« PreviousContinue »
hold of life, is a very deep, or intelligent, | all the bright hues and flowing symmetries or complete one. There have been sensitive of an unworn imagination, is composed, precocious children, indeed, to whom it has | after all, of just such flesh and blood, and come suddenly and sadly enough, disturb heart and brains, as we! What a misery ing and dulling all the fountains of their it is to see faults and errors in the books and being. But, for the most part, the gracious persons we once thought perfect; or to elasticity of childhood makes it only a have the passionate warmth of love chilled partial one ; it deepens through successive into coldness, or transformed into dislike; years, as they are able to bear it; and at or to find the course of life, which once last comes out into clearness only through looked so bright and attractive, weary, and a secret, instinctive recoil from approaching flat, and unprofitable,-the green flowery evil, or from a sad and terrible experience path to the eye a mere dusty, flint-strewn of its tyranny. Like death, however, it road to the feet! What an agony of selfcomes sooner or later to each, to all. And abasement comes over us when the ideal do you not see, brethren, how in this sor- | we set before us still smiles from an inacl'ow there is life?. how the encounter with cessible height, and all the brave great it greatens the child, helping him to put things we were going to do have, somehow, away childish things, preparing him for the been left undone; or, worse still, when the graver duties and conflicts which await ideal itself slowly changes into something him? It changes life from a game into a mean and base which never was beausolemnity. It lifts right and wrong to tiful save to our deluded eyes. And then, their due supremacy over pleasure and as life goes on, and we forget the friends of pain. If there be evil in the world, he our youth, who once were all to us, and must contend with it or be enslaved. If one bubble breaks after another, and we there be imperfections in kinsfolk, he must are wanderers still, having passed through learn to bear with them. If there be an many 80-called pleasures, but found no inward holy war waging in his own heart, rest; and the cares of life are deepening le must choose his eide. Pain teaches him and blackening round us, and all our fortitude. His inward resentment of labour is to get the morsel of bread, cruelty and injustice strengthens all merci. which it seems harder every year to get; ful and just instincts. His very weakness when we have tried all the fountains and drives him out of himself for strength. / found no living water, and have hardly And thus the lines of his character are en heart or time to try new ones, even if they larged, the volume of his life is swelled. In should spring up before us;-ah! then we proportion as his perception of evil does fill think no sorrow is comparable to our him with sorrow, he finds it true that in sorrow. this is the life of his spirit.
And yet this, to some extent, is the com2. Again, few things are more painful mon experience of man--too common to than the disappointment of the hopes of be altogether an evil. Why do these illuyouth—the failure of its illusions. It is sions burst, save that we may look for the property of youth to hope and dream; an eternal substance ? Why are we thus to devise liberal things; to aim at a high urged on by restless compulsions, pilgrims mark; to follow a lofty ideal; to think | and strangers even where we are most at generously of its companions; to indulge home, save that we may seek the continuo
boundless confidence in its own powers. | ing city, and the everlasting rest, and the Doubtless we have all dreamt our dream, heavenly home? The pleasures of this and learned how unsubstantial is the life disappoint us, that we may seek and find stuff of which dreams are made; and what lies deeper, and is more blessed than some of us—for hope springs up eternal they—the peace that passeth understandw the human breast-have begun to dream ing. Our earthly friends change to us, as new dreams, to pursue other visions, which we change to them, that we may all come to
u break and vanish like those which | know the unchanging Friend. Our sensehave gone before. And therefore we can bound thoughts, and plans, and pleasures
pathise with those who are suffering | perish, that we may live the life of the their first disenchantment. And what a spirit. Our weakness is made manifest bitterness it is! To find that that man, that that we may betake ourselves to the eternal Woman, to know whom once seemed an end Rock for strength. These mutabilities, beyond all ends, in whom we could see no and the sorrows to which they give birth,
Lt, no imperfection, whom we arrayed in / are meant to raise us into the immutable
blessedness. By these men live. In pro- | enriched and gain a nobler life by the sorportion as they do sorrow at these disap rows of death. Something of the sanctity pointments they gain life from them. Let of death attaches to them; a saddened a man once take them as mere matter of majesty. They learn somewhat from their course— let him see one bright illusion after intercourse with “the shadow, cloaked from another fade away in duli indifference or head to foot, who keeps the keys of all reckless mirth, and, humanly speaking, he the creeds.” Many of the minor moods and is lost. The teaching of the years has keys of nature and humanity are henceforth been wasted upon him. His heart is hard musical to them. Thoughts and things ened against the most poignant discipline : that once struck them as discords, now age and continuance in evil are by no modulate into harmony. They are the means likely to soften it. But let a man wiser and the gentler for their grief. It mourn and lament, and his very need of is only those who do not sorrow—whose comfort will teach him where to find it, feeling is simply a selfish commiseration and compel him to seek it. Through sor and regret-who learn nothing and gain row he will pass into a higher, fuller, more | nothing from the ministry of death. spiritual life.
Thus far I have spoken of the quicken. 3. Another deep yet common sorrow ing power of sorrows which visit men as accompanies the first personal contact with men. There are other sorrows peculiar to death. All men must die; we know that. men as Christians in which we may trace But then all men must live; and the work the operation of the same beneficent and of life is so engrossing, its pace so rapid, | healing law. any gap is so soon filled up, that a thou 4. Pake, for instance, the sorrow that sand may have fallen at our right hand attends conversion. The modes of men's without attracting more than a few mo conversion to God are almost as various ments’ thought. But when we are struck as the men themselves. But whatever the down, mere selfishness makes us think : mode, there is very deep and bitter sorrow when some one whom we love dies, and is in it, though a sorrow which is the precursor taken away, ah! then we are touched of an immortal joy - a sorrow, like the awed; our soul within us doth mourn. It rain-cloud, without which there can be no is as though the ground had treinbled bow of hope across the heavens, no fruitbeneath our feet, reminding us that the fulness on earth. The work of Divine earth is undermined with graves. It is as grace may have been a gradually progressive though, in our hot pursuit, a great gulf had one, stretching through years, so that the suddenly opened before us-opened and convert shall be conscious of no momentary closed, but closed upon that for which we decisive change. But question him, and were living. Part of our life - as we you will find that he has often “wept and fondly deem, our whole life-has gone from made supplication," sorrowing for his sins, us — the very desire of our eyes taken and the unloving return he has made for at a stroke. And we make our moan, re his Father's goodness, beseeching forgivefusing to be comforted. But the more we ness with “strong cryings and tears.” Or sorrow, and the more unselfish our sorrow the work of grace may have been sudden is, the more of life shall we win from death the sinner may have been seized, and turned itself. It may have been well for us thus as in a moment. Such cases may occur, and to have been checked. Our bereavement sometimes do. But question the penitent may compel us to think of the life beyond thus taken unawares and by surprisethe grave—the life that is so much longer question him, and you will find that the and larger than this, and yet so little sorrow which, in the previous case, had been cared for in comparison with this. Love spread through years, has, in his case, been for the friend who has left us may draw compressed into an agony and passion to our thoughts to regions in which they have which he himself looks back with a kind of not been apt to wander—from which they pitying amazement. In every case you cannot return without making us the wiser will find penitence, deep unfeigned contriand better. We may be led to study as tion, godly sorrow, an element in convermatter of personal interest what the Bible sion; as how should it not be, when cone has to say about the future life, and the version is a turning to the God of mercy method by which we may enter on its and love, against whom we had turned our inheritance of joy. Even men who are backs-a faithful reception of that Sacrifice not won to God are nevertheless often for sin which cost an agony beyond all thought? And in this sorrow, as in all / which, if need were, we are willing even to genuine sorrow, there is a death. Yes; die, is a work involving a very passion of but death to what ? Death to the old toil and strife. And yet who that has risen bondage and power of sin ; death to the to a wider faith, or translated the creed tyranny in which the living energies of the that was a mere tradition to him into a soul were held in ward. Death to this, living reality, but would pass through all but life to the spirit-life and compara. again to acquire an equal access of life, and tive freedom to all the nobler and immortal | freedom, and power? “By these things elements of the soul. “Old things have men live, and in these is the life of their passed away: behold, all things have be- / spirit.” come new." The quickened, ransomed 6. Or take, finally, the sorrows which spirit expatiates and exults in the new in- accompany and outlast the Christian heritance of thought on which it has man's" lapses and shortcomings. It is entered, in the purer air it breathes, in the | the old story, which we meet with here loftier and brighter prospects it beholds. - the old contrast between the dreams "By these" sorrows emphatically “ do | of youth and the doings of manhood. men live, and in all these is the life of their | When we begin the Christian life, freed spirit.”
from the intolerable burden of guilt, in5. Once more : there is the sorrow which flamed with love for the Redeemer who has attends on the fuller reception of the truth. given us rest, strong in the conscious pulWe can hardly have lived in these days, sation of a new vigorous life in the soul, without knowing the pain which attends 1 what wonders and heroisms we are bent on the widening of a creed. Our first con doing; how easy, how blessed obedience ceptions of religious truth were pro seems; how confident we are that, with bably received from our tutors and fathers. Christ to help us, we shall do some great Excepting only one or two of the simpler thing! And then, by-and-by, the world elementary truths which we were obliged presses down the arm we had lifted for to test for ourselves before we could believe holy war or toil. An unexpected temptaat all, these conceptions were hardly ours ; tion meets us, and we are overcome ; or the they were traditions we had received. We mere sameness and weariness of one undishad not found them in the Gospel, but in tinguished round of duty dulls our force, catechisms and sermons; or we had not and we fall away. Ah! who can forget found and thought them out for ourselves, the shame, the convulsive sorrow of such a and so had not assimilated them as living defeat—that lapse into evil ways of which food. And as we came to study God's we had not so much as dreamed till we holy word for ourselves, or heard new found ourselves entangled in some net of teachers, or were tried by new experiences, sin ? Only the Father who seeth in secret or found our brethren in Christ imbibing a , can know the secret depths of that grief. new spirit, we have sometimes been com- | And yet-and yet, brethren-is it not by pelled to let go the conceptions that had these that men live ? Not the sins, indeed, no vital hold upon us--to take in new but these sorrows for the sins into which we thoughts-to care less about doctrinal have been betrayed. Look, and you will statements and formal rules, and more for | see that almost all of good you have yet faithful reading of the word and simple I gained has been gained in these times of holiness of life; or we have had to make mourning, that under these clouds and the doctrines and rules of former times our | rains you have gathered the inward vigour personal inheritance by personal toil and which you have put forth when the clear prayer, receiving them now not as the shining has returned. Look, and you will traditions of men, but as the command see that in these has been the life of your ments of the living God. Now, no one spirit, tribulation working in you experi. has passed through this experience and not ence, and experience the only hope that found it full of labour and sorrow. To part does not make ashamed. Look, and you, with an old thought implies a sort of men with the stricken king, will confess, “O tal death. To make a creed for ourselves, Lord, by these things men live, and in all by which we are prepared to live, and for these is the life of my spirit.”
BY THE REY, SAMUEL DAVIES. “ Let thy work appear unto thy gervants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us : and establish thou the work of our hands upon us ; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”—Pea, Ix. 16, 17.
It is admitted on all hands, that the writer of this sacred ode was Moses, a man who lived in a most critical period of Israel's history, and was of all men then living the most distinguished; distinguished by the part he took in Egypt's chastisement, by the office he sustained towards the Israelitish nation ; distinguished too as the penraan of a large portion of the Book of God, and, above all, by the peculiar nearness to God, in which he appears never to have bad an equal until He came into the world who eternally dwelt in the bosom of the Father.
Such distinctions conferred on one man might seem to leave little to desire, and therefore little to pray for ; yet the Psalın is a mournful one, showing that in this vale of tears there are not wanting griefs to the most spiritually exalted of mankind. Indeed, in the kingdom of God and of Christ grief and toil would seem to be in proportion to the preferment; and of this the long-lived prophets, and the blessed company of the apostles, and, to crown all, our Lord' himself, may be adduced as instances. To the same conclusion the words of Jesus in reply to the request of James and John conduct us. The request was, that they might enjoy the highest honours in his kingdom. The answer made was in the significant question, “ Are ye able to drink of the cup of which I drink?” Thus to Moses, raised above the whole congregation in the wilderness, there was a corresponding allotment of responsibility, with its attendant burdens. Making therefore the affliction of all Israel his own, he pours forth the mournings and prayers which are presented to us in this sublime song.
But not to tarry longer on the threshold of this subject, let us enter in and inquire into the blessings sought, closing with such reflections as may appear appropriate to ourselves.
I. Let us consider the blessing sought.
1. It is the appearance of God's work. “Let thy work appear to thy servants." The reader will say a marvellous request from such a man, before whose mind, under inspiration, the work of creation itself had been made to pass. For was it not before his eyes, and before the men of his generation, that the wonders of God had been wrought in the land of Egypt? Had they not beheld the might of his terrible acts in the Red Sea, completing that dreadful overthrow which had been begun in former plagues ? Passing into the wilderness, he who is seen thus able to destroy appears by his work not less mighty to save and to bless. The brackish waters are made sweet and wholesome; the barren wilderness becomes a table, spread every morning with angels' food, and in its arid wastes the very rocks at God's command gush forth with profluent streams. By night, high above the camp, a preternatural flame, illumining the cheerless desert for miles round, a pillar of fire, was suspended. By day, to shelter them from the rays of a fierce sun, was a pillar of cloud resting with them, and now going before them on their march, thus marking out their way. Yet do we find these words poured forth from a full heart: “Let thy work appear unto thy servants."
To explain this, it may be proper to remark that God's work had fallen under a temporary obscuration by anger roused against Israel for unbelief and sin. Instead of deliverances, God had begun to send calamities; instead of promises, threatenings ; instead of blessings, a curse. He, their Saviour, seemed turned against them to be their enemy. This, therefore, is a prayer for the return of God's favours toward them, a renewal of his lovingkindness. And in seeking that God's work might appear, he intends no small indication of his favour, but one evident, one that should stand forth revealed, and be undoubted—a work which, by its divinity and permanence among them, should make it evident that the Divine presence was verily there ; so that strangers might say, “ We will go with you, for we perceive that God is among you."
A plea is tacitly urged in the designation, “ thy servants," in which their covenant relation to God is with humility touched on. Under the rebukes of God, the writer ventures not so high as to say, “thy people”-a term of loftier import—but lying at his feet as his servants, he begs a restoration of former mercies.
If now we raise this subject and prayer into the more elevated ground of the kingdom of the Son of God, which we occupy in his mercy, the same prayer, without the alteration of one word, is fitted to our lips. What, I may ask, as his ministers, his servants, his Churches, do we want, desire, pray for, but that his work may obtain among us, and so obtain as to be indubitable; in other words, that it may appear.
2. But the prophet's mind, glowing with the warmth of his desire, amplifies the object sought, viewing it under another aspect, and imploring for it an extended field of operations. “Let thy glory appear unto their children.”
God's glory is no doubt coincident in signification with “ his work” in the former clause; yet he thus places before us the object sought in prayer, enriched with one of the most pleasing that can be suggested to our minds. God's work here stands reviewed as “his glory.” The thought is a just one if we apply it to any whatsoever of God's works or ways. Such is the unspeakable majesty of his nature, and the boundlessness of his perfections, that he cannot speak or act without displaying his glory. And in this we only say, that when he acts, he acts in a manner worthy of himself. It is thus that “all his works praise him,” and as his saints behold them, “they bless him." There are some persons whose nature is cast in such a mould, that they cannot speak, or move, without attracting to themselves the admiration of every beholder. How much more must this be so with that blessed and only Potentate, that uncreated One, the source of dignity, and nobleness, natural or spiritual.
But while glory Divine is stamped on all God's works and ways, it peculiarly appears in those condescensions of holy love, by which he brings salvation and life, peace and blessedness, to sinful man ; when he removes their sin, turns away his anger, heals their sorrow, fills their mouth with his praise, and their hearts with his joy. It is not the egotism of man which makes him ascribe to redeeming love the brightest halo of Divine glory. It is a sentiment which is enshrined in the sacred volume, and bears, therefore, the stamp of the Divine seal. So “ thy work" of the former clause appears as “thy glory”in the latter, while the writer implores for this work, which is God's glory, a more extended field of operation; thy glory to their children. The idea is, that God would make his glory abiding in the earth, that it should not appear to this generation, and then disappear like the beautiful aurora of the eastern sky; but that it should have permanence given to it, descending from generation to generation in ever widening circles, till the promise made to the patriarch should be fulfilled, “ In thy seed shall all generations of the earth be blessed."
This petition also, like the former, carries its own argument; this work of thine, which we implore, is thy glory, which thou hast declared most dear to thyself, and which thou hast sworn shall fill the earth; and thy covenant embraces the children of thy servants; we ask, therefore, for covenanted blessings.
3. The prophet further varies at once the phraseology and thought, though he still contemplates substantially the same blessing, adding, “ Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.
To a spiritual mind God is a being invested with beauty. Beauty can indeed be traced in the varied works of nature and the productions of art, but