Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shall you dwell in the land, and truly you shall be fed.…
It would be good to know how many of us assembled here for Christian worship this morning really believe that saying of the psalmist to be true; and how many of us shrug invisible shoulders, and regard it merely as a pious sentiment entirely unsupported by the facts of life I In every considerable assembly of men and women there must be many disappointed hearts. For the most part they are silent as well as disappointed. "The heart knoweth its own bitterness," and when it is kindly it has no temptation to spill its gall into the sweetness of another life. Well, you are not going to break out into any violent form of revolt. You are not built like that. You have no intention of labelling yourself an agnostic. You don't mean to sneer at religion, or openly renounce belief in Christ! It is absurd to talk about the unbelief of the outside world, while there is such a lack of vital faith in the hearts of so many spiritually-minded Christian worshippers! The calm, confident Master of our life bids us — by all His life and teaching He bids us — "Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and follow after faithfulness; delight ourselves also in the Lord"; and all this with unshakable assurance that He shall give us the desires of our hearts. The true Christian experience makes all the coldness of stoicism an impossibility. Standing on the vantage-ground of love in the present, the believer in Christ is able, like his Master, to survey the past with hope and the future with faith. And now, seeing that we are all sharers more or less in the experience of failure and disappointment, and are thus all liable to moods of cynicism and lack of faith, let me ask you to consider about the Christian attitude towards the past — the present — and the future.
I. THE CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE PAST. It is the attitude of hope. Hope for the past? Yes. It is an attitude taken up in full response to the psalmist's words, "Trust in the Lord," but with reasons and impulses behind it greater than the psalmist ever knew[ All cynicism is rooted in past failure and disappointment, is it not? The young, with life and the world all before them where to choose, are never cynical. At least, never at first hand: they learn a second-hand language of cynicism sometimes I No; it is the Adam-experience in every man which begets a cynical disbelief in the godly meaning of life; the experience of the hatefulness of a tiling that has happened — a deed that is done, and its inevitable consequences. It was Milton, you remember, who put into Adam's mouth the apparently hopeless words,
"The past who can recall, or done undo?
Not God omnipotent nor fate."
And it is surely well that we should early recognize the awful responsibility that attaches to every action of our complex human life. Yet, according to the old Genesis story, the glorious promise of redemption was mingled with the pronouncement of man's punishment! Sin, failure, disappointment bulk so largely in the past that it is not surprising they should cast their shadows over the. present. Friends, it is these shadows of the past which must be subdued and driven away by hope. Maeterlinck has written a wonderful essay on "The Past," which contains the very essence of the hope of Christian Gospel. Here is a paragraph of it, "'The past is past,' we say, and it is false; the past is always present .... 'Nothing can wipe out the past,' we say, and it is false; the least effort of will sends present and future travelling over the past to efface whatever we bid them efface .... 'My past is wicked, it is sorrowful, empty,' we say again, 'as I look back I can see no moment of beauty, of happiness or love; I see nothing but wretched ruins ....' And that is false; for you see precisely what you yourself place there at the moment your eyes rest upon it. Our past depends entirely upon our present, and is constantly changing with it .... Our chief concern with the past, that which truly remains and forms part of us, is not what we have done, or the adventures we have met with, but the moral reactions bygone events are producing within us at this very moment, the inward being they have helped to form." Now, the events of life constantly happening around us assure us that this is so. Look at those definite acts of sin committed in moments of sudden impulse by young people who seem to have been afflicted by an almost incurable lightness and frivolity of mind and heart. Well, they are done, beyond recall — they are of the past. Are they, therefore, changeless? Has the sinner who has committed them no control over them? True, they must go on working out some consequences which he cannot control; but he can still make of them for himself what he will. By his present attitude towards them they become either stones to roll upon the tomb of his own moral and spiritual life, or stones — like Jacob's pillow — whereon, lying down in repentance, he shall have visions of the angels of God ascending and descending upon the still possible upward-sloping stairway whose top reaches to heaven. Many a moral defeat has been the first awakening of a soul to the possibility of a moral victory. And as it is with past sin, so it may be with past sorrow, past failure, past disappointment. The Christian attitude of hope has power to transfigure and change them all! There is no sorrow which cannot be turned into joy. "Trust in the Lord." That grave you dug in the past was not so much a place of burial for earth's joy, as a sowing-ground for heaven's spiritual fellowship. You are better, if you have not allowed yourself to become worse, for being compelled to face the grimmest reality of earth's experience; and your dear one is worthier to be loved, having passed that holy way! That good thing you tried but failed to do is not the symbol of your weakness and ineffectiveness. Never think it. It is the indelible mark of your divine doom to future achievement! Every statue, every picture, every poem in the world is some artist's failure! Do you imagine that the painter found the sunset his spirit had seen in the sky, when he spread the colours of his palette on the canvas? Never. We can afford to fail in learning the way to succeed! That disappointment of yours, I care not what it was, was no proof that the best good is a delusion. The mirage of the desert is not a proof that there is no water anywhere. "Trust in the Lord," and regard your past — whatever it may contain — in the attitude of hope.
II. THE CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE PRESENT. It is an attitude of love! "Do good," says the psalmist. "Dwell in the land .... Delight thyself also in the Lord." That is what you have to do now. The attitude of hope towards the past is strictly conditional upon the attitude of love towards the present. You and I are not likely to "trust in the Lord" about that strangely mysterious past of ours, if we feel no impulse to love Him to-day. "Dwell in the land!" Well, we must. Here we are. In some fashion or other we are occupying the land of our inheritance. "Dwell in the land," is not so much an invitation as a command. We cannot help ourselves. Well, then, "Do good Delight thyself in the Lord." There is one command there, not two. The man who does good because it is good, and because he loves the good when he sees it, does delight himself in the Lord, whether he knows it or not. There are not two opinions in this church this morning about doing good. When the good and the evil course of action lie clearly before us we all know we ought to do the good, and in our heart of hearts we all desire to do it, and feel convicted of sin if we refuse. And the harder it is to do the good in the face of temptation to do the evil, the deeper and more abiding is that mysterious glow of gladness with which our hearts are so strangely warmed. That glow of gladness just means that, at such times, whether we recognize it or not, in doing good we are delighting ourselves in the Lord. "Delight thyself also in the Lord!" Ah, well, that was easy a week ago, in the time of our sunshine, but not how! Then be very sure that you were not delighting yourself in the Lord a week ago, if you cannot do it now. You may have been delighting yourself in something pleasant He had given you. That is something very different from delighting yourself in Him.
III. THE CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE FUTURE. It is the attitude of faith. "Follow after faithfulness And He shall give thee the desire of thine heart." "Feed upon faithfulness," the margin says, that is, nourish your inner life with this spiritual food — "Faithfulness." What is exactly this attitude of faith towards the future? Let me answer you by quoting a beautiful passage I read the other day. A party of travellers was driving through lovely scenery within sight of the blue waters of the Mediterranean; one of them writes: "A short distance away, as we looked under the olive trees, across the ruddy clods and accidental wild flowers, were the innumerable dimples of the amiable sea .... 'Is it always like this?' asked Lamia. 'Far from it,' I was going to reply; but the Poet anticipated me. 'Yes, always, Lamia; always, always, always!' "No one deserves to travel who anticipates anything less agreeable than he is enjoying at the moment. Ah, then, this faith is self-delusion, after all, some of you will say. No, faith is the belief that the good and the beautiful must find issue in the best and the perfect! It is the assurance of the old poet Walt Whitman, who, looking back over a long life's work, set down as his last words,
Parallel VersesKJV: Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.