Still further, another remarkable idea may be connected with this word. By a natural transition, of which illustrations may be found in other languages, it comes to mean 'free,' and also 'noble.' As, for instance, it is used in the fifty-first Psalm, 'Uphold me with Thy free Spirit'—and in the forty-seventh, 'The princes of the people are gathered together.' And does not this shading of significations— willing sacrifices, free, princely—remind us of another distinctly evangelical principle, that the willing service which rests upon glad consecration raises him who renders it to true freedom and dominion? Every man enlisted in His body-guard is noble. The Prince's servants are every other person's master. The King's livery exempts from all other submission. As in the old Saxon monarchies, the monarch's domestics were nobles, the men of Christ's household are ennobled by their service. They who obey Him are free from every yoke of bondage—'free indeed.' All things serve the soul that serves Christ. 'He hath made us kings unto God.'
II. The soldiers are priests.
That expression, 'in the beauties of holiness,' is usually read as if it belonged either to the words immediately preceding, or to those immediately following. But in either case the connection is somewhat difficult and obscure. It seems better regarded as a distinct and separate clause, adding a fresh trait to the description of the army, and what that is we need not find any difficulty in ascertaining. 'The beauties of holiness' is a frequent phrase for the sacerdotal garments, the holy festal attire of the priests of the Lord. So considered, how beautifully it comes in here! The conquering King whom the psalm hymns is a Priest for ever; and He is followed by an army of priests. The soldiers are gathered in the day of the muster, with high courage and willing devotion, ready to fling away their lives; but they are clad not in mail, but in priestly robes—like those who wait before the altar rather than like those who plunge into the fight—like those who compassed Jericho with the ark for their standard, and the trumpets for all their weapons. We can scarcely fail to remember the words which echo these and interpret them: 'The armies which were in heaven followed Him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean'—a strange armour against sword-cut and spear-thrust.
The main purpose, then, of this part of our text seems to be to bring out the priestly character of the Christian soldier—a thought which carries with it many important considerations, on which I can barely touch.
Mark, then, how the warfare which we have to wage is the same as the priestly service which we have to render. The conflict is with our own sin and evil; the sacrifice we have to offer is ourselves. As soldiers, we have to fight against our selfish desires and manifold imperfections; as priests, we have to lay our whole selves on His altar. The task is the same under either emblem. We have a conflict to wage in the world, and in the world we have a priestly work to do, and these are the same. We have to be God's representatives in the world, bringing Him nearer to men's apprehensions and hearts by word and work. We have to bring men to God by entreaty, and by showing the path which leads to Him. That priestly service for men is in effect identical with the merciful warfare which we have to wage in the world. The Church militant is an army of priests. Its warfare is its sacerdotal function. It fights for Christ when it opposes the message of His grace and the power of His blood to its own and the world's sins—and when it intercedes in the secret place for the coming of His kingdom.
Does not this metaphor teach us also, what is to be our defence and our weapon in this warfare? Not with garments rolled in blood, nor with brazen armour do they go forth, who follow Him that conquered by dying. Their uniform is the beauties of holiness, 'the fine linen clean and white, which is the righteousness of saints.' Many great thoughts lie in such words, which I must pass over. But this one thing is obvious—that the great power which we Christian men are to wield in our loving warfare is—character. Purity of heart and life, transparent simple goodness, manifest in men's sight—these will arm us against dangers, and these will bring our brethren glad captives to our Lord. We serve Him best, and advance His kingdom most, when the habit of our souls is that righteousness with which He invests our nakedness. Be like your Lord, and as His soldiers you will conquer, and as His priests you will win some to His love and fear. Nothing else will avail without that. Without that dress no man finds a place in the ranks.
The image suggests, too, the spirit in which our priestly warfare is to be waged. The one metaphor brings with it thoughts of strenuous effort, of discipline, of sworn consecration to a cause. The other brings with it thoughts of gentleness and sympathy and tenderness, of still waiting at the shrine, of communion with Him who dwells between the Cherubim. Whilst our work demands all the courage and tension of every power which the one image presents, it is to be sedulously guarded from any tinge of wrath or heat of passion, such as mingles with conflict, and is to be prosecuted with all the pity and patience, the brotherly meekness of a true priest. 'The wrath of men worketh not the righteousness of God.' If we forget the one character in the other, we shall bring weakness into our warfare, and pollution into our sacrifice. 'The servant of the Lord must not strive.' We must not be animated by mere pugnacious desire to advance our principles, nor let the heat of human eagerness give a false fervour to our words and work. We cannot scold nor dragoon men to love Jesus Christ. We cannot drive them into the fold with dogs and sticks. We are to be gentle, long-suffering, not doing our work with passion and self-will, but remembering that gentleness is mightiest, and that we shall best 'adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour' when we go among men with the light caught in the inner sanctuary still irradiating our faces, and our hands full of blessings to bestow on our brethren. We are to be soldier-priests, strong and gentle, like the ideal of those knights of old who were both, and bore the cross on shield and helmet and sword-hilt.
He, our Lord, is our pattern for both; and from Him we derive the strength for each. He is the Captain of our salvation, and we fight beneath His banner, and by His strength. He is a merciful and faithful High Priest, and He consecrates His brethren to the service of the sanctuary. To Him look for your example of heroism, of fortitude, of self-forgetfulness. To Him look for your example of gentle patience and dewy pity. Learn in Christ how possible it is to be strong and mild, to blend in fullest harmony the perfection of all that is noble, lofty, generous in the soldier's ardour of heroic devotion; and of all that is calm, still, compassionate, tender in the priest's waiting before God and mediation among men. And remember, that by faith only do we gain the power of copying that blessed example, to be like which is to be perfect—not to be like which is to fail wholly, and to prove that we have no part in His sacrifice, nor any share in His victory.
III. The final point in this description must now engage us for a few moments. The soldier-priests are as dew upon the earth.
'From the womb of the morning thou hast the dew of thy youth.' These words are often misunderstood, and taken to be a description of the fresh, youthful energy attributed by the psalm to the Priest-King of this nation of soldier-priests. The misunderstanding, I suppose, has led to the common phrase, 'The dew of one's youth.' But the reference of the expression is to the army, not to its leader. 'Youth' here is a collective noun, equivalent to 'young men.' The host of His soldier-subjects is described as a band of young warriors whom He leads, in their fresh strength and countless numbers and gleaming beauty, like the dew of the morning.
There are two points in this last clause which may occupy us for a few moments—that picture of the army as a band of youthful warriors; and that lovely emblem of the dew as applied to Christ's servants.
As to the former—there are many other words of Scripture which carry the same thought, that he who has fellowship with God, and lives in the constant reception of the supernatural life and grace which come from Jesus Christ, possesses the secret of perpetual youth. The world ages us, time and physical changes tell on us all, and the strength which belongs to the life of nature ebbs away, but the life eternal is subject to no laws of decay and owes nothing to the external world. So we may be ever young in heart and spirit. It is possible for a man to carry the freshness, the buoyancy, the elastic cheerfulness, the joyful hope of his earliest days, right on through the monotony of middle-aged maturity, and even into old age, unshadowed by the lonely reflection of the tombs which the setting sun casts over the path. It is possible for us to get younger as we get older, because we drink more full draughts of the fountain of life: and so to have to say at the last, 'Thou hast kept the good wine until now.' 'Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.' If we live near Christ, and draw our life from Him, then we may blend the hopes of youth with the experience and memory of age; be at once calm and joyous, wise and strong, preserving the blessedness of each stage of life into that which follows, and thus at last possessing the sweetness and the good of all at once. We may not only bear fruit in old age, but have blossoms, fruit, and flowers—the varying product and adornment of every stage of life, united in our characters.
Then, with regard to the other point in this final clause—that emblem of the dew leads to many considerations upon which I can but inadequately touch.
It comes into view here, I suppose, mainly for the sake of its effect upon the earth. It is as a symbol of the refreshing which a weary world will receive from the conquests and presence of the King and His host, that the latter are likened to the glittering morning dew. Another prophetic Scripture gives us the same emblem when it speaks of Israel being 'in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord.' Such ought to be the effect of our presence. We are meant to gladden, to adorn, to refresh, this parched, prosaic world, with a freshness brought from the chambers of the sunrise.
It is worth while to notice how we may discern a sequence of thought in these successive features of description in our text. It began with that inmost spirit and motive of the Christian life, the submission of will and consecration of self to Christ. It advanced to the function and character of His servants in the world. And now it deals finally with the influence which they are to exert by this their soldier-like obedience and priestly ministration.
There is progress of thought, too, in another way. We began with a symbol that had in it something almost harsh and stern. We advanced to one in which there was a predominance of gentle and gracious thoughts and images. And now all that was severe, and all that reminded either of opposition or of effort, has melted away into this sweet emblem. Instead of the 'confused noise' of the battle of the warrior, we have the silence of the dawn, and the noiseless falling of the dew amid the solitudes of the wildernesses, or the recesses of the mountains. So the highest thought of our Christian influence, is that it comes with silent footfall and refreshes men's souls, like His, who will come down as 'rain upon the mown grass,' who will not strive nor cry, but in gentle omnipotence and meek persistence of love, 'will not fail nor be discouraged till He have set judgment in the earth.'
Remember other symbols by which the same general thought of Christian influence upon the world is set forth with very remarkable variation. 'Ye are the light of the world.'—'Ye are the salt of the earth.' The light guides and gladdens; the salt preserves and purifies; the dew freshens and fertilises; the light, conspicuous; the salt, working concealed; and the dew, visible like the former, but yet unobtrusive and operating silently like the latter. Some of us had rather be light than salt; prefer to be conspicuous rather than to diffuse a wholesome silent influence around us. But these three types must all be blended, both in regard to the manner of working, and in regard to the effects produced. We shall refresh and beautify the world only in proportion as we save it from its rottenness and corruption, and we shall do either only in proportion as we bear abroad the name of Christ, in whom is 'life; and the life is the light of men.'
Nor need we omit allusions to other associations connected with this figure. The dew, formed in the silence of the darkness while men sleep, falling as willingly on a bit of dead wood as anywhere, hanging its pearls on every poor spike of grass, and dressing everything on which it lies with strange beauty, each separate globule tiny and evanescent, but each flashing back the light, and each a perfect sphere, feeble one by one, but united, mighty to make the pastures of the wilderness rejoice—so, created in silence by an unseen influence, weak when taken singly, but strong in their myriads, glad to occupy the lowliest place, and each 'bright with something of celestial light,' Christian men and women are to be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord.
Brethren! that characteristic, like all else which is good, belongs to us in proportion as we keep near to Christ Jesus, and are filled with His fulness. All these emblems which have been occupying us now, originally belonged to Him, and we receive from Him the grace that makes us as He is in the world. He Himself is the Warrior King, the Captain of the Lord's host, the true Joshua, whose last word ere His Cross was a shout of victory, 'I have overcome the world'—whose promises from the throne seven times crown the conqueror who overcomes as He overcame. He makes us His soldiers and strengthens us for the war, if we live by faith in Him. He Himself is the Priest—the only Eternal Priest of the world—who wears on His head the mitre and the diadem, and bears in His hand the sceptre and the censer; and He makes us priests, if faith in His only sacrifice and all-prevalent intercession be in our souls. He is the dew unto Israel—and only by intercourse with Him shall we be made gentle and refreshing, silent blessings to all the weary and the parched souls in the wilderness of the world.
Everything worth being or doing comes from Jesus Christ. Heroic courage; then hold His hand, and He will strengthen your heart. Glad surrender; then think of His sacrifice for us until ours to Him be our answering gift. Priestly power; then let Him bring us nigh by His blood, that we too may be able to have compassion on the ignorant and to draw them to God. Dewy purity and freshness; then open your hearts for the reception of His grace, for all the invigoration that we can impart to the world is but the communication of that refreshing wherewith we ourselves are refreshed of Christ. In every aspect of our relations to the world, we draw all our fitness for all our offices from that Lord, who is and gives everything that we can be or do. Then let us seek by humble faith and habitual contact with Him and His truth, to have our emptiness filled by His fulness, and our unfitness made ready for all service by His all-sufficiency.
And let me close by reiterating what I have said already. There is a twofold manner of subjection—the spurious and the real. The involuntary is nought; the glad and cheerful surrender alone is counted submission. This psalm shows us Christ surrounded by His friends who are glad to obey. But it also shows us Christ ruling in the midst of His enemies. They cannot help obeying; His dominion is established over them, but they do not wish to have Him to reign over them, and therefore they are enemies—even though they be subjects. Which is it with you, my brother? Do you serve because you love—and love because He died for you? or do you serve because you must? Then, remember, constrained service is no service; and subjects without loyalty are rebel traitors. Our psalm shows us Christ gathering His army in array. He is calling each of us to a place there, in this day of His power, and day of His grace. Take heed lest the day of His power should for you darken into that other day of which this psalm speaks—the day of His wrath, when He strikes through kings, and bruises the head over many countries. Put your trust in that Saviour, my friend! cleave to that Sacrifice, then you will not be amongst those whom He treads down in His march to victory, but one of that happy band of priestly warriors who follow Him as He goes forth 'conquering and to conquer.'
GOD AND THE GODLY
'His righteousness endureth for ever.'—PSALMS cxi. 3; cxii. 3.
These two psalms are obviously intended as a pair. They are identical in number of verses and in structure, both being acrostic, that is to say, the first clause of each commences with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the second clause with the second, and so on. The general idea that runs through them is the likeness of the godly man to God. That resemblance comes very markedly to the surface at several points in the psalms, and pervades them traceably even where it is less conspicuous. The two corresponding clauses which I have read as my text are the first salient instances of it. But I propose to deal not only with them, but with a couple of others which occur in the course of the psalms, and will appear as I proceed.
The general underlying thought is a noteworthy one. The worshipper is to be like his God. So it is in idolatry; so it should be with us. Worship is, or should be, adoration of and yearning after the highest conceivable good. Such an attitude must necessarily lead to imitation, and be crowned by resemblance. Love makes like, and they who worship God are bound to, and certainly will, in proportion to the ardour and sincerity of their devotion, grow like Him whom they adore. So I desire to look with you at the instances of this resemblance or parallelism which the Psalmist emphasises.
I. The first of them is that in the clauses which I have read as our starting-point, viz. God and the godly are alike in enduring righteousness.
That seems a bold thing to say, especially when we remember how lofty and transcendent were the Old Testament conceptions of the righteousness of God. But, lofty as these were, this Psalmist lifts an unpresumptuous eye to the heavens, and having said of Him who dwells there, 'His righteousness endureth for ever,' is not afraid to turn to the humble worshipper on this low earth, and declare the same thing of him. Our finite, frail, feeble lives may be really conformed to the image of the heavenly. The dewdrop with its little rainbow has a miniature of the great arch that spans the earth and rises into the high heavens. And so, though there are differences, deep and impassable, between anything that can be called creatural righteousness, and that which bears the same name in the heavens, the fact that it does bear the same name is a guarantee to us that there is an essential resemblance between the righteousness of God in its lustrous perfectness, and the righteousness of His child in its imperfect effort.
But how can we venture to run any kind of parallelism between the eternity of the one and that of the other? God's righteousness we can understand as enduring for ever, because it is inseparable from His very being; because it is manifested unbrokenly in all the works that for ever pour out from that central Source, and because it and its doings stand fast and unshaken amidst the passage of ages, and the 'wreck of matter and the crash of worlds.' But may there not be, if not an eternity, yet a perpetuity, in our reflection of the divine righteousness which shall serve to vindicate the application of the same mighty word to both? Is it not possible that, unbroken amidst the stress of temptation, and running on without interruptions, there may be in our hearts and in our lives conformity to the divine will? And is it not possible that the transiencies of our earthly doings may be sublimed into perpetuity if there is in them the preserving salt of righteousness?
'The actions of the just Smell sweet, and blossom in the dust.'
And may it not be, too, that though this Psalmist may have had no clear articulate doctrine of eternal life beyond, he may have felt, and rightly felt, that there were things that were too fair to die, and that it was inconceivable that a soul which had been, in some measure, tinged with the righteousness of God could ever be altogether a prey to the law of transiency and decay which seizes upon things material and corporeal? That which is righteous is eternal, be it manifested in the acts of the unchanging God or in the acts of a dying man, and when all else has passed away, and the elements have melted with fervent heat, 'he that doeth the will of God,' and the deeds which did it, 'shall abide for ever.' 'His righteousness endureth for ever.'
Now, brethren! there are two ways in which we may look at this parallelism of our text: the one is as containing a stringent requirement; the other as holding forth a mighty hope. It contains a stringent requirement. Our religion does not consist in assenting to any creed. Our religion is not wholly to consist of devout emotions and loving and joyous acts of communion and friendship with God. There must be more than these; these things there must be. For if a man is to be guided mainly by reason, there must, first of all, be creed; then there must be corresponding emotions. But creed and emotions are both meant to be forces which shall drive the wheels of life, and conduct is, after all, the crown of religion and the test of godliness. They that hold communion with God are bound to mould their lives into the likeness of His. 'Little children, let no man deceive you,' and let not your own hearts deceive you. You are not a Christian because you believe the truths of the Gospel. You are not such a Christian as you ought to be, if your religion is more manifest in loving trust than in practical obedience which comes from trust. 'He that doeth righteousness is righteous,' and he is to be righteous 'even as He is righteous.' If you are God's, you will be like God. Apply the touchstone to your lives, and test your Christianity by this simple and most stringent test.
But again, we may look at the thought as holding forth a great hope. I do not wish to force upon Old Testament writers New Testament truth. It would be an anachronism and an absurdity to make this Psalmist responsible for anything like a clear evangelistic statement of the way by which a man may be made righteous. That waited for coming days, and eminently for Jesus Christ. But it would be quite as great a mistake to eviscerate the words of their plain implications. And when they put side by side the light and the reflection, God and the godly, it seems to me to be doing violence to their meaning for the sake of trying to make them mean less than they do, if we refuse to recognise that they have at any rate an inkling of the thought that the Original and Pattern of human righteousness was likewise the Source of it. This at least is plain, that the Psalmist thought that 'the fear of the Lord' was not only, as he calls it at the close of the former of the two psalms, 'the beginning of wisdom,' but also the basis of goodness, for he begins his description of the godly with it.
I believe that he felt, what is assuredly true, that no man, by his own unaided effort, can ever work out for himself a righteousness which will satisfy his own conscience, and that he must, first of all, be in touch with God, in order to receive from Him that which he cannot create. Ah, brethren! the 'fine linen, clean and white, which is the righteousness of saints,' is woven in no earthly looms; and the lustrous light with which it glistens is such as 'no fuller on earth can white' men's characters into. Another Psalmist has sung of the man who can stand in the holy place, 'He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, even righteousness from the God of his salvation,' and our psalms hint, if they do not articulately declare, how that reception is possible for us, when they set forth waiting upon God as the condition of being made like Him. We translate the Psalmist's feeling after the higher truth which we know, when we desire 'that we may be found in Him, not having our own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is of God by faith.' So much, then, for the first point of correspondence in these two psalms.
II. God and the godly are alike in gracious compassion.
If you will turn to the two psalms for a moment, and look at the last clauses of the two fourth verses, you will see how that thought is brought out. In the former psalm we read, 'The Lord is gracious and full of compassion': in the latter we find, 'he' (the upright man) 'is gracious and full of compassion, and righteous.'
I need not trouble you with any remarks about certain difficulties that lie in the rendering of that latter verse. Suffice it to say that they are such as to make more emphatic the intentional resemblance between the godly as there described, and God as described in the previous one. Of both it is said 'gracious and full of compassion.'
Now that great truth of which I have been speaking, the divine righteousness, is like white Alpine snow, sublime, but cold, awful and repellent, when taken by itself. Our hearts need something more than a righteous God if we are ever to worship and draw near. Just as the white snow on the high peak needs to be flushed with the roseate hue of the morning before it can become tender, and create longings, so the righteousness of the great white Throne has to be tinged with the ruddy heart-hue of gracious compassion if men are to be moved to adore and to love. Each enhances the other. 'What God hath joined together,' in Himself, 'let not man put asunder'; nor talk about the stern Deity of the Old Testament, and pit Him against the compassionate Father of the New. He is righteous, but the proclaimers of His righteousness in old days never forgot to blend with the righteousness the mercy; and the combination heightens the lustre of both attributes.
The same combination is absolutely needful in the copy, as is emphatically set forth in our text by the addition of 'and righteous,' in the case of the man. For whilst with God the tyro attributes do lie, side by side, in perfect harmony, in us men there is always danger that the one shall trench upon the territory of the other, and that he who has cultivated the habit of looking upon sorrows and sins with compassion and tenderness shall somewhat lose the power of looking at them with righteousness. So our text, in regard to man, proclaims more emphatically than it needs to do in regard to the perfect God, that ever his highest beauty of compassion must be wedded to righteousness, and ever his truest strength of righteousness must be softened with compassion.
But beyond that, note how, wherever there is the loving and childlike contemplation of God, there will be an analogy in our compassion, to His perfectness. We are transformed by beholding. The sun strikes a poor little pane of glass in a cottage miles away, and it flashes with some likeness of the sun and casts a light across the plain. The man whose face is turned Godwards will have beauty pass into his face, and all that look upon him will see 'as it had been the countenance of an angel.'
If we have, in any real and deep measure, received mercy we shall reflect mercy. Remember the parable of the unmerciful debtor. The servant that cast himself at his lord's feet, and got the acquittal of his debt, and went out and gripped his fellow-servant by the throat, leaving the marks of his fingernails on his windpipe, with his 'Pay me that thou owest!' had all the pardon cancelled, and all the debt laid upon his shoulders again. If we owe all our hope and peace to a forgiving God, how can we make anything else the law of our lives than that, having received mercy, we should show mercy? The test of your being a forgiven man is your forgivingness. There is no getting away from that plain principle, which modifies the declaration of the freedom of God's full pardon.
But I would have you notice, further, as a very remarkable illustration of this correspondence between the gracious and compassionate Lord and His servant, that in the verses which follow respectively the two about which I am now speaking, the same idea is wrought out in another shape. In the psalm dealing with the divine character and works we read, immediately after the declaration that He is 'gracious and full of compassion,' this—'He hath given meat to them that fear Him'; and the corresponding clause in the second of our psalms is followed by this—to translate accurately—'It is well with the man who showeth favour and lendeth.' So man's open-handedness in regard to money is put down side by side with God's open-handedness in regard to giving meat unto them that fear Him. And again, in the ninth verse of each psalm, we have the same thought set forth in another fashion. 'He sent redemption unto His people,' says the one; 'He hath dispersed, He hath given to the poor,' says the other. That is to say, our paltry giving may be paralleled with the unspeakable gifts which God has bestowed, if they come from a love which is like His. It does not matter though they are so small and His are so great; there is a resemblance. The tiniest crystal may be like the hugest. God gives to us the possession of things in order that we may enjoy the luxury, which is one of the elements in the blessedness of the blessed God, who is blessed because He is the giving God, the luxury of giving. Poor though our bestowments must be, they are not unlike His. The little burn amongst the heather carves its tiny bed, and impels its baby ripples by the same laws which roll the waters of the Amazon, and every fall that it makes over a shelf of rock a foot high is a miniature Niagara.
III. So, lastly, we have still another point, not so much of resemblance as of correspondence, in the firmness of God's utterances and of the godly heart.
In the first of our two psalms we read, in the seventh verse, 'All His commandments are sure.' In the second we read, in the corresponding verse, 'his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.' The former psalm goes on, 'His commandments stand fast for ever and ever; and the next psalm, in the corresponding verse, says 'his heart is established,' the original employing the same word in both cases, which in our version is rendered, in the one place, 'stand fast,' and in the other 'established.' So that the Psalmist is thinking of a correspondence between the stability of God's utterances and the stability of the heart that clasps them in faith.
His commandments are not only precepts which enjoin duty. All which God says is law, whether it be directly in the nature of guiding precept, or whether it be in the nature of revealing truth, or whether it be in the nature of promise. It is sure, reliable, utterly trustworthy. We may be certain that it will direct us aright, that it will reveal to us absolute truth, that it will hold forth no flattering and false promises. And it is 'established.' The one fixed point amidst the whirl of things is the uttered will of God.
Therefore, the heart that builds there builds safely. And there should be a correspondence, whether there is or no, between the faithfulness of the Speaker and the faith of the hearer. A man who is doubtful about the solidity of the parapet which keeps him from toppling over into the abyss will lean gingerly upon it, until he has found out that it is firm. The man that knows how strong is the stay on which he rests ought to lean hard upon it. Lean hard upon God, put all your weight upon Him. You cannot put too much, you cannot lean too hard. The harder the better; the better He is pleased, and the more He breathes support and strength into us. And, brethren! if thus we build an established faith on that sure foundation, and match the unchangeableness of God in Christ with the constancy of our faith in Him, then, 'He that believeth shall never make haste,' and as my psalm says, 'He shall not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.'
The upshot of the whole matter is—we cannot work out for ourselves a righteousness that will satisfy our own consciences, nor secure for ourselves a strength that will give peace to our hearts, and stability to our lives, by any other means than by cleaving fast to God revealed in Jesus Christ.
We have borne the image of the earthly long enough; let us open our hearts to God in Christ. Let us yield ourselves to Him; let us gaze upon Him with fixed eyes of love, and labour to make our own what He bestows upon us. Thus living near Him, we shall be bathed in His light, and show forth something of His beauty. Godliness is God-likeness. It is of no use to say that we are God's children if we have none of the family likeness. 'If ye were Abraham's sons ye would do the works of Abraham,' said Christ to the Jews. If we are God's sons we shall do the works of God. 'Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect;' be ye merciful as your Father is merciful. And if thus we here, dwelling with Christ, are being conformed to the image of His Son, we shall one day 'be satisfied' when we 'awake in His likeness.'
EXPERIENCE, RESOLVE, AND HOPE
'Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. 9. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.'—PSALM cxvi. 8, 9.
This is a quotation from an earlier psalm, with variations which are interesting, whether we suppose that the Psalmist was quoting from memory and made them unconsciously, or whether, as is more probable, he did so, deliberately and for a purpose. The variations are these. The words in the original psalm (lvi.) according to the Revised Version, read, 'Thou hast delivered my soul from death; hast Thou not delivered my feet from falling?' The writer of this psalm felt that that did not say all, so he put in another clause: 'Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.' It is not enough to keep a man alive and upright. God will wipe away his tears; and will often keep him from shedding them.
Then the original psalm goes on: 'Thou hast delivered ... my feet from falling, that I may walk before God,' but the later Psalmist goes a step further than his original. The first singer had seen what it is always a blessing to see—what God meant by all the varieties of His providences, viz. that the recipient might walk as in His presence; but the later poet not only discerns, but accords with, God's purpose, yields himself to the divine intention, and instead of simply saying 'That was what God meant,' he says, 'That is what I am going to do—I will walk before the Lord.' There is still another variation which, however, does not alter the sense. The original psalm says, 'in the light of the living'; the other uses another word, a little more intelligible, perhaps, to an ordinary reader, and says, 'in the land of the living.'
Now, noting these significant variations, I would draw attention to this expression of the Psalmist's acceptance of the divine purpose, and the vision that it gave him of his future. It is hard to say whether he means 'I will walk' or 'I shall walk'; whether he is expressing a hope or giving utterance to a fixed resolve. I think there is an element of both in the words. At all events, I find in them three things: a sure anticipation, a firm resolve, and a far-reaching hope.
I. A sure anticipation.
'Thou hast'—'I will.' The past is for this Psalmist a mirror in which he sees reflected the approaching form of the veiled future. God's past is the guarantee of God's future. Godless people, who get wearied of the monotony of life, begin to say before they have gone far in it, 'Oh! there is nothing new. That which is to be hath already been. It is just one continual repetition of the same sort of thing.' But that is only partially true. There is only one man in the world who can truly and certainly say, 'To-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant'; and that is the man who says; 'He delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.' For the continuance of things here is not guaranteed to us by the fact that they have lasted for so long. Why, nobody knows whether the sun will rise to-morrow or not—whether there will be a to-morrow or not. There will come one day when the sun sets for the last time. What people call the 'uniformity of nature' affords no ground on which to build certainty as to the future. We all do it, but we have no right to do it. But when we bring God into the future, that makes all the difference. His past is the guarantee and the revelation of His future, and every person that grasps Him in faith has the right to pray with assurance, 'Thou hast been my Helper; leave me not, neither forsake me,' and to declare triumphantly, 'The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.'
So, brethren! all the past, as it is recorded for us in Scripture, lives and throbs with faithful promises for us to-day. Though the methods of the manifestation may alter, the essence of it remains the same. As one of the Apostles says, 'Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our advantage, that we, through the encouragement ministered by the Scriptures, might have hope'; and looking forward into all the future, might discern its wastes unknown, all lighted up by the one glad certainty that He that is 'the same yesterday and to-day and for ever' will be there, and we shall be beside Him. What God has done, He will keep on doing. 'The Lord hath delivered mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling,' and therefore 'I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.'
Our experience yields fuel for our faith. We have been near death many a time; we have never fallen into it. Our eyes have been wet many a time; God has dried them. Our feet have been ready to fall many a time, and if at the moment when we were tottering on the edge of the precipice, we have cried to Him and said, 'My feet have well-nigh slipped,' a strong Hand has been held out to us. 'The Lord upholdeth them that are in the act of falling,' as the old psalm, rightly rendered, has it, and if we have pushed aside His hand, and gone down, then the next clause of the same verse applies, for He 'raiseth up those that have fallen,' and are lying prostrate.
As it has been, so it will be. 'Thou hast been with me in six troubles,' therefore 'in the seventh Thou wilt not forsake me.' We can wear out men; and we cannot argue that because a man has had long patience with some unworthy recipient of his goodness, his patience will never give out. But it is safe to argue thus about God. 'I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven'—the two perfect numbers multiplied into each other, and the product again multiplied by one of them, to give the measureless measure of the exhaustless divine love, and the sure guarantee that to His servant 'to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.'
Then, again, if we put a little different meaning into the Psalmist's words (and as I said, I think both meanings lie in them), they suggest that he did not look forward into the future only with expectation, but that along with expectation there was resolve. So we have here
II. A firm resolve.
'I will walk before the Lord.' What does 'walking before the Lord' mean? There are two or three expressions very like each other, yet entirely different from each other, in the Old and in the New Testament, about this matter. We read of 'walking with God,' and of 'walking before God,' and of 'walking after God.' And whilst there is much that is common to all the expressions, they look at the same idea from different angles. 'Walking with God,' communion, fellowship, and companionship are implied there. 'Walking after God,' guidance, direction, and example, and our poor imitation and obedience, are most conspicuous there. And 'walking before God' means, I suppose, mainly, feeling always that we are in His presence, and have the light of His face, and the glance of His all-seeing eye, falling upon us. 'If I take the wings of the morning, and fly into the uttermost parts of the sea, Thou art there.' 'Thou art acquainted with all my ways, search me, O God!' That is walking before God. To put it into colder words, it means the habitual—I do not say unbroken, but habitual—effort to feel in our conscious hearts that we are in His sight; not only that we are with Him, but that we are 'naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.' And that is to be the result, says our psalm, as it is the intention, of all that God has been doing with us in His merciful providence, in His quickening, sustaining, and comforting influences in the past. He sent all these varying conditions, kept the psalmist alive, kept him from weeping, or dried his tears, kept him from falling, with the intention that he should be continually blessed in the continuous sunshine of God's presence, and should open out his heart in it and for it, like a flower when the sunbeams strike it. Oh! how different life would look if we habitually took hold of all its incidents by that handle, and thought about them, not as we are accustomed to do, according to whether they tended to make us glad or sorry, to disappoint or fulfil our hopes and purposes, but looked upon them all as stages in our education, and as intended, if I might so say, to force us, when the tempests blow, close up against God; and when the sunshine came, to woo us to His side. Would not all life change its aspect if we carried that thought right into it, and did not only keep it for Sundays, or for the crises of our lives, but looked at all the trifles as so many magnets brought into action by Him to attract us to Himself? Dear brother, it is not enough to recognise God's purpose, we must fall in with it, accept the intention, and co-operate with God in fulfilling it. It is a matter of purity and of piety, to say, 'Thou hast delivered my soul from death, that I may walk before Thee.'
But there has to be something more. There have to be a firm resolve, and effort without which the firmest resolve will all come to nothing, and be one more paving-stone for the road that is 'paved with good intentions.' That firm resolve finds utterance in the not vain vow, 'I will'—in spite of all opposition and difficulties—'I will walk before the Lord,' and keep ever bright in my mind the thought, 'Thou God seest me.'
Ay! and just in the measure in which we do so shall we have joy. In some of those inhuman prisons where they go in for solitary confinement, there is a little hole somewhere in the wall—the prisoner does not know where—at which at any moment in the four-and-twenty hours the eye of the gaoler may be, and they say that the thought of that unseen eye, glaring in upon the felons, drives some of them half mad. The thought that poor Hagar found to be her only comfort in the wilderness—and so christened the well after it—'Thou God seest me,' must be the source of our purest joy; or it must be a ghastly dread. When He comes at last, some men will lift up their faces to the sunshine and have their faces irradiated by the light; and some will call on the rocks and the hills to cover them from His face, and prefer rather to be crushed than to be blasted by the brightness of His countenance. If we are right with God, then the gladdest of thoughts is, 'Thou knowest me altogether, and Thou hast beset me behind and before.' If we are right with God, 'Thou hast laid Thine hand upon me' will mean for us support and blessing. If we are wrong, it will mean a weight that crushes to the earth.
And if we are right with Him, that same thought brings with it security and companionship. Ah! we do not need ever to say 'I am alone' if we are walking before God. It brings with it, of course, an armour against temptation. What mean, lustful, worldly seduction has any power when a man falls back on the thought, 'God sees me, and God is with me'? Do you remember the very first instance in Scripture of the use of this phrase? The Lord said unto Abraham, 'Walk before Me, and be thou perfect.' That was not only a commandment, but it was a promise, and we might as truly, for the sense of the passage, read, 'Walk before Me, and thou shalt be perfect.' That thought of the present God draws the teeth of all raging lions, and takes the stings out of all serpents, and paralyses and reduces to absolute nothingness every temptation. Clasp God's hand, and you will not fall.
III. There is lastly here, a far-reaching hope.
I do not know whether the Psalmist had any notion of any land of the living except the land of Earth, where men pass their natural lives. I almost think that both he and his brother, whose words he was imitating, had some glimpse of a future life of closer union, when eyes should no more weep nor feet fall. At any rate, you and I cannot help reading that hope into his words. When we read, 'I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living,' we cannot but think of the true and perfect deliverance, when it shall be said, with a depth and a fulness of meaning with which it is never said here, 'Thou hast delivered my soul from death,' and the black dread that towered so high, and closed the vista of all human expectation of the future, is now away back in the past, hull-down on the horizon as they say about ships scarcely visible, and no more to be feared. We cannot but think of the perfect deliverance of 'mine eyes from tears,' when 'God shall wipe away the tears from off all faces, and the rebuke of His people from off all the earth.' We cannot but think of the perfect deliverance of 'my feet from falling' when the redeemed of the Lord shall stand firm, and walk at liberty on the golden pavements, and no more dread the stumbling-blocks of earth. We cannot but think of the perfect presence of God, the perfect consciousness that we are near Him, when He shall 'present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.' We cannot but think of the perfect activity of that future state when we 'shall walk with Him in white,' and 'follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.' And one guarantee for all that far-reaching hope is in the tiny experiences of the present; for He who hath delivered our souls from death, our eyes from tears, and our feet from falling, is not going to expose Himself to the scoff, 'This "God" began to build, and was not able to finish.' But He will complete that which He has begun, and will not stay His hand until all His children are perfectly redeemed and perfectly conscious of His perfect Presence.
'What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me? 13. I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.'—PSALM cxvi. 12, 13.
There may possibly be a reference here to a part of the Passover ritual. It seems to have become the custom in later times to lift high the wine cup at that feast and drink it with solemn invocation and glad thanksgiving. So we find our Lord taking the cup—the 'cup of blessing' as Paul calls it—and giving thanks. But as there is no record of the introduction of that addition to the original Paschal celebration, we do not know but that it was later than the date of this psalm. Nor is there any need to suppose such an allusion in order either to explain or to give picturesque force to the words. It is a most natural thing, as all languages show, to talk of a man's lot, either of sorrow or joy, as the cup which he has to drink; and there are numerous instances of the metaphor in the Psalms, such as 'Thou art the Portion of mine inheritance and of my cup, Thou maintainest my lot.' 'My cup runneth over.' That familiar emblem is all that is wanted here.
Then one other point in reference to the mere words of the text may be noticed. 'Salvation' can scarcely be taken in its highest meaning here, both because the whole tone of the psalm fixes its reference to lower blessings, and because it is in the plural in the Hebrew. 'The cup of salvation' expresses, by that plural form, the fulness and variety of the manifold and multiform deliverances which God had wrought and was working for the Psalmist. His whole lot in life appears to him as a cup full of tender goodness, loving faithfulness, delivering grace. It runs over with divine acts of help and sustenance. As his grateful heart thinks of all God's benefits to him, he feels at once the impulse to requite and the impossibility of doing so. With a kind of glad despair he asks the question that ever springs to thankful lips, and having nothing to give, recognises the only possible return to God to be the acceptance of the brimming chalice which His goodness commends to his thirst.
The great thought, then, which lies here is that we best requite God by thankfully taking what He gives.
Now I note to begin with—how deep that thought goes into the heart of God.
Why is it that we honour God most by taking, not by giving? The first answer that occurs to you, no doubt, is—because of His all-sufficiency and our emptiness. Man receives all. God needs nothing. We have all to say, after all our service, 'Of Thine own have we given Thee.' No doubt that is quite true; and rightly understood that is a strengthening and a glad truth. But is that all which can be said in explanation of this principle? Surely not. 'If I were hungry I would not tell thee; for the world is mine and the fulness thereof,' is a grand word, but it does not give all the truth. When Paul stood on Mars Hill, and, within sight of the fair images of the Parthenon, shattered the intellectual basis of idolatry, by proclaiming a God 'not worshipped with men's hands as though He needed anything, seeing He giveth to all men all things,' that truth, mighty as it is, is not all. We requite God by taking rather than by giving, not merely because He needs nothing, and we have nothing which is not His. If that were all, it might be as true of an almighty tyrant, and might be so used as to forbid all worship before the gloomy presence, to give reverence and love to whom were as impertinent as the grossest offerings of savage idolaters. But the motive of His giving to us is the deepest reason why our best recompense to Him is our thankful reception of His mercies. The principle of our text reposes at last on 'God is love and wishes our hearts,' and not merely on 'God has all and does not need our gifts.'
Take the illustration from our own love and gifts. Do we not feel that all the beauty and bloom of a gift is gone if the giver hopes to receive as much again? Do we not feel that it is all gone if the receiver thinks of repaying it in any coin but that of the heart? Love gives because it delights in giving. It gives that it may express itself and may bless the recipient. If there be any thought of return it is only the return of love. And that is how God gives. As James puts it, He is 'the giving God,—who gives,' not as our version inadequately renders, 'liberally,' but 'simply'—that is, I suppose, with a single eye, without any ulterior view to personal advantage, from the impulse of love alone, and having no end but our good. Therefore it is, because of that pure, perfect love, that He delights in no recompense, but only in the payment of a heart won to His love and melted by His mercies. Therefore it is that His hand is outstretched, 'hoping for nothing again.' His Almighty all-sufficiency needs nought from us, and to all heathen notions of worship and tribute puts the question: 'Do ye requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise?' But His deep heart of love desires and delights in the echo of its own tones that is evoked among the rocky hardnesses of our hearts, and is glad when we take the full cup of His blessings and, as we raise it to our lips, call on the name of the Lord. Is not that a great and a gracious thought of our God and of His great purpose in His mercies?
But now let us look for a moment at the elements which make up this requital of God in which He delights. And, first I put a very simple and obvious one, let us be sure that we recognise the real contents of our cup. It is a cup of salvations, however hard it is sometimes to believe it. Of how much blessing and happiness we all rob ourselves by our slowness to feel that! Some of us by reason of natural temperament; some of us by reason of the pressure of anxieties, and the aching of sorrows, and the bleeding of wounds; some of us by reason of mere blindness to the true character of our present, have little joyous sense of the real brightness of our days. It seems as if joys must have passed and be seen in the transfiguring light of memory, before we can discern their fairness; and then, when their place is empty, we know that we were entertaining angels unawares. Many men and women live in the gloom of a lifelong regret for the loss of some gift which, when they had it, seemed nothing very extraordinary, and could not keep them from annoyance with trifles. Common sense and reasonable regard for our own happiness and religious duty unite, as they always do, in bidding us take care that we know our blessings. Do not let custom blind you to them. Do not let tears so fill your eyes that you cannot see the goodness of the Lord. Do not let thunderclouds, however heavy their lurid piles, shut out from you the blue that is in your sky. Do not let the empty cup be your first teacher of the blessings you had when it was full. Do not let a hard place here and there in the bed destroy your rest. Seek, as a plain duty, to cultivate a buoyant, joyous sense of the crowded kindnesses of God in your daily life. Take full account of all the pains, all the bitter ingredients, remembering that for us weak and sinful men the bitter is needful. If still the cup seem charged with distasteful draught, remember whose lip has touched its rim, leaving its sacred kiss there, and whose hand holds it out to you while He says, 'Do this in remembrance of Me.' The cup which my Saviour giveth me, can it be anything but a cup of salvations?
Then, again, another of the elements of this requital of God is—be sure that you take what God gives.
There can be no greater slight and dishonour to a giver than to have his gifts neglected. You give something that has, perhaps, cost you much, or which at any rate has your heart in it, to your child, or other dear one; would it not wound you if a day or two after you found it tossing about among a heap of unregarded trifles? Suppose that some of those Rajahs who received presents on a royal visit to India had gone out from the durbar and flung them into the kennel, that would have been insult and disaffection, would it not? But these illustrations are trivial by the side of our treatment of the 'giving God.' Surely of all the follies and crimes of our foolish and criminal race, there is none to match this—that we will not take and make our own the things that are freely given to us of God. This is the height of all madness; this is the lowest depth of all sin. He spares not His own Son, the Son spares not Himself, the Father gives up His Son for us all because He loves, the Son loves us, and gives Himself to us and for us, and we stand with our hands folded on our breasts, will not condescend so much as to stretch them out, or hold our blessings with so slack a grasp that at any time we may let them slip through our careless fingers. He prays us with much entreaty to receive the gift, and neglect and stolid indifference are His requital. Is there anything worse than that? Surely Scripture is right when it makes the sin of sins that unbelief, which is at bottom nothing else than a refusal to take the cup of salvation. Surely no sharper grief can be inflicted on the Spirit of God than when we leave His gifts neglected and unappropriated.
In the highest region of all, how many of these there are which we treat so! A Saviour and His pardoning blood; a Spirit and His quickening energies; that eternal life which might spring in our souls a fountain of living waters—all these are ours. Are we as strong as we might be if we used the strength which we have? How comes it that with the fulness of God at our sides we are empty; that with the word of God in our hands we know so little; that with the Spirit of God in our hearts we are so fleshly; that with the joy of our God for our portion we are so troubled; that with the heart of God for our hiding-place we are so defenceless? 'We have all and abound,' and yet we are poor and needy, like some infatuated beggar, in rags and wretchedness, to whom wealth had been given which he would not use.
In the lower region of daily life and common mercies the same strange slowness to take what we have is found. There are very few men who really make the best of their circumstances. Most of us are far less happy than we might be, if we had learned the divine art of wringing the last drop of good out of everything. After our rude attempts at smelting there is a great deal of valuable metal left in the dross, which a wiser system would extract. One wonders when one gets a glimpse of how much of the raw material of happiness goes to waste in the manufacture in all our lives. There is so little to spare, and yet so much is flung away. It needs a great deal of practical wisdom, and a great deal of strong, manly Christian principle, to make the most of what God gives us. Watchfulness, self-restraint, the power of suppressing anxieties and taking no thought for the morrow, and most of all, the habitual temper of fellowship with God, which is the most potent agent in the chemistry that extracts its healing virtue from everything—all these are wanted. The lesson is worth learning, lest we should wound that most tender Love, and lest we should impoverish and hurt ourselves. Do not complain of your thirsty lips till you are sure that you have emptied the cup of salvation which God gives.
One more element of this requital of God has still to be named, the thankful recognition of Him in all our feasting—'call on the name of the Lord.' Without this the preceding precept would be a piece of pure selfish Epicureanism—and without this it would be impossible. Only he who enjoys life in God enjoys it worthily. Only he who enjoys life in God enjoys it at all. This is the true infusion which gives sweetness to whatever of bitter, and more of sweetness to whatever of sweet, the cup may contain, when the name of the Lord is pronounced above it. The Jewish father at the Passover feast solemnly lifted the wine cup above his head, and drank with thanksgiving. The meal became a sacrament. So here the word rendered 'take' might be translated 'raise,' and we may be intended to have the picture as emblematical of our consecration to all our blessings by a like offering of them before God and a like invoking of the Giver.
Christ gave us not only the ritual of an ordinance, but the pattern for our lives, when He 'took the cup and gave thanks.' So common joys become sacraments, enjoyment becomes worship, and the cup which holds the bitter or the sweet skilfully mingled for our lives becomes the cup of blessing and salvation drank in remembrance of Him. If we carried that spirit with us into all our small duties, sorrows, and gladnesses, how different they would all seem! We should then drink for strength, not for drunkenness. We should not then find that God's gifts hid Him from us. We should neither leave any of them unused nor so greedily grasp them that we let His hand go. Nothing would be too great for us to attempt, nothing too small for us to put our strength into. There would be no discord between earthly gladness and heavenly desires, nor any repugnance at what He held to our lips. We should drink of the cup of His benefits, and all would be sweet—until we drew nearer and slaked our thirst at the river of His pleasures and the Fountain-head itself.
One more word. There is an old legend of an enchanted cup filled with poison, and put treacherously into a king's hand. He signed the sign of the Cross and named the name of God over it, and it shivered in his grasp. Do you take that name of the Lord as a test. Name Him over many a cup of which you are eager to drink, and the glittering fragments will lie at your feet, and the poison be spilled on the ground. What you cannot lift before His pure eyes and think of Him while you enjoy is not for you. Friendships, schemes, plans, ambitions, amusements, speculations, studies, loves, businesses—can you call on the name of the Lord while you put these cups to your lips? If not, fling them behind you—for they are full of poison which, for all its sugared sweetness, at the last will 'bite like a serpent and sting like an adder.'
A CLEANSED WAY
'Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy word.'—PSALM cxix. 9.
There are many questions about the future with which it is natural for you young people to occupy yourselves; but I am afraid that the most of you ask more anxiously 'How shall I make my way?' than 'How shall I cleanse it?' It is needful carefully to ponder the questions: 'How shall I get on in the world—be happy, fortunate?' and the like, and I suppose that that is the consideration which presses with special force upon a great many of you. Now I want you to think of another question: 'How shall I cleanse my way?' For purity is the best thing; and to be good is a wiser as well as a nobler object of ambition than any other. So my object is just to try and urge upon my dear young friends before me the serious consideration for a while of this grave question of my text, and the answers which are given to it.
If I can get you once to be smitten with a passion for purity, all but everything is gained. But I shall not be content if even that is the issue of my pleading with you now, for I want to have you all Christians. And that is why I have asked you to listen to what I have to say to you on this occasion.
I. So, first, we have here the great practical problem for life: 'Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?' Or, in other words, 'How may I live a pure and a noble life?'
It is a question, of course, for everybody: it is the question for everybody, but it is more especially one for you young people. And I wish to urge it upon you for two or three reasons, which I very briefly specify.
First, I desire to press upon you this question, because, as I have said, you are under special temptations not to ask it. There are so many other points in your future unresolved, that you are only too apt to put aside the consideration of this one in favour of those which seem to be of more pressing and immediate importance. And you have the other temptation, common to us all, but especially attending you as young people, of living without any plan of life at all. The sin and the misery of half the world are that they live from hand to mouth, knowing why they do each single action at the moment, but never looking a dozen inches beyond their noses to see where all the actions taken together tend; and so being just like weathercocks, whirled round by every wind of temptation that comes to them. If they are good or pure they are so by accident, by impulse, or because they have never been tempted. They have no definite plan or theory of life which they could put into words if anybody asked them on what principles, and for what end, and towards what objects they were living. And as everybody is tempted into such an unreflecting way of life, so you especially are tempted to it, because at your age judgment and experience are not so strong as inclination and passion; and everything has got the fresh gloss of novelty upon it, and it seems to be sometimes sufficient delight to live and get hold of the new joys that are flooding in upon you. And therefore I want you to stop and for a moment think whether you have any plan of life that bears being put into words, whether you can tell God and your own consciences what you are living for.
And I urge this question upon you for another reason—because it is worth while for you to ask it. For you have still the prerogative that some of us have lost, of determining the shape that your life's course is to take. The path that you are going to tread lies all unmarked out across the plain of life. You may be pretty nearly what you like. Life is before you, with great blessed possibilities; it is behind some of us. All the long years which you may probably have are all plastic in your hands yet; they are moulded into a rigid shape for men like me. We have made our beds, and we must lie on them. You have your life in your own hands; therefore, I beseech you, while you have not to ask this question with the bitter meaning with which old men that have made their paths, and made them filthy, have to ask it—'How shall an old man cleanse his way, and get rid of the filth?'—consider how you may secure that your way in the untrodden future shall be clean, and do not rest till you get an answer.
And I press it upon you for another reason, because you have special temptations to make your ways unclean. It is a fearful ordeal that every young man and woman has to face, as he or she steps across the dividing boundary between childhood and youth, when parental authority is weakened, and the leading-strings are loosened, and the young swimmer is as it were cut away from the buoys, and has to battle with the waves alone. There are hundreds of young men in Manchester, there are many of them here now, who have come up into this great city from quiet country homes where they were shielded by the safeguards of a father's and a mother's love and care, and have been flung into this place, with its every street swarming with temptation, and companions on the benches of the university, at the desks, in the warehouses, and the workshops, leading them away into evil and teaching them the devil's alphabet—young men with their evenings vacant and with no home. Am I speaking to any such standing in slippery places? Oh, my young friend! there is nothing in all these temptations, the fascinations of which you are beginning to find out, there is nothing in them all worth soiling your fingers for; there is nothing in them all that will pay you for the loss of your innocence. There is nothing in them all except a fair outside with poison at the core. You see the 'primrose path'; you do not see, to use Shakespeare's solemn words, 'the everlasting burnings' to which it leads. And so I plead with you all, young men and women, to lay this question to heart; and I beseech you to credit me when I say to you that you have not yet touched the gravest and the most pressing problem of life unless you have asked yourselves in a serious mood of deep reflection, 'Wherewithal shall I cleanse my way?'
II. So much for the first point to which I ask your attention. Now, secondly, look at this answer, which tells us that we can only make our way clean on condition of constant watchfulness. 'By taking heed thereto.'
That seems a very plain, simple, common-sense answer. The best made road wants looking after if it is to be kept in repair. What would become of a railway that had no surfacemen and platelayers going along the line and noticing whether anything was amiss? I remember once seeing a bit of an old Roman road; the lava blocks were there, but for want of care, here a young sapling had grown up between two of them and had driven them apart; there they were split by the frost, here was a great ugly gap full of mud; and the whole thing ended in a jungle. How shall a man keep his road in repair? 'By taking heed thereto.' Things that are left to go anyhow in this world have a strange knack of going one how. You do not need anything else than negligence to ensure that things will come to grief.
And so, at first sight, my text simply seems to preach the plain truth: if you want to keep your road right, look after it. But if you look at your Bibles, you will see that the word 'thereto' is a supplement, and that all that the Psalmist really says is 'by taking heed.' And perhaps it is to himself rather than to his 'way' that a man is exhorted to 'take heed.' 'Take heed to thyself' is the only condition of a pure and noble life.
That such a condition is necessary, will appear very plain from two considerations. First, it is clear that there must be constant watchfulness, if we consider what sort of a world this is that we have got into And it is also plain, if we consider what sort of creatures we are that have got into it.
First, it is plain if we consider what sort of a world this is that we have got into. It is a world a great deal fuller of inducements to do wrong than of inducements to do right; a world in which there are a great many bad things that have a deceptive appearance of pleasure; a great many circumstances in which it seems far easier to follow the worse than to follow the better course. And so, unless a man has learned the great art of saying 'No!' 'So did not I because of the fear of the Lord'; he will come to rack and ruin without a doubt. There are more things round about you that will tempt you downwards than will draw you upwards, and your only security is constant watchfulness. As George Herbert says:—
'Who keeps no guard upon himself is slack, And rots to nothing at the next great thaw.'
And that is what will happen to you, as sure as you are living, in spite of all your good resolutions, unless you back up those resolutions with perpetual jealous watchfulness over yourselves. 'Keep thy heart with all diligence.'
And the same lesson is pealed out to us if we consider what sort of creatures we are that have got into this world all full of wickedness. We are creatures evidently made for self-government. Our whole nature is like a monarchy. There are things in each of us that are never meant to rule, but to be kept well down under control, such as strong passions, desires rooted in the flesh which are not meant to get the mastery of a man, and there are parts of our nature which are as obviously intended to be supreme and sovereign: the reason, the conscience, the will.
There is a deal of pestilent talk which one sometimes hears, amongst young men especially, about 'following nature.' Yes! I say, 'Follow nature!' and nature says, 'Let the man govern the animal!' and 'Do not set beggars on horseback,' nor allow your passions to guide you, but keep a tight hand on them, suppress them, scourge them, rule them by your reason, by your conscience, and by your will.
Suppose a man were to say about a steamship, 'The structure of this vessel shows that it is meant that we should get a roaring fire up in the furnaces, and set the engines going at full speed, and let her go as she will.' Would he not have left out of account that there was a steering apparatus, which was as plainly meant to guide as are the engines to drive? What are the rudder and the wheel for?—do they not imply a pilot? and is not the make of our souls as plainly suggestive of subordination and control? Doth not nature itself teach you that you do not follow, but outrage, nature, when you let your passions rule, and that you only then follow nature when you bow the whole man under the dominion of the conscience, and when conscience stands waiting for the voice of God?
'Unless above himself he can erect Himself, how mean a thing is man!'
You are called upon by the very world that you have come into, and by the very sort of person that you yourself are, to exercise that perpetual watchfulness which is the only condition of cleansing your way. There must be a strong guard on the frontier, which shall examine all the thoughts and purposes and desires that would pass out, and all the temptations and seductions that would pass in; and take care that none shall pass which cannot bring the King's warrant, 'Keep thy heart with diligence.' 'Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto.'
III. This constant watchfulness, to be of any use, must be regulated by God's Word. 'Taking heed thereto, according to Thy word.'
The guard on the frontier who is to keep the path must have instructions from headquarters, and not choose and decide according to their own phantasy, but according to the King's orders. Or to use another metaphor, it is no use having a guard unless the guard has a lantern, and the lantern and light is the Word of God.
That brings me to say, and only in a word or two, how inadequate for the task of regulating our own lives our own watchfulness is. Conscience is the captain of the guard, and there is only one judgment in which conscience is always and infallibly right, and that is when it says, 'It is right to do right; and it is wrong to do wrong.' But when you begin to ask conscience, 'And, pray, what is right and what is wrong?' it is by no means invariably to be trusted; for you can educate conscience up or down to almost anything; and you can warp conscience, and you can bribe conscience, and you can stifle conscience. And so it is not enough that we should exercise the most watchful care over our course, and decide upon the right and the wrong of it by our own judgments; we may be fearfully wrong notwithstanding it all. It is not enough for a man to have a good watch in his pocket unless now and then he can get Greenwich time by which he can set it, and unless that has been secured by taking an observation of the sun. And so you cannot trust to anything in yourselves for the guidance of your own way or for the determination of your duty, but you must look to that higher Wisdom that has condescended to speak to us, and give us in this Book the revelation of its will. Men rebel against the moral law of the Bible, and speak of it as if it were a restraint and a sharp taskmaster. Ah, no! It is one of the greatest tokens of God's infinite love to us that He has not left us to grope our way amidst the illusions of our own judgments, and the questionable shapes of human conceptions of right and wrong, but that He has declared to us His own character for the standard of all perfection, and given us in the human life of the Son of His love the all-sufficient pattern for every life.
So I need not dwell at any length upon the thought that in that word of God, in its whole sweep, and eminently and especially in Christ, who is the Incarnate Word, we have an all-sufficient Guide. A guide of conduct must be plain—and whatever doubts and difficulties there may be about the doctrines of Christianity there is none about its morality. A guide of conduct must be decisive—and there is no faltering in the utterance of the Book as to right and wrong. A guide of conduct must be capable of application to the wide diversities of character, age, circumstance—and the morality of the New Testament especially, and of the Old in a measure, secures that, because it does not trouble itself about minute details, but deals with large principles. The morality of the Gospel, if I may so say, is a morality of centres, not of circumferences; of germinal principles, not of special prescriptions. A guide for morals must be far in advance of the followers, and it has taken generations and centuries to work into men's consciences, and to work out in men's practice, a portion of the morality of that Book. People tell us that Christianity is worn out. Ah! it will not be worn out until all its moral teaching has become part of the practice of the world, and that will not be for a year or two! The men that care least about Christian doctrines are foremost to admit that the Sermon on the Mount is the noblest code of morality that has ever been promulgated. If the world kept the commandments of the New Testament, the world would be in the Millennium; and all the sin and crime, and ninety-nine-hundredths of all the sorrow, of earth would have vanished like an ugly dream. Here is the guide for you, and if you take it you will not err.
My dear young friend! did you ever try to measure one day's actions by the standard of this Book? Let me press upon you this: Cultivate the habit—the habit of bringing all that you do side by side with this light; as a scholar in some school of art will take his feeble copy, and hold it by the side of the masterpiece, and compare line for line, and tint for tint. Take your life, and put it by the side of the Great Life, and you will begin to find out how 'according to Thy word' is the only standard by which to set your lives.
IV. And now I have one last thing to say. All this can only be done effectually if you are a Christian. My psalm does not go to the bottom; it goes as far as the measure of revelation granted to its author admitted; but if a person had no more to say than that, it would be a weary business. It is no use to tell a man, 'Guard yourself, guard yourself,' nor even to tell him, 'Guard yourself according to God's word,' if God's word is only a law.
The fatal defect of all attempts at keeping my heart by my own watchfulness is that keeper and kept are one and the same, and so there may be mutiny in the garrison, and the very forces that ought to subdue the rebellion may have gone over to the rebels. You want a power outside of you to steady you. The only way to haul a boat up the rapids is to have some fixed point on the shore to which a man may fasten a rope and pull at that. You get that eternal guard and fixed point by which to hold in Jesus Christ, the dear Son of God's love, who has died for you.
You want another motive to be brought to bear upon your conduct, and upon your convictions and your will mightier than any that now influence them; and you get that if you will yield yourself to the love that has come down from heaven to save you, and says to you, 'If you love Me, keep My commandments.' You want for keeping yourself and cleansing your way reinforcements to your own inward vigour, and you will get these if you will trust to Jesus Christ, who will breathe into you the Spirit of His own life, which will make you 'free from the law of sin and death.'
You want, if your path is to be cleansed—the youngest of you, the most tenderly nurtured, the purest, the most innocent wants—forgiveness for a past path, which is in some measure stained and foul, as well as strength for the future, to deliver you from the dreadful influence of the habit of evil. And you get all these, dear friends! in the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses from all sin.
So, standing as you do in the place where two ways meet, and with your choice yet in your power, I beseech you, turn away from the broad, easy road that slopes pleasantly downwards, and choose the narrow, steep path that climbs. Better rocks than mud, better the painful life of self-restraint and self-denial than the life of pleasing self.
Oh! choose the better portion, choose Christ for your Leader, your Law, your Lord! Trust yourselves to that great sacrifice which He made on the Cross, that all the past for you may be cleansed, and the future may be swept clear; and, so trusting, be sure He will be with you, to keep you and to guide you into the path which His own hand has raised above the filth of the world; the path of holiness, along which you may walk with feet and garments unstained till you come to Zion, 'with songs and everlasting joy upon your heads,' and bless Him there for all the way by which He led you home.
LIFE HID AND NOT HID
'Thy word have I hid in my heart.'—PSALM cxix. 11.
'I have not hid Thy righteousness in my heart.'—PSALM xl. 10.
Then there are two kinds of hiding—one right and one wrong: one essential to the life of the Christian, one inconsistent with it. He is a shallow Christian who has no secret depths in his religion. He is a cowardly or a lazy one, at all events an unworthy one, who does not exhibit, to the utmost of his power, his religion. It is bad to have all the goods in the shop window; it is just as bad to have them all in the cellar. There are two aspects of the Christian life—one between God and myself, with which no stranger intermeddles; one patent to all the world. My two texts touch these two.
I. 'I have hid Thy word within my heart.' There we have the word hidden, or the secret religion of the heart.
Now, I have often had occasion to remind you that the Old Testament use of the word 'heart' is much wider than our modern one, which limits it to being the seat and organ of love, affection, or emotion; whereas in the Old Testament the 'heart' is the very vital centre of the personal self. As the Book of Proverbs has it, 'out of it are the issues of life,' all the outgoings of activity of every kind, both that which we ascribe to the head, and that which we ascribe to the heart. These come, according to the Old Testament idea, from this central self. And so, when the Psalmist says, 'I have hid Thy word within my heart,' he means 'I have buried it deep in the very midst of my being, and put it down at the very roots of myself, and there incorporated it with the very substance of my soul.'
Now, I venture to take that expression, 'Thy word,' in a somewhat wider sense than the Psalmist employed it. There are three ideas conveyed by that expression in Scripture; and two of them are distinctly found in this psalm.
First, there is the plain, obvious one, which means by 'the word,' written revelation. The Bible of the Psalmist was a very small volume compared with ours. The Pentateuch, and perhaps some of the historical books, possibly also one or two of the prophets—and these were about all. Yet this fragmentary word he 'hid in his heart.' Now, dear brethren! I wish to say a very practical thing or two, and I begin with this. If you want to be strong Christian people, hide the Bible in your heart. When I was a boy the practice of good Christian folk was to read a daily chapter. I wonder if that is kept up. I gravely suspect it is not. There are, no doubt, a great many causes contributing to the comparative decay amongst professing Christians, of Bible reading and Bible study. There is modern 'higher criticism,' which has a great deal to say about how and when the books were made, especially the books that composed this Psalmist's Bible. But I want to insist that no theories, were they ever so well established—as I take leave to say they are not—no theories about these secondary questions touch the value of Scripture as a factor in the development of the Christian life. Whatever a man may think about these, he will be none the less alive, if he is wise, to the importance of the daily devotional study of Scripture.
Then there is another set of reasons for the neglect of Scripture, in the multiplication of other forms of literature. People have so many other books to read now, that they have not much time for reading their Bibles, or if they have, they think they have not. No literature will ever take the place of the old Book. Why, even looked at as a mere literary product there is nothing in the world like it! And no religious literature, sermons, treatises, still less magazines and periodicals, will do for Christian men what the Bible will do for them. You make a tremendous mistake, for your own souls' sake, if your religious reading consists in what people have said and thought about Scripture, more than in the Scripture itself. Why should you dip your pitchers into the reservoir, when you can take them up to where the spring comes gushing out of the hillside, pure and limpid and living?
Then there is the drive of our modern life which crowds out the word. Get up a quarter of an hour earlier and you will have time to read your Bible. It will be well worth the sacrifice, if it is a sacrifice. I do not mean by reading the Bible what, I am afraid, is far too common, reading a scrap of Scripture as if it were a kind of charm. But I would most earnestly press upon you that muscle and fibre will distinctly atrophy and become enfeebled, if Christian people neglect the first plain way of hiding the word in their heart, which is to make the utterances of Scripture as if incorporated with their very being, and part of their very selves.
But there is another use of the expression, 'Thy word,' which is not without example in this great psalm of praise of the word. In one place in it we read, 'For ever, O Lord! Thy word is settled in heaven'; that is not the Bible. 'Thy faithfulness is unto all generations. They continue this day according to Thy ordinances'; these are not the Bible—'for all are Thy servants.' 'Unless Thy law had been my delight, I should have perished in my afflictions'; I think that is not the Bible either, but it is the utterance of God's will, as expressed in the Psalmist's affliction. God's word comes to us in His providences and in many other ways. It is the declaration of His character and purposes, however they are declared, and the expression of His will and command, however expressed. In that wider sense of the phrase, I would say, 'Hide that manifested will of God in your hearts.' Let us cultivate the habit of bringing all 'the issues of life'—the streams that bubble up from that fountain in the centre of our being—into close relation to what we know to be God's will concerning us. Let the thought of the will of God sit sovereign arbiter, enthroned in the very centre of our personality, ruling our will, bending it and making it yielding and conformed to His, governing our affections, regulating our passions, restraining our desires, stimulating our slothfulness, quickening our aspirations, lifting heavenwards our hopes, and bringing the whole of the activities that well up from our hearts into touch with the will of God. Cast the healing branch into the very eye of the fountain, and then all the streams will partake of the cleansing. Let that known will of God be as the leaven hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened. A fanciful interpretation of that emblem makes the three measures to mean the triple constituents of humanity, body, soul, and spirit. We may smile at the fantastic exposition, but let us take heed to obey the exhortation. When God's will is deeply planted within, it will work quickening change on the heavy dough of our sluggish natures. It is when we bring the springs of our actions—namely, our motives, which are our true selves—into touch with His uttered will, that our deeds become conformed to it. Look after the motives, and the deeds will look after themselves. 'I have hid Thy word within my heart.'
And now I venture upon a further application of this phrase, of which the Psalmist had no notion, but which, in God's great mercy, in the progress of revelation, we can make. There is a better word of God than the Bible; there is a better word of God than any will uttered in His providences and the like. There is the Incarnate Word of God, who 'was from the beginning with God, and was God,' and is manifested in these last times unto us. I am keeping well within the analogy of Scripture teaching when I see the perfecting of revelation by the spoken Word as reached in the revelation by the personal word; and when, in addition to the exhortation, to hide the Scripture in your hearts, and to hide the uttered will of God, however uttered, in your hearts, I add, let us hide Christ in our hearts. For He will 'dwell in our hearts by faith,' and if He is shrined within the curtains of the secret place within us, which is 'the secret place of the Most High,' then, in the courts of the sanctuary, there will be a pure sacrifice and a priest clad 'in the beauties of holiness.'
II. The word not hidden, or the religion of the outward life.
Our second text brings into view the outer side of the devout life, that which is turned to the world. The word is to be hidden in the heart, for this very end of being then revealed in the life. For what other purpose is it to be set in the centre of our being and applied to the springs of action, than to mould action, and so to be displayed in conduct? It is not to be hid like some forgotten and unused treasure in a castle vault, but to be buried deep in a living person, that it may affect all that person's character and acts. 'There is nothing hidden, but that it should come abroad.' The deepest, sacredest, most secret Christian experiences are to be operative on the outward life. A man may be caught up into the third heavens and there hear words which mortal speech cannot utter, but the incommunicable vision should tell on his patience and fortitude, and influence his Christian work. Nor is our manifestation of the springs of our action to be confined to conduct. However eloquent it is, it will be all the more intelligible for the commentary supplied by confession with the mouth. Speech for Christ is a Christian obligation. 'What ye hear in the ear, that proclaim ye on the housetops.' True, there is a legitimate reticence as to the depths of personal religion, which needs very strong reasons to warrant its being broken through. Peter told Mark nothing of the interview which he had with Christ on the Resurrection morning, but he must have told the fact. We shall do well to be silent as to what passes between Jesus and us in secret; but we shall not do well if, coming from our private communion with Him, we do not 'find' some to whom we can say, 'We have found the Messiah,' and so bring them to Jesus.
The word, if hid in the heart, will certainly be manifest in the life. For not only is it impossible for a man who deeply and continually realises God's will, and lives in touch with Jesus Christ, to prevent these experiences from visibly affecting His life and conduct, but also in the measure in which we have that conscious inward possession of the divine word and the divine Christ we shall be impelled to manifest them to our fellows by every means in our power. What, then, is the inference to be drawn from the fact that there are thousands of professing Christian people in Manchester, who never felt the slightest touch of a necessity to make known the Master whom they say they serve? They must be very shallow Christians, having no depth of experience, or that experience would insist on coming out. True Christian emotion is like a fire smouldering within some substance, that never rests till it burns its way to the outside. As one of the prophets puts it, 'I said I will speak no more in Thy name'; he goes on to tell how his resolve of silence gave way under the pressure of the unuttered speech—'Thy word shut up in my bones was like a fire, and I was weary of forbearing and I could not stay.' So it will always be. Every genuine conviction demands utterance. A full heart needs the relief of speech. If you feel no need to show your allegiance and love to Christ by speech as well as by life, I shrewdly suspect you have little love or allegiance to hide.
Further, the more we show it, the more need there is for us to cultivate the hidden element in our religion. If I were talking to ministers I should have a great deal to say about that. There are preachers who preach away their own religion. The two attitudes of mind in imparting and in receiving are wholly different; and if one is allowed to encroach upon the other, nothing but harm can come. 'As thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone,'—that is the short account of the decay of personal religion in many a life outwardly diligent in Christian work. If there is a proportionate cultivation of the hidden self, then the act of manifesting will tend to strengthen it. It is meant that our Christian convictions and affections should grow in strength and in transforming power upon ourselves, by reason of utterance; just as when you let air in, the fire burns brighter. But it is quite possible that we may dissipate and scatter our feeble religion by talking about it; and some of us may be in danger of that. The loftier you mean to build your tower, the deeper must be the foundation that you dig. The more any of us are trying to do for Jesus Christ, the more need there is that we increase our secret communion with Jesus Christ.
We may wrongly hide our religion so that it evaporates. Too many professing Christians put away their religion as careless housewives might do some precious perfume, and when they go to take it out, they find nothing but a rotten cork, a faint odour, and an empty flask. Take care of burying your religion so deep, as dogs do bones, that you cannot find it again, or if you do discover, when you open the coffin, that it holds only a handful of dry dust. The heart has two actions. In one it opens its portals and expands to receive the inflowing blood which is the life. In the other it contracts to drive the life through the veins. For health there must be both motions; the receptiveness, in the secret 'hiding of the word in the heart'; the expulsive energy in the 'not hiding Thy righteousness in my heart.'
A STRANGER IN THE EARTH
'I am a stranger in the earth: hide not Thy commandments from me.... 64. The earth, O Lord, is full of Thy mercy: teach me Thy statutes.' —PSALM cxix. 19, 64.