« PreviousContinue »
“Built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ limself being the
“WHAT DOEST THOU HERE?"
BY THE REV. S. MANNING. THESE words will be recognised as forming the question twice addressed by God to Elijah when flying from the fury of Abab and Jezebel. Having plunged into the desert, a forty-days' journey, the prophet had hidden himself in a cave, amongst the savage, solitudes of Horeb, weary of his life, and des. pairing of the cause in which he was engaged. These words were spoken to rebuke his needless fears, reprove his cowardice, and recall him to his post of duty and danger. Taken in connection with the history of Elijah, they are full of interest and instruction. But it is proposed to use them in a wider sense, and to deduce from them some thoughts and self.questionings appropriate to ourselves and to this New Year. Their fitness for this purpose will appear if we divide the question into two, and ask
1. Why am I here?"
2. What am I doing here? Or, in other words, What is the object of human life? and, How far are we accomplishing it?
I. Why am I here? God hath created nothing in vain.” , “ To every time there is a purpose.” Design may be traced throughout all his works. The least and feeblest of his creatures has its appointed place to fill and its prescribed work to do. From the tiniest insect up to · Behemoth, chief of the works of God," from the glow-worm which lights its little lamp in some secluded dell, to the glorious king of day, “coming forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber, rejoicing as a strong man to run a race,” everything bears marks of a Divine purpose worthy of the wisdom which planned, and the power which created it. Surely, then, man was not created in vain. I cannot be here a purposeless, objectless creature. The Most High had some design in my creation and preservation. Why am I here?
In answering this question the following suggestions may be helpful :
First. We may learn why we are here by considering what we are fit for. The highest and noblest faculty of every creature is that for which it was created. “Grass is good for mere leaves ; and if it produce enough of them it is good grass. A shrub may produce leaves, but if it is a shrub that you plant for obtaining blossoms, it is not a good shrub unless it has blossoms above the leaves. But the orchard may have leaves and blossoms above the leaves, and yet an apple-tree is not good unless it has fruit as well as leaves and blossoms, And vines in vineyards are good, not for leaves alone, nor blossoms, nor clusters of fruit, but for the wine which is produced from the fruit. And men judge accordingly-measuring the value of a vine, not by the clusters, but by th:
wine ; measuring an orchard a little lower, not by the blossoms, but by the fruit ; measuring an ornamental shrub, not by the leaves, but by the blossoms ; mea. suring grass by a standard yet lower. We measure things by the point wherein their superiority lies. The swine we estimate for fatness ; oxen for strength and flesh; dogs for scent and sagacity; horses for speed and endurance."* How, then, shall we estimate man? For what was I fitted and designed by my Creator? Many things I have in common with the lower animals, but I am not placed here that I may live an animal life, any more than the vine that it may produce leaves, or the apple-tree that it may stand in spring-time snowed over with beautiful blossoms. What is the characteristic difference which makes me a MAN? What is the point of superiority which distinguishes me from every: thing else? The answer is obvious. It is my spiritual nature this marvellous combination of faculties within me which culminate in conscience. I am endowed with wondrous gifts of reason, of affection, of memory, and hope, and fear. I can be taught by the past, can anticipate the future, can realise the unseen and invisible, can rise into fellowship with God, can serve him with “an acceptable service,” can become like him, “a partaker of the Divine nature,” and, though finite, can reflect his infinite perfections, just as the little pool amongst the mountains can mirror the infinite heavens. It was God's image which constituted the true glory of unfallen man. Since the fall it is the reproduction of that image-obscured, defaced, and almost obliterated by sin—which forms our great business here. I am here that I may glorify God by learning and doing his will. “To know him, to love him, to serve him, is the great end of existence,” towards which I am constantly to press.
Secondly. It should be observed that all creatures exist for the sake of something higher than themselves. The crude, inorganic mass of the earth exists for the sake of the vegetable life which grows out of it. Plants and vegetables exist for the use of the animals which feed on them. And of animals, the lower orders are for the sake of the higher. And all exist for the sake of man. The days of creation, as recorded in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, carry out this idea. The work of each day is an advance upon that of the day which preceded it, and a preparation for that which is to follow. We may trace throughout nature this subordination of part to part, the inferior existing for the sake of the superior. In balanced beauty, in perfect harmony, the scheme of creation rises till “the diapason closes full in man.” “Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands, thou hast put all things under his feet.” If, then, all things are for our sakes—if we are placed at the very summit of the works of God on earth- if we ascend step by step till we reach the highest point of this sublunary scheme of things, and find ourselves placed there as the rulers of the lower world-for what do we exist but for “ Him whose dominion ruleth over all ” ? He created all other things for us, but he created us for himself. “He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.' All things are put under our feet, that we as the priests and ministers of God in nature may serve bim through them all. God is the great end of onr being. It is both for and "in Him that we live, and move, and exist."
Thirdly. But it may be said, Do we not exist to be happy? Is not our own welfare the object we are to seek ? Did not the poet speak truly when he exclaimed, “Oh, happiness! our being's end and aim”? We need not stop here to discuss the philosophical question-whether duty or happiness, whether the glory of God or his own welfare, ought to be man's design. They are different forms of the same thing. The claims of God upon our service are perfectly coincident with the desires of a wise self-love. “His commandments are not grievous.” They are not even arbitrary. They simply demand from us what it would be for our own welfare to render. The path of duty is identical with that of happiness. The service of God is the only real good. Just in proportion as I seek to promote bis glory do I promote my own welfare. The great Augustine was wont to exclaim, “Oh, God! thou didst create us for thyself, and our spirits are restless till they find rest in thee.” If we were truly wise, we should need no additional promise to prompt us to obey him, for "in keeping his statutes there is great reward."
* H. W. Beech'r.
Live while you live,' the epicure would say,
And give to God each moment as it flies.'
I live in pleasure when I live to Thee.” If, then, I ask, Why am I here? can I answer the question better than by replying in the words of the “ Assembly's Catechism,"2" The chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy him for ever"? This is, indeed, the great object of our existence. Our highest duty and our supreme happiness meet when we make the glory of God our aim, and his will the rule of our lives. No aim can be half so noble; no rule half so sure.
II. What am I doing here? How am I fulfilling the great purpose of my being ? No question can be more important or more appropriate to this solemn season. Another year has gone. Has it been a year misspent, “ thoughtless, and vain, and wild"; another period of time added to the many preceding it, wasted, and leaving no result? Or have we lived so that we can look back with some measure of satisfaction upon the past, and feel we have done something to good purpose, have been here in the post of duty, and held that post to God's glory? That our self-examination upon these points may be somewhat more definite and precise, let us use these words in the senses in which they were first addressed to the prophet.
1. What doest thou here ? Art thou, as Elijah was, a fugitive from duty, because it is perilous or painful! The prophet's post was at the court of Ahab. What business had he here in the wilderness?“ They sought his life, to take it away.” But what of that? His life, or ours, is of very small consequence. It matters little whether we live or die. But it is of infinite consequence that we do our duty. And if we are " not to count our own lives dear unto us," much less ought we attach supreme importance to any inferior possession. God elaims all, and has a right to all. Shall we flinch from the post of duty because sacrifices are required to maintain it ? Admit that those sacrifices would be great and painful, what then? Has not God a right to demand them ? And cannot he compensate us for all we lose in his service! Remember who said, “ Verily, I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and the Gospel's, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this present time, with persecutions, and in the world to come life everlasting.” In the present day, the sacrifices we are called upon to make for Christ are very small and trivial when compared with those demanded in former times. It is not the sacrifice of life, but the surrender of ease and leisure ; not the absolute loss of all things, but a diminution of our gains ; not imprisonment in the mines, but to spend some hours in the sick chamber, or the Sunday-school, which God requires at our hands. In some respects this is more difficult than the greater sacrifices which would be needful in other periods. Then heroism would prompt to noble deeds ; now we are left to the action of Christian principle alone. But be the sacrifice much or little, be it life, or some fragment of life, which God asks at our hands, we a: e bound to make the surrender at bis bidding. If these lines fall under the eye of a reader who has shrunk from duty from any such selfish motive, and whom this opening year finds away from his post, we appeal to him as God did to the prophet-" What doest thou here, Elijah ?”
2. Or the post of duty may have been abandoned in discouragement under a sense of failure. “ The children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword, and I, even I, only am left, and they seek my life to take it away." The prophet's outlook was indeed dark. There seemed to be abundant grounds for despondency. We need not wonder that he yielded to discouragement. Little did he suspect that God had yet “ seven thousand in Israel which had not bowed the knee to Baal.” But whether or not, his duty was clear, and the command was emphatic and unconditional-" Go, return. Many a teacher, or visitor of the sick, or tract distributor, or preacher of the Gospel, may have closed the past year, or commenced the present, under some such desponding sense of incompetency and failure. “ You have laboured in vain," you say, “and spent your strength for nought." Therefore you will cease to labour, and no longer spend your strength upon a vain and fruitless enterprise. But how do you know that “no man hath believed your report”? What right have you to say that your labour has been in vain ? Whether or no, “ What doest thou here, standing all the day idle?” Go “ work in God's vineyard ;” “work whilst it is called to-day.” This may be the very discipline you need. You may have been just about to “ reap ” when you began to “ faint.” Past failure should not check your continued effort, but rather arouse you to new devotion, to a fresh self-surrender, to more earnest prayer, to a more complete self-denial. You cannot glorify God whilst you are doing nothing for him. You can hardly fail to do so whilst you are diligent in his service. Fugitive from the battle-field, deserter from the sacramental host of God's elect, faint-hearted and feeble one, who shrinkest from the weariness of the burden, or art flagging in the race, back to thy post!“ What doest thou here?”
3. Or the post of duty may have been deserted through the want of co-operation and sympathy. Solitude weighed heavily on the prophet's heart. “I, even I, only am left.” Loneliness is hard to bear. Even Elijah, who had fearlessly confronted the many thousands of Israel and the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, felt it. Even our Lord felt it when, speaking of the desertion of his disciples, he said that they would be “scattered every man to his own, and leave me alone;" when he appealed to them, after many had forsaken him, “Will ye also go away?" or when he thrice aroused them on the night of his betrayal with the touching words, “What, conld ye not watch with me one hour?” The difference was, that whilst Elijah succumbed to his depressing sense of loneliness by deserting his post, our Lord stood firm and unshaken; “ he trod the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with him.” In this respect, as in all others, he is our example. He bids us follow him in the path of solitary service, and encourages us to say, “ Nevertheless, I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” You have been unaided, you say, in your work during the past year. You have been left alone by those whose sympathy and aid would have given you new strength. You have seen them hold aloof, consulting their own interests, or pleasure, or ease, and, with folded hands, they have stood looking on, leaving you to labour alone. At length you have yielded to the depressing influence, or are about to do so. You have joined the ranks of the indolent and inactive. To you the appeal comes—What doest thou here? Wilt thou, too, flinch from the work? Wilt thou add the disspiriting influence of thy desertion to that which already weighs down the hearts of the faithful few who still labour on? Return to thy solitary post. Thou art not so lonely as thy fears whisper. God's hidden ones, his “ seven thousand," are around thee, and He is with thee, saying, “ Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.”
4. Or we may apply these words to an inquiry into the spiritual condition of the believer. Years ago you entered upon the pilgrimage the end of wbich was heaven. What progress have you made ? Comparing your present position in
the Divine life with that which you occupied years ago, what advance have you made? When you ought to be nearing the goal, you still linger around the starting-point. How slow your progress! What doest thou here-scarcely advanced from the position you occupied years ago ? The old sins are still confessed, the old feebleness deplored, the old temptations still as potent as ever. Years roll on, bearing us with them nearer and ever nearer to death, the judgment, and eternity. Are we growing in fitness for that great change, and made more “ meet to become partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light”? Paul complained of those among his converts who, when they ought to be teachers, needed “that one teach them again the first rudiments of the Gospel of Christ.” He desired them to be “ children in malice, but in understanding to be men.” Again and again does he urge upon them the duty and necessity of growth. He would have them attain “ the stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus." There is no more beautiful sight on earth than a new-born babe. Its very feebleness and helplessness invests it with a strange, mysterious charm. But if after the lapse of years I return and find it a babe still, as ignorant, as dependent, as help. less as ever, I start back with horror as from a monster. What charmed me before, shocks and revolts me now. Yet in the spiritual life what more common than this ! We see babes in Christ, who remain so after years of Christian profession; who even yet need “milk because they cannot bear strong meat;” who are still lingering amongst first principles when they ought to have gone on unto perfection; who remain stationary (if, indeed, that be possible) when Christ is calling upon them to advance in knowledge, strength, and grace. To such we would address the earnest appeal-What doest thou here? There are foes to be encountered and overcome, difficulties to be surmounted, summits of sanctified consecration to be scaled, “ heights and depths, and lengths and breadths, of love" to be explored-and yet you linger. Up and be doing! Let this New Year furnish a new point of departure in the Christian pilgrimage. Delay no longer. What doest thou here?
5. It can scarcely be doubted that these pages will fall into the hands of some who, as yet, are undecided for God. The great object of life, as we have seen, is to glorify God, and enjoy him for ever. Upon this great enterprise they have not even entered. They have yet to begin that work for which they were born. The very purpose of existence is, as yet, unattempted by them. What doest thou here? For what art thou living? Is it for the acquisition of wealth? “ Riches will take to themselves winys, and fly away." Soon you must leave ail your wealth behind you. “You brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that you can carry nothing out." Is it for pleasure ? Pleasures, such as yours, "perish in the using." You now enjoy your “good thing8;" soon they will fail; and, amidst the decrepitudes of age, or the awful gloom of death, they will leave no residuum save remorse for the past and despair for the future. Is it for admiration and applause you live? Can that avail you as you enter the land of oblivion and forgetfulness, and disappear within the darkness of " the valley of the shadow of death”? Was it for any such things as these that you were created? They fail to satisfy you even now. Amidst all your enjoyment you are conscious of "an aching void the world can never fill.” It is a noble thing to be a Man to be endowed with the wonderful faculties and powers which constitute our humanity, and make us capable of “glorifying God, and enjoying him for ever.” “What doest thou” with those divine gifts? You are sinking infinitely beneath your true dignity; you are degrading yourself to “the husks that the swine do eat,” when you might feast “ upon angels' food.” Strive with this New Year to rise to that noble destiny for which God designed you. Begin at once to live as the child of God and the heir of heaven. You can never truly be said to live till you do so.
What doesť thou here? If God had " dealt with you after your sins," you