Then He brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the LORD, and I saw women sitting there, weeping for Tammuz.
If the usual interpretation of this passage is correct, then it is clear that there had been introduced from Northern Syria into Jerusalem a superstitious practice and cultus, which was altogether alien from the beliefs and the worship proper to the nation whom the Supreme had favoured with a clear and glorious revelation of his blessed character and his holy will. It is an illustration of the weakness and proneness to err characteristic of our humanity, that a nation so favoured as Judah should borrow from their neighbours religious rites and observances utterly inconsistent with their own religion, and of a kind fitted to degrade rather than to exalt the moral life. We may observe of this special superstition -
I. THAT IT SUBSTITUTED FICTION FOR TRUTH.
II. THAT IT CONCENTRATED ATTENTION UPON NATURE INSTEAD OF UPON THE AUTHOR OF NATURE.
III. THAT IT SUBSTITUTED AN IMAGINATIVE AND FANCIFUL FOR A REAL AND LEGITIMATE CAUSE OF EMOTION.
IV. THAT IT PROMOTED VICE INSTEAD OF MORAL PURITY.
V. THAT IT CONSEQUENTLY DEGRADED THE NATION THAT SUFFERED ITSELF TO BE SEDUCED BY IT.
APPLICATION. No nation and no individual is superior to the necessity of watchfulness against the contaminating influence of neighbours upon a lower moral platform, "Evil communications corrupt good manners." instead of the good leavening the evil, and so purifying the mass, the contrary may happen, and the defiling influence of error and impurity may spread. In this case there is every likelihood of the fulfilment of the proverb, "The companion of fools shall be destroyed." - T.
Look at that dark painted chamber that we have all of us got in our hearts; at the idolatries that go on there, and at the flashing of a sudden light of a God who marks, into the midst of the idolatry.
Every man in the chambers of his imagery.
Though we are not told that this was a human vision, or in any sense what we understand as an incarnation, yet there are terms in the description of it which might lead to that conclusion. Always it is made evident that a struggle is proceeding in Biblical history towards the miracle of incarnation. The angel would be as a man; cherubim and seraphim come before us in human outlines; yea, God Himself is not afraid to reveal His glory to us under human forms and symbols. Nothing of mere fancy is found in the interpretation that all these initial intimations, struggles, visions, point to One whose name was to be Emmanuel — God with us. In the fulness of time God sent forth His Son. In Christ Jesus we see the meaning of all these premonitions, hints, dim yet exciting suggestions. When Ezekiel is taken, in the third verse, by a lock of his hair and lifted up between the earth and the heaven, we are, of course, to understand that this was done, not literally, but in vision. Here is what we have often seen as the power of being absent, yet present; in an immediate locality, yet far away beyond the horizon; in Jerusalem, and yet at the ends of the earth; in the midst of the sea, and yet beyond the stars. Here is a counterpart of the action which has just been described. Whilst spirits are continually struggling to assume human shape, men are continually aspiring towards some new condition of being and service. There is a continual process of descent and ascent in the whole economy of God. Such double action is full of moral suggestion, and should certainly ennoble us with a feeling that as yet we know little or nothing of the possibilities of our own nature, but that a great revelation of God's purpose in our existence is yet to be made. In the same verse there is a singular expression — "where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy." It has been supposed that at this time heathen idols had actually found a place in the holy temple, and this is supposed to present the most vivid and appalling proof of the corruption into which the priests and the people had fallen. Is the meaning of the fourth verso that for the last time there was an evident struggle as between the image of jealousy and the glory of the God of Israel? It has been suggested that we are not to understand by this "glory" the glory of the Lord which once filled the temple, but the particular glory which was seen in the vision shown to Ezekiel in the plain, a vision within a vision, a dim light in a far-off horizon, not the old glory which burned with infinite brightness, but another glory as of one preparing to vanish in judgment from the temple and the city. It is interesting to notice that we have in all these descriptions, not the view which Ezekiel took of the condition of Israel, — we have the condition of Israel as it revealed itself to the Divine eyes. It is essential to all true and lasting ministry that it should proceed upon God's own estimate of human nature. We are not left to form our own fancies regarding human origin, or human apostasy, or human capability: in this as in all other things we nave to trust to a revelation which has been made to us, a revelation which would be the less valuable if it were not confirmed at every point by our own painful experience. We should not forget the sacred and gracious fact that, notwithstanding the rebelliousness of the house of Israel, one of their own number was sent to pronounce Divine judgment and to reveal Divine purpose. In what contrast did Ezekiel stand to his own countrymen! God has never left Himself without an Elijah, or an Ezekiel, or some other prophet, or suppliant, that has proved the continuity of Divine providence and the continuity of Divine grace. Ezekiel was to be astounded by revelations which he never could have discovered by himself. The mighty being under whose conduct he was placed brought him to the door of the court, and when he looked he beheld a hole in the wall. This hole or window was too small for entrance, hence Ezekiel was directed to enlarge it so that he might enter in — "Son of man, dig now in the wall: and when I had digged in the wall, behold a door." All this is indicative of extreme secrecy, as if the men would have hidden themselves from the very God of heaven, as if they would have had a hole all their own, unpenetrated by Divine inspection. There was an open and public idolatry in Jerusalem at this very time, but such is the downward tendency of all evil that it was not sufficient to have a public and an almost established idolatry, but something further should be done in darkness and concealment. Stolen waters are sweet. When wickedness can be enjoyed in public it ceases to be an enjoyment. It would appear as if the darkness were necessary to bring out the full savour of a bad man's delight. By "chambers of imagery" understand chambers painted throughout with images such as Ezekiel saw. We are not to understand that this was a solitary instance; we are to accept it rather as indicative of the general condition and worship of the idolatrous people. Conscience had been driven away from the rule of human life. The people who were once the very elect of God said in their wickedness, "The Lord seeth us not": we have found a refuge from His eye, and here we may do what we please in the gratification of our worst desires. Is this merely a historical instance? Is there no desire now to plunge into an impenetrable concealment? Is it not true now that in many enjoyments the whole delight is to be found in the secrecy of their participation? A man can hide himself from his fellow man in this matter, and can in the very act of prayer place himself within chambers of imagery, and delight himself with visions which no eye but his own can see. The painful part of all this revelation consists in the fact that the idolatry was perpetrated within the sacred enclosure of the temple. This was not something done at a distance, in some far-away grove, in some spot which but few had ever penetrated; it was actually done in the temple, in the sacred building, on the consecrated floor, and the altar itself was dragged into the unholy and disastrous service. How are the high places made low! How are the mighty fallen! A decay of veneration is a decay of the whole character. Once let us feel that all places are equally common, and the level of our whole life will go down with that conclusion.
Though this was merely a vision, through which it was intended to present the corrupted state of Judah, we may suppose that the imagery was drawn from customs that then prevailed. These secret midnight incantations were not unusual in heathen worship. An ancient historian relates, that round the room in African Thebes where the body of one of their kings was supposed to be buried, a multitude of chambers were built, which had beautiful paintings of all the beasts held sacred in Egypt. But we need not regard this as merely a visionary representation of the state of Judah. The mind of man is a chamber of imagery in whose darkness go on works hidden from the world, and sometimes, we may fancy, hidden even from the eye of God. A hall of imagery! No phrase could better describe the mind of man, — and Memory the painter. In colours bright or dark, in the very lineaments of joy or shame or grief, she paints every deed, every struggle of the soul; our very wishes and purposes, though unacted, all are there. The world may be ignorant of what is there, but we cannot forget. Come, then, and by that door to which all have the key let us enter these halls of imagery within the human soul. Light up the torches and raise them aloft, that we may see what is upon the wall. These halls are as various as are the lives of men. We have all read of the Catacombs that lie under one of the great European capitals. They stretch under whole quarters of the city. In terrible order, arranged in innumerable galleries, are deposited the remains of more than ten generations, — a world of silence below, while heave and swell in endless confusion the surges of life above. You enter these gloomy abodes with torches, and on every side are seen the mementos of death and decay. More gloomy than this, sometimes, is the human mind. Portrayed on its walls are scenes of decay and death. Here the innocence of childhood — a fair, frail creature of the light — is slowly dying. There, on an altar whence once arose holy aspirations to heaven, the fire is gone out. Virtues once fresh and blooming sink and expire under the assaults of the world. Here is seen one, trembling and yet resolved, bartering away to the Evil One his honesty for gain; and there another surrendering his conscience for pleasure. In another space, the demolished temple, the trampled cross, are but symbols of a dead faith, And the angels weep over another scene, not because sickness and death of the body are there, but because in the soul the affections have withered into selfishness and died. And the man, as he passes through this awful gallery, recognises his own life. There are chambers of imagery in which we might gladly linger. It is said that in the Old World is a gallery of paintings in which are collected none but pictures of the Holy Family. The Virgin Mother and the infant Jesus, images of innocence and faith and heaven, smile on every side from the canvas. Some pure souls there may be who when they enter their chambers of imagery may behold such scenes alone as these; — a virtuous youth, a devout age, a Divine faith triumphing over the powers of the world. But at the best, the gallery of the mind can often present only a mingled series of pictures. We call ourselves Christians, and all unite in one form of outward homage to the same Almighty Power. the Lord of heaven and earth. But each man has his chamber of imagery, and, could we enter in, how often should we find there the unhallowed rites of another worship. Enter silently this dark and concealed chamber. These are not the symbols of Jehovah's presence that we see. Here is an altar, and the god that is reared over it is Mammon. And here Power looks down from his throne; and there Pleasure stretches out her arms. The walls are covered with emblems of the world and the passions. And the man in the secret chamber of his imagery swings his censer, and bows down in adoration before the gods of his idolatry. Here, in this secret chamber, are those wishes uttered which are his real prayers, and here that bowing down of the soul which is the only true worship. We are apt to feel as if what was done in these halls of imagery was unmarked. So thought the faithless ancients of the house of Judah. Darkness and thick walls gave concealment to their midnight conclave. Yet even there the angels, to whose spiritual vision these walls were transparent, were looking in; and to the Prophet, his eyes touched with spiritual light, all became visible. Silent, unseen, and mourning spectators they stood of these rites of sin and darkness. And when we enter our chambers of imagery, may there not be other witnesses than we think? Surely it is not a vain nor unreasonable thought, that around us are spiritual beings, to whose spiritual eyes the mind lies open, even as the scenes of the visible world lie open to the bodily eye. Happy is he who suffers to abide in his mind only those thoughts and purposes which these spiritual beings may gladly look upon. But if there be no other, there is one eye that looks through all the veils of time and sense, — from whom nothing is hid while doing, and by whom nothing is forgotten when done, — before whom all things lie open. We are apt to regard as of no importance what merely transpires in the mind. Yet, in the sight of God, in the mind is the seat and source of all good and ill. In these chambers of imagery is the real life of man. Here, where are the secret counsels and plans and resolves, where the passions conquer or are subdued, where are the principles that we obey and the will that resolves, — here is the life of the man. All else is but outward show and manifestation. It is here that He looks who requires that all true worshippers shall worship Him in spirit and in truth. It is described as one of the marks of the folly and impiety of the ancients of Judah that, when met in their chambers of imagery for their unhallowed rites, they said, "The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth." Ah no! Shut ourselves up in the chambers of the soul, and all lies exposed to Him. The imaginations that we indulge take form and shape before Him; and the hopes that we cherish are audible prayers to the object of our worship; and the thought is as the word, and the purpose as the deed. We enter now these halls of imagery at our choice, to review the past for correction and improvement. The time comes when we must enter them for judgment. In that dread hour the memory must take a conspicuous part. It is memory and conscience that shall affirm the righteous judgments of God. For that day, in which the strong shall bow and the most devout tremble, may God in His mercy aid us to be prepared! There is yet one other view of the subject. Our life must be very much in the present and the past. We have hopes, plans, speculations for the future; yet even these, so far as they are reasonable, depend on foundations laid in the past. The future is uncertain, but the past is fixed. It exerts a steady influence. Leaving out of view the effects of its discipline on the character, who can tell its power over our present happiness? It is our very dwelling and home which we build up around us day by day. We may leave our dwellings of wood and stone; may pull them down, repair them, remove from them; but not so this spiritual dwelling, this presence and audience chamber of the memory. We build it once for all; it stands forever, and is, according to what we have made it, our home or our prison. This is the soul's hall of imagery. Let us give heed to the significance of the words. We think it desirable that the apartments in which we dwell should not be deformed or unsightly; if in our power, we would have them ornamented with pictures and works of art and taste. What, then, to us is the soul's chamber of imagery! It is crowded with pictures; each deed and thought, by a daguerreotype that asks no light of the sun or chemist's skill, is at once and silently transferred, and takes its place immovably on the wall. Like the chamber of the ancients of Judah, it may be covered with every form of creeping things and beasts worshipped as idols, which are but the symbols of our earthly passions and appetites; or on it may be portrayed Divine pictures of hope and faith. But once there, there they remain, a perpetual presence before the memory and conscience. Each new scene we picture on the walls must remain there forever, to frown or smile upon us. Hang up in your halls of imagery what you will hereafter rejoice to see there. Suffer not to be there scenes which shall affright and sting the soul. God has granted to man the boon and the opportunity of repentance, and in His mercy granted to repentance the promise of forgiveness. If the picture of the prodigal's departure is painted, there may be added the prodigal's return and the father's enduring love. If there be the picture of one forgiven much, let there be added to it that of one who loves much. By the side of the wrong we have done, may be set our efforts to repair the wrong. Over the scenes of guilt and repentance, as over the retreating waves of the deluge, there may be arched the rainbow of the Divine mercy. Repentance may not face the past. The rays of the setting sun do not disperse the clouds that gather along the western horizon, but they fill the clouds with light, and make them luminous with hues of beauty. So repentance, though it cannot efface the past, transfigures it; and while it leaves enough of the dark cloud to make us humble, it pours over it and around it a light from heaven that fills the soul with serene hope.
Although we do not bow down before graven images, and our women weep not for Adonis, yet we may be as really idolaters as ever were the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, or these apostate Jews. We may be doing practical homage to the Baal of power, — canonising brute force, or adoring mere success. We may be "causing our children to pass through the fire to Moloch," — sacrificing their happiness and their spiritual growth at the altar of society, or fashion, or worldly prudence. We may be practical worshippers of the Astarte of licentiousness, — sacrificing health, fortune, friendship, nobleness at the shrine of lust. We may be devotees of Mammon, — ever toiling, with selfish aims, to lay up stores of wealth; or we may be devotees of fame, — labouring with all our might to secure the breath of human applause.
I. These "chambers of imagery" may be taken as the type of A BLIND MATERIALISM. If we cease to exercise faith in the God whom we see not, all our boasted civilisation will not prevent us from beginning to worship, practically, the things which we see. This century has a materialism of its own — more refined, but perhaps just as dangerous as that of the ancient Egyptians.
1. Some of our men of science seem practically to have lost God. They may not be so unphilosophical as to assert that there is no God; but they tell us that they have abandoned "the conception of creative acts," and that "matter is the universal mother who brings forth all things as the fruit of her own womb." They tell us that "all we see around us and all we feel within us — the phenomena of physical nature, as well as those of the human mind — have their unsearchable roots in a cosmical life." They say that, "if the human mind will turn to the mystery from which it has emerged, seeking so to fashion it as to give unity to thought and faith," then this is a field for. what, in contrast with the knowing faculties, may be called the creative faculties of man. And then they bid us take note that "there is no very rank materialism here." But is it not the simple fact that these men have practically ceased to believe in a personal God? With them nature — "the universal mother" — takes the place of "our Father in heaven." Swinging their censers in their halls of science, they burn their incense to "matter," as having in itself "the promise and potency of every form and quality of life."
2. The secularist follows in the same key, — addressing himself, however, to the working man, rather than to the student. "God," he says, "may or may not be a dream; but man is a reality. A future life may or may not be a dream; but the present life is palpable and real. Let us therefore confine ourselves to what we see and know. Let us cherish faith in political economy and social science. Let us believe that good budgets will do vastly more for the people than the old, worn out Bible!"
3. It is reserved, however, for the "positive" philosopher to assert that the very idea of a personal God belongs to the infantile age of humanity, and that the notion of a personal immortality is nothing but a childish fancy. Auguste Comte, the founder of this philosophy, had his peculiar "chamber of imagery"; for, although a materialist, he discovered that he must have something to worship. And accordingly he employed his "creative faculty" to fashion what he calls the "Religion of Humanity," which he believed was destined to supplant all other religions of the world. By the great being "Humanity" is to be understood the aggregate of good human beings — past, present, and future; including, however, such of the lower animals as have been and are most serviceable to mankind! Is not this, indeed, coming back again to the "chambers of imagery" — to the "four-footed beasts," as well as to the images of human form?
4. Only one thing can save us from the grasp of materialism. Not civilisation, not poetry, not art, not philosophy; but simply the exercise of the faculty of faith. "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how dark must the darkness be!" If we will not use the inner eye which beholds the unseen and spiritual, that eye will become blind, and we shall begin to worship "in the dark," and in some form or other the created instead of the Creator.
II. These "chambers of imagery" may be taken as the symbol of A SECRET UNGODLINESS.
1. Men present themselves in the sanctuary; they seem to join in the praises and prayers which are offered to the Creator; perhaps they even come to the table of the Lord, and take into their hands the memorials of His death; but where all the while are their hearts? What is the real state of their souls? Whom are they actually serving in their daily life? What are they in their business and in their homes?
2. Sometimes the iniquity which men are carrying on "in the dark" comes suddenly and strangely to light; "some hole in the wall" betrays the secret! Here is a man who has had the reputation of being thoroughly upright and honourable, and whom his friends would have trusted to the utmost; but the hidden "door" is at length discovered, and it turns out that he has been engaged in some fraudulent transaction — cheating his creditors, or tampering with his employer's books. Here is a woman, seemingly religious, outwardly decorous, spoken of by her friends and acquaintances as worthy of all respect and affection; but it turns out that, in secret, she is allowing the habit of drunkenness to creep over her, and that her servants could tell the tale of her occasional debasement. Here, again, is a man, respectable, amiable, seemingly devout, of whom everybody speaks well: when, all of a sudden, the hidden door is revealed, and it turns out that he has been living an unchaste and brutish life.
3. Resolve to be, at least, real and genuine. Let not your worship be a sham. Be impatient of every approach to insincerity. Give your very heart to God. Be Christ's, not in name only, but in deed and in truth.
III. These "chambers of imagery" may be taken as the emblem of AN IMPURE IMAGINATION. Whether a man's imagination be pure or impure will depend, partly on his past conduct, partly on his present character, partly also, it must be acknowledged, on his circumstances. A man may accidentally see something which he wishes he had never seen, but which, being once seen, lodges itself in the memory, and is apt thenceforth to be reproduced in the imagination. Still, the mind has a certain power of self-direction, and can deliberately turn away its gaze from the picture thus presented. The same may be said of scenes of impurity, through which a man may have passed, only too willingly, in former days. As such scenes are reproduced occasionally in the chambers of imagery, — the man, if he be altered in character, will turn away from them with revulsion. But, alas! there are many who deliberately carry the lamp of memory into this secret chamber of the soul, and cast its full light on these loathsome pictures. Oh, beware of retiring into the chamber of an impure imagination, to revel in the pictures which it presents to you. This is the surest way of shutting your eye to the vision of the Eternal; for it is "the pure in heart" who "see God." Beware, too, of everything that tends to defile the imagination, — impure actions, impure companionship, impure literature. Guard your imagination. Watch your reveries. Seek to carry a pure mind and heart after your evening prayer, even into the land of dreams. Cherish a love of what is truly beautiful and good. Live purely; and you will people your imagination with scenes of purity. Above all, cherish a sense of the presence of the Holy One. Say not, with the worshippers in the dark chamber, "The Lord seeth us not"; but say rather, "Thou God seest me."
I. THINK OF SOME DARK AND PAINTED CHAMBER WHICH WE ALL OF US CARRY IN OUR HEARTS.
1. Every man is a mystery to himself as to his fellows. The most silvery lake that lies sleeping amidst beauty, itself the very fairest spot of all, when drained off shows ugly ooze and filthy mud, and all manner of creeping abominations in the slime. I wonder what we should see if our hearts were, so to speak, drained off, and the very bottom layer of everything brought into the light? Do you think you could stand it? Well, then, go to God and ask Him to keep you from the unconscious sins. Go to Him and ask Him to root out of you the mischiefs that you do not know are there, and live humbly and self-distrustfully, and feel that your only strength is: "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be saved."
2. The walls of that chamber were all painted with animal forms, to which these men were bowing down. You and I, by our memory, by that marvellous faculty that people call the imagination, by our desires, are forever painting the walls of the inmost chambers of our hearts with such pictures. It is an awful faculty that we possess of, so to speak, surrounding ourselves with the pictures of the things that we love, and have yielded ourselves in devotion and desire unto. Just as today, thousands of years after the artists have been gathered to the dust, we may go into Egyptian temples and see the figures on their walls, in all the freshness of their first colouring, as if the painter had but laid down his pencil a moment ago; so, on your hearts, youthful evils, the sins of your boyhood, the pruriences of your earliest days, may live ugly shapes, that no tears and no repentance will ever wipe out. Nothing can do away with "the marks of that which once hath been."
II. LOOK AT THE IDOLATRIES OF THE DARK CHAMBER. A man's true worship is not the worship that he performs in the public temple, but that which he offers down in that little private chapel where nobody goes but himself. Worship is the attribution of supreme excellence to, and the entire dependence of the heart upon, a certain person. And the people or the things to which a man attributes excellence, and on which he hangs his happiness and his well-being, these be his gods, no matter what his outward profession is. You can find out what these are for yourself, if you will honestly ask yourself one or two questions. What is it that I want most? What is it which makes my ideal happiness? What is it which I feel that I should be desperate without? What do I think about most naturally and spontaneously, when the spring is taken off and my thoughts are allowed to go as they will? And if the answer to none of these questions is "God!" then I do not know why you should call yourself a worshipper of God. Honour, wealth, literary or other distinction, the sweet sanctities of human love dishonoured and profaned by being exalted to the place which Divine love should hold, ease, family, animal appetites, lust, drink — these are the gods of some of us. And do not forget that all such diversion of supreme love and dependence from God alone is like the sin of these men in our text, that it is sacrilege. They had taken a chamber in the very Temple, and turned that into a temple of the false gods. Who is your heart made to shrine? We were made for God, and whensoever we turn the hopes, the desires, the affections, the obedience, and that which is the root of them all, the confidence that ought to fix and fasten upon Him, to other creatures, we are guilty not only of idolatry but of sacrilege.
III. LOOK AT THE SUDDEN CRASHING IN UPON THE COWERING WORSHIPPERS OF THE REVEALING LIGHT. Apparently the picture of my text suggests that these elders knew not the eyes that were looking upon them. They were hugging themselves in the conceit, "The Lord seeth not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth." And all the while, all unknown, God and His prophet stand in the doorway and see it all. Not a finger lifted, not a sign to the foolish worshippers of His presence and inspection, but in stern silence He records and remembers. And does that need much bending to make it an impressive form of putting a solemn truth? There are plenty of us — alas! alas! that it should be so — to whom it is the least welcome of all thoughts that there in the doorway stand God and His Word. Why should it be. that the properly blessed thought of a Divine eye resting upon you should be to you like the thought of a policeman's bull's eye to a thief? Why should it not be rather the sweetest and the most calming and strength giving and companioning of all convictions? "Thou God seest me." One day a light will flash in upon all the dark cells. We must all be manifest before the judgment seat of Christ. Do you like that thought? Can you stand it? Are you ready for it? My friend! let Jesus Christ come to you with His light. Let Him come into your hearts by your lowly penitence, by your humble faith, and all these vile shapes that you have painted on its walls will, like phosphorescent pictures in the daytime, pale and disappear when the Sun of Righteousness, with healing on His beams, floods your soul, making no part dark, and turning all into a Temple of the living God.
()I. THE FORMS THEY TAKE.
1. Inward infidelities. Mistrustings, scepticisms, neglects of inward admonitions, etc.
2. Inward idolatries. HEART clinging to wealth, heart pride in children, heart satisfaction in learning, worship of self.
3. Inward sensualities.
II. THE OUTWARD CIRCUMSTANCES THAT FOSTER THEM.
1. Neglect of religious duties gives the heart space for evil.
2. The tone of society is often sceptical and frivolous.
3. Danger of sensational and questionable moral literature.
4. Character of associations in daily life and friendships.
5. The humorous is too often playful with evil, and defiling.
III. THE INTELLECTUAL CONCEPTIONS WHICH ENCOURAGE THEM.
1. That sin is not really sin until expressed in overt acts (Matthew 5:21-28).
2. That the Lord doth not see.
3. That the Lord is merciful. Yes, but see Psalm 62:12.
()The simplest form of imagination is dreaming. In dreaming we are dependent on past experience. We cannot dream about men and women and children, about earth and sky, about sea and land; about words and music and laughter, unless we have seen and heard things like them. Dreams are like life, and yet how unlike. All we have ever done and suffered, seen and heard, learned and experienced, may be in our dreams, but all altered into phantasmagoria — combining and dissolving, and succeeding one another with great rapidity. It is very difficult to understand under what impulse or impulses the imagination acts in dreaming. Another form of imagination is day dreaming, or reverie. We say the children see faces in the fire, and young people build castles in the air, but in point of fact these exercises are indulged in by all ages. In our leisure, and especially perhaps in the hours of the nights when we lie awake, forms and scenes flit of their own accord out of the dark background of memory. If you could find out what a man is thinking of when he is lying awake, you would have an invaluable index to his character; and by the same test, find out, if you like, what is your own character. It is common to warn the young against reverie; but it seems to me that this advice can only be given with qualifications. What we really need to be warned of in respect of reverie is the subjects of our daydreams. If our day dreams are concerning foul and forbidden subjects, this habit will waste the mind utterly. These thoughts must be caught at the threshold and kept resolutely out of the mind, or a man will soon become within a leper from head to foot. The office of the imagination is to improve on reality. It creates beside the actual world another world, finer, fairer, and more perfect. You see that in childhood; and I am often astonished in noticing the strength of the imagination in children. Give them two or three bits of wood, roughly carved and rudely painted, a few cuttings of cloth, a few bricks, a little mud or sand, and out of these things they will create a world with kings and queens, the tinker and tailor, soldier and sailor; and these figures will go through all the movements and activities of grown people, as far as these can be observed by the minds of children. And why is it that children, and children of a larger growth, are so fond of stories? It is because in a story the life is grander and fiercer than in actual life. It is an ideal, undimmed and undiminished by the obstacles and qualifications of reality. Now this explains, as you will all see, the delight afforded to us by works of art, which of course are works of imagination. Why does a song or a piece of music delight us? It is because in it there are gathered together sounds sweeter than the ordinary sounds which life gives us to hear; and in a picture there is distilled the beauty of a hundred scenes. And especially this explains the delight we have in imaginative literature. In the real world movement is slow, and the colours are grey, but in this world a year can be compressed into an hour; the colours are bright, the crisis is exciting, the end is satisfying. In the epic, one great movement succeeds another; in the drama, some great principle is fully illustrated; in a novel, love is triumphant and justice is vindicated. But is it good to live in such an unreal world? Well, that depends. No doubt this kind of reading may be carried to excess. If it is made, instead of an occasional treat, the daily bread of the mind, it will undoubtedly debilitate the mind. Fiction may give us altogether false ideas of life, making us suppose that success is to depend not upon effort and endeavour, which must be the only road to success with the majority, but on some lucky fall of fortune, or some effort of genius not accessible to one in a million. Yet imaginative literature has a real service to perform. There is poetry which shows us the mystery the world is full of, and helps us to believe in a secret, deep and interesting, in every heart by which we are approached. Now that is the right kind; that is the healthy kind. The wisdom of life very largely consists in being able to appreciate the romance of ordinary existence, and the poetry of common things. I said a little while ago that the function of the imagination is to improve on reality. Keep a grip of that. The imagination is the torch by which humanity is conducted along the path of progress. Then ordinary life cannot go on for a day without the imagination. When a workman is engaged on some piece of work, has not he in his mind an image of the perfect article, which directs every stroke he gives to the rough material? And although what he makes never comes up entirely, perhaps, to the object of his imagination, the perfection of the image in his imagination determines the perfection of the work of his hand. It was because Columbus had more imagination than the rest of Europe that he believed in a new world to be found on the other side of the globe, and it was for a similar reason that David Livingstone could not settle down among the other missionaries in South Africa, but was haunted by a vision of something beyond the desert, and through his imperative desire to go and see he was made the greatest discoverer of modern times. There are thousands of visions of an improved world that are never anything more than visions, but the world is never improved, even in the smallest particular, without there being first a vision of the improvement in someone's imagination. Youth is full of visions, and thousands of them never come to anything; but woe to that young man who has no visions — no vision of his own future, no vision of the future of the world. Professor Drummond used sometimes to say that in our day young men are saved, not by the conviction of sin, but by the conviction of righteousness. That has an air of paradox, but is a great truth. What he meant was that in our day many a man was saved, not by thinking of the horrible pit into which he was in danger of dropping, but of something above him, which he knows Christ would help him to grasp; although I should be inclined to add that the sense of such an ideal which you cannot reach above you is just the very thing to give you a horror of your actual self, and an intense desire to be delivered from the besetting past. Nowhere does imagination do so much for us as when it gives us a vision of our own possibilities, of what we ought to be, and what we may be by the grace of God; or rather, let me put it in this way, the best the imagination ever can do for a man is when it supplies him with an image of Jesus Christ, so enchanting and attractive that he follows Him by an irresistible impulse, and his whole subsequent life becomes one unceasing prayer and effort to be like Him.
()It is pleasant to remember those happy incidents of departed hours, those ever fresh and verdant spots in the desert of life, on which the eye always loves to linger, that it may be for a time refreshed. It is pleasant to recall the features, the tones, the acts of some cherished companions of our earlier days, whose voice shall no more be heard on earth. What a dreary blank were life without it! Many, however, are content with this, and are fully satisfied if they succeed in reproducing the past exactly as in the past it was. Others, however, desire to soar far beyond the mere power of recollecting, and aim at such a rearrangement of the treasures of experience as to produce results far more beautiful than eye has ever seen on earth. They let a fertile and gorgeous imagination so brood over the waters of memory as to call forth a grandeur incomparably greater than the materials from which it has been produced. We might have been so made by our Creator as to have had no such faculty, and thus have been compelled to think the past without alteration of any kind. In His abounding love, however, He has endowed us with the power of using the world of nature merely as materials with which to build another world, with even brighter tints and lovelier forms than those around us. He has enriched us with a creative fancy that can burnish, as with brightest gold, the gloomiest scenes of life; people the hovel with kingly guests, and bring to the martyr's side such celestial visitants as shall transform his dungeon gloom into more than palatial splendour. The religious importance of the imagination is evidenced by the fact that the one Book from which our religious knowledge is obtained is from first to last saturated, as it were, with the most daring flights of fancy, and the boldest figures of imagery. On its every page there lie profusely scattered the fable, the parable, the allegory, the apostrophe, the metaphor. It has laid all nature under tribute, and borrowed pictures from the glittering dew drop, the graceful lily, and the blushing rose. "It weaves garlands for the bleeding brow of Immanuel, the flowers of which have been culled from the gardens of an universe." The instant you divorce religion from imagination you reduce the former to a series of abstract propositions which might enlighten the minds of a few, but would warm the hearts of fewer still. Could the affirmations of a rigid logic ever enable us to grasp Him that is invisible, fling the burdens of our lives on His sympathy, or take us to His side with our every sorrow? We may describe Deity as the Almighty, the Omnipotent, the Absolute, the Infinite, the Unconditioned; and the cultured understanding would assent to the truth of our description. But to the mass of men the words would be utterly unintelligible, and awake no emotion within their breasts. When, however, definition gives place to imagery, and He is pictured to us in familiar forms, all is changed; we now fondly cling to that from which previously we shrank. As we read of Him speaking in loving or, in warning tones, listening to every cry of need, pitying us as a father pitieth his children, holding our soul in life, we go boldly to the throne of grace; bowing, not before a vague product of speculative thought, but before a Father whom we can love and know. Christ, Himself, knowing well how little the majority of men care to use their reason, when the use will not yield them profitable return in terms of bodily comfort, — knowing that to the best even, when we do unfold her pinions and attempt an upward flight, we soon weary with the effort, and find ourselves unable, by her aid alone, to soar beyond the cool zone of thought, passes reason by, and, when appealing to our feelings, speaks of Himself as "The Bread of Life," "The Light of the world," "The True Vine," "The Door into the one true fold." All this presents ideas to the stricken heart that are equally beautiful and equally powerful on young and old, rich and poor, learned and unlearned. Thus He takes the feeblest by the hand and leads them to heights that philosophy and logic never could have climbed. But as the richest soil grows the rankest weeds, so the noblest powers, when perverted and corrupted, work the direst mischief. Of none is this more true than of the imagination. When we darken the chambers of our imagery, and, drawing the curtain of night before the pictures of the Lord, make it the home of idols, saying, "The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth," imagination aids most effectually the conspiracy against the truth, and bolsters the soul amid its cherished lies. It is no mere baseless fancy this vision of Ezekiel, it is a sadly real fact. Who has not some idols in the heart's chamber, and who views them in their actual deformity and folly? If it were possible to tear from the idols of the world every vestige of those spurious attributes with which a vicious imagination has invested them, that they may look like gods, and thus show them as they are in all their real distorted ugliness, the votaries would surely shrink from them in horror and detestation. But there are other evils wrought by this fallen angel within the chamber of our imagery. We know that according to the prevailing habit of our mind, so will be the pictures mostly drawn by us. The voluptuary is ever picturing to himself fresh indulgences, which again in their turn urge him on to their gratification. Thus, therefore, vice vitiates the imagination, and vitiated imagination plunges into deeper vice. That which was given to lighten the chamber of the heart, being thus abused, darkens it into deeper vice. That which was given to lighten the chamber of the heart, being thus abused, darkens it into deeper night. But this faculty further shows its dangerous power in the production of startlingly vivid, but perilously false, pictures of God Himself. How sad is the fact that so many are basing their eternities on a figment of their own fancy, on a creature of their own wild imagination, on a deity not found either in reason or in revelation. May the Light of the world brighten the chambers of their imagery before it be too late forever! But although it may not play thus falsely with the soul, but depict scenes that are faithful to the fact, still evil sometimes flows from this very circumstance. The scenes thus realised may be so full of love, or beauty, or of pathos, that the soul dwelling fondly on the incident may flow into a sort of harmony with it, come to delight in the contemplation, and if the incidents be religious, rest contented with a religion that consists in imagination only. Such, as they read the story of the Cross, will feel as though it were being enacted before their eyes; and they will love to stand and gaze tearfully at the Christ as He raises His head to pray for pardon on His enemies; or they will flash with anger as they see the heartless soldier strike His crown of thorns; and while they gaze with pity, and sigh for suffering so undeserved, will readily persuade themselves that they are disciples of the Master. Does not all this show they are religious? Does it not prove that their sympathies are with Christ and heaven? Does it not demonstrate their interest in the things that concern their salvation? No. It manifests nothing more than this, that they are sensitive to the sublimity of moral heroism, the pleasures of unending joy, the beauties of harmonious sounds. It is right to image our Saviour on the Cross as distinctly as possible, but only that we may rise from the contemplation with firmer resolve to tread in His footsteps. It is not by graceful genuflexions before the cross, aesthetic musings on its thrilling pathos, or sentimental tenderness over its wondrous self-sacrifice, but by talking it up on our own shoulders and following the crucified One that we can become His disciples. If imagination, consequently, no matter how high, or pure, or true, be made an end, it must hinder, even if it does not stop us in our Christian course, for God gave it only as a means to an end beyond itself. A means whereby we may more keenly become impressed with our own defects and sin and guilt; more profoundly view our own hopeless plight; and then, that the hopeless may become the hopeful, more thrillingly behold our Father's character and love, our Christ's great atonement, and the Holy Spirit's eager rushing to our rescue. Imagination — a means to an end. So it is. But although the means be such as God alone could devise or bestow, still, after all, how poor is it compared with the end for which it exists! Eye, ear, and heart may do much, when trained by the Spirit of God, to construct our future home, but "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him."
()One of the gravest charges brought by Ezekiel against his people was that they had covered the walls of the mind with polluted imaginations, and had set the activities of the inward world to base uses. They were condemned for what they did "in the dark" and in their "chambers of imagery." And there are more things done in the dark than in the light, in the inward chamber than in the open street. What is done "in the dark" adds up by its constancy to a great total.
1. Of these toilers in the dark the first perhaps is thought; for it belongs to man to think, and he cannot help thinking if he tries. When the mind has once grasped an idea, as Hugo says, you can no more hinder its return to it than you can the return of the tide to a shore. Try not to think for five minutes, and you are bound to think. When we sleep we think; and when we are chloroformed and every nerve is deadened to physical sensation, we still think.
2. Thought works in the dark, as memory does. Memory is that strange power which recalls the past and helps us to relive it.
3. These faculties are joined by imagination, a gift which some have in great measure and most have in some degree, so that a few are poets and painters and musicians, and most can paint some picture in the mind, and hear or make some music there. The little child sails his paper boat in a pail, and says, "This is Europe and that is America, and here is Columbus going over." And Olive Schreiner says she would rather be a little child and know her way up the staircase of dreams than be the wisest philosopher in the world. These are the faculties that do their ceaseless services in the dark — thought, memory, and imagination. It was the folly and the sin of these men of Israel that what they did in the dark would not bear the scrutiny of the light, and that they made their faculties the instruments of unprofitableness. It is one of the reiterated ideas of Paul that the members of the body are intended to be instruments of righteousness, and the Scriptures abound with directions for them. They are all legislated for in turn, the eye and the hand, the foot and the ear. "Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile." When the members of the body obey such legislation, the open street is full of upright deeds and noble words; and when the senses of the soul do it, the secret chamber becomes a palace of light. Toward the right use of the imagination and kindred qualities the Bible has many appeals. Some of these are direct; but one of them consists in the fact that the Bible itself is sprinkled through with fruits of divinely controlled imagination which make an appeal of their own, just as the books of history and the many pages of counsel and advice appeal by their very presence in the Bible to those practical concerns of which life is full. Let the intensely practical man reflect on the fictions of the Bible. It seems as full of these as life does. This book does not disdain, — it welcomes and immortalises, rather, the fanciful, the poetic, and the imaginative. There are a hundred reasons why the imagination should be used, and the main reason of its misuse is plain enough. It would seem impossible for it to be uncontrolled so long as God remains a reality, and while a recognition of deity and eternity are among the facts of life. "The Lord," said these men of old, "seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth." He did not see their outward acts; and even were He near He was not such a God as could look through the flesh into the chambers of the mind — and these things being so, restraint was gone. Life presents this sight over and over again. When some little lad at school is aware of the master's eye, there comes to him an incentive to diligence; and if the master disappears, though you cannot say the work will cease, yet you are sure that a temptation for it to stop will surely come, "For," says the lad, "the master sees me not." Or suppose you have always at your side some noble, upright friend, clean to the core, clean to the finger-tips! Then, with his presence or the very thought of it there comes a tremendous check to all unworthiness of act or dream, and a certain stimulus to all that is fair without and within. A day, a house, a book, a hymn — will help to people the inward streets with happy troops of white-robed fancies and desires. It is forgetfulness of God's presence that induces sins of secrecy, and takes away the restraints that hinder them; and while outward sins are black enough, who shall say that these are less so? There are open iniquities, done in the sight of men — and a grim brotherhood they are; but there are sins of desire, and a wish may be a transgression and a feeling an iniquity. "Thou shalt not kill," said Moses. Thou shalt not be angry, said Christ. You may think, and sink with every thought you think till you reach the unnameable slums of the intellectual world; and you may choose to remember the unheavenliest things you ever saw or said or did; and you may get pictures painted on the walls of the soul by the painter. Imagination, who has mixed his colours all in hell. Some of the most passionate prayers for pardon have been the outcome of no outward sins, but have been made on account of follies done "in the dark." What any man does "in the dark" is the truest test of his character. It is true that words are an index of the mind, and in some degree reveal the man; but any speaker may so choose his words as to disguise himself, and though it is also certain that a tree is known by its fruits, yet deeds alone are not a perfect test of the man who does them, for we seldom wholly translate into actions our thoughts or schemes, and it is impossible for a painter to put on the canvas all the glory of his original dream. We are no better than our secrets, and these are the last test of us. You cannot judge a man by his public actions; for to many a man the crowd is either a stimulus or a restraint, and in the presence of the multitude he hides himself and wears a mask. But when the day's work is over, follow him to his home, and see how he conducts himself in the semi-secrecy of domestic life; discover his manners in that seclusion; notice how he bears the scrutiny of constant love, and what he does when the alternations of joys and griefs and astonishments of life occur. But even then you do not know him altogether; and you must further ask what his thoughts are, and on what memories he most dwells, and what his actions are when there are none to see. The world is full of short-sighted judgments, and must needs be. It is God alone who judges rightly, who judges by the heart, knowing what is in man. Upon what is done "in the dark" depend our chances of service, and the inward conditions are the fountains of all fruitfulness. Ruskin's doctrine was that no truly great picture ever came or could ever possibly come from the painter with an unclean spirit. He would unconsciously express himself in his picture; the portrait would be his own, and its colours the colours of his soul. What is done in the inward place glorifies or abases all endeavours, and the dominant influences that live there give shape and colour to all our deeds. If that place be the haunt of evil things, it will be strange if some of them do not escape; and if of good, it is certain they will find expression in many a kindly word and gladly finished duty. The secret of serviceableness and the very chance of it lies hidden from all sight like a tree's root. What, then, is the atonement, and what does redemption do? What does it not do? It does not fasten the thief's hand behind his back, or snatch the murderer's knife away, or fetter the wandering feet; for it is God's last reply to a most ancient prayer: "Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me." The ministry of Jesus is to the soul.
Homilist.I. MAN HAS A WONDERFUL POWER OF VISION BEYOND THAT OF THE SENSES. Man's power of mental vision is seen not only in the creation of dreams and the production of poetry, but also in the sorrows of the apprehensive, the joys of the hopeful, the wealth of the avaricious, and power of the ambitious, which live only in the imagination. "The dullest plodder," says Dr. Thomas Brown, "over the obscurest desk, who sums up in the evening his daily tables of profit and loss, and who rises in the morning with the sole object of adding a few ciphers to that book of pounds and pence which contains the whole annual history of his life, — even he, while he half lays down his quill to think of future prices or future demands or future possibilities of loss, has his visions and inspiration like the sublimest poet; visions of a very different kind, indeed, from those to which poets are accustomed, but involving as truly the inspiration of fancy!"
1. Through this power God frequently reveals the greatest truths. All sciences start from hypotheses. The poet catches by intuition that which philosophers organise into systems. This material universe is but spirit in costume, — "a vesture"; its myriads of objects are but eternal thoughts run into palpable forms. Imagination with her keen eyes looks through the garb, sees the Divine ideas, moulds them into shapes of her own, and clothes them in an airy fabric of her own weaving.
2. Through this power man will derive much of his happiness or misery forever. One of our bards has sung in lofty and touching strains of "The Pleasures of the Imagination." Blessed power this! By it the sightless bard of England made for himself a sunny paradise, amidst whose enchanted scenes he struck from his lyre those supernatural strains that shall thrill the ages yet to come. The greatest misery, too, comes out of this. Let the imagination become the creature of a guilty conscience, and it shall create a hell as dark and deep as that which Dante made.
II. THE DEGENERATING TENDENCY IN THE MOST ADVANCED PEOPLE HAS EVER BEEN STRONG. This tendency is sufficient —
1. To repudiate the atheistic notion that the original state of man was that of savagism; and to confirm the Biblical doctrine that "God made man upright, but that he sought out many inventions."
2. To show that it behoves the most advanced people to be humble.
III. THE GREATEST SINS OF HUMANITY ARE GENERALLY THE HIDDEN ONES. Could we open the door of England's soul, as the prophet opened the door of "the chamber of imagery," our opinion of its character, I presume, would be greatly modified if not reversed. We should see selfishness in the benevolent, blood guiltiness in the humane, despotism in the outwardly liberal, lasciviousness in the chaste, arrogance in the humble, infidelity in the pious, idolatry in temples built for God. It is not the hand, nor the tongue, nor any member of the body that performs the act; — the volition is the act.
1. Man has the power to conceal sins.
2. Man as a sinner has the strongest temptations to concealment. The more wicked a man is, the more temptation he has to be a hypocrite. The depraved tradesman, lawyer, physician, and statesman must build a thick wall around their "chamber of imagery," or they could not live.
IV. AN INSIGHT OF THE HIDDEN INIQUITY OF A POPULATION IS A NECESSARY QUALIFICATION FOR A TRUE REFORMER.
1. It serves to impress him with the justice of human suffering.
2. It serves to impress him with the greatness of God's love in redemption.
3. It serves to impress him with the sublime mission of Christianity.It is to go into its most secret chambers, tear down every idol god, carry in the ark, and enthrone the Shekinah, and consecrate the soul a Temple for the Holy Ghost to dwell in.
V. THE MOST HIDDEN SINS ARE DESTINED TO BE EXPOSED.
1. There are certain ways in which hidden sins are exposed, even now.(1) There is temptation. The virtue of some men is but vice sleeping, for the want of something to call it out.(2) There is affliction. One man is thought a model of patience, his temper is never ruffled, there is always a beautiful equanimity about him; but his circumstances change, trials thicken upon him. And now what a change, how restless — how impatient! Another is very benevolent; in comparative poverty he gives his mite readily, and often says if he had so much property how delighted he would be to lay it out in the cause of benevolence: Providence places him in this position, — and the man is a miser.(3) There is moral conviction. When this seizes the soul, all the concealing walls are broken down, and the moral character leaps into light. Job, David, Zaccheus, Peter, the Publican, are examples.
2. There are two kinds of exposure —(1) Unconscious. There are some men, perhaps, around you who have had an insight to your hearts, who, from outer acts, have had a glimpse of your "chamber of imagery"; and have pronounced their judgment, but you know it not. There are angels to whom your spirits are bare: and certain it is that God sees you.(2) Conscious. The eye of a man has a wonderful influence upon the doer of wrong. In the prosecution of his crime let him feel the glance of another upon him, and how will it affect him! In the judgment. day we shall feel all eyes upon us.
VI. A PRACTICAL DISREGARD OF THE CONSTANT PRESENCE AND INSPECTION OF GOD IS AN EXPLANATION OF ALL SIN.
1. Because the realising of God's presence implies supreme love to Him. The being we love supremely we keep close to our hearts. Friends separated by continents, oceans, and even death, love brings near. It is not logic, but love that makes us feel the Infinite near.
2. If they love Him supremely they will have no room in their hearts for idols. Supreme love is a soul-filling power. Where God is loved there is no room for other deities. When the sun is on the eye the stars are not.
()"In the secret chambers" of our own hearts unknown to anyone but oneself, how often we paint before us "the imagery" of unholy thoughts — we allow ourselves to play with the fire brands of evil suggestions; to carry out in imagination those wicked longings of the sinful heart, which God has perhaps, through His great mercy, not allowed us to carry out in fact and act. Thus, alas, many a precious moment of time is wasted. We dream of seeing our enemies cast down, we plan and plot and meditate on schemes of pride or covetousness or selfish enjoyment, and set up "every man" in the chambers of the heart the imagery of guilty desires and foolish vanities. It has been well said, if we had a door in our hearts which let our thoughts be visible, who would dare to look his neighbour in the face? But are there not defences against these devices of the enemy in the armoury of the Great Captain? Yes! they are three in number — Prayer, Watchfulness, and Activity.
()What you love, what you desire, what you think about, you are photographing, printing on the walls of your immortal nature. What are you painting on the chambers of imagery on your hearts? Is that mystic shrine within you painted with such figures as in some chambers of Pompeii, where the excavators had to cover up the pictures because they were so foul? Or is it like the cells in the convent of San Marco at Florence, where Fra Angelico's holy and sweet genius painted on the bare walls — to be looked at, as he fancied, only by one devout brother in each cell — angel imaginings, and noble, pure, celestial faces that calm and hallow those who gaze upon them? What are you doing in the dark, in the chambers of your imagery?
()When a bookcase standing long in one place was removed there was the exact image left on the wall of the whole, and many of its portions. But, in the midst of this picture was another the precise outline of a map, which had hung on the wall before the bookcase was placed there. We had all forgotten everything about the map until we saw its photograph on the wall. Thus, Some day or another, we may remember a sin which has been covered up, when this lower universe is pulled away from before the wall of infinity, where the wrong-doing stands self-recorded.
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