Great Texts of the Bible
The Man that is Blessed
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor standeth in the way of sinners,
Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.—Psalm 1:1.
1. Deep as is the interest attaching to the Psalter as the great storehouse of sacred poetry, and vast as is its importance considered as a record of spiritual life under the Old Dispensation, scarcely less interest and importance attach to it with reference to the position it has ever occupied both in the public worship of the Church and in the private life of Christians. No single book of Scripture, not even of the New Testament, has, perhaps, ever taken such hold on the heart of Christendom. None, if we may dare judge, unless it be the Gospels, has had so large an influence in moulding the affections, sustaining the hopes, purifying the faith of believers. With its words, rather than with their own, they have come before God. In these they have uttered their desires, their fears, their confessions, their aspirations, their sorrows, their joys, their thanksgivings. By these their devotion has been kindled and their hearts comforted. The Psalter has been, in the truest sense, the Prayer Book of both Jews and Christians.
The Jewish Psalms have furnished the bridal hymns, the battle songs, the pilgrim marches, the penitential prayers, and the public praises of every nation in Christendom, since Christendom was born. They have rolled through the din of every great European battlefield; they have pealed through the scream of the storm in every ocean highway of the world. Drake’s sailors sang them when they clave the virgin waters of the Pacific; Frobisher’s, when they dashed against the barriers of Arctic ice and night. They floated over the waters on that day of days when England held her freedom against Pope and Spaniard, and won the naval supremacy of the world. They crossed the ocean with the Mayflower pilgrims; were sung round Cromwell’s campfires, and his Ironsides charged to their music; whilst they have filled the peaceful homes of England with the voice of supplication and the breath of praise. In palace halls, by happy hearths, in squalid rooms, in pauper wards, in prison cells, in crowded sanctuaries, in lonely wilderness—everywhere they have uttered our moan of contrition and our song of triumph; our tearful complaints, and our wrestling, conquering prayer.1 [Note: J. Baldwin Brown.]
If all the greatest excellences and most choice experience of all the true saints should be gathered from the whole Church since it has existed, and should be condensed into the focus of one book; if God, I say, should permit any most spiritual and gifted man to form and concentrate such a book, such a book would be what the Book of Psalms is, or like unto it. For in the Book of Psalms we have not the life of the saints only, but we have the experience of Christ Himself, the Head of all the saints. So that you may truly call the Book of Psalms a little Bible. Be assured that the Holy Spirit Himself has written and handed down to us this Book of Psalms as a Liturgy, in the same way as a father would give a book to his children. He Himself has drawn up this Manual for His disciples; having collected together, as it were, the lives, groans, and experience of many thousands, whose hearts He alone sees and knows.2 [Note: Luther.]
There’s lots of music in the Psalms, those dear sweet Psalms of old,
With visions bright of lands of light and shining streets of gold;
I hear them ringing, singing still, in memory soft and clear,
“Such pity as a father hath unto his children dear.”
They seem to sing for evermore of better, sweeter days,
When the lilies of the love of God bloomed white in all the ways:
And still I hear the solemn strains in the quaint old meeting flow,
“O greatly blessed the people are the joyful sound that know.”
No singing-books we needed then, for very well we knew
The tunes and words we loved so well the dear old Psalm Book through;
To “Coleshill” at the Sacrament we sang, as tears would fall,
“I’ll of salvation take the cup, on God’s name will I call.”
And so I love the dear old Psalms, and when my time shall come,
Before the light has left my eyes, and my singing lips are dumb,
If I can only hear them then I’ll gladly soar away,—
“So pants my longing soul, O God, that come to Thee I may.”
2. The First and Second Psalms are distinguished by having no title or preliminary inscription. They appear to stand as an introduction to the Psalter. They serve as an overture to the great choral symphony which follows, giving forth the two great themes which are to be wrought into so many forms of melody in later Psalms. The one strikes the key-note of the blessedness of keeping God’s law; the other puts into music the hope of a coming Messiah, and so together they anticipate almost all that is to follow. At what stage of the collection of the Psalter they were prefixed, or by whom, we do not know, and the knowledge would be of no importance.
The teaching of these Psalms as to the blessedness of keeping the law is to some extent the characteristic Old Testament teaching of the outward prosperity of the righteous, and the transiency of the wicked. Christianity does not altogether repeat that teaching. The Cross has taught new lessons of the meaning of suffering and the mystery of pain; and now that the Holy One of God has been made perfect by suffering, the Old Testament thoughts as to the connexion between well-doing and well-being, so far as externals go, have been modified and deepened. But the inmost heart of them remains true for evermore, and these Psalms declare a universal and irreversible law, rooted in the nature of things, and eternal as the throne of God, when they declare that obedience is blessedness, and sin is destruction.
The benediction, in the opening of the First Psalm, divides at once the virtue which is to be strengthened, or to find voice, in the following Psalms, into three conditions, the understanding of which is the key to the entire law of Old Testament morality.
“Blessed is the man who” (first) “has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly.”
That is to say, who has not advanced, or educated himself, in the “counsel” (either the opinions or the advice) of men who are unconscious of the existence of God.
That is the law of our Intellectual Education.
“Nor” (secondly) “stood in the way of sinners.”
That is to say, who has not adopted for the standing, establishing, and rule of his life, the ways, customs, or principles of the men who, whether conscious or unconscious of God’s being, disobey His commands.
That is the law of our moral conduct.
“And hath not” (thirdly) “sat in the seat of the scornful.”
That is to say, who has not, in teaching or ruling others, permitted his own pride or egotism to make him intolerant of their creeds, impatient of their ignorance, or unkind to their failings. This throne of pride is, in the Vulgate, called the throne of Pestilence. I know not on what ground; but assuredly conveying this further truth, that the source of all noisome blast of heresy, “that plaguing strays” in the Christian Church, has been the pride and egotism of its pastors.
Here, then, are defined for us in the first words of the Psalter, the three great vices of Intellectual Progress, Moral Stature, and Cathedral Enthronement, by which all men are tempted in their learning, their doing, and their teaching; and in conquering which, they are to receive the blessing of God, and the peaceful success of their human life. These three sins are always expressed in the Greek Psalter in the same terms.
Ungodliness is asebeia; Sin is hamartia; Pride is hyperçphania; and the tenor of every passage throughout the Psalms, occupied in the rebuke or threatening of the “wicked,” is coloured by its specific direction against one or other of these forms of sin.
But, separate from all these sins, and governing them, is the monarchic “Iniquity,” which consists in the wilful adoption of, and persistence in, these other sins, by deliberately sustained false balance of the heart and brain.
A man may become impious, by natural stupidity. He may become sinful, by natural weakness. And he may become insolent, by natural vanity. But he only becomes unjust, or unrighteous, by resolutely refusing to see the truth that makes against him; and resolutely contemplating the truth that makes for him.
Against this “iniquity,” or “unrighteousness,” the chief threatenings of the Psalter are directed, striking often literally and low, at direct dishonesty in commercial dealings, and rising into fiercest indignation at spiritual dishonesty in the commercial dealing and “trade” of the heart.1 [Note: Ruskin, Rock Honeycomb (Works, xxxi 121).]
3. The first word in the Psalter is a word expressive of emotion, being an exclamation: O the blessedness of so and so. The Hebrew word is often rendered happy in the A.V. (as Psalm 127:5; Psalm 144:15; Psalm 146:5; Deuteronomy 33:29; Job 5:17; Proverbs 3:13; Proverbs 14:21; Proverbs 16:20; Proverbs 28:14); and it might for distinctness be so rendered always. It occurs in the Psalter twenty-six times.
How abundantly is that word “Blessed” multiplied in the Book of Psalms! The book seems to be made out of that word, and the foundation raised upon that word, for it is the first word of the book. But in all the book there is not one “Woe.”1 [Note: Donne.]
The Welsh translation is very expressive—“White is that man’s world who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.” The translator gives up all attempt at being literal, and seeks to express the central and governing thought that no spot or blemish can mar the whiteness of that man’s character, experience or life. This conveys the idea of the completeness and fulness of the blessings expressed by the word “blessed.”2 [Note: D. Davies, Talks with Men, Women and Children, i. 235.]
4. We all wish to know who the blessed man is. No one who values life, who cares for its enjoyments and its hopes, can be indifferent to this question, namely: Who is the vitally, the truly happy man? Here we have a distinct declaration upon the subject. The voice is loud, sweet, clear. The man who pronounces this opinion has evidently no difficulty upon the subject. His sentences are so sharp cut, so evidently spoken from the heart, that to him, at least, there is no doubt as to the happy man. Who is he then? He is described in this verse by what are called negatives. There is nothing affirmative said about him. We are told what he does not do. He does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly; he does not stand in the way of sinners; he does not sit in the seat of the scornful. As if goodness came by not doing things. But it so happens that we cannot understand some of the very highest things in life unless they are put to us in precisely this way.
When God Himself came down from Heaven to set things in order, He took precisely the course that is taken by the writer of this verse. What did He say? He said, “Thou shalt not lie; thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness.” As if goodness consisted in not doing evil; as if not to do anything were to do everything that is best. It is so in the teaching of your own children. Do you not begin by telling your little child what he must not do? If you were to set your child something that he must do, you would find it very difficult to accommodate yourself to his early perception. But if you tell him not to do certain things, you can more easily get at his understanding. There are more ways of saying Thou shalt not than there are of saying Thou shalt.1 [Note: Joseph Parker, The City Temple, v. 289.]
The man that walketh in the counsel of the ungodly is not a happy man. Can I teach any young life that one lesson? Do you want to go out to-night to seek a happy man? The Psalmist tells you that there is one direction in which you need not go, for he has been there before you, and the happy man cannot be found; and that is the direction of the counsel of the ungodly. Then where? The Psalmist says, “I can save you trouble in another direction; if you want to find a happy man, you will not find him in the way of sinners. I can yet save you a journey; you will not find a happy man amongst those who sit in the seat of the scornful.” Then how much of the devil’s territory is left for exploration? Not an inch. He has taken up the counsel of the ungodly, the way of sinners, the seat of the scornful. Take these things from the satanic empire and you have left nothing.2 [Note: Ibid., 290.]
5. This picture, then, begins with negatives. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” It is not an accident that behind the shelter, as it were, of a forbidding wall of negatives, the fruits of holy character grow up. For in a world like this, where there is so much wickedness, and where there are so many men who do not live after the highest pattern, and from the highest motives, no good thing will ever be achieved, unless we have learned to say, “No! This did not I because of the fear of the Lord.”
There must be a daring determination, if need be, to be singular; not a preference for standing alone, not an abstinence from conventional signs of worldliness simply because they are conventional; but there must be first of all close-knit strength, which refuses to do what men round about us are doing. The characteristics of religious men must be, as the first thing that strikes one, that they are “a people whose laws are different from all the people that be on the face of the earth.” If you have not learned to shelter your positive goodness behind a barrier of negative abstinence, there will be little vitality and little fruit in the weakling plants that are trying to blossom in the undefended open, swept by every wind.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
The free man is he who is loyal to the Laws of this Universe; who in his heart sees and knows, across all contradictions, that injustice cannot befall him here; that except by sloth and cowardly falsity evil is not possible here. The first symptom of such a man is not that he resists and rebels, but that he obeys. As poor Henry Marten wrote in Chepstow Castle long ago:
Reader, if thou an oft-told tale wilt trust,
Thou’lt gladly do and suffer what thou must.
Gladly; he that will go gladly to his labour and his suffering, it is to him alone that the Upper Powers are favourable and the Field of Time will yield fruit.2 [Note: Carlyle, Latter-Day Pamphlets, 213.]
How happy is he born and taught
That serveth not another’s will;
Whose armour is his honest thought,
And simple truth his utmost skill!
Whose passions not his masters are;
Whose soul is still prepared for death,
Untied unto the world by care
Of public fame or private breath;
Who envies none that chance doth raise,
Nor vice; who never understood
How deepest wounds are given by praise;
Nor rules of state, but rules of good;
Who hath his life from rumours freed;
Whose conscience is his strong retreat;
Whose state can neither flatterers feed,
Nor ruin make oppressors great;
Who God doth late and early pray
More of His grace than gifts to lend;
And entertains the harmless day
With a religious book or friend;
This man is freed from servile bands
Of hope to rise or fear to fall;
Lord of himself, though not of lands,
And having nothing, yet hath all.1 [Note: Sir Henry Wotton, “Reliquiae.”]
6. Now in this abstinence there is a certain progress. It is quite clear that there is an advance in the permanence of association with evil expressed by the three attitudes, walking, standing, sitting. It is also clear that there is an advance in the intensity of evil expressed by the progress from “counsel” to “way”; from thought, purpose, plan, to its realization in a course of action, and that there is a further progress from “the way of sinners” to “the seat”—by which is meant, not a thing to sit upon, but an assembly seated—or the “session of the scorners.”
There is a perilous progress in sin.
At first I content myself with walking in the counsel of the wicked. It is an occasional companionship. It is a meeting only now and again. For a little while I am with them, and then some better influence calls me away—a remembrance of my mother’s prayer, a sentence in a letter from a friend, a verse of the Bible shot suddenly into my mind.
But by and by I am found standing in the way of sinners. They have gained a greater power over me and a completer fascination. I have learned to love them too well. I linger much longer in their society, and it is hard almost to impossibility for me to tear myself from them. The poison is working; the leaven is spreading; my condition is more fixed and more hopeless by far.
And, at last, where do you see me? I am sitting in the seat of the scornful. I am at home among those who laugh at God and Christ and heaven and hell. You cannot discriminate me from them; I have joined their ranks; I am one of their number. Their resorts are mine; their sneers and sarcasms are mine; their seared conscience and withered heart are mine. Oh dreary ending of a dreary journey!
As I would escape that lowest depth of all, let me not look over the precipice or set my feet on the fatal slope. Blessed is the man who says, “I cannot; I will not,” to the first allurements of sin. Blessed is the man who will not so much as walk in the Enchanted Ground.2 [Note: A. Smellie, In the Hour of Silence, 326.]
In the great Psalm of life, we are told that everything that a man doeth shall prosper, so only that he delight in the law of his God, that he hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor sat in the seat of the scornful. Is it among these leaves of the perpetual Spring,—helpful leaves for the healing of the nations,—that we mean to have our part and place, or rather among the “brown skeletons of leaves that lag, the forest brook along”? For other leaves there are, and other streams that water them,—not water of life, but water of Acheron. Autumnal leaves there are that strew the brooks, in Vallombrosa. Remember you how the name of the place was changed: “Once called ‘Sweet water’ (Aqua bella), now, the Shadowy Vale.” Portion in one or other name we must choose, all of us,—with the living olive, by the living fountains of waters, or with the wild fig trees, whose leafage of human soul is strewed along the brooks of death, in the eternal Vallombrosa.1 [Note: Ruskin, Proserpina (Works, xxv. 247).]
The Counsel of the Wicked
1. Who are these people who come before us at the first stage, and whom the Authorized Version describes as “the ungodly,” and the Revised as “the wicked”? We may find a name for them that will bring them into clearer focus for us than either of these, and perhaps enable us to obtain a photograph of them which we shall more distinctly recognize in life. Following the derivation of the Hebrew word, we begin to find them appearing before us as a people who are abnormal and out of course; and this idea of them agrees very closely with their standing in the Psalm.
They stand out before us as a class of people whose aim has never taken shape through the fascination of life’s nobler constraints. And perhaps we shall do well to translate their Hebrew name, for our purposes, as “the lawless.” We do not need to think here always of any way of life that startles us with singularity or violence. We meet with its representative continually in business or in the street, and his look and behaviour are for the most part quite commonplace.
His sins are chiefly, so far, those of omission; the sins of commission are close behind. His indulgent mother would indignantly repudiate any suggestion of his perilous condition by exclaiming, “He has never done anything wrong!” But has he done anything good, anything decided and firm? A moral negative will soon be transformed into a strong positive. Ruskin reminds us that at the judgment the verdict will not turn on the “have-nots,” but on the “haves.” The deciding question will not be, “How much evil have you not done?” but, “How much good have you done?” When the body is in a general low condition, it catches disease quickly; when the soul is in a general low condition, it easily catches sin. The ungodly youth is he who never shows indignation against sin, whose whole bearing is dull, insipid, and easy-going. The ungodly person is a moral invertebrate, a creeping thing; hence Pope’s line pathetically applies to him:
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
Our salvation consists in not enduring; to tolerate is to be lost.
Lord, with what care hast Thou begirt us round!
Parents first season us; then schoolmasters
Deliver us to laws; they send us, bound
To rules of reason, holy messengers,
Pulpits and Sundays, sorrow dogging sin,
Afflictions sorted, anguish of all sizes,
Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in,
Bibles laid open, millions of surprises;
Blessings beforehand, ties of gratefulness,
The sound of glory ringing in our ears:
Without, our shame; within, our consciences;
Angels and grace, eternal hopes and fears!
Yet all these fences and their whole array
One cunning bosom-sin blows quite away.1 [Note: George Herbert.]
2. We read of walking in the counsel of these people. But again we shall have to ask whether we can bring the meaning into a better focus. The word “counsel” was an excellent translation in its time; but the virtues of words alter so, and nowadays when we speak of any one’s “counsel” we are apt to think merely of his advice to others. But for our translation of the Hebrew here, we seem to want a word broad enough to include the kind of plan and tone he is cherishing in his heart as suitable for his own living.
Expediency is the guide of life! Behold a master-maxim the spirit of which pervades a large amount of morally dreary human thinking! It may be thinking infused with a great deal of business-like shrewdness, distinguished by moderation and savoir faire. It may encourage and guide you, if you adopt it, in developing ready efficiency of the kind that pays. It may help to build you up in alert self-confidence. And so far we shall call it prudence. But look further into its bearings. What if, while it may be putting one in the way of reaching a host of factitious little ends that awaken new greeds and ambitions in their attainment, it does not trouble to ask after any glorifying of life through a supreme aim that wins the satisfied homage of one’s inmost heart? Then it is plainly a prudence of the lawless—of those who, with all their skill and diplomacy, neglect life’s highest norm and living rule.
No human actions ever were intended by the Maker of men to be guided by balances of expediency, but by balances of justice. He has therefore rendered all endeavours to determine expediency futile for evermore. No man ever knew, or can know, what will be the ultimate result to himself, or to others, of any given line of conduct. But every man may know, and most of us do know, what is a just and unjust act. And all of us may know also, that the consequences of justice will be ultimately the best possible, both to others and ourselves, though we can neither say what is best, or how it is likely to come to pass.1 [Note: Ruskin, “Unto This Last” (Works, xvii. 28).]
As soon as prudence has begun to grow up in the brain, like a dismal fungus, it finds its expression in a paralysis of generous Acts 2 [Note: R. L. Stevenson, Aes Triplex.]
A poor little worldly maxim will have no attractions for a man who has been contemplating the Divine ideal. You know the sort of maxim to which I refer, the false lights which are offered me by the treacherous world. “Look after Number One!” “The devil take the hindermost!” “In Rome do as Rome does!” “It does not do to be too particular!” “You cannot do much unless you have a bit of the devil in you!” These, I say, are the perilous lights which are born in miasma, and lead men into the sloughs of despond and the mire of wickedness. The godly man will be instinctively aloof from them. By his very diligence in the highest he will have a refined perception which will enable him to discern sin afar off. And he will reject its counsel as an offensive thing.3 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, May 28, 1908.]
The Way of Sinners
1. We are all sinners; it behoves every one to say, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” But the class of persons here referred to are those who love sin, who roll it under the tongue as a sweet morsel, who not only have sinned, but do sin, and intend to sin, openly, unblushingly, and wittingly, when opportunity arises. These are the persons who “know a thing or two”—alas! many things they might well be ignorant of. There is a terrible fascination about a man who has seen the world, especially its seamy side; he is so jovial, so interesting, so charming—to the weak. These are the men who coined that dangerous phrase, “seeing life”—a phrase born not from above, but from below.
2. So another place that the happy man must avoid is “the way of sinners.” In Isaiah’s prophecy God gives it as one of the first things to do, when a man will turn from wickedness to righteousness and from sorrow to happiness, to get out of the way in which he has been going. He says, “Let the wicked forsake his way.” “The way of sinners” is the way of sorrow and unhappiness. Whatever of good it promises, it is a false way. It may seem attractive, but you may be sure that the end of the way is misery.
A man who is accustomed to breathe the air of the uplands cannot endure the foulness of these unclean haunts. When our soldiers came back from the South African war, where they had been sleeping on the open veldt, with the wandering air blowing about them while they slept, they could not bear the fusty mustiness of the closed bedrooms at home. There is nothing like the open air to make one recoil from the stench. Let a man leave a crowded meeting, and go for a couple of minutes into the open air, and then let him return, and his revived perception will make a discovery from which he will shrink. And so it is in the life of the spirit; once we have begun to find our delight in the will of the Lord we shall begin to wonder how we were ever able to “stand” in the ways of the world.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, May 28, 1908.]
The Seat of the Scornful
1. There is still this third place that a man, if he will be really happy, must avoid—“the seat of the scornful.” We should notice this evolution in sin; this going down the three steps. The first is the listening to the counsel of the ungodly until—it may be almost unconsciously—a man begins to walk in that counsel. The next step lower is where a man begins to stand in the way of sinners, and the third and worst of all is where he sits down in the seat of the scornful. God have mercy on the man who has already taken the third step in sin; who not only walks in the counsel of the ungodly, and stands in the way of sinners, but sits in the seat of scorners! God have mercy on the boy who has gone so far that he can make a joke of his mother’s religion, that he can make a sneer about his father’s God, that he can scorn the voice of God’s Word that calls him to repentance! The sarcasm and cynicism and scorn of a sharp wit is often very fascinating to young people, but the man who exercises it is never happy. It is a blossom which grows on a tree that is bitter at the heart.
2. Unless we set our back to the wall, and hit the scornful right from the shoulder, we are lost; a nervous concession to him is fatal,—there is nothing for it but to stand erect and fight it out. Where an innocent youth who has just left home, and come to the city to mingle in business with all sorts and conditions of men, would despise the ungodly and fear the taint of the sinner, he would probably succumb to the scornful, and surrender under the fire of ridicule. The hardest thing in the world for a young religious person to endure is scorn.
3. Perhaps, amongst ourselves in modern times, a characteristic symptom of the settling into this still lower condition is a perversion of the gift of humour. Humour is not here the joyous bubbling out of a wayward spring that flows to cheer and refresh. It expresses not so much brightness and delicacy of perception as a tendency—essentially commonplace at heart—to turn everything over to show its least impressive side, and to provoke one’s own meaningless sense of superiority by a sportive or satirical view of its exceeding flatness. The tone of weariness in it may not be very marked, but is yet evident to the reflective listener. You could not call it gaiety. Indeed, persistent perversion of the healthy meanings of life—and perversion of meaning is perhaps here the root-idea of the “scorn”—could scarcely prompt much gaiety. The tone of those who most skilfully and divertingly practise it cannot be expected to be quite that of the lark.
But perhaps we shall find no humour; only the tone of a man who knows life well, and with a certain finality, having “lost his illusions” about it. He will not be surprised by any appearance either of practical and devoted idealism or of any baseness. He knows just how much and how little there is in either. Perhaps if your own beliefs are intense and earnest, he will listen to an expression of them quite respectfully, if he is in the mood, and even show you what seems like a certain personal sympathy. He is so grave and considerate that you think you are impressing him at last. But the real subject of his consideration is the place you are to fill in his private museum of smoral curiosities. Your serious resolution is just part of this general odd fact of life to him; and his very tolerance, exempt from all fellowship with you, is only the smooth completion of inner complacent scorn.1 [Note: H. Foston, The Waiting Life, 22.]
(1) There is religious scorn, which has its classical illustration in the spirit of the Pharisees, and which in our time was admirably described by Hutton in his well-known essay on the “Hard Church.” It is that spirit of narrow and arid intellectualism which starts either with the letter of Scripture or certain theological axioms, and then proceeds to infer and to deduct, till at last it has forged an iron chain with which to bind, first its own mind, and then the minds of other people.
The delusion that our human belief is commensurate with the spiritual influences of God,—nay, is a sure pledge, and the pledge, of those influences,—constitutes not merely the essence of bigotry, but almost all the other far from capricious peculiarities which distinguish the inquisitorial theology of the Hard Church. This it is which makes its theologians so eager to find, in marks of bare power, some grounds for God’s authority quite distinct from His character; because, having an idolatrous regard for faith, as a sort of charm, they want to find some iron foundation for it sufficiently unspiritual to remain unshaken when God Himself is hidden from the heart. They think they have discovered that foundation; they believe it unassailable; they think that wherever God acts at all they should recognize Him by this mark; they look out for that mark; if they do not see it they scold and say, “God is not with you; on the contrary, corrupt human nature is with you; what you struggle to express is wholly opposite in nature to what I have attained; my belief is even more certain to me than any conviction I could possibly have that God has any part in your belief or no belief; you are either a liar or an idiot.”1 [Note: R. H. Hutton, Theological Essays, 347.]
(2) There is also worldly scorn, and this is illustrated in the case of persons who have achieved material success and lost their sense of proportion, and regard rank and riches as the final standard of manhood. While they may not say it, they have come in the background of their minds to look upon a man with slender possessions as a poor creature who has failed, to expect deference from those who are not as rich as themselves, to resent all independence on the part of any one who owes his living to them, and to treat the claims of intelligence and of culture to at least an equal place with those of worldly goods as a sentimental impertinence.
(3) There is one other scorn which may not be passed over; it is that of the evil-liver. When a man in his youth first breaks those commandments of virtue which are written both in his body and in his soul, he has qualms of conscience and fits of repentance. He will frankly confess that he has done wrong, and he is willing to promise amendment. By and by he comes to such a callousness that he will defend his very vices as a necessary part of nature, and an intention of the Creator, and he will ridicule the restraints and decencies of virtue. When a man old and greyheaded sets himself to corrupt youth by foul conversation, and closes his life with only one poignant regret, that he can no longer practise the sins which he loves, then one sees scorn rank and full blown, and ready for the burning, whose damnation tarrieth not.
The world deifies and worships human nature and its impulses, and denies the power and the grant of grace. This is the source of the hatred which the world bears to the Church; it finds a whole catalogue of sins brought into light and denounced which it would fain believe to be no sins at all; it finds itself, to its indignation and impatience, surrounded with sin, morning, noon, and night; it finds that a stern law lies against it, where it believed that it was its own master and need not think of God; it finds guilt accumulating upon it hourly, which nothing can prevent, nothing remove, but a higher power, the grace of God. It finds itself in danger of being humbled to the earth as a rebel, instead of being allowed to indulge its self-dependence and self-complacency. Hence it takes its stand on nature, and denies or rejects Divine grace. Like the proud spirit in the beginning, it wishes to find its supreme good in its own self, and nothing above it; it undertakes to be sufficient for its own happiness; it has no desire for the supernatural, and therefore does not believe in it. And as nature cannot rise above nature, it will not believe that the narrow way is possible; it hates those who enter upon it as if pretenders and hypocrites, or laughs at their aspirations as romance and fanaticism, lest it should have to believe in the existence of grace.1 [Note: J. H. Newman, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 148.]
I saw a wayfarer entering a city, in the region of Vanity Fair. The city lay upon a hill; and the highway through the centre thereof was steep and rough. By-streets were well paved, but the main thoroughfare was broken and stony; purposely neglected by citizens who have no liking for certain pilgrims or their king. No sooner had this wayfarer passed through the gate than he was accosted by a civil-spoken person who bade him “good morrow,” and inquired of his destination. Upon hearing that he was bound for the Celestial City, the stranger deplored the abruptness of the hill, and the rudeness of the way, and begged him to turn aside:—“for though” said he, “the side streets lead farthest round and you will be longer mounting the hill, the walking will be easier, and the top will be gained at last with smaller loss of breath.”
Persuaded by so plausible a counsellor, the pilgrim turned aside and found it even as was said, for this ascent was smooth and gentle. Methought, had he known that the stranger’s name was “Ungodly,” or remembered Evangelist’s advice, “Keep thine eyes straight before thee, and let no man’s counsel turn thee to the right hand or to the left,” it had been otherwise.
Passing through many streets, smoothly paved, but narrow, crooked, and somewhat slippery withal, he came presently to a broad place where tables were spread bountifully, in the open, and a great company of people were making merry. He was somewhat faint; their good cheer whetted more sharply the keen edge of his appetite. Cumbered by the crowd he still essayed to press on, when he was accosted by a jovial voice, and invited without ceremony to eat and drink. He demurred, pleading the urgency of his journey. Whereupon his new acquaintance became sober of countenance, and spoke with great respect of the pilgrims and their king. He too was once a pilgrim, and still is minded to gain the Celestial City. ’Tis not far ahead. He knows a short road; and having tarried yet awhile to make merry with his friends, he hopes to arrive, after all, before the golden gate is shut. Said he, continuing—“You look white, man. Take a pull at this red wine. ’Tis of ancient vintage and much esteemed in these parts.” And our pilgrim, used only to quench his thirst with water from the brook, drank, and finding the flavour good, drank to the bottom of the goblet.
The wine which greatly refreshed his tongue seemed nowise to stimulate his feet, and I observed, as the sun declined, that he still lingered conversing amicably with his new-found friend. Moreover his face was flushed, and his eyes were heavy; I disliked the manner of his speech; and though the revellers around had grown to be noisy and unseemly in their jesting, I thought he rather smiled on them, and certain is it that he did not stop his ears or turn away his face.
Then it seemed to me that many days passed ere I found myself again climbing the steep and rough street that leads through the centre of the city. Nigh half-way up the hill at the corner of a by-street there is a wine-shop much resorted to by men who say there is no God; who also make it their peculiar pleasure to taunt with bitter gibes such pilgrims as labour up the rugged way. The day was sunny; chairs and tables were set out of doors; and not a few had come together to enjoy their refreshment and their fun. I stood apart while several pilgrims passed. Some of them were sore pained by the ribaldry of the scoffers, one of whom exceeded the others in the cruel sharpness of his scorn. He seemed to know the pilgrim life full well; and his poison shafts struck between the joints of the harness. I drew near to get a clear sight of his face, and was dumb with amazement when I saw that he bore the features of that same pilgrim who had turned aside from the steep way to walk in the counsel of Ungodly, whom I had also seen standing in the way of sinners, and drinking with them from their cup. Then I groaned in spirit, for I thought that he was lost indeed.
But while I watched and wept there appeared among the pilgrims One of majestic mien, who came nigh and looked full into the face of this scorner. Unutterable sorrow beamed from His deep eyes, and His look of patient love might have riven a heart of stone. A crown of thorns was upon His brow, and the wounds of the hands which He outstretched were fresh and bleeding.
Suddenly the voice of the scorner ceased; his face grew livid; his lips fell wide apart, and his knees smote together like the knees of Belshazzar when he saw the handwriting on the wall. Then he rose from his seat, and with faltering steps came and fell down before the Lord, and thus he said: “O Lord Christ, I have crucified Thee afresh; I have put Thee to an open shame; I have reviled my Creator; I have Sinned against the Holy Ghost; there is no forgiveness for me in this world or in the world to come. Yet, O Lord, ere Thou utterest my doom, grant me this prayer: Suffer me but once to kiss Thy feet, and to tell these foolish ones how I have sinned—how Thou hast loved!”
Then the Lord Christ smiled as He answered, “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out. Son, thy sins which are many are all forgiven; never more must thou wander from My side.”
While these things happened a crowd had gathered, and at this point the crowd grew angry. The scoffers were enraged that their companion should forsake them. High words ensued. Stones and dirt began to fly. “Have at him” was the word. The onset was fierce and pitiless, and I could but note how frantic were the efforts of the re-instated pilgrim to shield with his own body his gracious Lord. His clothes were torn; his face was smeared with blood; and at last one rude fellow struck him on the head with a bludgeon, so cruel a blow that I said within myself, “Now he is slain.” But even as he fell the arm of the Saviour caught him around. Then the drooping head was lifted, the marred face flashed with unearthly glory, and as he leaned upon the breast of Jesus, a radiant mist encompassed them; and as they vanished, I awoke, and behold it was a dream.1 [Note: G. Hawker, in The Preacher’s Magazine, 1892, p. 343.]
Banks (L. A.), David and his Friends, 23.
Burrell (D. J.), The Morning Cometh, 243.
Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women and Children, i. 234.
Deshon (G.), Sermons for all the Sundays of the Ecclesiastical Year, 322.
Foston (H. M.), The Waiting Life, 1.
Kingsley (C.), Westminster Sermons, 110.
McFadyen (J. E.), Ten Studies in the Psalms , 3.
Maclaren (A.), Sermons Preached in Manchester, iii. 225.
McLeod (M. J.), Heavenly Harmonies for Earthly Living, 27.
Matheson (G.), Leaves for Quiet Hours, 171.
Parker (J.), The Ark of God, 113.
Parker (J.), The City Temple, v. 289.
Pulsford (J.), Infoldings and Unfoldings, 1.
Simeon (C.), Works, v. 1.
Smellie (A.), In the Hour of Silence, 326.
Stall (S.), Five Minute Object Lessons to Children, 93.
Tholuck (A.), Hours of Christian Devotion, 85.
Thomas (J.), Myrtle Street Pulpit, iii. 172.
Walker (A. H.), Thinking about It, 59.
Watson (J.), Respectable Sins, 241.
Winter (G.), Keep to the Right, 59.
British Congregationalist, May 28, 1908 (Jowett).
Christian World Pulpit, xxvi. 269 (Mursell).
Expositor, 2nd Ser., i. 81 (Cox).
Preacher’s Magazine, iii. (1892) 342 (Hawker); v. (1894) 414 (Walker); vi. (1895) 211 (Tubbs).
Sunday Magazine, 1883, p. 704 (Maclaren).