Hermas, too, a Christian father of the second century, whom we quoted before, supplies us with some suggestions. One would almost think, for some reasons, that he had been one of St. James's immediate disciples, for he is fond of using that same word double-minded (more exactly double-souled), speaks of visiting the orphans and widows, etc. Thus we find in the ninth chapter of the book of Commands as follows (the book being of a date immediately subsequent to the apostles): "He said unto me, put away from thee all double-mindedness, and have no more division of heart concerning petitions from God, saying in thyself, How shall I be able to ask and receive anything from the Lord, having sinned so greatly against Him? Reason not on this wise, but turn to the Lord with all thy heart, and ask from Him without hesitation, and thou shalt know His large-heartedness, that He will certainly never leave thee, but will fulfil thy soul's request. God is not, as men are, mindful of wrongs done to Him, but forgetful of them, and He hath compassion upon His workmanship. Do thou, therefore, cleanse thy heart from all the vanities of this age, and from things spoken of before, and ask from the Lord and thou shalt receive all things; and of all thy petitions thou shalt not fail of one, if thou ask of the Lord with an unhesitating heart. But if thou doubtest in thy heart, thou shalt receive none of thy petitions. For they that are doubtful towards God, are the double-minded men, and they shall obtain none at all of their petitions. But they that are perfectly sound in the faith ask for all things in reliance upon the Lord, and receive them, because they ask without hesitation and with no dividedness of heart. For every double-minded man, unless he repent, will scarcely be saved. Cleanse, therefore, thy heart from double-mindedness, and put on faith, for she is mighty, and believe in God, that thou shalt receive all thy requests that thou dost make. And if ever when thou hast made request thou be somewhat longer in receiving thy petition from the Lord, be not of a double-mind, that thou didst not swiftly receive thy soul's request, for certainly it is on account of some temptation or some sin that thou art longer in receiving thy petition. Therefore, do not cease making thy request, and thou shalt receive it, but if thou faintest and art of doubtful mind in thy petition, blame thyself and not Him who gives to thee." It amounts to this, that to have power in prayer is only possible as long as and in proportion as we walk with God.
Looking at it in another light, observe that real prayer is connected in a most intimate manner with the influences of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this is what is meant by the word rendered by us "energised," but "effectual and fervent" in the English Version. Certainly in almost every case where the word occurs, it has reference to the operation of God or the devil. And if this be so, the prayer must be a possessed prayer, and the praying man a possessed person, and so again we are brought face to face with the foundations of mighty prayer lying in a holy life. And what else is taught by the Apostle when he says, "The Spirit maketh intercession in the Saints according to the will of God"?
THE SENTINEL OF THE HEART
"The peace of God, which exceeds all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus."—Phil. iv. 7.
One of the best tests of the value of a religion, and of the degree of the truth enshrined therein, is found in the nature and permanence of the peace which it imparts. For it is a fact that all religions, or almost all, and especially those which have taken a wide grasp of the hearts and minds of men, profess to bring peace to the worshipper.
The Roman Church, with its history unparalleled alike for saintliness or sin, with its offers to resolve all doubts and to forgive all iniquities, affords a haven and anchorage for those whose bark has been torn by the stormy winds of private judgment. It is not one or two who have been brought within her pale in search of peace; and, indeed, the bosom of Mother Church would be an attractive resting-place, if it did not strike us on the other hand as being too much like the effort of one baby to carry another of its own size.
What is true of the Roman Church is true of the religion which has prevailed even more widely amongst the human race; if we ask the Buddhist teachers what is offered to the inquiring soul in their sacred books, or what is revealed as possible in the experience of those men amongst them who have made the greatest progress in mind-and-spirit lore, they would talk to you of Nirvana, or, as I think it was understood by them at the first, the extinction of the individual, even as a candle-flame is blown out. And however perverted their belief may have become, they seem in early days to have contemplated a real destruction of self,—the flame of self-love and self-life being so put out that it should never more be a flame, and should not long be a spark. For instance, their writings tell us such things as follow:—
"To him who has finished the path and passed beyond sorrow, who has freed himself on every side, and thrown away all fetters, there is no more fever of grief." "Such an one remains like the broad earth unvexed; like the pillar of the city gate, unmoved; like a pellucid lake, unruffled."
"Tranquil is the mind, tranquil the words and the deeds, of him who is thus set at rest and made free by wisdom." "The heart, scrupulously avoiding all idle dissipation, diligently applying itself to the holy law of Buddha, letting go all lust, and consequent disappointment, fixed and unchangeable, enters on Nirvana."
And so in many other features we may trace the doctrine of inward peace as taught in the Buddhist religion. A similar feature is to be traced in the Mohammedan faith, if we are right that Islam means surrender to the will of God, and the Mussulman a surrendered person; and certainly there have been those in the great religion of the East who held surrender in a higher sense than that of the fatalism which we generally attach to the words.
Now, when we speak of different religions as in the foregoing, it is not that we want to cultivate the science of comparative religious anatomy; all we want to say is this, that just as a very rough observation convinces us that corresponding organs in different creatures imply corresponding uses and similar needs, so we discern various methods of bringing peace to the soul of man in those religions which have to the greatest extent prevailed in the world.
We are right to read these features carefully, for they are the watermarks of the absolute religion (which we believe the religion of Jesus to be), which is to gather in the men of every tribe and kindred and nation, and to unite all the children of God who are scattered abroad.
We are too much accustomed to look on these foreign religionists merely in the light of compassion, as people for whom we must send the missionary, make the regular collection and offer the periodic prayer; and we make maps of the world in which we paint in all the religions which differ from our own in black, or, if not in black, in other colours only for the sake of distinction. But, if we were wise, we should see that, where we paint black, it should be black with streaks of light; and we should learn, too, to see that our own faith would need, if accurately represented, to be a white colour checked and streaked with spots of the intensest black. For not all that is called Christianity is of Christ.
We say, then, that one of the characteristics of the absolute religion is that it offers to the soul a real and permanent peace. Here is a test for us: a real peace; it must not be based on deceptive methods: a permanent peace, which neither things present can disturb, nor life nor death dispel. And the Lord Jesus, who has spoken of the heart of man as never man spake, made this one of the keystones of His teaching, as it was the cornerstone of His living.
"Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will rest you."
"These things I have spoken unto you that in Me ye might have peace."
And thus we hear our blessed Lord whispering to the world of to-day, a tired world from the first, but never so tired as now; through these lips comes God's answer to the cry of five hundred millions of Buddhists, of the millions of Islam, of the Romanist, the Mystic, the Quaker—to all, in one breath, the message comes; yes, to me, even to me Thou speakest when the word is of that hidden lasting peace which Thou, Lord Jesus, canst bestow. And if it was a marvel that at Pentecost every man should hear in his own language the wonderful works of God, much more is it a marvel to speak to all hearts than to speak with all tongues.
And what is more than speech, even that which goes to the heart, is the action by which Thou, Lord, hast proved Thy speech. Thy life has given Thee the right to speak of what Thou givest as Thy peace. So quiet wast Thou that, but for the wrong-doers that crossed Thy path, Thou wouldst have seemed to be passionless; yea, some have even spoken of Thee as the "cold Galilean," because of the marvellous rest of Thy soul in Thy Father's arms.
Not only is it a test of the truth of a religion whether it imparts a real and permanent peace, but it is also a test of our attainment in the true religion, when we find it, for us to examine the depth and character of our peace.
We determine the religion of Jesus to be the Absolute Religion, because it imparts the highest peace in the manner most suited to the soul of man, and most consistent with the character of God.
We verify our own position in the Life by the simple test of the experience of Peace which we enjoy.
It is easy to be tranquil under certain circumstances; and there are times when most of us perceive the connection between quiet and holiness. But then circumstances change, and what becomes of the peace? Drake and his men cross the isthmus of Panama, and from a peak they see below them the smiling ocean on the farther side; so fair and still it looked that it received the name of the Pacific Ocean; but then there were two things to be noticed: first, it was a fine day; next, they probably thought the sea the smoother because of the height from which they surveyed it. And it is easy to talk of peace on fine days, and when we are high up above trouble; but our test must be when we are in the midst of the waters, when the waves thereof roar and are troubled. Is it Pacific Ocean then; or do we find, as may be those early adventurers, that it was too hastily named? Certain it is that many Christians are disappointed because they do not always realise the peace and blessedness of which sometimes they have glimpses and enjoyment.
It is our practical every-day test of our standing in grace; a man who is exploring an old well lowers a candle before him, knowing that where that can live, he can live; the Christian's test-flame is the peace of God; when that fails, he ought to know that it is safe to go no farther. This peace is like some magic mirror, by the dimness growing on the surface of which we may discern the breath of an unclean spirit that would work us ill. As the Apostle says, "Let the peace of God rule (i.e. be arbiter or umpire) in your hearts." We may almost say that for most of us it is true that what we can do quietly we can do safely. So we see more and more the importance of having the heart and thought kept by the Peace of God.
Some render the passage, "The peace of God shall stand sentry over your heart"; and this expresses it very well. Where this sentry stands, nothing forbidden can pass either within or without, except the watcher be first destroyed. If the thirst for wealth or fame enter into a man's heart, it is over the slain body of the sentry; our peace is gone when these things enter in. And many such like things there are which choke the word and destroy the peace. Then we turn and look at it in another light, passing on from thoughts concerning the Peace of God to higher ones about the God of Peace, who has promised to sanctify us wholly and to preserve spirit, soul, and body blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
THY FATHER IN SECRET
"Alone, and yet not alone."—JOHN xvi. 32.
Of all religious ideas, the grandest is that which lay at the root of the monastic system,—that religion is the wedlock of the soul to God; although the method in which this idea was exemplified was a faulty one, or, at any rate, one which rapidly became corrupt, even if it was not so at first. The wonderful worship of the middle ages at least taught men to serve God in retirement of life and unworldliness of spirit, and gave demonstration of holiness and righteousness in men who did their work in the world even though they lived out of it, and in women who were content to view the busy, jocular, combatant, pleasure-seeking community only from behind the bars of the house of rest that they had chosen. It was a noble object-lesson of the spiritual life; and though the symbols used to express it may have become valueless, the truth that they taught remains yet, that if a man or woman seeks the highest good, there must be for such an isolation of the soul from the ordinary course of life and thought in the world around us; we must afford ourselves facilities for a sacred loneliness with God.
It is interesting to notice that St. Luke, probably more than any other evangelist, gives record of solitariness and vigil and secret communion; and it may be that it was a line of experience with which he was familiar; certainly he was careful to chronicle the lonely hours of the Saint when God and the soul are at one, and it needs no prophet to pray that the Lord will open the young man's eyes that he may see. What a summary of experience is contained in those words which describe the ministerial preparation of John the Baptist,—"He was in the desert until the day of his showing unto Israel, waxing and growing strong in spirit" (Luke i. 80). Then he speaks of the Master, of His being led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Luke iv. 1); of His departing and going into a desert place (Luke iv. 42); of His withdrawal into the wilderness for prayer (Luke v. 16); of His going out into a mountain to pray, and continuing all night in prayer to God (Luke vi. 12).
Would it not be better, instead of making the commonplace assertion that there was nothing of the ascetic about Jesus Christ, for us to recall to mind His teaching at another time, that every disciple shall be perfected as his Master (Luke vi. 40), and to inquire whether we might not do well to love and covet retirement, even of an external character, as a means to the attainment of that perfection?
Retirement with God is the only preparation for success, and the only medicine for failure whether it be Moses wondering at the burning bush in the mount of God, or Elijah eating angel's bread under the juniper-tree. We shall do well to observe also that it has been a feature of all the great religions of the East; the secret of all strong souls lies in those times of loneliness when they were bound hand and foot as captives to the Everlasting Will. We deride such nowadays; call them mystic, contemplationist, fanatic. George Fox, sitting about in lonely places, reading his Bible in hollow trees, is hard to understand. But if it were anything but religion that was in quest, people would not laugh. Tell them of Demosthenes living in a cellar, with head half shaved to prevent his appearing in public, and there will be admiration; was it any wonder that he became an orator? But let a man be as bent on becoming a saint; let him give up one hour's frivolous talk in order to commune with his Father in secret; then we suspect that such an one is becoming righteous overmuch. Mind, no one complains of a man being anxious to be wise overmuch, or rich overmuch, healthy overmuch; he may burn the midnight oil and study, watch the markets and scheme, frequent the gymnasium and develop his muscle, and no one will find fault; but to spend time on what is at least as important as wisdom, wealth, and health, and in a sense involves them all,—this is fanatical, and not to be encouraged or approved. We miss much through our want of separation from the world, and through our deficiency in insulation, or, which is the same word, in isolation. If we go into a science laboratory and examine the great brass machines for holding electrical charges, we find that they are all mounted on glass feet. These are the insulators, and if it were not for them, no electricity would remain on the surface; as it is, electricity is hard enough to keep in charge, even with the best insulators. And we know sometimes what it is to have life and power pass into us from above, but we don't know how to retain it, because we have never learnt true retirement of heart and insulation of life. There is good teaching in the following passage from one of Madame Guyon's letters: "It is very desirable, and in the earlier part of your ministry especially, that you should spend a portion of your time—and that perhaps not a small portion—with God in retirement. Let your own soul be first filled with God's spirit, and then and not otherwise will you be in a situation to communicate the Divine fulness to others. No man can give what he has not; or if a man has grace, but has it in a small degree, he may in dispensing to others impart to them what is necessary for himself."
Now if any one were to ask what is the especial strength of England as regards other empires and commonwealths, the answer would be that it lies in her insular position,—in the "silver streak" that parts her from France; and the true Christian is girt round with separating grace.
We might draw two pictures to remind us how we may become strong for God: one of the solitary vigil of the Great Shepherd keeping watch over His flock by night; the other of the little company who waited with joined hands and hearts in the upper room for the coming of the Comforter; these two pictures representing the solitude of a single soul and of united souls with God.
By such silent communion God will especially prepare us for service and for suffering.
Some one spoke to John Nelson, making unfavourable comparison of John Wesley with a prominent religious teacher of the day; and Nelson replied, "He has not stayed in the upper room like John Wesley." We need our silent preparations for speech; to go forth, like Ezekiel, into the plain to find the glory of the Lord; or like Daniel to the river-side, where we may meet one like unto the Son of man; or like the two who walked into the country whom Jesus met, and with whom He talked till He made their hearts burn.
Especial preparation of this kind is necessary for the prosecution of great enterprises. We are reminded of this if we observe what followed the all-night of prayer of the Lord Jesus,—how, when it was day, He called unto Him His twelve apostles, and with them went down into the plain to heal diseases and them that were vexed with unclean spirits. Napoleon leaves his army, as they near the Russian frontier, and spurs his horse until at last in solitary contemplation he sees before him the river that separates him from the country that he is going to invade: a striking picture, made more so by the thought of the luckless termination of the enterprise. And some of us, whom God will call to great enterprises for Him that will not end in failure, will know what it is to make a similar solitary advance; and in silent waiting upon God to watch Him unroll before us the map of our journey, telling us what we must do and what we must suffer for Him: and the silence makes us strong when the voice of God has broken in upon it. And we will not marvel if to us, as to Saul of Tarsus, the answer to the question, "What wilt thou have me to do?" should come in the form, "I will shew him how great things he must suffer"; for our thoughts will turn again to Him who said, "Rise and let us be going" from the solitude of the upper room to the deeper retirement of the olive grove; who went a little farther, even from those He loved most, as He prayed, "Not My will but Thine be done"; and then took His way alone, and yet not alone, to be the Redeemer and Reviver of the souls of men.
TESTS OF FAITH, LOVE, AND RIGHTNESS
What are the experimental bases of our Christianity? and whereby shall we know that we are of the truth and assure our hearts before Him?
Our answers to such questions may appear discouraging, but it is far better that we should experience discouragement (not that we would really wish to say a word to throw back the weakest believer from his faith), than that we should attempt to fill ourselves with the formulas that the Pharisees do eat.
Some time ago, in discussing the definite points and peculiar characteristics of Christian life and experiences, we took as a comparison the changes of state in a material body, from solid to liquid, and from liquid to gaseous. We observed that, just as in nature the most important practical and theoretical investigations were made upon bodies in the neighbourhood of those points where they undergo a change of state, so it is also true in the world of grace that our most valuable observations and inquiries relate to certain critical points in the life—as conversion and sanctification; points which may sometimes, like the freezing and boiling points of a material substance, approach almost, if not quite, to coincidence, but which, like them, may be very widely separated.
Suppose, then, to resume our figure, we were to propose to ourselves the question, "How shall I know whether a body near the melting point has passed from the solid to the liquid state?" In some cases it would be extremely easy to give an answer: with ice, under ordinary circumstances, we should simply say that it becomes mobile; the word of the Supreme Law having gone forth, the waters flow. But our test would not do for all liquids, because there are some that do not answer readily to it, but are extremely sluggish in the neighbourhood of their melting points, so that they seem almost solid even when liquid. We are obliged, then, to look for a better test, and we should probably observe that the most convenient would be found in the fact that an addition of heat produces a change in temperature in a body that has passed its melting point. Place a thermometer in melting snow, it marks zero until the snow is really melted, and after that it rises.
Now, in a similar manner, we should find that many of the tests popularly applied to discriminate spiritual life, are only partially accurate; and since our method is a purely experimental one, we ought to see that we apply proper methods of inquiry in an accurate manner.
Our question, then, is, "Whereby shall we know that we are of the truth?" and we shall probably look to Scripture for an answer. Indeed, there is a School which tells us positively that we must try the condition in which we are by the statements of Scripture, holding up the Word of Life as a mirror before our lives, so that we may compare the reflection with the Divine characteristics.
And provided this method be honestly applied, and not by the mere selection of pet texts, it is probable that it is a correct one. We will, then, take the 1st Epistle of John, in which we find the most definite assertions about personal experience, and try ourselves by it.
First of all, there is the simple and beautiful statement, "Beloved, now are we the children of God"; most of us would quote it freely; but our scientific method would at least require that we should harmonise the supposed fact with the asserted consequences, "Therefore the world knoweth us not, even as it knew Him not"; and if we find that the world smiles on us in a way that it did not upon our Lord, then we must either conclude (i.) that we were mistaken in the fact, or (ii.) that while the word we in the first part of the sentence is capable of extension, the us in the second is restricted in its reference to St. John and the despised and rejected people with him—with, perhaps, a possible reference to subsequent isolated instances, down to the Salvation Army, and a few more in our own day!
Or, taking another simple assertion, "We know that we have passed (crossed over, transmigrated) from death unto life." We use the words to convince people of the definite nature of conversion; we say it is as real as a passage from death to life, and as truly marked; it is the advent of a new life in the soul. But can we honestly go on to base the assertion on the fact of our own love to men, to—souls? Would we venture to stand or fall by this test, "I have loved, I love," and not be afraid that our good angels would rise up to bear witness against us as we said it?
A third passage comes before us; for some one will say, "We believe, and is it not written that he that believeth hath everlasting life?" and may we not rest upon the assurance conveyed by the present tense of the verb employed?
Without going at present into the consideration of this passage from the Gospel, let us say, roughly, that the test of the existence of a spiritual life presented by St. John in the Epistle is of a threefold character: it is—
([Greek: alpha]) A test of faith: he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.
([Greek: beta]) A test of love: he that loveth is born of God.
([Greek: gamma]) A test of righteousness: every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him.
And if these are true criteria of the life within us, each of these statements, with its necessary consequences, may be predicated of that soul in which the Heavenly Life has been brought forth.
For instance: we must not take ([Greek: alpha]) and reject ([Greek: beta]) and ([Greek: gamma]); nor must we disregard the consequences which are a necessary part of our experimental verifications.
Of these three passages we should most probably elect to be tried by ([Greek: alpha]); for it is comparatively easy for us, especially at the present day, to hold to an intellectual assent to a proposition. In fact the difficulty is that the sieve is too wide; for almost every one believes that Jesus is the Christ. It must be evident then that we have misunderstood the text or omitted the consequences which follow from it. Now the continuation of the statement is that whatsoever is in this holy birth has victory over the world; and if we apply the test of an overcoming life to our supposed faith, things look very different. Discouraged, we pass on to the second criterion; if not by faith, let us be judged by love.
Since we all of us love something and some persons, we shall perhaps find ourselves safe under this test.
But, upon examination, we perceive that he does not simply mean love of God, or love of Jesus, or a merely selective human love; but love of the brethren and of the children of God in a universal manner. He twists it backwards and forwards, saying at one moment, "He that loveth God, let him love his brother also"; at another, "If he love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen"? and again, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God," and, breaking off abruptly, "when we love God, and keep His commandments." Certainly if love is universal and coincident with obedience, we shall scarcely be able to face this test.
So we pass on to the third criterion—that of righteousness; and here, perhaps, we may expect some help, knowing how careful the Lord is to judge us by the light we have, how generously He measures every effort after holiness, and blesses every pang of the spiritual hunger. We may not be able to grasp the creeds which others recite so fluently; we may not be able to give easy expression to the affections which thrill within us; may, perhaps, wonder if we love at all; but at least we can say this,—we want to be right. But then we are confronted with the difficulty that what God means is not that we should want to be right, but that we should be right. He explains and characterises the spiritual birth by the words of the Apostle, "He that doeth righteousness is righteous even as Christ is righteous." "He that is born of God doth not sin." "Every one that is born of Him sinneth not." It almost seems as if the Apostle of Love had been remetamorphosed into the Son of Thunder, and were calling down fire from heaven upon us to devour us. And do not let us say that this is merely St. John's extravagant way of preaching holiness; for it is the language in which the teachers of the time generally held and transmitted the Christian doctrine. Thus Ignatius, writing to the Ephesians, adopts the three tests of faith and love and righteousness: "No man professing the faith sinneth; nor does he who professeth love, hate; the tree is known by its fruits; so, likewise, those who profess to be Christ's shall be seen from their deeds."
And Polycarp presents the life-criteria in the same manner: "You shall be built up in the faith which is given to you: before which is love to God and to Christ and to the neighbour; for he who has love is far from all sin." And so we might multiply instances.
What shall we then say: Is a new Sinai set up on the square of the New Jerusalem? or is it a sense of good things not seen as yet that makes us cry, "Search me, O God; ... and see if there be any lack of faith or love or righteousness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting"?
THE ETERNAL IDEA
"See that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed thee in the Mount."—HEB. viii. 5.
When we speak of a pattern, we generally understand by it some temporary or partial representation of an idea that is to be or has been realised—such as the plan of a house, or the mould of a casting, or, to take a more definite illustration, like the little silver models of the Temple of Diana at Ephesus, or the carved wooden lions which are sold in the shops in the neighbourhood of the Lion Monument at Lucerne. In these last two instances we see that the greater is made the pattern of the less; and it is important for us to remember this; we are not to suppose that God showed to Moses a diminutive tabernacle, a sort of doll's house, in accordance with which he was to construct his house of skins, or that He impressed upon him the nature of the priestly and sacrificial worship by altars and offerings of a lower degree, of small quantities. It is more like what Philo explained it to be, that the outer world is fashioned upon the model of the World of Ideas whose centre is the Divine Word; or like Swedenborg's Doctrine of Correspondence, by which we may learn
Cup, column, candlestick, All temporal things related royally, And patterns of what shall be in the Mount.
But, to get a more simple and exact idea, let us observe the means which those who have studied the heavens have taken to illustrate astronomical facts. There is an astronomical toy called the orrery, which can be made, by proper mechanism, to represent, with tolerable accuracy, the actual motions of the planets in their orbits, and which can serve to illustrate the phenomena which from time to time occur in the heavens. Now the tabernacle of Moses is precisely like this; it is a religious orrery, a means of representing religious truths and bringing home religious facts to the consciousness of those who are unable to study the skies and the lunar and planetary theories for themselves. But no one who wishes to be a real astronomer would be content with winding up the orrery and watching the balls go round; he would know that the heavens must be studied for themselves, if one was ever to understand them accurately: and no one who wishes to be more than moderately religious can remain satisfied with the meagre assistance obtained by ritual and externalism.
We observe, too, that no one who wished to chronicle fresh facts would go to the orrery to learn them. He would, for instance, turn his spectroscope on the sun, and not on the great ball which represents it in the mechanism, if he wanted to determine the constituents of that great luminary. And let us remember that we shall never get at any fresh religious truth by means of ritual; the proper destination of all orreries, religious or otherwise, is the museum. But meanwhile the heavens still go round, which are the work of Thy fingers; and the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained, can still be studied, even when all the imitations of the universe have been swept away. We desire for ourselves an emancipation from all that is merely traditional in the religious life; we would refer back our lives to the original thought of God concerning them. Our life needs emendation, which can only take place satisfactorily by reference to the original design. We are often perplexed in our study of Scripture, by various readings and incorrect texts, and we wish that we could attain to something like the possession of an exact copy, if it were only of a single gospel. We read of Tischendorf finding the precious Codex in the monastery on Mount Sinai, and cannot forbear wishing that, perhaps, in some of the waste places of the East, there might be found a copy, not of the fourth or fifth century, but, if possible, of the first.
Suppose, for example, that a copy of the Gospel of St. Matthew, signed with his own hand, should come into our possession, in which it should be stated that "I, Matthew, sometime a tax-gatherer for the Romans, and now a collector of dues for the Almighty, and one of them that are set to ask, 'How much owest thou unto my Lord?' have written this book, by the aid of the Holy Spirit; wherein may be heard many voices of the Lord; and lo! some of them have already come to pass, and the rest must shortly be done. And may the peace of him that wrote this book abide also with them that read." The supposition is not so very absurd, and if it could be demonstrated to the satisfaction of the learned (a people hard to persuade) that the Book and the hand were genuine, what a number of questions would be settled. An end would be made of all glosses and emendations of the text over which there have been so many disputes, and there would be an excision of all parts that have been added by later hands.
But we must admit that the corruptions of the sacred text are insignificant in comparison with the deviations that we find in our own lives from the original thought of God concerning us. Registered and chronicled in heaven is the mind and will of our Father about us; registered and chronicled also are the defects which have marred the handiwork of God in the soul. We do not always set out with the intention of spoiling our souls, and of keeping them from being holy books, in which he that runs may read; but as a matter of fact what self writes in the margin soon creeps into the text; and what we write between the lines soon becomes a part of the manuscript.
Let who says The soul's a clean white paper, rather say A palimpsest, a prophet's holograph, Defiled, erased, and covered by a monk's— . . . . . . . we may discern perhaps Some upstroke of an Alpha and Omega Expressing the Old Scripture.
But if we are to undergo a real emendation, it must be by detecting something more than an upstroke of the Divine Will; it must be by reference to the original plan of God, and by a surrender to the same.
In the chapels at the back of the choir of Cologne Cathedral are preserved the original parchments on which are drawn the plan of the great minster. All the centuries through which this building has been raising, the men that have been working at it have had in reverence the original thoughts of the master-minds at the first: and those who have been chosen to the superintendence of the work have been men who were reckoned the most conversant with the laws of the Gothic architecture. One can imagine that Archbishop Englebert sleeps the more softly in his silver shrine because of the completed work of to-day. So we speak and think of a great stone-temple, the working out of an idea whose details were at first but scantily given, carried out in ages during which the master-minds that planned it could no more be consulted.
And yet when a greater and more perfect tabernacle is in building, not planned of mortal thought, and whose stones were too heavy to be moved by mortal hands, how little reference there is to the plan of the Founder, how few that are desirous of living according to the counsel and will of God, and to see in that will, not a mere legal skeleton of the structure, but a pattern, good and acceptable and perfect, with no detail wanting for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Alas! that our lives should be lived so much at random instead of being so fashioned that it might be said over the completed structure at the last, "Whose architect and craftsman is God." In Christianity the ideal is to be the actual: there is to be no "shooting at the moon, because by that means you reach higher than by aiming at a tree" (a very doubtful statement even in mechanics); what God wants us to be that we must be; and if He says, "Be ye perfect," then let us go on to perfection and reach it. The Christian is called upon by his Master to live out and actualise God's ideal thought concerning him. Upon the map of his life is already marked out the road by which he is to reach the heavenly city; if, at least, he reaches it, as God intends, by the shortest way. There are no roundabout roads marked on the map in the Mount, and yet the Divine Plan of our life will be found inclusive of the minutest necessary details, just as an Ordnance map will tell you each feature of interest and importance as you go from place to place. It is of the utmost importance that we should take counsel's opinion about our lives, and that we should pray, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" that we should, if need be, weep much, until the Lamb shall take off the seals from that book of life, which, in the archives of the celestial city, is entitled "The Life of —— taken from the Pattern in the Mount"; that we should learn to conform ourselves to the Divine original, just as a manuscript, however deformed by glosses and traditions, is accurately and certainly emended by the discovery of the original text; that we should know, in some sense, as Christ did, whence we come and whither we go; that, as He said, we also might feel that for this end we were born and for this purpose we came into the world, that we might bear witness to the truth; that, with Him, too, we might in some measure be able to say, "The son can do nothing but what he seeth the Father do"; and that at our ending it might be said, "He lived out the secret thought and counsel of the Almighty."
But in thinking of the pattern in the Mount as a pattern of life, it is important for us to see that, in the first instance, this thought was presented to us in connection with that side of life which we call worship; for there was to be a sanctuary made, etc., nor must we omit to get, with regard to our worship, a glimpse into the thought of God beforehand, consulting the oracle in advance as did men in the old days. We may not take voyage without the very best map that can be had, lest we make shipwreck; nor, because we have not taken pains to obtain the map, may we content ourselves with creeping round shores that we know we ought to leave.
We must not separate the life from the worship; in fact they are one: we learn that from the description of the ceaseless adoration of those nearest the throne; they rest not day nor night saying, "Holy, holy, holy." Are we to suppose from this that their existence is occupied in the mere repetition of an everlasting Trisagion; or that, as Beecher once said, "they stand like wax candles round the throne, uttering an occasional Hallelujah"? Is it not rather God's way of showing us how He is unceasingly glorified in those who live nearest Him, whose lives worship Him?
The worship must be continuous with the life. I have a thermometer which has become perfectly useless because the air has broken up the continuity of the alcohol; it is worth next to nothing as an index of temperature. And little can we learn from any soul in which the continuity of the religious life is broken, and which has become life streaked with worship.
Now let us learn one or two of the characteristics of a pure life-worship.
Out of the worship according to the pattern in the Mount all respectability has been differentiated: the Christian religion will not hold caste in solution; it precipitates it to the bottom; its founder died the death of a slave; how could they give the slave a back seat after that? On the contrary, they gloried in the name; Paul, a slave and an apostle; a slave, and so eligible for the honour of crucifixion; an apostle, and so sent with the good news of life. Respect of persons holds not in heaven; none there will criticise the clay out of which the first raiment of your soul was made. What need is there, then, that we should leave off holding the faith of our Lord Jesus, with respect of persons (there are few churches where the ministers dare to preach on such a text as that). Let us have done with such classifications. In Jesus Christ there is neither barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, town nor university, but Christ is all, and in all.
We know, too, that the life-worship to which God calls us consists in abandonment and surrender to an animating, impelling spirit. "The Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy, and thou shalt be turned into another man. And it shall be, when these signs are come upon thee, that thou shalt do as occasion serve thee, for the Lord is with thee." "Whither the Spirit was to go, thither was their spirit to go." The highest life is one in which we realise not merely surrender to the Divine Will, but harmony with it, so that the rails on which the life moves, the human and Divine wills, become strictly parallel.
A surrendered life implies surrendered lips: this is the key of true worship; every one having a psalm, an interpretation; ye may all of you prophesy. The ideal worship becomes the actual when heaven touches earth, as on the day of Pentecost—they were all filled, and, by consequence, they all ran over. Who would venture to tell the woman who had been a sinner, that it was not seemly that her life should proclaim the magnolia Dei, the wonders of God; my lips, she says, have touched His feet, and are consecrated for evermore. Who shall tell these prophesying handmaidens of the Lord that their place is in a different spiritual order: "Are there two inner courts, they will reply, to the New Jerusalem?"
Whoso hath felt the Spirit of the Highest Cannot confound nor doubt Him, nor deny; Yea, with one voice, O world, though thou deniest, Stand thou on that side, for on this am I.
"Ye are the light of the world."—MATT. v. 14.
There is a great stir nowadays about improved methods of lighting our streets and houses. Men began with torches and pine splinters; then they advanced to candles and oil lamps; after that to coal gas; and now we are coming to electricity. In Paris they are experimenting with an electrical system, and we shall have it in England before long, the unmistakable cry of the natural world being "More light, more light."
A similar experience prevails in the spiritual life, whether we regard that life in the isolated individual, or fix our attention upon the dealings of God with the race of which we form a part. We need, in fact, an improved illumination. It is plain that we do so. The light of Moses is not enough for us. His face shines indeed, but with a glory that fades away, so that he must put on a veil lest they should detect its evanescence. The prophets of old days are like the flight of meteors across the sky—very bright while they last, but no settled and abiding glory. John the Baptist is a burning and a shining lamp; but he says of himself, "I must decrease"; and with the words, "He must increase," we are pointed on to Christ, the true Light of the world, which if any man follow he shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life; who gives His own name and character to those whom He receives as disciples, telling them, "Let your light shine." And the individual soul begins with the glimmer of grace and the spark of a respondent love, and the operation of the Lord improves this little fitful glimmer, and develops it, until it becomes a clear and strong illumination, by which we may read something of the heart of God towards us, and understand that in the spiritual world, as in the natural, the order of this providence is, "More light, more light." Light, that we may know our way more accurately; light, by which we may work; light, by which we may read; light, by which we may help others to walk and work and read; for "ye are the light of the world, and
'Heaven doth with us, as we with torches do, Not light them for themselves.'"
God makes one man a lamp for another. Every saint should be like a cranny in the walls of heaven or translucent crystal in its foundations, letting the glory through. There is a glory within such a one, because God has shined in his heart: there is a glory without him, for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon him. Not once nor twice has the Church historian to record, "They beheld his face, as it had been the face of an angel."
Now in any improved system of illumination we have a right to expect that one of its characteristics will be its capability for a general application. It must not be as great a blaze as one's eyes can bear in the principal thoroughfares, with thick darkness in the back streets and lanes. The improved light must become more sun-like, more catholic, that is, more for everybody, must rise upon just and unjust; and while it participates in the universality of the sun, it must share also the steadiness of the stars. Such, too, must be the better life to which God calls us, not narrowing its sphere from day to day, nor fitful, like a star of the first magnitude at one moment and of the ninth a fortnight after, but burning with a steady patient zeal towards all men that God has made. The light of love will survive the light of enthusiasm, as Christ outlasts John the Baptist; enthusiasm must be swallowed up of love.
A lighted lamp is no respecter of persons; it shines in all directions and upon all people and things, being an imitation, within its measure, of the sun, concerning whom it is said, "There is nothing hid from the heat thereof." Is there this property of radiation about the light that God has given you? Have you learnt and practically entered into the truth that the supreme love is also the universal love, and that God is no respecter of persons? "It gives light unto all that are in the house": every soul truly won for God is marked with this token, "For the sake of God and a perishing world." But perhaps you will say, "My light is so small that I cannot be a help or a witness to any; I have not light enough to show any the right way." Not so: a glow-worm in the hedge can tell a man which way to walk, if it will only shine. We may not all of us have the privilege of saying with John Wesley, "The world is my parish." Our parish may be small, and we may be lights indoors, shining for only one neglected soul in the house, or for young ones who have to be trained for the Lord, or for the men on our own staircase in college, or with whom we walk in afternoons.
They say the problem about the electric light is the difficulty of its subdivision, that is, of its multiplication; and in the spiritual world the corresponding necessity is to multiply and reproduce the image of God in Jesus Christ. There was a similar difficulty in the early days of photography; they could take one picture, but did not know how to produce copies from it. The Christian religion has in it the means of producing not only one Light of the world but many—a church of men and women of whom it may be said, as to the disciples at the first, "Ye are the light of the world." But will something within us object and say, "Shining means burning up and burning out: the candle will grow shorter, and the battery weaker"? Now here we get at the root of the matter. Truly it is impossible to offer any real devotion to God, or perform any real service to man, unless we are willing to pay the cost. We are not to offer, either to God or man, of that which costs us nothing. The noblest thing in God's world is a lavished life; whereof God has given us plain proof in this—that "He so loved the world that He gave His Son"; and which Paul confirms as he says to some of those to whom he had been the means of bringing light, "I will most gladly spend and be spent for you." "I will burn up for you, and then when I am burnt out, I will be content with the mere candle-end of a life, extinct for the love of Jesus." And let us remember, too, that old proverb, that "You can't burn a candle at both ends." If our life has been lighted at one end for God, we must not burn it at the other for selfish enjoyments and ambitions. The work that God has called you to do is a burner that will take all the gas that you can supply.
Now suppose that every time a candle is lighted here, a star were to shine out up yonder. How eager we should all be to make the face of heaven sparkle! we should take every candle and lamp that we could lay hands on, light them up, and watch for the gleaming of the new wonder in the sky. Does that seem strange? Did you never read that "They that are wise shall shine as the sun, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever"? The lamps and candles in God's world do become suns and stars; the illumination that you will have by and by will depend on the little candle that you are to-day; and if you curtail your service for God and man down here, you will clip the wings and shear away the strength of the angel that you hope to be.
O Lord, that I could waste my life for others, With no ends of my own! That I could pour myself into my brothers, And live for them alone!
"We are more than conquerors."—ROMANS viii. 37.
The Apostle coins a word to suit his experience. We should render it exactly by saying, "In these things we over-conquer," imitating the formation of similar words in our language, such as "over-master," "over-do." More forcibly we might say, "In all these things we over-overcome." Coverdale gives the sense of it well in his translation, "We conquer far." Observe some of the ways in which this excess and extravagance of victory may take place, for it is as if one should win a victory over a foe in such a way as to prevent him from ever troubling us again. Our conquest over special sin is to be of this character. We are not to be content with winning the field while the foe retires to some more secure position from which he will have to be dislodged. It is never meant that we should sin the same sin twice, the Lord's purpose concerning us being shown in the Exodus of the children of Israel: "The Egyptians which ye see to-day, ye shall see them no more again for ever." "Let him that stole steal no more." "Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more." There is a passage in Miss Havergal's life which narrates how, after having been angry with a servant, the word of comfort came to her through a friend: "Perhaps this may be the last time that you will ever be so overcome."
And then our victories are to leave us stronger than before. This will seem quite contrary to the order of nature, in which seldom is there a battle without garments rolled in blood, and where the victory often costs as much to the victors as to the vanquished. A great general has said that nothing is half so terrible as a battle lost, except a battle gained. But to be more than conquerors! to rise the stronger for the strife even while we strive! this is what is involved in the Christian song of jubilee in the Eighth of Romans.
We over-overcome because of the completeness of the victory. In most campaigns it is by the balance of battles fought that the war is decided. Seldom does it happen that all the victory is on one side: and even then there will be virgin fortresses that never have been stormed, over which no alien flag has ever floated, which may be yielded indeed by treaty, but not taken by force. The over-conquering Christian can say with the invading Israelites, "There was not one city too strong for us: the Lord God delivered all unto us."
And in the strength of this I rode.... . . . . . . . . And brake through all, and in the Strength of this come victor.
The triumphant scenes of the Apocalypse are not all future; but even now we know something of living and reigning with Christ in a fellowship above sin and above sorrow. For it was of sorrow rather than of sin that the Apostle was speaking. Our principle is one of holy indifference—an experience far removed from mere apathy. We do not simply say with Buddha that sorrow drops off from him who has finished the path, as water drops from a lotus leaf. We are not sure whether the sorrows always do disappear from the burdened life like that. But when they do not so pass away, the drop is turned to honey in the cup of the flower; it is really the richer for its burden, and so may well be content.
And now how do we come to this place of triumph? By what means is it granted us to enter so fully into the songs which shall one day resound through the universe? "Through Him that loved us." It is alliance with God that is the secret. The three steps of the mystics are Purification, Illumination, and Union; and simple as the statement is, it is a better theology than many another of much larger dimensions. Many people do not understand this alliance in which we are led into union with God, through the Holy Spirit. They think it is more like the old story of the dwarf and the giant, who went a warfare together, in which expedition the dwarf lost his arms and legs, and was only saved from imminent death in each conflict by the happy arrival of the giant. One can scarcely blame the dwarf for breaking up the partnership. We must understand that in Christianity the dwarf is the giant, that the despised deformed puny child of faith is, when he recognises his own weakness and leans upon his own God, big with the force that rolls the stars along. The might of God is in him: and though he may have no armour nor sword to match the Philistine, he will come home carrying his head for all that; for
Man's weakness leaning upon God, Its end can never miss.
The Devotional Library
1. THE KEY OF THE GRAVE. A Book for the Bereaved. By W. ROBERTSON NICOLL, M.A., LL.D.
2. MEMORANDA SACRA. By Professor J. RENDEL HARRIS, M.A., Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge.
STUDIES IN MYSTICISM
AND CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE SECRET TRADITION.
By ARTHUR EDWARD WAITE.
LITTLE BOOKS ON RELIGION.
Edited by the Rev. W. ROBERTSON NICOLL, LL.D.
1. CHRIST AND THE FUTURE LIFE. By R. W. DALE, LL.D.
2. THE SEVEN WORDS FROM THE CROSS. By the Rev. W. ROBERTSON NICOLL, LL.D.
3. THE VISIONS OF A PROPHET. Studies in Zechariah. By the Rev. Professor MARCUS DODS, D.D.
4. THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS. By the Rev. ALEXANDER WHYTE, D.D.
5. THE UPPER ROOM. By the Rev. JOHN WATSON, M.A., D.D.
WORKS BY THE REV. J. R. MILLER, D.D.
A MESSAGE FOR THE DAY. A Year's Daily Readings.
DR. J. R. MILLER'S NEW YEAR BOOKLETS.
1. SECRETS OF A HAPPY HOME LIFE.
2. THE BLESSING OF CHEERFULNESS.
Dr. Miller's "Silent Times" Series.
1. MAKING THE MOST OF LIFE.
2. THE EVERY-DAY OF LIFE.
3. SECRETS OF A BEAUTIFUL LIFE.
4. SILENT TIMES.
5. WEEK-DAY RELIGION.
WORKS BY DR. JAMES STALKER.
THE TRIAL AND DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST.
A Devotional History of our Lord's Passion.
By JAMES STALKER, M.A., D.D.
The Example of Christ.
THE FOUR MEN.
THE PREACHER AND HIS MODELS.
Yale Lectures on Preaching
LONDON: HODDER AND STOUGHTON.