Ripples in the Twilight
J.R. MacDuff, 1885
The writer deems it well to say, that no portion of what follows has in any shape been previously published. Nothing culled, either from book or magazine article. If there is, therefore, any value or help to the reader in these disjointed sentences, they at all events appear for the first time.
The title-page sufficiently indicates and explains what the contents are: Selections — some short, some more extended, gathered from Notes and Pulpit addresses — fleckered lights and shadows — to use an expression of one of the greatest of our secular writers, "a web of day and night appropriately woven in the twilight." The selections are purposely given in fragmentary shape, didactic, descriptive, meditative — with no link of connection between them. Each is independent of what precedes or follows — Ripples of thought — nothing more.
Variety and brevity of statement are at times acceptable, when the sustained and amplified Discourse with its consecutive treatment is irksome.
These gleaned handfuls from Autumn fields, are humbly commended to the blessing of the Lord of the Harvest.
"JABEZ called on the God of Israel saying: 'Oh, that You would bless me indeed!' So God granted him what he requested." 1 Chronicles 4:10
There is much apparent good not worth calling by the name. What the world speaks of as blessings are, some of them, often worthless, and many of them positively evil and detrimental. They are counterfeits — they do not bear upon them the coinage and currency of Heaven. Satan has disguised them — stamped them as true metal — while they are base alloy!
Let us leave our blessings, and the method of their bestowal, with the Giver of every good and perfect gift — into His hand committing our earthly all, with this prayer of intense fervor yet of simple faith, "Oh that You would bless me indeed!" I want nothing which the world calls a blessing, unless You think it proper for me. I want no shadows — no baubles. I do not ask for riches — they may be a snare to me. I do not ask for . . .
the cup running over,
the barns full,
the fig-tree blossoming,
the home-nest without the thorn.
These might alienate me from Yourself, and bind me only closer to earth!
I want blessings indeed. God of Israel! I am no judge of this. Whatever YOU give, will be a true blessing to me. And even if You take it away — I will strive to believe that the dark, painful dealing, is Your kindness to me also.
Yes, we repeat, the world's pleasures are often curses in disguise — like Cleopatra's viper, which was hidden in a basket of flowers. There is often . . .
an adder lurking in the bed of roses,
a fly in the ointment,
poison in the wine-cup!
But the blessings of God are blessings bearing His own divine seal and signature. They may come . . .
in frowning providences,
in baffling dispensations,
in strokes of the chastening rod.
For the present they may seem not joyous, but grievous. But I am content to be in His hands — joyful or sorrowful, in health or in sickness, living or dying. O my Father, give Your own blessing, and I shall bow my head in submission; for I can only hear in it accents of paternal love!
WHAT A WONDERFUL SAVIOR! So mighty — yet so loving!
Spurning, indeed, all baseness and vileness, all mere lip-homage and hypocrisy.
Upsetting all false human ideals and empty philosophies.
At war with conventional empty religious rituals.
Denouncing every white-washed sepulcher that serves only to screen spiritual rottenness.
But welcoming . . .
many of those who were looked at askance by their fellows;
some who were the subjects of social ostracism;
those deemed fit only to be trampled, as bruised battered flowers, underneath the feet;
the repentant harlot and sinner, the prodigal, the outcast, the lost.
His heart is a very hive of tenderness . . .
washing His disciples' feet in token of humility;
standing by the grave of buried affection;
wiping away the tear of bereavement;
calming the paroxysms of untold sorrow;
arrested by the penitential sighings of the contrite spirit.
In a word, imparting . . .
rest to the weary and heavy-laden,
hope to the desponding,
sympathy to the mourner,
healing to the brokenhearted; and
finally showing, in the scenes of Gethsemane and Calvary which crowned that Incarnation of suffering love — what He the Divine Man could do and dare for perishing sinners.
The kindness of the kindest on earth has a limit — His had none.
Human affection and love may come and go — but His flows on forever!
"Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you!" Jeremiah 31:3
"WHAT is your life-mission?" Never heed how small. Enter upon it and do it. Be not deflected from the appointed path of service by the cynical verdict of man: but look to Him who understands the deeper movements and impulses of the soul, and the calls which to the world are inaudible.
HEAVEN will be the true Excelsior; where the unattained and unattainable present ideal of happiness will be reached and realized. All the spiritual forces within us will there and then be regathered — all the hamperings and hindrances of earth removed — all its wrongs redressed — and one continued progress maintained in the loftier sanctities of the soul — forever.
GOD IN NATURE! I love to trace there the footsteps of my Father! His watchful stars look down kindly and lovingly from their heights. There is a touch of beauty even in Alpine solitudes — the piles of driven snow like white mantles woven by angels; the translucent light of fairy grottoes, their roofs pendent with icicle, and distant or overhanging peaks gleaming with the gold of the morning, or with evening ruby. That great and wide sea, with its dancing waves and troughs of chameleon hue. The whisper of the forest and the sympathetic music of its million leaves. The pastures clothed with flocks, the valleys also covered over with grain. The sparkling rivulet winding its thread of silver, singing with gentle ripple, and taking its part in the blessing of Creation.
The Almighty has thus put His loving and creative thoughts into His world. We can devoutly say, "How precious also are Your thoughts unto me, O God; how great is the sum of them!"
Yes, with all this apparent to his vision, who can see and recognize the Great Ruler of all — only in mists and storms, the boom of the thunder, the flash of the lightning, the tremors of the earthquake, and the havoc of the avalanche? These are the abnormal occurrences in His mighty sway — a few exceptional notes in the great hymn and harmonies of eternal love.
"On either side of the river was the Tree of Life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." Revelation 22:2
Christ, the Tree of Life, has clustering on His branches twelve kinds of fruit!
Comfort for the mourner!
Support for the troubled!
Hope for the desponding!
Faith for the fainting!
Rest for the weary!
Salvation for the lost!
Joy in life!
Victory in death!
Triumph in eternity!
Who cannot sit down under the Beloved's shade with great delight?
"In His shade I took great delight and sat down, and His fruit was sweet to my taste!" Song of Songs 2:3
Our friend has left behind him the sealed testimony of a Christlike character. He was the subject of successive bereavements — crushing domestic sorrows. Yet he exhibited no impatient murmuring — but rather a spirit of devout and chastened resignation.
He had to bear what is worse than death to a tender and sensitive spirit — the consciousness of being deeply wronged, injured, and soiled — if such a soul as his could be called soiled — with the malignant breath of envy and slander! Yet he manifested no retaliation, no resentment — neither vindictiveness nor malevolence in thought or word. He endured in silence; his one solace and support, "Unto God I commit my cause."
His life was truly no blare of trumpet; rather the one long roll of the muffled drum, "beating funeral marches to the grave." But all was sanctified for his spiritual and eternal good.
Go to that quiet spot where he has the rest now, so long denied on earth, and read his epitaph, "Our light affliction works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!"
WE call that a beautiful life, which exists to make others happy.
I like to think of the silent soliloquies of the sickbed — the "song without words" which submission sings. The sufferer may not hear it — but the visitor to that darkened chamber does; and when the Sunday's sermon is forgotten, that of the couch of pain continues among the treasures of memory.
Life-long sufferers! — heroes and heroines of God, and patiently enduring for Christ's sake! — your existence may be misnamed an epic; but it is at all events a sweet idyl set to divinest music. Its chords are linked in the harmonies of creation.
LET us beware of treating any part of life-work or soul-work in a half-hearted way. Christ's last "well done" should apply to all present efforts in His cause, and in our relation to Him as His servants.
IN GOD'S WORLD — the wide human family — there is a variety of gifts, a happy diversity of capacities and endowments. We have minds where the reasoning powers preponderate; others, the imaginative; others, the aesthetic. Some are suited for a plodding life of business; others for a public exciting arena; others for the quiet of the study, maturing plans of usefulness in solitude and seclusion, working out great social problems, and adding to the wealth and wisdom of the body politic. But it is by the division of labor, and a combination — often a contrast — of mental qualities and moral forces, that the world moves on.
So in the Christian Church, alike among its pastors, and teachers, and private members. Each has his or her peculiar gift; and it behooves that this be willingly surrendered and consecrated for the good of the whole.
When a man finds out what his talent is — what niche in the spiritual Temple he has been called to fill — to that let him direct his Christian energies, for the honor and glory of the one Master. In the words of Peter, "As every one has received the gift, even so minister the same one to another."
THE CROSS is God's all-sufficient, satisfactory answer to the needs of the human soul.
WHAT spendthrifts of time we are! What waste and prodigality of golden opportunities! What aimless aspirations and foolish resolves! The one paramount, absorbing thought — SELF!
HOW great is the power of moral and spiritual influence! Some of us may have been gifted with an aged friend outside of the family circle, who has been for a quarter of a century in his grave. But in character he still lives and can never die. He exercised a mesmeric force and spell irresistible at the time, and as potent and irresistible as ever. He is dead. But he is still a living factor — a fixed star in the firmament.
So also with the truly great ones of the world. The departed Prince of these realms has been laid in his royal tomb for years. But he lives on to this hour, in the purity of the Court and the virtues of the nation he did so much to mold. The epitaph on his marble cenotaph at Windsor goes echoing down the ages, "I have fought the good fight!"
THERE was a quarrel once, between Impulse and Indolence. Indolence was very cynical and scornful with the former, saying, "You are far too loud and noisy for me — too rash and headstrong; carried away by momentary feelings — spasmodic — a mere tumult of emotion."
"Better that," replied the other, "than a lazy lounger in God's world, where there is so much work to do, and few caring to do it. I may, I confess, at times be hasty and inconsiderate; what some might call imprudent. But better that, than a "do nothing." Better even my noisy, muddy stream, which helps to clear the channel and turn mill-wheels of usefulness, than to be a stagnant
pool, festering and breeding corruption. Yes, thank you. I would rather be a bustling worker as I am, and sometimes stand being rebuked — than lie on a bed of sloth all day long humming the old monotone, "A little more sleep, a little more slumber; a little more folding of the hands to sleep."
"Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work." Exodus 36:2
PAINTING and SCULPTURE are in the noblest sense, and in their noblest phases, divine gifts of God. In the dawn of the world's civilization, Bezalel and Oholiab — the two wilderness sculptors — consecrated their genius to the highest ends. They are distinctly said to have been God-enabled. The Jehovah of Israel thus wedded Art to Religion, and gave the impressive testimony that the two are not to be regarded as incompatible and antagonistic.
True, Art may be debased and degraded. It may be devil-born and devil-trained. But it may be Godlike too, and minister to the glory of the Great Inspirer. Happy is that interpreter of creation, who can give this Godward and Heavenward look.
In our own day we have not a few preachers in canvas, stone, and marble. To take one of the most recent: Never was pulpit sermon delivered with more thrilling power, or more solemn appeal to the heart's deepest emotions, than in that sculpture by George Tinworth: "Our Lord on His Way to the Crucifixion" — a work which remarkably combines the reverence of piety, with the venturesomeness of genius.
THERE is a solemn period in everyone's existence, when the freshness of youth is over; when we feel ourselves as having gained the summit of the hill. It has been all climbing hitherto — the sunny side in life's early morning. But now the descent has commenced. The grand climax of life is reached and past. The sun is declining; and his lengthening shadows proclaim the approach of life's evening.
Happy those who, with the Unchanging Friend at their side, can say, "Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent."
OF all exquisite things in this world, to me flowers are the most exquisite. More than anything else, they seem to bear upon them the touch and impress of the Divine finger.
When the heart is sad; when "the flowers of the household" have faded; when friends grow faithless; and the world's outlook becomes cheerless; and the soul yearns for something outside itself to charm its sorrows away — try the soothing influence of a spring walk by the hedgerows, or a summer walk in the flower garden.
More far than books, or often strained and artificial human condolence, are these artless smiles of Heaven. Even their silent sympathy is welcome, as compared with the gush of unfelt words.
I never would for a moment say that these soulless, though lovely things, reach the true deeps of heart sorrow. Any little dewdrops of comfort they hold in their pure chalices sooner or later evaporate, "the flower fades." Rather let their earthly images of more enduring realities lead up to HIM who says, "I am the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley," the "WORD of God, who lives and abides forever."
WORDS reverberate through the ages — whether these are kind or cruel.
"But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned!" Matthew 12:36-37
"WILL a man rob God?" stealing from what we owe to daily duty and divine love?
WHAT a false standard money is: the length of the purse, "What is a man worth?" The golden key opens many a door at which intellect and culture knock, with their unjeweled fingers, in vain. Yet, when the rich man collapses, who had nothing but his wealth to prop him up — how ignominious and irreparable his fall! Depend upon it, sooner or later in the world's history, there will be a reversal of so base and mercenary a standard. Moral forces will at last gain the day over material and utilitarian ones.
The glories of the heavenly world are not recognizable now by the senses. With regard to them, we walk by faith, and not by sight. But blessed is the man who, though he has never listened to its music, or got one glimpse within its gates — can yet rest in the sure and certain hope that, "Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in Heaven, not built by human hands!" He has never yet seen the summits of the everlasting hills rising beyond the shores of time — yet he points his bark and steers there, confident in the correctness of the Bible chart!
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal!" 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
"Are not THE GLEANINGS OF EPHRAIM'S GRAPES, better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer?" Judges 8:2
In other words, the smallest experience of the joys of God's people — mere gleanings — is worth far more than the richest world-clusters!
The cry of the sated, wearied voluptuary is, "Who will show us any good? I have gone the round of earthly pleasures, and I have been cheated and duped and disappointed!"
"Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, O LORD!" is the prayer of the believer. Your pleasures can never mock nor fail me. Other streams may dry up in their channels — but with You is the Fountain of life.
"Many are saying, 'Who will show us any good?' Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, O LORD! You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound!" Psalm 4:6-7
NEVER despise little duties, little deeds, little kindnesses, because they are small.
AMONG the teeming ranks of the glorified, what a special place in the van of the great army should be assigned to Christian mothers! How many names would we miss in the roll of Christian heroes and heroines — but for them!
A writer notes a bright galaxy of such stars seen within a brief period in the Church's firmament. Nonna, the mother of Gregory or Nazianzen, was training him for Christ from his cradle upwards. Monica, with all her fond maternal hopes apparently wrecked, prayed on unceasingly until her petitions issued in the consecration of Augustine to the Master's service. Anthusa, the mother of Chrysostom, molded by her teaching and example the Great Christian Father who swayed so many thousands by his golden tongue.
O mothers! what you have done for us all! Your voices may for long have been hushed in the grave — but your words have still wings. Your influence of warning and comfort and love is with us and around us now. What shrines on earth have such divine images as yours?
ONE victory over sin; who can estimate the moral results?
YES, you may do without your Bibles in the heyday of prosperity; when the sun shines, and the birds sing, and not a breath ruffles the surface of your summer sea. You may then possibly afford to rest satisfied with barren theoretic views, or the chill of skeptic creed — to regard the sacred Oracles as the effete record of a bygone economy — antiquated sophistries — some writings of Palestine peasants and fishermen which the superstition of an after age has palmed upon a too credulous world.
But wait until the sky is clouded, and the wind moans, and the hurricane of trial is let loose; and where are you without these discredited pages then? No poetry, no philosophy can hush the sorrows and satisfy the yearnings of the crushed and broken spirit, as that Book of books has done. When no other remedy is of any avail, it has put courage into fainting hearts, and peace into troubled hearts, and hope into despairing hearts.
Greece and Rome! Socrates, Cicero, and Plato! You have, we allow, served us heirs to many golden maxims — beautiful fantasies which read pleasingly in the sunshine, lulled by the ripples of the brook and the music of the grove — life all ecstasy and rapture. But for the soul which in its hour of bitter desolation craves for realities — commend me to the Psalms of David and the promises of Isaiah — above all, to the living, loving balm-words of Him who said, "Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Every other world-oracle is either speechless, or its utterances are perplexing, dubious, misleading. But "Your testimonies are very sure." "The Word of the Lord is tried." "This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your Word has quickened me!"
"Read, read the Bible!" said William Wilberforce on his deathbed. "Through all my perplexities and distresses I never read any other book, and I never feel the need of any other."
AFTER a whole day's trilling and warbling, filling grove after grove with a gush of song, I like to see the birds in the golden twilight sink into their well-earned nest of repose.
This is an emblem of the godly man's existence and its close. After long years on the wing of duty and obedience and love — a song-life of cheerfulness, making the little world of his influence better and happier — he gladly obeys the call of sundown — the summons of the curfew-bell. The last warble, as the wings are folded in the hush of eventide, with the death-shadows falling around, is, "Return unto your rest, O my soul." "So He gives His beloved sleep!"
IT was a saying of M'Cheyne's, that kings and potentates are only like Hiram's workmen in Lebanon, unconsciously cutting down trees for the uprearing and beautifying of God's spiritual Temple.
WHO does not love to watch and admire the sublimity of the clouds? The most unobservant eye cannot behold, without admiration, this gorgeous and ever-changing panorama which has the vault of Heaven for its canvas, and God for its Painter. Look at yonder deepening thunder-clouds, like the mustering of celestial squadrons forming in the ranks of battle; now combining in new and weird forms of sublimity and grandeur. Or look at these cumulus clouds of a summer day — pile on pile — in wild, fantastic confusion, as if the battlements and bastions of Eternity! How do earth's Alps dwindle into mole-heaps beside them!
Or, look at the glories of the western sky! Who can wonder that heathen mythology imagined it the couch of a divinity — his pillow vermilion and emerald and crimson; the golden meteor-clouds his curtains, or the flaming torches of guardian spirits keeping wakeful vigils around the slumberer!
And yet, O God! how great must You be; for these clouds are but the dust of Your feet!
LIKE the pious Ezra, when he gathered his exiled band by the banks of the river Ahava, on the eve of their pilgrimage — let us, in every momentous crisis hour of life, invoke the blessing and guidance of our God, "and seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance" (Ezra 8:21).
IT was only last week that a general census was ordered of this city and this kingdom. Take a census of the dead as well as of the living. Go, send your numerators to that silent land where there are no strifes, no magistrates, no feuds — no pangs, no sorrows — tell them to take pen and ink-horn and schedule, and make the scrutiny!
How many repented on their deathbeds?
How many died different to what they had lived?
How many carried their gold with them beyond Jordan?
More than all — how many mourned that they had not sooner given heed to the things which belong to their everlasting peace; that they had not lived wiser, nobler, kinder, better lives? That they had to bewail forfeited opportunities — the season of which is irreparably past?
Another vision still, flits before me. I see in the dim vista of the future, Creation's Great Census-Day; when the Throne shall be set and the Books opened. Oh, when the Angel enumerators shall unseal the Registers of Judgment, and the cities of the nations, "the dead, small and great," shall stand before God, where shall my name be? Shall its entry be found "written in the Lamb's Book of Life"?
THAT verse shines like a star in the twilight sky, "At evening time it shall be light."
"MY FATHER" is the sweetest, most glorious name and word in all Scripture. Away with the teachings that would represent the Infinite One as an unapproachable Being, wielding the bolts of Olympus or encompassed with the thunders of Sinai; with a reserve of awful power. The Divine "Fatherhood" was Christ's special revelation.
WE have been speaking of the self-renouncing, sin-renouncing publican of Jericho. Let us listen to the avowal of some equally genuine modern Zaccheus — a wholly changed man — with the ring of a true penitence in lip and life: "I was once sour and sulky and passionate; I am now seeking at least to be meek and gentle, kindly and forgiving. I was once a hoarding, grasping money-maker. I had no heart for a charitable deed; I despised and neglected and disowned my poor brother. Now, I have learned, it may be still partially and imperfectly, in the school of unselfishness — the School of Christ — that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I was once a heartless unfeeling extortioner, dishonest, trading on others' characters and goods. Now I loathe the retrospect of a disreputable past. Nor is it with me a mere dreamy intention. I have not simply bequeathed my goods, my fortune — these possessions are not merely engrossed in my settlements, when I have no more use for them and when they no more belong to me. With God's help, I seek to do justly and to love mercy. Let there be a fourfold restitution. The Lord loves, not a cheerful Intender — but a cheerful Giver, a generous Doer.
In a word, the penurious tax collector becomes the lavish-souled Christian. That is conversion, and nothing else is.
THERE have been moral wrecks, marvelously pieced together again; lost character regained by strenuous effort and self-sacrificing deed. It is to be owned, such are few; but, among the few, are some of the moral heroes of the world. Those fallen in the battle of life, stung with self-reproach, rise with the sword clenched more firmly in their grasp, resolved to be Great Hearts in the strife — to "do or die." Thanks be to God for such names on His roll-call. "Out of weakness, they were made strong."
WHAT an example was that Divine Man of Nazareth! — healing the sick — aiding the mendicant — calming the bereaved — restoring the dying — taking children in His arms — nay, the whole world of weary, aching, despairing, dying humanity!
THAT must have been a startling announcement made by our Blessed Lord to His disciples, near the close of His ministry, "It is expedient for you that I go away!"
He, the great Physician, had come to heal the world's festering sores. He was scattering unknown blessings all around. Can it be, that no sooner have mankind heard His gentle voice — listened to His gracious beatitudes, and felt the healing touch — than He is gone! Is He only to be as a bright meteor darting athwart earth's troubled sky, and leaving behind it a darkness more felt? What! "depart," when none but He — none as He — can wipe the fevered brow and dry the falling tear! No wonder — weeping, orphaned ones! that when "He said these things, sorrow filled your hearts."
But — But, said the departing Savior — I will not leave you orphans; I will not leave you comfortless. I will not leave you a scattered, deserted, shepherdless, unbefriended flock in the midst of the desert? Nay, He follows up the announcement of His own departure by a still stranger assurance: that that departure was to be their gain, that there was a mighty Gift contingent on His absence, which would more than indemnify the Church for His personal withdrawal.
"Be of good cheer," He seems to say; "if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you." How fondly, like a father addressing his children when his dying hour approaches, does He love to dwell on this coming of the Paraclete! Although His own untold sufferings, Gethsemane's Garden and Calvary's Cross, were casting their awful shadows on His path — still does He love to linger on this all-engrossing theme. With what a burst of especial joy, and almost triumph, does He see the spirit of evil and darkness exorcized by the Omnipotent Spirit of power and light and love! "Now is the judgment of this world, now is the Prince of this world cast out."
When He had ascended on high, as the great Angel-Intercessor, this, doubtless, according to the farewell promise, was the first prayer presented on the Golden Altar, "I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Comforter . . . even the Spirit of truth . . . that He may abide with you forever." When that prayer was answered at Pentecost, was it not a Divine proof and pledge to His people in every age, that if God granted the mightiest of Gifts, the Church might feel confident that her adorable Head would be denied no inferior blessing; that as a Prince He would have power, and at all times prevail?
THESE fatal lapses of the soul! May they not have been permitted to give you a keener and deeper dissatisfaction and distrust with yourself, and drive you straight to the grace of Jesus?
AMID the discords and disharmonies, the changes and severances of life, O to hear the Divine Pacifier, "I will never leave you nor forsake you!"
IT is a signal honor to be an arrow in the Almighty's Quiver.
BE ever bringing in fresh fuel for the altar of thanksgiving, "Your mercies are new every morning."
TRUST your Heavenly Pilot, and you will ride out the storm.
EVERY Christian's home should be rainbow, spanned with the seven true prismatic colors of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, and faithfulness.
DO not be dependent on frames and feelings. You cannot always live in the sunshine.
THE ploughshare of affliction turns up the sod, and we cast the seed into the furrows which it makes.
GOD'S guardian angels will never fold their wings until they carry you safe into the beatific Presence.
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing!" 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
WHAT is soaring intellect, without the loving heart?
What is the gift of prophecy, without the loving heart?
What is an angel's eloquence, without the loving heart?
What are the mere externals of religion, without the loving heart?
What are outward gifts, compared to spiritual graces?
What is the mere casket, compared to the jewel?
The Apostle tells us, "sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal."
Love was man's religion in Paradise, in a state of innocence. Love is the religion of the angels now in Heaven. Love will be the religion of the redeemed in the New Jerusalem.
HE is the poorest of votaries, who worships the man of wealth for wealth's sake. Ingots perish; crowns and coronets fade; virtue and goodness are alone immortal.
"As one whom his mother comforts." This is God's picture and emblem of His own great loving self.
THE nightingale and the glow-worm have each distinct places in their little realms — and these are entirely different. So have you and I.
THE pious man is not the man of rapturous frames, Scripture texts, gushing experiences, voluble talk. The stream of the true spiritual life is too deep to be noisy. It is recognized by the green strip of verdure which marks its silent course, and the flowers of faith, hope, and charity, beautifying its margin.
OFTEN do we hear the lamentation of earnest souls: "How little have I done for Christ, and, alas! how little can I do! Whatever my wish, my aim, my aspiration may be — my opportunities are few, my sphere is limited, troubling yet unavoidable restraints are put upon me. I am like a bird willing to fly — but the wings are broken, or left to beat in vain against the wires of the enclosing cage. Others around me are doing something at least. They have their place, however subordinate, in the ranks of the great army: mine, however reluctantly, is a negative influence — I must almost speak of a useless life!"
Let me say in reply. First, Your heart is in the right direction; and that is everything with Him who knows the heart and weighs it in the balances of righteousness. I often think of the comfort there is, to many such as you, in the words God addressed of old to His servant David: "For as much as it was in your heart to build a house for My name, you did well that it was in your heart" (2 Chronicles 6:8).
Then I would further say, Religion has not its only development, I might even say its best development, in bustling activities and conspicuous deeds. There is abundant room, and none will disparage their sphere and their efforts, for the Peters and the Marthas of the Church — lives of usefulness and indomitable energy. But there is space, and equal welcome also, for the Johns and the Marys — those who, owing, it may be, to the restraints of Providence, or to the necessities of their position, or even personal disqualifications, can do little in the way of hero deed or bold achievement — but whose place is at the Master's feet, lowly, meek, submissive, unselfish — their phase of the religious life not that of public action but, of silent character.
Yes, there is even a word of comfort and heart-cheer for those who may be called the unwilling "Men of Meroz," those who, it may be, brand themselves as the "Do nothings," of the Church — hampered by adverse and inauspicious circumstances, which debar them from active effort in which they see others engaged.
The silent, the passive, the undemonstrative have their allotted mission.
Let me give a better and more inspiriting illustration. A soldier is not less a soldier — he is not one whit less of a brave man, because in a time of peace his sword slumbers in its scabbard, instead of being unsheathed in active warfare. He may have opportunities of exhibiting his heroic qualities apart altogether from the assault of fortress or the din of battle.
So is it with the Christian. In some lonely, inconspicuous sphere — with no chivalrous deed emblazoned on his banner, but manifesting the loyal spirit — unflinching adherence to duty and to God — the softening, subduing, transforming, elevating power of the Gospel in his own heart and life — away from publicity and the eye of man, he may be doing true soldier's work in the sight of the Great Captain of salvation. The world, though he knows it not, is the better for him while he lives, and will mourn him when he dies.
EVERY true spiritual joy you experience here, is a sip from the heavenly fountain.
LITTLE did Job think of the thousands who would take heart and hope from his words, "Though He slays me — yet will I trust in Him."
YOU remember your dear mother, who first stirred the ripples of love in your heart. She is gone — but her influence and lessons survive. That ripple flows on forever.
WHEN in any difficulty or perplexity regarding the path of duty, ask, "How would my Lord and Savior have acted if He were here in my place?"
NEVER speak of the trees of the forest in winter as dead. The leaf falls; but a life-germ is left behind — the pledge and harbinger of a leafy resurrection.
At death, the mortal part drops away like the autumn foliage — but the true life is hid with Christ in God. It cannot die. It only waits for the immortal spring-time.
How partially do we apprehend all connected with that great spiritual enigma — the dismissal of the soul at the hour of death — the immortal tenant leaving its clay tabernacle! The final struggle is seen, and no more. The pulse ceases to beat — the eyes close — the conflict terminates. Often it is but a sleep — when the hour and moment of departure are unnoted and undiscerned. A silent scene. It is so on earth. But who can tell — who can penetrate the full mystery of that hour? Troops of angels, like those mustered
around the rude pillow of Lazarus at the gate of Dives, carry the soul up to the gate of Heaven; and as the everlasting portals close behind, faith listens to the welcome, "Enter into the joy of your Lord!"
Farther, however, we cannot go. How many unsolved questions and mysteries hover around that closed gate, longing for solution! How or where the spirit lives? By what new principles of being it exists? Whether it have a full recognition of saints above and saints below? What relation it bears to — what interest it bears in — the crumbling body it has left behind? Whether it be located in a particular region of space; or, gifted with volition — sent at times in messages of mercy to its former earth — bending in sympathetic interest over loved ones there — or, a wider range still — a delegated messenger of love to far distant worlds?
Blessed be God, however, we do know, with regard to the disembodied spirit, what is enough "WITH CHRIST, which is far better." "This is life eternal, to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."
This is the crown and consummation of all knowledge regarding future bliss; in comparison with which other questions and mysteries sink and vanish, "So shall we EVER be with the Lord!"
SATAN may now be very busy — but triumphant he never can be. God's embattled hosts are marching round the world with songs of victory. The ultimate conquest of their Great Captain is assured.
You may have heard of the LOADSTONE ISLAND, covered with vegetation of rarest beauty, and wafting for miles around delightful fragrance — yet with unknown and perilous stores of magnetism lurking in its rocks. The unwary vessel, with its iron keel and girders, was only too easily lured to destruction.
Just so, sin has many allurements charming the soul to forbidden anchorage. Beware of the magnetism of evil which lurks, all unseen, in many a seductive nook of pleasure. Never were four truer words spoken, "The deceitfulness of sin!"
AFFLICTION! It is God's footsteps below the tree, sending the soul, like the bird, upwards from twig to twig and from branch to branch; until, reaching the topmost bough of all, it takes wing and goes singing up to the blue sky, with no perch short of the Gates of Heaven!
THAT will be a solemn day when we come to give our final accounting — faithful or unfaithful stewards.
CLEAR the window of the soul of cobwebs, spider-weaved by prejudice and unbelief and sin; that through Faith's crystalline atmosphere, you may look through the Gate into the Heavenly city!
I WOULD like to build my house in the street of Contentment, with Faith, Hope, and Charity as my neighbors — and the family of Self at the far end of the row.
IT must have been a wonderful joy to King David, sitting in the cedar-gallery of his palace in Zion, harp in hand, to compose or sing those lovely Psalms. What would he have thought, had he known that each one of them was to be invested with a divine mission embracing three millenniums — carrying music, now to sick-pillows; now to martyrs; now to sailors, in their hour of peril on the deep; now to soldiers, composing themselves for their last sleep on the battle-plains; now lisped by a child at its mother's knee! Oh these Psalms! how priceless the legacy to the Church of God!
"LIVING EPISTLES" Blessed be God, there are those Autographs of Christ scattered all the world over. We have seen them in lordly halls and dwellings of affluence. But we have found them, too, in the counting-house, the workshop, the kitchen — oftenest of all in peasant homes, under thatched roofs and smoky rafters. Poverty and Old Age sit by the living book — yet radiant with the unmistakable features of the divine brotherhood and sisterhood — the peace of God in the heart shining outward in eye and lip and feature, "known and read of all men."
Then death comes as a beautiful Postscript to the life-long Epistle; and, despite of cheerless and unlovely surroundings, looking steadfastly on such, we have seen their face as it had been the face of an Angel.
AS soon will oil and water mingle and coalesce, as sin and holiness co-exist in the same heart.
IT is a miserable thing to damage a reputation, or to consign an erring soul to the abandonment of despair. It is a divine thing, if not to extenuate faults, at least to cast the robe of charity over a multitude of sins, and help an injured, or weak, or erring brother. The world's way too often is, "Trample on the blighted, battered flower. Let it gasp and pine unhelped in the sunless shade, or noisome pit."
The Godlike and the Christlike way is to bind its shattered stem: to let in upon its soiled draggled petals and blanched leaves, the light and warmth of day and the reviving dews of Heaven.
The world's heartless verdict too often is, "Leave it to perish." That of One, "not of the world," is, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more!"
"DEATH and life are in the power of the tongue." Well did the poet speak of "Winged words." These uncaged things, once they take flight, cannot be recalled. They issue forth, either on a mission of evil — or, as messengers, it may be, of countless blessings!
THE modern Dagon of the world is proteus-shaped Selfishness. When will it be broken in pieces before the Ark of God?
BEWARE of a life of fitful impulse. Live and act on sustained principle.
INDIRECT INFLUENCE! Unknown to us, the seed we have imagined lost, has been blown hither and thither by the winds of God, planting itself by the wayside and in stony places. Most wondrous thought of all, when we are in our graves it is growing still; it has taken root in human hearts. When our harvest sickles are laid aside forever, others may be reaping golden grain which we have sown. The alabaster vase of Bethany is broken — but the house continues to be filled with the fragrance of the ointment.
OH that false standard and estimate, "What is a man's money-worth?" The worth of a man depends on what he is. Gold cannot hide vulgarity or immorality. Character, Integrity, Unselfishness, Purity, Truth — are the only wealth known in the currency of Heaven. "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses."
"THE Valley of the Shadow of Death." God's two Angels of the Psalm (Goodness and Mercy) have built a golden viaduct across it.
"THE Lamb in the midst of the Throne" is the keynote to the eternal song — the refrain in the Psalm of Heaven which is to roll on forever.
SOME men are content to resemble the Pyramids — bare all the way to the summit, not so much as a plant or bit of lichen in their interstices.
How much nobler, how much better, to be like some Alpine slopes, that have their nakedness clothed with moss, embroidered with wild-flowers, or shaded with pines. That is the true Christian, of whom it may be written, "Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God."
PEEVISHNESS! Nurse it when you are young, and it will become an avenging angel to you in old age!
THAT dark future, with its mazy, labyrinthine windings — who can thread or penetrate it? Unknown to us, it is known to Him. Let us leave it in His hands!
THERE is no nobler thing than wealth, honestly and laudably earned, consecrated to the good of man and the glory of God. It is a river which gladdens with its golden volume the arid wastes of human life which he so close to its banks on either side.
On the other hand, nothing is so despicable as wealth easily or ignobly won, clutched with avaricious fingers — a dull, stagnant stream, that leaves neither fertility, nor gratitude, nor joy behind it.
Miser! What a significant name of reproach and pity.
TAKE care that you be not as fruitless trees, doing no good yourselves, and screening the fructifying sunlight from others.
NOTHING is more enviable, than to be enshrined in the love and in the memories of the Christian poor.
DYING! what is it? To shut out the black night, and join the fireside circle of your Father's eternal Home.
SEND an invalid a flower, if you can do nothing else. It is not the value of the gift — but the remembrance, which takes a sunbeam with it.
WHAT is often thought of as spiritual desertion is often the result of miserable morbid introspection. It may even be caused by a noxious east wind, and lowness and depression of the physical system. The soul is the slave of the body; the equilibrium of the one affecting that of the other, so that often the true and efficacious cure for spiritual depression is an invigorating walk, or a change of window to a southern exposure.
NOTHING to me is sadder, or more unprofitable, in our pulpits, than the oft monotonous organ-grinding of doctrine, without a word of guidance for the daily life and daily walk. That is the truest Sunday oratory, though spoken with a child's simplicity, which stirs the heart to noble purpose, kindles it with the enthusiasm of humanity, and turns the triumphs of Satan into defeats.
"I WILL be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more." What a ripple of divine music! Let it flow on, carrying joy and hope and peace to drooping flowers by the edge of life's stream.
THE sacred shrine of all thoughts is Home. There is music in that word which no other has. No song so stirs the heart, all the world over, as "Home, sweet Home." Let the earthly be a pledge of the heavenly, whose music is eternal.
IT is little short of a catastrophe in nature, when there occurs a visit of unexpected frost in early May; blighting buds of promise, or scattering the coral and pearly blossoms of apple or peach on the ground. What an emblem of the blighting of a young soul! the blossoms of early innocence fallen, never to be replaced!
THERE is no trial to be compared with the treachery of trusted friends. The pang of bereavement is unspeakable — but it ever carries with it the solace and mitigation, that it is God-appointed. "Let me fall into the hand of God, for His mercies are great; and let me not fall into the hand of man." Even the Divine Human Sufferer found this an affliction specially hard to bear. "If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, my companion, my close friend!" Many have carried that poisoned shaft lacerating to the last, when other heart-wounds had been healed.
WHAT can best put to rout and discomfiture "devil-born" fears and doubts? My Father! It is the one word which fetches back the Prodigal, and sings him home.
THE cynical poet says, "Old age is dark." The Christian's life refutes the calumny. The last beams of day, are the golden ones. At the same time while we say so, do not delay seeking the joys of religion until old age. Some of God's sweetest song-birds are only heard in spring and summer.
"EVERY good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights" James 1:17
Let us cherish the simple thought that all our blessings are from God. Everything we have emanates from Him, and wears the impress of His love — from the humblest crumb of providential bounty, to the richest blessing of His grace in Jesus.
How apt we are to live and act as if it were otherwise — to speak of my health, my strength, my riches, my household treasures. How prone are we to live independent of Him, forgetful of the Hand which fills our cup, and interweaves our life with happiness. Whatever our prized possession may be — it is His giving. It was He who planted. It is He who waters every moment — who nurtures and fosters delicate stem and leaf and bud and fruit, lest anything may hurt it. Away with that guilty atheism which dethrones God from the sovereign control over His own world — which speaks of chance, good luck, good fortune, happy coincidences.
Rather, strive to inscribe above every loan given to you by the Great Proprietor, "This also comes from the Lord Almighty!"
I WOULD rather be the means of binding up one broken heart — than of holding thousands spellbound by what is called "pulpit eloquence." Oh, the luxury and privilege of being the Almoner and Dispenser of God's Gilead-balm!
THE noblest characters are those who have steered the life-vessel through stormiest seas. A bed of down never nurtured a great soldier yet!
IN the world God does no more than finish the outline — the completed painting will be the work of eternity. Here in this world, is the tuning of the musical instruments — often grating, hard, dissonant. The glorious outburst of harmony is reserved for Heaven and its great Hallelujah chorus.
HEALTH is seldom thought of as such — but it is undoubtedly one of God's most precious gifts, for the use of which we are solemnly accountable.
IT is a miserable existence that of the man or woman who keep their household in a perpetual fever and worry — harsh in temperament, impatient of control — self-assertive and absolute; brooking no contradiction. Yet often found, in the presence of strangers, full of artificial suavities and painted smiles. Out and away with them!
On the other hand, how sweet those angel-faces, guileless of artifice and mannerism, full of cunning expedients to make all around them happy — their presence and touch erasing the furrows from anxious brows, their very voice a sustained ripple of music, and yet the stream too deep and true to be noisy. Thank God for such living, loving, abiding testimonies to the beauty which still lingers in our humanity!
ENOCH walked with God. Godward, heavenward, homeward, all the way.
LITTLE influences! The tiny snowflake with its feathery touch loads the avalanche and buries the forest.
MANY of the world's pleasures are like dewdrops, beautiful to look at and admire. They vanish at a touch.
THE Lord Jesus Christ stood aloof from all mere questions of Christian sophistry. He inculcated great principles. "Be kind," "be true," "be pure," "be unselfish," "be generous." "Take up the Cross." "Follow me."
"God, who is rich in MERCY!" Ephesians 2:4
MERCY! It is a sinner's word. A child can lisp it — but an archangel cannot fathom it!
"The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy!" Psalm 103:8
BEREAVED ones! Your clouds of present sorrow have always their silver lining. Look to Him whom one of the old divines calls your "Upmaking Portion." Go, weary soul, sob yourself to rest in the bosom of God and in the Peace of Christ!
MANY good and profitable biographies have been written — but how many still better there are unwritten — records of quiet, saintly lives known only to God and the angels. In Heaven's library, there are many choice biographies the world has never heard of. We may come to read them some day there.
HAPPY is that man whose selflessness takes the form of loving all around him and increasing their happiness!
THE world's conventional verdict spurns away both prodigal and penitent. Not so Christ. His words are, "Bring forth the best robe!" "Neither do I condemn you!"
"KEEP your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life!" Proverbs 4:23
Leave the heart to itself — untrained, unlopped, unpruned, uncultured — and you will soon have a wild wilderness; an aggregate of distorted ugliness — the home and haunt of all venomous things! We must lay the axe to the root of every evil habit and debasing passion!
"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry!" Colossians 3:5
IN that great block of uncut marble, there is, in the mind of the sculptor, a slumbering angel. As chip by chip flies off, the form becomes crudely and slowly developed. In the course of time — after months of long labor — his conception is realized; the masterpiece is completed.
God is the Supreme Artist, and it is very often by the chisel and mallet of affliction that He is now fabricating and fashioning His people for Heaven. Not angels of dumb insensate marble — but ministering ones to do His pleasure. The tools are in His hands. Let us trust Him that no stroke is unnecessary or redundant in the working out of His own Divine ideal, which is nothing short of this, "that you may be conformed to the image of His Son."
"Now He who has fashioned us ('chiseled' — so the word means) for this very thing is God." (2 Corinthians 5:5)
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." John 15:1-2
TRUE RELIGION imparts new instincts, touches new chords, evokes slumbering harmonies hitherto unfelt. The natural man does not perceive the things of the Spirit of God — they are foolishness to him. They are spiritually discerned. They require new organs of spiritual touch and vision, to understand and appreciate them.
The deer that came bounding down through the forest glades, to drink at eve the waterbrooks, could refresh itself at the stream and satisfy natural cravings. But it was capable of no more. Though with eyes to see and ears to hear, it would discern no beauty in rock or tree, or silver ripple, or golden sunset gleaming through the oaks and terebinths.
But David, that dethroned minstrel, with the Harp of Zion in his hand, despite of sadness of heart, could drink in inspiration at every turn in these same picturesque wilds. Page on page of beauty was unfolded to his discerning spirit, and made him, despite of himself, an adoring worshiper of the unseen yet ever-present God. He would note the finger of Jehovah in the penciling of every flower, and hear the accents of Jehovah alike in the murmuring stream and the muttering thunder, and see the might of Jehovah in the everlasting hills. As he afterwards came to say, "The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon!" Psalm 29:4, 5
"He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work!" Psalm 104:10-13
Let it be our prayer to have this new spiritual organism — this diviner inspiration — imparted to us, regarding the interests of the Soul and Salvation. The unaided human vision cannot reach the stars of God. But He provides, for those who seek it, a moral telescope by which the veiled heavens become luminous with glory. He has revealed them unto us by His Spirit. "Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law." "That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him!' But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit." 1 Corinthians 2:9-10
MANY may recall a unique memory in crossing the great mountain highways between Switzerland and Italy — the frequent Hospices erected for storm-beaten or belated travelers.
God has provided similar spiritual shelters from life's wintry tempest and drifting snows. Many a gracious Hospice has He upreared on those moral heights which must be crossed before reaching the Celestial City. Best of all is the revelation and reality of the Divine-Human Shelter: "A MAN shall be as a hiding-place from the wind and as a covert from the tempest!"
"FOR we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are!" Hebrews 4:15
Oh, the tenderness of Christ to the afflicted — the orphaned — the widowed — the broken-hearted!
Alas! in the case of some of His people, this tenderness is conspicuous by its absence. Many intrude with harsh sayings in the unspeakably sacred hour of bereavement — all unconscious of the sanctity of human grief. One has little patience for those who have never known a shadow of sadness in their lives, dilating glibly on the bliss of chastisement, and the unchristian folly and rebellion of giving way to sorrow.
How one longs, then, for the presence and the word of some aged, tried pilgrim, who can speak tremblingly through his tears as he recalls the hushed music of earth — emptied chairs in his household, and more than one vacant niche in his own heart's sanctuary.
All sermons on sorrow, ought only to be delivered by those who have been trained in the school of sorrow. It ought to be forbidden ground to the uninitiated.
This is what makes the Divine sympathy of the Prince and King of sufferers so precious — that He knows it all by experience as the Brother-Man. He has drunk of every sorrow-brook along the way!
THE pride of title and the pride of riches — hereditary rank — high-sounding names — barns filled to repletion — piles of hoarded gold — these are the world's coveted possessions!
Pause and ask, will these bribe death?
Will these arrest the winged arrow in its flight?
Will these ferry a man easier across Jordan?
No! The monarch and the slave — the king and the peasant — the millionaire and the beggar are the same at last!
But, here is a glorious title — enduring riches which death cannot rob, and the grave cannot spoil, "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is!" 1 John 3:2
"In Your presence is fullness of joy! At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore!" Psalm 16:11
GOD keep us from such a retrospect — duties evaded — capacities wasted — opportunities neglected — the God-given life slipping away from our grasp.
Oh, my brethren, let us "redeem the time" while redemption is yet possible.
WE patrol the deeds and doings of our neighbors, rather than keep scrutinizing vigils over our own. "Physician, heal yourself!"
"LOVE thinks no evil" 1 Corinthians 13:5
That is, the loving man is not of a suspicious disposition. He does not make his soul a storehouse in which to treasure up revengeful thoughts and purposes. He is one who puts the kindest interpretation on people, on words, on actions. He takes the bright view of a doubtful word or equivocal deed, scorning to propagate the hurtful or malicious story, shielding a neighbor's character when slanderously assailed. With God's own heavenly mantle, he covers a multitude of sins!
"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins!" 1 Peter 4:8
NOT to selfishly enjoy life — but to employ life for the glory of God, and the good of others — ought to be our aim and aspiration.
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do — do it all for the glory of God!" 1 Corinthians 10:31
GOD has not robed His material world in sackcloth. It is woven in sunbeams, with a thousand lovely colors and designs, as if tapestried by angels.
He does not mean it to be different with His new creation. The world of grace is not a world of gloom. "Serve the Lord with gladness." The one creation should be as full of smiles and warblings and tuneful ripples as the other.
LIVE near to Christ now, if you would go singing up to the gate of Heaven at last.
YOUR life is not like the fragments of colored glass in a kaleidoscope, gliding into random, capricious forms and patterns. It is a plan of God.
MUCH here on earth is a mysterious language to us. It will all be translated in Heaven.
NO cathedrals are half so beautiful, as God's forest-sanctuaries, with their mosaic-pavement of moss and turf and lichen, their clerestory windows of interlacing bough and branch, pierced with the undimmed blue of Heaven, and their unsurpliced choristers, the winged warblers of wood and dell.
WHEN the Divine Spirit comes down in the day of His power, how mighty the influence even of feeble words! How often, when the servant of God draws the bow with a trembling hand, does the Holy Spirit send the arrow direct home to some conscience, eliciting the cry, "What must I do to be saved?"
DO not make unclouded or unruffled prosperity your chief aspiration. There is danger in it. As an old divine says, "It is on the smooth ice we slip."
HOW remarkable, how beautiful it is, at the close of the lives of the holiest and the best, that what may be called the simplicities of the Gospel are those most treasured and felt. The veteran champions go back to their child-faith; they love, above all other, to sing as their vesper hymn, what was the song by their mother's knee, "How sweet the name of Jesus sounds."
Oh! stray, and still straying wanderer from the fold, why linger shivering on these heights where winter sways his icy scepter? The green pastures and the still waters invite you to shelter and repose in the lower valley.
"NEARER Heaven and nearer God" is the life and prayer of the true Christian — and the aspiration is increased and intensified with the progress of years. The falling of cherished leaves — the absence of familiar boughs — permits God's sunset-beams the better to reach him, and glorify and gladden his own departure.
WOUNDED vanity and disappointed ambition — what weights and clogs these often are in our heavenward sowings!
SOME people you meet with have no backbone, no moral strength to rise with the occasion. They are molluscs, not men — the Meroz-cowards and do-nothings of the Church and of the world.
NOTHING is sadder, than to see what was once a beautiful countenance, scarred, not with honorable wounds — but with the dishonorable ones of vice and profligacy, peevishness, petulance, and discontent.
Nothing more lovely, than to see what once was inexpressive and commonplace, transfigured with love and sympathy and tenderness — the foreglow and taste of a coming Heaven.
MANY seem, on false principle, to live as joyless lives as they can. Just as we fling a cover over a bird's cage to prevent it singing — so do they throttle and kill every song in the house of their pilgrimage.
"FOR the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God!" 1 Corinthians 1:18
It will never cease to be one of the marvels of Christianity, that her antidotes are the same in every climate, every age, every bosom. Just as the chemist can infallibly pronounce on the action of the various elements he throws into his crucible — so in the Gospel crucible, cast the human heart in its every form and type, that of . . .
the degraded African,
the superstitious Hindu,
the ferocious Arab,
the reprobate European —
the Gospel of Christ, by a heavenly alchemy, melts that heart! It dissolves . . .
the pride of reason,
the power of superstition,
the curse and misery of vice!
It is the only universal balsam!
It was tried . . .
on the fishermen of Galilee,
on the wayside beggars of Judea,
on Roman soldiers and
on crouching slaves.
It was tried on the great persecutor of the church — and by him on the disciples of Plato on Mars Hill. It was tried amid the tears of Bethany — and amid the courtly splendor and uncongenial influences of Caesar's household. And in not one of all these varied cases, has it failed!
The king clothed in ermine,
the pauper clothed in rags,
the statesman in his senate-house,
the merchant at his desk,
the artisan in his workshop,
the cottager at her wheel —
all feel the power of the same Gospel, all own the beauteous simplicity of the same healing words, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ — and you shall be saved!"
DEATH taking away from us our best and holiest. What is this, but Christ gathering in the jewels for His crown?
THE comet we have seen today may never return. Just so, there are great crisis-hours in our personal history — golden opportunities, only once given, never to return. Let us not forfeit them. It may be to our eternal detriment. It was the wail of the old Roman, "I have lost a day." See that we have not in bitterness of soul to say, "I have lost a life!"
AN honestly entertained purpose is good and acceptable to Him, with whom motive is everything. But when lofty intention passes into deed, it is best of all.
"Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it 'Ebenezer' saying: Thus far has the LORD helped us!" 1 Samuel 7:12
What a retrospect will that be at the end of life's journey! The rough paths, the jagged precipices, the valleys of humiliation — all will be seen to have been bathed in the luminous light of God's love. There will be nothing more but to erect earth's farewell monument, and to carve upon it, "Ebenezer!"
WHO is the moral hero? It is the man who is willing to encounter odium and scorn, obloquy and contempt in doing what is right. He is prepared to surrender pay and place for conscience' sake, and to die rather than make base surrender of principle and honor.
BEWARE of a morbid dwelling on self with its crosses and losses. Our blessings are always greater than our trials; and most assuredly always greater than we deserve!
"Everything outside of Hell is a mercy!"
GOD, writing by the mouth of Isaiah, speaks of the believer's peace "flowing like a river." Not like the capricious brooks of Palestine — the Kedron or the Cherith — torrents in winter, and dry all summer long. But rather like those great rivers to which the same Prophet elsewhere refers, washing the walls of the old historic capitals, Nineveh and Babylon, fed by perennial streams from the mountains of Mesopotamia. No pause in the calm of their ceaseless flow.
Such is the peace of God which keeps the heart. "You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You."
THERE is one test to which we should seek to bring every earthly scheme and life-purpose — the test of prayer.
I am going to enter on that new enterprise — I am going to embark in this new speculation — I have the prospect of reaping a golden harvest from this business or trade. Can I go with an honest heart to the mercy-seat and say, "If it pleases You,
Lord, prosper me in this. I ask Your blessing to smile upon my enterprise. I feel I can bind this purpose of mine with cords, even to the horns of Your altar! "
If so, then, "Go, for the Lord is with you!"
OFTEN ascend in pious thought these hills of Nazareth, and behold the ideal of a perfect childhood and youth.
IT is well at times, when worn and weary, to go among the grassy paths and meadows of life, away from the dust and traffic of the beaten highways. Silent nature is a loving nurse, and all her restoratives are soothing.
LIFE is real — life is earnest! There is a divine sacredness in work. Religion elevates and dignifies labor. He who says, "Not slothful in business," would never have given his sanction to a life of inactive, dreamy pietism. His was a mind farthest removed from the dogma that when a man becomes religious, he must shun his fellows — desert the market and the exchange, close his ledger, put an arrest on the wheels of industry, and bid his neighbor and his work farewell!
WHAT a wonderful and ever-deepening theme of thought, as the years of life advance, the loving-kindness and mercy of God!
THERE is no more gracious provision for our happiness, than what is contained in that brief saying of Scripture, "You do not know what will happen tomorrow!" James 4:14
If we knew in full, in this grief-stricken world, all that would befall us in the future — how sad would existence be! It would leave even prosperity without a note of gladness; for the certainty of losing our blessings, would rob us of all their enjoyment while we retained them. And thus moments of unbounded pleasure, would be clouded with the dark characters of anticipated sorrow.
How would the mother's joy be marred, as the object of her tender solicitude and affection was sporting by her side, or as she hung over the infant cradle — if she could pry with certainty into the future, and read the mournful sequel of that little history — the lingering sickness, the early grave, the blighted hopes, the desolated household, the broken heart. To know the future, would convert the few brief years of possession of her blessing, into consecutive hours of agony — the consciousness and foreknowledge that every moment was drawing nearer the fatal one — sitting by Time's sand-glass and marking grain by grain, as they dropped and fell, until the last of the diminishing heap announced, "The long-dreaded hour has arrived!"
But, thank God that the future is veiled! The storm and coming wreck are concealed, in order that the calm of the present waveless sea may be enjoyed.
Yes, we again say, thank God for hiding the future, and allowing us only to be conversant with the joys and sorrows of today.
"You do not know what will happen tomorrow!" James 4:14
A PEEVISH, fault-finding, crotchety life — is the extinguisher of all happiness. A life of calm restful contentment — is a perennial joy. It is the difference between a wintry, pitiless, blighting east wind — and the genial sunshine of a cloudless summer.
Hold fast your integrity and unswerving rectitude of purpose. Let no man have ground to say, "I cannot altogether be sure of him." The true aristocracy of Heaven can permit of no speck on their coronets.
THE believer's character reaches its noblest and best, when existence is sought to be in harmony with the will of the Almighty God, as noted in His infallible Word.
"I have REFINED you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of affliction!" Isaiah 48:10
Afflicted one, you cannot believe it now — but you will come out from that furnace seven times purified in the refining fires of God.
"When He has tried me, I shall come forth as refined gold!" Job 23:10
THE Supreme Creator keeps everlasting vigil among the star-lights and altar-fires of Heaven, "He counts the number of the stars — He calls them all by their names."
How desolate and despairing would many a heart be — but for the assurance of the sleepless watch of the Great Shepherd over the cares and concerns of His people!
"My help comes from the LORD, who made Heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever!" Psalm 121:2-8
WHAT! Resign the reins of universal empire . . .
to blind chance!
Who could endure the thought of being cast like the weed on the bewildering stream, in its tortuous course, at the mercy of every current!
Oh! there is a God on high, who is "mightier than the noise of many waters."
"Our God is in Heaven! He does whatever pleases Him!" Psalm 115:3
"Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns!" Revelation 19:6
NOTHING we should pray more to be preserved from, than unsanctified trials.
NEVER open your purse for charity, if you cannot open your heart too. Rather give no dole, than give it with a grudge! The Lord loves a cheerful giver.
THE Bible contains a sublime record of female piety. Some of the noblest heroines of the olden times distinguished for self-sacrifice and self-consecration were "holy women." Figuratively as well as literally, some of the earliest harps attuned to sacred song and to the worship and service of Jehovah, as in the case of Miriam and Deborah, were touched by a female hand. Who, during the march through the wilderness, were the most ardent and enthusiastic in the uprearing of the Tabernacle? Was not those women who plucked off earrings and jewels and cast them into the sacred treasury?
Who, in the Gospels, stand out most prominent for loyal and unswerving devotion? Who did our Lord chiefly commend for their marvelous faith and unexampled love? Was it not the female band who tracked His steps in Galilee and Judea, the suppliant in the region of Tyre and Sidon, the penitent at Capernaum, the sisters of Bethany. We well know the group who were last at the cross — and first at the tomb.
If we take the letters of the Great Apostle, as indicative of the strength of Christian character in early days, see what a proportion female names bear in the postscripts and salutations of his Epistles — Persis, Julia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Priscilla, and Phoebe.
From Salome, the mother of John, and Eunice, the mother of Timothy, down to those of Bunyan and Newton — what the Church has owed to females and maternal influence!
Look around, in our own times, for earnest unwearied energetic laborers for Christ and His kingdom — we must cast the tribute of admiration still at the feet of the daughters of Zion. Not as cavilers would have it, with a curl of their lips, because women are emotional, impulsive, unreflective — often the dupes of superstition and sentiment, easily wrought into pious and vapid enthusiasm. We rebut the assertion.
Let our female Christian writers of the day testify. Let the active female members of our congregations testify. Let our Dorcas Societies at home, and our mission-work abroad testify, if those who, strong in faith, giving glory to God, are not most frequently as eminent in natural gifts as in all the beautiful graces of the inner life.
WHAT an intense pleasurableness there is in a life of active endeavor, not only to be good — but to do good? Who has not felt the inward joy and satisfaction accompanying some benevolent action — when we had to make some little surrender, or take up some little cross, or make some little sacrifice in honoring God or being of service to our fellow-men — the cross losing its bitterness and the burden its heaviness, in the feeling that we were acting according to the mind and the will of Jesus?
Did not this form His own supremest joy and delight, in the days of His flesh; the one sweet drop in the cup of sorrow which He drained, "I delight to do Your will, O my God!" "My food is to do the will of Him that sent Me and to finish His work."
THE worst and most dangerous type and specimen of humanity, is the backbiter — the man who smiles to you and plays the flatterer, and yet traduces you to the next friend he meets!
PEOPLE with inordinate vanity, are often the greatest culprits in this breach of the unwritten law of honor and true manliness.
OH, to be haunted all day long with the blissful consciousness of God's presence, and to be sung to rest at night with His lullabies of love!
THIS is the great danger — that so many attempt to live on the border, hovering on the banks of the little stream which divides the lawful from the unlawful.
THE world with its gleam and glitter, its tinted bubbles, its dance and song, may be sufficient for you now. But wait until the seat at the hearthstone and the table are vacant — your staff broken and your beautiful rod. Where are you then? Having failed to repose in God as your loving Father, you can see Him then only dimly shrouded in the valley-gloom. There will be for you nothing except that most mournful of refrains in the still sad music of humanity.
"She has done what she could!" has obtained the Divine approbation. Nothing is sadder than when great gifts — gifts of influence, or gifts intellectual, aesthetic, and others — are perverted and prostituted; gifts which might have been consecrated to God's service and the good of mankind — used for self and sin!
On the other hand, noble it is when, it may be, with no great original power of brain or wealth, of intellect or influence — feeble efforts are put forth, under a solemn sense of individual responsibility, and when these seem to lose their feebleness in a resolute will and in earnest dedication of the committed trust for the Master's use. It is not to the ten talents alone, that recognition and acceptance are recorded: "The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.' His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'" Matthew 25:22-23
YOUNG friend, at the time of life at which you have arrived, when the mind delights to revel in its own wayward freedom — when speculative and doubtful questions are but too readily entertained — let the sacred image of an early home and a simple unreasoning faith, rise often before you. Call to mind the hours when you knelt by a mother's knee and caught, with your young reverential spirit, from honored lips — lessons of truest heavenly wisdom.
Be warned by the fate of others, that the making shipwreck of faith, is too often the precursor and forerunner of making shipwreck of a good conscience. And who can tell the misery of the soul that has dropped away, piece by piece, from its hold on the simplicity of the truth. Those who have forsaken the rock for the unstable sea or the shifting sand, will find it hard to regain the firm footing they have lost.
Oh! do not plead the vain and worthless apology for irreligion, "My business," "my trade," "my daily work." This is nothing but a secret atheism!
THERE is no trial without its special aggravation. And in seasons of bitter bereavement, when every nerve is a chord of agony, these aggravations are apt to be magnified in intensity. But do we note, and own sufficiently — the gracious mitigations and solaces?
Alas! like the Israelites, the one bitter Marah-pool is too often treasured in thought and dwelt upon — when the twelve wells of Elim and their seventy overshadowing palms are unrecognized or forgotten. The Psalmist's is a truer philosophy. "I will sing of mercy — and judgment."
"EVERYONE brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best until now!" John 2:10
What a true emblematic picture is given at the feast in Cana of Galilee — of the lower and the higher banquet of life!
The cup of the world — the luscious cup of sinful pleasure, quaffed with delight at first, gradually palls on the sated appetite. "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink."
But the cup of God, plenished and replenished with spiritual joys, becomes sweeter, better, fuller, as existence advances. Yes, and when the mortal life is over, death passed, and eternity entered, with a still and ever augmenting emphasis will it be said, "But you have saved the best until now!" John 2:10
It is not God-given work and toil which kills. The best lives are often tortured and torn and broken on the wheel of worry — poor unworthy cares, morbid anxieties, which, in spite of ourselves, we nurture and brood upon, until like the pampered snake of the fable, they turn upon us and sting us!
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:34
"Do not worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God." Philippians 4:6
Christ makes gracious and considerate allowance for our drawbacks and difficulties, our weaknesses and hindrances: "The spirit indeed is willing — but the flesh is weak."
I LIKE to see the earth rousing itself from sleep at the summons of the morning; the flowers opening their eyelids; the song-birds, like matin-bells, waking up all around to devotion; the sun's golden arrows lying thick in dell and forest-glade; while the mists rise like incense-clouds from the valleys! The morning was the old Hebrew minstrels' hour for prayer. The silver trumpets of the priests stirred the city of Jerusalem into life and the temple into worship. "In the morning will I direct my prayer unto You, and will look up."
HOW a truly beautiful character attracts and wins the heart. There are rare occasions in life, when one such crosses our path; like a bright star appearing for a moment, the next hidden from sight by the clouds.
Many years ago, in a far off land, I made the intimate acquaintance of a stranger. It was, however, only the association of three days; and, owing to distance and other circumstances, was never renewed. I had often and again thought with admiration on that brief fellowship. No man ever so impressed me, and I believe no man will ever again, as the ideal of the godly gentleman! But, though a passing meteor, the trail remained in the heavens, and the memory never ceased to charm. This last week I see he was buried amid the roll of muffled drums and the tears of comrades — a "hero of God."
There are characters in the world which possess this rare magnetic influence. They instantly attract as iron filings are attracted to the magnet.
OUR true and safe position, with regard to God's providential dealings, is to trust; realizing that we know only in part, and that if we knew in full, then all would be satisfactory. It is the unfinished and incomplete view of the machinery of Providence, which gives rise to doubt and suspicion.
It would be unfair to judge of the merits of the painter while his picture was still only in crude outline on his canvas, and before he had reduced the whole into unity.
It would be unfair to pronounce on the work of the sculptor, with his half-completed chiselings on the block before him. How premature to comment on the lack of symmetrical form, or defective pose, or distorted countenance! It is not until the last touch of the chisel stamps expression on the lips, subduing and rectifying every harsh feature, and the inert block becomes breathing marble, that the spectator is in a position to pronounce on the power and skill and genius of him that modeled and fashioned it.
And so, with reverence we may say, has God undertaken to remodel and reconstruct our fallen human nature into symmetry and beauty — to recreate us after His own image, so that we may at last be presented without spot or blemish. And shall we upbraid Him because He attains His end by ways and means, strange and inscrutable to us — exposing us to many crude strokes of the chisel, hard for flesh and blood to bear?
No! We must patiently wait until the great master-work of the Master-mind is completed, until the voices spoken of in Revelation shall be heard in Heaven, saying, "It is finished!" evoking the response from ten thousand lips, "Alleluia! salvation, and glory, and honor, and power unto the Lord our God, for true and righteous are His judgments!" Revelation 19:1-2
We speak familiarly of "the designs of Providence." They are even so; the bare, unfinished designs or outlines of a picture whose several portions will only be reduced into consistency and grandeur when the day shall break and the shadows flee away.
"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!" Romans 11:33
GOD is emphatically the Great Overseer, First-Cause, Originator, Controller, Director, Sustainer — alike Author and Finisher. The events of time, the decrees of Providence, are all in His hands, working out one purpose — His own glory and the well-being of His people are the ultimate end!
THINK of the myriads, who, during these six millenniums, have crowded to the Gates of Mercy — and still the Golden Portals are open!
"PERFECT through suffering." There are at times, glorious, heroic martyrdoms associated, not with the momentary flash of sword or kindling flame — but with the slow weary agony of shattered nerve, and throbbing brain, and sleepless night — the Christian's life-long sick-bed.
In the case of our beloved friend, it was thirty years of constant prostration, endured with uncomplaining submission to the Divine Will, seeking only to glorify God for His painful visitation.
May we try to think out, in Bible words, the Bible history of that sufferer? "I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me. When I lie down I think, 'How long before I get up?' The night drags on, and I toss until dawn." (Job 7:3-4)
The Divine refrain, extending over these protracted decades, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:12-13)
At length, the Divine promise is on the eve of fulfillment, "The days of your mourning shall be ended!" (Isaiah 40:20)
The Angel of Resignation speeds upwards to the Great Intercessor with the announcement, "Made perfect through sufferings!" (Hebrews 2:10)
The prayer ascends from the Divine lips of the Mighty Pleader, "Father, I will that those whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory!" (John 17:24)
The response is made, "Son, You are ever with Me, and all that I have is Yours!" (Luke 15:31)
The waiting Angel is commissioned to bear back the message, "The Master has come, and calls for you!" (John 11:28)
The answer trembles on the dying lip, "Even so! Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!" (Revelation 22:20)
"Today," is the reply, "shall you be with Me in Paradise!" (Luke 23:43)
Then, finally, as the spirit, in its arrowy flight, passes through the gate of death, to within the gates of glory, Angel whispers to Angel, "These in white robes — who are they, and where did they come from?" (Revelation 7:13)
"These are those," is the rejoinder, "Who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat!" (Revelation 7:14-16)
While there is heard another "great voice out of Heaven: There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain — for the former things are passed away!" (Revelation 21:3, 4)
Returning from these heavenly picturings, to the pillow of suffering on earth, and the weary, sleepless watches, there is heard a sweet "song in the night" with which hope has attuned the lips, "Our light affliction" (though the furnace was lighted for a quarter of a century) "works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!" (2 Corinthians 4:17)
That is the evidence of the truth of Christianity on which I love to lean. With such a staff, or the memory of it, I shall pass over this Jordan (Genesis 32:10)
"BEHOLD, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen!" Revelation 1:7
That verse to the wicked is like a succession of thunder-peals or flashes of forked lightning. To the Christian it is the serenade of Angels; eliciting the response, "Even so! Amen."
THE great thinkers of the Church will have a bright sphere of their own in the heavenly world. But nothing compared to that of the great doers — those who, in self-abnegation and renunciation, have consecrated the best energies of soul and body to the Lord who died for them, and, through Him, to the good of humanity. Theirs will be the ten talent recompense.
WHAT a transformation grace works in the character! "Haters and hating one another!" The whole atmosphere poisoned with malaria. "But now you put off all these — anger, wrath, hatred," etc. The rain of the Spirit descends — the sun shines — the pestilential vapors disperse, and ten thousand flowers of spiritual aroma and loveliness display their beauty and waft their fragrance. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation."
WHAT is wanted nowadays in the Church is a sense of individual responsibility. "To every man his work." "And every man shall bear his own burden."
WHAT could we do in that day, or in that supreme hour — when confronted with gloomy and long-forgotten memories — the wasted opportunity — the irresolute purpose — the coward denial — the unworthy recrimination — the angry word — the impure thought — yes, it may be, the presumptuous sin — what could we do — but for the golden saying, gleaming in the immensity of darkness, "I will be merciful to your unrighteousness; your sins and your iniquities will I remember no more!"
I LIKE those wreaths laid on the coffin, or on the grave of the departed one. True, they are only perishing flowers; but they are the heart's purest and fondest tribute to the worth and goodness they enshrine. They are silent interpreters of the affection which can no longer be whispered in the dull, cold ear of death.
It was but yesterday I gazed down into the deep "sleeping place" of one of God's best beloved. It was a crowded mass of floral loveliness, emblematic of beauty and worth that can never fade or decay. I carried away with me a bright and suggestive memory forever.
"FOR our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!" 2 Corinthians 4:17
Mark the Apostle's starting-point, as he unfolds the suffering Christian's reversion in Heaven. It is "glory." That, in itself, is a word of untold and immeasurable significance; but note how he proceeds with his cumulative description. It is next "a weight of glory," no tiny dole — but a magnificent largess. This munificent bestowment, however, might have been temporary — it might have been only a leasehold, not a freehold. But he next removes all dubiety as to its permanence. It is "an eternal weight of glory." Notwithstanding this, it might have been only within sight of "the excellent glory." It might have indicated no more than some place and position in the outer orbit of bliss, a planet or satellite revolving far from the Central Sun in the Heavenly firmament. He farther proclaims it to be "an exceeding weight of glory." Stone has been rising on stone, tier upon tier, glory above glory. Yet once more, (using the technical word) the great "finale" is placed on this soaring edifice; and thus runs the completed declaration, "A far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
Can language go farther that this?
NO man has a right to reject and repudiate rapid conversions. This would be a bold impeachment and denial of sovereign grace. But such nevertheless are exceptional; and departures from the normal method of the Divine working.
The Christian life is a gradual ripening and development. Principle, virtue, grace, character — are not things of mushroom-growth.
The strongest plants begin with unseen roots. That lawn of summer grass, with its elastic pile of green velvet and cushions of moss, was the result of no spring sowing — but the outcome of patient years, and the continued use of lawn mower.
The great building rises, not like that of the palace in the fairy tale, conjured into existence and completion by a talismanic word. The divine symbol and emblem is the edifice which grows and progresses course by course, until the topstone is brought forth with shouting and the cry "Grace, grace, unto it!" (Zech 4:7.)
I do not expect the frozen stream, all at once and at a bound, to resume its course. The sun slowly melts it. It takes days or weeks to wake it up from its winter death-sleep, and unloose its icy bands and fetters — to fringe its bands with fern and wild-flower and retune its lips with the silvery ripple.
All these are Parables of diviner verities, which require no explanation.
"Sealed unto the day of redemption." The Holy Spirit not only writes the living epistle — but He also seals the letter. He seals it to make the writing sure, so that no adverse pen can score or cross the name out. "He who has begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."
THE way to spiritual victory and ultimate soul triumph is sometimes tedious, baffling, and difficult. Many garden plants and flowers have a long struggle through the overlaying earth to air and light. But these are often found at last to be most distinguished for their summer beauty and fragrance.
The toil up the hill of God is at times hard, slow, exhausting. But at last the climber's efforts are amply repaid, with the unfolding to the eye of faith glimpses of the celestial City. "Let patience have its perfect work."
MY FATHER! — To a thousand problems and enigmas, now waiting solution, that word is like a golden key!
THE question sometimes occurs — Has the believer, more than the unbeliever, any protection granted him from plague, pestilence, and famine? Out in the stormy sea — is he safer than others? Careering along the now universal highway with that thin iron thread alone between him and destruction — can he claim any greater immunity from danger than the skeptic or profligate or blasphemer? Does not the same event happen to the righteous and the unrighteous? Does not the tower in Siloam bury good and bad indiscriminately, in its heap of ruins? Does not the lamp ignited in the dangerous mine, where lurk unseen nature's explosive elements, spread havoc and death amid virtuous and wicked, with no respect of people?
Yes! Experience says so, and God's Word endorses that experience.
What a sad thought it would be to many a household among us, were it the heinous sinner alone whose family circle is mutilated and broken — that he has the divine displeasure resting on his head who has oftenest a summons to the grave-yard, or who is most frequently bowed down with sickness — most familiar with the dim midnight lamp, and the muffled curtains, and the weary pillow!
Oh! Thank God, we can go to Bethany if we can go nowhere else, and have these unwarrantable thoughts silenced and discarded. Bethany! where we see a sick one — "Jesus loved him." A dead one — "Jesus loved him." Bereaved ones — "Jesus loved them!"
That strange, impressive episode of suffering in the Jewish hamlet, gives an everlasting refutation to the surmise that God afflicts only those who are among the worthless, and selfish, and unloving.
WE often think our own way the best. But God thwarts us in it; rebukes our foolishness, demolishes our plans, and says, "This is the way — walk in it."
DO not expect to live without temptation. There is no royal road to exempt the King's children from it. A corrupting world without, has ever its echoes in the corrupted heart within. But the noble and Christ-like thing is to muffle these echoes — manfully to resist the assaults of evil and of the evil one. "Blessed is the man who endures temptation."
Naturally, we are drifting down the stream; and, if unresisted, the current will prove too much for us. But, with strong arms, pliant oars, manful resolution, and God's grace helping us — we shall breast that torrent, and land ourselves, and our cargo unscathed in the upper reaches.
Some swift and dangerous eddies may have retarded advance; some boulders and submerged rocks may have left their scars on the sides of the boat. That is all. The perils will be forgotten, when safely home!
A PIECE of music — let it be of Beethoven's or Mozart's if you will — when played by a pupil for the first time, with labored and faulty effort, is anything but pleasing or comprehensible either to performer or listener. It sounds full of dissonance, and may for a time be regarded as an unwelcome intruder. We seem to long rather for some old and dear familiar strain. But by-and-bye the strangeness and harshness and apparent disharmony vanish. The ear becomes not only accustomed to the cadence — but loves it. The once slighted and rejected masterpiece takes its place among the soul's restful rhythms. The conflicting notes are marshaled in order, like the blended colors of the rainbow: and in moments of lassitude, weariness, and care, we half close our eyes and own the sovereign power of the tone-poet and his lullaby.
Is it not so with the music of Providence — the dispensations of God? At first we fail to discern the harmony — many of the notes seem out of tune. We can discover no beauty, no wisdom, no love is His Providential dealings. Perhaps much may be owing to our unskilled playing on the instrument — our poor and inadequate rendering — our faulty comprehension of the divine ways.
But gradually the undertones reveal themselves and assert their purity and richness and power. We come gradually — but surely, to own the "why and wherefore" of many a discordant dealing. The rough voice of the true Joseph gradually changes into tenderness. The grating dissonance merges into melody. We recognize at last, the soothing notes of this new music of Heaven; and respond, it may be through tears, to the words of the All-Merciful, All-Wise Harmonist: "Comfort, comfort My people, says your God!"
THE gardener has often to mar the external beauty and symmetry of his vine, by lopping. He sees a graceful off-shoot running along the wall. But it is injuring or weakening the vine — or taking away its sap; or screening it from the sun. The pruning-knife must be applied.
God has some wise reason for all He does. He has too deep and tender an interest in every one of His vines to inflict one unnecessary cutting. No gash in the vine is made capriciously. He is best, and only judge, of what is required for the promotion of spiritual growth. On the removal of our "beautiful rods" — husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends, children, lovely vine-stems — He whispers in our ears the gracious vindication: "Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed!" 1 Peter 1:6-7
LIFE in its ordinary, normal conditions, is composed, not of great services — but of lowly ones. In the case of some, it may have its conspicuous battles, its field-days and crisis-hours, whether of defeat or of victory. With most, however, it is the daily, routine, mundane work of ordinary duty and discipline. But this is enough to test of what mettle the Christian soldier is made. It is in the discharge of the humble, uneventful drudgery of common existence, that his spirit and character are proved and molded. The ultimate "ruler over many things," gets his advance and reward from fidelity over "the few things."
YOU may well speak of your 'blank' — the aching heart-void that never can be filled. Thank the Great Giver for the blessing you could so long call your own — for the protracted, calm, tranquil blue of the midday sky and the golden clouds at sunset.
Your loss is irreparable. But Death cannot spoil or defraud you of the treasures of memory — these are eternal.
"ONLY they would that we should remember the poor: the same that I also was forward to do."
Give, as God, and while God has prospered you. It is surely a privilege — a noble privilege, to be the almoner of His bounties, instead of hoarding up, until, in the expressive words of James, "your gold and silver is cankered" — when they breed nothing but anxiety, trouble, dispeace, and cease to give any pleasure. A few years, and that privilege will no more be yours.
You may "will" your money to charities and Christian Institutions. But that is not the same as present giving. First of all, you miss the happiness of seeing the good you can do. And secondly, by giving only posthumously, you give what is not yours to give. Your heir will have a right to grumble over the misappropriation — enjoying yourself, by clutching all you could during your life; and being generous at his expense when you could get no more good out of it.
I may not be thanked for what I say. But many a man can do his sons no greater service than in being prodigal in his charities — leaving them what is ample to begin the battle of life with — no more — not what will only pillow them in indolence and idleness.
We speak of the best way of doing good to the poor, is by helping them to help themselves.
The same principle should be applied to the families of the rich. How many young men I have known shipwrecked on these golden reefs; who, with a good education and a humble patrimony would have done well; been a credit to their kin; the world would have been the better for them. But they were left independently wealthy. They had broad acres at their back, or golden oars to begin pulling up the river of life. These sunk the craft, and they and it together were swept down the stream!
OUR best earthly friend — an unintentional word may estrange him. Centuries have rolled on, and Christ is still the same. He is the Friend who sticks closer than a brother!
THE saddest feature and element in the works of man, is their uncertainty, instability, transitoriness. "The things that are seen are temporal."
"They shall perish!" is the motto written over vanished empires and ruined cities. Nineveh, Babylon, Tyre, Carthage, and a hundred others, are among the things that were. They record their existence in humiliating heaps of ruin.
Look at the world of intellect. There is no sadder spectacle than that of a soul which has left its lofty impress on all with whom it came in contact; gigantic acquirements, profound science, eagle-eyed philosophy, astute statesmanship — to see these walls of adamant gradually giving way, the mind a wreck and memory a waste, lapsing into the imbecilities of second childhood.
Look at the world of human affection. Touching also is the same precariousness here. The parent's heartstrings are wound around his child, the pride and prop of his waning years — with whom his every thought and purpose of the future is intertwined, a gushing fountain of joyous life in the midst of his household. But the cherished vision vanishes like a dream! The cistern is broken. The sun goes down while it is yet day.
The physical world itself wears no permanence. It has scars and wrinkles on its aged brow. The doom of its dissolution is recorded by infallible lips. Men may bind it with iron threads and electric girdles — but these withes and swathing-bands will be snapped and burnt as wax on the great day of God when "He shall arise in the glory of His majesty to shake terribly the earth." "The heavens shall be folded up as a scroll; the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the things that are therein, shall be burnt up! "
Yes, "they" (everything sublunary) "shall perish," but You, O Savior-God, and Your work remain!
True was Daniel's vision. He saw earthly kingdom after earthly kingdom pass in review before him. But at last, rising in peerless splendor over them all, was the kingdom of Christ — an "everlasting dominion which shall not pass away" — a kingdom that would never be destroyed! His work is not only honorable and glorious — but His righteousness endures forever.
Unlike the dethroned and uncrowned monarchs of earth, the children of Zion can thus be eternally joyful in their King. "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever!" His own immutability is the guarantee of their imperishable blessings. "Because I live, you shall live also!"
THE grandest and hardest of victories, is to dethrone self!
Philip Henry, in completing the thirtieth year of his life, says in his diary, "So old was Alexander was when he had conquered the great world; but I have not yet subdued the little world, MYSELF!"
The power and the principles of the Gospel form the one moral force that can effect this subjugation. The Dagon SELF can alone be broken in pieces before the Ark of God.
PRINCIPLE is all in all with the great Heart-Searcher. Motive gives value to action — it elevates, dignifies, consecrates it.
HOLY impressions may get dim — but they cannot be effaced; and how momentous they often prove in their consequences. "The Church," is a well-known saying of Augustine's, "owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen."
WHAT is your existence? A leaf trembling on the autumn bough. At any moment it may fall!
HOW many a mother can say, "It was at the sick-bed of my child, that I first looked to Christ and lived!"
How many a father can say, "It was over the grave of my first-born, that I had unfolded to me the love of an unchanging God!"
How many a brother can say, "It was over buried affection, that I received a new meaning to the words — there is a Friend that sticks closer than a brother!"
How many a crushed spirit can say, "It was when fortune was broken, and disappointment sent its rankling arrow to my heart, and the visions of young hope vanished like a dream — that I was first driven to the true Intercessor; felt the value of prayer; and saw the preciousness of the Ever-living Ever-loving Jesus! It was when the ocean of life was strewed with wrecks, that I was led to the Rock which is higher than I!"
ALL the way to Heaven is paved with love!
WITH what reverence Timothy sat at the feet of the aged Apostle; and drank in his faithful, and, as we may gather from both inspired letters, much-needed admonitions.
We may be wrong or uncharitable, or we may have been unfortunate in misreading the times. But it is questionable if one of its better signs consists in respect and deference to the counsels of matured experience. Many and happy are the exceptions: but who can gainsay it, that the tendency with youths of the period, is to be intractable, supercilious, arrogant, cynical, self-assertive. They are impatient of advice, however delicately and kindly offered. This was not so in my earlier remembrance. It is an outgrowth of later decades, and it is feared may be ranked among the few things in which "the former days were better than these."
Some of us have good and grateful reason, personally, to inculcate reverence for grey hairs.
YOU might as well expect, by throwing in a few pebbles, to fill up a yawning gulf, as fill the nature of man with the baubles of this present world! Hence, have you never observed, when the world's portions are fullest — when the world's cup of happiness is brimming — how often, in course of time, it palls — becomes nauseous and insipid?
It is common to see a man, a mere man of the world, toiling all his lifelong for the accumulation of an immense fortune. The golden dream of his youth is at last, fully realized — Mammon has been piling his halls with the coveted heaps; wealth bringing him its accompaniments — Lands, Houses, Equipages, Titles.
But soon the bauble bursts — or rather, like a child, when its toy has had its run for the hour, it is cast aside, and something new is sought after, proving in its turn, equally unavailing.
The secret and explanation of all this is, that the spirit, born for the Infinite, seeks a satisfying portion in the finite. This, from the constitution of our natures, it cannot give.
A satisfying portion!
Philosophy, with its eagle soarings, says "It is not in me!"
The Pride of rank — crowns and coronets and lordly titles say, "It is not in me!"
The Laurel of conquest as it withers on the warrior's brow, says, "It is not in me!"
Gold, with its glittering heaps, laughs its poor votaries to scorn and says, "It is not in me!"
"Whom have I in Heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!" Psalm 73:25-26
LOOK at Lot! He made his unhappy choice of the Valley of Sodom on worldly motives. It was a selection unsanctioned and unsanctified by God's blessing. What was the result? His spiritual interests were far more than in jeopardy. His piety was mocked. His domestic peace ruined. His habitation blackened and cursed: left in a double sense, a pile of smouldering ashes.
How one rash and unconsidered step, originated in self, uncounseled of God, may initiate a downward career!
If any of us have been saved from such collapse and catastrophe, let us thankfully own and recognize the secret, "kept by the power of God" and by His restraining grace.
As life's pilgrimage closes, many a lip will be ready with the grateful testimony, "Unless the LORD had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your love, O LORD, supported me!" Psalm 94:17-18
"HE shall glorify Me," says Christ, speaking of the Holy Spirit, "for He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you."
That Divine, gracious Agent sanctifies "by the truth," but He specially unfolds the One Truth, which out-peers all the rest:, "This is life eternal, to know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."
The eyes of the spiritually blind, He opens — but it is to reveal the living, loving Savior, in all the glories of His Person and in all the fullness of His work, dying on the Cross, interceding on the Throne!
The ears of the spiritually deaf, He unstops — but it is to hear the music of the Redeemer's voice, calling the weary wanderers to find in Him rest for their souls.
The couch of the spiritually sick, He approaches — but it is only to reveal and apply the remedies of the Great Physician, who "heals all our diseases."
"He shall not speak of Himself," says Christ; or, (as one of our best old English divines paraphrases it) "He will tell you nothing but stories of My love." He throws open the door of the heart — but it is to admit the Almighty Pleader, who has been standing and knocking there: "Lift up your heads, O gates: and be lifted up you everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may enter in!"
The object of all the Holy Spirit's dealings, is "to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus."
THAT man must always have a sunny countenance, who is at peace with God, and all his sins are forgiven.
THE fruit that is ripening on the tree may not be so beautiful as the delicately-tinted pink and white blossoms of early summer. But it is fulfilling its progressive destiny and design.
At evening, the light on the hills may be faded or gone — the play of purple and amethyst on rock and heather and other lovely effects may have fled with sundown. But the mountains themselves are there, as glorious as ever, with their healthy trees, and singing streams; cattle browsing on their pastures, and villages nestling in the hollows.
So it is with you. The tender beauty and bloom of your conversion may have passed away. The delicate sunlight may have waned; and life's sterner shadows have taken its place. But the unchanging realities of the spiritual life remain. Yours is truly the advanced stage of the ripening fruit. The evanescent and capricious glow of "frames and feelings "may no longer be there: but the inviolable security of the Everlasting Covenant is the same!
BEWARE of keeping the best hours of life to self, and giving the crumbs and sweepings — the residuum — to the Almighty.
"See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.! Song of Songs 2:11-12
What a beautiful teacher Nature is! When other instructors and conjurers cease to charm and edify, her magnificent picturings — her lessons and homilies, never pall. If sin and sorrow could only be banished and forsworn, there is nothing nearer Heaven than a heavenly springtime: when the thousand buds are longing to have their lips unsealed that they may join with the winged warblers in grove and dell, and with the silvery ripple — matin and evensong — of the unresting brook, wild-flowers of varied form and loveliness starring its bank, as if the woven tapestry of angels.
I ADMIRE and reverence many men of wealth, who have their wealthy station adorned with humility. But how foolish and pitiable, when adventitious worldly means impel to a fruitless scramble; the effort to attain a social position such were never designed to fill, and never capable of filling.
"HE shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied." There is no greater or more exalted satisfaction, than that arising from the consciousness of having completed some great work well.
The Architect who has been for years laboring over his building;
the Historian who has been ransacking stores of hidden annals, and weaved them into an imperishable volume;
the Artist who has long toiled over his canvas;
the Sculptor over his marble, until dull and lifeless things burn and breathe with inspiration;
the Soldier returning to his fatherland after his long and perilous pilgrimage of valor and victory.
With what intense joy do one and all of these contemplate the successful termination of months or years of laborious toil? The toil is forgotten — it is changed into honest pride and exultation at the feeling "My work is done!"
Ascend from the finite to the Infinite, from the triumphs of mortals — if we can reverently say it — to those of Deity.
Jesus, reviewing with complacency His completed Redemption;
Jesus, the Architect of the soul's ruined Temple, beholding the restored structure, stone by stone cemented by His own blood, reaped up a glorious monument of grace;
Jesus, the Almighty Sculptor of renewed and beautified humanity — that which is mutilated and defaced by sin — with few traces left of primeval loveliness — He remolding and remodeling it after the lost Image of its Great Original;
Jesus, the Captain of His people's Salvation, the Conqueror of the world and Satan and death, standing on the Mount of triumph, and with Satan bruised under His bleeding feet, proclaiming "It is finished!"
"I have glorified You on the earth, I have finished the work which You gave Me to do!"
SELF and PRIDE — two household gods, decked up with gewgaws and borrowed plumes. It requires the power of Almighty God for their dislodgement!
GOD in Christ remits all debts, and cancels all claims. "I have blotted out your transgressions as a cloud, and as a thick cloud your sins." And then He makes His confident appeal to the pardoned transgressor: "Return unto Me, for I have redeemed you!"
"LOVE never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will cease; where there is knowledge, it will pass away." 1 Corinthians 13:8
"But where there are prophecies, they will cease." Yonder gifted teacher of the truth, "wise to win souls," bringing out of his treasures things new and old — Death must, sooner or later, silence his lips!
"Where there are tongues, they shall cease." The thrilling eloquence which has made an assembled multitude start to their feet, or bathed them in tears — Sooner or later, that Son of Thunder will be a tenant of "the land of forgetfulness!"
"Where there be knowledge, it shall pass away." Yonder man of erudition, whose scholarly attainments and research have filled his Church with wonder and honest pride — the capacity of those eagle-soarings, so far as earth is concerned, will terminate the moment death stamps its impress on his brow.
But Love, his love, if he can claim the golden, priceless treasure as his own — survives the wreck of all. It alone overleaps death, the grave, the barriers of time. The lamps of the others are extinguished in the tomb.
But love is the essence of Heaven. Her torch, kindled at the true vestal fires, often crudely blown upon in a loveless world, exposed to the gusts of selfishness and passion, anger and revenge — is carried, unquenched, before the throne of God. It is the light upon the pathway of ministering seraphim.
Love is an exotic. It battles its way amid the storms below. But its true home and climate is above. And when all worldly fame, and knowledge, and eloquence, and intellectual attainments have terminated, this imperishable Love will survive! "Now abides Faith, Hope, and Love, these three — but the greatest of these is Love!"
Oh! wherever there is the presence and the reign of Love, earth is transformed into a miniature Heaven!