Category Archives: HISTORY & WRITINGS

THE REACH OF HIS FAITHFULLNESS

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

“Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.” Psalm 36:5

The faithfulness of God is one of the strong truths of the Old Testament. It is one distinction of the Jewish faith, in contrast with the ancient pagan faiths. Pagan gods were not generally faithful whether in Babylon or Greece. They were immoral, careless of their promises regardless of their pledged word. And the wonderful thing about the Jewish faith was that the God of the Jew was always faithful both to His covenant and to His children.

Such a magnificent and upholding thought sprang not only from personal experience, it was interwoven with the fact that the Jewish religion was historical. The Jew could look back over the tracts of time and discover there the faithfulness of God in a way the brief life might never show. As he recalled the story of the past, of Abraham traveling to the promised land, of the slaves in Egypt rescued from their slavery, of the desert pilgrimage of forty years, one thing that was stamped upon his heart, never to be erased by any finger, was that Jehovah was a faithful God.

That thought sustained the psalmist, and with him, all the saints of the old covenant. In the Old Testament, the word “faith” is rare, but the word “faithfulness” occurs a score of times. And here the psalmist, in his poetic way, and like Jesus, drawing his images from nature, says, “Thy faithfulness reacheth to the clouds.”

The Clouds of Scripture

One thinks, for instance, of the clouds of Scripture in such a passage as the Ascension story. When our Lord ascended to the Father, a cloud received Him from the disciples’ sight (Act 1:9). That was a lonesome and desolating hour when the cloud wrapped around Him and He was gone. They had loved Him so and leaned upon Him so that I take it they were well-nigh broken-hearted. Then the days went on, and they discovered that the engulfing cloud was not the end of everything. It, too, was touched by the faithfulness of heaven. He had promised to be with them always, and He was faithful to that promise still. He had said, “I will manifest Myself to you,” and that promised word was verified. The cloud had come and engulfed their Lord, and they thought the sweet companionship was over. But His faithfulness reached unto the clouds.

The Clouds of History

Again, one thinks of the clouds of history, for history has its dark and cloudy days. For instance, what a cloudy day that was when the Jews were carried off to Babylon. Exiled to a distant, heathen land, they thought that God had forgotten to be gracious. They said: “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God.” It was not the hardship of exile that confounded them. It was that God seemed to have broken His covenant and had been found unfaithful to His promises. By the waters of Babylon, they sat and wept. They hung their harps upon the willow trees. How could they sing of the faithfulness of God when He had let them go into captivity?

And yet the day was coming when the instructed heart would rise to another view of that captivity and say: “Thy faithfulness reacheth to the clouds.” Memory became illuminative. Things lost grew doubly precious. Distance helped them to a clearer vision of what sin was and what God was. And then across that dark and cloudy day came the ringing of prophetic voices with the message of ransom and return (Isaiah 35:1-10). They were not forgotten. They were not rejected. Their way was not passed over by their God. Sunny days did not exhaust His faithfulness. It reached even to the clouds. And of how many a dark day of history (as when we revert in thought to the World Wars) can we set to our seal that this is true!

The Clouds Over Our Lives

Again, one thinks how this great truth applies to the clouds that hang over our human lives. What multitudes can say, in an adoring gratitude, “Thy faithfulness hath reached unto the clouds”? Just as in every life are days of sunshine when the sky is blue and all the birds are singing, when every wind blows from where the Lord is and when we feel it is good to be alive, so in every life are shadowed days when the sun withdraws its shining for a season and the clouds return after the rain. It may be a time of trouble in the family or of great anxiety in business, the time when health is showing signs of failing or when the chair is empty and the grave is full. It may be the time when all that a man has lived for seems washed away like a castle in the sand. It may be the day of unexpected poverty.

How unlooked for often are the clouds of life. They gather swiftly like some tropical thunderstorm. We confidently expect a cloudless day, and before evening the sky is darkened. And yet what multitudes of folk as they look backward, with much experience in life, can take our text and in quiet adoring gratitude claim it as the truth of their experience. You thought (don’t you remember thinking?) that God had quite forgotten to be gracious. Possibly you were tempted to deny Him or secretly to doubt His care for you. But now, looking back upon it all, you have another vision and another certainty, just as the experienced psalmist had. If there are any of those who read these lines for whom this is the dark and cloudy day, who are anxious and distressed, who say in the morning, “Would God that it was evening”–have faith. Do not despair. The hour is nearer than you think when you also will say with David, “Thy faithfulness reacheth to the clouds.”

KNOWN IN ADVERSITIES

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

“I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities;” Psalm 31:7

One great comfort of assurance in this verse is that such knowledge is always very thorough. When someone has known us in adversities, then he has known us as we really are.

There is a sonnet by Blanco White, familiar to all the lovers of the beautiful, in which he develops the thought that but for the night, we should never know the stars. And so there is a very real sense in which we may say we never know a life till we have seen it in the darkness of adversity. When the sun is warm and all the leaves are green, you can scarcely see the cottage in the forest. But when the storm of winter sweeps the leaves away, then at last you see it as it is. It may be stronger than you ever thought, or it may be more battered and decayed, but always the winter shows it as it is.

Indeed, the revealing power of adversity strips the summer covering away. It shows us not in the setting of our circumstance, but as we are in naked reality. And therefore one who has known us in adversities, and been at our side in sorrow and calamity, knows us with an intimacy that probably nothing else can ever give. That is why the knowledge of a doctor is often more searching than that of any friend. That is why the knowledge of a wife often reaches to an unrivaled intimacy, for she has known her husband not only when all was well with him and when the sun was shining on his head, but when his heart was wary and his body sick and all his hopes seemed crumbled into dust.

Hidden Burdens

It was a great comfort to the psalmist also that the Lord had pierced through every disguise. That is why he uses the word soul: “Thou hast known my soul in adversities.” To the Hebrew, more simply than to us, that word “soul” just meant the real self. There was nothing theological about it. It was a common word in common use. And what the psalmist deeply felt was this: the knowledge of God had pierced through all disguises and known him in the secret of his being.

There are few things more beautiful in life than the way in which men and women hide their sorrows. On the street and in the shops there is a quiet heroism as great as any on the battlefield. You may meet a person in frequent conversation, yet all the time and unknown to you, some sorrow may be lying at his heart. How often a mother, when she is worn and ill, struggles bravely to hide it from her family. How often a husband, deep in business difficulties, struggles to keep it hidden from those at home. How often a minister, called from a scene of death which may mean for him the end of a friendship, has to go to a marriage and be happy there as if there were not a sorrow in the world. Talk of the disguises of hypocrisy! They are nothing to the disguises of the brave–those cheerful looks, that quiet and patient work when the heart within is heavy as a stone. That Spartan youth who kept a smiling face while the fox was gnawing away at him has his fellows in every community.

But Thou hast known my soul in adversity. That was the joy and comfort of the psalmist. There was one eye that pierced through all concealment, and that was the eye of an all-pitying God. Others had known his outward behaviour for in trials there are many eyes upon us. Others had heard his words and seen his actions and wondered at the courage in his bearing. But only God had read the secret story and seen how utterly desolate he was and known how often, in spite of all appearances, he had been plunged into profound despair.

There is a point where human knowledge ceases and beyond which human sympathy is powerless. It pierces deep if it is genuine, but there are depths to which it cannot pierce. And it was just there, in the region of his soul, that the psalmist felt that there was One who knew him and would never leave him nor forsake him. He felt it in the sustainment he received. He felt it in the strength that was bestowed upon him. He felt it in the peace that rested on him, a peace such as the world could never give. And so when the sun shone on him again, as sooner or later it does on all of us, he took his pen and wrote in gratitude, “Thou hast known my soul in adversities.”

The Condescension of God’s Love

There was one other comfort for the psalmist at which our text hints unobscured. He had been awakened by the knowledge that he speaks of to the infinite condescension of God’s love.

A well-known German religious writer who has brought comfort to multitudes of mourners tells us how once he had a visit from a friend who was in great distress. This friend had once been a very wealthy man, and now he had fallen upon evil days, and that very morning one of his old companions had passed him without recognition on the street. Then Gotthold, for such was the writer’s name, took him by the hand and, pointing upward, said, “Thou hast known my soul in adversities.”

It is one of the sayings of the moralist that the world courts prosperity and shuns adversity. There are rats in every circle of society who all hasten to leave the sinking ship. But what the psalmist had awakened to was this: the eternal God, who was his refuge, had known him and acknowledged him and talked with him when his fortunes were at their very blackest. Nothing but love could explain the condescension. He had found in God a friend who was unfailing. “If I ascend into heaven thou art there; if I make my bed in hell thou art there.” So was the world made ready for the Saviour who, when other helpers fail and comforts flee, never deserts us, never is ashamed of us, never leaves us to face the worst alone.

WAITING ON GOD

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

“Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee..” Psalm 25:21

In the great biblical thought of waiting upon God, there are several interwoven strands of meaning, and it is well to try to distinguish some of these that we may better grasp the importance of the term.

Dependence

The first meaning, nestling at the heart of it and never absent from the mind of any writer, is the concept of dependence. As the baby waits upon its mother for without its mother it will die; as the anguished patient waits upon the surgeon for in the skill of the surgeon is the hope of life, so when one is said to wait on God there is implied an entire dependence upon Him. There is a sense, in biblical phraseology, in which this waiting is a universal thing. “The eyes of all things living to wait on thee.” The bird that sings, the beast that hunts its prey–all of them are waiting upon God. But such an inescapable dependence does not bring the thought to its full blossoming. That demands a dependence which is conscious. It is when we realize, however dimly, that in Him we live and move and have our being, it is when we waken to the mysterious certainty that we all hang on God for every heartbeat–it is only when the word comes to its fullness in the deep usage of the Scriptures, and man is said to be waiting upon God.

Obedience

Another strand of meaning in the word takes us into the region of obedience. To wait on is another term for service. The man who serves us when we sit down at the table and who is there just to supply our wants, we still distinguish by the name of the waiter. When a prime minister waits upon the king, that is not an idle sauntering business. It is part of the service to which he has been called, a service which demands his highest energies. And so when a man is said to wait On God, it is not a negation of activity, for the thought of service runs right through the term. We wait on God whenever we help a brother and do it lovingly for Jesus’ sake. We wait on God when we teach our little class or climb the stairs to cheer some lonely soul. The servant in the kitchen waits on God when for His sake she does her duty faithfully. The mistress in the living room waits on God when for His sake she is a lady to her servants. We are all apt to forget that and to narrow down these fine old Bible words. We are prone to limit the great thought of waiting to the single region of devotion. But the root idea of it is not devotion. The root idea is simple, quiet obedience. And what doth the Lord thy God require of thee but to obey?

Love

Another of the interwoven strands is love: in true waiting that is invariably present. As love is the source of all the highest work, so is it the spring of all the finest waiting. Jacob waited for Rachel seven years, and the years were as a day or two to Jacob because of the great love he had for her. What makes the mother wait for her child and rise from her pillow when she hears it cry? What makes her wait for it with tireless patience when it frets or tosses with fever? She may be only a frail and sickly woman, but she never wearies of waiting on her child, and the secret of it is a mother’s love. Love beareth all things and endureth all things. Love can wait with a patience all her own. Love can achieve miracles of waiting, as many a young engaged couple knows. And that is why, if we are ever to wait nobly, in the teeth of all our natural impatience, we must be taught to love the Lord our God. It must have been very hard in the times of the older covenant for the common man to wait on God, for God seemed very far away then, and clouds and darkness were about His throne. But now, under the new covenant and by the revealing grace of the Redeemer, it is within the reach and compass of us all. If we hold to it that “God so loved the world,” if we say believingly “Our Father,” love to God, once so supremely difficult, is in the range of the ordinary heart. And, lovingly, we can wait as Jacob waited, and as the mother waits for her child, with a service that knows no weariness at all.

Expectancy

There is only one other strand woven in the word and that is the strand of eager, tense expectancy. To wait on, in a hundred spheres of life, is eagerly and tensely to expect. You see that in the dumb creatures–watch the dog waiting on his master. Is the master going to give him a bit of food? Is he going to throw that stick into the stream? You see that in any court of law when the accused waits on the verdict or the judge with an expectancy so tense that it is painful. Now apply that to the realm of prayer and how it illuminates the matter! To wait on God is not just to pray to God, for many pray and never expect an answer. To wait on God is to pray with the tense expectancy that the prayer we offer will be answered, for He is the answer to prayer. All prayer is not waiting upon God in the full and highest sense of the Old Testament. For a man may rise from his knees and forget the thing he prayed for and fail to keep on the lookout for an answer. Only when we pray and pray believingly, and climb the watchtower to see the answer coming, do we reach the fullness of that fine old term waiting upon God.

INTIMACY

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will shew them his covenant..” Psalm 25:14

When a man enjoys the friendship of the great, it is always considered an honourable thing. To have the confidence of famous people is a distinction of which everyone is proud. When people point to a man and say to you, “Do you see that man–he was the friend of Obama”; when we find ourselves in the company of one who enjoyed the intimacy of Primine Minister Manning, there is always a certain thrill in our hearts and a deepened interest in the happy person who enjoyed the freedom of familiar fellowship with those whose names are famous in the world. I noticed the other day in the newspapers the case of a lady who had died. What the facts were I do not recall, but I was impressed by one in particular. She had been the friend of Milton in her youth and had been honoured with his close friend, and every newspaper I got my hands on put that in large letters in the heading.

Now if that is so with great men, how much more will it be so with God! To be admitted to the confidence of God must be quite an incomparable honour. It is His hand that hath inspired the genius; it is His spirit that hath made the poet; it is He who hath quickened and kindled into greatness the mightiest upon the stage of history. And if it is honourable to be their confidant and move in the freedom of fellowship with them, how much more to be the confidant of God. That is the deep meaning of our text–“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” It is not the secret of His hidden counsel; it is the secret of His hidden heart. The psalmist tells us that there are certain people whom God delights to honour with His confidence and to whom He reveals Himself from day to day with a peculiar and delightful intimacy.

Intimacy Associated With Reverence

For those of us who believe in Jesus Christ as the perfect revelation of the Father, that selective freedom of God, if I may call it so, is abundantly confirmed and illustrated. There is no soul which Jesus will not save. There is no man whom Jesus does not love. There is no sheep crying in the wilderness whom the Shepherd will not leave His flock to rescue. Yet universal as His mercy is and stretching to the confines of humanity, Christ, like the Father whom He came to show, had His special and peculiar friendships. Out of the multitude who trusted Him, He chose twelve to be His special comrades. Out of the twelve, He made a choice of three, and they were with Him when He was transfigured. And then out of the three, He singled one who at the Supper lay upon His bosom and who has been known right down through the centuries as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Were there not fifty cottages where Jesus would have been an honoured guest? Were there no sisters in Galilean villages to whom His coming would have been like heaven? And Jesus loved them all and blessed them all, yet was there one cottage that was doubly dear, and there were a brother and two sisters in it whom He loved in a special way. Broad is the love of Christ as the whole world–deep as our deepest need–it is high as our highest aspiration and as long as the enduring of eternity. Yet was the secret of the Lord with them that feared Him. He had His intimates and special confidants. There were certain men and certain women to whom He revealed the treasures of His heart.

Let me say in passing that this peculiar intimacy is always associated with the deepest reverence. Wherever we find it in the Christian centuries, one of its marks is an adoring awe. We have a proverb, known to all of you, that familiarity breeds contempt. We have another not less cynical, that no man is a hero to his servant. And the very fact that these proverbs live and move contemptuously through our common speech shows that they are not without foundation. Intimacy is not always a blessing. Sometimes it is sorely disappointing. There are men whose lives are like oil paintings which look their finest from a little distance. But if that is so with men sometimes, never yet hath it been so with God. The closer the intimacy of a man with God, the deeper his adoration, and his awe. Abraham was the friend of God, yet he was but dust and ashes in his own sight. Moses was drawn into His secret counsel, yet who was more devoutly reverent than Moses? John had looked into his Master’s eyes, and lain at the Supper on his Master’s bosom, “yet when I saw him,” said that same disciple, “I fell at his feet as dead.”

I well remember when I was first at Niagra Falls how I looked at the great waterfall from afar off. And from that distance, it was so sublime that one almost shrank from any nearer view. And yet when I spent a week embosomed by it, wondering where the glaciers were thinking they were near the falls.  There were voices whispering in these icy palaces which one had never heard from far away. And so when a man who sometimes was far off is brought nigh to God by the blood of Jesus Christ, he does not cease to reverence or adore. Always distrust the religion of a man who speaks to God as to a next-door neighbour. Always distrust that light familiarity with the Almighty Maker of the universe. To know Him best is to adore Him most. To have His secret is to worship Him. He who is closest to the throne is on his knees.

God’s Selective Freedom

Nor can we justly quarrel with God because He exercises that selective freedom. It is the very thing which you and I are doing in the fulfillment of that life which is His gift. What is that life which you and I possess? What is it mystically, I mean, not chemically? The deepest truth of things is never chemical. The deepest truth of everything is mystical. And what is life, then, but the overflowing of the exhaustless fountain in the heavens? In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

Now did you ever think how poor our lives would be had we no freedom in our loves and friendships? Is it not just the genius of selection that makes one life richer than another? When everyone is kept at an equal distance, life is a miserable and empty business. It lacks much of its music and charm. Don’t we all have our chosen friends? Don’t we have some who are our confidants? Don’t we sometimes make the great discovery and in a moment recognize our own? We are like Jesus in that village street, caught in the rough pushing of the crowd, yet there was one touch unlike all others–“Someone hath touched me.” Why is it that we are drawn to some people so unerringly and so effectually? And why do others, no matter how admirable, we never unbar the gateway of the heart? To me the meaning of it all is this, that life is interpenetrated with the election, whether it be the life of man on earth or the life of the Almighty in the heavens. Good unto all men is the Lord. He is the Lord God merciful and gracious. I believe in His great love to all the world which moved Him to send us His Son. Yet are there those whom He delights to know in all the freedom of a blessed intimacy. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.

Now those confidants of God, if I may call them so, are never arbitrarily chosen. They are His friends because He wills it so, but they also become His friends by what they are. It is not always thus we make our friends. Our friendships are not always based on character. Often they take the line of least resistance, and sometimes they develop through a common jealousy or greed. But every friendship which is made with God is from the depths of the character-the secret is with them that fear Him.

The note of the nightingale is never heard outside the borders of a certain area. You never hear it north of Bequia. You never hear it west of the Grenadines. You may take the eggs and have them hatched in Largo Heights and carry the fledglings to our forest woods, but never will the birds come north again to give us that wonderful music of the night. Outside a certain limit they are silent, and outside a certain limit, God is silent. There are frontiers for the voice of heaven as there are for the voice of every singing bird. Only the frontiers are not geographical; they are moral and have to do with the character. They are determined by what a man desires and by the deepest craving of his soul. The poorest peasant may know more of God than he who is a master of the sciences. The mystic cobbler may have such gleams of glory as put to shame the wisdom of the wise. For except we become as little children, we cannot even see the kingdom. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see Him.

Waiting on God

Put in another way that just means this, that we must wait on God if we would learn His secret. As the eyes of a servant wait upon her mistress, so, says the psalmist, must we wait on God. It is not by a hasty glance at an old masterpiece that you discern the wonder of the painting. When you confront a celebrated picture, the first feeling is often a disappointment. It is only as you wait and watch and ponder, and quietly linger with revering gaze, that you detect its fullness and its depth and waken to the wonder of it all.

The farmers used to make merry with the poet Wordsworth when they saw him sitting hour by hour on some Greystone. Some of them thought he was an idle rascal, and more of them thought he was a little crazy. But Wordsworth was watching nature like a lover, and he was passive that he might catch her voice, and he waited on nature with such a splendid faithfulness that we are all his debtors to this hour.

A fickle man can never be a scholar, nor can he ever hope to be a saint. No secret that is rich is ever won without the reverence of assiduity. You must wait on Shakespeare and you must wait on science through a thousand struggling and laborious days if you are ever to read the mystic scroll they carry or wrest from it the message it conveys. No self-respecting man reveals his deepest to the chance visitor or to the casual comer. He keeps his best for those who love his company and who rejoice to be with him day by day. And so the secret of the Lord is kept–and kept forever–from the casual comer. The secret is with them that fear Him.

In closing I want you to remember that this secret is given for large issues. It is not bestowed for personal enjoyment so much as for the service of mankind. There are certain plants, like that exquisite child of the spring the woodsorrel, to which God has given two different kinds of flowers. The one is the white flower which we all love, but the other is hidden away beneath the leaves. It has no beauty that we should desire it, nor any petals which unfold in April, yet in that secret flower which you have never noticed there lies the beauty of another spring. So is it with the secret of the Lord, for it is not showy like a fair corolla, yet it gives to every life that knows it a certain gracious and beautiful fertility. The secret of the sun is in the coal, and it is that secret which makes the coal a blessing. It warms our dwellings and drives our engine wheels because the secret of the sun is there. And if for coal, so ugly and defiling, the secret of the sunshine can do that, who can tell what blessing may not radiate from him who has the secret of the Lord? It will not reveal to him tomorrow’s story. It will not make him nastily infallible. He will be humble as a little child set in a world that is aflame with glory. But knowing God with such peculiar intimacy, for him tomorrow will be robbed of terror and in the weariest as in the roughest day, there will be direction and repose.

SECRET FAULTS

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

“Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.” Psalm 19:12

The secret faults of which the psalmist is speaking in this verse are the faults that are secret from even ourselves. They are the sins and failings of your life and mine of which we are unconscious. There are some faults we can keep secret from the world, and yet they are well known to those at home. The people we meet in the street may not suspect them, but our wives or mothers know them all too well. And there are other sins which a man may do in business so that his name smells rank among honourable dealers, yet the shadow of them may never touch his home nor the innocent faces of his adoring children. Such faults are secret beyond a certain circle. Love casts the mantle of her glorious silence around them. But it is not these of which the psalmist thinks when he cries, “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” He thinks of the faults and sins which in the sight of God we are committing, and yet we are ignorant of them and have never been awakened to them and are not conscious they are there at all.

Now that there are such faults in every one of us may be demonstrated along many lines. Think, for instance, how certain it becomes when we remember what we see in others. Is there anyone known to you, however good or beautiful, on whose faults or failings you could not put your finger? Is there any friend or lover or child or wife or minister whose weakness you have not long ago detected? They may not see it–it never obtrudes on them–they are quite unconscious that it is obvious to you. And so also as our neighbours move among us daily, and we see a hundred faults which they are blind to. Do not exempt yourself, I beg of you, from this general censure of humanity. You are bone of their bone, flesh of their flesh, born with their weakness, tempted with their sin. The very fact that all of us can see the mote that is in our brother’s eye is proof that we have one in our own.

The certainty of such faults is proved again by our general ignorance of our own nature. There is not a man or woman whose life is not full of secret possibilities. Let the finger of love but touch a woman’s heart, and you shall hardly know that woman by and by. Let motherhood come with all its infinite mystery, and she is enriched to the very heavens. Let a man be converted by the grace of God, as Paul was converted on the Damascus road, and life is expanded into undreamed-of fullness. We all surprise each other now and then, and now and then we all surprise ourselves–when love comes, or some great wave of emotion, or the sound of a trumpet and the call to battle. And if we believe in secret possibilities, on the basis of which Christ wrought from first to last, must we not also believe in secret sins? The fact is we should believe it instantly if it were not for the presence of self-love. Love thinketh no evil of the loved one, even when the loved one is oneself. And so in our secret virtues, we believe, and in the hidden possibilities within us, but from our secret faults we turn away. That common attitude is intellectual cowardice. It is a man’s first duty to face all the facts. To flatter other men is bad enough, but to flatter one’s own self is far more deadly. And therefore if you believe in hidden heights within you, I ask you also to believe in hidden depths and to cry as David cried, “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”

The Power of Habit

The exercise of a long-continued habit has a deadening power. There are sins which were not secret long ago, but habit and custom have made them secret now.

I well remember when I came to New York from Florida, and how at first I found it hard to sleep at nights for the incessant noise of the railway and street. In Florida, when night fell, the quiet was perfect. The countryside might have been wrapped in snow. There was no sound except the wind and sometimes the mystical calling of the sea. And then in the city, there was the midnight traffic, and the jar and jolt and shrieking of the railway, and I would lie awake repeating, “Sleep no more, New York City hath murdered my night sleep.” All that lasted for a few weeks, and then the train noises and clamorous voices became silent as I grew accustomed to the noise. And they died away and were no longer audible and never again disturbed the beatitude of rest. The noise was as loud as ever, and still, the train rattled through the dark, but habit had made me oblivious to it all.

For good or for evil in this life of ours, habit is always busy doing that. Things that would wake us once and make us jump with fear are robbed of their power to disturb our slumber. And so the sins that long ago were open, and shocked us and made us blush to think of them, may have become with passing years our secret sins. You would have been very unhappy once when the day was over if you had flung yourselves down upon a prayerless bed. And yet it may be that you do it now with never a thought that you are grieving God. You would have been miserable once and full of guilty shame had you been cruel, dishonest, or impure. And yet it may be that today you sin these sins without any inward unhappiness at all. My brother and sister, that is Satan’s triumph–to take our open sins and make them secret: to take the faults that shamed us long ago and make us habituated and accustomed to them. When a man has ceased to be shamed and shocked by sin, when he does habitually what once he loathed and hated, let him beware for his immortal soul, for final impenitency crouches at the door. “Cleanse thou me, O Lord, from secret faults.” They were not secret once in happy childhood. Then they distressed us and sent us out in misery, but they do not distress us for a moment now. So from the pressure of habit and of custom, touching us all into a certain hardness, we may be sure that we need to apply the psalmist’s prayer to ourselves as well.

The Most Perilous Sins

And may I say that among all our sins there are perhaps none more perilous than our secret sins. And they are perilous just because in them we have the preparation for our open falls. Our great sins are seldom momentary overthrows. They seldom reach us like bolts out of the blue. These dark and tragic falls that we all know are not isolated and independent things. They reach us by the hidden ways of darkness and out of the silent and interior life so that on every hour of wreckage and disaster there is the pressure of our secret faults.

For every noble act you ever did, there was a conscious and an unconscious preparation. You were getting ready for it not only when you strove, you were getting ready when you never dreamed of it. By every virtue you clung to in the dark–by every beautiful thought you ever cherished–by the self-denials of each routine morning–you have been getting ready for your nobler hours. That is the road by which we reach our victories, and that is the road by which we reach our tragedies.

Our sudden overthrows, when the character was forfeited, are never quite so sudden as we think. Through secret faults–through covetings unchecked–through lusts unbridled when they were still imaginations–a man goes out to his hours when peace is lost and the shame of the vanquished is written on his brow.

Professor Drummond, in his Tropical Africa, tells of the secret ravages of the white ants. He tells of their enormous powers of destruction and how insidiously and secretly they work. He tells how a man may be sitting in his hut and may think of it as strong as on the day he built it, when suddenly he may discover that there is nothing around him but a shell. Silently the white ants have been at work eating out the heart of every beam: no one has seen them–no one has heard them toiling–no one has had any warning of their presence. And then in a moment comes the revelation when the very pillars of the house tremble, and the secret ravage is revealed.

“Cleanse thou me from secret faults–keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins.” Answer that first prayer, our blessed Saviour, and in it, we shall have our answer to the second. For all those open shames of word and deed that we cannot remember without self-loathing are but the lurid flowering of that nightshade whose roots are in the secret of the heart.

Our Utter Need of Christ

In closing, I am eager to suggest to you that our secret sins have one peculiar benefit. Above all other sins which we commit, they lead us to feel our utter need of Christ. Let me make that plain by a simple illustration. If some beautiful garden that you love is only disfigured by a week or two, it is quite within your power to pull those weeds out though they may be tough as crabgrass or as venomous as poison ivy. But if the soil is bad–filled through and through with seeds–tangled with root-stocks of pestilential things–then cleaning it out is quite another matter.

My brother and sister, when you come to think of it, that is like the garden of your heart. If all that needs to be rooted out are a few habits, then do it in God’s Name, for you have the power to do it. But when you awake to the appalling certainty that down in your heart there is a world of sin, in that hour you realize your utter helplessness. Not what we know, but what we do not know, is the deepest cry of the human soul to Christ–that world unfathomed beneath the range of consciousness out of which spring adulteries and murders. You cannot reach that world which lies unseen, away deep down in your mysterious being, and yet unless it is reached and cleansed by somebody, you know there can never be a victory for you. It is just there that Jesus Christ draws near. He is able to save even for the uttermost. He is able and willing this very day to work a radical cleansing within you.

DELAYED BLESSINGS

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

 For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end, it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (Habakkuk 2:3).

In the charming little booklet, Expectation Corner, Adam Slowman was led into the Lord’s treasure houses, and among many other wonders there revealed to him was the “Delayed Blessings Office,” where God kept certain things, prayed for until the wise time came to send them.

It takes a long time for some pensioners to learn that delays are not denials. Ah, there are secrets of love and wisdom in the “Delayed Blessings Department,” which are little dreamt of! Men would pluck their mercies green when the Lord would have them ripe. “Therefore will the Lord WAIT, that He may be gracious unto you” (Isaiah 30:18). He is watching in the hard places and will not allow one trial too many; He will let the dross be consumed, and then He will come gloriously to your help.

Do not grieve Him by doubting His love. Nay, lift up your head and begin to praise Him even now for the deliverance which is on the way to you, and you will be abundantly rewarded for the delay which has tried your faith.

O Thou of little faith, God hath not failed thee yet! When all looks dark and gloomy, Thou dost so soon forget–

Forget that He has led thee, And gently cleared thy way; On clouds has poured His sunshine, And turned thy night to day.

And if He’s helped thee hitherto, He will not fail thee now; How it must wound His loving heart To see thy anxious brow!

Oh! doubt not any longer, To Him commit thy way, Whom in the past thou trusted, And is “just the same today.”

THE GENTLENESS OF GOD (Part three)

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

“Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.” Psalm 18:35

Take, for instance, that opening Scripture of Adam and of his sin and exile. Whatever else it means, it means unquestionably that God is angry with disobedient man. And yet at the back of it what an unequaled tenderness, as of a father pitying his children and loving them with a love that never burns so bright as in the bitter hour of necessary punishment. Losing his innocence, in the love of God Adam found his calling and his crown. He fell to rise into a world of toil, and through his toil to realize his powers. So looking backward through that bitter discipline, unparadised but not unshepherded, he too could surely say with David, “Thy gentleness hath made me great.”

Or think again of the story of the Exodus, that true foundation of the Jewish race. It took one night to take Israel out of Egypt but forty years to take Egypt out of Israel. And while that night, when the first-born were slain, was dark and terrible with the mighty power of God, what are those forty years of desert wandering but the witness of the gentleness of heaven? Leaving Egypt a company of slaves, they had to win the spirit of the free. Leaving it shiftless, they had to win reliance; leaving it cowardly, they had to learn to conquer; leaving it degraded, as slaves are always degraded, they were to reach to greatness by and by, and looking back on it all what could they say but this, “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” Never forget that in its age-long story the Bible reveals the gentleness of God. Hinted at in every flower that blossoms, it is evidently declared in Holy Scripture. It is seen in Adam and in Abraham. It is seen in the wilderness journey of the Israelites. It is found in the choicest oracles of prophecy and in the sweetest music of the Psalms.

God’s Gentleness in Our Lives

I think, too, that as life advances, we can all confirm that that is true. We all discover as the psalmist did, how mighty has been the gentleness of heaven. In the ordinary sense of the word, you and I may not be considered great. We have neither been born great, nor have we come to greatness, nor has greatness been thrust upon us. And yet it may be that for you and I life is a nobler thing than it was long ago, and the truth is more queenly, and duty more dignified, than in the past. We may not have won any striking moral victories, yet our life has learned to the victorious side. We have not conquered yet all that we hoped to conquer, yet our will is serving us better through the years. There are still impurities that lift up their heads and still passions that have to be brought to heel, yet it may be that you and I are now nearer the sunrise than ten years ago.

If then, that is the case with you, I urge you to look back on the way that you have come and think of all that life has meant for you. Think of the temptations that would have overcome you had not God in His gentleness taken them away. Think of the courage you got when things were dark; of the doors that opened when every way seemed barred. Think of the unworthy things that you have done which God in His infinite gentleness has hidden–of the love that inspired you and the hope that came to you when not far distant was the sound of breakers. You, too, if you are a man at all, can lift up your eyes and cry out, God is just. It may be you can do more than that and lift up your voice say, God is terrible. But if you have eyes to see and a heart to understand, there is something more than you can say, for you can whisper, “To me, in pardoning, shielding mercy, God has been infinitely and divinely gentle.” If every lily of the field lifting its head can say, “Thy gentleness hath made me great”; if every sparrow chirping on the eaves is only echoing that meadow music, then I do feel that you and I, who are of more value to God than many sparrows, owe more than we shall ever understand to the abounding gentleness of heaven.

Because He Knoweth Our Frame

Now it seems to me that this gentleness of God reveals certain precious things about Him. It reveals, for instance, and is rooted in His perfect understanding of His children. There is a saying with which you are familiar; it is that to know all is to forgive all. That is an apothegm, and like all apothegms, it is not commensurate with the whole truth. Yet as a simple matter of experience, so much of our harshness has its rise in ignorance that such a saying is sure of immortality–to know all is to forgive all. How often you and I, after some judgment, have said to ourselves, If I had only known. Something is told us that we knew nothing about, and instantly there is a revulsion in our hearts. And we retract the judgment that we passed, and we bitterly regret we were unfeeling, and we say we would never have spoken so, had we only known.

The more we know–I speak in a broad way–the more we know, the more gentle we become. The more we understand what human life is, the greater the pity we feel. And I think it is just because our heavenly Father sees right down into our secret heart, that He is so great and pitifully gentle. For He knoweth our frame and remembereth we are dust, and He putteth all our tears into His bottle. And there is not a cross we carry and not a thought we think but He is acquainted with it altogether. And all we have inherited by birth, of power or weakness, of longing or of fear–I take it that all that is known to the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.

Our Value in His Sight

And then again God’s gentleness reveals this to us–it reveals our abiding value in His sight. It tells us, as almost nothing else can tell us, that we, His children, are precious in His eyes. There are certain books on my shelves at home with which I hardly bother to be gentle. I am not upset when I see them tossed about nor when they are handled in a rough way. But there are other books that I could never handle without a certain reverence and care, and I am gentle because they are of value to me. And the noteworthy thing is that these precious volumes are not always the volumes that are most beautifully bound. Some of them are little-tattered creatures that a respectable servant longs to light the fire with. But every respectable servant of a book lover comes to learn this at least about his master, that his ways, like those of another Master, are mysterious and past finding out. For that little volume, tattered though it may be, may have memories that make it infinitely precious–memories of school days or of college days, memories of the author who was well known to him. It may be the first Shakespeare that he ever had or the first Nancy Drew that he ever handled, and he shall handle it gently to the end, because to him it is a precious thing. So I take it God is gentle because you and I are precious in His sight. He is infinitely patient with the worst of us because He values the worst of us so dearly. And if you want to know how great that value is, then read this text again and again: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish.”

THE LORD IS MY STRENGTH

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

“Thy God hath commanded thy strength: strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought for us.” (Psalm 68:28).

The Lord imparts unto us that primary strength of character which makes everything in life work with intensity and decision. We are “strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.” And the strength is continuous; reserves of power come to us which we cannot exhaust.

“As thy days, so shall thy strength be”- the strength of will, the strength of affection, the strength of judgment, the strength of ideas and achievement.

“The Lord is my strength” to go on. He gives us the power to tread the dead level, to walk the long lane that seems never to have a turning, to go through those long reaches of life which afford no pleasant surprise, and which depress the spirits in the sameness of a terrible drudgery.

“The Lord is my strength” to go up. He is to me the power by which I can climb the Hill Difficulty (THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS) and not be afraid.

“The Lord is my strength” to go down. It is when we leave the bracing heights, where the wind and the sun have been about us, and when we begin to come down the hill into closer and more sultry spheres, that the heart is apt to grow faint.

I heard a man say the other day concerning his growing physical frailty, “It is the coming down that tires me!”

“The Lord is my strength” to sit still. And how difficult is the attainment! Do we not often say to one another, in seasons when we are compelled to be quiet, “If only I could do something!”

When the child is ill, and the mother stands by in comparative impotence, how severe is the test! But to do nothing, just to sit still and wait, requires tremendous strength. “The Lord is my strength!” “Our sufficiency is of God.” The Silver Lining A Door Opened in Heaven “A door opened in heaven” (Revelation 4:1).

You must remember that John was in the Isle of Patmos, alone, rocky, inhospitable prison, for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. And yet to him, under such circumstances, separated from all the loved ones of Ephesus; debarred from the worship of the Church; condemned to the companionship of uncongenial fellow-captives, were vouchsafed these visions. For him, also a door was opened.

We are reminded of Jacob, exiled from his father’s house, who laid himself down in a desert place to sleep, and in his dreams beheld a ladder which united Heaven with earth, and at the top stood God.

Not to these only, but to many more, doors have been opened into Heaven, when, so far as the world was concerned, it seemed as though their circumstances were altogether unlikely for such revelations.

To prisoners and captives; to constant sufferers, bound by iron chains of pain to sick couches; to lonely pilgrims and wanderers; to women detained from the Lord’s house by the demands of home, how often has the door been opened to Heaven.

But there are conditions. You must know what it is to be in the Spirit; you must be pure in heart and obedient in faith; you must be willing to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ; then when God is all in all of us, when we live, move and have our being in His favour, to us also will the door be opened.

“God hath His mountains bleak and bare, Where He doth bid us rest awhile; Crags where we breathe a purer air, Lone peaks that catch the day’s first smile.

“God hath His deserts broad and brown–A solitude–a sea of sand, Where He doth let heaven’s curtain down, Unknit by His Almighty hand.” There We Saw the Giants.

Let there be only one giant in your life today and let it be the Holy Spirit to conquer and fight all of your battles and to open doors for you. May Almighty God bless and keep you this day to His perfect will.

THE GENTLENESS OF GOD (Part two)

The Gentleness of God–Part II

“Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.” Psalm 18:35

What exactly may be meant by greatness is a question that we need not linger to discuss. It is enough that the writer of this verse was conscious that he had been lifted to that eminence. That he had been in extreme distress is clear from the earlier verses of this chapter. His heart had fainted–his efforts had been in vain–his hopes had flickered and sunk into their ashes. And then mysteriously, but very certainly, he had been carried upward to light and power and liberty, and now he is looking back over it all. That it was God who had so raised him up was, of course, as clear to him as the noonday. He had sent up his cry to heaven in the dark, and to that cry, His greatness was the answer. But what impressed him as he surveyed it all was not the infinite power of the Almighty; it was rather the amazing and unceasing gentleness wherewith that infinite power had been displayed. “Thy gentleness hath made me great,” he cried. That was the outstanding and arresting feature. Tracing the way by which he had been led, he saw conspicuous a gentle ministry of God.

The One and Only Gentle God

Let me say in passing that that wonderful concept is really peculiar to the Bible. I know no deity in any sacred book that exhibits such an attribute as that. Of course, when one believes in many gods, it is always possible that one of them is gentle. When the whole world is thought to be tenanted with spirits, some of them doubtless will be gentle spirits. But that is a very different thing indeed from saying that the One Lord of heaven and earth has that in His heart which we can dimly picture under the human attribute of gentleness. No prophets save the prophets of Israel ever conceived the gentleness of God. To no other poets save these Jewish poets was the thought of heavenly gentleness revealed. And so when we delight in this great theme, we are dwelling on something eminently biblical, something that makes us, with all our Christian liberty, a debtor unto this hour to the Jewish prophets for bringing this to our attention.

Now if we wish to grasp the wonder of God’s gentleness, there are one or two things we ought to do. We ought, for instance, always to lay it against the background of the divine omnipotence. You know quite well that the greater the power, the more arresting the gentleness becomes. As might advances and energy increases, so always the more notable is gentleness. It is far more impressive in the general of armies than in some retired and ineffectual dreamer. The mightier the power a man commands, the more compelling is his trait of gentleness. If he is the ruler of a million subjects, a touch of tenderness is thrilling. And it is when we think of the infinite might of God, who is King of kings and Lord of lords, that we realize the wonder of our text. It is He who calleth out the stars by number and maketh the pillars of the heaven to shake. And when He worketh, no man can stay His hand, nor say to Him, What doest Thou? And it is this Ruler, infinite in power, before whom the princes of the earth are vanity, who is exquisitely and forever gentle.

The Wonder of God’s Gentleness in View of Sin

Again, to feel the wonder of God’s gentleness, we must set it against the background of God’s righteousness. It is when we hear the seraphs crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” that we thrill to the thought of the gentleness of God. There is a kind of gentleness–we are all familiar with it–that springs from an easy and uncaring tolerance. It is the happy good nature of those characters to whom both right and wrong are nebulous. Never inspired by any love of goodness and never touched by any hate of evil, it is not difficult to walk the world with a certain smiling tolerance of everybody.

Now there have been nations whose gods were of that kind. Their gentleness was the index of their weakness. (Living immoral lives in their Olympus, why should they worry about man’s immorality?) But I need hardly take time to point out to you that the one radical thing about the Jewish God—one unchanging feature of His being–was that He was infinitely and forever holy. He was of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. “The soul that sinneth,” said the prophet, “it shall die.” And He visits the sins of the fathers of the children, even unto the third and fourth generation. All this was graven on the Jewish heart and inwrought into Jewish history; yet the psalmist could sing in his great hour, “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” I beg of you, therefore, never to imagine that the gentleness of God is only an easy tolerance. Whatever it is, it certainly is not that, as life sooner or later shows to every man. Whatever it is, it leans against the background of a righteousness that burns as doth a fire, and I say that helps us to feel the wonder of it.

The same jewel upon the bosom of omnipotence flashes out as we survey the Bible. The Bible is really one long record of the amazing gentleness of God. Other features of the divine character may be more immediately impressive there. And reading hastily, one might easily miss the revelation of a gentle God. Yet so might one, walking beside the sea, where hammers were ringing in the village workshop, easily miss the underlying music of the waves ceaselessly breaking on the shore. But the waves are breaking although the hammers drown them, and the gentleness of God is always there. It is there–not very far away–at the heart of all the holiness and sovereignty; it is there where the fire of His anger waxes hot and His judgments are abroad upon the earth, and men are crying, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

THE GENTLENESS OF GOD (Part one)

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

“Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.” Psalm 18:35

It will be generally agreed that David was one of the great men of the race. In his trust and courage and leadership and genius, he stands among the heroes of humanity. Now David had had a strange and varied life. He had been hunted like a partridge on the hills. He had suffered disloyalty at home and sorrowed in the death of Absalom. But now, as he looked back upon it all, what stood out in transcendent clearness was the unfailing gentleness of God–not the infliction of any heavenly punishment, though sometimes punishment had been severe; not the divine apportioning of sorrow, though he had drunk of very bitter sorrow. What shone out like a star in heaven, irradiating the darkness of his night, was the amazing gentleness of God. David could say with a full heart, “Thy gentleness hath made me great.”

With a like sincerity can we not say it also? When we survey our course and recollect our mercies and recall the divine handling of our childishness, the confession of David is our own.

The Wonder of God’s Gentleness

We feel the wonder of the gentleness of God when we remember it is conjoined with power. When infinite power lies at the back of it, gentleness is always very moving. There is a gentleness which springs from weakness. Cowardice lies hidden at its roots. It comes from the disinclination to offend and from the desire to be in good standing with everybody. But the marvel of the gentleness of God is that it is not the signature of an interior weakness, but rests upon the bosom of Omnipotence. In a woman we all look for gentleness; it is one of the lustrous diadems of womanhood. In a professional military man, we scarcely expect it; it is not the denizen of tented fields. And the Lord is “a mighty man of war,” subduing, irresistible, Almighty, and yet He comes to Israel as the dew. The elder spoke to John of the lion of the tribe of Judah. But when John looked to see the lion, lo! in the midst of the throne there was a lamb. Power was tenderness–the lion was the lamb—Omnipotence would not break the bruised reed. It is the wonder of the gentleness of God.

Again, the gentleness of God is strangely moving when we remember it is conjoined with purity. There is a kind of gentleness, common among men, which springs from an easy, tolerant, good nature. To be gentle with sin is quite an easy matter if sin is a light thing in our eyes. It is easy to pardon a child who tells a lie if lying is in our regard, but venial. And when we are tempted to think of God like that, as if heaven were rich intolerant good nature, then is the time to consider the cross. Whatever else we learn at Calvary, we learn there God’s estimate of sin. In that dark hour of agony, the judgment of heaven upon sin is promulgated. And when that steeps into our being, so that we measure things by the measurements of Calvary, we are awed by the gentleness of God.

Then to all this must be added the fact of our human provocation. For, like the children of Israel in the wilderness, we are continually provoking God. Every mother knows how hard it is to be always gentle with a provoking child–how likely she is to lose her temper with it and how she longs to shake it or to slap it. But no child is ever so provoking to the tender heart of a good mother as you and I must always be God. When we sin, when we fail to trust Him, when we grow bitter, when we become despondent, how ceaselessly provoking that must be to the infinitely loving heart in heaven. Yet David could say, as you and I can say, looking back over the winding trail of years, “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” Nothing is more provoking to a parent than when a child refuses to take medicine, screaming and fighting against it desperately, though the cup is entirely for its good. The question is, How do you take your medicine? Do you grow faithless, hard, rebellious, broken-hearted? How provoking must that be to our Father? Yes, think of God’s power and on His purity, and add to that our human provocation, if you want to feel the glory of His gentleness.

God’s Gentleness Implies Our Illness

It always seems to me that tenderness and gentleness imply that we are sick. In our Father’s sight, we are all ailing children. We have all noticed how when one is sick everyone around grows strangely gentle. There is an exquisite gentleness, as many of us know, in the touch of a true nurse. Even rough, rude men grow very gentle, as is seen so often in the war when they are handling a wounded comrade. When he was well they tormented him; they played their jokes on him and coined his nickname; but when wounded, stricken, bleeding, shattered, they showed themselves as gentle as a woman. And I often think that the gentleness of God, could we track it to its mysterious deeps, is akin to that of a soldier and of a nurse. We are a sin-sick race. We all have leprosy. We are full of “wounds and bruises and putrifying sores.” They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. Love in magnificence may suit the angels. But in the world’s great battlefield and hospital, Love binds on the cross and walks in gentleness. “Thy gentleness hath made me great.”