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- The Good News of God - 30/43 -
How little do we know Christ?
What would become of us, if he were like us?--If he were one who bargained with us, and said--'Unless you know me, I will not take the trouble to know you. Unless you care for me, you cannot expect me to care for you.' What would become of us, if God said, 'As you do to me, so will I do to you?'
But our only hope lies in this, that in Christ the Lord is no spirit of bargaining, no pride, no spite, no rendering evil for evil. In this is our hope; that he is the likeness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person; perfect as his Father is perfect; that like his Father, he causeth his rain to fall on the evil and the good; and his sun to shine on the just and on the unjust; and is good to the unthankful and the evil--to you and me--and knows us, though we know him not; and cares for us, though we care not for him; and leads us his way, like a good shepherd, when we fancy in our conceit that we are going in our own way. This is our hope, that his love is greater than our stupidity; that he will not tire of us, and our fancies, and our self-will, and our laziness, in spite of all our peevish tempers, and our mean and fruitless suspicions of his goodness. No! He will not tire of us, but will seek us, and save us when we go astray. And some day, somewhere, somehow, he will open our eyes, and let us see him as he is, and thank him as he deserves. Some day, when the veil is taken off our eyes, we shall see like those disciples at Emmaus, that Jesus has been walking with us, and breaking our bread for us, and blessing us, all our lives long; and that when our hearts burned within us at noble thoughts, and stories of noble and righteous men and women, and at the hope that some day good would conquer evil, and heaven come down on earth, then--so we shall find--God had been dwelling among men all along--even Jesus, who was dead, and is alive for evermore, and has the keys of death and hell, and knows his sheep in this world, and in all worlds, past, present, and to come, and leads them, and will lead them for ever, and none can pluck them out of his hand. Amen.
SERMON XXVIII. DARK TIMES
1 JOHN iv. 16-18.
We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
Have we learnt this lesson? Our reading, and thinking, and praying, have been in vain, unless they have helped us to believe and know the love which God has to us. But, indeed, no reading, or thinking, or praying will teach us that perfectly. God must teach it us himself. It is easy to say that God is love; easy to say that Christ died for us; easy to say that God's Spirit is with us; easy to say all manner of true doctrines, and run them off our tongues at second-hand; easy for me to stand up here and preach them to you, just as I find them written in a book. But do I believe what I say? Do you believe what you say? There is an awful question. We believe it all now, or think we believe it, while we are easy and comfortable: but should we have boldness in the day of judgment?--Should we believe it all, if God visited us, to judge us, and try us, and pierce asunder the very joints and marrow of our heart with fearful sorrow and temptation? O Lord, who shall stand in that day?
Suppose, for instance, God were to take away the desire of our eyes, with a stroke. Suppose we were to lose a wife, a darling child; suppose we were struck blind, or paralytic; suppose some unspeakable, unbearable shame fell on us to-morrow: could we say then, God is love, and this horrible misery is a sign of it? He loves me, for he chastens me? Or should we say, like Job's wife, and one of the foolish women, 'Curse God and die?' God knows.
Ah, when that dark day seems coming on us, and bringing some misery which looks to us beforehand quite unbearable--then how our lip- belief and book-faith is tried, and burnt up in the fire of God, and in the fire of our own proud, angry hearts, too! How we struggle and rage at first at the very thought of the coming misery; and are ready to say, God will not do this! He cannot--cannot be so unjust, so cruel, as to bring this misery on me. What have I done to deserve it? Or, if I have deserved it, what have these innocents done? Why should they be punished for my sins? After all my prayers, too, and my church-goings, and my tryings to be good. Is this God's reward for all my trouble to please him? Then how vain all our old prayers seem; how empty and dry all ordinances. We cry, I have cleansed my hands in vain, and in vain washed my heart in innocency. We have no heart to pray to God. If he has not heard our past prayers, why should we pray anymore? Let us lie down and die; let us bear his heavy hand, if we must bear it, sullenly, desperately: but, as for saying that God is love, or to say that we know the love which God has for us, we say in our hearts, Let the clergyman talk of that; it is his business to speak about it; or comfortable, easy people, who are not watering their pillow with bitter tears all night long. But if they were in my place (says the unhappy man), they would know a little more of what poor souls have to go through: they would talk somewhat less freely about its being a sin to doubt God's love. He has sent this great misery on me. How can I tell what more he may not send? How can I help being afraid of God, and looking up to him with tormenting fear?
Yes, my friends. These are very terrible thoughts--very wrong thoughts some of them, very foolish thoughts some of them, though pardonable enough; for God pardons them, as we shall see. But they are real thoughts. They are what really come into people's minds every day; and I am here to talk to you about what is really going on in your soul, and mine; not to repeat to you doctrines at second-hand out of a book, and say, There, that is what you have to believe and do; and, if you do not, you will go to hell: but to speak to you as men of like passions with myself; as sinning, sorrowing, doubting, struggling human beings; and to talk to you of what is in my own heart, and will be in your hearts too, some day, if it has not been already. This is the experience of all REAL men, all honest men, who ever struggled to know and to do what is right. David felt it all. You find it all through those glorious Psalms of his. He was no comfortable, book-read, second-hand Christian, who had an answer ready for every trouble, because he had never had any real trouble at all. David was not one of them. He had to go through a very rough training--very terrible and fiery trials, year after year; and had to say, again and again, 'I am weary of crying; my heart is dry; my heart faileth me for waiting so long upon my God. All thy billows and storms are gone over me. Thou hast laid me in a place of darkness, and in the lowest deep.' -
Not by sitting comfortably reading his book, but by such terrible trials as that, was David taught to trust God to the uttermost; and to learn that God's love was so perfect that he need never dread him, or torment himself with anxiety lest God should leave him to perish.
Hezekiah felt it, too, good man as he was, when he was sick, and like to die. And it was not for many a day that he found out the truth about these dark hours of misery, that by all these things men live, and in all these things is the life of the Spirit.
And this was Jacob's experience, too, on that most fearful night of all his life, when he waited by the ford of Jabbok, expecting that with the morning light the punishment of his past sins would come on him; and not only on him, but on all his family, and his innocent children; when he stood there alone by the dark river, not knowing whether Esau and his wild Arabs would not sweep off the earth all he had and all he loved; and knowing, too, that it was his own fault, that he had brought it all upon them by his own deceit and treachery. Then, when his sins stared him in the face, and God rose up to judgment against him, he learnt to pray as he had never prayed before--a prayer too deep for words.
'And Jacob was left alone: and there wrestled a man with him till the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh; and the hollow of his thigh was out of joint as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, till thou bless me. And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of that place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.'
So it may be with us. So it must be with us, in the dark day when our faith is really tried by terrible affliction.
We must begin as Jacob did. Plead God's promises, confess the mercies we have received already. 'I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies which thou hast showed to thy servant.'
Ask for God's help, as Jacob did: 'Deliver me, I pray thee, out of the hand of Esau my brother.' Plead his written promises, and the covenant of our baptism, which tell us that we are God's children, and God our Father, as Jacob did according to his light--'And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good.'
So the proud angry heart will perhaps pass out of us, and we shall set ourselves more calmly to face the worst, and to try if God's promises be indeed true, and God be indeed as he has said, 'Love.'
But do not be astonished, do not be disheartened, if, when the trouble comes, there comes with it, as to Jacob, a more terrible struggle far, a struggle too deep for words; if you find out that fine words and set prayers are nothing in the hour of need, and that you will not be heard for your much speaking. Ah! the darkness of that time, which perhaps goes on for days, for months, all alone between you and God himself. Clergymen and good people may come in with kind words and true words: but they give no comfort; your heart is still dark, still full of doubt; you want God himself to speak to your heart, and tell you that he is love. And you have no words to pray with at last; you have used them all up; and you can only cling humbly to God, and hold fast. One moment you feel like a poor slave clinging to his stern master's arm, and entreating him not to kill him outright. The next you feel like a child clinging to its father, and entreating him to save him from some horrible monster which is going to devour it: but you have no words to pray with, only sighs, and tears, and groans; you feel that you know not what to pray for as you ought, know not what is good for you; dare ask for nothing, lest it should be the wrong thing. And the longer you struggle, the weaker you become, as Jacob did, till your very bones seem out of joint, your very heart broken within you, and life seems not worth having, or death either.
Only hold fast by God. Only do not despair. Only be sure that God cannot lie; be sure that he who cared for you from your birth hour cares for you still; that he who loved you enough to give his own Son for you hundreds of years before you were born, cannot but love you
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