The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!Accusations and Penalties
These chapters are full of accusation. The point is, that the accusation was not directed against heathen nations; it is hurled against the chosen of God. There is a certain kind of accusation in which there is comfort. Where the indictment is severe, it is evident that the expectation has been high, and God never expects much except where he has sown much. Therefore it may come to pass that the very gravity and poignancy of the accusation may be suggestive of real comfort, and may form a ground of hope, provided that the divine conditions of return be acknowledged and realised. The collapse was almost fatal:—
"Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return" (Jeremiah 8:5).
We can hardly tell how much is expressed in the original terms, "a perpetual backsliding,"—that is to say, a multiplication of backsliding; one within another, and one beyond another, the whole proceeding as if by geometrical figure and arithmetical progression. It is not a slip that is indicated, a momentary lapse; it is a banqueting in evil, a licking of the lips after a savoury feast at the table of the devil. We cannot tell how it looked to heaven. This we know, that the language of the text would never have been employed if the circumstances had not been provocative of so complete an impeachment. But the accusation is not in general terms only; it is therefore detailed; instead of the solid sentence we have the sharp line; we have the iniquity item by item, each like a pointed instrument. Let us see:—
"I hearkened and heard [Lit. I listened to hear], but they spake not aright" (Jeremiah 8:6).
The figure is a graphic and vivid one; it is that of the divine Being stooping from heaven, and with inclined ear listening critically yet hopefully to human speech, if mayhap there be but one bright word, one tone of music, one sigh of contrition. The Lord did not listen generally, promiscuously, as if listening to a confused noise of sound; but he listened specifically, he tried every word, he detained every syllable, if haply he could detect in it one sound or sign that he might construe hopefully. But it was in vain. Even divinest kindness could make nothing but black ingratitude of all the energetic speech: it was a torrent cf iniquity; it was a river black, foul; it was a rain of poison. God does not bring these charges against the human family lightly. What he would have said had there been one sign of penitence or reverence or desire after the true worship! He would have forgotten all the blackness if he had seen one point of light. It is his delight to magnify that which is excellent. If any one man had prayed aright, he would have forgiven the world on that one man's account. If ten men had turned their faces hopefully to heaven, he would have spared the universe a century longer; he would have disappointed gaping hell. But there was no encouragement. God can see flowers if there are any. He can see them before they open their mystery, and proclaim in fragrance their gospel; he knows where they are sown and planted. But he looked, and there was none; he expected, and was struck to the heart with disappointment; "no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done?" There was no self-cross-examination. When men cease to soliloquise they cease to pray. The hardest witness man undertakes to interrogate is his own soul. Yet philosophy has found out the advantages of self-inquest. The Pythagoreans asked themselves once a day, "What have I done?" The inquiry creates a space in the day for itself, makes one inch of piping-ground in the desert of the day's life. How few men dare probe themselves with that inquiry! It is a question double-edged. It is recorded of Cicero, in pressing one of his accusations against an adversary, that he told that adversary that if he had but put two words to himself he might have cooled his passion, controlled his desires, and turned his impulses to high utility. Said the orator, "If thou hadst said to thyself, Quid ego? thou mightest have stopped thyself in this tremendous assault." That is, What have I done? What do I? What is my course? What are the facts of the case? A man has to fight the great battle for himself. It is useless to be holding great controversies outside whilst yet the heart itself is in tumult and rebellion and disorder of every kind. This is what Jesus Christ means when he says a man must hate his own life. The word that thus comes to point a climax might have been laid down as the foundation of an argument; for no man can hate his father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife until he first hates his own life—puts it right within, gets hold of things by the right end, and governs all things by one dominant and solemn meaning. How stands the case now? Does any man put the question to himself once a day, What have I done? Every man should keep a diary—not perhaps a written journal; that may be mechanical: but there should be a diurnal inquest into purpose, thought, desire, intention,—what did it all mean? He who thus brings himself at dawn under discipline walks along a victor's path even until the sunset. But to have no right self-understanding, no grip of the soul itself, is to waste life, is to live a chance life, is to depend upon speculations and fortunes and accidents, and therefore to be stung by fatal disappointments.
What further occurred? The collapse was so complete that God asks this question,—
"Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?" (Jeremiah 8:12)
"Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered" (Jeremiah 8:22).
This may be read in two ways—as an inquiry charged with pity, or as an inquiry which shows that even Gilead itself is unable to touch such wounds as have been self-inflicted. "Is there no balm in Gilead?" is first of all a local reference. There was a balsam tree in Gilead, the juice of which was supposed to be able to heal all wounds. In an early translation of the Bible the word "balm" is rendered "triacle," whence we have the English "treacle,"—is there no balsam, no triacle, no treacle, in Gilead? So precious was it that it was only to be found in the gardens of the king. The balm did not grow elsewhere in Gilead. It was a king's plant, a royal treasure, a peculiar blessing. A very sensitive plant, too. It did not know iron; if so much as iron touched it, it shrank like a wounded thing and died like: that which is afflicted with despair. This tree must be incised with wood or bone or glass; and so efficacious was the balm against contusions and wounds, that it obtained a reputation as the: healing balsam; and the voice now rings out, "Is there no balm in Gilead?"—is the disease too bad for Gilead's balsam? That is possible. It is possible to foster the disease, to increase its virulence, that no mineral, no vegetable, no balm made of either or of both, can touch its deadliness. Surely that is a state of extremity in which a man has so treated his flesh that all the remedies of science fall back and say, We cannot touch so awful a disease as that. The figure is that we may outdo the very love of God in sin. Blessed be God, that is in one sense impossible; but only impossible because of God, not because of ourselves. We are cunning artificers in evil. We have written down numerous things we could do without man knowing that they are being done. We are wits in evil; we are sharp in all moral invention that tends towards the soul's destruction; we have a genius of apostasy; we can always do something worse. Then comes this word: "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved" —words that are often misunderstood. They mean that a time had been specially set for God's redemption and for providential deliverance, and the time prophesied had come and gone, and there was no sign from heaven. The words, however, are capable of a very tender moral application that may not be strictly grammatical and yet is strictly human and evangelical. It is possible to get through the summer without being saved.
It is possible so to trample underfoot the harvest as to have no bread in winter. The season comes like an offered gospel—first a gospel of labour that should be profitable; then a gospel of result that should be hopeful, which soon will be realised—for we must not reap or pluck too soon; then a gospel of fruition, abundance, a very harvest of realisation. The text may be so used as to represent a soul saying, I have had my seedtime chance, my summer opportunity, my harvest offers; I have let them all go by, and now I cannot eat the ice or drink the snow, or live upon the cold wind; it is gone, the opportunity is over: what can I do with the inhospitableness of winter?
Such being the accusation, what are the punishments?
"And death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue of them that remain of this evil family, which remain in all the places whither I have driven them, saith the Lord of hosts" (Jeremiah 8:3).
Who can search the judgments of God? Who can set forth in order all the resources of penal justice? Better draw the curtain, better pray; for it is God's delight to chase away all such blackness, and to enthrone the sun in the meridian, and to give the earth all its dowry of light. Then again:—
"Behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 8:17).
"And they will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity" (Jeremiah 9:5).
In ancient fable one man rebukes another for building a house upon the ground rather than upon wheels; for, said he, suppose the time should ever come when you should distrust your neighbour, how can you get away from him if your house be rooted in the ground? whereas, had your house been erected upon wheels, you might have moved away from the circuit of his influence. The time will come when every one will deceive his own neighbour, play tricks with the man next door, cheat his own flesh and bone. We read of the Italians having a peculiar pocket-stone bow, which can be covered with a cloak, and behind it a man can be darting needles into the body of his adversary that should wound the. vitals and yet scarcely leave a distinguishable mark on the flesh. What is that but a common, vulgar species of murder or assassination compared with this: "They will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth"? They will tell lies to their brethren, they will shoot out these deadly needles into the souls of men, and all the while look complacent, fraternal, benignant. Terrific is the power of human iniquity. "They have taught their tongue to speak lies;" they have become rhetoricians in falsehood; they have said, Speak this lie trippingly on the tongue. They know when to whisper their evil message, and when to thunder their false declarations, and when by over-positiveness to make their lie the more obvious. There are skilled tongues; there is a cultured eloquence of falsehood.
What is the punishment?
"Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink. I will scatter them also among the heathen, whom neither they nor their fathers have known: and I will send a sword after them, till I have consumed them" (Jeremiah 9:15-16).
If there is to be challenge—which God forbid—heaven will not decline the combat. What can he do who fights a fire with straw? What can an arm of flesh do against heaven's artillery? Is the Church as wicked now? Who dare answer that question? Are punishments as numerous and solemn? Certainly. Is our harvest past, is our summer ended? No. We are in the very middle of our opportunities: "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation;" "If ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, as in the day of temptation in the wilderness." May men pray this very moment? Yes. Is it needful to pray long? No. What prayer will do? This: "God be merciful to me a sinner." Is that enough? Quite: but only enough when spoken with the heart, when spoken at the Cross, when sobbed rather than articulated. Is the punishment now done? No:—
"For death is come up into our windows, and is entered into our palaces, to cut off the children from without, and the young men from the streets"(Jeremiah 9:21).
How graphic is this picture! We have bolted the doors so that death cannot enter; we have opened the windows so that we may not be without fresh air; and, behold, death is climbing towards the open casement. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished." God knows all our arrangements, and accommodates his penal visitations to them. Oh that men were wise, that they understood these things!
We might treat all this as ancient history, if we did not feet its modern application—if we did not know that nothing can be changed here except it be the mere metaphor, the mere clothing of words. The inner meaning is the same. The accusation of shortcoming or falsehood, of hardness of heart, abides, and takes the expression of the language of every country as sufficient to indicate the gravity and completeness of the impeachment. The punishment is signified by Hebrew figures and local circumstances, but the punishment itself is not changed. There is still a cockatrice in the conscience; there is still a bite as of iron teeth through the very centre of the heart; there is still that spectre by the bedside at midnight which opens its armoury of teeth and says nothing, but looks—looks—looks! There is still that most terrible shadow that comes across the feast, so that the choicest mouthful is full of sickness and every enjoyment becomes a surfeit, and the banquet ends in satiety; there is still that dislike of solitude, because when we sit alone a black figure comes and sits by our side, and says nothing, but looks—looks—looks! There is that dead face, that broken heart, that lie half a century old, that fraud, so successful that we banked ten thousand pounds through it five-and-twenty years ago. The air is full of damnation. Fools are they who change the word and make a quarrel about adjectives and qualifying terms, when they are called upon to deal with the inner and unchangeable reality. God shall judge, thou whited sepulchre!
But does the whole speech end in accusation? It God has piled accusation heaven-high, it is that he may come over it as over a mountain to preach a gospel to us. Though your sins be as scarlet, though they be as crimson, though they be as blackest night sevenfold, they can be treated, they can be met; you can be born again, a little child, and taken by Christ into his arms, and kissed and blessed, and set down again to go about life's business with a new heart and a new hope. "Fly abroad, thou mighty gospel!"
Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches:Glorying
An idea in this text to which we assign special prominence is this,—There is at least so much similarity between the nature of God and the nature of man, that both God and man can take delight in the same thing. The spirit of the text is saying, Take delight in lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, because I take delight in them; come up to my moral altitude; place your affections where I place mine; learn the divinity of your origin, and the possible splendour of your destiny, from the fact that you have it in your power to join me in loving mercy, righteousness, and judgment. This idea is increased in significance by the fact that the appeal is addressed to man in his depraved condition: that is, notwithstanding his guilt, weakness, and moral disintegration, there is enough of divinity in his shattered nature to enable him to harmonise with the voice of God in lauding and magnifying all that is true and pure and good. This idea, rightly understood, fills us with adoring wonder. It is God seeking the sympathetic companionship of man; it is the Creator appealing to the creature to join him in the appreciation and service of moral excellence; it is the King inviting and welcoming a disloyal subject to an abandoned throne; it is the benignant Father identifying and honouring his own lineaments in the face of a rebellious and ruined child.
In the verses of which the text is a part, God addresses three divisions of the human family—the Wise, the Powerful, the Wealthy. And is there any other class which may not be placed in one of these categories? Properly looked at, is not this division an exhaustive classification of the human race? It may, at all events, aid us in realising the spirit of the text if we keep this arrangement vividly before us. Here, for example, you have the devotees of science, philosophy, and art; they are the wise: there you have the plumed conquerors, and the crowned monarchs of immeasurable empires; they are the powerful: yonder you have the owners of the gold and silver, the proprietors of houses and land; they are the rich. Each class is sitting at the feet of its chosen idol—Science, Arms, Wealth; all clad in robes of royalty, if not of godhood. In the hand of each idol is the sceptre of a venerated mastery, and the temple of each shakes with a thunder of heathenish worship. Such is the picture. Now, to these temples God comes, and, with the majesty of omnipotence, the authority of infinite wisdom, and the benignity of all-sustaining fatherhood, says: "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches."
"Glory!" That is a word which is pregnant with meaning; and it can be better explained by paraphrase than by etymology. Let not man "glory" in wisdom, might, and wealth, so as to be absorbed in their pursuit, so as to make a god of either of them, so as to regard them as the ultimate good, so as to commit to either his present happiness and endless destiny.
"Wisdom!" That, too, is a word fraught with large significance. The "wisdom" referred to is not that which cometh from above—beautiful with celestial hues, and instinct with celestial life: it is a "wisdom" which is destitute of the moral element; the "wisdom" of an inquisitive, prying, restless intellect; that eyeless and nerveless "wisdom" by which the world "knew not God," and which, when looked at from above, is "foolishness"; the "wisdom" which is all brain and no heart; the "wisdom" of knowledge, not of character; the "wisdom" which dazzles man, but which, when alone, is offensive to God.
"Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom." If we follow an earnest student of science totally dissociated from religion, the meaning of the admonition may break upon us. His love of science amounts to a species of idolatry; the hammer of geology and the telescope of astronomy are the instruments through which all his knowledge of the heavens and the earth comes. With unwearying diligence he collates facts and notes phenomena; he estimates forces, weighs bodies, discovers laws, proclaims doctrines, with unabating enthusiasm; he is acute, too, in the detection of subtle processes, and most sagacious in the interpretation of unusual combinations of circumstances; every discovery fills him with passionate delight; his very dreams are of greatness; he is thrilled with the hope that presently the keys of the universe will be put into his hands, and not very far off is the glory of sitting on the dictator's throne and determining the philosophies of the world. A flash of benevolence, too, gleams through his lofty purposes; for he says he will find out the causes of disease, and regenerate the physical nature of man; he will discover the primal laws of mind, and so affect the entire mental economy of man as to make an everlasting end of all human perplexity; in short, he will build a tower which shall rise unto heaven, and all nature shall lie at his feet, owning his perfect mastery, and declaring that every secret has been dislodged from her heart. Such are the ambitious intents of this youthful enthusiast. He goes to work with characteristic vigour; he gains knowledge with marvellous rapidity; his name attains eminence in scientific circles; his works become the text-books of scholars, and everywhere he is regarded as a wise man. So far there is much to admire; all his investigations, however, have been conducted just as you would explore a cathedral or temple whose architect and builder are dead and forgotten. Nowhere has he seen God. He has turned over a thousand pages in the great book which men call the universe, but his eyes have nowhere lighted upon God. Still, he is what is known as a wise man, and it is to such that God comes and says, "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom." Such a man, in fact, has not begun the alphabet of true wisdom; all the while he has been in the rudimentary region of knowledge. As for Wisdom, he has not seen her hiding-place; he is but a well-informed fool, one who has not embraced and honoured wisdom. Where, then, "shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?... The depth saith, It is not in me: and the sea saith, It is not with me.... Whence then cometh wisdom? and where is the place of understanding?... God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof. For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven.... And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding."
One substantial reason for not glorying in the kind of wisdom which we have attempted to depict, is the necessary littleness of man's vastest acquisitions. The greatest men are ever the first to exclaim, "We are but of yesterday, and know nothing;" the most successful man of science, the man of peerless power, the man who has left his footprints on a wider track of the heavens and the earth than any other discoverer, comes laden with trophies, and as he lays them down in the museum, says: "Lo, these are parts of his ways; but how little a portion is heard of him! but the thunder of his power who can understand?" The higher he ascended, the more he realised his own insignificance; when he attained the outermost verge of his appointed sphere he felt that he could hardly touch the hem of the royal garment. Science is a race after God; but can the Infinite ever be overtaken? Science, perhaps, never got so close to God as when she bound the capitals of the world together with bands of lightning, and flashed the wisdom and eloquence of parliaments from continent to continent. High day of triumph that; she was within hand-reach of the veiled Potentate—one step more, and she would be face to face with the King—was it not so? What was there between Science and God in that moment of sublimest victory? Nothing, nothing, but—Infinity! "There is no searching of his understanding."
Another point will show the folly of glorying in the kind of wisdom we have delineated: viz., the widest knowledge involves but partial rulership. You say you have found a law operating in the universe. Be it so: can you suspend or reverse the divine appointment? We do not refer to those regions in which God has been pleased to give man a certain power, but to the great, the necessary laws of creation. Can you turn back the currents of virtue which are evermore streaming from the heart of God? Can you, so to speak, amputate a limb from the vital organism, and keep it alive without connection with the Supreme Power? Can you place yourself at the tree-root, and tell the spring, which is advancing to clothe that tree with luxuriant foliage, that you can do without its services, and for once you will undertake to fabricate the verdurous garment with your own hand? Have you an arm like God? or can you thunder with a voice like him? The argument is this,—however extensive may be our knowledge, knowledge can only help us to obey; it never can confer aught but the most limited rulership; and even that sovereignty is the dominion not of lord, but of servant, the rulership which is founded in humility and obedience—the rulership whose seat is beneath the shadow of the Great Throne.
Is man, then, without an object in which to glory? It is as natural for man to glory as it is natural for him to breathe; and God, who so ordered his nature, has indicated the true theme of glorying: "But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me." Here let us rejoin the earnest student of science, supposing now that, in addition to his being ardently scientific, he is intelligently devout. He goes to work as before; the flame of his enthusiasm is not diminished by a single spark; his hammer and his telescope are still precious to him, but now, instead of being in pursuit of cold, abstract, inexorable laws, he is in search of the wise and mighty and benevolent lawgiver; in legislation he finds a legislator, and in the legislator he finds a Father. Let us watch him in one of his engagements. It has come to his knowledge that geology and Moses are at variance; he sinks a shaft and descends into the lower parts of the earth, that he may himself be present in the very arena of controversy; standing round the shaft we hear the ring of his hammer as it smites the rocks; for a time a chilling and blinding fear seizes our misgiving hearts, lest every blow struck at the rock should be a blow struck at the face of revelation, from which revelation can never recover; down he goes through formations (the geological name/for cemeteries), through rocks which are tombstones: deeper and deeper he descends, getting farther and farther into mystery; now he looks at revelation, and anon he looks with anxiety at the rock; another blow and another look; his heart palpitates with strange emotion, a terror too awful for speech makes his knees smite together: shall he strike again? another stroke may dash the Bible out of men's already trembling hands—he pauses, he quivers, he weeps, he prays, and then—he strikes! We await the issue with mysterious awe; slowly he returns to the surface; on his countenance are the traces of recent agony (such agony as mental warriors only know), in one hand he holds the hammer, in the other he grasps his Bible; for a moment he cannot break the silence of his own wonder, his very gladness is too deep for words; at length he lifts up his voice like a trumpet, and his contagious enthusiasm startles hallelujahs from every lip as he exclaims, "The word of the Lord endureth for ever!" And it is in that hour (holy and triumphant!) that God comes near and says, "Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me," and then places on the head of the devout student a diadem whose splendour eclipses the brightness of congregated suns.
Man's glorifying, then, is to be restrained until he reaches the "Me," the personality, the living one: for example, you have found a law, be glad! speedily you find another law which confirms it, still be glad; your discoveries multiply, your museum is crowded with the memorials of brilliant conquests, still be glad, but do not "glory"; now put all your discoveries and conquests together—connect the triumphs of your skill, and tell us what they spell? Read aloud! Let men and angels hear! You answer that, having put all together, the word which they constitute is God! Now glory! Now shout for gladness! Now make a joyful noise unto the Rock of salvation; and it any cold-hearted, sneering, unsympathetic brother should demand the reason cf your joy, put your finger on this warrant and answer, "Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me."
What we want, then, is personal knowledge of a Person: we would know not only the works, but the author, for they are mutually explanatory. Know the man if you would understand his actions; know God if you would comprehend nature, providence, or grace. The devout student says he finds God's footprints everywhere; he says they are on the rocks, across the heavens, on the heaving wave, and on the flying wind; to him, therefore, keeping company with science is only another way of "walking with God." Science becomes a wise and reverent guide, opening doors just far enough (for it can never do more than set the door ajar) to give him a glance at the milder glories of the Eternal King; and does he in return offer oblations to Science? Does he mistake the guide for the Sovereign? Nay! he thanks Science as you would thank one who had led you to a position whence you could contemplate "such a light as never shone on land or sea." Science is nothing to the devout student, except so far as it brings him nearer God; he must find not only the writing, but the writer; not only the voice, but the speaker: as Science conducts him through the innumerable chambers of creation, he exclaims, "My heart crieth out for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?" Science may be an astronomer, but who wrote the glittering page which she attempts to decipher? Science may be a geologist, but who moulded the planet whose birthday she is ever anxious to determine? Science may be a botanist, but who traced the lines of beauty which she attempts to interpret? Science may be a metaphysician, but who constructed the mind, into whose mysteries she would penetrate? Science may be an agriculturist, but if God withhold the dew, only that, Science herself will die of thirst! Thus is the devout student continually reverting to the "who"; he "glories," not in the architecture, but in the architect—not in the ladder on which angels travel, but in the God against whose heart the head of that ladder rests.
The text, however, goes still farther; it relates not only to personality, but to character: the deist pauses at the former, the Christian advances to the latter: "Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth." The idea would admit of some such expression as this: Any knowledge of God, the Creator and Legislator of the physical creation, should be regarded as merely preparatory, or subordinate to an apprehension of God as the Moral Governor: that if you know God as Creator only, you can hardly be said to know him at all; that if you tremble at his power without knowing his mercy, you are a pagan; if you seek to please him as a God of intelligence, without recognising him as a God of purity and justice and love, you are ignorant of him, and your ignorance is crime. Let him that glorieth, even glorieth in God, glory in knowing God as a moral Being, as the righteous Judge, as the loving Father. There must not be adoration of mere power; we must not be satisfied with utterances of amazement at his majesty, wisdom, and dominion; we must go farther, get nearer, see deeper; we must know God morally, we must feel the pulsations of his heart—his heart!—that dread sanctuary of righteousness, that sempiternal fount of love.
The meaning may be seen more clearly by listening to an evangelical man of science as he addresses a deist: You, he says, are amazed at God, as he walks on the wings of the wind, as he preserves the organisation of nature in perfect order, swaying his sceptre throughout boundless dominions from age to age; now, I am as amazed as you are, and as reverent, but I go farther: I adore his power, I also recognise his righteousness; I am lost in his wisdom, but I see that wisdom quite as much in the arrangements of the moral world as in the mechanism of the heavens; you see him enkindling suns, I also see him enkindling hope in the breast of desolation; you see him moulding globes, I also see him drying the tears of sorrow; you see him controlling the terrible forces of creation, and I also see him grasping the orphan's hand, and leading the blind by a way they know not; you see him marshalling countless populations (populations distinct as the mountains but one as the globe), I also see him putting his hands on little children, and crowning them with the diadem of his blessing; you see him in the earthquake, the fire, the tempest, and you say, "Behold his might!" I see him in his incarnate Son, dying on Calvary, and say, "This is the power of God."
He only knows God who knows him as the God which exerciseth lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. Science can never reveal the full-orbed Godhead. Science can only stand in the outer court, begging for the crumbs which fall from the banquet-table. Science can only see through a glass darkly. Science can never weave for herself a wedding garment which will entitle her to a place at the feast. Hear it and believe; it must be love that enters into the inner court—it must be love that takes a child's seat—it must be love that sees face to face—it must be love on whose shoulder is found the nuptial badge. It is true, in the widest possible sense, that, "he who loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love." Love is its own microscope, love is the wise interpreter; sympathy can see farther than the telescope; the door of God's innermost chamber flies back at the appeal of love.
If we are justified, then, in so rendering the text as to draw the doctrine that he only who knows God morally knows God truly, there is one all-important warning to be given: viz., you can only attain a moral knowledge by a moral process; that is to say, you can never rectify your relations to God by any other method than that which God himself has appointed, and that method is a moral one. No man can be saved on account of his great wisdom, or on account of anything in himself; the proudest philosopher must come to the same point as the unlettered peasant; both must come as little children to the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and "count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord." Science can give no passport to immortality; science can give no guarantee of safety: "this is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."
Is there a more melancholy spectacle than that of a man of science who is ignorant of God's moral nature, and who is, consequently, wandering into outer darkness? What answer can he render to the accusations which must eventually fall upon all who know not the true God? He has spent his life in exploring the temple, but never turned a loving eye to the God whose glory fills it; he has penetrated a thousand rocks, but knows not the Rock of Ages; he has questioned innumerable orbs, but never communed with the Bright and Morning Star; he is familiar with every flower which adorns the coronal of spring, but never owned the Rose of Sharon. Here is the worst of Ignorance—here is an insanity which the holiest spirits mourn. Is not such a man laying up wrath against the day of wrath? Will not every rock, every star, every flower, every law of nature, become an avenging force, and smite the man who spent a life in God's temple without even knowing that God delighted in lovingkindness, righteousness, and judgment? It must be so. The universe is in sympathy with its Creator, and having given up enough for the safety and joy of the good, all the rest would flame into a hell rather than the neglecters of God should be living witnesses that the throne of judgment has been abandoned.
The whole subject, then, may be comprehended in four points, (1) God brands all false glorying.—Upon the head of wisdom, power, and wealth, he writes, "Let no man glory in these." There is a wisdom which is folly; there is a power which is helplessness; there is a wealth which is poverty. God warns us of these things, so that if our boasted wisdom answer us not when we are on the Carmel of solemn encounter between light and darkness, we may not have God to blame; so that if our power crumble away in the day of battle, we may remember the divine communication; so that if our wealth be scorned in the extremities of our want, we may hear the voice which branded it as a false security! Each—wisdom, power, wealth—has its place,—each is precious,—each, properly employed, is beneficial; but when substituted for God the avenging fire falls upon them, and our defences are reduced to dust. (2) God has revealed the proper ground of glorying.—That ground is knowledge of God, not only as Creator and Monarch, but as Judge and Saviour and Father. Reason, groping her way through the thickening mysteries of creation, may exclaim, "There is a God;" but faith alone can see the Father smiling through the King. It will be in vain to say, "Lord, Lord," if we cannot add, "Saviour, Friend." Men do not enter heaven because they have seen the shadow of the Sovereign, but because they have embraced and loved and served the Saviour. (3) God, having declared moral excellence to be the true object of glorying, has revealed how moral excellence may be attained.—Is it objected that there is no mention of Jesus Christ in the text? We answer, that lovingkindness, righteousness, and judgment are impossibilities apart from Christ; they are only so many names to us, until Jesus exemplifies them in his life, and makes them accessible to us by his death and resurrection. Do we require the sun to be labelled ere we confess that he shines in the heavens? As life, animal and plantal, is impossible without the sun, so are lovingkindness, righteousness, and judgment impossible without Christ. The proof is found in the experience of humanity in all ages; all philosophers who know not Jesus might be summoned to attest the validity of the declaration. It is, then, through Christ, and through Christ alone, that we attain the celestial altitudes of mercy and righteousness and judgment. (4) God has revealed the objects in which he glories himself.—"For in these things I delight, saith the Lord." Let it be propounded as a problem, "In what will the Supreme Mind most delight?" and let it be supposed that an answer is possible, it might be concluded that the attainment of that answer would for ever determine the aspirations, the resolutions, and the ambition of the world. We might consider that every other object would be infinitely beneath the pursuits, and infinitely unworthy of the affections of man. At all events, this must be true, that they who glory in the objects which delight Jehovah must be drinking at pure and perennial streams.
The voice of the text is—Glory in goodness. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ." All goodness is centred there! That Cross is the sublimest revelation of infinite wisdom—the most magnificent embodiment of infinite love. Have we been led into its mystery? Can we trace the meaning of the superscription? Can we catch the significance of the phenomena? Have we touched the flowing blood? Have we flung the arms of our love around the holy Sufferer? If we answer Yes, we are the true children of wisdom—the heirs of unwaning light. We may pursue science, conquer creation, lay nature at our feet; but we must remember that to know everything but Jesus Christ is nothing but thinly disguised and ruinous insanity.
Almighty God, we bless thee for Jesus Christ as a teacher sent from heaven. His words are words of life and power; they search the heart, they try the reins, of the children of men; they are sharper than a two-edged sword, We rejoice that thou dost enable us to submit ourselves to the searching criticism of Jesus Christ's word. We have been false to ourselves; we have concealed our true nature even from our own eyes; we have looked on the outside only; we have forgotten our inner life, the life of motive, of secret impulse, of purposes we dare not explain; we have looked only to our hand, when we ought to have examined the very life of our heart. But Jesus Christ, thy Son, doth not spare us; he searcheth us as with a candle; he kindleth upon us the flame of the Lord, and in the light of that fire he searches and tries us, and sees if there be any wicked way in us. We rejoice in the plainness and the vigour of his speech. We thank thee that Jesus Christ layeth the axe at the root of the tree; we bless thee for his radical teaching, for his going to the roots of all evil things, for his making the tree good that the fruit may be good, for his purifying the fountain that the stream may be pure. May we learn of Jesus Christ in these things, and seek to do thy will, not as man-pleasers, not with eye-service, but with all the simplicity of love, with all the strength of entire trust, honouring goodness for its own sake, and loving truth because it is the speech of God! Deliver us from all deceitfulness, all falsehood, all pretence, and enable us to serve thee in spirit and in truth; and out of a life based on godly sincerity, may there come works of love, pity, charity, and beneficence which shall bless all with whom we come in contact! Have mercy upon us wherein we have sinned. We have done the things we ought not to have done, and we have left undone the things that we ought to have done. We accuse ourselves. If the surface has been right the motive has been wrong; if our hand has been clean our heart has been leprous. Do thou wash us in the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for the sins of men,—the sacrificial blood which is our propitiation, our plea, and our answer before God! Let thine own people glory in the truth, feel its power, acknowledge its sovereignty, bless its giver. If there be before thee, or shall come within the influence of our word to-night, any man who is hypocritical, who seeks to cover up his real state from the eye of society and from the eye of his own conscience, apply thy word to such as a flame of fire, finding its way into the secret chambers of the soul and lighting up the darkest recesses of the life. Make us glad in the Lord! In the world we have mortification, disappointment, tears, broken staves piercing our hands, much sorrow, great difficulty. But in God's house, on God's day, gathered as we are around God's book, surely thy children shall not plead in vain for the gladness which comes of thy presence. Amen.