Great Texts of the Bible
Environment and Character
I pray not that thou shouldest take them from the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one.—John 17:15.
1. The last words of Christ to His disciples, clustered round Him in that solemn hour when He took leave of them before He died, were words of prayer. It was a prayer, as reported to us, which threw into pregnant words the meaning of His whole work, but it was also steeped in the tender thought which fills the heart of one who parts from those he has long loved. As He prayed for those around Him, who were to spread among men the good news of God, commending them to His Father’s care, every word was touched with the human tenderness of separation. “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one”—one in love, one in that will of God which is the bond of love. Keep them from the world, not from the outward world, but from the evil of the world. With that prayer, Christ defines the position of His followers in their life among men, and the meaning of it is our subject.
2. This does not mean that Christ wished His followers never to die—always to be in the world. It is appointed for us all to die. But our Lord did not wish His followers to die before their time. “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” All, indeed, do not reach this fulness of years; and Christians as well as others are cut off by illness and accidents. Death claims all ages for his own. Many also die from loyalty to duty and to love. Blessings dearer than life may be in danger; evils worse than death may be threatened to our country and ourselves. Now Christians, like others, may have to fight even to the death for national life and liberty. And loyalty to love and loyalty to duty may bring an early death on the followers of Christ as well as on others. They may see dear ones sinking into a watery grave, or surrounded by consuming fires, and they may risk and sacrifice their lives in seeking to rescue them from death.
When Jesus’ followers give up their lives either in loyalty to duty or in loyalty to love, they give them up in accordance with the will of God; but Jesus knew there was a real danger that Christians would be taken out of the world when they should continue to live in it, and it was not His wish that this should be. The danger arose both from the hatred of Christ’s enemies and from the mistaken beliefs and actings of Christ’s followers themselves.
The world was to be their sphere. “I pray not that thou shouldest take from the world.”
What is Christ’s meaning for the term “world”? It is this passing scene of time, with its transient pleasures and sorrows, pursuits and loves; and the mass of men that live for these alone. There is the world of men, of business, of politics, of labour for wealth and fame—the storm of life in which we sail. Pray, men say, to be taken out of that; out into the deserts or the quietude of our retired rooms; in solitary meditation to live the life of God. I do not pray, said Christ, that you should be removed from that—only from its evil.
1. Christ could not ask that they might be taken out of the world, for that was the scene of their witnessing and labour. However keenly they might wish to escape from its hate and opposition, it was necessary for themselves, for the world, and for their Master, that they should stay as the salt and leaven of human society. But He prays that God would “keep them from the evil one.” Divine grace is to surround these simple souls so that Satan’s fingers may not defile their lives. They also must learn to say, “He hath nothing in me.” This is a great thing to ask, but it is the path to victory. “The problem of the necessity of living in the midst of earthly influences and yet of escaping from their evil is difficult with an exceeding difficulty. Yet it is not without solution. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel in the court of Darius, are the likenesses “of the small transfigured band whom the world cannot tame.”
Some devout men in spite of the prayer of Jesus, thought it best to renounce the world, and lived in dens and caves of the earth. The Pillar Hermits of Syria lived long years on the tops of pillars set up in the open air. The earliest and most famous of this class of solitaries, whose example the others followed as well as they could, was Simeon, a Syrian monk. In his boyhood Simeon had been a shepherd. He spent nine years of his youth in a Syrian monastery, without ever moving outside the walls of his narrow cell. After this he became dissatisfied with the convent, as giving him too few means of self-denial, and presently invented the new form of penitence which has become associated with his name. He withdrew about the year 423 a.d. to a mountain near Antioch, and fixed his abode upon the top of a pillar which he caused to be erected for himself. The height of it was at first six cubits, but this was gradually increased to thirty-six, or nearly sixty feet. The diameter of the top was only four feet; but it was surrounded with a railing which secured the poor man from falling off, and allowed him the relief of leaning against it. Here Simeon spent the last thirty or more years of his life. He clothed himself with the skins of beasts, and wore also an iron collar round his neck. He preached twice a day to the crowds that gathered at the foot of the column to witness his persevering devotions. Simeon died on his pillar at the age of seventy-two, and was buried with great solemnity at Antioch.
Lord Tennyson has a poem about him with the title, “Saint Simeon Stylites,” that is “Saint Simeon of the Pillar.” It consists of a solemn prayer to God and address to the people by the hermit on the last day of his life. The words which the poet puts into his mouth show a curious mixture of deep penitence for sin and great spiritual pride in his long career of penance. Here are some of them,—
Bethink Thee, Lord, while Thou and all the saints
Enjoy themselves in heaven, and men on earth
House in the shade of comfortable roofs,
Sit with their wives by fires, eat wholesome food,
And wear warm clothes, and even beasts have stalls,
I, ’tween the spring and downfall of the light,
Bow down one thousand and two hundred times,
To Christ, the Virgin Mother, and the saints;
Or in the night, after a little sleep,
I wake: the chill stars sparkle; I am wet
With drenching dews, or stiff with crackling frost.
I wear an undress’d goatskin on my back;
A grazing iron collar grinds my neck;
And in my weak, lean arms I lift the cross,
And strive and wrestle with Thee till I die:
O mercy, mercy! wash away my sin.1 [Note: C. Jerdan, For the Lambs of the Flock, 122.]
(1) We are in the world for our own sake. We are placed here to be trained for another and a higher life. A certain time and certain trials upon this earth are necessary to develop us into the likeness of God’s character.
The aloe takes a hundred years to make a flower, the primrose a few spring days; some trees reach maturity in half a century, others weave their strength of folded fibres out of the rain, and wind, and sunshine of a thousand years. Each has its own period. It is so, also, with us, the planting of the Lord. A few trials, a few years, and some of us flower into all the perfection we can attain on earth. Many long years’ bitter and protracted trials are the lot of others, before a single blossom can spring upon their lives; but—and it is a law which ought to console us—in proportion to the length of time and the greatness of the trial is the fitness of the character for work, and the greatness also of the work that it has to do. The primrose is beautiful and cheers the heart of the passing traveller, and rejoices the Maying children who weave it in a wreath for their queen—and that is useful and lovely work and has its place. But the oak shelters a thousand herds, and plants a forest; and builds the bulwark of the coast, and the fleets that unite the nations. We have no right to be impatient if God is making us into the heart of oak, which will, when the woodman, death, has felled us, give shelter and bring blessing to thousands in the other world. Not an hour of the time, not a single agony of the trial is lost; everything that we suffer here is transmuted otherwhere into strength and usefulness, into greatness and beauty of character.2 [Note: S. A. Brooke, The Ship of the Soul, 43.]
(2) It is Christ’s mind that His people should abide for a season in the world for the sake of others. He has purposes to accomplish in His people, and by them, which render it necessary that they should, in all ordinary cases, pass a time of sojourn amid the cares and temptations of the world. We are not left in doubt as to the reason of our Lord’s declining to pray that His saints should be taken out of the world. He explains it Himself in John 17:18 : “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” We know what Christ was sent into the world to do. It was that He might save it. “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” In like manner Christ’s people are sent into the world for the world’s good. In the humbler fashion, which alone is competent to men, Christ’s people are like Christ Himself, the light of the world. Christ’s plan is to do the work of His Kingdom on the earth by means of His own people. He does not send angels from heaven to preach the Gospel, or to minister food and raiment to the poor, or to comfort mourners, or to put evildoers to shame by their holy life. These honourable functions it is His will and pleasure that His own people should discharge. When the world shall have been converted to Christ, it will be found that the instruments employed have been men of like passions with others. And this being so, it is easy enough to understand why Christ does not desire that His people should be at once taken out of the world. The world needs their example, their prayers, their good deeds, their instructions; and, for the world’s sake, they must abide here for a season, and not only abide on the earth, but throw themselves heartily into the throng and turmoil of life in the world, according as God may call them.
For thousands of years there lay before man all the possibilities of insulating an electric current, and so of confining it within certain bounds, and of directing its energy into a definite channel, and yet the thing never dawned upon his mind until the time of Stephen Gray. And since his day the development of electrical science has been proportionate to the progress made in the knowledge of insulation. In all the advance made in the arts and sciences by the nations of antiquity, we have no evidence that any one of them ever discovered that a wire could be so covered that it would be insulated, and so retain and transmit a current; and without this knowledge of insulation no progress in electricity was possible. An induction coil could not be constructed, and so there could be no dynamo or electric motor. In short, there could be no transmission of electrical energy in any form. Insulation is as much a matter of necessity in things spiritual as in things electrical. This does not mean, however, the insulation which is found in isolation so much as that which is the product of life. It is not secured by separating one’s self from his fellows, whether in the cell of the monastery or in the religious retreat. It is rather the possession of life that shields a man from his hostile environment, and enables him to triumph over it.1 [Note: C. H. Tyndall, Electricity and its Similitudes, 114.]
2. The spirit of Christ’s prayer was the habit of His life. If He was not of this world, it was not because He left it to itself, or wrapped Himself in any mystery, or was without sympathy for any human condition, or untouched by any cry of emotion. He lived as a man among men. He assumed no special sanctity, no signs of separation. He sat at rich men’s tables. He associated with those of evil repute and of no repute. He said of Himself that He came eating and drinking. It was charged against Him that He was “gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.” He gave currency Himself to the coarse reproach that He was “a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber,” not fearing to take it up, and only adding, “Wisdom is justified of all her children.” For he who cannot pass blamelessly through the common conditions of our life, taking them as they are, and evading none of them, is no saint of God and no saviour of men. It is not being above any human necessity, but meeting it fully and purely, that tests spiritual power. If the Son of Man was not of the world, it was not because His spirit was not large enough to take in both earth and heaven; it was because this earth was a sacred place where God was unfolding His providence and men were fulfilling their preparatory destinies; and when He looked upon them in the light of their immortality, His tenderness flowed out even in tears—not the tears that lie near to the eyes, but out of the anguish of His spirit—for those who, in the crisis of the world’s opportunity, were rejecting the counsel of God against themselves, not knowing the time of their visitation.
It is said of every painting that has no clear outlook to the sky, that it leaves a stifling impression on the mind of confinement and limitation. And so of every human life that has no natural outlet to the infinite: it is then of the world, and of the world only. Yet we have no external measurements for such states of the spirit. Only the individual conscience, and He who is greater than the conscience, can tell where worldliness prevails, with the heavenly outlook closed. Each heart must answer for itself, and at its own risk. That our souls are committed to our own keeping at our own peril, in a world so mixed as this, is the last reason why we should slumber over the charge, or betray the trust. If only that outlet to the infinite is kept open, the inner bond with eternal life preserved, while not one movement of this world’s business is interfered with, not one pulse-beat of its happiness repressed, with all natural associations dear and cherished, with all human sympathies fresh and warm, we shall yet be near to the Kingdom of heaven, within the order of the Kosmos of God in the world, but not of the world—not taken out of it, but kept from its evil.1 [Note: J. Hamilton Thom, Laws of Life after the Mind of Christ, 311.]
If It was a true inspiration of the artist who depicted a monk at his desk in the monastery cell, with pen in hand, and eyes looking upward for illumination, and the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove to bring the light and guidance he sought. That was a true inspiration; but it was equally true to depict a foul spirit speaking from beneath, seeking to engage the monk’s attention, that he might whisper in his ear the corrupt and corrupting counsel of the world. In convent and in the busiest highway the two voices call, and no withdrawal of the body will deliver us from the subtle and ensnaring influence of the evil world.2 [Note: J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, 57.]
3. The more we make of this life, the more credible another life becomes. The greater this life is made, the easier to believe in the next. No one would infer Paradise from the vast African desert. It is when the traveller visits European zones, sees their magnificence of verdure and bloom and the grand creations of man, that the soul readily believes in God and eternity.
A noted novelist has said that when the great and pure souls of earth were beheld it was easy to believe in immortality. We have suffered from two causes—from religious zealots disparaging this world, and from infidel minds underrating the next. The former take from this beautiful world its purpose, while the latter deprive it of the mystery and the hope of Heaven. Christ has delivered us from both. For He stood forth emphasizing the value of this life and assigning to His disciples their place in it as His servants. He taught them their obligation to ornament and develop this world. This earth is the first stage in the soul’s career. Only a grand human life can bear any adequate testimony to the truths of Christ’s Gospel. Here it is given to those accepting it to show its relation to the State; to the social charities human misery makes so needful; to the school, with its eager young life to be trained; to the home, wherein are to blossom the graces and amenities that alone can perpetuate it and make it “sweet home”; to politics, that they may be cleansed and reveal the spirit of that patriotism whose renaissance is the hope of the hour. It is at such points as these, where Christianity has touched this earth and made it better, that it finds its protection from the ice of unbelief and the attacks of ridicule.1 [Note: M. M. G. Dana.]
1. The Greek word that ends the text is an adjective, preceded by an article, and being in the genitive case the custom is to supply a substantive. Hence the rendering: “that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one.” The statement then points to “the prince of this world,” the author and embodiment of evil. Not that the word “Satan,” or the word “Devil,” must always be taken to mean one spirit in the Scriptures: “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven,” means that Christ saw evil spirits discomfited. “The devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour,” means, not one fallen spirit merely, but many fallen spirits seeking whom they may influence for evil.
2. What, then, is this evil (or “evil one,” as the R.V. has it) from which our Lord prays we should be kept? Does it consist in outward tribulation, in the trials and troubles of life, in poverty, bereavements, bodily sufferings? Obviously not. Christ knew that man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. He Himself, as Perfect Man, underwent all these, leaving us the one perfect example of patient submission to God’s will. It was indeed for this purpose that He left His Father’s throne to come and live amongst us on this earth, that there might be no thorny path or barren wilderness of trouble which He as our great Leader had not passed through before us, no fierce temptation which He as Perfect Man had not experienced and triumphed over, thus leaving us an example that we should follow His steps, and in all these things be more than conquerors. So then this evil from which He prays God to keep us is not an outward one, but one far more deadly and subtle—an inward and spiritual enemy. He prays that we may be kept from the wiles of the evil one, who, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour, from any indulged sin that would come between us and God, from any earthly care or pleasure that may deaden our spiritual faculties and separate the soul from the enjoyment of God’s love.
(1) There is virtue in environment. In the region of the Natural Sciences we find the botanist and the biologist arguing that any peculiar formation or growth in plant or animal which maintains itself and becomes persistent must be accounted for by something in its environment. There must be something there to justify it, to make it worth while that it should exist, otherwise it would not have maintained itself, at least in vigour. They argue thus from the organism to its environment, and set to work to verify their argument by finding that hitherto unsuspected element or process in external nature with which the peculiar formation brings the plant or animal into advantageous correspondence. There is no reason why the argument should not apply with equal force to the invisible spiritual faculties and developments of human nature; the only difference is that in this region it does not from the nature of the case admit of ocular verification.
You have seen a lily floating in the black sullied waters of a foul bog in the country. All about it are foulness and impurity; but amid all the vileness the lily is pure as the white snowflakes that fall from the winter clouds. It floats on the surface of the stained waters, but never takes a stain. It ever holds up its pure face towards God’s blue sky, and pours its fragrance all about it, like the incense from the censer of a vestal priestess. So it is possible for a true soul to live in this sinful world, keeping itself unsullied, and breathing out the fragrance of love.1 [Note: J. R. Miller, Glimpses through Life’s Windows, 186.]
(2) But there is peril in environment. Christ does not make light of the dangers which beset His disciples in this world. He had met the tempter and defeated him, but He knew the craft and cunning with which he lies in wait to deceive, and this prayer is a cry of warning. St. Paul does not underrate our peril: “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” The noble and the good of former days unite in declaring that this world is to the servant of Christ an enemy’s country. There are the god of this world, the powers of this world, the men of this world, the things of this world—all in their degree fighting against the man who believes in Jesus. As an old writer has said, this world is like a chess-board, you cannot make a move in any direction but the devil instantly sets out some creature to attack you.
Long ago I made a change of habitat from the hill country of western Carolina to what was regarded as a malarious district near the eastern coast. I was warned of the probable consequences to my health, but I laughed at the fears of my friends. I protested that there was nothing in the world the matter with the air. Was I not a chemist? At least, I was so accounted in those days when I filled that chair in a humble college. The air had just the same constituents as were to be found in the hill country—oxygen, nitrogen, vapour of water, and a trace of carbonic acid. And so for two years I laughed at chills and fevers, and then I shook for two months. There was something baneful in the air, even though chemical analysis failed to detect its presence.1 [Note: P. S. Henson, The Four Faces, 233.]
“That thou shouldest keep them.” What a wealth of quiet experience there is in the phrase, “The Lord shall preserve thy going out.” It is worth while at the beginning of any day to pause to gather so precious a promise. But like many another fair promise it is at the same time a challenge. The God who waits at the door with the offer of companionship, scrutinizes our going forth. We have, as it were, to pass Him to get into the street. He is the sentry who must know our business, and why we go out, before He can give us safe conduct. The assurance of protection can be tasted only by the man whose daily purpose is in accordance with the will of God, who can give the answer of his Master, that he is about the Father’s business.
In China men have conceived of a sleeping Deity. There, lying on his side, with calm face, closed eyes, and head resting upon his hand, is a gilded wooden figure, 30 feet long, and well proportioned. But he does not mind his worshippers. His left arm is resting upon his body, and his bare feet are placed one upon the other. This Buddha is sleeping, while the world goes on. Standing about him are twelve crowned and beautifully dressed images, and in front are the symbols of sacrifice and incense. How unlike Him who neither slumbers nor sleeps!
O strange and wild is the world of men
Which the eyes of the Lord must see—
With continents, islands, tribes and tongues,
With multitudes bond and free!
All kings of the earth bow down to Him,
And yet—He can think on me.
For none can measure the mind of God
Or the bounds of eternity,
He knows each life that has come from Him,
To the tiniest bird and bee,
And the love of His heart is so deep and wide
That it takes in even me.1 [Note: Mary E. Allbright.]
1. The disciple cannot keep himself.—The Saviour did not turn to those who stood round Him and bind them by strong vows to remain faithful when He was gone. He knew their weakness, and He looked away from them to God’s strength. It is well for us to know our weakness. We cannot keep ourselves. We have no strength to meet the attack, and no skill to evade it. How will you do? Will you resolve sternly to resist when next you are tempted? Such resolves have been made, as in a soul’s agony they have been made, and they have gone down before the fierce onslaught like lead before the blow-pipe, or they have yielded to the gentle wooings and insinuations of the evil one. Be not too confident, that is, not self-confident. St. Peter’s brave challenge to man or devil to make him desert his Master was but the prelude to his fall.
2. We are kept by outward restraints, by commands and prohibitions and providences. It is told of one of the great painters of Italy, that, being engaged upon a fresco inside the dome of a lofty cathedral, and standing on a platform hung more than a hundred feet from the floor, he paused to look at the effect of his work, and, absorbed in his art, kept walking backward for a better view, till, forgetful of danger, he had almost reached the platform’s edge, unconscious that two more backward steps would hurl him down to death. A brother artist seeing his danger, but afraid to speak lest a sudden shout should precipitate the fall he was anxious to prevent, seized a brush full of paint and hurled it against the face of the brilliant figure on the dome, completely spoiling the labour of many days. But that saved the painter’s life; for, resenting what he thought an insult, and springing forward with a cry, he only then discovered that that had been a friendly act to save him from an awful death. And when God, with a seemingly cruel hand blots out our beautiful visions, and spoils the life-picture that we thought so fair, till we cry out in surprise and anger too, He may be saying with a tender voice, “It was to keep you from falling.”
“Don’t you think, sir,” said a very sincere but simple man, to me, one Sunday, as I was leaving the pulpit of a chapel filled chiefly by the poor, “don’t you think that you repeat the Lord’s Prayer the wrong way? Don’t you think you had better repeat it as our minister repeats it? He always says, ‘Leave us not in temptation.’ You don’t think that God ever leads us into temptation, sir, do you? Had you not better follow our minister’s way, sir?” “No,” I replied; “I don’t think I had better follow your minister’s way. I think he had better follow Christ’s way and repeat the prayer as Christ taught it. Listen, my friend,” I said; “the prayer is clear enough and forcible enough if you will read it through. But you are like some other people that I know, you insist on reading the Bible with your thumb-nail instead of your brains. You stick your thumb-nail into one word on a page and will not see any other word, even on the same page. When you read any other book you allow it to explain itself. You read all adjoining passages, as well as the immediate context; and, above all, you do not ignore the context. You let the book explain itself. Do the same with the Lord’s Prayer.” “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”; that is, lead us not into temptation that shall overpower us, expose us not to overmuch trial, trial under which our weakness may sink. Christ does not mean that we are to pray never to be tempted, but only that we may be shielded from temptations too great for our strength; and that we may be delivered from the sin of yielding to the temptation.1 [Note: T. Cooper, Plain Pulpit Talk, 205.]
3. We are kept by the vision of pure things.—In ascending the lofty peaks of the Jungfrau and Monte Rosa, the guides are said to resort not infrequently to the artifice of endeavouring to interest the traveller in the beauty of the lovely flowers growing there, with a view to distract his attention from the fearful abysses which the giddy path overhangs. By a similar device of wisdom and love are the saints preserved as they pursue their perilous way. God establishes their steps by charming their eye with things of beauty, interest, and delectableness, and by filling their heart with the love of them. Home, sweet home, with its pleasantness and pathos; the charm of literature, the miracles of science, the spell of music, the visions of art; the daily round, with its ever fresh solicitudes and satisfactions; the calls of patriotism, the demands of duty, the glow of love, the pleasures of friendship, social service, the abandon of pastimes—these, and many other similar things pertaining to the natural life, when accepted, exercised, and enjoyed in the sunshine of the Lord, constitute our strength and guarantee our peace, despite all the visions of sin, all the allurements of world, flesh, and devil. We are not saved by some unknown magic, but God draws our heart to Himself through the sanctified gifts, situations, and activities which go to the making up of human life.
4. We are kept by God’s strengthening grace in our hearts.—Not abstraction from the world, but protection from the evil! The deliverance is to be effected, not by the removal of the body, but by the reinforcement of the spirit. Our redemption is to be accomplished, not by changing our locality, but by changing the condition of the heart. The purpose of our Saviour is to perfect us in holiness, not by withdrawing us from all infection, but by making us proof against all disease in the endowment of invincible health. The ideal of aspiring discipleship is to be found not in innocence, with an environment destitute of temptation, but in holiness, despite the menacing advances of infection and disease. “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” “I pray not that thou shouldest take them from the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one.”
As the diver in his bell sits dry at the bottom of the sea, and draws a pure air from the free heavens far above him, and is parted from that murderous waste of green death that clings so closely round the translucent crystal walls, which keep him safe, so we, enclosed in God, shall repel from ourselves all that would overflow to destroy us and our work, and may by His grace lay deeper than the waters some courses in the great building that shall one day rise stately and many-mansioned from out of the conquered waves.
A writer tells of going with a party into a coal mine. On one side of the gangway grew a plant which was perfectly white. The visitors were astonished that there, where the coal dust was continually flying, this little plant should remain so pure and white. A miner took a handful of black coal dust and threw it upon the plant but none adhered. The visitors repeated the experiment, but the coal dust would not cling. There was a wonderful enamel on the folds of the white plant to which the finest perceptible speck would not adhere. Living there, amid clouds of black dust, nothing could stain its snowy whiteness.
5. We must co-operate with God.—Indeed the Apostle Jude says, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” God’s love to us—that is the element within which the keeping of ourselves becomes real keeping, safe keeping, happy keeping. That is the overarching firmament, with its height and breadth of bright infinitude, within which our keeping is kept. We ourselves are to abide within our own poor keeping: yes, and our own poor keeping is to abide within God’s tender might of love. The flower is to be environed by the frail globe of glass: the frail globe is to be environed and to be penetrated by the sweet warm sunlight, that comes across the tracks of worlds to illumine our dark atmosphere with safety and life.
If I feel that I am enclosed by the strong ramparts of a fortress-home, there is animating reason why I should guard myself from the lesser hazards that may still encompass me within that home; my keeping of myself is not at an end, but is only reduced to manageable dimensions. If I be on board a steam-liner, which holds her head before the wildest weather with undaunted majesty, and only fills the air above her bows with the smoke of billows she is shattering in the strong tremor of her power, I have still to care how I mount the companion-way, and pace the deck, and stow my valuables in my cabin. Indeed, it is only when I am secure from wreck or foundering, that all this minor care is of much account.1 [Note: J. A. Kerr Bain, For Heart and Life, 85.]
I rest on Thy unwearied mind;
Thy planning and Thy love go on,
Nor dost Thou leave me far behind;
I’m carried to another dawn.
The new day breaks. From earth’s old mould
Fresh flowers grow along my way.
New life is flashed on problems old;
On ancient life new forces play.
O wondrous, wakeful Warden! When
The last great nightfall comes to me,
From that deep slumber rouse me then,
That I Thy tireless child may be.2 [Note: Archibald Haddon.]
“I pray.”—Jesus assumes the rôle of Advocate. To St. Peter He said, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” And He says the same to every disciple who is being sifted by the wicked one. Our great High Priest lifts up the voice of continual intercession for us. His own Passion is His Plea. Those five red-lipped wounds plead eloquently with the Father; and nothing that they ask is ever refused.
Look, Father, look on His Anointed Face,
And only look on us as found in Him;
Look not on our misusings of Thy grace,
Our prayer so languid, and our faith so dim.
For lo! between our sins and their reward
We set the Passion of Thy Son our Lord.
I remember a wonderful mural painting. It depicts the Jews brought into subjection to the heathen. To the left stands Pharaoh, exquisite, effeminate, deadly cruel. In one hand he lifts the scourge, and with the other he grasps the hair of the captives. On the right is the Assyrian king, duller, heavier, with knotted limbs. He presses down the yoke on the poor prisoners. But supplicating hands are raised up to heaven, and Jehovah lends His ear to the cry of His people. The cherubim fly before Him, their wings a glowing crimson. They hide His face; but from behind the wings issue His arms. The slender Pharaoh He represses by the mere impact of His fingers. The brute force of the Assyrian He holds in a grasp of tremendous power. Fear not, O trembling heart: when Jesus presents your prayers before the throne, no enemy can prevail against you.1 [Note: A. Smellie, In the Secret Place, 34.]
Environment and Character
Alexander (S. A.), The Mind of Christ, 418.
Benson (R. M.), The Final Passover, ii. (pt. ii.) 457.
Binnie (W.), Sermons, 171.
Bramston (J. F.), Fratribus, 164.
Brooke (S. A.), The Ship of the Soul, 31.
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Cooper (T.), Plain Pulpit Talk, 196.
Dods (M.), Footsteps in the Path of Life, 70.
Gibson (J. M.), Glory of Life on Earth, 1.
Gray (W. H.), The Children’s Friend, 202.
Gregg (D.), Individual Prayer as a Working Force, 125.
Hiley (R. W.), A Year’s Sermons, iii. 234.
Jerdan (C.), For the Lambs of the Flock, 121.
Jowett (J. H.), Apostolic Optimism, 47.
Lidgett (J. S.), Apostolic Ministry, 215.
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Cambridge Review, i. No. 21.
Christian Age, xlvi. 13; liii. 325.
Christian World Pulpit, li. 316 (Gibson); lv. 136 (Jowett); lxxi. 268 (Rushbrooke).