He Hath Not Dealt So With Any Nation

XIV.

HE HATH NOT DEALT SO WITH ANY NATION.

He hath not dealt so with any nation.

Tsalm cxlvii. 20.

Wells Cathedral, May 29, 1884, at the Sixth Triennial Festival of Wells Theological College.

JUDGED by any standard of human foresight and calculation, the history of the Israelite people is an insoluble enigma. This thought must have forced itself again and again on our minds, as we listened to those remarkable chapters of Deuteronomy which have been read as the Sunday lessons during the few weeks past. The career of the Jews is a paradox from beginning to end. What was there in this paltry, insignificant, down-trodden people, that it should surmount a series of disasters unparalleled in history; that it should outlive all the mighty empires of the ancient world; that it should dictate its laws and institutions to the nations far and wide; that to this latest hour its thoughts, its literature, its history, nay, even its topography, should enthral the hearts and consciences of mankind with a fascination unapproached by any other race?

Where else can we find so great a disproportion between the apparent cause and the manifest effect? Here is a people few in numbers, circumscribed in territory, without any exceptional literary or artistic genius like the Greeks, without any extraordinary political capacity like the Romans. It is stiff-necked, disobedient, rebellious always. It is even disunited in itself, torn asunder by intestine feuds—Ephraim envying Judah, and Judah vexing Ephraim. It is essentially wanting in those qualities which attract the regard and win the hearts of men. It is stubborn, self-contained, unconciliatory in its demeanour, vexatious and exacting in its requirements. The Jews were stigmatised as the enemies of the human race. They were believed to hate all men alike, and themselves were hated by all in return.

How then? Did the Israelite people owe its strength and its vitality to the favourable conditions of its environments? Strong is a comparative term. Was it strong only because the surrounding nations were weak? Was its continuous life due only to the fact that external circumstances put no strain upon its vital force? History tells us a very different tale. It was hemmed in from first to last by the most powerful empires of the ancient world—Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria, Persia, Syria, Rome—empires of long and ancient prestige, with vast military organisations, with extensive and exceptionally fertile territories, with highly centralised and powerful governments, great in arts, great in arms, great in wealth. The conflict between the empire on its one side and the empire on its other was fierce and continuous. This poor, insignificant people—must it not inevitably be battered, crushed, ground into powder, in the clash of these mighty combatants?

This anticipation, founded on a view of its comparative strength, is certainly not disappointed by the records of its actual history. Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Antiochus Epiphanes, Pompeius, Titus—what an overwhelming catalogue of disasters does this list of foreign conquerors suggest! Two wholesale deportations, when the entire nation was swept away into bondage, in its infancy to Egypt, in its manhood to Assyria and Babylonia, are only the more prominent points in a long series of national disasters. Again and again the land was devastated ■—swept clean, according to the homely image of the prophets, 'as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down.' Again and again the life of the nation was stamped out. Yet again and again the prophet's vision in the valley of death was fulfilled. There was a stir, a rattling, a movement of bone to bone; the skeletons were strung with sinews and clothed with flesh; the nation breathed, lived, was active as ever.

What was the secret of this recuperative force? What was the source of this vitality? Somewhere or other there must have been an unquenchable spark of fire, a continuous principle of national life, which no defeat could crush and no disaster could impair. This secret is revealed in the words of the text; 'He hath not dealt so with any nation.' It stands out still more plainly in those chapters of Deuteronomy of which I have already spoken. 'What nation is there so great who hath God so nigh unto them?' 'Ask from the one side of the heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is.' 'The Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.' 'They are Thy people and Thine inheritance, which Thou broughtest out by Thy mighty power and by Thy stretched out arm.' 'Ye are the children of the Lord your God.' 'He is thy praise, and He is thy God.' It was this sense of a direct, personal relationship to God which was the marrow of the national life and the sinew of the national strength. God had chosen them out from all the peoples of the earth; God had adopted them; God was with them; God was in them. Even when the national life was at its lowest ebb, this sense was never wholly obliterated. Even then it was cherished and preserved from extinction by a faithful remnant. Even then, or (I ought rather to say) especially then, it was fanned into fresh flame by the breath of prophetic inspiration. It was a centre of unity and a fountain of strength to the nation, when all external organisations failed. It taught them a deep self-respect, and it inspired them with a boundless hope. They could not misread their own eventful history. The future was revealed to them through the past. A signal destiny must await them. They had a great world-wide mission to accomplish. They looked forward confidently to a time when a king should rise up from their royal line; when a standard should be erected in Zion, as a rallying point for the nations of the world; when all peoples and kindreds and tongues should pour in their tribute to the sanctuary of Jehovah. Ever and again, when disasters crowded upon them, and their doom seemed inevitable, this triumphant note was sounded from the abyss of a nation's despair. Ever and again they awakened to the consciousness of their magnificent destiny. They knew themselves to be the possessors of mighty truths which others did not possess—truths which by their very nature must triumph, and which the Gentiles could not choose but seek at their hands. 'Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye' to the waters.' 'Behold thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee, because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel.' The powerful kingdoms of the earth might possess all things besides—artistic and literary treasures, political institutions, military organizations, overflowing wealth, material appliances of all kinds. But these could not satisfy them for ever. They must come to Israel for that which Israel alone could give. There was a fierce, gnawing hunger still unallayed, a hot, craving thirst still unslaked, 'not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.'

I need not speak at length on the strange fulfilment of this national expectation. Its evidential value it would be impossible to overrate. But this is not my purpose now. I have only dwelt thus far on the subject, because I desire to draw a parallel and to make the application to ourselves as members of this Church of England. Is there not a very real sense in which we ought to feel this consciousness of S. S. 14

a destiny marked out for us by God? Do not the past records and the present position of the English Church alike conspire to teach us this lesson? What other Church has had a history so significant as ours? What other Church can point to opportunities, advantages, privileges, capacities for doing Christ's worki as great and signal as ours? May we not in all sincerity adopt the Psalmist's words, and from an overflowing heart confess,' He hath not dealt so with any nation?' Assuredly we dare not entertain the thought in any self-righteous, Pharisaic spirit. The warning voice will remind us, as it reminded the Israelites of old; 'Speak not thou in thine heart, saying, for my righteousness the Lord hath brought me in to possess this land: understand that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people.'

Very different is the spirit in which I would ask you to approach this subject. 'Remember and forget not how thou provokedst the Lord thy God to wrath' —this is the emphatic caution with which the lawgiver accompanies his declaration of Israel's peculiar privileges and Israel's unique destiny. 'Ye have been rebellious from the day that I knew you!' So say I now; remember and forget not the sins and shortcomings of this our Church—the worldliness, the greed, the shameful time-serving, the apathy and torpor, which have disgraced it in ages past—the feuds which rend it and the trivialities which mar and deface it in our own generation. Remember and forget them not; for are they not after all our own individual sins written large, sins deep-rooted in our hearts, sins too often manifested in our lives, sins demanding our penitential sorrow and self-abasement? Remember and forget them not; for only by so dwelling on the unworthiness of the recipient can you measure the goodness of the Giver and the splendour of the gift.

My brothers, the occasion of our meeting to-day is one of great joy and thankfulness for all. You have come to revisit this college, your spiritual nurse, if not your spiritual mother; to revive old memories; to renew old companionships; to interchange ideas and experiences; to pour out your united thanksgiving to God for His many mercies; and thus to stimulate and quicken your spiritual faculties for the work which lies before you. But do not arrest your thoughts and feelings at this point. I ask you to regard yourselves not as fellow-students of the same college only, not as shepherds of your several flocks only. Over and above all these things, consider the exceptional privilege and the tremendous responsibility which attach to you as clergy of the English Church at a highly critical moment in her history. Reflect on her signal and unique advantages, her splendid opportunities, her glorious possibilities—her divine mission and her unique destiny; if only we, the clergy, rise to a sense of God's providential purpose.

May we not from the beginning trace the finger of God in her earliest history? It is surely an important fact—not without a lasting influence on the tone and temper of our Church—that very large portions of this island, far larger than men commonly suppose, were evangelised not from Rome but from Iona? A spirit of greater freedom was thus breathed into her in her very infancy. This spirit, sheltered by her insular position, and sustained by a succession of strong and vigorous sovereigns, saved her from the worst consequences of a spiritual despotism, even in the darkest hours of Roman domination. The Church of England was throughout comparatively free. By a series of legal enactments the protest against foreign domination was maintained from age to age, until the day of liberty dawned.

Hence this emancipation, when it came, was the act of the English Church and the English people. It might be stimulated, while it was discredited, by the profligacy of the sovereign or by the greed of the courtiers, but the heart and soul of the Reformation —the breath of its life, the motive power without which it would have been abortive—was the free spirit of the English people, which had grown silently with the growth of the centuries.

And must we not also recognise the handiwork of God in the character of the Reformation itself? Almost alone of the reformed communions the Church of England preserved the ancient constitution which had been impressed upon the Body of Christ from Apostolic times. There was no sudden dislocation, no abrupt break of continuity with the past; but in the retention of the episcopal order, as in the maintenance of those other principles and institutions of which episcopacy is the type and the assurance, the reformed Church of England declared herself one with the Church of Anselm, with the Church of Benedict Biscop and Bede, with the Church of Columba and Aidan, with the Church built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone. And as we follow the stream of history lower down, can we fail to see the good providence of God in her preservation? As I contemplate the perils and disasters through which she has passed, I am reminded of nothing so much as the tremendous catastrophes, succeeded by the marvellous revivals, of the Jewish people of old. Must it not have seemed to any unbiassed person that the Church of England was altogether annihilated in the middle of the seventeenth century—her liturgy and ritual proscribed, her revenues confiscated, her clergy driven out, her sanctuaries desolated, herself swept away from the face of the land? Yet from this apparent extinction she rose again, as Israel had risen, rose suddenly, rose to a new and prolonged life. And if her existence was thus threatened in the seventeenth century by fierce antagonism without and suicidal counsels within, she was exposed to no less danger from worldliness and sloth and scepticism in the eighteenth. Who would not then have pronounced her in the last stage of decrepitude and decay? Look at the nepotism, the greed, the shameless pluralities, the torpor, the reckless indifference of those dreary decades. Who could have foretold the glorious dawn which should so soon break upon that night of spiritual apathy and practical unbelief? Who could have ventured, as he contemplated this bleak desert strewn with the dry bones, to forecast the awakening or to entertain even the faint shadow of hope underlying that cry of resignation, ' Lord, Thou knowest'? Yet this death-like torpor has been succeeded by an outburst of intense and manifold activity to which it would not be easy to find a parallel in the history of any Church. 'Ask from the one side of the heaven to the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is.'

Can we resist the inference? God has marked out for some special mission, for some signal destiny, a Church which He has so marvellously preserved. We have read this lesson in the past history of our Church. Is it not further enforced in her present position and opportunities?

Consider first the ramifications and alliances of our Church. The English Church inherits the opportunities of the English nation, of the English language. Never since the world began has there existed an empire so wide, so scattered, so manifold as ours. English colonies, English settlements, English dependencies, are everywhere. It seemed probable at one time, that this ascendancy would have been wielded by other hands. When the new world was opened out, the dominion of the seas belonged to Spain. Imagine for a moment how different would have been the fate of the human race, if this dominion had remained in such hands. The destruction of the Armada was a crisis of which every passing year enhances the magnitude. It has changed the whole course of religious history. Thenceforward a reformed Christianity was destined to prevail in the newly discovered regions of the world. The Churches of the Anglican Communion have spread over the whole face of the globe. The Pananglican Synods may not have produced many direct tangible results; but, as a token of the catholicity and expansion of the English Church, it would not be easy to overrate their value. 'Spare not, lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes, for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles.'

But secondly; are there not in the internal character of our Church—in her doctrinal and ecclesiastical position—features which seem to designate her as the eventual rallying point of Christendom, the centre of the Churches of the future? What other Christian community is so fitted to act as mediator between the irregular forces of Nonconformity and the rigid discipline of Rome? What other Church unites in the same degree an adherence to the lessons and usages of the past with a sympathetic respect for the aspirations of the future ? \ Of her more truly than of any Church it may be said that, like the scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, she brings forth out of her treasure things new and old. She has not renounced the ancient Apostolic order or the ancient Catholic creed. Neither, on the other hand, has she spurned the intellectual and social acquisitions of these latest ages. As a national Church, she has lived the varied life and sympathised with the expanding thoughts of the nation. She is orthodox, and yet she is liberal. However we regard the matter, we cannot fail to recognise her central position. And this position is beginning to make itself felt in very unexpected quarters. Already the feebler Christian communities of the far East are turning to her for guidance and support . 'Nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee, because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel.'

Lastly; consider the energetic life of the English Church at this moment; contemplate her rapid and vigorous progress, since the long winter frost broke up, and she revived under the sunshine of God's Spirit. The current of her awakened activity has not run in any one narrow channel. It has pervaded every region of thought and feeling and action. In the external administration and in the inner life of the Church alike its effects are seen. If we would take its measure, we have only to compare the parochial organisation and the Church services in any average parish with the same as they existed fifty or seventy or a hundred years ago. The building and repair of churches, the erection and maintenance of schools, the creation of new parishes, the foundation of new sees, the improvement and multiplication of services—these are only the external symbols of an inner change which finds its truest expression in more earnest spiritual teaching and more assiduous parochial visitation and more devoted missionary work.

We have reviewed the past history of our Church. If ever the finger of God can be traced in history, it can be traced in this history. We have contemplated her present condition—her world-wide opportunities, her mediatorial position, her energetic life. If ever the voice of God speaks to men through actual facts, it surely speaks through these facts. Does it not tell us plainly that He has singled out this Church from all the Churches for a special destiny? I confess that as I look around, and try to forecast the prospects of religion in the years lying before us, I am more and more persuaded that this Church of England is the central hope of Christendom. But I see not less clearly that the crisis is eminently perilous. This is the painful apprehension which fills one with terror. Here is a magnificent destiny reserved for our Church; but we may thwart it, we may obstruct it, we may postpone it, by our precipitancy, by our folly, by our stubbornness, by our inability to read the signs of the times. Not zeal and devotion only are wanted for the crisis; but there is need likewise of patience, of forbearance, of a large spirit and a large mind. Addressing a numerous and representative body of the English clergy, I say to each one of you; Try and individualise this idea—the destiny of your Church; take it distinctly to yourself as an object to labour for, to pray for, to live for; strive to work, as fellow-workers of God, in His great purpose. However feeble and faltering may be my words, I shall not have spoken in vain, if by God's grace I shall have sent only one single man home with the awe and the power of this thought more firmly rooted in his heart. It will be a new inspiration to you, as the conviction of Israel's destiny was to the Israelite of old. God matches His gifts to man's believing. This belief will raise you to a higher level; it will endow you with wisdom, with patience, with zeal, and with strength; it will be the breath of a new life to you.