as a faint hope, a germ overlaid by other conceptions. Independent of Jesus Christ’s influence, there is no such thought now.

Where you find the death of Christ as the proof rejected and the conviction retained, as is often the case, you have only a sign that “the river of the water of life” has percolated to the roots of many a tree that grows far from its banks. It is Christ who has brought the fire of this conviction, in the broken reed of His dying flesh, and lodged it in the heart of humanity. So I say the love of God, as is proved by men’s thoughts about Him, surely needs to be established on a basis of unmistakable evidence.

I add that all other evidences are insufficient. Do you appeal, in the fashion of Paley and the natural theologians, to the evidence of God in creation? Ah! you have invoked a very ambiguous oracle that seems to speak with two voices. I say nothing about the modification that argument has necessarily assumed if the theory of evolution is accepted. I do not think it is destroyed, but it is profoundly modified. For if God put into matter the promise and the potency of all these variations, He must lie back of the process, and be conceived of as forecasting, if not guiding, the evolution ‘ which ends in development. So the argument has only changed in its form and is unaffected in its substance.

But, putting aside all that, you speak of the goodness of God around us. What about storms, earthquakes, disasters, contrivances of producing pain, the law of destruction by which the creatures live by the slaying of one another-what about all these things? “Nature, red in tooth and claw with rapine, shrieks against the creed,” that God is Love. And if we have nothing but the evidence of nature, it seems to me that there are two voices speaking there: One says, “There is a good God;” the other says, “Either His power is limited, or His goodness is partial.”

The same ambiguous issue comes from the evidence of human life. Ali! brethren, we have only to look into our own lives and to look round upon the awful sights that fill the world to make the robustest faith in the goodness and love of God stagger, unless it can stay itself against the upright stem of the cross of Christ. Sentimentalists may talk, but the grim fact of human suffering, of wretched, hopeless lives, rises up to say that there is no evidence broad and deep and solid enough, outside of Christianity, to make it absolutely certain that God is Love.

There is another thing that makes necessary some irrefutable proof far firmer and Ber than any of these that I have been referring to. That is, that conscience rises up and protests, when it is awake, against such a notion, apart from the cross. Everybody who honestly takes stock of himself and conceives of God in any measure aright, must feel that sin has come in to disturb all the relations between God and man. And when once a man comes to say, “I feel that I am a sinful man, and that God is a righteous God; how can I expect that His love will distill in blessings upon my head?” there is only one answer-“Whilst we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

So, for all these reasons I venture to lay it down as a principle, in spite of modem teaching of another sort, that the love of God is not a self-evident axiom, but needs to be proved.

The Death That Does Prove the Love

How do we know, in our own happy experiences, that love toward us exists in another heart? Surely, by act. Words are well (and words are acts, of a sort); but we want something more. Paul thinks that- mightier than all demonstrations of a verbal kind, in order to establish the fact of love in the Divine heart to men-there must be some conspicuous and unmistakable act that is the outcome of that love. So mark that, when he wants to enforce this great truth-the shining climax of all the gospel revelation of the love of God, he does not go back to Christ’s gentle words, nor to His teaching of God as the Father. Paul does not point to anything that Christ says, but he points to one thing that He did, and he says, “There! that cross is the demonstration.”

And, since it has a special bearing on my subject, I wish to emphasize that distinction and to beseech you to believe that you have not got within sight of the secret of Jesus, nor come near tapping the sources of His power if you confine yourselves to His words and His teaching, or even to the lower acts of His gentle life. You must go to the cross. It would have been much that Paul would have spoken with certitude and with sweetness else unparalleled of the love of God. But words, however eloquent, however true, are not enough for the soul to rest its weight upon. We must have deeds, and these are all summed in “Christ died for us.”

Now, there are but two things that I wish to say about this great proof of the love of God in act.

First, Christ’s death proves God’s love, because Christ is Divine. How else do you account for that extraordinary shifting of the persons in my text? “God proves His love because Christ died?” How so? God proved His love because Socrates died? God proved His love because some self-sacrificing doctor went into a hospital and died in curing others? God proved His love because some man sprang into the sea and rescued a drowning woman, at the cost of his own life? Would such talk hold? Then I wish to know how it comes that Paul ventures to say that God proved His love because Jesus Christ died.

Unless we believe that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Son of the Father, whom the Father sent, and who willingly came for us men and for our redemption; unless we believe that, as He Himself said, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (Joh. 14:9); unless we believe that His death was the act, the consequence, and the revelation of the love of God, who dwelt in Him as in none other of the sons of men 1, for one, venture to think that Paul is talking nonsense in my text, and that his argument is not worth a straw. You must come to the full-toned belief which, as I think, permeates and binds together every page of the New Testament–God so loved the world, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for sins; that Son who in the beginning was with God, and was God; and then a flood of light is poured on the words of my text, and we can adoringly bow the head and say, “Amen! God hath, to my understanding, and to my heart, proved and commended His love, in that Christ died for us!”

The second thought about this death that proves the love is, that it does so because it is a death for us. That “for us” implies two things: one, the voluntary act of God in Christ in giving Himself up to the death, the other the beneficial effect of that death. It was on our behalf. Therefore, it was the spontaneous outgush of an infinite love. It was for us in that it brought an infinite benefit. And so it was a token and a manifestation of the love of God such as nothing else could be.

Now, I wish to ask a question very earnestly: In what conceivable way can Christ’s death be a real benefit to me? How can it do me any good? A sweet, a tender, an unexampled, beautiful story of innocence and meekness and martyrdom which will shine in the memory of the world, and on the pages of history, as long as the world shall last. It is all that; but what good does it do me? Where does the benefit to me individually come in? There is only one answer, and I urge you to ask yourselves if, in plain, sober, common sense, the death of Jesus Christ means anything at all to anybody, more than other martyrdoms and beautiful deaths, except upon one supposition, that He died for us, because He died instead of us. The two things are not necessarily identical, but, as I believe, and venture to press upon you, in this case they are identical. I do not know where you will find any justification for the rapturous language of the whole New Testament about the death of Christ and its benefits flowing to the whole world, unless you take the Master’s own words, “The Son of Man came to minister, and to give His life a ransom instead of many” (Mar. 10:45).

Ah, dear friends, there we touch the bedrock. That is the truth that flashes up the cross into luster before which the sun’s light is but darkness. He who bore it died for the whole world and was the eternal Son of the Father. If we believe that, then we can understand how Paul here blends together the heart of God and the heart of Christ, and sets high above nature and her ambiguous oracles, high above providence and its many perplexities, and in face of all the shrinkings and fears of a reasonably alarmed conscience, the one truth, “God hath proved His love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Is that your faith, your notion of Christ’s death and of its relation to the love of God?

The Love Which Is Proved by the Death

There is much bearing upon that in my text, which I can barely spare time to draw out. But let us think for a moment of the fact which is thus the demonstration of the love of God and try to realize what it is that, that cross says to us as we gaze upon the silent Sufferer meekly hanging there. I know that my words must fall far beneath the theme, but I can only hope that you will listen to them charitably and try to better them for yourselves in your own thoughts.

I look, then, to the dying Christ, and I see there the revelation, because the consequence-of a love that is not called forth by any lovableness on the part of its objects. The apostle emphasizes the thought, if we render his words fully, because he says, “God proves His own love.” It is a love which, like all that belongs to that timeless, self-determining Being, has its reason and its roots in Himself alone. We love because we discern the object to be lovable. God loves by what I may venture to call the very necessity of His nature. Like some artesian well that needs no pumps nor machinery to draw up the sparkling waters to flesh in the sunlight, there gushes up from the depths of His own heart the love that pours over every creature He has made. He loves because He is God.

In like manner, another word of my text bears upon this matter, for he says, “Whilst we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Oh! brethren, it is only the gospel of a dying Christ that can calm the reasonable consciousness of discord and antagonism that springs in a man’s heart when he lets his conscience speak. It is because He died for us that we are sure now that the black mountain-wall of our sin, which, to our own apprehension, rises separating between us and our God is, if I may so say, surged over by the rising flood of His love. The cross of Christ teaches me that, and so it is the gospel for men that know themselves to be sinners. Is there anything else that teaches it? I know not where it is, if there be.

That dying Christ, hanging there in the silence and the darkness of eclipse, speaks to me too, of a Divine love which, though not turned away by man’s sin, is rigidly righteous.

I referred, at the beginning of my remarks, to the current, easy-going religion that says, “Oh! we do not want any of your evangelical contrivances for forgiveness. God is Love. That is enough for us.” I venture to say that the thing which that form of thought calls love is not love at all, but pure weakness. Such in a king or in a father would be immoral. It is not otherwise in God. My brother! Unless you can find some means whereby the infinite love of God can get at and soothe the sinner’s heart without periling God’s righteousness, you have done nothing to the purpose. Such a one-eyed, lop-sided gospel will never work, has not worked, and it never will. But, when I think of my Christ bearing the sins of the world, I say to myself, “Herein is love. By His stripes we are healed,” and in Him love and righteousness are both crowned and wondrously brought into harmonious oneness. Is there anything else that will do that? If there be 1, for one, know not what it is.

Again, when I look on the dying Christ I see a divine love, which is bounded by no limits of time or place. Look at that majestic and significant, commendeth, not commended or proved, as if it were a past fact, sliding away rapidly into the oblivion that wraps all past events as the world gets older, and its memory gets more burdened. It is “commendeth” today, as it commended eighteen hundred years ago.

Remember to whom Paul was speaking-people that had never seen Jesus Christ-many of whom had not been in the world when He left it. Yet He says “that cross stands there for you of this second generation as the present proof of eternal love.”

And, my friends, it stands for us men and women in Manchester as truly as for the men and women of Galilee or of Rome. There is no limit of time at all, either to the power of the proof or to the love that it establishes. But today, as long ago of old, and as it will be in the remotest future, the cross of Christ towers up like some great mountain beacon, when all beneath is lost to sight, as the one eternal demonstration of an everlasting love.

And now, dear brethren, proves is a cold word. It is addressed to the head. Commends is a warmer word. It is addressed to the heart. It is not enough to establish the fact that God loves. Arguments may be wrought in frost as well as in fire; and if I have erred in any measure in that regard this evening, I ask pardon of Him and of you. But it is your hearts I want to get at — through your heads. I do not care to make you orthodox believers in a doctrine. That is all very well, but it is a very small part of our work. I want your hearts to be touched, and that Christ shall be not only the answer to your doubts, but the sovereign of your affections. Do you look on the death of Christ as a death for your sin? In the strength of the revelation that it makes the love of God, do you front the perplexities, the miseries of the world, and the raveled skeins of providence with calm, happy faces? And oh!-most important of all-do you meet that love with an answering love?

There are two passages of Scripture which contain the whole secret of a noble, blessed, human life. And here they are: “God so love the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (Joh. 3:16). If that is your thought about God, you know enough about Him for time and eternity. ‘We love Him, because He first loved us” (1Jn. 4:19). If you can say that about yourself, all is well.

Dear friend, do you believe the one? Do you affirm the other?

God’s Peacemakers

“Blessed are the Peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Mat. 5:9).

This is the last Beatitude descriptive of the character of the Christian. There follows one more, which describes his reception by the world. But this one sets, the top stone, the shining apex, upon the whole temple structure which the previous Beatitudes had been gradually building up. You may remember that I have pointed out in previous sermons how all these various traits of the Christian life are deduced from the root of poverty of spirit. You may also remember how I have had occasion to show that if we consider that first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” as the root and mother of all the rest, the remainder are so arranged as that we have alternately a Grace which regards mainly the man himself and his relations to God, and one which also includes his relations to man.
Now there are three of these which look out into the world, and these three are consummated by this one of my text. These are “the meek,” which describes a man’s attitude to opposition and hatred; “the merciful,” which describes his indulgence in judgment and his pitifulness in action; and “the peacemakers.” For Christian people are not merely to bear injuries and to recompense them with pity and with love, but they are actively to try to bring about a wholesome and purer state of humanity, and to breath the Peace of God, which passes understanding, over all the janglings and struggles of this world.

So, I think, if we give a due depth of significance to that name “Peacemaker,” we shall find that this Grace worthily completes the whole linked series, and is the very jewel which clasps the whole chain of Christian and Christ like characteristics.

I. How Are Christ’s Peacemakers Made?

Now there are certain people whose natural disposition has in it a fine element, which diffuses soothing and concord all around them. I dare say we all have known such – perhaps some good woman, without any very shining gifts of intellect, who yet dwelt in such Peace of heart herself that conflict and jangling were rebuked in her presence. And there are other people who love Peace, and seek after it in the cowardly fashion of letting things alone; whose “Peacemaking” has no nobler source than hatred of trouble, and a wish to let sleeping dogs lie. These, instead of being Peacemakers, are war makers, for they are laying up materials for a tremendous explosion some day.

But it is a very different temper that Jesus Christ has in view here, and I need only ask you to do again what we have had occasion to do in the previous sermons of this series – to link this characteristic with those that go before it, of which it is regarded as being the bright and consummate flower and final outcome. No man can bring to others that which he does not possess. Vainly will he whose own heart is torn by contending passions, whose own life is full of animosities and unreconciled outstanding causes of alienation and divergence between him and God, between him and duty, between him and himself, ever seek to shed any deep or real Peace amongst men. He may superficially solder some external quarrels, but that is not all that Jesus Christ means. His Peacemakers are created by having passed through all the previous experiences which the preceding verses bring out. They have learned the poverty of their own spirits. They have wept tears, if not real and literal, yet those which are far more agonizing -tears of spirit and conscience – when they have thought of their own demerits and foulness. They have bowed in humble submission to the will of God, and even to that will as expressed by the antagonisms of man. They have yearned after the possession of a fuller and nobler righteousness than they have attained. They have learned to judge others with a gentle judgment because they know how much they themselves need it, and to extend to others a helping hand because they are aware of their own impotence and need of succor. They have been led through all these, often painful, experiences into a purity of heart which has been blessed by some measure of vision of God; and, having thus been equipped and prepared, they are fit to go out into the world and say, in the presence of all its tempests, “Peace! Be still.” Something of the miracle working energy of the Master whom they serve will be shed upon those who serve Him.

Brethren, the Peacemaker who is worthy of the name must have gone through these deep spiritual experiences. I do not say that they are to come in regular stages, separable from each other. That is not the way in which a character mounts towards God. It does so not by a flight of steps, at distinctly different elevations, but rather by an ascending slope. And, although these various Christian Graces which precede that of my text are separable in thought, and are linked in the fashion that our Lord sets forth in experience, they may be, and often are, contemporaneous.
But whether separated from one another in time or not, this life preparation, of which the previous verses give us the outline in some fashion or other it must precede our being the sort of Peacemakers that Christ desires and blesses.

There is only one more point that I would make here before I go on, and that is that it is well to notice that the climax of Christian character, according to Jesus Christ Himself, is found in our relations to men, and not in our relation to God. Worship of heart and spirit, devout emotions of the sacredest, sweetest, most hallowed and hallowing sort, are absolutely indispensable, as I have tried to show you. But equally, if not more, important is it for us to remember that the purest communion with God, and the selectest emotional experiences of the Christian life, are meant to be the bases of active service – and that, if such service does not follow these, there is good reason for supposing that these are spurious, and worth very little. The service of man is the outcome of the love of God. He who begins with poverty of spirit is perfected when, forgetting himself, and coming down from the, mountain top, where the Shekinah cloud of the Glory and the audible voice are, he plunges into the struggles of the multitude below, and frees the devil riddcn boy from the demon that possesses him. Begin by all means with poverty of spirit, or you will never get to this -“Blessed are the Peacemakers.” But see to it that poverty of spirit leads to the meekness, the mercifulness, the Peace bringing influence which Christ has pronounced blessed.

II. What Is The Peace?

This is a very favorite text with people that know very little of the depths of Christianity. They fancy that it appeals to common sense and men’s natural consciences, apart altogether from minuteness of doctrine or of Christian experience. They are very much mistaken. No doubt there is a surface of truth, but only a surface, in the application that is generally given to these words of our text, as if it meant nothing more than “he is a good man that goes about and tries to make contending people give up their quarrels, and produces a healing atmosphere of tranquillity wherever he goes.” That is perfectly true, but there is a great deal more in the text than that. If we consider the Scriptural usage of this great word “Peace” and all the ground that it covers in human experience, if we remember that it enters as an element into Christ’s own name, the “Peace Bringer,” the “Prince of Peace”; and if we notice, as I have already done, the place which this Beatitude occupies in the series, we shall be obliged to look for some far deeper meaning before we can understand the sweep of our Lord’s intention here.

I do not think that I am going one inch too far, or forcing meanings into His words which they are not intended to bear, when I say that the first characteristic of the Peace, which His disciples have been passed through their apprenticeship in order to fit them to bring, is the Peace of reconciliation with God. The cause of all the other fightings in the world is that men’s relation to the Father in Heaven is disturbed, and that, whilst there flow out from Him only amity and love, with antagonism often, with opposition of will these are met by us, and with indifference and for often, with alienation of heart of forgetfulness almost uniformly. So the first thing to be done to make men at Peace with one another and with themselves is to rectify their relation to God, and bring Peace there.
We often hear in these days complaints of Christian Churches and Christian people because they do not fling themselves with sufficient energy to please the censors, into movements which are intended to bring about happier relations in society. The longest way round is sometimes the shortest way home. It does not belong to all of us Christians, and I doubt whether it belongs to the Christian Church as such at all, to fling itself into the movements to which I have referred. But if a man go and carry to men the great message of a reconciled and a reconciling God manifest in Jesus Christ, and bringing Peace between men and God, he will have done more to sweeten society and put an end to hostility than I think he will be likely to do by any other method. Christian men and women, whatever else you and I are here for, we are here mainly that we may preach, by lip and life, the great message that in Christ is our Peace, and that God “was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”

We are not to leave out, of course, that which is so often taken as being the sole meaning of the great word of my text. There is much that we are all bound to do to carry the tranquilizing and soothing influences of Gospel principles and of Christ’s example into the littlenesses of daily life. Any fool can stick a lucifer match into a haystack and make a blaze. It is easy to promote strife. There is a malicious love of it in us all and ill natured gossip has a great deal to do in bringing it about. But it takes something more to put the fire out than it did to light it, and there is no nobler office for Christians than to seek to damp down all these devil’s flames of envy and jealousy and mutual animosity. We have to do it, first, by making very sure that we do not answer scorn with scorn, gibes with gibes, hate with hate, but “seek to overcome evil with good.” It takes two to make a quarrel, and your most hostile antagonist cannot break the Peace unless you help him. If you are resolved to keep it, kept it will be.

May I say another word? I think that our text, though it goes a good deal deeper, does also very plainly tell us Christian folk what is our duty in relation to literal warfare. There is no need for me to discuss here the question as to whether actual fighting with armies and swords is ever legitimate or not. It is a curious kind of Christian duty certainly, if it ever gets to be one. And when one thinks of the militarism that is crushing Europe and driving her ignorant classes to wild schemes of revolution; and when one thinks of the hell of battle fields, of the miseries of the wounded, of mourning widows, of ruined peaceful peasants, of the devil’s passions that war sets loose, some of us find it extremely hard to believe that all that is ever in accordance with the mind of Christ. But whether you agree with me in that or no, surely my text points to the duty of the Christian Church to take up a very much more decisive position in reference to the military spirit than, alas! It ever has done. Certainly it does seem to be not very obviously in accordance with Christ’s teachings that men of war should be launched with a religious service, or that Te Deums should be sung because thousands have been killed. It certainly does seem to be something like a satire on European Christianity that one of the chief lessons we have taught the East is that we have instructed the Japanese how to use Western weapons to fight their enemies. Surely, surely, if Christian Churches laid to heart as they ought these plain words of the Master, they would bring their united influence to bear against that demon of war, and that pinchbeck, spurious glory which is connected with it. “Blessed are the peacemakers”; let us try to earn the benediction.

III. The Reward Of Peacemakers

“They shall be called the sons of God.” Called? By whom? Christ does not say, but it should not be difficult to ascertain. It seems to me that to suppose that it is by men degrades this promise, instead of making it the climax of the whole series. Besides, it is not true that if a Christian man lives as I have been trying to describe, protesting against certain evils, trying to diffuse an atmosphere of Peace round about him; and, above all, seeking to make known the Name of the great Peacemaker, men will generally call him a “son of God.” The next verse but one tells us what they will call him. “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.” They are a great deal more likely to have stones and rotten eggs flung at them than to be pelted with bouquets of scented roses of popular approval. No! No! It is not man’s judgment that is meant here. It matters very little what men call us. It matters everything what God calls us. It is He who will call them “sons of God.” So the Apostle John thought that Christ meant, for he very beautifully and touchingly quotes this passage when he says, “Beloved! Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”

God’s calling is a recognition of men for what they are. God owns the man that lives in the fashion that we have been trying to outline. God owns him for His child; manifestly a son, because he has the child likeness – the Father’s likeness. “Be ye therefore imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love.” God in Christ is the first Peacemaker, and they who go about the world proclaiming His Peace and making Peace, bear the image of the Heavenly, and are owned by God as His sons. What does that owning mean? Well, it means a great deal which has yet to be disclosed, but it means this, too, that the whisper of the Voice which owns us for children will be heard by ourselves. The Spirit which cries, “Abba, Father!” will open our ears to hear Him say, “Thou art My beloved son”. Or, to put it into plain English, there is no surer way by which we can come to the calm, happy, continual consciousness of being the children of God than by this living like Him, to spread the Peace of God over all hearts.

I have said in former sermons that all these promises, which are but the natural outcome of the characteristics to which they are attached, have a double reference, being fulfilled here, and in maturity hereafter. Like the rest, this one has that double reference. For the consciousness, here and now, that we are the children of God is but, as it were, the morning twilight of what shall hereafter be an unsetting meridian sunshine. What depths of Divine assimilation, what mysteries of calm, peaceful, filial fellowship, what riches beyond count of Divine inheritance, He in the name of His Son, the possession of these alone can tell. For the same Apostle, whose comment upon these words we have already quoted, goes on to say, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.”
Only we have one assurance, wide enough for all anticipation, and firm enough for solid hope: “If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” He must make us sons before we can be called sons of God. He must give us Peace with God, with ourselves, with men, with circumstances, before we can go forth effectually to bring Peace to others. If He has given us these good things, He has bound us to spread them. Let us do so. And if our Peace ever is spoken in vain as regards others, it will come back to us again; and we shall be kept in perfect Peace, even in the midst of strife, until we enter at last into the city of Peace and serve the King of Peace forever.

Grace, Mercy, and Peace

“Grace be with you, Mercy, and Peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love” (2Jn. 1:3).

We have here a very unusual form of the Apostolic salutation. “Grace, Mercy, and Peace” are put together in this fashion only in Paul’s two Epistles to Timothy, and in this the present instance; and all reference to the Holy Spirit as an agent in the benediction is, as there, omitted.

The three main words, “Grace, Mercy, and Peace,” stand related to each other in a very interesting manner. If you will think for a moment you will see, I presume, that the Apostle starts, as it were, from the fountain head, and slowly traces the course of the blessing down to its lodgment in the heart of man. There is the fountain, and the stream, and, if I may so say, the great still lake in the soul, into which its waters flow, and which the flowing waters make. There is the sun, and the beam, and the brightness grows deep in the heart of man. Grace, referring solely to the Divine attitude and thought: Mercy, the manifestation of grace in act, referring to the workings of that great Godhead in its relation to humanity: and Peace, which is the issue in the soul of the fluttering down upon it of the Mercy which is the activity of the Grace. So these three come down, as it were, a great, solemn, marble staircase from the heights of the Divine Mind, one step at a time, down to the level of earth; and the blessings which are shed along the earth. Such is the order. All begins with Grace; and the end and purpose of Grace, when it flashes into deed, and becomes Mercy, is to fill my soul with quiet repose, and shed across all the turbulent sea of human love a great calm, a beam of sunshine that gilds, and miraculously stills while it gilds, the waves.

If that be, then, the account of the relation of these three to one another, let me just dwell for a moment upon their respective characteristics, that we may get more fully the large significance and wide scope of this blessing. Let us begin at what may be regarded either as the highest point from which all the stream descends, or as the foundation upon which all the structure rests. “Grace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father.” These two, blended and yet separate, to either of whom a Christian man has a distinct relation, these Two are the Sources, equally, of the whole of the Grace.

The Scriptural idea of Grace is love that stoops, and that pardons, and that communicates. I say nothing about that last characteristic, but I would like to dwell for a moment or two upon the other phases of this great word, a key word to the understanding of so much of Scripture.

The first thing then that strikes me in it is how it exults in that great thought that there is no reason whatsoever for God’s love except God’s will. The very foundation and notion of the word “Grace” is a free, undeserved, unsolicited, self prompted, and altogether gratuitous bestowment, a love that is its own reason, as indeed the whole of the Divine acts are, just as we say of Him that He draws His being from Himself, so the whole motive for His action and the whole reason for His heart of tenderness to us lies in Himself. We have no power. We love one another because we apprehend something deserving of love, or fancy that we do. We love one another because there is something in the object on which our love falls, which, either by kindred or by character, or by visible form, draws it out. We are influenced so, and love a thing because the thing or the person is perceived by us as being worthy, for some reason or other, of the love. God loves because He cannot help it; God loves because He is God. Our love is drawn out – I was going to say pumped out – by an application of external causes. God’s love is like an artesian well, whensoever you strike, up comes, self impelled, gushing into light because there is such a central store of it beneath everything, the bright and flashing waters. Grace is love that is not drawn out, but that bursts out, self originated, undeserved. “Not for your sakes, be it known unto you, O house of Israel, but for Mine Own Name’s sake, do I this.” The Grace of God is above that, comes spontaneously, driven by its own fulness, and welling up unasked, unprompted, undeserved, and therefore never to be turned away by our evil, never to be wearied by our indifference, never to be brushed aside by our negligence, never to be provoked by our transgression, the fixed, eternal, unalterable center of the Divine Nature.

His love is Grace.

And then, in like manner, let me remind you that there lies in this great word, which in itself is a Gospel, the preaching that God’s love, though it be not turned away by, is made tender by our sin. Grace is love extended to a person that might reasonably expect, because he deserves something very different, and when there is laid, as the foundation of everything, “the Grace of our Father and of the Son of the Father,” it is but packing into one word that great truth which we all of us, Saints and sinners, need – a sign that God’s love is love that deals with our transgressions and shortcomings, flows forth perfectly conscious of them, and manifests itself in taking them away, both in their guilt, punishment, and peril. “The Grace of our Father” is a love to which sin convinced consciences may certainly appeal; a love to which all sin tyrannized souls may turn for emancipation and deliverance. Then, if we turn for a moment from that deep fountain, “Love’s ever springing well,” as one of our old hymns has it, to the stream, we get other blessed thoughts. The love, the Grace, breaks into Mercy. The fountain gathers itself into a river, the infinite, Divine love concentrates itself in act, and that act is described by this one word, Mercy. As Grace is love which forgives, so Mercy is love which pities and helps. Mercy regards men, its object, as full of sorrows and miseries, and so robes itself in garb of compassion, and takes wine and oil into its hands to pour into the wound, and lays often a healing hand, very carefully and very gently, upon the creature, lest, like a clumsy surgeon, it should pain instead of heal, and hurt where it desires to console. God’s Grace softens itself into Mercy, and all His dealings with us men must be on the footing that we are not only sinful, but that we are weak and wretched, and so fit subjects for a compassion which is the strangest paradox of a perfect and Divine heart.

As the Mercy of God is the fountain and the outcome of His Grace the stream, so is Peace the great lake which spreads itself when it is received into a human heart. Peace comes, the all sufficient summing up of everything that God can give, and from His loving kindness, and from their needs that men man can need. The world is too wide to be narrowed to any single discords and disharmonies which trouble men. Peace with God; Peace in this anarchic kingdom within me, where conscience and will, hopes and fears, duty and passion, sorrows and joys, cares and confidence, are ever fighting one another; where we are torn asunder by conflicting aims and rival claims, and wherever any part of our nature asserting itself against another leads to intestine warfare, and troubles the poor soul. All that is harmonized and quieted down, and made concordant and cooperative to one great end, when the Grace and the Mercy have flowed silently into our spirits and harmonized aims and desires.
There is Peace that comes from submission; tranquillity of spirit, which is the crown and reward of obedience; repose, which is the very smile upon the face of faith, and all these things are given unto us along with the Grace and Mercy of our God. And is the man that possesses this is at Peace with God, and at Peace with himself, so he may bear in his heart that singular blessing of a perfect tranquillity and quiet amidst the distractions of duty, of sorrows, of losses, and of cares. “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known unto God; and the Peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” And he who is thus at friendship with God, and in harmony with himself, and at rest from sorrows and cares, will surely find no enemies amongst men with whom he must needs be at war, but will be a son of Peace, and walk the world, meeting in them all a friend and a brother. So all discords may be quieted; even thought still we have to fight the good fight of faith, we may do, like Gideon of old, build an altar to “Jehovah Shalom,” the God of Peace.

And now one word, as to what this great text tells us are the conditions for a Christian man, of preserving, vivid and full, these great gifts, “Grace, Mercy, and Peace be unto you,” or, as the Revised Version more accurately reads, “shall be with us in truth; and love.” Truth and love are, as it were, the space within which the river flows, if I may so say, the banks of the stream. Or, to get away from the metaphor, these are set forth as being the conditions abiding in which for our parts we shall receive this benediction “In truth and in love.”

I have no time to enlarge upon the great thoughts that these two words, thus looked at, suggest; let me put it into a sentence. To “abide in the truth” is to keep ourselves conscientiously and habitually under the influence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and of the Christ who is Himself the Truth. They who, keeping in Him, realizing His presence, believing His Word, founding their thinking about the unseen, about their relations to God, about sin and forgiveness, about righteousness and duty, and about a thousand other things, upon Christ and the revelation that He makes, these are those who shall receive “Grace, Mercy, and Peace.” Keep yourselves in Christ, and Christ coming to you, bringing in His hands, and is, the “Grace and the Mercy and the Peace” of which my text speaks. And in love, if we want these blessings, we must keep ourselves consciously in the possession of, and in the grateful response of our hearts to the great love, the Incarnate Love, which is given in Jesus Christ.
Here is, so to speak, the line of direction which these great mercies take. The man who stands in their path, they will come to him and fill his heart; the man that steps aside, they will run past him and not touch him. You keep yourselves in the love of God, by communion, by the exercise of mind and heart and faith upon Him; and then be sure – for my text is not only a wish, but a confident affirmation – be sure that the fountain of all blessing itself, and the stream of petty benedictions which flow from it, will open themselves out in your hearts into a quiet, deep sea, on whose calm surface no tempests shall ever rave, and on whose unruffled bosom God Himself will manifest and mirror His face.

The Gradual Healing Of The Blind Man

THIS MIRACLE, which is only recorded by the Evangelist Mark, has about it several very peculiar features. Some of these it shares with one other of our Lord’s miracles, which also is found only in this gospel, and which occurred about the same time; that miracle of healing the deaf and dumb man recorded in the previous chapter. Both of them have these points in common: that our Lord takes the sufferer away and works His miracle in privacy; that in both there is an abundant use of the same singular means-our Lord’s touch, and the saliva upon His finger; and that in both there is the urgent injunction of entire secrecy laid upon the recipient of the benefit.

But this miracle had another peculiarity, in which it stands absolutely alone, and that is that the work is done in stages; that the power which at other times has but to speak and it is done, here seems to labor, and the cure comes slowly; that in the middle Christ pauses, and like a physician trying the experiment of a drug, asks the patient if any effect is produced, and getting the answer that some mitigation is realized, repeats the application, and perfect recovery is the result.

Now, how unlike that is to all the rest of Christ’s miraculous working we do not need to point out; but the question may arise, what is the meaning, and what the reason, and what the lessons of this unique and anomalous form of miraculous working? It is to that question that I wish to turn now: for I think that the answer will open up to us some very precious things in regard to that great Lord, the revelation of whose heart and character is the inmost and the loftiest meaning both of His words and of His works.

I take these three points of peculiarity to which I have referred: the privacy, the strange and abundant use of means veiling the miraculous power, and the gradual, slow nature of the cure. I see in them these three things: Christ isolating the man that He would heal; Christ stooping to the sense-bound
nature by using outward means; and Christ making His power work slowly, to keep abreast of the man’s slow faith.

Christ Isolates the Man Whom He Wanted to Heal

First, then, here we have Christ isolating the man whom He wanted to heal. Now, there may have been something about our Lord’s circumstances and purposes at the time of this miracle which accounted for the great urgency with which at this period He impresses secrecy upon all around Him. What that was it is not necessary for us to inquire here, but this is worth noticing, that in obedience to this wish, on His own part, for privacy at the time, He covers over with a veil His miraculous working, and does it quietly, as one might almost say, in a comer. He never sought to display His miraculous working; here He absolutely tries to hide it. That fact of Christ taking pains to conceal His miracle carries in it two great truths: first, about the purpose and nature of miracles in general, and second, about His character, as to each of which a few words may be said.

This fact, of a miracle done in intended secrecy, and shrouded in deep darkness, suggests to us the true point of view from which to look at the whole subject of miracles.

People say they were meant to be attestations of His Divine mission. Yes, no doubt that is true partially; but that was never the sole nor even the main purpose for which they were wrought; and when anybody asked Jesus Christ to work a miracle for that purpose only, He rebuked the desire and refused to gratify it. He wrought the miracle, not coldly, in order to witness to His mission, but every one of them was the token, because it was the outcome, of His own sympathetic heart, brought into contact with human need. And instead of the miracles of Jesus Christ being cold, logical proofs of His mission, they were all glowing with the earnestness of a loving sympathy, and came from Him at sight of sorrow as naturally as rays from the sun.

Then, on the other hand, the same fact carries with it, too, a lesson about His character. Is not He here doing what He tells us to do; “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth”? He dares not wrap His talent in a napkin, He would be unfaithful to His mission if He hid His light under a bushel. All goodness “does good by stealth,” even if it does not “blush to find it farne”—and that universal mark of true benevolence marked His. He had to solve in His human life what we have to solve, the problem of keeping the narrow path between ostentation of powers and selfish concealment of faculty; and He solved it thus, leaving us an example that we should follow in His steps.

But that is somewhat aside from the main purpose to which I wanted to turn in these first remarks. Christ did not invest the miracle with any of its peculiarities for His own sake only. All that is singular about it, will, I think, find its best explanation in the condition and character of the subject, the man on whom it was wrought. What sort of a man was he? Well, the narrative does not tell us much, but if we use our historical imagination and our eyes we may learn something about him. First he was a Gentile; the land in which the miracle was wrought was the half-heathen country on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. In the second place, it was other people that brought him; he does not come of his own accord. Then again, it is their prayer that is mentioned, not his—he asks nothing.

You see him standing there, hopeless, listless; not believing that this Jewish stranger is going to do anything for him; with his impassive blind face glowing with no entreaty to reinforce his companions’ prayers. And suppose he is a man of that sort, with no expectation of anything from this rabbi, how is Christ to get at him? It is no use talking to him. His eyes are shut, so cannot see the sympathy beaming in His face. There is one thing possible—to lay hold of Him by the hand; and the touch, gentle, loving, firm, says this, at least: “Here is a man that has some interest in me, and whether He can do anything or not for me, He is going to try something.” Would not that kindle an expectation in him? And is it not in parable just exactly what Jesus Christ does for the whole world? Is not that act of His by which He put out His hand and seized the unbelieving limp hand of the blind man that hung by his side, the very same in principle as that by which He “taketh hold of the seed of Abraham,” and is made like to His brethren? Is not the mystery of the Incarnation and the meaning of it wrapped up as in a germ in that little simple incident, He put out His hand and touched him?

Is there not in it too a lesson for all you good-hearted Christian men and women, in all your work? If you want to do anything for your Master and for your brethren, there is only one way to do it—to come down to their level and get hold of their hands, and then there is some chance of doing them good. We must be content to take the hands of beggars if we are to make the blind to see.

And then, having thus drawn near to the man, and established in his heart some dim expectation of something coming, He gently draws him away out of the little village. I wonder no painter has ever painted that, instead of repeating ad nauseam two or three scenes out of the Gospels. I wonder none of them has ever seen what a parable it is—the Christ leading the blind man out into solitude before He can say to him “Behold!” How as they went, step-by-step, the poor blind eyes not telling the man where they were going, or how far away he was being taken from his friends, his conscious dependence upon this Stranger would grow! How he would feel more and more at each step, “I am at His mercy! What is He going to do with me?” And how thus there would be kindled in his heart some beginnings of an expectation, as well as some surrendering of himself to Christ’s guidance! These two things, the expectation and the surrender, have in them at all events some faint beginnings and rude germs of the highest faith, to lead up to which is the purpose of all that Christ here does.

And is not that what He does for us all? Sometimes by sorrows, sometimes by sickbeds, sometimes by shutting us out from chosen spheres of activity, sometimes by striking down the dear ones at our sides, and leaving us lonely in the desert—is He not saying to us in a thousand ways. “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place?” As Israel was led into the wilderness that God might “speak to her heart,” so often Christ draws us aside, if not by outward providences such as these, yet by awaking in us that solemn sense of personal responsibility and making us feel our solitude, that He may lead us to feel His allsufficient companionship.

Ah! brethren, here is a lesson from all this-if you want Jesus Christ to give you His highest gifts and to reveal to you His fairest beauty, you must be alone with Him. He loves to deal with single souls. Our lives, many of them, can never be outwardly alone. We are jammed up against one another in such a fashion, and the hurry and pressure of city life is so great with us all that it is often impossible for us to find the outward secrecy and solitude. But a man may be alone in a crowd; the heart may be gathered up into itself, and there may be a still atmosphere round about us in the shop and in the market, and among the busy ways of men, in which we and Christ shall be alone together. Unless there be, I do not think any of us will see the King in His beauty or the far-off land. “I was left alone, and saw this great vision” is the law for all true beholding.

So, dear brethren, try to feel how awful this earthly life of ours is in its necessary solitude; that each of us by himself must shape out his own destiny, and make his own character; that every unit of the swarms upon our streets is a unit that has to face the solemn facts of life for and by itself that alone you live, that alone you will die; that alone you will have to give account of yourself before God, and in the solitude let the hand of your heart feel for His hand that is stretched out to grasp yours, and listen to Him saying “Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world.” There was no dreariness in the solitude when it was Christ that “took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town.”

Christ Stooping to a Sense-Bound Nature by the Use of Material Helps

Second, we have Christ stooping to a sense-bound nature by the use of material helps. No doubt there was something in the man, as I have said, which made it advisable that these methods should be adopted. If he were the sort of person that I have described, slow of faith, not much caring about the possibility of cure, and not having much hope that anything would come of itthen we can see the fitness of the means adopted; the hand laid upon the eyes, the finger possibly moistened with saliva touching the ball, the pausing to question, the repeated application. They make a ladder by which his hope and confidence might climb to the apprehension of the blessing. And that points to a general principle of the Divine dealings. God stoops to a feeble faith, and gives to it outward things by which it may rise to an apprehension of spiritual realities.

Is not that the meaning of the whole complicated system of Old Testament revelation? Is not that the meaning of the altars, and priests, and sacrifices, and the old cumbrous apparatus of the Mosaic law? Was it not all a picture book in which the infant eyes of the race might see in a material form deep spiritual realities? Was not that the meaning and explanation of our Lord’s parabolic teaching? He veils spiritual truth in common things that He may reveal it by common things-taking fishermen’s boats, their nets, a sower’s basket, a baker’s dough, and many another homely article, and finding in them the emblems of the loftiest truth.

Is not that the meaning of His own Incarnation? It is no use talking to men about God, let them see Him; no use preaching about principles, give them the facts of His life. Revelation does not consist in the setting forth of certain propositions about God, but in the exhibition of the acts of God in a human life.

And so the Word was flesh and wrought
With human hands the creed of creeds.

And still further, may we not say that this is the inmost meaning and purpose of the whole frame of the material universe? It exists in order that, as a parable and a symbol, it may proclaim the things that are unseen and eternal. Its depths and heights, its splendors, and its energies are all in order that through them spirits may climb to the apprehension of the ‘Ring eternal, immortal, invisible,” and the realities of His spiritual kingdom.

So in regard of all the externals of Christianity, forms of worship, ordinances, and so on-all these, in like manner, are provided in condescension to our weakness, in order that by them we may be lifted above themselves; for the purpose of the temple is to prepare for the time and the place where the seer “saw no temple therein.” They are but the cups that carry the wine, the flowers whose chalices bear the honey, the ladders by which the soul may climb to God Himself, the rafts upon which the precious treasure may be floated into our hearts.

If Christ’s touch and Christ’s saliva healed, it was not because of anything in them, but because He willed it so and He Himself is the source of all the healing energy. Therefore, let us keep these externals in their proper place of subordination, and remember that in Him, not in them, lies the healing power; and that even Christ’s touch may become the object of superstitious regard, as it was when that poor woman that came through the crowd to lay her finger on the hem of His garment, thinking that she could bear away a surreptitious blessing without the conscious outgoing of His power. He healed her because there was a spark of faith in her superstition, but she had to learn that it was not the hem of the garment but the loving will of Christ that cured, in order that the dross of superstitious reliance on the outward vehicle might be melted away, and the pure gold of faith in His love and power might remain.

Christ Accommodating the Pace of His Power to the Slowness of the Man’s Faith

Lastly, we have Christ accommodating the pace of His power to the slowness of the man’s faith. The whole story, as I have said, is unique, and especially that part of it”He put his hands upon him, and asked him if he saw ought.” One might have expected an answer with a little more gratitude in it, with a little more wonder in it, with a little more emotion in it. Instead of these it is almost surly, or at any rate strangely reticent—a matter-of-fact answer to the question, and there an end. As our Revised Version reads it better: “I see men, for I behold them as trees walking.” Curiously accurate! A dim glimmer had come into the eye, but there is not yet distinctness of outline nor sense of magnitude, which must be acquired by practice. The eye has not yet been educated, and it was only because these blurred figures were in motion that he knew they were not trees. “After that he put his hands again upon his eyes and made him look up.” Or as the Revised Version has it with a better reading, “and he looked stedfastly.” An eager straining of the new faculty to make sure that he had got it, and to test its limits and its perfection. “And he was restored and saw all things clearly.”

Now I take it that the worthiest view of that strangely protracted process, broken up into two halves by the question that is dropped into the middle, is this, that it was determined by the man’s faith, and was meant to increase it. He was healed slowly because he believed slowly. His faith was a condition of his cure, and the measure of it determined the measure of the restoration and the rate of the growth of his faith settled the rate of the perfecting of Christ’s work on him. As a rule, faith in His power to heal was a condition of Christ’s healing, and that mainly because our Lord would rather have men believing than sound of body. They often wanted only the outward miracle, but He wanted to make it the means of insinuating a better healing into their spirits. And so, not that there was any necessary connection between their faith and the exercise of His miraculous power, but in order that He might bless them with His best gifts, He usually worked on the principle, “According to your faith be it unto you.” And here, as a nurse or a mother with her child might do, He keeps step with the little steps, and goes slowly because the man goes slowly.

Now, both the gradual process of illumination and the rate of that process as determined by faith, are true for us. How dim and partial a glimmer of light comes to many a soul at the outset of the Christian life! How little a new convert knows about God and self and the starry truths of His great revelation! Christian progress does not consist in seeing new things, but in seeing the old thing more clearly: the same Christ, the same Cross, only more distinctly and deeply apprehended, and more closely incorporated into my very being. We do not grow away from Him, but we grow into knowledge of Him. The first lesson that we get is the last lesson that we shall learn, and He is the Alpha at the beginning, and the Omega at the end of the alphabet-the letters of which make up our knowledge for earth and heaven.

But then let me remind you that just in the measure in which you expect blessing of any kind, illumination and purifying and help of all sorts from Jesus Christ, just in that measure will you get it. You can limit the working of Almighty power, and can determine the rate at which it shall work on you. God fills the waterpots, to the brim, but not beyond the brim; and if, like the woman in the Old Testament story, we stop bringing vessels, the oil will stop flowing. It is an awful thing to think that we have the power, as it were, to turn a stopcock, and so increase or diminish, or cut off altogether the supply of God’s mercy and Christ’s healing and cleansing love in our hearts. You will get as much of God as you want and no more. The measure of your desire is the measure of your capacity, and the measure of your capacity is the measure of God’s gift. “Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.” And if your faith is heavily shod and steps slowly, His power and His grace will step slowly along with it; keeping rank and step. According to your faith shall it be unto you.

Ah, dear friends, desire Him to help and bless you, and He will do it. Expect Him to do it, and He will do it. Go to Him like the other blind man, and say to Him—”Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me … that I might receive my sight,” and He will lay His hand upon you, and at any rate a glimmer will come, which will grow in the measure of your humble, confident desire, until at last He takes you by the hand and leads you out of this poor little village of a world, and lays His finger for a brief moment of blindness upon your eyes and asks you if you see ought. Then you look up, and the first face that you behold shall be His, whom you saw as “through a glass, darkly” with your dim eyes in this twilight world.

May that be your experience and mine, through His mercy!



“But grow in Grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2Pe. 3:18).

These are the last words of an old man, written down as his legacy to us. He was himself a striking example of his own precept. It would be interesting study to examine these two letters of the Apostle Peter in order to construct from them a picture of what he became, and to contrast it with his own earlier self when full of self confidence, rashness, and instability. It took a life time for Simon, the son of Jonas, to grow into Peter; but it was done. And the very faults of the character became strength. What he had proved possible in his own case he commands and commends to us, and from the height to which he has reached, he looks upwards to the infinite ascent which he knows he will attain when he puts off this tabernacle; and then downwards to his brethren, bidding them, too, climb and aspire. His last word is like that of the great Roman Catholic Apostle to the East Indies: “Forward!” He is like some trumpeter on the battlefield who spends his last breath in sounding an advance. Immortal hope animates his dying injunction: “Grow! Grow in Grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior.”

So I think we may take these words, dear friends, as the starting point for some very plain remarks about what I am afraid is a neglected duty of growth in Christian character.

I. I begin first, with a word or two about the direction which Christian growth ought to take.

Now those of you who use the Revised Version will see in it a very slight, but very valuable alteration. It reads there: “Grow in the Grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior.” The effect of that alteration being to bring out more clearly that whilst the direction of the growth is twofold, the process is one. And to bring out more clearly, also, that both the Grace and the knowledge have connection with Jesus Christ. He is the Giver and the Author of the Grace. He is the Object of the knowledge. The one is more moral and spiritual; the other, if we may so say, more intellectual; but both are realized by one act of progress, and both inherent, and refer to, and are occupied with, and are derived from, Jesus Christ Himself.

Let us look a little more closely at this double direction, this bifurcation, as it were, of Christian growth. The tree, like some of our forest trees, in its normal progress, diverges into two main branches at a short distance upwards from the root.

First, we have growth in the “Grace” of Christ. Grace, of course, means, first, the undeserved love and favor which God in Jesus Christ bears to us sinful and inferior creatures; and then it means the consequence of that love and favor in the manifold spiritual endowments which in us become “graces,” beauties, and excellencies of Christian character. So then, if you are a Christian, you ought to be continually realizing a deeper and more blessed consciousness of Christ’s love and favor as yours. You ought to be, if I may so say, resting every day nearer and nearer to His heart, and getting more and more sure, and more and more happily sure, of more and more of His Mercy and love to you.

And if you are a Christian you ought not only thus to be realizing daily, with increasing certitude and power, the fact of His love, but you ought to be drinking in and deriving more and more every day of the consequences of that love, of the spiritual gifts of which His hands are full. There is open for each of us in Him an inexhaustible store of abundance. And if our Christian life is real and vigorous there ought to be in us a daily increasing capacity, and therefore a daily increasing possession of the gifts of His Grace. There ought to be, in other words, also a daily progressive transformation into His likeness. It is “the Grace of our Lord Jesus,” not only in the sense that He is the Author and the Bestower of it to each of us, but also in the sense that He Himself possesses and exemplifies it. So that there is nothing mystical and remote from the experience of daily life in this exhortation: “Grow in Grace”, and it is not growth in some occult theological virtue, or transcendent experience, but a very plain, practical thing, a daily transformation, with growing completeness and precision of resemblance, into the likeness of Jesus Christ; the Grace that was in Him being transferred to me, and my character being growingly irradiated and refined, softened and ennobled by the reflection of the luster of His.

This it is to “grow into the Grace of our Lord and Savior”; a deeper consciousness of His love creeping round the roots of my heart every day, and fuller possession of His gifts placed in my opening hand every day; and a continual approximation to the beauty of His likeness, which never halts nor ceases.

“Grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior.” The knowledge of a person is not the same as the knowledge of a creed or of a thought or of a book. We are to grow in the knowledge of Christ, which includes but is more than the intellectual apprehension of the truths concerning Him. He might turn the injunction into – “Increase your acquaintance with your Savior.” Many Christians never get to be any more intimate with Him than they were when they were first introduced to Him. They are on a kind of bowing acquaintance with their Master, and have little more than that. We sometimes begin an acquaintance which we think promises to ripen into a friendship, but are disappointed. Circumstances or some want of congeniality which is discovered prevents its growth. So with not a few professing Christians. They have got no nearer to Jesus Christ than when they first knew Him. Their friendship has not grown. It has never reached the stage where all restraints are laid aside and there is perfect confidence. “Grow in the knowledge of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Get more and more intimate with Him, nearer to Him, and franker and more cordial with Him day by day.
But there is another side to the injunction besides that. We are to grow in the grasp, the intellectual grasp and realization of the truths which lie wrapped up and enfolded in Him. The first truths that a man learns when he becomes a Christian are the most important. The lesson that the little child learns contains the Omega as well as the Alpha of all truth. There is no word in all the Gospel that is an advance on that initial word, the faith of which saves the most ignorant who trusts to it. We begin with the end, if I may say so, and the highest truth is the first truth that we learn. But the aspect which that truth bears to the man when, first of all, it dawns upon him, and he sees in it the end of his fears, the cleansing of his heart, the pardoning of his sins, his acceptance with God, is a very different thing from the aspect that it ought to wear to him, after, say forty years of pondering, of growing up to it, after years of experience have taught him. Life is the best commentary upon the truths of the Gospel, and the experience teaches their depths and their power, their far reaching applications and harmonies. So our growth in the knowledge of Jesus Christ is not a growing away from the earliest lessons, or a leaving them behind, but a growing up to and into them. So as to learn more fully and clearly all their infinite contents of Grace and truth. The treasure put into our hands at first is discovered in its true preciousness as life and trial test its metal and its inexhaustibleness. The child’s lesson is the man’s lesson. All our Christian progress in knowledge consists in bringing to light the deep meaning, the far reaching consequences of the fact of Christ’s incarnation, death, and glory. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The same truth which shone at first a star in a far off sky, through a sinful man’s night of fear and agony, grows in brilliance as we draw nearer to it, until at last it blazes, the central Sun of the Universe, the hearth for all vital warmth, the fountain of all guiding light, the center of all energy. Christ in His manhood, in His divinity. Christ in His Cross, resurrection, and glory, is the object of all knowledge, and we grow in the knowledge of Him by penetrating more deeply into the truths which we have long ago learned, as well as by following them as they lead us into new fields, and disclose unsuspected issues in creed and practice.

That growth will not be one sided; for Grace and knowledge will advance side by side – the moral and spiritual keeping step with the intellectual, the practical with the theoretical. And that growth will have no term. It is growth towards an infinite object of our aspiration, imitation, and affection. So we shall ever approach and never surpass Jesus Christ. Such endless progress is the very salt of life. It keeps us young when physical strength decays. It flames, an immortal hope, to light the darkness of the grave when all other hopes are quenched in night.

II. Now, for a moment, look at another thought, viz., the obligation.

It is a command, that is to say, the will is involved. Growth is to be done by effort, and the fact that it is a command teaches us this, that we are not to take this one metaphor as if it exhausted the whole of the facts of the case in reference to Christian progress.

You would never think of telling a child to grow any more than you would think of telling a plant to grow, but Peter does tell Christian men and women to grow. Why? Because they are not plants, but men with wills, which can resist, and can either further or hinder their progress.

Lo! In the middle of the wood,
The folded leaf is wooed from out the bud,
And there Grows green and broad,
And takes no care.

But that is not how we grow. “In the sweat of thy brow,” with pain and peril, with effort and toil, and not otherwise, do men grow in everything but stature. And especially is it so in the Christian character. There are other metaphors that need to be taken into consideration as well as this of growth, with all its sweet suggestions of continuous, effortless, spontaneous advance.
The Christian progress is not only growth, it is warfare. The Christian progress is not only growth, it is a race. The Christian progress is not only growth, it is mortifying the old man. The Christian progress is not only growth, it is putting off the old man with his deeds and putting on the new! “First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear,” was never meant for a complete account of how the Christian life is perfected.

We are bidden to grow, and that command points to hindrances and resistance, to the need for effort and the governing action of our own wills.

The command is one sorely needed in the present state of our average Christianity. Our Churches are full of monsters, specimens of arrested growth, dwarfs, who have scarcely grown since they were babes, infants all their lives. I come to you with a very plain question: Have you any more of Christ’s beauty in your characters, any more of His Grace in your hearts, any more of His truth in your minds than you had a year ago, ten years ago, or at that far off period when some of you gray headed men first professed to be Christians? Have you experienced so many things in vain? Have the years taught you nothing? Ah, brethren! For how many of us is it true: “When for the time ye ought to be teachers ye have need that one teach you which be the first principles of the oracles of God”? “Grow in Grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior.”

And we need the command because all about us there are hindrances. There is the hindrance of an abuse of the Evangelical doctrine of conversion, and the idea that springs up in many hearts that if once a man has “passed from death unto life,” and has managed to get inside the door of the banqueting hall, that is enough. And there are numbers of people in our Nonconformist communities especially, where that doctrine of conversion is most distinctly preached, whose growth is stopped by the abuse that they make of it in fancying if they have once exercised faith in Jesus Christ they may safely and sinlessly stand still. “Conversion” is turning round. What do we turn round for? Surely, in order that we may travel on in the new direction, not that we may stay where we are. There is also the hindrance of mere indolence, and there is the hindrance arising from absorption in the world and its concerns.

If all your strength is going thither, there is none left to grow with. Many professing Christians take such deep draughts of the intoxicating cup of this world’s pleasures that it stunts their growth. People sometimes give children gin in order to keep them from growing. Some of you do that for your Christian character by the deep draughts that you take of the Circean cup of this world’s pleasures and cares.

And not infrequently, some one favorite evil, some lust or passion, or weakness, or desire, which you have not the strength to cast out, will kill all aspirations and destroy all possibilities of growth; and will be like an iron band round a little sapling, which will confine it and utterly prevent all expansion. Is that the case with any of us? We all need – and I pray you suffer – the word of exhortation.

III. Now, again, consider the method of growth.

There are two things essential to the growth of animal life. One is food, the other is exercise; and your Christian character will grow by no other means.
Now as to the first. The true means by which we shall grow in Christian Grace is by holding continual intercourse and communion with Jesus Christ. It is from Him that all come. He is the Fountain of Life; He gives the life, He nourishes the life, He increases the life. And whilst I have been saying, in an earlier part of this discourse, that we are not to expect an effortless growth, I must here say that we shall very much mistake what Christian progress requires if we suppose that the effort is most profitably directed to the cultivation of specific and single acts of goodness and purity. Our efforts are best when directed to keeping ourselves in union with our Lord. The heart united to Him will certainly be advancing in all things fair and lovely and of good report. Keep yourselves in touch with Christ; and Christ will make you grow. That is to say, occupy heart and mind with Him, let your thoughts go to Him. Do you ever, from morning to night, on a week day, think about your Master, about His truth, about the principles of His Gospel, about His great love to you? Keep your heart in union with Him, in the midst of the rush and hurry of your daily life. Are your desires turning to Him? Do they go out towards Him and feel after Him? It will take an effort to keep up the union with Him, but without the effort there will be no contact, and without the contact there will be no growth. As soon may you expect a plant, wrenched from the soil and shut out from the sunshine to grow, as expect any Christian progress in the hearts which are disjoined from Jesus Christ. But rooted in that soil, smiled upon by that sun, watered by the perpetual dew from His Heaven, we shall “grow like the lily, and cast forth our roots like Lebanon.” The secret of real Christian progress and the direction in which the effort of Christian progress can most profitably and effectually be made, is simply in keeping close to our Lord and Master. He is the Food of the Spirit. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Communion with Christ includes prayer. Desire to grow will help our growth. We tend to become what we long to be. Desire which impels to effort will not be in vain if it likewise impels to prayer. We may have the answer to our petition for growth in set ways; we may be but partially conscious of the answer, nor know that our faces shine when we go among men. But certainly if we pray for what is in such accordance with His will as “growth in Grace”, we shall have the petition that we desire. That longing to know Him better and to possess more of His Grace, like the tendrils of some climbing plant, will always find the support round which it may twine, and by which it may ascend.

The other condition of growth is exercise. Use the Grace which you have, and it increases. Practice the truth which you know, and many things will become clearer. The blacksmith’s muscles are strengthened by wielding the forge hammer, but unused they waste. The child grows by exercise. To him that hath – truly possesses with the possession which only use secures -shall be given.
Communion with Christ, including prayer, and exercise are the means of growth.

IV. Lastly, observe the solemn alternative to growth.

It is not a question of either growing or not growing, and there an end; but if you will look at the context you will see that the exhortation of my text comes in in a very significant connection. “Behold! Beware, lest being led away … ye fall from your own steadfastness.” “But grow in Grace.” That is to say, the only preventive of falling away from steadfastness is continual progress. The alternative of advance is retrogression. There is no standing still upon the inclined plane. If you are not going up gravity begins to act, and down you go. There must either be continual advance or there will be certain decay and corruption. As soon as growth ceases in this physiology disintegration commences. Just as the graces exercised are strengthened, so the graces unexercised decay. The slothful servant wraps his talent in a napkin, and buries it in the ground. He may try to persuade his Master and himself with “There Thou hast that is Thine”; but He will not take up what you buried. Rust and verdigris will have done their work upon the coin – the inscription will be obliterated and the image will be marred.

You cannot bury your Christian Grace in indolence without diminishing it. It will be like a bit of ice wrapped in a cloth and left in the sun, it will all have gone into water when you come to take it out. And the truth that you do not live by, whose relations and large harmonies and controlling power are not being increasingly realized in your lives; that truth is becoming less and less real, more and more shadowy and ghostlike to you. Truth which is not growing is becoming fossilized. “The things most surely believed” are often the things which have least power. Unquestioned truth too often lies “bedridden in the dormitory of the soul side by side with exploded error.” The sure way to reduce your knowledge of Jesus Christ to that inert condition is to neglect increasing it and applying it to your daily life. There are men in all Churches, and there are some whole communions whose creeds are the most orthodox, and also utterly useless, and as near as possible nonentities, simply because the creed is accepted and shelved. If your belief is to be of any use to you, or to be held by you in the face of temptations to abandon it, you must keep it fresh, and oxygenated, so to say, by continual fresh apprehension of it and closer application of it to conduct. As soon as the stream stands, it stagnates; and the very manna from God will breed worms and stink. And Christian truth unpracticed by those who hold it, corrupts itself and corrupts them.

So Peter tells us that the alternative is growth or apostasy. This decay may be most real and unsuspected. There are many, many professing Christians all ignorant that, like the Jewish giant of old, their strength is gone from them, and the Spirit of God departed. My brother, I beseech you, rouse yourself from your contented slothfulness. Do not be satisfied with merely having come within the Temple. Count nothing as won whilst anything remains to be won. There is a whole ocean of boundless Grace and truth rolling shoreless there before you. Do not content yourselves with picking up a few shells on the beach, but launch out into the deep, and learn to know more and more of the Grace and truth and beauty of your Savior and your God.

But remember dead things do not grow. You cannot grow unless you are alive, and you are not alive unless you have Jesus Christ.

Have you given yourselves to Him? Have you taken Him as yours? Given yourselves to Him as His servants, subjects, soldiers? Taken Him for yours as your Savior, Sacrifice, Pattern, Inspirer, Friend? If you have, then you have life which will grow if you keep it in union with Him. Joined to Him, men are like a “tree that is planted by the rivers of water,” which spreads its foliage and bears its fruit, and year after year flings a wider shadow upon the grass, and lifts a sturdier bole to the Heavens. Separated from Him they are like the chaff, which has neither root nor life, and which cannot grow.
Which, my friend, are you?

The Guiding Pillar

“So it was always; the cloud covered [the tabernacle] by day, and the appearance of fire by night” (Num. 9:16).

The children of Israel in the wilderness, surrounded by miracle, had nothing which we do not possess. They had some things in an inferior form; their sustenance came by Manna; ours comes by God’s blessing on our daily work, which is better. Their guidance came by this supernatural pillar, ours comes by the reality of which that pillar was nothing but a picture. And so, instead of fancying that men thus led were in advance of us, we should learn that these, the supernatural manifestations, visible and palpable, of God’s presence and guidance were the beggarly elements: “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

With this explanation of the relation between the miracle and symbol of the old, and the reality and standing miracle of the new covenants, let us look at the eternal truths which are set before us in a transitory form, in this cloud by day and fiery pillar by night.

I. Note first, the double form of the guiding pillar.

The fire was the center; the cloud was wrapped around it. The former was the symbol, making visible to a generation who had to be taught through their senses the inaccessible holiness, and flashing brightness, and purity of the Divine nature; the latter tempered and veiled the too great brightness for feeble eyes.

The same double element is found in all God’s manifestations of Himself to men. In every form of revelation are present both the heart and core of light, which no eye can look upon, and the merciful veil which, because it veils, unveils; because it hides, reveals; makes visible because it conceals; and shows God because it is the hiding of His power. So, through all the history of His dealings with men, there has ever been what is called in Scripture language the “face,” or the “name of God”; the aspect of the Divine nature on which eye can look; and manifested through it there has always been the depth and inaccessible abyss of that Infinite Being. We have to be thankful that in the cloud is the fire, and that round the fire is the cloud. For only so can our eyes behold and our hands grasp the else invisible and remote central Sun of the universe. God hides to make better known the glories of His character. His revelation is the flashing of the uncreated and intolerable light of His infinite Being through the encircling clouds of human conceptions and words, or of deeds which each show forth, in forms fitted to our apprehension, some fragment of His luster. After all revelation He remains unrevealed. After ages of showing forth His glory He is still the King invisible, whom no man hath seen at any time nor can see. The revelation which He makes of Himself is “truth, and is no lie.” The recognition of the presence in it of both the fire and the cloud does not cast any doubt on the reality of our imperfect knowledge, or the authentic participation in the nature of the central light, of the sparkles of it which reach us. We know with a real knowledge what we know of Him. What He shows us is Himself, though not His whole self.

This double aspect of all possible revelation of God, which was symbolized in comparatively gross external form in the pillar that led Israel on its march, and lay stretched out and quiescent, a guarding covering above the Tabernacle when the weary march was still, recurs all through the history of Old Testament revelation by type, and prophecy, and ceremony, in which the encompassing cloud was comparatively dense, and the light which pierced it relatively faint. It reappears in both elements, but combined in new proportions, so as that “the veil – that is to say, His flesh” is thinned to transparency and all aglow with the indwelling luster of manifest Deity, so a light, set in some fair alabaster vase, shines through its translucent walls, bringing out every delicate tint and meandering vein of color, while itself diffused and softened by the enwrapping medium which it beautifies by passing through its pure walls. Both are made visible and attractive to dull eyes by the conjunction. He that hath seen Christ hath seen the Father, and he that hath seen the Father in Christ hath seen the man Christ as none see Him who are blind to the incarnate Deity which illuminates the manhood in which it dwells.

But we have to note also the varying appearance of the pillar according to need. There was a double change in the pillar according to the hour, and according as the congregation was on the march or encamped. By day it was a cloud; by night it glowed in the darkness. On the march it moved before them, an upright pillar, as gathered together for energetic movement; when the camp rested it “returned to the many thousands of Israel” and lay quietly stretched above the tabernacle like one of the long drawn motionless clouds above the setting summer’s sun, glowing through all its substance with unflashing radiance reflected from unseen light, and “on all the glory” (shrined in the Holy Place beneath) was “a defense.”
But these changes of aspect symbolize for us the reality of the Protean capacity of change according to our ever varying needs, which for our blessing we may find in that ever changing, unchanging Divine Presence which will be our companion, if we will.

It was not only by a natural process that, as daylight declined, what had seemed but a column of smoke, in the fervid desert sunlight, brightened into a column of fire, blazing amid the clear stars. But we may well believe in an actual measurement of the degree of light correspondent to the darkness and to the need for certitude and cheering sense of God’s protection which the defenseless camp would feel as they lay down to rest.

When the deceitful brightness of earth glistens and dazzles around me, my vision of Him may be “a cloudy screen to temper the deceitful ray”; and when “there stoops on our path, in storm and shade, the frequent night,” as earth grows darker, and life becomes grayer and more somber, and verges to its even, the pillar blazes brighter before the weeping eye, and draws near to the lonely heart. We have a God that manifests Himself in the pillar of cloud by day, and in the flaming fire by night.

II. Note the guidance of the pillar.

When it lifts the camp marches; when it glides down and lies motionless the march is stopped and the tents are pitched. The main thing which is dwelt upon in this description of the God guided pilgrimage of the wandering people is the absolute uncertainty in which they were kept as to the duration of their encampment, and as to the time and circumstances of their march. Sometimes the cloud tarried upon the Tabernacle many days; sometimes for a night only; sometimes it lifted in the night. “Whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed. Or whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried upon the Tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel abode in their tents, and journeyed not: but when it was taken up, they journeyed.” So never, from mo-ment to moment, did they know when the moving cloud might settle, or the resting cloud might soar. Therefore, absolute uncertainty as to the next stage was visibly represented before them by that hovering guide which determined everything, and concerning whose next movement they knew absolutely nothing.

Is not that all true about us? We have no guiding cloud like this. So much the better. Have we not a more real guide? God guides the circumstances; God guides us by His Word; God guides us by His Spirit, speaking through our common sense and in our understanding; and, most of all, God guides us by that dear Son of His, in Whom is the fire and round Whom is the cloud. And perhaps we may even suppose that our Lord implies some allusion to this very symbol in His own great words, “I Am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the sight of life.” For the conception of following the light seems to make it plain that our Lord’s image is not that of the sun in the Heavens, or any such supernal light, but of some light that comes near enough to a man to move before him, and behind which he can march.

So I think that Christ Himself laid His hand upon this ancient symbol, and in these great words said in effect, “I am that which it only shadowed and foretold.” At all events, whether in them He was pointing to our text or no, we must feel that He is the reality which was expressed by this outward symbol. And no man who can say, “Jesus Christ is the Captain of my Salvation, and after His pattern I march; at the pointing of His guiding finger I move; and in His foot steps, He being my Helper, I want to tread,” need feel or fancy that any possible pillar, floating before the dullest eye, was a better, surer, and Diviner guide than he possesses. They whom Christ guides want none other for leader, pattern, counselor, companion, reward. This Christ is our Christ forever and ever; He will be our guide, even unto death, and beyond it. The pillar that we follow, which will glow with the ruddy flame of love in the darkest hours of life – blessed be His name – will glide in front of us through the valley of the shadow of death, brightest then when the murky midnight is blackest. Nor will the pillar which guides us cease to blaze as did the guide of the desert march, when Jordan has been crossed. It will still move before us on paths of continuous and ever increasing approach to infinite perfection. They who follow Christ afar off and with faltering steps here shall there “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.”

In like manner, the same absolute uncertainty which was intended to keep the Israelites (though it failed often) in the attitude of constant dependence, is the condition in which we all have to live, though we mask it from ourselves. That we do not know what lies before us is a commonplace. The same long tracks of monotonous continuance in the same place and doing the same duties, befall us that befell these men. Years pass, and the pillar spreads itself out, a defense above the unmoving sanctuary. And then, all of a flash, when we are least thinking of change, it gathers itself together, is a pillar again, shoots upwards, and moves forwards; and it is for us to go after it. And so our lives are shuttle cocked between uniform sameness which may become mechanical monotony, and agitation by change which may make us lose our hold of fixed principles and calm faith, unless we recognize that the continuance and the change are alike the will of the guiding God whose will is signified by the stationary or moving pillar.

III. That leads me to the last thing that I would note, viz., the docile following of the Guide.

In the context the writer does not seem to be able to get away from the thought that whatever the pillar did, that moment prompt obedience follows. He says it over and over and over again. “As long as the cloud abode … they rested …. And when the cloud tarried long … [they] journeyed not”; and “when the cloud was a few days on the Tabernacle … they abode”; and “according to the commandment they journeyed”; and “when the cloud abode until the morning … they journeyed”; and “whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried . . . [they] journeyed not, but abode in their tents.” So after he has reiterated the thing half a dozen times or more, he finishes by putting it all again in one verse, as the last impression which he would leave from the whole narrative – “at the commandment of the Lord they rested in their tents, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed.” Obedience was prompt; whensoever and for whatsoever the signal was given the men were ready. In the night, after they had had their tents pitched for a long period, somewhere or other, in the night, when only the watchers’ eyes were open, the pillar lifts, and in an instant the alarm is given, and all the camp is in a bustle. That is what we have to set before us as the type of our lives – that we shall be as ready for every indication of God’s will as they were. The peace and blessedness of our lives largely depend on our being eager to obey, and therefore quick to perceive the slightest sign of motion in the resting or of rest in the moving pillar which regulates our march and our encamping.

What do we want in order to cultivate and keep such a disposition? We need perpetual watchfulness lest the pillar should lift unnoticed. When Nelson was second in command at Copenhagen, the Admiral in command of the fleet hoisted the signal for recall, and Nelson put his telescope to his blind eye and said, “I do not see it.” That is very like what we are tempted to do – the signal for unpleasant duties that we want to get out of is hoisted; we are very apt to put the telescope to the blind eye and pretend to ourselves that we do not see the fluttering flags.
We need still more to keep our wills in absolute suspense, if His will has not declared itself. Do not let us be in a hurry to run before God. When the Israelites were crossing the Jordan they were told to leave a great space between themselves and the guiding Ark, that they might know how to go, because “they had not passed that way heretofore.” Impatient hurrying at God’s heels is apt to lead us astray. Let Him get well in front, that you may be quite sure which way He wants you to go, before you go. And if you are not sure which way He wants you to go, be sure that He does not at that moment want you to go anywhere.

We need to hold the present with a slack hand, so as to be ready to fold our tents and take to the road if God will. We must not reckon on continuance, nor strike our roots so deep that it needs a hurricane to remove us. To those who set their gaze on Christ, no present from which He wishes them to remove can be so good for them as the new conditions into which He would have them pass. It is hard to leave the spot, though it be in the desert, where we have so long encamped that it has come to look like home. We may look with regret on the circle of black ashes on the sand where our little fire glinted cheerily, and our feet may ache and our hearts ache more as we begin our tramp once again, but we must set ourselves to meet the God appointed change cheerfully, in the confidence that nothing will be left behind which it is not good to lose, nor anything met, which does not bring a blessing, however its first aspect may be harsh or sad.

We need, too, to cultivate the habit of prompt obedience. “I made haste and delayed not to keep Thy commandments” is the only safe motto. It is reluctance which usually puts the drag on. Slow obedience is often the germ of incipient disobedience. In matters of prudence and of intellect second thoughts are better than first, and third thoughts, which often come back to first ones, better than second; but, in matters of duty, first thoughts are generally best. They are the instructive response of conscience to the voice of God, while second thoughts are too often the objections of disinclination, or sloth, or cowardice. It is easiest to do our duty when we are first sure of it. It then comes with an impelling power which carries us over obstacles on the crest of a wave, while hesitation and delay leave us stranded in shoal water. If we would follow the pillar, we must follow it at once.

A heart that waits and watches for God’s direction, that uses common sense as well as faith to unravel small and great perplexities, and is willing to sit loose to the present, however pleasant, in order that it may not miss the indications which say “Arise! this is not your rest” – fulfills the conditions on which, if we keep them, we may be sure that He will guide us by the right way, and bring us at last to the city of habitation.

Hope Perfectly

Christianity has transformed hope and given it a new importance by opening to it a new world to move in and supplying to it new guarantees to rest on. There is something very remarkable in the prominence given to hope in the New Testament and in the power ascribed to it to order a noble life. Paul goes so far as to say that we are saved by it. To a Christian it is no longer a pleasant dream which may be all an illusion, indulgence in which is pretty sure to sap a man’s force, but it is a certain anticipation of certainties, the effect of which will be increased energy and purity. So our Apostle, having in the preceding context in effect summed up the whole Gospel, bases upon that summary a series of exhortations, the transition to which is marked by the “wherefore” at the beginning of my text. The application of that word is to be extended so as to include all that has preceded in the letter, and there follows a series of practical advises, the first of which, the grace or virtue which he puts in the forefront of everything, is not what you might have expected, but it is “hope perfectly.”

I may just remark before going further in reference to the language of my text, that, accurately translated, the two exhortations which precede that to hope are subsidiary to it, for we ought to read, “Wherefore, girding up the loins of your mind, and being sober, hope.” That is to say, these two are preliminaries or conditions or means by which the desired perfecting of the Christian hope is to be sought and attained.

Another preliminary remark which I must make is that what is enjoined here has not reference to the duration but to the quality of the Christian hope. It is not “to the end,” but as the Margin of the Authorized and the Revised Version concurs in saying, it is “hope perfectly.”

So, then, there are three things here?the object, the duty, and the cultivation of Christian hope. Let us take these three things in order.

I. The Object of Christian Hope

Now that is stated in somewhat remarkable language as “the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We generally use that word “grace” with a restricted signification to the gifts of God to men here on earth. It is the earnest of the inheritance, rather than its fullness. But here it is quite obvious that by the expression the Apostle means the very same thing as he has previously designated in the preceding context by three different phrases”an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled,” “praise and honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” and “the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” The “grace” is not contrasted with the “glory” but is another name for the glory. It is not the earnest of the inheritance, but it is the inheritance itself. It is not the means toward attaining the progressive and finally complete “salvation of your souls,” but it is that complete salvation in all its fullness.

Now, that is an unusual use of the word, but that it should be employed here, as describing the future great object of the Christian hope, suggests two or three thoughts. One is that that ultimate blessedness with all its dim, nebulous glories which can only be resolved into their separate stars when we are millions of leagues nearer to its luster is like the faintest glimmer of a new and better life in a soul here on earth, purely and solely the result of the undeserved, condescending love of God that stoops to sinful men and instead of retribution bestows upon them a heaven.

The grace that saved us at first, the grace that comes to us filtered in drops during our earthly experience is poured upon us in a flood at last. And the brightest glory of heaven is as much a manifestation of the divine grace as the first rudimentary germs of a better life now and here. The foundation, the courses of the building, the glittering pinnacle on the summit with its golden spire reaching still higher into the blue is all the work of the same unmerited, stooping, pardoning love. Glory is grace, and heaven is the result of God’s pardoning mercy.

There is another suggestion here to be made, springing from this eloquent use of this term, and that is not merely the identity of the source of the Christian experience upon earth and in the future, but the identity of that Christian experience itself in regard of its essential character. If I may say so, it is all of a piece, homogeneous, and of one web. The robe is without seam, woven throughout of the same thread. The life of the humblest Christian, the most imperfect Christian, the most infantile Christian, the most ignorant Christian here on earth has for its essential characteristics the very same things as the lives of the strong spirits that move in light around the throne and receive into their expanding nature the ever?increasing fullness of the glory of the Lord. Grace here is glory in the bud; glory yonder is grace in the fruit.

But there is still further to be noticed another great thought that comes out of this remarkable language. The words of my text, literally rendered, are ‘the grace that is being brought unto you.” Now, there have been many explanations of that remarkable phrase which I think is not altogether exhausted by nor quite equivalent to that which represents it in our version?namely, “to be brought unto you.” That relegates it all into the future; but in Peter’s conception it is in some sense in the present. It is “being brought.”

What does that mean? There are far?off stars in the sky, the beams from which have set out from their home of light millenniums since and have been rushing through the waste places of the universe since long before men were, and they have not reached our eyes yet. But they are on the road. And so in Peter’s conception, the apocalypse of glory which is the crowning manifestation of grace is rushing toward us through the ages, through the spheres, and it will be here some day, and the beams will strike upon our faces and make them glow with its light. So certain is the arrival of the grace that the Apostle deals with it as already on its way. The great thing on which the Christian hope fastens is no “peradventure” but a good which has already begun to journey toward us.

Again, there is another thought still to be suggested, and that is, the revelation of Jesus Christ is the coming to His children of this grace which is glory, of this glory which is grace. For mark how the Apostle says, “the grace which is being brought to you in the revelation of Jesus Christ.” And that revelation to which he here refers is not the past one in His incarnate life upon earth, but it is the future one to which the hope of the faithful church ought ever to be steadfastly turned, the correlated truth to that other one on which its faith rests. On these two great pillars rising like columns on either side of the gulf of time, “He has come,” “He will come,” the bridge is suspended by which we may safely pass over the foaming torrent that else would swallow us up. The revelation in the past cries out for the revelation in the future. The Cross demands the throne. That He has come once, a sacrifice for sin, stands incomplete, like some building left unfinished with tugged stones protruding which prophesy an addition at a future day, unless you can add “unto them that look for Him will He appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” In that revelation of Jesus Christ His children shall find the glory-grace which is the object of their hope.

So say all the New Testament writers. “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory,” says Paul. “The grace that is to be brought unto you in the revelation of Jesus Christ,” chimes in Peter. And John completes the trio with his “We know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him.” These three things, brethren?with Christ, glory with Him, likeness to Him??are all that we know, and blessed be God! all that we need to know of that dim future. And the more we confine ourselves to these triple great certainties and sweep aside all subordinate matters which are concealed partly because they could not be revealed and partly because they would not help us if we knew them, the better for the simplicity and the power and the certainty of our hope. The object of Christian hope is Christ in His revelation, in His presence, in His communication to us for glory, in His assimilating of us to Himself.

It is enough that Christ knows all, And we shall be with Him.

“The grace that is being brought unto you in the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

II. The Duty of the Christian Hope

And now notice the duty of the Christian hope. Hope a duty? That strikes one as somewhat strange. I very much doubt whether the ordinary run of good people do recognize it as being as imperative a duty for them to cultivate hope as to cultivate any other Christian excellence or virtue. For one man who sets himself deliberately and consciously to brighten up and to make more operative in his daily life the hope of future blessedness, you will find a hundred that set themselves to other kinds of perfecting of their Christian character. And yet, surely, there do not need any words to enforce the fact that this hope full of immortality is no mere luxury which a Christian may add to the plain fare of daily duty or leave untasted according as he likes, but that it is an indispensable element in all vigorous and life?dominating Christian experience.

I do not need to dwell upon that, except just to suggest that such a vividness and continuity of calm anticipation of a certain good beyond the grave is one of the strongest of all motives to the general robustness and efficacy of a Christian life. People used to say a few years ago a great deal more than they do now that the Christian expectation of heaven was apt to weaken energy upon earth, and they used to sneer at us and talk about our “other worldliness” as if it were a kind of weakness and defect attached to the Christian experience. They have pretty well given that up now. Anti?Christian sarcasm like everything else has its fashions, and other words of reproach and contumely have now taken the place of that.

The plain fact is that no one sees the greatness of the present unless he regards it as being the vestibule of the future and that this present life is unintelligible and insignificant unless beyond it and led up to by it and shaped through it there lies the eternal life beyond. The low, flat plain is dreary and desolate, featureless and melancholy when the sky above it is filled with clouds. But sweep away the cloud?rack and let the blue arch itself above the brown moorland, and all glows into luster, and every undulation is brought out, and tiny shy forms of beauty are found in every corner.

And so if you drape heaven with the clouds and mists born of indifference and worldliness, the world becomes mean, but if you dissipate the cloud and unveil heaven, earth is greatened. If the hope of the grave that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ shines out above all the flatness of earth, then life becomes solemn, noble, worthy of, demanding, and rewarding our most strenuous efforts. No man can and no man will strike such effectual blows on things present as the man, the strength of whose arm is derived from the conviction that every stroke of the hammer on things present is shaping that which will abide with him forever.

My text not only enjoins this hope as a duty but also enjoins the perfection of it as being a thing to be aimed at by all Christian people. What is the perfection of hope? Two qualities, certainty and continuity, Certainty; the definition of earthly hope is an anticipation of good less than certain, and so in all the operations of this great faculty which are limited within the range of earth, you get blended as an indistinguishable throng, “hopes and fears that kindle hope,” and that too often kill it. But the Christian has a certain anticipation of certain good, and to him memory may be no more fixed than hope, and the past no more unalterable and uncertain than the future.

The motto of our hope is not the “perhaps” which is the most that it can say when it speaks the tongue of earth, but the “verily! verily!” which comes to its enfranchised lips when it speaks the tongue of heaven. Your hope, oh Christian, should not be the tremulous thing that it often is which expresses itself in phrases like “Well! I do not know, but I tremblingly hope,” but it should say, “I know and am sure of the rest that remaineth, not because of what I am but because of what He is.”

Another element in the perfection of hope is its continuity. That hits home to us all, does it not? Sometimes in calm weather we catch a sight of the gleaming battlements of “the City which hath foundations,” away across the sea, and then mists and driving storms come up and hide it.

There is a great mountain in Central Africa which if a man wishes to see, he must seize a fortunate hour in the early morning, for all the rest of the day it is swathed in clouds, invisible. Is that like your hope, Christian man and woman, gleaming out now and then and then again swallowed up in the darkness? Brethren! these two things, certainty and continuity, are possible for us. Alas! that they are so seldom enjoyed by us.

III. Cultivation of This Christian Hope

And now one last word. My text speaks about the discipline or cultivation of this Christian hope. It prescribes two things as auxiliary thereto. The way to cultivate the perfect hope which alone corresponds to the gift of God is “girding up the loins of your mind, and being sober.” Of course, there is here one of the very few reminiscences that we have in the Epistles of the ipsissima verba of our Lord. Peter is evidently referring to our Lord’s commandment to have “the loins girt and the lamps burning, and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord.” I do not need to remind you of the Eastern dress that makes the metaphor remarkably significant, the loose robes that tangle a man’s feet when he runs, that need to be girded up and belted tight around his waist as preliminary to all travel or toil of any kind. The metaphor is the same as that in our colloquial speech when we talk about a man “pulling himself together.”

Just as an English workman will draw his belt a hole tighter when he has some special task to do, so Peter says to us, make a definite effort with resolute bracing up and concentration of all your powers, or you will never see the grace that is hurrying toward you through the centuries. There are abundance of loose, slack?braced people up and down the world in all departments, and they never come to any good.

It is a shame that any one should have his thoughts so loosely girt and vagrant as that any briar by the roadside can catch them and hinder his advance. But it is a tenfold shame for Christian people, with such an object to gaze upon, that they should let their minds be dissipated all over the trivialities of time and not gather them together and project them, as I may say, with all their force toward the sovereign realities of Eternity. A sixpence held close to your eye will blot out the sun, and the trifles of earth close to us will prevent us from realizing the things which neither sight, nor experience, nor testimony reveal to us, unless with clenched teeth, so to speak, we make dogged effort to keep them in mind.

The other preliminary and condition is “being sober” which, of course, you have to extend to its widest possible signification, implying not merely abstinence from or moderate use of intoxicants or material good for the appetites, but also the withdrawing of one’s self sometimes wholly from and always restraining one’s self in the use of the present and the material. A man has only a given definite quantity of emotion and interest to expend, and if he flings it all away on the world, he has none left for heaven. He will be like the miner who spoils some fair liver by diverting its waters into his own sluice in order that he may grind some corn. If you have the faintest film of dust on the glass of the telescope or on its mirror, if it is a reflecting one, you will not see the constellations in the heavens; and if we have drawn over our spirits the film of earthly absorption, all these bright glories above will, so far as we are concerned, cease to be.

So, beloved, there is a solemn responsibility laid upon us by the gift of that great faculty of looking before and after. What did God make you and me capable of anticipating the future for? That we might let our hopes run along the low levels or that we might elevate them and twine them round the very pillars of God’s Throne; which? I do not find fault with you because you hope but because you hope so meanly and about such trivial and transitory things.

I remember I once saw a seabird kept in a garden, confined within high walls and with clipped wings, set to pick up grubs and insects. It ought to have been away out, hovering over the free ocean, or soaring with sunlit wing to a height where earth became a speck and all its noises were hushed. That is what some of you are doing with your hope, degrading it to earth instead of letting it rise to God; enter within the veil and gaze upon the glory of the “inheritance incorruptible and undefiled.”

Jehovah Jireh

AS THESE Two, Abraham and Isaac, were traveling up the hill, the son bearing the wood and the father with the sad burden of the fire and the knife, the boy said: “Where is the lamb?” and Abraham, thrusting down his emotion and steadying his voice, said: ‘My son, God will provide Himself a lamb.” When the wonderful issue of the trial was plain before him and he looked back upon it, the one thought that rose to his mind was of how, beyond his meaning, his words had been true. So he named that place by a name that spoke nothing of his trial but everything of God’s provision—”The Lord will see,” or “The Lord will provide.”

What the Words Mean

The words have become proverbial and threadbare as a commonplace of Christian feeling. But it may be worth our while to ask for a moment what it was exactly that Abraham expected the Lord to provide. We generally use the expression in reference to outward things and see in it the assurance that we shall not be left without the supply of the necessities for which, because God has made us to feel them, He has bound Himself to make provision. And most blessedly true is that application of them, and many a Christian heart in days of famine has been satisfied with the promise when the bread that was given has been scant.

But there is a meaning deeper than that in the words. It is true, thank God! that we may cast all our anxiety about all outward things upon Him in the assurance that He who feeds the ravens will feed us, and that if lilies can blossom into beauty without care, we shall be held by our Father of more value than these. But there is a deeper meaning in the provision spoken of here. What was it that God provided for Abraham? What is it that God provides for us? A way to discharge the arduous duties which, when they are commanded, seem all but impossible for us and which, the nearer we come to them, look the more dreadful and seem the more impossible. And yet, when the heart has yielded itself in obedience and we are ready to do the thing that is enjoined, there opens up before us a possibility provided by God, and strength comes to us equal to our day, and some unexpected gift is put into our hand which enables us to do the thing of which Nature said: ‘My heart will break before I can do it”; and in regard to which even Grace doubted whether it was possible for us to carry it through. If our hearts are set in obedience to the command, the farther we go on the path of obedience, the easier the command win appear, and to try to do it is to ensure that God will help us to do it.

This is the main provision that God makes, and it is the highest provision that He can make for there is nothing in this life that we need so much as to do the will of our Father in heaven. All outward wants are poor compared with that. The one thing worth living for, the one thing which in being secured we are blessed and being missed we are miserable, is compliance in heart with the commandment of our Father, and the compliance wrought out in life. So, of all gifts that He bestows upon us and of all the abundant provision out of His rich storehouses is not this the best, that we are made ready for any required service? When we get to the place we shall find some lamb “caught in the thicket by its horns”; and heaven itself will supply what is needful for our burnt offering.

And then there is another thought here which, though we cannot certainly say it was in the speaker’s mind, is distinctly in the historian’s intention, “The Lord will provide.” Provide what? The lamb for the burnt offering which He has commanded. It seems probable that that bare mountaintop which Abraham saw from afar and named Jehovah Jireh, was the mountain-top on which afterward the Temple was built. And perhaps the wood was piled for the altar on that very piece of primitive rock which still stands visible, though Temple and altar have long since gone, and which for many a day was the place of the altar on which the sacrifices of Israel were offered. It is no mere forcing of Christian meanings on to old stories but the discerning of that prophetic and spiritual element which God has impressed upon these histories of the past, especially in all their climaxes and crises, when we see in the fact that God provided the ram which became the appointed sacrifice, through which Isaac’s life was preserved, a dim adumbration of the great truth that the only Sacrifice which God accepts for the world’s sin is the Sacrifice which He Himself has provided.

This is the deepest meaning of all the sacrificial worship, as of Israel so of heathen nations—God Himself will provide a Lamb. The world had built altars, and Israel, by divine appointment, had its altar too. All these express the want which none of them can satisfy. They show that man needed a Sacrifice and that Sacrifice God has provided. He asked from Abraham less than He gives to us. Abraham’s devotion was sealed and certified because he did not withhold his son, his only son, from God. And God’s love is sealed because He has not withheld His only-begotten Son from us.

So this name that came from Abraham’s grateful and wondering lips contains a truth which holds true in all regions of our wants. On the lowest level, the outward supply of outward needs; on a higher, the means of discharging hard duties and a path through sharp trials; and, on the highest of all, the spotless sacrifice which alone avails for the world’s sins-these are the things which God provides.

The Conditions in the Case

So, note again on what conditions He provides them.

The incident and the name became the occasion of a proverb, as the historian tells us, which survived down to the period of his writing, and probably long after, when men were accustomed to say, “In the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” The provision of all sorts that we need has certain conditions as to the when and the where of the persons to whom it shall be granted. “In the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” If we wish to have our outward needs supplied, our outward weaknesses strengthened, power and energy sufficient for duty, wisdom for perplexity, a share in the Sacrifice which takes away the sins of the world, we receive them all on the condition that we are found in the place where all God’s provision is treasured. If a man chooses to sit outside the baker’s shop, he may starve on its threshold. If a man will not go into the bank, his pockets will be empty though there may be bursting coffers there to which he has a right. And if we will not ascend to the hill of the Lord, and stand in His holy place by simple faith, and by true communion of heart and life, God’s amplest provision is nought to us; and we are empty in the midst of affluence. Get near to God if you would partake of what He has prepared. Live in fellowship with Him by simple love and often meditate on Him if you would drink in of His fullness. And be sure of this, that howsoever within His house the stores are heaped and the treasury full, you will have neither part nor lot in the matter unless you are children of the house. “In the mount of the Lord it shall be provid. ed.” And round it there is a waste wilderness of famine and of death.

When the Provision Comes

Further, note when the provision is realized.

When the man is standing with the knife in his hand and the next minute it will be red with the son’s blood then the call comes: “Abraham!” and then he sees the ram caught in the thicket. There had been a long weary journey from their home away down in the dry, sunny south, a long tramp over the rough hills, a toilsome climb with a breaking heart in the father’s bosom, and a dim foreboding gradually stealing on the child’s spirit. But there was no sign of respite or of deliverance. Slowly he piles together the wood, and yet no sign. Slowly he binds his boy and lays him on it, and still no sign. Slowly, reluctantly, and yet resolvedly, he unsheathes the knife, and yet no sign. He lifts his hand, and then it comes.

That is God’s way always. Up to the very edge we are driven before His hand is put out to help us. Such is the law, not only because the next moment is always necessarily dark nor because God will deal with us in any arbitrary fashion and play with our fears, but because it is best for us that we should be forced to desperation and out of desperation should “pluck the flower, safety.” It is best for us that we should be brought to say, “My foot slippeth!” and then, just as our toes are sliding upon the glacier, the help comes and “Thy mercy held me up.” “The Lord is our helper, and that right early.” When He delays, it is not to trifle with us but to do us good by the sense of need as well as by the experience of deliverance. At the last moment, never before it, never until we have found out how much we need it, and never too late, comes the Helper.

So “it is provided” for the people that quietly and persistently tread the path of duty and go wherever His hand leads them without asking anything about where it does lead. The condition of the provision is our obedience of heart and will. To Abraham doing what he was commanded, though his heart was breaking as he did it, the help was granted-as it always will be.

What to Do with the Provision

And so, lastly, note what we are to do with the provision when we get it.

Abraham christened the anonymous mountaintop, not by a name that reminded him or others of his trial, but by a name that proclaimed God’s deliverance. He did not say anything about his agony or about his obedience. God spoke about that, not Abraham. He did not want these to be remembered, but what he desired to hand on to later generations was what God had done for him. Oh! dear friends, is that the way in which we look back upon life? Many a bare, bald mountaintop in your career and mine we have names for. Are they names that commemorate our sufferings or God’s blessings? When we look back on the past, what do we see? Times of trial or times of deliverance? Which side of the wave do we choose to look at, the one that is smitten by the sunshine or the one that is all black and purple in the shadow? The sea looked at from the one side will be all a sunny path, and from the other, dark as chaos. Let us name the heights that he behind us, visible to memory, by names that commemorate, not the troubles that we had on them, but the deliverances that on them we received from God.

This name enshrines the duty of commemoration-yes! and the duty of expectation. “The Lord will provide.” How do you know that, Abraham? And his answer is, “Because the Lord did provide.” That is a shaky kind of argument if we use it about one another. Our resources may give out, our patience may weary. If it is a storehouse that we have to go to, all the corn that is treasured in it will be eaten up some day; but if it is to some boundless plain that grows it that we go, then we can be sure that there will be a harvest next year as there has been a harvest last.

And so we have to think of God not as a storehouse but as the soil from which there comes forth, year by year and generation after generation, the same crop of rich blessings for the needs and the hungers of every soul. If we have to draw from reservoirs we cannot say, “I have gone with my pitcher to the well six times, and I shall get it filled at the seventh.” It is more probable that we shall have to say, “I have gone so often that I durst not go any more”; but if we have to go not to a well but to a fountain, then the oftener we go, the surer we become that its crystal cool waters will always be ready for us. “Thou. hast been with me in six troubles; and in seven thou wilt not forsake me,” is a bad conclusion to draw about one another; but it is the right conclusion to draw about God.

And so, as we look back upon our past lives and see many a peak gleaming in the magic light of memory, let us name them all by names that will throw a radiance of hope on the unknown and unclimbed difficulties before us and say, as the patriarch did when he went down from the mount of his trial and deliverance, “The Lord will provide.”

Love And Fear

JOHN HAS BEEN SPEAKING of boldness, and that naturally suggests its opposite-fear. He has been saying that perfect love produces courage in the day of judgment, because it produces likeness to Christ, who is the Judge. In my text he explains and enlarges that statement. For there is another way in which love produces boldness, and that is by casting out fear. These two are mutually exclusive. The entrance of the one is for the other a notice to quit. We cannot both love and fear the same person or thing, and where love comes in, the darker form slips out at the door; and where Love comes in, it brings hand in hand with itself Courage with her radiant face. But boldness is the companion of love, only when love is perfect. For, inconsistent as the two emotions are, love, in its earlier stages and lower degrees, is often perturbed and dashed by apprehension and dread.

Now John is speaking about the two emotions in themselves, irrespective, so far as his language goes, of the objects to which they are directed. What he is saying is true about love and fear, whatever or whosoever may be loved or dreaded. But the context suggests the application in his mind, for it is “boldness before him” about which he has been speaking; and so it is love and fear directed towards God which are meant in my text. The experience of hosts of professing Christians is only too forcible a comment upon the possibility of a partial Love lodging in the heart side by side with a fellow-lodger, Fear, whom it ought to have expelled. So there are three things here that I wish to notice-the empire of fear, the mission of fear, and the expulsion of fear.

The Empire of Fear

Fear is a shrinking apprehension of evil as befalling us, from the person or thing which we dread. My text brings us face to face with the solemn thought that there are conditions of human nature, in which the God who ought to be our dearest joy and most ardent desire becomes our ghastliest dread. The root of such an unnatural perversion of all that a creature ought to feel towards its loving Creator lies in the simple consciousness of discordance between God and man, which is the shadow cast over the heart by the fact of sin. God is righteous; God righteously administers His universe. God enters into relations of approval or disapproval with His responsible creature. Therefore there lies, dormant for the most part, but present in every heart, and active in the measure in which that heart is informed as to itself, the slumbering cold dread that between it and God things are not as they ought to be.

I believe, for my part, that such a dumb, dim consciousness of discord attaches to all men, though it is often smothered, often ignored, and often denied. But there it is; the snake hibernates, but it is coiled in the heart all the same; and warmth will awake it. Then it lifts its crested head, and shoots out its forked tongue, and venom passes into the veins. A dread of God is the ghastliest thing in the world, the most unnatural, but universal, unless expelled by perfect love.

Arising from that discomforting consciousness of discord there come, likewise, other forms and objects of dread. For if I am out of harmony with Him, what will be my fate in the midst of a universe administered by Him, and in which all are His servants? Oh! I sometimes wonder how it is that godless men front the facts of human life, and do not go mad. For here are we, naked, feeble, alone, plunged into a whirlpool, from the awful vortices of which we cannot extricate ourselves. There foam and swirl all manner of evils, some of them certain, some of them probable, any of them possible, since we are at discord with Him who wields all the forces of the universe, and wields them all with a righteous hand. “The stars in their courses fight against” the man who does not fight for God. Whilst all things serve the soul that serves Him, all are embattled against the man that is against, or not for, God and His will.

Then there arises up another object of dread, which, in like manner, derives all its power to terrify and to hurt from the fact of our discordance with God; and that is “the shadow feared of man,” that stands shrouded by the path, and waits for each of us.

God; God’s universe; God’s messenger, Death-these are facts with which we stand in relation, and if our relations with Him are out of gear, then He and all of these are legitimate objects of dread to us.

But now there is something else that casts out fear than perfect love, and that is—perfect levity. For it is the explanation of the fact that so many of us know nothing of this fear of which I speak, and fancy that I am exaggerating, or putting forward false views. There is a type of man, and I have no doubt there are some of its representatives among my hearers, who are below both fear and love as directed towards God; for they never think about Him, or trouble their heads concerning either Him or their relations to Him or anything that flows therefrom. It is a strange faculty that we all have, of forgetting unwelcome thoughts and shutting our eyes to the things that we do not want to see, like Nelson when he put the telescope to his blind eye at Copenhagen, because he would not obey the signal of recall. But surely it is an ignoble thing that men should ignore or shuffle out of sight with inconsiderateness the real facts of their condition, like boys whistling in a churchyard to keep their spirits up, and saying “Who’s afraid?” just because they are so very much afraid. Ah! dear friends, do not rest until you face the facts, and having faced them, have found the way to reverse them. Surely, surely it is not worthy of men, to turn away from anything so certain as that between a sin-loving man and God there must exist such a relation as will bring evil and sorrow to that man, as surely as God is and he is. I beseech you, take to heart these things, and do not turn away from them with a shake of your shoulders, and say, “He is preaching the narrow, old-fashioned doctrine of a religion of fear.” No! I am not. But I am preaching this plain fact, that a man who is in discord with God has reason to be afraid, and I come to you with the old exhortation of the prophet, “Be troubled, ye careless ones.” For there is nothing more ignoble or irrational than security which is only made possible by covering over unwelcome facts. “Be troubled”; and let the trouble lead you to the Refuge.

That brings me to the second point-viz.,

The Mission of Fear

John uses a rare word in my text when he says “fear hath torment.” “Torment” does not convey the whole idea of the word. It means suffering, but suffering for a purpose; suffering which is correction; suffering which is disciplinary; suffering which is intended to lead to something beyond itself. Fear, the apprehensions of personal evil, has the same function in the moral world as pain has in the physical. It is a symptom of disease, and is intended to bid us look for the remedy and the Physician. What is an alarm bell for, but to rouse the sleepers, and to hurry them to the refuge? And so this wholesome, manly dread of the certain issue of discord with God is meant to do for us what the angels did for Lot—to lay a mercifully violent hand on the shoulder of the sleeper, and shake him into aroused wakefulness, and hasten him out of Sodom, before the fire bursts through the ground, and is met by the fire from above. The intention of fear is to lead to that which shall annihilate it by taking away its cause.

There is nothing more ridiculous, nothing more likely to destroy a man, than the indulgence in an idle fear which does nothing to prevent its own fulfillment. Horses in a burning stable are so paralyzed by dread that they cannot stir, and get burnt to death. And for a man to be afraid-as everyone ought to be who is conscious of unforgiven sin-for a man to be afraid and there an end, is absolute insanity. I fear; then what do I do? Nothing. That is true about hosts of us.

What ought I to do? Let the dread direct me to its source, my own sinfulness. Let the discovery of my own sinfulness direct me to its remedy, the righteousness and the Cross of Jesus Christ. He, and He alone, can deal with the disturbing element in my relation to God. He can “deliver me from my enemies, for they are too strong for me.” It is Christ and His work, Christ and His sacrifice, Christ and His indwelling Spirit that will grapple with and overcome sin and all its consequences, in any man and in every man—taking away its penalty, lightening the heart of the burden of its guilt, delivering from its love and dominion. All three of these things are the barbs of the arrows with which fear riddles heart and conscience. So my fear should proclaim to me the merciful “name that is above every name,” and drive me as well as draw me to Christ, the Conqueror of sin, and the Antagonist of all dread.

Brethren, I said I was not preaching the religion of Fear. But I think we shall scarcely understand the religion of Love unless we recognize that dread is a legitimate part of an unforgiven man’s attitude towards God. My fear should be to me like the misshapen guide that may lead me to the fortress where I shall be safe. Oh! do not tamper with the wholesome sense of dread. Do not let it lie, generally sleeping, and now and then waking in your hearts, and bringing about nothing. Sailors that crash on with all sails set, whilst the barometer is rapidly falling, and boding clouds are on the horizon, and the line of the approaching gale is ruffling the sea yonder, have themselves to blame if they founder. Look to the falling barometer, and make ready for the coming storm, and remember that the mission of fear is to lead you to the Christ who will take it away.

Lastly, let us look at …

The Expulsion of Fear

My text points out the natural antagonism, and mutual exclusiveness, of these two emotions. If I go to Jesus Christ as a sinful man, and get His love bestowed upon me, then, as the next verse to my text says, my love springs in response to I-Es to me, and in the measure in which that love rises in my heart will it frustrate its antagonistic dread.

As I said, you cannot love and fear the same person, unless the love is of a very rudimentary and imperfect character. But, just as when you pour pure water into a bladder, the poisonous gases that it may have contained will be driven out before it, so when love comes in, dread goes out. The river, turned into the foulness of the heart, will sweep out all the filth and leave everything clean. The black, greasy smoke-wreath, touched by the fire of Christ’s love, will flash out into ruddy flames, like that which has kindled them; and Christ’s love win kindle in your hearts, if you accept it and apprehend it aright, a love which shall burn up and turn into fuel for itself the now useless dread.

But, brethren, remember that it is “perfect love” which “casts out fear.”

Inconsistent as the two emotions are in themselves in practice, they may be united, by reason of the imperfection of the nobler. And in the Christian life they are united with terrible frequency. There are many professing Christians who live all their days with a burden of shivering dread upon their shoulders, and an icy cold fear in their hearts, just because they have not got close enough to Jesus Christ, nor kept their hearts with sufficient steadfastness under the quickening influences of I-Es love, to have shaken off their dread as a sick man’s distempered fancies.

A little love has not mass enough in it to drive out thick, clustering fears. There are hundreds of professing Christians who know very little indeed of that joyous love of God which swallows up and makes impossible all dread, who, because they have not a loving present consciousness of a loving Father’s loving will, tremble when they confront in imagination, and still more when they meet in reality, the evils that must come. They cannot face the thought of death with anything but shrinking apprehension. There is far too much of the old leaven of selfish dread left in the experiences of many Christians. “I feared thee, because thou wert an austere man, and so, because I was afraid, I went and hid my talent, and did nothing for thee” is a transcript of the experience of far too many of us. The one way to get deliverance is to go to Jesus Christ and keep close by Him.

And my last word to you is, see that you resort only to the sane, sound way of getting rid of the wholesome, rational dread of which I have been speaking. You can ignore it; and buy immunity at the price of leaving in full operation the causes of your dread—and that is stupid. There is only one wise thing to do, and that is, to make sure work of getting rid of the occasion of dread, which is the fact of sin. Take all your sin to Jesus Christ; He will and He only can—deal with it. He will lay His hand on you, as He did of old, with the characteristic word that was so often upon His lips, and which He alone is competent to speak in its deepest meaning, “Fear not, it is I,” and He will give you the courage that He commands.

“God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and of a sound mind.” “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father,” and cling to Him, as a child who knows his father’s heart too well to be afraid of anything in his father, or of anything that his father’s hand can send.

The Measure Of Immeasurable Power

THE RICHES OF THE GLORY OF the inheritance” will sometimes quench rather than stimulate hope. He can have little depth of religion who has not often felt that the transcendent glory of that promised future sharpens the doubt– “and can I ever hope to reach it?” Our paths are strewn with battlefields where we were defeated; how should we expect the victor’s wreath? And so Paul does not think that he has asked all which his friends: in Ephesus need when he has asked that they may know the hope and the inheritance. There is something more wanted, something more even for our knowledge of these, and that is the knowledge of the power which alone can fulfill the hope and bring the inheritance. His language swells and peals and becomes exuberant and noble with his theme. He catches fire, as it were, as he thinks about this power that works in us. It is “exceeding.” Exceeding what? He does not tell us, but other words in this letter, in the other great prayer which it contains, may help us to supply the missing words. He speaks of the “love of Christ which passeth knowledge,” and of God being “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.” The power which is really at work in Christians today is in its nature properly transcendent and immeasurable and passes thought and desire and knowledge.

And yet it has a measure. “According to the working of the strength of the might which he wrought in Christ.” Is that heaping together of synonyms, or all but synonyms, mere tautology? Surely not. Commentators tell us that they can distinguish differences of meaning between the words in that the first of them is the more active and outward and the last of them is the more inward. And so we liken them to fruit and branch and root. But we need simply say that the gathering together of words so nearly co-extensive in their meaning is witness to the effort to condense the infinite within the bounds of human tongue, to speak the unspeakable and that these reiterated expressions, like the blows of the billows that succeed one another on the beach, are hints of the force of the infinite ocean that lies behind.

And then the Apostle, when he has once come in sight of his risen Lord, as is His wont, is swept away by the ardor of his faith and the clearness of his vision and breaks from his purpose to dilate on the glories of his King. We do not need to follow him into that. I limit myself this morning to the words which I have read as my text with only such reference to the magnificent passage which succeeds as may be necessary for the exposition of this.

The Immeasurable Power

So, then, I ask you to look first at the measure and example of the immeasurable power that works in Christians.

“According to the working of the strength of the might which he wrought in Christ.” The Resurrection, the Ascension, the session at the right hand of God, the rule over all creatures, and the exaltation above all things on earth or in the heavens-these are the things which the Apostle brings before us as the pattern-works, the chef d’oeuvre of the power that is operating in all Christians. The present glories of the ascended Christ are glories possessed by a man; that being so, they are available as evidences and measures of the power which works in believing souls. In them we see the possibilities of humanity, the ideal for man which God had when He created and breathed His blessing upon him. It is one of ourselves who has strength enough to bear the burden of the glory, one of ourselves who can stand within the blaze of encircling and indwelling Divinity and be unconsumed. The possibilities of human nature are manifest there. If we want to know what the Divine power can make of us, let us turn to look with the eye of faith upon what it has made of Jesus Christ.

But such a thought, glorious as it is, still leaves room for doubt as to my personal attainment of such an ideal. Possibility is much, but we need solid certainty. And we find it in the truth that the bond between Christ and those who truly love and trust Him is such as that the possibility must become a reality and be consolidated into a certainty. The Vine and its branches, the members and their Head, the Christ and His church are knit together by such closeness of union as that wheresoever and whatsoever the one is, there and that must the others also be. Therefore, when doubts and fears and consciousness of my own weakness creep across me and all my hopes are dimmed, as some star in the heavens is when a light mist floats between us and it , let us turn away to Him our brother, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, and think that He in His calm exaltation and regal authority and infinite blessedness is not only the pattern of what humanity may be but the pledge of what His church must be. “The glory that thou gavest me I have given them.”

Nor is that all. Not only a possibility and a certainty for the future are for us the measure of the power that works in us. But as this same letter teaches us, we have as Christians a present scale by which we may estimate the greatness of the power. For in the next chapter, after that glorious burst as to the dignity of His Lord which we have not the heart to call a digression, the Apostle, recurring to the theme of my text, goes on to say, “And you hath he quickened.” And then, catching it up a verse or two afterward, he reiterates, clause by clause, what had been done on Jesus as having been done on us Christians. If that Divine Spirit raised Him from the dead and set Hun at His own right hand in the heavenly places, it is as true that the same power has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” And so not only the far-off, though real and brilliant, and eye and heart-filling glories of the ascended Christ give us the measure of the power, but also the limited experience of the present Christian life, the fact of the resurrection from the true death, the death of sin, the fact of union with Jesus Christ so real and close as that they who truly experience it do live, as far as the roots of their lives are concerned, and the scope and the aim of them, “in the heavens,” and “sit with him in heavenly places”–these things afford us the measure of the power that works in us.

Then, because a Man is King of kings and Lord of lords, because He who is our Life ‘Is exalted high above all principalities and powers,” and because from His throne He has quickened us from the death of sin and has drawn us so near to Himself that if we are His we truly live beside Him even while we stumble here in the darkness, we may know the exceeding greatness of His power according to the working of the strength of the might which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.

The Unknowable Power

Secondly, notice the knowledge of the unknowable power.

We have already come across the same apparent paradox covering a deep truth in the former sections of this series of petitions. I need only remind you, in reference to this matter, that the knowledge which is here in question is not the intellectual perception of a fact as revealed in Scripture but is that knowledge to which alone the New Testament gives the noble name, being knowledge verified by inward experience and the result of one’s own personal acquaintance with its object. How do we know a power? By thrilling beneath its force.

How are we to know the greatness of the power but because it comes surging and rejoicing into our aching emptiness and lifts us buoyant above our temptations and weakness? Paul was not asking for these people theological conceptions. He was asking that their spirits might be so saturated with and immersed in that great ocean of force that pours from God as that they should never, henceforth, be able to doubt the greatness of that power which works in them. The knowledge that comes from experience is the knowledge that we all ought to seek. It is not merely to be desired that we should have right and just conceptions but that we should have the vital knowledge which is and which comes from life eternal.

And that power, which thus we may all know by feeling it working upon ourselves, though it be immeasurable, has its measure; though it be in its depth and fullness unknowable and inexhaustible, may yet be really and truly known. You do not need a thunderstorm to experience the electric shock; a battery that you can carry in your pocket will do that for you. You do not need to have traversed all the length and breadth and depth and height of some newly discovered country to be sure of its existence and to have a real, though it may be a vague, conception of the magnitude of its shores.

And so, really, though boundedly, we have the knowledge of God and can rely upon it as valid, though partial; and similarly, by experience, we have such a certified acquaintance with Him and His power as needs no enlargement to be trusted and become the source of blessings untold. We may see but a strip of the sky through the narrow chinks of our prison windows, and many a grating may further intercept the view. Much dust that might be cleared away may dim the glass, but yet it is the sky that we see, and we can think of the great horizon circling round and round and of the infinite depths above there which neither eye nor thought can travel unwearied. Though all that we see be but an inch in breadth and a foot or two in height, yet we do see. We know the unknowable power that passes knowledge.

And let me remind you of how large importance this knowledge of, and constant reference to, the measureless power manifested in Christ is for us. I believe there can be no vigorous, happy Christian life without it. It is our only refuge from pessimism and despair for the world. The old psalm said, ‘Thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, and hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands.” And hundreds of years afterward the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews commented on it thus, ‘We see not yet all things put under him.” Was the old vision a dream, was it never intended to be fulfilled? Apparently so, if we take the history of the past into account, and the centuries that have passed since have done nothing to make it more probable, apart from Jesus Christ, that man will rise to the heights which the psalmist dreamed of. When we look at the exploded Utopias that fill the past; when we think of the strange and apparently fatal necessity by which evil is developed from every stage of what men call progress, and how improvement is perverted, almost as soon as effected, into another fortress of weakness and misery; when we look on the world as it is today, I know not whence a man is to draw bright hopes, or what is to deliver him from pessimism as his last word about himself and his fellows, except the “working of the strength of the might which he wrought in Christ.” “We see not yet all things put under him.” Be it so, “but we see Jesus,” and, looking to Him, hope is possible, reasonable, and imperative.

The same knowledge is our refuge from our own consciousness of weakness. We look up, as a climber may do in some Alpine ravine upon the smooth gleaming walls of the cliff that rises above him. It is marble; it is fair; there are lovely lands on the summit, but nothing that has not wings can get there. We try but slip backward almost as much as we rise. What is to be done? Are we to sit down at the foot of the cliff, and say, ‘We cannot climb, let us be content with the luscious herbage and sheltered ease below?” Yes! That is what we are tempted to say. But look! a mighty hand reaches over; an arm is stretched down; the hand grasps us and lifts us and sets us there.

“No man hath ascended up into heaven save he that came down from heaven,” and having returned thither, stoops thence and will lift us to Himself. I am a poor, weak creature. Yes! I am all full of sin and corruption. Yes! I am ashamed of myself every day. Yes! I am too heavy to climb and have no wings to fly and am bound here by chains manifold. Yes! But we know the exceeding greatness of the power, and we triumph in Him.

That knowledge should shame us into contrition when we think of such force at our disposal and so poor results. That knowledge should widen our conceptions, enlarge our desires, breathe a brave confidence into our hopes, and should teach us to expect great things of God and to be intolerant of present attainments while anything remains unattained. It should stimulate our vigorous effort, for no man will long seek to be better if he is convinced that the effort is hopeless.

Learn to realize the exceeding greatness of the power that will clothe your weakness. “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, for that he is strong in might, not one faileth.” That is wonderful, but here is a far nobler operation of the Divine power. It is great to preserve the ancient heavens fresh and strong by His might, but it is greater to come down to my weakness, to “give power to the faint,” and to “increase strength to them that have no might.” And that is what He will do with us.

The Power at Work

Lastly, notice the conditions for the operations of the power. “To us-ward who believe,” says Paul. He has been talking to these Ephesians and saying “Ye,” but now, by that “us,” he places himself beside them, identifies himself with them, and declares that all his gifts and strength come to him on precisely the same conditions on which theirs do to them and that he, like them, is a waiter upon that grace which God bestows on them that trust Him.

“To us-ward who believe.” Once more we are back at the old truth which we can never make too emphatic and plain that the one condition of the weakest among us being strong with the strength of the Lord is simple trust in Him, verified, of course, by continuance and by effort. How did the water go into the Ship Canal at Eastham last week? First of all they cut a trench, and then they severed the little strip of land between the hole and the sea, and the sea did the rest. The wider and deeper the opening that we make in our natures by our simple trust in God, the fuller will be the rejoicing flood that pours into us. There is an old story about a Christian father who, having been torturing himself with theological speculations about the nature of the Trinity, fell asleep and dreamed that he was emptying the ocean with a thimble! Well, you cannot empty it with a thimble, but you can go to it with one. If you have only a thimble in your hand, you will only bring away a thimbleful. The measure of your faith is the measure of God’s power given to you.

There are two measures of the immeasurable power; the one is that infinite limit of “the power which he wrought in Christ” and the other the practical limit. The working measure of our spiritual life is our faith. In plain English, we can have as much of God as we want. We do have as much as we want. And if, in touch with the power that can shatter a universe, we only get a little thrill that is scarcely perceptible ourselves and all unnoticed by others, whose fault is that? And if, coming to the fountain that laughs at drought and can fill a universe with its waters, we scarcely bear away a straitened drop or two that barely refreshes our parched lips and does nothing to stimulate the growth of the plants of holiness in our gardens, whose fault is that? The practical measure of the power is for us the measure of our belief and desire. And if we only go to Him, as I pray we all may, and continue there and ask from Him strength according to the riches that are treasured in Jesus Christ, we shall get the old answer, “According to your faith be it unto you.”


The Shepherd – The Stone Of Israel

A SLIGHT alteration in the rendering will probably bring out the meaning of these words more correctly. The last two clauses should perhaps not be read as a separate sentence. Striking out the supplement “is,” and letting the previous sentence run on to the end of the verse, we get a series of names of God, in apposition with each other, as the sources of the strength promised to the arms of the hands of the warlike sons of Joseph. From the hands of the mighty God of Jacob-from thence, from the Shepherd, the stone of Israel-the power will come for conflict and for conquest. This exuberant heaping together of names of God is the mark of the flash of rapturous confidence which lit up the dying man’s thoughts when he turned to God.

When he begins to think of Him he cannot stay his tongue. So many aspects of His character, so many remembrances of His deeds come crowding into his mind; so familiar and so dear are they that he must linger over the words and strive by this triple repetition to express the manifold preciousness of Him whom no name, nor crowd of names, can rightly praise. So earthly love ever does with its earthly objects, inventing and reiterating epithets which are caresses. Such repetitions are not tautologies for each utters some new aspect of the one subject and comes from a new gush of heart’s love toward it. And something of the same rapture and unwearied recurrence to the Name that is above every name should mark the communion of devout souls with their heavenly Love.

What a wonderful burst of such praise flowed out from David’s thankful heart in his day of deliverance like some strong current with its sevenfold wave, each crested with the Name! “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer: my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.”

These three names which we find here are striking and beautiful in themselves, in their juxtaposition, in their use on Jacob’s lips. They seem to have been all coined by him for, if we accept this song as a true prophecy uttered by him, we have here the earliest instance of their occurrence. They have all a history and appear again expanded and deepened in the subsequent Revelation. Let us look at them as they stand.

1. The Mighty God of Jacob

The meaning of such a name is clear enough. It is He who has shown Himself mighty and mine by His deeds for me all through my life. The dying man’s thoughts are busy with all that past from the day when he went forth from the tent of Isaac and took of the stones of the field for his pillow when the sun went down. A perplexed history it had been with many a bitter sorrow and many a yet bitterer sin. Passionate grief and despairing murmurs he had felt and flung out while it slowly unfolded itself. When the Pharaoh had asked, “How old art thou?” he had answered in words which owe their somberness partly to obsequious assumption of insignificance in such a presence, but have a strong tinge of genuine sadness in them too: “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been.” But lying dying there with it all well behind him, he has become wiser; and now it looks to him as one long showing forth of the might of his God who had been with him all his life long and had redeemed him from all evil. He has got far enough away to see the lie of the land as he could not do while he was toiling along the road. The barren rocks and white snow glow with purple as the setting sun touches them. The struggles with Laban; the fear of Esau; the weary work of toilsome years; the sad day when Rachel died and left him the “son of her sorrow “; the heart sickness of the long years of Joseph’s loss—all have faded away or been changed into thankful wonder at God’s guidance. The one thought which the dying man carries out of life with him is: God has shown Himself mighty, and He has shown Himself mine.

For each of us, our own experience should be a revelation of God. The things about Him which we read in the Bible are never living and real to us till we have verified them in the facts of our own history. Many a word lies on the page or in our memories, fully believed and utterly shadowy until in some soul’s conflict we have had to grasp it and found it true. Only so much of our creed as we have proved in life is really ours. If we will only open our eyes and reflect upon our history as it passes before us, we shall find every comer of it filled with the manifestations to our hearts and to our minds of a present God. But our folly, our stupidity, our impatience, our absorption with the mere outsides of things, our self-will blind us to the Angel with the drawn sword who resists us as well as to the Angel, with the lily who would lead us. So we waste our days, are deaf to His voice speaking through all the clatter of tongues, and are blind to His bright presence shining through all the dimness of earth; and, for far too many of us, we never can see God in the present but only discern Him when He has passed by like Moses from his cleft. Like this same Jacob, we have to say: “Surely God was in this place, and I knew it not.” Hence we miss the educational worth of our lives; are tortured with needless cares; are beaten by the poorest adversaries; and grope amid what seems to us a chaos of pathless perplexities when we might be marching on assured and strong with God for our guide and the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob for our defense.

Notice, too, how distinctly the thought comes out in this name-that the very vital center of a man’s religion is his conviction that God is his. He will not be content with thinking of God as the God of his fathers; he will not even be content with associating himself with them in the common possession; but he must feel the full force of the intensely personal bond that knits him to God and God to him. Of course such a feeling does not ignore the blessed fellowship and family who also are held in this bond. The God of Jacob is to the patriarch also the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob. But that comes second, and this comes first. Each man for himself must put forth the hand of his own faith and grasp that great hand for his own guide. “My Lord and my God” is the true form of the confession. “He loved me and gave Himself for me” is the shape in which the Gospel of Christ melts the soul. God is mine because His love individualizes me, and I have a distinct place in His heart, His purposes, and His deeds. God is mine because by my own individual act-the most personal which I can perform — I cast myself on Him; by my faith I appropriate the common salvation and open my being to the inflow of His power. God is mine, and I am His in that wonderful mutual possession with perpetual interchange of giving and receiving not only gifts but selves which makes the very life of love, whether it be love on earth or love in heaven.

Remember, too, the profound use which our Lord made of this name wherein the man claims to possess God. Because Moses at the bush called God the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, they cannot have ceased to be. The personal relations which subsist between God and the soul that clasps Him for its own demand an immortal life for their adequate expression and make it impossible that death’s skeleton fingers should have power to untie such a bond. Anything is conceivable rather than that the soul which can say “God is mine” should perish. And that continued existence demands, too, a state of being which shall correspond to itself in which its powers shall all be exercised, its desires fulfilled, its possibilities made facts. Therefore there must be “the resurrection.” “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for them a city.”

The dying patriarch left to his descendants the legacy of this great name, and often, in later times, it was used to quicken faith by the remembrance of the great deeds of God in the past. One instance may serve as a sample of the whole. “The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.” The first of these two names lays the foundation of our confidence in the thought of the boundless power of Him whom all the forces of the universe, personal and impersonal, angels and stars in their marshaled order, obey and serve. The second bids later generations claim as theirs all that the old history reveals as having belonged to the “world’s gray fathers.” They had no special prerogative of nearness or of possession. The arm that guided them is unwearied, and all the past is true still and will forevermore be true for all who love God. So the venerable name is full of promise and of hope for us: “the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

2. The Shepherd

How that name sums up the lessons that Jacob had learned from the work of himself and of his sons! “Thy servants are shepherds,” they said to Pharaoh; “both we, and also our sons.” For fourteen long weary years he had toiled at that task. “In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.” And his own sleepless vigilance and patient endurance seem to him to be but shadows of the loving care, the watchful protection, the strong defense which “the God, who has been my Shepherd all my life long” had extended to him and his. Long before the shepherd king, who had been taken from the sheepcotes to rule over Israel, sang his immortal psalm, the same occupation had suggested the same thought to the shepherd patriarch. Happy they whose daily work may picture for them some aspect of God’s care-or rather, happy they whose eyes are open to see the dim likeness of God’s care which every man’s earthly relations, and some part of his work, most certainly present.

There can be no need to draw out at length the thoughts which that sweet and familiar emblem has conveyed to so many generations. Loving care, wise guidance, fitting food are promised by it; and docile submission, close following at the Shepherd’s heels, patience, innocence, meekness, trust are required. But I may emphasize for a moment the connection between the thought of “the mighty God of Jacob” and that of “the Shepherd.” The occupation, as we see it, does not call for a strong arm or much courage except now and then to wade through snow-drifts and dig out the buried and half-dead creature. But the shepherds whom Jacob knew had to be hardy, bold fighters. There were marauders lurking ready to sweep away a weakly guarded flock. There were wild beasts in the gorges of the hills. There was danger in the sun by day on these burning plains, and in the night the wolves prowled around the flock.

We remember how David’s earliest exploits were against the lion and the bear, and how he felt that even his duel with the Philistine bully was not more formidable than these had been. If we will read into our English notions of a shepherd this element of danger and of daring, we shall feel that these two clauses are not to be taken as giving the contrasted ideas of strength and gentleness, but the connected ones of strength and therefore protection and security. We have the same connection in later echoes of this name. “Behold, the Lord God shall come with strong hand; He shall feed His flock like a shepherd,.”

And our Lord’s use of the figure brings into all but exclusive prominence the good shepherd’s conflict with the ravening wolves—a conflict in which he must not hesitate even “to lay down his life for the sheep.” As long as the flock are here, amid dangers, and foes, and wild weather, the arm that guides must be an arm that guards; and none less mighty than the Mighty One of Jacob can be the Shepherd of men. But a higher fulfillment yet awaits this venerable emblem when in other pastures, where no lion nor any ravening beast shall come, the “Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne,” and is Shepherd as well as Lamb, “shall feed them, and lead them by living fountains of waters.”

3. The Stone of Israel

Here, again, we have a name that after-ages have caught up and cherished used for the first time. I suppose the Stone of Israel means much the same thing as the Rock. If so, that symbol, too, which is full of such large meanings was coined by Jacob. It is, perhaps, not fanciful to suppose that it owes its origin to the scenery of Palestine. The wild cliffs of the eastern region where Peniel lay or the savage fastnesses in the southern wilderness, a day’s march from Hebron, where he lived so long came back to his memory amid the flat, clay land of Egypt; and their towering height, their immovable firmness, their cool shade, their safe shelter spoke to him of the unalterable might and impregnable defense which he had found in God. So there is in this name the same devout, reflective laying-hold upon experience which we have observed in the preceding.

There is also the same individualizing grasp of God as his very own for “Israel” here is, of course, to be taken not as the name of the nation but as his own name, and the intention of the phrase is evidently to express what God had been to him personally.

The general idea of this symbol is perhaps firmness, solidity. And that general idea may be followed out in various details. God is a rock for a foundation. Build your lives, your thoughts, your efforts, your hopes there. The house founded on the rock will stand though wind and rain from above smite it, and floods from beneath beat on it like battering-rams. God is a rock for a fortress. Flee to Him to hide, and your defense shall be the “munitions of rocks” which shall laugh to scorn all assault and never be stormed by any foe. God is a rock for shade and refreshment. Come close to Him from out of the scorching heat, and you will find coolness and verdure and moisture in the clefts when all outside that grateful shadow is parched and dry.

The word of the dying Jacob was caught up by the great lawgiver in his dying song. “Ascribe ye greatness to our God. He is the Rock.” It reappears in the last words of the shepherd king whose grand prophetic picture of the true King is heralded by “The Rock of Israel spoke to me.” It is heard once more from the lips of the greatest of the prophets in his glowing prophecy of the song of the final days: “Trust ye in the Lord forever; for in the Lord Jehovah is the Rock of Ages,” as well as in his solemn prophecy of the Stone which God would lay in Zion. We hear it again from the lips that cannot lie. “Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The Stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head-stone of the comer?” And for the last time the venerable metaphor which has cheered so many ages appears in the words of that Apostle who was “surnamed Cephas, which is by interpretation a stone.” “To whom coming as unto a living stone, ye also as living stones are built up.” As on some rocky site in Palestine where a thousand generations in succession have made their fortresses, one may see stones laid with the bevel that tells of early Jewish masonry, and above them Roman work, and higher still masonry of crusading times, and above it the building of today; so we, each age in our turn, build on this great rock foundation, dwell safe there for our little lives, and are laid to peaceful rest in a sepulcher in the rock On Christ we may build. In Him we may dwell and rest secure. We may die in Jesus and be gathered to our own people who, having died, live in Him. And though so many generations have reared their dwellings on that great rock, there is ample room for us, too, to build. We have not to content ourselves with an uncertain foundation among the shifting rubbish of perished dwellings but can get down to the firm virgin rock for ourselves. None that have ever built there have been confounded. We clasp hands with all who have gone before us. At one end of the long chain this dim figure of the dying Jacob, amid the strange vanished life of Egypt, stretches out his withered hands to God the stone of Israel; at the other end, we lift up ours to Jesus, and cry:

Rock of Ages! cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee.

The faith is one. One will be the answer and the reward. May it be yours and mine!

Take Up the Challenge

ANOTHER PSALMIST PROMISES TO the man who dwells “in the secret place of the Most High” that “he shall not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day, nor for the pestilence that walketh at noonday,” but shall “tread upon the lion and adder.” These promises divide the dangers that beset us into the same two classes as our psalmist does—the one secret; the other palpable and open. The former, which, as I explained in my last sermon, are sins hidden, not from others, but from the doer, may fairly be likened to the pestilence that stalks slaying in the dark, or to the stealthy, gliding serpent, which strikes and poisons before the naked foot is aware. The other resembles the “destruction that wasteth at noonday,” or the lion with its roar and its spring, as, disclosed from its covert, it leaps upon the prey.

Our present text clears with the latter of these two classes. “Presumptuous sins” does not, perhaps, convey to an ordinary reader the whole significance of the phrase, for it may be taken to define a single class of sins—namely, those of pride or insolence. What is really meant is just the opposite of “secret sins”—all sorts of evil which, whatever may be their motives and other qualities, have this in common, that the doer, when he does them, knows them to be wrong.

The Psalmist gets this further glimpse into the terrible possibilities which attach even to a servant of God, and we have in our text these three things—a danger discerned; a help sought; and a daring hope cherished.

A Danger Discerned

Note, then, the first of these, the dreaded and discerned danger—”presumptuous sins” which may “have dominion over” us, and lead us at last to a “great transgression.”
Now the word which is translated “presumptuous” literally means that which boils or bubbles; and it sets very picturesquely before us the movement of hot desires—the agitation of excited impulses or inclinations which hurry men into sin in spite of their consciences. It is also to be noticed that the prayer of my text, with singular pathos and lowly self-consciousness, is the prayer of “Thy servant,” who knows himself to be a servant, and who therefore knows that these glaring transgressions, done in the teeth of conscience and consciousness, are all inconsistent with his standing and his profession, but yet are perfectly possible for him.

An old medieval mystic once said, “There is nothing weaker than the devil stripped naked.” Would it were true! For there is one thing that is weaker than a discovered devil, and that is my own heart. For we all know that sometimes, with our eyes open, and the most unmistakable consciousness that what we are doing was wrong, we have set our teeth and done it, Christian men though we may profess to be, and may really be. All such conduct is inconsistent with Christianity but we are not to say, Therefore, that it is incompatible with Christianity. Thank God! that is a very different matter. But as long as you and I have two things—viz., strong and hot desires, and weak and flabby wills—so long shall we, in this world full of combustibles, not be beyond the possibility of a dreadful conflagration being kindled by some devil-blown sparks. There are plenty of dry sticks lying about to put under the cauldron of our hearts, to make them boil and bubble over! And we have, alas! but weak wills, which do not always keep the reins in their hands as they ought to do, nor coerce these lower parts of our nature into their proper subordination. Fire is a good servant, but a bad master; and we are all of us too apt to let it become master, and then the whole “course of nature” is “set on fire of hell” The servant of God may yet, with open eyes and obstinate disregard of his better self, and of all its remonstrances, go straight into “presumptuous sin.”

Another step is here taken by the Psalmist. He looks shrinkingly and shudderingly into a possible depth, and he sees, going down into the abyss, a ladder with three rungs on it. The topmost one is wilful, self-conscious transgression. But that is not the lowest stage; there is another step. Presumptuous sin tends to become despotic sin. “Let them not have dominion over me.” A man may do a very bad thing once, and get so wholesomely frightened, and so keenly conscious of the disastrous issues, that he will never go near it again. The prodigal would not be in a hurry, you may depend upon it, to try the swine trough and the far country, and the rags, and the fever, and the famine any more. David got a lesson that he never forgot in that matter of Bathsheba. The bitter fruit of his sin kept growing up all his life, and he had to eat it, and that kept him right. They tell us that broken bones are stronger at the point of fracture than they were before. And it is possible for a man’s sin—if I might use a paradox which you will not misunderstand—to become the instrument of his salvation.

But there is another possibility quite as probable, and very often recurring, and that is that the disease, like some other morbid states of the human frame, shall leave a tendency to recurrence. A pin-point hole in a dike will widen into a gap as big as a church-door in ten minutes, by the pressure of the flood behind it. And so every act which we do in contradiction of our standing as professing Christians, and in the face of the protests, all unavailing, of that conscience which is only a voice, and has no power to enforce its behests, will tend to recurrence once and again. The single acts become habits, with awful rapidity. Just as the separate gas jets from a multitude of minute apertures coalesce into a continuous ring of light, so deeds become habits, and get dominion over us. “He sold himself to do evil.” He made himself a bond-slave of iniquity. It is an awful and a miserable thing to think that professing Christians do often come into that position of being, by their inflamed passions and enfeebled wills, servants of the evil that they do. Alas! how many of us, if we were honest with ourselves, would have to say, “I am carnal, sold unto sin.”

That is not the lowest rung of the slippery ladder. Despotic sin ends in utter departure.

The word translated here, quite correctly, “transgression,” and intensified by that strong adjective attached, “a great transgression,” literally means rebellion, revolt, or some such idea; and expresses, as the ultimate issue of conscious transgression prolonged and perpetuated into habit, an entire casting off of allegiance to God. “No man can serve two masters.” “His servants ye are whom ye obey,” whomsoever you may call your master. The Psalmist feels that the end of indulged evil is going over altogether to the other camp. I suppose all of us have known instances of that sort. Men in my position, with a long life of ministry behind them, can naturally remember many such instances. And this is the outline history of the suicide of a Christian. First secret sin, unsuspected, because the conscience is torpid; then open sin, known to be such, but done nevertheless; then dominant sin, with an enfeebled will and power of resistance; then the abandonment of all presence or profession of religion. The ladder goes down into the pit, but not to the bottom of the pit. And the man that is going down it has a descending impulse after he has reached the bottom step and he falls—Where? The first step down is tampering with conscience. It is neither safe nor wise to do anything, howsoever small, against that voice. All the rest will come afterward, unless God restrains—”first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear,” and then the bitter harvest of the poisonous grain.

A Help Sought

So, secondly, note the help sought.
The Psalmist is like a man standing on the edge of some precipice, and peeping over the brink to the profound beneath, and feeling his head beginning to swim. He clutches at the strong, steady hand of his guide, knowing that, unless he is restrained, over he will go. “Keep Thou back Thy servant from presumptuous sins.” So, then, the first lesson we have to take is, to cherish a lowly consciousness of our own tendency to light-headedness and giddiness. “Blessed is the man that feareth always.” That fear has nothing cowardly about it. It will not abate in the least the buoyancy and bravery of our work. It will not tend to make us shirk duty because there is temptation in it, but it will make us go into all circumstances realizing that without that Divine help we cannot stand, and that with it we cannot fall. “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.” The same Peter that said, “Though all should forsake Thee, yet will not I,” was wiser and braver when he said, in later days, being taught by former presumption, “Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.”

Let me remind you, too, that the attitude which we ought to cherish is that of a confident belief in the reality of a Divine support. The prayer of my text has no meaning at all, unless the actual supernatural communication by God’s own Holy Spirit breathed into men’s hearts be a simple truth. “Hold Thou me up,” “keep Thou me back,” means, if it means anything, Give me in my heart a mightier strength than mine own, which shall curb all this evil nature of mine, and bring it into conformity with Thy holy will.

How is that restraining influence to be exercised ? There are many ways by which God, in His providence, can fulfil the prayer. But the way above all others is by the actual operation upon heart and will and desires of a Divine Spirit, which uses for its weapon the Word of God, revealed by Jesus Christ, and in the Scriptures. “The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God” and God’s answer to the prayer of my text is the gift to every man who seeks it of that indwelling power to sustain and to restrain.

That will keep our passions down. The bubbling water is lowered in its temperature, and ceases to bubble, when cold is added to it. When God’s Spirit comes into a man’s heart, that will deaden his desires after earth and forbidden ways. It will bring blessed higher objects for all our affections. He who has been fed on “the hidden manna” will not be likely to hanker after the leeks and onions, however strong their smell and pungent their taste, that grew in the Nile mud in Egypt. He who has tasted the higher sweetnesses of God will have his heart’s desires after lower delights strangely deadened and cooled. Get near God, and open your hearts for the entrance of that Divine Spirit, and then it will not seem foolish to empty your hands of the trash that they carry in order to grasp the precious things that He gives. A bit of scrap iron magnetized aligns itself with a magnetic field. My heart, touched by the Spirit of God dwelling in me, will turn to Him, and I shall find little sweetness in the else tempting delicacies that earth can supply. “Keep Thy servant back from,” by depriving him of the taste for, “presumptuous sins.”

That Spirit will strengthen our wills. For, when God comes into a heart, He restores the due subordination which has been broken into discord and anarchy by sin. He dismounts the servant riding on horseback, and carrying the horse to the devil, according to the proverb, and gives the reins into the right hands. Now, if the gift of God’s Spirit, working through the Word of God, and the principles and the motives therein unfolded, and therefrom deducible, be the great means by which we are to be kept from open and conscious transgression, it follows very plainly that our task is twofold. One part of it is to see that we cultivate that spirit of lowly dependence, of self-conscious weakness, of triumphant confidence, which will issue in the perpetual prayer for God’s restraint. When we enter upon tasks which may be dangerous, and into regions of temptation which cannot but be so, though they be duty, we should ever have the desire in our hearts and upon our lips that God would keep us from, and in, the evil.

The other part of our duty is to make it a matter of conscience and careful cultivation, to use honestly and faithfully the power which, in response to our desires, has been granted to us. All of you, Christian men and women, have access to an absolute security against every transgression; and the cause lies wholly at your own doors in each case of failure, deficiency, or transgression, for at every moment it was open to you to clasp the hand that holds you up, and at every moment, if you failed, it was because your careless fingers had relaxed their grasp.

The Challenge

Lastly, observe the daring hope here cherished.
“Then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.” That is the upshot of the Divine answer to both the petitions, which have been occupying us in these two successive sermons. It is connected with the former of them by the recurrence of the same word, which in the first petition was rendered “cleanse”—or, more accurately, “clear”— and in this final clause is to be rendered accurately, “I shall be clear from the great transgression.” And it obviously connects in sense with both these petitions, because, in order to be upright and clear, there must, first of all, be the Divine cleansing and then Divine restraint.

So, then, nothing short of absolute deliverance from the power of sin in all its forms should content the servant of God. Nothing short of it contents the Master for the servant. Nothing short of it corresponds to the power which Christ puts in operation in every hears that believes in Him. And nothing else should be our aim in our daily conflict with evil and growth in grace. Ah! I fear me that, for an immense number of professing Christians in this generation, the hope of—and, still more, the aim towards—anything approximating to entire deliverance from sin, have faded from their consciences and their lives. Aim at the stars, brother, and, if you do not hit them, your arrow will go higher than if it were shot along the lower levels.

Note that an indefinite approximation to this condition is possible. I am not going to discuss, at this stage of my discourse, controversial questions which may be involved here. It will be time enough to discuss with you whether you can be absolutely free from sin in this world when you are a great deal freer from it than you are at present. At all events, you can get far nearer to the ideal, and the ideal must always be perfect. And I lay it on your hearts, dear friends, that you have in your possession, if you are Christian people, possibilities in the way of conformity to the Master’s will, and emancipation from all corruption, that you have not yet dreamed of, not to say applied to your lives. “I pray God that He would sanctify you wholly, and that your whole body, soul, and spirit be preserved blameless unto the coming.”

That daring hope will be fulfilled one day; for nothing short of it will exhaust the possibilities of Christ’s work or satisfy the desires of Christ’s heart.

The Gospel knows nothing of irreclaimable outcasts. To it there is but one unpardonable sin, and that is the sin of refusing the cleansing of Christ’s blood and the sanctifying of Christ’s Spirit. Whoever you are, whatever you are, go to God with this prayer of our text, and realize that it is answered in Jesus Christ, and you will not ask in vain. If you will put yourselves into His hands, and let Him cleanse and restrain, He will give you new powers to detect the serpents in the flowers, and new resolution to shake off the vipers into the fire. For there is nothing that God wants half so much as that we, His wandering children, should come back to Him, and He will cleanse us from the filth of the swine trough and the rags of our exile, and clothe us in fine linen clean and white. We may each be sinless and guiltless. We can be so in one way only. If we look to Jesus Christ, and live near Him, He “will be made of God unto us wisdom,” by which we shall detect our secret sins; “righteousness,” whereby we shall be cleansed from guilt; “sanctification,” which shall restrain us from open transgression; “and redemption,” by which we shall be wholly delivered from evil and presented faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.

Water of Life

The condition, the only condition, and the indispensable condition, of possessing that water of life–the summary expression for all the gifts of God in Jesus Christ, which at the last are essentially God Himself–is the desire to possess it turned to Jesus Christ. . .

But it is not enough that there should be the desire. It must be turned to Him. . . the great keyword of personal religion, faith in Jesus Christ. . .

. . . Another of the scriptural expressions for the act of trusting in Him is taking, not asking. You do not need to ask, as if for something that is not provided. What we all need to do is to open our eyes to see what is there, if we like to put out our hands and take it. Why should we be saying, “Give me to drink,” when a pierced hand reaches out to us the cup of salvation, and says, Drink you all of it”? “Ho, everyone that thirsts come . . . and drink . . . without money and without price.”

There is no other condition but desire turned to Christ, and that is the necessary condition. . .

Blind, blind, blind, are the men who grope as noonday as in the dark and turn away from Jesus. If you knew, not with the head only, but with the whole nature, if you knew the thirst of your soul, the sweetness of the water, the readiness of the Giver, and the dry and parched land to which you condemn yourselves by your refusal, surely you would bethink yourself and fall at His feet and ask, and get, the water of life.

. . . . The only rest of the soul is in God, and the only way to get it is through Christ, as any saint of God ever was. But the knowledge does not touch their will because they like the poison and they do not want the life.

Oh! dear friends, the instantaneousness of Christ’s answer, and the certainty of it, are as true for each of us as they were for this woman. The offer is made to us all, just as it was to her. We can gather round that Rock like the Israelites in the wilderness, and slake every thirst of our souls from its outgushing streams. Jesus Christ says to each of us, as He did to her, tenderly, warningly, invitingly, and yet rebukingly, “If you knew . . . then you would ask, . . . and I would give” (Gospel of St. John, pp. 211-213).

Zion’s Joy and God’s

Zep. 3:14; 3:17.

WHAT A WONDERFUL RUSH of exuberant gladness there is in these words! The swift, short clauses, the triple invocation in the former verse, the triple promise in the latter, the heaped together synonyms, all help the impression. The very words seem to dance with joy. But more remarkable than this is the parallelism between the two verses. Zion is called to rejoice in God because God rejoices in her. She is to shout for joy and sing because God’s joy too has a voice, and breaks out into singing. For every throb of joy in man’s heart, there is a wave of gladness in God’s. The notes of our praise are at once the echoes and the occasions of His. We are to be glad because He is glad: He is glad because we are so. We sing for joy, and He joys over us with singing because we do.

God’s joy over Zion.

It is to be noticed that the former verse of our text is followed by the assurance: “The Lord is in the midst of thee”; and that the latter verse is preceded by the same assurance. So, then, intimate fellowship and communion between God and Israel lies at the root both of God’s joy in man and man’s joy in God.

We are solemnly warned by “profound thinkers” of letting the shadow of our emotions fall upon God. No doubt there is a real danger there; but there is a worse danger, that of conceiving of a God who has no life and heart; and it is better to hold fast by this – that in Him is that which corresponds to what in us is gladness. We are often told, too, that the Jehovah of the Old Testament is a stem and repellent God, and the religion of the Old Testament is gloomy and servile. But such a misconception is hard to maintain in the face of such words as these. Zephaniah, of whom we know little, and whose words are mainly forecasts of judgments and woes pronounced against Zion that was rebellious and polluted, ends his prophecy with these companion pictures, like a gleam of sunshine which often streams out at the close of a dark winter’s day. To him the judgments which he prophesied were no contradiction of the love and gladness of God. The thought of a glad God might be a very awful thought; such an insight as this prophet had gives a blessed meaning to it. We may think of the joy that belongs to the divine nature as coming from the completeness of His being, which is raised far above all that makes of sorrow. But it is not in Himself alone that He is glad; but it is because He loves. The exercise of love is ever blessedness. His joy is in self-impartation; His delights are in the sons of men: “As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.” His gladness is in His children when they let Him love them, and do not throw back His love on itself. As in man’s physical frame it is pain to have secretions dammed up, so when God’s love is forced back upon itself and prevented from flowing out in blessing, some shadow of suffering cannot but pass across that calm sky. He is glad when His face is mirrored in ours, and the rays from Him are reflected from us.

But there is another wonderfully bold and beautiful thought in this representation of the gladness of God. Note the double form which it assumes: “He will rest”—literally, be silent—” in His love; He will joy over thee with singing.” As to the former, loving hearts on earth know that the deepest love knows no utterance, and can find none. A heart full of love rests as having attained its desire and accomplished its purpose. It keeps a perpetual Sabbath, and is content to be silent.

But side by side with this picture of the repose of God’s joy is set with great poetic insight the precisely opposite image of a love which delights in expression, and rejoices over its object with singing. The combination of the two helps to express the depth and intensity of the one love, which like a song-bird rises with quivering delight and pours out as it rises an ever louder and more joyous note, and then drops, composed and still, to its nest upon the dewy ground.

Zion’s joy in God.

To the Prophet, the fact that “the Lord is in the midst of thee” was the guarantee for the confident assurance “Thou shalt not fear any more”; and this assurance was to be the occasion of exuberant gladness, which ripples over in the very words of our first text. That great thought of “God dwelling in the midst” is rightly a pain and a terror to rebellious wills and alienated hearts. It needs some preparation of mind and spirit to be glad because God is near; and they who find their satisfaction in earthly sources, and those who seek for it in these, see no word of good news, but rather a “fearful looking for of judgment” in the thought that God is in their midst. The word rendered “rejoices” in the first verse of our text is not the same as that so translated in the second. The latter means literally, to move in a circle; while the former literally means, to leap for joy. Thus the gladness of God is thought of as expressing itself in dignified, calm movements, whilst Zion’s joy is likened in its expression to the more violent movements of the dance. True human joy is like God’s, in that He delights in us and we in Him, and in that both He and we delight in the exercise of love. But we are never to forget that the differences are real as the resemblances, and that it is reserved for the higher form of our experiences in a future life to “enter into the joy of the Lord.”

It becomes us to see to it that our religion is a religion of joy. Our text is an authoritative command as well as a joyful exhortation, and we do not fairly represent the facts of Christian faith if we do not “rejoice in the Lord always.” In all the sadness and troubles which necessarily accompany us, as they do all men, we ought by the effort of faith to set the Lord always before us that we be not moved. The secret of stable and perpetual joy still lies where Zephaniah found it—in the assurance that the Lord is with us, and in the vision of His love resting upon us, and rejoicing over us with singing. If thus our love clasps His, and His joy finds its way into our hearts, it will remain with us that our “joy may be full”; and being guarded by Him whilst still there is fear of stumbling, He will set us at last “before the presence of His glory without blemish in exceeding joy.”