Romans xvi. 23.
And Quartus a brother.
T AM afraid very few of us read often, or with much interest, those long lists of names at the end of Paul's letters. And yet there are plenty of lessons in them, if anybody will look at them lovingly and carefully. There does not seem much in these three words; but I am very much mistaken if they will not prove to be full of beauty and pathos, and to open out into a wonderful revelation of what Christianity is and does, as soon as we try to freshen them up into some kind of human interest.
It is easy for us to make a little picture of this brother Quartus. He is evidently an entire stranger to the Church in Rome. They.had never heard his name before: none of them knew anything about him. Further, he is evidently a man of no especial reputation or position in the Church at Corinth, from which Paul writes. He contrasts strikingly with the others who send salutations to Rome. "Timotheus, my work-fellow "—the companion and helper of the Apostle, whose name was known everywhere among the Churches, heads the list. Then come other prominent men of his more immediate circle. Then follows a loving greeting from Paul's amanuensis, who, naturally, as the pen is in his own hand, says: "/ Tertius, who wrote this Epistle, salute you in the Lord." Then Paul begins again to dictate, and the list runs on. Next comes a message from " Gaius mine host, and of the whole Church "—an influential man in the community, apparently rich, and willing, as well as able, to extend to them large and loving hospitality. Erastus, the chamberlain or treasurer of the city, follows; a man of consequence in Corinth. And then, among all these people of mark, comes the modest, quiet Quartus. He has no wealth like Gaius, nor civil position like Erastus, nor wide reputation like Timothy. He is only a good, simple, unknown Christian. He feels a spring of love open in his heart to these brethren far across the sea, whom he never met. He would like them to know that he thought lovingly of them, and to be lovingly thought of by them. So he begs a little corner in Paul's letter, and gets it; and there, in his little niche, like some statue of a forgotten saint, scarce seen amidst the glories of a great cathedral, "Quartus a brother" stands to all time.
The first thing that strikes me in connection with these words is, how deep and real they show that new bond of Christian love to have been.
A little incident of this sort is more impressive than any amount of mere talk about the uniting influence of the Gospel. Here we get a glimpse of the power in actual operation in a man's heart, and if we think of all that this simple greeting pre-supposes and implies, and of all that had to be overcome before it could have been sent, we may well see in it the sign of the greatest revolution that was ever wrought in men's relations to one another. Quartus was an inhabitant of Corinth, from which city this letter was written. His Roman name may indicate Roman descent, but of that we cannot be sure. Just as probably he may have been a Greek by birth, and so have had to stretch his hand across a deep crevasse of national antipathy, in order to clasp the hands of his brethren in the great city. There was little love lost between Rome, the rough imperious conqueror, and Corinth, prostrate and yet restive under her bonds, and nourishing remembrances of a freedom which Rome had crushed, and of a culture that Rome haltingly followed.
And how many other deep gulfs of separation had to be bridged before that Christian sense of oneness could be felt! It is impossible for us to throw ourselves completely back to the condition of things which the Gospel found. The world then was like some great field of cooled lava on the slopes of a volcano, all broken up by a labyrinth of clefts and cracks, at the bottom of which one can see the flicker of sulphurous flames. Great gulfs of national hatred, of fierce enmities of race, language, and religion; wide separations of social condition, far profounder than anything of the sort which we know, split mankind into fragments. On the one side was the freeman, on the other, the slave; on the one side, the Gentile, on the other, the Jew; on the one side, the insolence and hardhandedness of Roman rule, on the other, the impotent, and, therefore, envenomed hatred of conquered peoples.
And all this fabric, full of active repulsions and disintegrating forces, was bound together into an artificial and unreal unity by the iron clamp of Rome's power, holding up the bulging walls that were ready to fall—the unity of the slave-gang manacled together for easier driving. Into this hideous condition of things the Gospel comes, and iilently flings its clasping tendrils over the wide gaps, and binds the crumbling structure of human society with a new bond, real and living. We know well enough that that was so, but we are helped to apprehend by seeing, as it were, the very process going on before our eyes, in this message from "Quartus a brother."
It reminds us that the very notion of humanity, and of the brotherhood of man, is purely Christian. A worldembracing society, held together by love, was not dreamt of before the Gospel came; and since the Gospel came it is more than a dream. If you wrench away the idea from its foundation, as people do who talk about fraternity, and seek to bring it to pass without Christ, it is a mere piece of Utopian sentiment—a fine dream. But in Christianity it worked. It works imperfectly enough, God knows. Still there is some reality in it, and some power. The Gospel first of all produced the thing and the practice, and then the theory came afterwards. The Church did not talk much about the brotherhood of man, or the unity of the race; but simply ignored all distinctions, and gathered into the fold the slave and his master, the Roman and his subject, fair-haired Goths and swarthy Arabians, the worshippers of Odin and of Zeus, the Jew and the Gentile. That actual unity, utterly irrespective of all distinctions, which came naturally in the train of the Gospel, was the first attempt to realize the oneness of the race, and first taught the world that all men were brethren.
And before this simple word of greeting could have been sent, and the unknown man in Corinth felt love to a company of unknown men in Rome, some profound new impulse must have been given to the world; something altogether unlike any of the forces hitherto in existence. What was that? What should it be but the story of One who gave Himself for the whole world, who binds men into a unity because of His common relation to them all, and through whom the great proclamation can be made: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Brother Quartus' message, like some tiny flower above-ground which tells of a spreading root beneath, is a modest witness to that mighty revolution, and pre-supposes the preaching of a Saviour in whom he and his unseen friends in Rome are one.
So let us learn not to confine our sympathy and the play of our Christian affection within the limits of our personal knowledge. We must go further a-field than that. Like this man, let us sometimes send our thoughts across mountains and sea. He knew nobody in the Roman Church, and nobody knew him, but he wished to stretch out his hand to them, and to feel, as it were, the pressure of their fingers in his palm. That is a pattern for us.
Let me suggest another thing. Quartus was a Corinthian. The Corinthian Church was remarkable for its quarrellings and dissensions. One "said, I am of Paul, and another, I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ." I wonder if our friend Quartus belonged to any of these parties. There is nothing more likely than that he had a much warmer glow of Christian love to the brethren over there in Rome than to those who sat on the same bench with him in the upper room at Corinth. For you know that sometimes it is true about people, as well as about scenery, that "distance lends enchantment to the view." A great many of us have much keener sympathies with "brethren" who are well out of our reach, and whose peculiarities do not jar against ours, than with those who are nearest. I do not say Quartus was one of these, but he may very well have been one of the wranglers in Corinth who found it much easier to love his brother whom he had not seen than his brother whom he had seen. So take the hint, if you need it. Do not let your Christian love go wandering away abroad only, but keep some for home consumption.
Again, how simply, and with what unconscious beauty, the deep reason for our Christian unity is given in that one word, a " Brother." As if he had said, Never mind telling them anything about what I am, what place I hold, or what I do. Tell them I am a brother, that will be enough. It is the only name by which I care to be known; it is the name which explains my love to them.
We are brethren because we are sons of one Father. So that favourite name, by which the early Christians knew each other, rested upon and proclaimed the deep truth that they knew themselves to be all partakers of a common life derived from one Parent. When they said they were brethren, they implied, "We have been born again by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." The great Christian truth of regeneration, the communication of a Divine life from God the Father, through Christ the Son, by the Holy Spirit, is the foundation of Christian brotherhood. So the name is no mere piece of effusive sentiment, but expresses a profound fact. To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become " the sons of God," and therein to become the brethren of all His sons.
That is the true ground of our unity, and of our obligation to love all who are begotten of Him. You cannot safely put them on any other footing. All else—identity of opinion, similarity of practice and ceremonial, local or national ties, and the like—all else is insufficient. It may
be necessary for Christian communities to require in addition a general identity of opinion, and even some uniformity in government and form of worship; but if ever they come to fancy that such subordinate conditions of visible oneness are the grounds of their spiritual unity, and to enforce these as such, they are slipping off the real foundation, and are perilling their character as Churches of Christ. The true ground of the unity of all Christians is here: "Have we not all one Father?" We possess a kindred life derived from Him. We are a family of brethren because we are sons.
Another remark is, how strangely and unwittingly this good man has got himself an immortality by that passing thought of his. One loving message has won for him the prize for which men have joyfully given life itself,—an eternal place in history. Wheresoever the Gospel is preached there also shall this be told as a memorial of him. How much surprised he would have been if, as he leaned forward to Tertius hurrying to end his task, and said, "Send my love too," anybody had told him that that one act of his would last as long as the world, and his name be known for ever! And how much ashamed some of the other people in the New Testament would have been if they had known that their passing faults—the quarrel of Euodia and Syntyche for instance—were to be gibbetted for ever in the same fashion! How careful they would have been, and we would be of our behaviour if we knew that it was to be pounced down upon and made immortal in that style! Suppose you were to be told—Your thoughts and acts to-morrow at twelve o'clock will be recorded for all the world to read—you would be pretty careful how you behaved. When a speaker sees the reporters in front of him, he weighs his words.
Well, Quartus' little message is written down here, and the world knows it. All our words and works are getting put 'down too in another Book up there, and it is going to be read out one day. It does seem wonderful that you and I should live as we do, knowing all the while that God is recording it all. If we are not ashamed to do things, and let Him note them "on His tablets that they may be for the time to come, for ever and ever," it is strange that we should be more careful to attitudinize and pose ourselves before one another than before Him. Let us then keep ever in mind "those pure eyes and perfect witness of" the "all-judging" God. The eternal record of this little message is only a symbol of the eternal life and eternal record of all our transient and trivial thoughts and deeds before Him. Let us live so that each act if recorded would shine with some modest ray of true light like brother Quartus' greeting. And let us seek that, like him,—all else about us being forgotten, position, talents, wealth, buried in the dust,—we may be remembered, if we are remembered at all, by such a biography as is condensed into these three words. Who would not wish to have such an epitaph as this? who would not wish to be embalmed, so to speak, in such a record? A sweet fate to live for ever in the world's memory by three words which tell his name, his Christianity, and his brotherly love. So far as we are remembered at all, may the like be our life's history and our epitaph!
SHOD FOR THE ROAD.
Deuteronomy xxxiii. 25.
Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.
nHHERE is a general correspondence between those -*- blessings wherewith Moses blessed the tribes of Israel before his death, and the circumstances and territory of each tribe in the promised land. The portion of Asher, in whose blessing the words of our text occurs, was partly the rocky northern coast and partly the fertile lands stretching to the base of the Lebanon. In the inland part of their land they cultivated large olive groves, the produce of which was trodden out in great rock-hewn cisterns. So the clause before my text is a benediction upon that industry—" let him dip his foot in oil." And then the metaphor naturally suggested by the mention of the foot is carried on into the next words, "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass," the tribe being located upon rocky sea-coast, having rough roads to travel, and so needing to be well shod. The substance, then, of that promise seems to be—strength adequate to and unworn by exercise; while the second clause, though not altogether plain, seems to put a somewhat similar idea in unmetaphorical shape. "As thy days, so shall thy strength be," probably means the promise of power that grows with growing years.
So, then, we have first that thought that God gives as an equipment of strength proportioned to our work,—shoes fit for our road. God does not turn people out to scramble over rough mountains with thin-soled boots on; that is the plain English of the words. When an Alpine climber is preparing to go away into Switzerland for rock work, the first thing he does is to get a pair of strong shoes, with plenty of iron nails in the soles of them. So Asher had to be shod for his rough roads, and so each of us may be sure that if God sends us on stony paths He will provide us with strong shoes, and will not send us out on any journey for which He does not equip us well.
There are no difficulties to be found in any path of duty for which he that is called to tread it is not prepared by Him that sent him. Whatsoever may be the road, our equipment is calculated for it, and is given to us from Him that has appointed it.
Is not there a suggestion here, too, as to the sort of travelling we may expect to find? An old saying tells us that we do not go to heaven in silver slippers, and the reason is because the road is rough. The "primrose way" leads somewhere else, and it may be walked on "delicately." But if we need shoes of iron and brass, we may pretty well guess the kind of road we have before us. If a man is equipped-with such things on his feet, depend upon it that there will be use for them before he gets to the end of his day's journey. The thickest sole will make the easiest travelling over rocky roads. So be quite sure of this, that if God gives to us certain endowments and equipments which are only calculated for very toilsome paths, the rough work will not be very far behind the stout shoes.
And see what He does give. See the provision which is made for patience and strength, for endurance and courage, in all the messages of His mercy, in all the words of His love, in all the powers of His Gospel, and then say whether that looks like an easy life of it on our way to the end. Those two ships that went away a while ago upon the brave, and, as some people thought, desperate task of finding the North Pole—any one that looked upon them as they lay in Portsmouth Roads, might know• that it was no holiday cruise they were meant for. The thickness of the sides, the strength of the cordage, the massiveness of the equipment, did not look like pleasuresailing.
And so, dear brethren, if we think of all that is given to us in God's Gospel in the way of stimulus and encouragement, and exhortation, and actual communication of powers, we may calculate from the abundance of the resources how great will be the strain upon us before we come to the end, and our "feet stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem." Go into some of the great fortresses in continental countries, and you will find the store-rooms full of ammunition and provisions; bread enough and biscuits enough, it would look, for half the country, laid up there, and a deep well somewhere or other about the courtyard. What does that mean? It means fighting, that is what it means. So if we are brought into this strong pavilion, so well provisioned, so well fortified and defended, that means that we shall need all the strength that is to be found in those thick walls, and all the sustenance that is to be found in those gorged magazines, and all the refreshment that is to be drawn from that fair, and full, and inexhaustible fountain, before the battle is over and the victory won. Depend upon it, the promise "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass," means Thy road shall be rocky and flinty; and so it is.
And yet, thank God! whilst it is true that it is very hard and very difficult for many of us, and hard and difficult—even if without the "very"—for us all, it is also true that we have the adequate provision sufficient for all our necessities—and far more than sufficient! Oh, it is a poor compliment to the strength that He gives to us to say that it is enough to carry us through! God does not deal out His gifts to people with such an economical correspondence to necessities as that. There is always a wide margin. More than we can ask, more than we can think, more than we can need.
If He were to deal with us as men often deal with one another—" Well, how much do you want? Cannot you do with a little less? There is the exact quantity that you need for your support"—if you got the bread by weight and the water by measure, it would be a very poor affair. See how He does. He says, "See, there is Mine own strength for you ;" and we think that we honour Him when we say, "God has given us enough for our necessities." Rather the old word is always true: "So they did eat, and were filled; and they took up of the fragments that remained seven baskets-full." And after they were satisfied and replete with the provision, there was more at the end than when they began.
That suggests another possible thought to be drawn from this promise, namely, that it assures not only of strength adequate to the difficulties and perils of the journey, but also of a strength which is not worn out by use.
The portion of Asher was the rocky sea-coast. The sharp, jagged rocks would cut anything of leather to pieces long before the day's march was over; but the tribe has got its feet shod with metal, and the rocks which they have to stumble over will only strike fire from their shoes. They need not step timidly for fear of wearing them out; but wherever they have to march, may go with full confidence that their shoeing will not fail them. A wise general looks after that part of his soldiers' outfit with special care, knowing that if it gives all the rest is of no use. So our Captain provides us with an inexhaustible strength, to which we may fully trust. We shall not exhaust it by any demands that we can make upon it. We shall only brighten it up, like the nails in a well-used shoe, the heads of which are polished by stumbling and scrambling over rocky roads.
So we may be bold in the march, and draw upon our stock of strength to the utmost. There is no fear that it will fail us. We may put all our force into our work, we shall not weaken the power which "by reason of use is exercised," not exhausted. For the grace which Christ gives us to serve Him, being Divine, is subject to no weariness, and neither faints nor fails. The bush that burned unconsumed is a type of that Infinite Being which works unexhausted, and lives undying; after all expenditure is rich; after all pouring forth is full. And of His strength we partake.
Whensoever a man puts forth an effort of any kind whatever—when I speak, when I lift my hand, when I run, when I think—there is waste of muscular tissue. Some of my strength goes in the act, and thus every effort means expenditure and diminution of force. Hence weariness that needs sleep, waste that needs food, languor that needs rest. We belong to an order of things in which work is death, in regard of the physical world; but our spirits may lay hold of God, and enter into an order of things in which work is not death, nor effort exhaustion, nor any loss of power in the expenditure of power.
That sounds strange! And yet it is not strange. Did you ever see that electric light which is made by directing a strong stream upon two small pieces of carbon? As the electricity strikes upon these and turns their blackness into a fiery blaze, it eats away their substance as it changes them into light. But there is an arrangement in the lamp by which a fresh surface is continually being brought into the path of the beam, and so the light continues without wavering and blazes on. The carbon is our human nature, black and dull in itself; the electric beam is the swift energy of God, which makes us light in the Lord. For the one decay is the end of effort; for the other there is none. Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. Though we belong to the perishing order of nature by our bodily frame, we belong to the undecaying realm of grace by the spirit that lays hold upon God. And if our work weary us, as it must do so long as we continue here, yet in the deepest sanctuary of our being our strength is quickened by exercise. "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass." "Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years." "Stand, therefore, having your feet shod with the preparedness of the Gospel of peace."
But this is not all. There is an advance even upon these great promises in the closing words. That second clause of our text says more than the first one. "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass." That promises us powers and provision adapted to and unexhausted by the weary pilgrimage and rough road of life. But "as thy days, so shall thy strength be," says even more than that. The meaning of the word rendered " strength" in our version is very doubtful, and most modern translators are inclined to render it "rest." But if we adhere to the translation of our version, we get a forcible and relevant promise, which fits on well to the previous clause, understood as it has been in my previous remarks. The usual understanding of the words is "strength proportioned to thy day," an idea which we have found already suggested by the previous clause. But that explanation rests on, or at any rate derives support from, the common misquotation of the words. They are not, as we generally hear them quoted, "As thy day, so shall thy strength be,"—but "day" is in the plural, and that makes a great difference. "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." That is to say: the two sums—of "thy days" and of "thy strength "— keep growing side by side, the one as fast as the other and no faster. The days increase. Well, what then? The strength increases too. As I said, we are allied to two worlds. According to the law of one of them, the outer world of physical life, we soon reach the summit of human strength. For a little while it is true, even in the life of nature, that our power grows with our days. But we soon reach the watershed, and then the opposite comes to be true. Down, steadily down we go with diminishing power, with diminishing vitality, with a dimmer eye, with an obtuser ear, with a slower beating heart, with a feebler frame, we march on and on to our grave! "As thy days, so shall thy weakness be," is the law for all of us mature men and women in regard to our outward life.
But oh, dear brethren, we may be emancipated from that dreary law in regard to the true life of our spirits, and instead of getting weaker as we get older, we may and we should get stronger. We may be and we should be moving on a course that has no limit to its advance. We may be travelling on a shining path through the heavens, that has no noon-tide height from which it must slowly and sadly decline, but tends steadily and for ever upwards, nearer and nearer to the very fountain itself of heavenly radiance. "The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more till the noon-tide of the day." But the reality surpasses even that grand thought, for it points us to an endless approximation, to an infinite beauty, and to ever-growing possession of never exhausted fulness, as the law for the progress of all Christ's servants. The life of each of us may and should be continual accession and increase of power through all the days here, through all the ages beyond. Why? Because "the life which I live, I live by the faith of the Son of God." Christ liveth in me. It is not my strength that grows, so much as God's strength in me which is given more abundantly as the days roll. It is so given on one condition. If my faith has laid hold of the infinite, the exhaustless, the immortal energy of God, unless there is something fearfully wrong about me I shall be getting purer, nobler, wiser; more observant of His will; gentler, liker Christ; every way fitter for His service, and for larger service, as the days increase.
Those of us who have reached middle life, or perhaps got a little over the watershed, ought to have this experience as our own in a very distinct degree. The years that are gone ought to have drawn us somewhat away from our hot pursuing after earthly and perishable things. They should have added something to the clearness and completeness of our perception of the deep simplicity of God's gospel. They should have tightened our hold and increased our possession of Christ, unfolding more and more of His all-sufficiency. They should have enriched us with memories of God's loving care, and lighted all the sky behind with a glow which is reflected on the path before us, and becomes calm confidence in His unfailing goodness. They should have given us power and skill for the conflicts that yet remain, as the Red Indians believe that the strength of every defeated and scalped enemy passes into his conqueror's arm. They should have given force to our better nature, and weakening, progressive weakening, to our worse. They should have rooted us more firmly and abidingly in Him from whom all our power comes, and so have given us more and fuller supplies of His exhaustless and ever-flowing might.
So it may be with us if we abide in Him, without whom we are nothing, but partaking of whose strength "the weakest shall be as David, and David as an angel of God."
If for us, drawing nearer to the end is drawing nearer to the light, our faces shall be brightened more and more with that light which we approach, and our path shall be "as the shining light which shines more and more unto the noon-tide of the day," because we are closer to the very fountain of heavenly radiance, and growingly bathed and flooded with the outgoings of His glory. "As thy days, so shall thy strength be."
The promise ought to be true for us all. It is true for all who use the things that are freely given to them of God. And whilst thus it is the law for the devout life here, its most glorious fulfilment remains for the life beyond. There each new moment shall bring new strength, and growing millenniums but add fresh vigour to our immortal life. Here the unresting beat of the waves of the sea of time gnaws away the bank and shoal whereon we stand, but there each roll of that great ocean of eternity shall but spread new treasures at our feet and add new acres to our immortal heritage. The oldest angels, says Swedenborg, seem the youngest. When life is immortal, the longer it lasts the stronger it becomes, and so the spirits that have stood for countless days before His throne, when they appear to human eyes appear as "young men clothed in long white garments "—full of imaging youth, and energy that cannot wane. So, whilst in the flesh we must obey the law of decay, the spirit may be subject to this better law of life, and "while the outward man perisheth, the inward man be renewed day by day." "Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall; but they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength."
TAKING FROM GOD THE BEST GIVING TO GOD.
Psalm cxvi. 12, 13.
What shall "I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me? I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.
'"INHERE may possibly be a referep.ce 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 plenty of 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 it. With a kind of glad despair he asks the question that ever springs to thankful lips, and having nothing to give, recognizes 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 of our own love and gifts. Do we not feel that all the beauty and bloom of a gift is gone if the giver hoped 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 "bimply "—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 mercits. 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 recognize the real contents of our cup. It is a cup of salvations, however hard it is sometimes to believe it. How much blessing and happiness we all rob ourselves of 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 a man and woman lives in the gloom of a life-long 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. 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 that received presents on the recent 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 are 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 of all our blessings by a like offering of them before God, and a like invoking of the Giver.
Christ has given 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 put 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 this name of the Lord as a test. Name Him over many a cup which you are eager to drink of, 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.
SILENCE TO GOD.
Psalm Lxii. I, 5,
Truly my soul waiteth upon God. . . . My soul, wait thou only upon God.
"I X J"E have here two corresponding clauses, each begin* * ning a section of the psalm. They resemble each other even more closely than appears from the English version, for the "truly" of the first, and the " only " of the second clause, are the same word; and in each case it stands in the same place, namely, at the beginning. So, word for word, the two answer to each other. The difference is, that the one expresses the Psalmist's patient stillness of submission, and the other is his self-encouragement to that very attitude and disposition which he has just professed to be his. In the one he speaks of, in the other to, his soul. He stirs himself up to renew and continue the faith and resignation which he has, and so he sets before us both the temper which we should bear, and the effort which we should make to prolong and deepen it, if it be ours. Let us look at these two points then—the expression of waiting, and the self-exhortation to waiting.
* Truly my soul waiteth upon God." It is difficult to say whether the opening word is better rendered " truly," as here, or "only," as in the other clause. Either meaning is allowable and appropriate. If, with our version, we adopt the former, we may compare with this text the opening of another psalm (lxxiii.), "Truly God is good to Israel," and there, as here, we may see in that vehement affirmation, a trace of the struggle through which it had been won. The Psalmist bursts into song with a word, which tells us plainly enough how much had to be quieted in him before he came to that quiet waiting, just as in the other psalm he pours out first the glad, firm certainty which he had reached, and then recounts the weary seas of doubt and bewilderment through which he had waded to reach it. That one word is the record of conflict and the trophy of victory, the sign of the blessed effect of effort and struggle in a truth more firmly held, and in a submission more perfectly practised. It is as if he had said, Yes! in spite of all its waywardness and fears, and self-willed struggles, my soul waits upon God. I have overcome these, and now there is peace within.
It is to be further observed that literally the words run, "My soul is silence unto God." That forcible form of expression describes the completeness of the Psalmist's unmurmuring submission and quiet faith. His whole being is one great stillness, broken by no clamorous passions; by no loud-voiced desires; by no remonstrating reluctance. There is a similar phrase in another psalm (cix. 4), which may help to illustrate this: "For my love they are my adversaries, but I am prayer"—his soul is all one supplication. The enemies' wrath awakens no flush of passion on his cheek, or ripple of vengeance in his heart. He meets it all with prayer. Wrapped in devotion and heedless of their rage, he is like Stephen, when he kneeled down among his yelling murderers, and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." So here we have the strongest expression of the perfect consent of the whole inward nature in submission and quietness of confidence before God.
That silence is first a silence of the will. The plain meaning of this phrase is, resignation; and resignation is just a silent will. Before the throne of the Great King, His servants are to stand like those long rows of attendants we see on the walls of eastern temples, silent with folded arms, straining their ears to hear, and bracing their muscles to execute his whispered commands, or even his gesture and his glance. A man's will should be an echo, not a voice; the echo of God, not the voice of self. It should be silent, as some sweet instrument is silent till the owner's hand touches the keys. Like the boy-prophet in the hush of the sanctuary, below the quivering light of the dying lamps, we should wait till the awful voice calls, and then, "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth." Do not let the loud utterances of your own wills anticipate, nor drown, the still, small voice in which God speaks. Bridle impatience till He does. If you cannot hear His whisper, wait till you do. Take care of running before you are sent. Keep your wills in equipoise, till God's hand gives the impulse and direction.
Such a silent will is a strong will. It is no feeble passiveness, no dead indifference, no impossible abnegation that God requires, when He requires us to put our wills in accord with His. They are not slain, but vivified by such surrender; and the true secret of strength lies in submission. The secret of blessedness is there, too, for our sorrow comes because there is discord between our circumstances and our wills, and the measure in which these are in harmony with God is the measure in which we shall feel that all things are blessings to be received with thanksgiving. But if we will take our own way, and let our own wills speak before God speaks, or otherwise than God speaks, nothing can come of that but what always has come of it—blunders, sins, misery, and manifold ruin.
We must keep our hearts silent too. The sweet voices of pleading affections, the loud cry of desires and instincts that roar for their food like beasts of prey, the querulous complaints of disappointed hopes, the groans and sobs of black-robed sorrows, the loud hubbub and Babel, like the noise of a great city, that every man carries within, must be stifled and coerced into silence. We have to take the animal in us by the throat, and sternly say, Lie down there and be quiet. We have to silence tastes and inclinations. We have to stop our ears to the noises around, however sweet the songs, and to close many an avenue through which the world's music might steal in. He cannot say, "My soul is silent unto God," whose whole being is buzzing with vanities and noisy with the din of the market-place. Unless we have something, at least, of that great stillness, our hearts will have no peace, and our religion no reality.
There must be the silence of the mind, as well as of the heart and will. We must not have our thoughts ever occupied with other things, but must cultivate the habit of detaching them from earth, and keeping our minds still before God, that He may pour His light into them. Surely if ever any generation needed the preaching—Be still, and let God speak—we need it. Even religious men are so busy with spreading or defending Christianity, that they have little time, and many of them less inclination for quiet meditation and still communion with God. Newspapers, and books, and practical philanthropy, and Christian effort, and business, and amusement, so crowd into our lives now, that it needs some resolution and some planning to get a clear space where we can be quiet, and look at God.
But the old law for a noble and devout life is not altered by reason of any new circumstances. It still remains true that a mind silently waiting before God is the condition without which such a life is impossible. As the flowers follow the sun, and silently hold up their petals to be tinted and enlarged by his shining, so must we, if we would know the joy of God, hold our souls, wills, hearts, and minds still before Him, whose voice commands, whose love warms, whose truth makes fair our whole being. God speaks for the most part in such silence only. If the soul be full of tumult and jangling noises, His voice is little likely to be heard. As in some kinds of deafness, a perpetual noise in the head prevents hearing any other sounds, the rush of our own fevered blood, and the throbbing of our own nerves, hinder our catching His tones. It is the calm lake which mirrors the sun, the least catspaw wrinkling the surface wipes out all the reflected glories of the heavens. If we would mirror God our souls must be calm. If we would hear God our souls must be silence.
Alas! how far from this is our daily life! Who among us dare to take these words as the expression of our own experience? Is not the troubled sea which cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt, a truer emblem of our restless, labouring souls than the calm lake? .Put your own selves by the side of this Psalmist, and honestly measure the contrast. It is like the difference between some crowded market-place all full of noisy traffickers, ringing with shouts, blazing in sunshine, and the interior of the quiet cathedral that looks down on it all, where are coolness and subdued light, and silence and solitude. "Come, My .people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee." "Commune with your own heart and be still." "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength."
This man's profession of utter resignation is perhaps too high for us; but we can make his self-exhortation our own. "My soul! wait thou only upon God." Perfect as he ventures to declare his silence towards God, he yet feels that he has to stir himself up to the effort which is needed to preserve it in its purity. Just because he can say, "My soul waits," therefore he bids his soul wait.
I need not dwell upon that self-stimulating as involving the great mystery of our personality, whereby a man exalts himself above himself, and controls, and guides, and speaks to his soul. But a few words may be given to that thought illustrated here, of the necessity for conscious effort and self-encouragement, in order to the preservation of the highest religious emotion.
We are sometimes apt to forget that no holy thoughts or feelings are in their own nature permanent, and the illusion that they are, often tends to accelerate their fading. It is no wonder if we in our selectest hours of "high communion with the living God" should feel as if that lofty experience would last by virtue of its own sweetness, and need no effort of ours to retain it. But it is not so. All emotion tends to exhaustion, as surely as a pendulum to rest, or as an Eastern torrent to dry up. All our flames burn to their extinction. There is but one fire that blazes and is not consumed. Action is the destruction of tissue. Lffe reaches its term in death. Joy and sorrow, and hope and fear, cannot be continuous. They must needs wear themselves out and fade into a gray uniformity like mountain summits when the sun has left them.
Our religious experience too will have its tides, and even those high and pure emotions and dispositions that bind us to God can only be preserved by continual effort. Their existence is no guarantee of their permanence, rather is it a guarantee of their transitoriness, unless we earnestly stir up ourselves to their renewal. Like the emotions kindled by lower objects, they perish while they glow, and there must be a continual recurrence to the one source of light and heat if the brilliancy is to be preserved.
Nor is it only from within that their continuance is menaced. Outward forces are sure to tell upon them. The constant wash of the sea of life undermines the cliffs and wastes the coasts. The tear and wear of external occupations is ever acting upon our religious life. Travellers tell us that the constant rubbing of the sand on Egyptian hieroglyphs removes every trace of colour, and even effaces the deep-cut characters from basalt rocks. So the unceasing attrition of multitudinous trifles will take all the bloom off your religion, and efface the name of the King cut on the tables of your hearts, if you do not counteract them by constant, earnest effort. Our devotion, our faith, our love is only preserved by being constantly renewed.
That vigorous effort is expressed here by the very form of the phrase. The same word which began the first clause begins the second also. As in the former it represented for us, with an emphatic "Truly," the struggle through which the Psalmist had reached the height of his blessed experience, so here it represents in like manner the earnestness of the self-exhortation which he addresses to himself. He calls forth all his powers to the conflict, which is needed even by the man who has attained to that height of communion, if he would remain where he has climbed. And for us, brethren, who shrink from taking these former words upon our lips, how much greater the need to use our most strenuous efforts to quiet our souls. If the summit reached can only be held by earnest endeavour, how much more is needed to struggle up from the valleys below.
The silence of the soul before God is no mere passiveness. It requires the intensest energy of all our being to keep all our being still and waiting upon Him. So put all your strength into the task, and be sure that your soul is never so intensely alive as when in deepest abnegation it waits hushed before God.
Trust no past emotions. Do not wonder if they should fade even when they are brightest. Do not let their evanescence tempt you to doubt their reality. But always when our hearts are fullest of His love, and our spirits stilled with the sweetest sense of His solemn presence, stir yourselves up to keep firm hold of the else passing gleam, and in your consciousness let these two words live in perpetual alternation: "Truly my soul waiteth upon God. My soul! wait thou only upon God."