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THE MINISTRY OF SILENCE

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

There are certain voices which we never hear except when everything is silent. They reach us as a revelation of the stillness. Sometimes on a summer afternoon one gets away from the city or the village and climbs up the grassy hillside till all the noise of human life is lost, and it is often then that there breaks upon the ear a certain indistinguishable murmur as of the moving of innumerable wings.

Travelers tell us that there are rivers flowing beneath the streets of the ancient city of Shechem. During the hours of the day, you cannot hear them for the noise of the narrow streets and the bazaars. But when evening comes and the clamor dies away and the dew falls on the city, then quite audibly, in the hush of night, you may hear the music of the buried streams.

There are many voices like those hidden waters. You can only hear them when things are still. There are whisperings of conscience in the heart which take only a very little to drown. There are tidings from the eternal Spirit who is not far away from any one of us; tidings that will come and go unnoticed unless we have learned the grace of being still.

The Art of Being Still

And yet the very element of stillness is one which is conspicuously lacking now. We have been taught the art of exercise, and we have lost the art of being still. A recent writer, in a brilliant essay on the music of today, tells us that we are living nowadays under “the dominion of the din.” And whether or not that is true of music, of which I am not qualified to speak, it is certainly true of ordinary life. Our forefathers may have had imperfect ideals of Christian service. They may have tolerated social abuses which we would never tolerate today. But they had one element in their Christian life in more abundant measure than we have it, and that was the blessed element of silence. What peace there was in the old-fashioned Sabbath–what a reverent stillness in the house of God–what a quiet and peaceful solemnity in worship at the family altar! And if today we cannot but be conscious that something of that old spirit has departed, we know that something precious has been lost. It is gain to be immersed in service. It is a high ambition to be energetic. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.” And yet the Bible never says to us, “Be energetic, and know that I am God.” It says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Indeed, we are so in love with noise today that stillness is commonly looked upon as weakness. And it is well to remind ourselves occasionally that often the very opposite is true. When the rain beats against the window pane, we are awakened by its noise. But the snow falls so silently, that never an infant stirs within its cradle. And yet the snow may block up every road quite as effectually as a landslide and dislocate the traffic of a kingdom. Set a thousand digging shovels to work, and you produce a certain effect upon the soil. But when the frost comes with her silent fingers and lightly touches field and meadow with them, in a single night that silent frost will work more effectually than a thousand shovels.

God does not work in this strange world by hustling. God works in the world far more often by a hush. In all the mightiest powers which surround us, there is a certain element of stillness. And if I did not find in Jesus Christ something of that divine inaudibility, I confess I should be tempted to despair. When Epictetus had had his arm broken by the savage cruelty of his master, he turned around without one trace of anger, and said to him quietly, “I told you so.” And when a heathen satirist taunted the Christians, asking what nobler thing their Master did, one of them answered, “He kept silence.” There is a silence that may speak of weakness. There is another silence that is full of power. It is the empty husk that rattles in the breeze. It is the brook and not the river that makes the noise. And it is good that we should remember that when we are tempted to associate quietness with weakness, as perhaps we are all tempted nowadays.

The Stillness of Absorption

There is, of course, a certain kind of silence which is only the outward sign of self-absorption. It does not indicate that a man is hearing anything; it just means that he is withdrawn into himself. I have heard runners say that in long races they have been oblivious to every sound. There may have been a thousand voices cheering them on, and yet they seemed to run in a great silence. Perhaps all of us have had hours such as that–hours of suffering or of intense activity–when we felt ourselves alone in a deep solitude. That is the stillness of absorption. It is not the stillness to which our text refers. It is another quietness that it speaks; the quietness which is the basis of communion. For there are times when we never speak so eloquently, and times when we never hear so finely, as when the tongue is silent and the lips are closed and the spirit is the one interpreter. A love that has no silence has no depth. “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.” There are people whose love we instinctively distrust because they are always telling us about it. And perhaps it is simply because God is love, in all the glorious fullness of that word, that we have to be still if we would know Him.

Indeed, there is often no surer sign than the silence that the heart has been reached and the depths been broken up. In their greatest hours, men are seldom noisy. I have watched sometimes an audience at a concert–for to me the audience is more interesting than the music–and I have watched the listless attention which they gave to music that reached no farther than the ear. And then perhaps there was some perfect melody, some chord which had the insistence of a message, and it was as if a voice had cried out loud, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

I read this book written by Charles Reade, in one of the best of his novels, tells a story of some Australian miners. He tells how they traveled through a long summer Sunday to hear the singing of a captive thrush. And they were reckless men familiar with riot, but when they heard it, there fell a hush upon them, for it brought back memories of childhood again and of England where they had been boys. In a greater fashion that is true of God. We do not clamber to Him by the steps of logic; we reach Him by the feelings of the heart. And it is just because, when the heart is moved profoundly, there falls upon it a silence and a stillness, that we are bidden in our text to be still and know that He is God.

Probably that is the reason, too, why great silences have a divine suggestion. Great silent spaces speak to us of God. I remember a year or two ago visiting the cathedral in Manhattan. I suppose it is the most magnificent example of Gothic architecture in the world. And I recall vividly, as though it had happened yesterday, how, passing in from the crowded city streets, the thought of the presence of God was overwhelming. I knew He was present in the teeming city. I knew He was present in the crowded street. I knew that where the stir and traffic were, the infinite Spirit was not far away. And yet it is one thing to know, and it is quite another thing to feel, and in the calm and solemn quiet of the cathedral, I felt that God was there. That is what spiritual men have always felt under the silence of the starry sky. That is why they have always thought of God when they lifted up their eyes unto the hills.

Our noisy, talkative life is like the surge breaking on the edge of the shore, and away beyond it is the silent ocean carrying the message of infinity. We lose our sense of God in a big city far more readily than lonely dwellers do. And we lay the blame of that upon a score of things–on the strain of business, on our abundant pleasures. Perhaps there is a deeper reason than all these; it is the loss of the ministry of silence: of the field and the meadow and the hill; of the solitude’s which are quivering with God. Spare your compassion for the Highland dweller. The man may be far richer than you think. It may be he has kept what we have lost in the keen and eager zest of city life. It may be he has kept, in all his poverty, those intimations of a present God which are given where a great silence is, as of the lonely field or meadow.

Why God Makes Silences

As I close by suggesting that this is the reason why God makes silences in every life; the silence of sleep, the silences of sorrow, and then the last great silence at the end. One of the hardest things in the world, as you all know, is to get little children to keep still. They are in a state of perpetual activity, restless, eager, questioning, alert. And just as a mother says to her child, “Be still,” and hushes it to sleep that it may rest, so God does sooner or later with us all. What a quiet, still place the sickroom is! What a silence there is over a house of mourning! How the voices are hushed, and every footstep soft, when someone is lying within the coffin. Had we the choosing of our own affairs we should never have chosen such an hour as that; and yet how often it is rich in blessing. All the activities of eager years may not have taught us quite so much as that. There are things which we never learn when we are active. There are things which we only learn when we are passive. And so God comes, in His resistless way, which never ceases to be a way of love, and says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” If that is so with the passive hours of life, may it not be so with the passive hour of death? What is death but the Almighty Father saying to our talking lips, “Be still”? And I for one believe that in that stillness we shall awaken to know that He is God, in such a love and power as will be heaven.

THE QUALITY OF COURAGE

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

“Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” Psalm 27:14

There are three qualities, says Emerson in a familiar essay, which attracts the wonder and reverence of mankind. The first is disinterestedness, the second is practical power, and the third is courage. Every mythology has its Hercules. Every history it’s Wallace. There is nothing that men will not forgive one who has exhibited conspicuous gallantry. Even the dumb animals are ranked by us according to their possession of this quality, the bravest being nature’s aristocracy. There are people who make a joke of truth, but there are no people who make a joke of courage. The love of it, from Orient to Occident, is the touch of nature which makes the whole world kin. And that is why war will never cease to fascinate in spite of all proofs of its illogicality because there is in war a matchless stage for the display of courage.

The Universal Need of Courage

Nor can we wonder at this admiration when we remember the universal need of courage. There is no lot, no rank, no occupation, in which one of the first requirements is not fortitude.

When we are young we admire the showy virtues, and we put the emphasis upon the brilliant gifts. We are all enamored of what is glittering then, and we think that life is to grow great that way. But as the years roll on and life unfolds itself and we look on some who rise and some who fall, we come to revise our estimates a little. Then we discover that a certain doggedness is far more likely to succeed than brilliance. Then we discover that cleverness means much, but the courage which can persist means more. Then we discover what the master meant when at the close of the long years of toil, he said, Well done, not good and brilliant, but Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

Courage is needed by the mother in the home; it is needed by the young man in the office. Courage is needed for the hills of youth and for the dusty levels of our middle age. There is a courage peculiar to the pulpit, and another peculiar to the football field, and another peculiar to that darkened chamber where the head is throbbing and the lips are parched.

Let a man have all the talents without courage, and he will accomplish little in the world. Let a man have the one talent and a courageous heart, and no one can tell what things he may not do. Probably when the stories of our lives are written, our gifts will be found less diverse than we thought, and it will be seen that what set us each apart is the distinguishing quality of courage.

Courage–the Basis of Other Virtues

Courage is not an isolated virtue so much as the ground and basis of the virtues. It is like the tingling of health in a man’s body which makes itself felt in every activity.

I cannot help but wonder at electric current. It drives an engine; it lights the house in the evening; it rings a bell. One single energy and yet that single energy shows itself powerful in all these different forces, and so are the forces which God has given a man fed by the single energy of courage.

If could we get deep enough down among our vices, we would probably find they had a common source. Somewhere deep down in the unfathomed darkness there is one spark of hell that sets them all afire. So with our virtues and all that makes us men, there is one spirit that kindles and sustains them, and that enkindling energy is fortitude. For we never can be patient without courage, and without courage, we never can be pure. It calls for a little courage to be truthful, and it calls for a little courage to be kind. And sometimes it takes a great deal of courage just to say what we ought to say, and sometimes it takes more courage to say nothing.

My brothers and sisters, in this strange life of ours, never forget that fortitude is a victory. There is no final failure for the man who can say I am the master of my fate. Never to tremble at the looming shadow, never to shrink from the unwelcome duty, never to despair when things seem hopeless, is the one road to the music and the crown.

Do you know the commonest command in Scripture? The commonest command in Scripture is Fear not. Times without number in the Word of God it rings out upon us, Thou shalt not be afraid. For courage is at the roots of life, and it is the soil in which every virtue flourishes; it is no isolated or independent grace but is the nursing mother of them all.

The Quiet Courage

Now if this is so, it is at once apparent that the truest courage is an unobtrusive thing. There is nothing spectacular or scenical about it; it sounds no trumpet before it in the streets. I can agree there come moments in some lives when courage flashes into dramatic splendor. When the soldier kneels to save a wounded comrade–when the fireman risks his life to save a child–there is something in that which strangely moves the heart. That is the courage which thrills, and it is splendid, but the courage which thrills is rarely that which tells. No voices cheer it; no papers give its story; no medals reach it from any millionaire. It moves in the shadow of our dreary streets and dwells in the shelter of our humble homes and carries in a quiet and happy and victorious way the crosses which every morning brings. I suppose there was never anyone on earth quite so courageous as our Saviour Jesus Christ. Yet give a pagan that life of His to read, and I do not think he would say, How brave He was! He would say, How loving He was–how infinitely patient–how radiantly peaceful in the teeth of calumny; yet love and patience and radiance and peace were but His matchless courage in disguise. The courage which tells is not the courage which clamors. The courage which tells is the courage which is quiet. It sounds no trumpet; does not strive nor cry; never lifts up its voice in any street. It does things when it feels least like them, anoints the head for every hour of fasting, comes to the cross in such a smiling manner that others scarce suspect the cross is there.

Courage Is the Conquest of Fear

We see also along this line a thought that courage is different from insensibility. Courage is not the absence of fear; courage is the conquest of fear. One man, in some hour of peril, may feel that his heart is beating like a sledgehammer. Another, in an hour precisely similar, may scarcely be conscious of a quickened pulse. And yet the former may be the braver man if he does resolutely what the hour demands of him, for he has felt what the other never felt and feeling it, has brought it to subjection.

I often think of that fine old story of Henry IV, King of France. At the siege of Cahors, when he was young and in arms, his body began to tremble like an aspen. And he cried to his body so that all who were near him heard, “Vile carcass,” he cried, “thou tremblest, but thou wouldst tremble worse if thou but knew where I am going to take thee in a moment.” So saying, with a body trembling like an aspen, he flung himself into the thickest of the fight.

I have heard of two young men who had a cliff to scale, and one of them was white around the cheeks. And the other looked at him and with a sneer said, “Why, I believe you are afraid.”

“Yes,” he replied, “I am afraid, and if you were half as afraid as I am, you’d go home.”

The fact is, that as you rise in being you rise in the nobility of courage. It is those who are capable of being most afraid who are capable of being most courageous. And that is why the courage of a woman is something loftier than that of any beast, for she has a heart that by the touch of God has been made sensitive to every shadow. You will never fathom the bravery of Christ unless you bear in mind that Christ was sinless. For sin is always coarsening and deadening–“it hardens all within and petrifies the feeling.” And it is when we think that Jesus Christ was sinless, and being sinless was exquisitely sensitive, that we come to realize the matchless fortitude that carried Him without a falter to the cross.

I beg of you not for one moment to believe that because you feel afraid you are a coward. Moses and Paul and Jesus Christ Himself knew in its bitterness the shrinking of the flesh. Courage is not the absence of dismay; courage is the conquest of dismay. It is how a man deals and grapples with his trembling that makes the difference between strong and weak.

Courage Increases as Life Advances

It is one of the happy things, too, in human life, that courage grows easier as life advances. If we are living well and doing our work faithfully, we grow equal to our problem over the years. A child begins by fearing almost everything because it begins by knowing almost nothing. Every shadow may be a horrid specter and every dark room is full of ghosts. But the years pass and we enter many a shadow, and the abhorred specters are not there, and so our childish terrors pass away.

I knew an officer who in the thick of battle was reckoned among the bravest of the brave, and yet that man would blanch like any girl if he found himself in the presence of diphtheria. And I know scores of ministers within our city, our islands who would never think twice of visiting a diphtheria patient or an HIV/AIDS patient, and yet I am certain they would be ghastly spectacles within the fighting lines of Adrianople. The fact is that far more than we imagine, courage is a result of habit. The soldier who trembled in his first battle will enter his twentieth without a thought.

And so God is kind to us as life advances, and the fiery ardor’s of our youth decay with ripening knowledge some things become harder, but it does not become harder to be brave. The dash is gone. The youthful fire is gone. We are not heroic as at twenty-one. The old man cannot storm the heights of life with the reckless enthusiasm of the cadet. But he has seen such goodness of the Lord to him and had such sustainment in trial and difficulty, that he can lift up his heart and go forward gently where youth would despair in tragedy.

Self-forgetfulness

There are two open secrets of true courage to which I would call attention as I close, and one of them is self-forgetfulness. Just as the open secret of all happiness is never to think of happiness at all but to forget it and do our duty quietly and take the long road that leads through Galilee, so the open secret of all courage is to forget there is such a thing as courage in the gladness and the glow of an idea.

When David fought with the lion and the bear, he never thought of the lion and the bear. He only remembered that he was a shepherd and that his duty was to guard the sheep. So doing his duty in brave forgetfulness, courage came to him like a bird upon the wing and sang its morning music in his heart.

When Captain John Brown, that fine American hero, was asked why others were conquered by his regiment, “Well,” he replied, after a moment’s thought, “I suppose it is because they lacked a cause.” They had nothing to fight for that was worth a stroke, and having nothing to fight for or to die for, it followed “as the night the day” that they were ineffectual in battle.

The timidest creature will face tremendous odds when danger threatens its defenseless offspring. The Roman slave-girl will throw herself to martyrdom when she is animated by the faith of Christ. The woman, in her self-forgetful love for the infant that she has nursed at her bosom, will dare to starve and even dare to die. That is why love is such a nurse of courage, and that is where love is different from passion. For passion is selfish and seeks its own delight and will ruin another if it is only gratified. But love is unselfish and seeketh not her own and hopeth all things and believeth all things, and like John Brown’s regiment is always ready because for the battle it never lacks a cause.

Desdemona, in a play of Shakespeare, is
A maiden never bold
Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion
Blushed at herself

yet standing at Othello’s side, Desdemona confronts her father and her world, and she confronts them because she loves Othello so.

Love for her fledgling makes the wild bird brave. And now comes Christ, and by His life and death writes that word love upon the gate of heaven. And so He has made it possible for thousands, who otherwise would have faltered in the shadow, to pluck up heart again and play the man and to be strong and of good courage by the way.

The Sense of God

The other secret of true courage is a strong and overmastering sense of God. When you get deep enough, I think you always find that in every life that has been brave. When Peter was separated from his Lord for a while, then he denied Him with a fisherman’s curses. With no one near but the soldiers and the servants, he was as a reed shaken with the wind.

But when the Lord came in and looked on Peter, Peter went out into the night and wept; and so repentant, became a man again. When I can go to my labours saying God is with me–when I can lie on my sickbed saying God is here–when I can meet my difficulties saying, This is God–when dying I can whisper He is mine–then in communion with that power and goodness I am no longer tossed and tempest-driven, but in the storm and shadow I am strong. It is that conviction Jesus Christ has brought to the weakest heart in the most dreary street. Prophets and psalmists might believe it once, but the poorest soul can believe it now.

To be in communion with God through Jesus Christ–to know that He is ours and we are His–is the victory which overcomes the world. Such courage is not based on fancied power. It is based on the absolute and the eternal. It is not kindled by any glow of anger. It is kindled and kept by the eternal spirit. So can the weakest dare to stand alone, and dare to live alone, and dare to die alone, saying The best of all is, God is with us.

BEHOLDING AND INQUIRING

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.” Psalm 27:4

In this verse, so full of riches, we have the spiritual ambition of the psalmist, and the notable thing is how his single purpose resolves itself into two parts. Just as the single seeds of many plants separate themselves out into two seed-leaves, and just as the sunshine, that most fruitful unity, breaks up, to put it roughly, into light and heat, so the spiritual ambition of the psalmist, of which he is speaking in this verse, reveals itself under two different aspects. One thing he desires of the Lord, and then that one thing shows itself as two things. He yearns to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His holy temple. And from this, we gather that beholding and inquiring are but different aspects of one life, vitally interwoven with each other. They are not contrary nor contradictory like day and night or cold and heat. They are related elements in every life that is hungering and thirsting after God. All the experiences of the soul in its inward rest and never-ending searching may be summed up in beholding and inquiring.

The Desires of Every Christian

One notes, first of all, how spiritual life runs down its roots into beholding. “We beheld his glory, full of grace and truth.” “Behold the Lamb of God.” There are three desires in the heart of every Christian one is to run his course with honour. The second is to endure, without embittering, the bitterest that life can bring. The third and deepest of the three is this, to be always growing more like the Master in inward character and outward conduct.

Now tell me, what is the Gospel way towards the achievement of these deep desires? It is not speculation nor philosophy. It is a way within the reach of every man. To run with honour, to endure the worst, to be changed into the likeness of the Lord–all of them are based upon beholding. “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.” “He endured as seeing him who is invisible.” “We all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image.”

David was not a dreamer. He did not covet a temple-life of idleness. He wanted to run well and to endure and to be transformed into a glowing spirit. That was why, beset by sin, he cried with all the passion of his heart, “One thing have I desired–to behold.”

Inquiry Follows Beholding

The next suggestion of the words is this, that beholding is always followed by inquiring. We see that in every sphere of life and not only in the region of the spirit. Think, for instance, of the stars as they shone down on ancient man. For ages, in those dim and distant days, man must have been contented with beholding. But just because he was a man, made in the image of God, he could not rest in any mere beholding. He began to wonder and wondering inquired. What were these lamps glowing in the heavens? Who kindled them? Who kept them burning? Did they have an influence on human life? Did they foretell the destinies of mortals? So man, confronted with the stars of heaven, first beheld the beauty of the Lord and then inquired in His holy temple.

Or, again, think of the world of nature that lies around us in its beauty. Touched with the finger of God, man has beheld that beauty in a way no beast has ever done. No dumb creature has any sense of beauty. The scenery makes no difference to it. The oxen, knee-deep in the pasturage, never lift their eyes up to the hills. One great difference between man and beast is this, that man, and man alone in this creation, has beheld the beauty of the Lord. The sunlight as it glances on the sea–the flowers that make beautiful the meadow–the haunting mystery of the deep forest–the lake, the lights and shadows of the glen–such things have touched the heart of man and moved him and thrilled him into song in a way no dumb creature ever knew. Just because man is man one thing is true of him–he beholds the beauty of the Lord. But just because man is a man and not a beast, he never can rest content with mere beholding. There is something in him, the breath of his Creator, impelling him to ever-deepening wonder until at last in that wonder he inquires. “Hath the rain a father, or who hath begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it” (Job 38:28-29)? So science is born, and all theology, and growing insight into the ways of God–because beholding is followed by inquiring.

Inquiries Are Answered by Beholding

There is one other relationship to mention, for without any question David knew it. The gladness of the spiritual life is that its deepest inquiries are answered by beholding. Let any man inquire after God, for instance, eager to know what kind of God He is, longing to be assured that He is Love so that He may be absolutely trusted–well, there are many ways that such a man may take in the hope of answering that deepest of all questions. He may examine the arguments for God, or he may read biography or history; he may turn to the reasonings of philosophy or rely on the pronouncements of the Scripture. But, my dear reader, there is another way–it is what the Bible calls a new and living way: he can behold the beauty of our Lord. He can behold His love and carry it up to heaven and say, “That love of Jesus is the love of God.” He can behold His care for every separate soul and lift that up to the heart to the throne. He can behold His loyalty to His friends and His pardoning mercy for the guiltiest sinner, and then he can say, “God is just like that.” Do that, and what a difference it makes. God is no longer cold and unconcerned. He is love. He actually cares. He will never do His children any harm. “We beheld His glory, full of grace and truth, the glory of the only-begotten of the Father.” The agonized inquiries of the heart are answered–by beholding.

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.

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.

GOD GIVEN ATTITUDES

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

“And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39).

“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13).

There are two attitudes in which our will should be given to God.

First. We should have the surrendered will. This is where we must all begin, by yielding up to God our natural will and having Him possess it.

But next, He wants us to have the victorious will. As soon as He receives our will in honest surrender, He wants to put His will into it and make it stronger than ever for Him. It is henceforth no longer our will, but His will. And having yielded to His choice and placed itself under His direction, He wants to put into it all the strength and intensity of His own great will and make us positive, forceful, victorious and unmovable, even as Himself. “Not My will, but Thine be done.” That is the first step. “Father, I will that they whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me.” That is the second attitude. Both are divine; both are right; both are necessary to our right living and successful working for God.

Brethren what more can we ask for as we start this new year 2018. I implore you to surrender to His will and let Him lead you to the Rock that is higher than you.

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.”

THE PRIVILEGE OF WORSHIP

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

“But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.” Psalm 5:7

David was a man of many privileges bestowed on him in the goodness of his Lord. He had the privilege of the poetic heart and the privilege also of a royal estate. But in this text, he singles out a privilege we may all share with him. It is the privilege of public worship. “As for me,” he says, “I will go into thy house.” The very thought of it was a delight to him. It made a secret music in his heart when the hour of public worship was approaching. For him, the recurring summons to the sanctuary was not a call to begrudgingly obeyed. It was the happiest summons of this week.

This is perhaps the more remarkable in the light of the personality of David. This was one of those poetic natures for which the world is all aflame with God. We read in Revelation that in the other world there is no temple. There is no need of any sanctuary, for the whole expanse of heaven is a sanctuary. And there are natures in this present world so quick to see and feel that God is everywhere, that the whole universe for them is aglow with His presence. For them, the great Creator is not far away. He is very near and He is always speaking. It is His voice that is calling in the sea and in the wind that bloweth where it listeth. The tiniest weed, the day-spring and the evening, the stars and the bird on the branch are but the manifold and changing shadows of that infinite perfection which is God. It is with such thoughts that the poet walks the world. It was with such thoughts that David walked the world. For him in every field, there was an altar and a sacrifice in every breath of evening. And the wonderful thing is that with a heart like that, that saw God everywhere and worshipped Him, there should have been this overwhelming sense of the privilege of sanctuary worship. “Let others do what they like,” is what he means, “as for me, I will go into thy house.” There was something there that nothing else could give him, neither the lonely mountain nor the sea. And so at once, as reasonable men, we find ourselves confronted by this question–what was there in the worship of God’s house that made it thus indispensable to David?

The Sense of Human Fellowship

Well, in the first place, in the house of God there was for David the sense of human fellowship. In the deepest yearnings of his heart, he felt in the sanctuary that he was not alone. It is a lonely thing to be a king, and David the psalmist was a king. He lived in a certain solitary grandeur which is ever the penalty of the royal estate. And then for him, there was another loneliness that pierces deeper than that of regal state–it was the loneliness of the poetic heart. To be a monarch is to be a solitary, and to be a poet is to be a solitary. The one is separated by his rank from men, and the other by his inspiration. And it is when one recalls that David was not only a monarch but a poet too that one begins to understand his loneliness. He craved for fellowship, as we all do, and for him, it was very difficult to find. He had to deny himself those pleasant intimacies that are so heartening to the common man.

My brother, out of a loneliness like that can’t you gather the exquisite delight with which the poet-king would turn his steps to the communion of the house of God? There he was no longer solitary. There he was a subject, not a king. There he was as a brother among brothers under the shadow of a Father-God. And every sacrifice upon the altar and every word of penitence and praise told of a fellowship that lay far deeper than everything that can sunder human lives.

Deeper than everything which separates is the need of pardon for the sinner. Deeper than every individual craving is the craving for fellowship with God. No wonder, then, that David loved the sanctuary. No wonder that with eager feet he sought it. No wonder that the hour of public prayer was the most cherished season of this week. Seeking that fellowship which every soul demands, no matter how richly gifted it may be, he said: “As for me, I will come into thy house.”

Brethren, as with David, so with us, that is the privilege of public worship. In all the deepest regions of our being, it is the assurance of a real fellowship. In the market-place, men meet and mingle on the basis or a common interest in the business. In the home, lives are united by all the tender ties of human love. But in the sanctuary, the ground of fellowship is the common need of our immortal spirit which knows its weakness and its need for pardon and cannot be satisfied with less than God. Don’t try to invoke your ideas to make a man guilty before God. There was no room for man’s interference ‘ but to worship the God of David.

When Christian was in the Valley of the Shadow, you remember, he heard the voice of Faithful on ahead. ( THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS) And it cheered him and comforted his heart to know that there was another in the Valley. And that is one thing the sanctuary does for us in a way that nothing else can ever do as we fight our battles, fall and rise again, and wrestle heavenward against storm and tide. It tells us there are others in the Valley. It gives us the happy certainty of comradeship. In common prayer, we voice a common need, and in common praise a common aspiration. And within the house of God, we come to feel that we are not alone, and to feel that is like a strain of music. Without that fellowship we should despair, for the pathway is infinitely hard. Without that fellowship, knowing our instability, we might falter and fall by the wayside. And then there falls on us the benediction of worship and we are awakened to the sense of brotherhood. Others have known the things that we have known, the failures and the struggles and the yearnings. Others as vile as we have been redeemed and became more than conquerors of Christ. Others, too, have been tempted to despair and have thought of the heavens as brass and yet have known that to depart from God was the avenue to death. My brothers and sisters, it is such things that we learn in public worship in the house of God. No lonely meadow, no still and shady woods, no lonely mountainside can teach us that. And therefore from all the ministries of nature will the true seeker turn to the house of God, saying with the poet-king of Israel, “As for me, I shall come into thy house.’

The Message From the Past

In the second place, within the house of God, there was for David the message of the past. There was the memorial of all that God had been in His unfailing shepherding of Israel. In the life of David, as in the lives of all of us, there were seasons when he was hard pressed–seasons when the sky was dark and lowering and all the sunshine seemed to have departed. And who does not know how in such times as these the light of the countenance of God is quenched as though He had quite forgotten to be gracious. Such tragic hours were in a lot of David. There seemed for him to be no justice anywhere. Slander was rife and treachery was busy; hatred was malignant and victorious. And in such hours as these, it seemed to David, who was a man of like passions with ourselves as if the covenant of heaven were broken and his movements unseen by his God. What David needed in such hours as there was a larger message than his life could give him. He needed a reassurance of his God drawn from the wonderful story of the past. And not on the battlefields of Israel’s history but in the sanctuary of Israel’s faith was that sweet reassurance to be found. There in the house of God stood the ark that had been borne through all the wanderings of the wilderness. There was the mercy-seat where God had dwelt under the sheltering wings of golden cherubim. There was the pot of manna from the desert that had fed the hungry in their hour of need. There was the rod of Aaron that had budded. “As for me, I will come into thy house.” David went to revive his courage by the past. When times were tragic, when faith was hard to keep, he went to learn the ways of God again. And so, refreshed and strengthened with that view of all that the living God had been to Israel, courage returned and dying hope revived, and David was made equal to his day. No man knew better than that poet-king the healing and help of the ministry of nature. But in hours like these when faith was tested, it was not to meadow or mountain that he turned; it was to the sanctuary, to the house of God, to the shrine and witness of an unfailing covenant–“As for me, I will come into thy house.”

The Comfort of the Communion

And so it is with you and me (my brethren and followers on this Gospel Blog) as we turn our steps on the Lord’s day to the sanctuary. We come to gain for our uncertain hearts the large, grand assurance of the past. As we listen there to the reading of those Scriptures that have been the star of countless generations, as we lift our voices in those ancient hymns (Those Methodist hymns and Sankie) that were sung by thousands who are now in glory, are we not lifted above our cloudy present, where the divine purpose is so hard to see, into a region that is full of God? We have no ark, no golden cherubim, no budding rod, no gathered manna. But we have something that is far more eloquent of what the Lord has been throughout the ages. We have the broken bread and we have the wine in the memorial Supper of our Saviour which unites us with every faithful heart that ever trusted in His grace. All that is given us in the sanctuary, and given us nowhere else than in the sanctuary–that sight and sense of all that God has been in the large and roomy spaces of the ages. And so we are kept from the blackness of despair and from thinking that God has forgotten to be gracious when, in our separate and individual lives, we look for Him and our eyes are dim. Blessed be God for the ministry of nature and for all the peace and healing of His hand. Blessed be God for the heather on the hill and the music of the stream in the valley. But when the way is dark and faith is difficult and prayer seems empty, we need another ministry than that. We need the testimony of the ages then. We need the ministry of the long past. We need to know that God has kept His promises from generation unto generation. And such is the testimony that like a flowing tide is borne in upon our darkened souls when with the poet of Israel we say, “As for me, I will come into thy house.”

The Mercy of God

As we come to a close there is a third aspect, within the house of God there was for David the blessed sense of mercy. “As for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy.” Will you observe it is mercy–in the singular. It is not mercies–in the plural. The mercy of God is not many different things; the singer knew that mercy is all one. And yet to him, that attribute of mercy was of such various and changing feature that the only way in which he could describe it was to compare it to a multitude. In a great crowd, there is one common life. It is one life that animates the whole. Yet in a crowd, how that common life expresses itself in a thousand different ways. And so for David, there were a thousand tokens that the Lord God was merciful and gracious, and yet he knew that the mercy was all one.

Ah, how utterly David needed mercy. Without mercy, there was no hope for him. He, the poet and king of Israel–what a guilty sinner he had been! My brother and sister, it was in search of mercy, mercy to pardon his sin unto the uttermost, that he cried out of a broken heart, “As for me, I will come into thy house.” He had searched for mercy in the creation and it had baffled him to find it there. He had looked to the stars for it and to the firmament, only to learn the littleness of man. And then in agony, and with that sense of guilt which was wrought by the Holy Spirit on his heart, he had turned to the house of God and found it there. Mercy–it was the message of the ark, for above the ark there was the mercy-seat. Mercy–it was the message of the manna, for it had been given to a rebellious people. And every sacrifice upon the altar and every offering accepted there, spoke of the Lord God merciful and gracious. That was what David needed above everything, and that was what only the sanctuary gave him. No forest depth, no everlasting mountains, gave him the peace of reconciliation. And that was why David with his poet’s heart, alive to all the music of the universe, turned to the sanctuary and cried, “As for me, I will come into thy house.”

My friend, my brothers, and sisters, children of God, as with David so with us: of all our needs, our deepest need is mercy–mercy to pardon, mercy to receive, mercy while we live and when we die. Without a mercy infinite and boundless, there is no hope for any mortal man. Without a mercy glorious and flee, there is nothing but a fearful looking for of judgment. And I do not know of anywhere within this universe where there sounds out the silver bell of mercy save in that ministry of reconciliation which is the message of the house of God. I turn to nature and I don’t find it. I search for it in vain among the hills. I hear it not in the song of any brook nor in the organ-music of the sea. But the moment I enter into the house of God, clear as a trumpet, soft as the breath of evening, I hear of a mercy that is high as heaven and deeper far than the abyss of sin. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Christ hath died, the just for the unjust. He is able to save unto the uttermost. My brothers and sisters, whatever else we need, that is the deepest need of every one of us, for without that mercy none of us can live, and without it, none of us can die in peace. Cherish, then, all that is bright and beautiful in the world around you and in the sky above you. Walk with an open ear, as David did, for every accent of the great Creator. And then like David, poet-king, and sinner, feeling your need of the everlasting mercy, say to your soul afresh this Lord’s day, “As for me, I will come into thy house.”