I AM going to speak to you this morning from the 27th Psalm, and to draw these three lessons from it--trustfulness, progress, and patience.
This is the Psalm from which the motto of one of our great universities is taken, "The Lord is my Light," and it is thus a comfort to many.
Among the truths taught us by Revelation two stand out as specially precious, the personal God, and our own eternal personality. People did not know how much they were indebted to the Bible for these two central truths, until the last twenty-five years, when we have been enabled to read the great heathen books of the Eastern Religions, and also the books of the self-centred systems of the ancient western world. The mean lies between the two extremes.
The worship of reason in the West produced the Stoics, and the best that this can do is shown in the person of Marcus Aurelius.
That is all that heathen philosophy can do for man, and what a failure that is! His life was a reproach to the licentious and utterly godless lives around, but still all is vague and uncertain as to the two great central facts--the existence of one God and the immortality of the soul. As a consequence of this, suicide was allowed. And if it is true that there is no God, and no existence after death, when one gets over miserable I cannot see what is to be said; it would not seem to be altogether foolish!
But we know that this little seventy or eighty years is only our preparation for eternity. This is our life in the nursery, our infant schoolroom days, and is it not foolish for a child in the nursery to throw itself on the floor and cry, because it cannot have the doll or the rattle it desires? We know that we have an eternal, personal existence; is it not foolish beyond expression to mar our eternal future, for the sake of eighty or ninety years?
We are more indebted to the Bible than we know for the knowledge of these two great truths. There is a great deal of good advice contained in the books of heathen philosophy. Without the Bible we could have learnt about the four cardinal virtues--prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice--the virtues to make us good citizens, but when we have got as far as that, we can get no further. It is to the Bible that we must go for higher instruction.
Let us go over this Psalm together, given us in the Old Testament, and see in how marked a way it teaches us the true personality of God. It is like the beginning of the 63rd Psalm, "O God, Thou art my God." What a sharp conjunction of personalities! So here, "Seek ye My Face. Thy Face, Lord, will I seek." While there is much that is lovely, and beautiful, and good, and practical, and much which has been capable of being worked into, and assimilated with Christianity, yet the heathen religions are only the work of men's hands! They lack the two great truths of the Bible, the knowledge of the one Personal God, and the eternal personality of the soul, which are brought out so strongly here. They are self-centred. They know nothing of the God Who is above all gods.
To start with we have this sharp declaration of the personality of God, and of David's trust in Him, when everything seemed most against him. So we learn this lesson of trustfulness from the opening verse of the 27th Psalm, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom, then, shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom, then, shall I be afraid?" What individual shall harm me? What Goliath, what Pharaoh, what Nebuchadnezzar, what Herod? What civil power can harm us? It cannot crush us. We know that Herod put S. Peter in prison and killed S. James with the sword, but what happened? He was eaten of worms. That was the end of it. Who need be afraid?
That is in the singular--now we come to the plural. David next speaks of numbers coming against him. "When the wicked, even mine enemies, and my foes came about me, to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell." It is not I who can withstand them. They came rushing in numbers upon me, just as the multitudes came rushing after Israel, but God took off their chariot wheels. It was very easy for God to withstand them. Not any one person, nor any number of people coming against me can make me afraid, if I once realize the Presence of God with me.
Then there is a third degree. "Though an host of men were laid against me, yet shall not my heart be afraid?" This is not only a disorganized band as in the past case, but a trained host of men. "Yet shall not my heart be afraid." I will not be alarmed.
And then there is a fourth degree. "Though war should rise up against me, yet will I put my trust in Him." This represents a national animosity, a whole country rising against him, "Yet put I my trust in the Lord." What individual, what combination of people has ever really harmed one who puts his trust in the Lord? The whole course of history tells us the same. Nebuchadnezzar did much evil to the people of the Lord, but after all he is spoken of as "My servant." The Egyptians persecuted and followed after Israel, but they were drowned in the Red Sea. Sennacherib, King of Assyria, came up against Jerusalem with great hosts, yet he was not allowed to shoot one arrow against it. "The angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and four score and five thousand; and when they arose early in the morning, behold they were all dead corpses." So Sennacherib had to go back again!
No leading heretic has ever been able to work lasting evil against the Church. At one time it seemed to be Athanasius against the world, and the world against Athanasius, but they were all thrust down at the blast of God's displeasure. We need not be afraid of individuals, of any combination of individuals working real mischief to the Church. "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh them to scorn." God shall laugh at all the raging storms of the world. It is like parents, sitting on the seashore watching the sea trying its strength against the rocks, and laughing with pleasure at the fright of the children at the sight. God is not at all anxious about the storms of the world. "God, Who moves all, looks down Himself unmoved," as Dante expresses it.
Then we learn our lesson of progress, "One thing have I desired of the Lord which I will require." One thing. David has quite made up his mind. He knew all the joys of youth. He knew the delight of feeling his own strength in the contest with the lion and the bear, or when he rolled over Goliath. He knew all the enjoyments of life, and health and vigour. He knew what it was to enjoy the applause of his comrades. He knew what it was to lead an army, and to be the leading king among nations. He knew all the joys of music, and might have aspired to be a great musician, and to have all the world listening, hushed, to him as he played. He might have indulged in the vanity of all this. But he says: "One thing have I desired of the Lord." And what was it he so longed for? To give up the world and its fleeting joys, and to learn the lesson of progress. "To dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, and to visit His temple," or "To inquire in His temple." He longed to be able to go into the House of God, and to inquire there. To look at the various things there, and to contemplate their mysterious meaning. To inquire the meaning of this shut off part--of the veil--what is the meaning of it all? Of this pot of manna--what is it? The law--what does it mean? He knew all the joys of youth; of springing from rock to rock; of manly exercises; but he longed to go higher than all that. He longed to inquire the meaning of all these things in the House of the Lord. O, my God, what have I to do with it all?
If you look at the Bible version of this Psalm you will see it is so translated "To inquire in His temple." There, then, is this lesson of progress, and it is what we want just now for ourselves. We are not to think we have got to the end of spiritual things. "Great is the mystery of Godliness--God was manifest in the flesh." Let us contemplate all that.
Then let us throw ourselves into the spirit of the prayers of S. Paul. "That I may know the power of His Resurrection." How does the "power of the Resurrection" come home to me? Do I realize that it has raised all humanity? Then S. Paul prays for the Ephesians that they may know more of the exceeding greatness of His power to reward those who believe, and that the eyes of their heart might be opened. And if we come into church and wish to inquire, we must pray that He will open the eyes of our heart to see the position of Christ, the Great Head of the Church.
And then again, in the third chapter of Ephesians, from the fourteenth verse to the end. This time he prays not that they may know the power of Christ, but His love. "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you according to the riches of His grace, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith: that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fullness of God."'
Now, this is the kind of thing I mean. David went into the House of God to inquire the meaning of the thing's he saw there. The tabernacle was the symbol of the temple, and the temple was the symbol of the Incarnation of our Lord. David longed to find out and to know what it all meant, and so should we.
Let us go into the church and inquire the meaning of the things we see there. The font--what is the meaning of the font? There we were made children of God, members of Christ. Oh, what a change we underwent there! All baptized people are members of Christ. How precious that truth is! Then we are all brethren, and we are all inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. We are all going to be princes, and kings, and priests before God. What a grave responsibility this is, and what love we should all have one for the other! Oh, let us come into church and inquire, and try to see the meaning of all these things.
There is the lectern with the Bible on it. How can I get hold of the truth of God? And there is the altar which tells us of the coming of Christ. Oh, away with the world and all its light joys! Here is something which will lift me higher. Let me be in the House of God and inquire the meaning of all these things. Let me know more of the meaning of the font, and the Bible, and the altar, and then these outward things will teach me of Christ Himself, the rock of ages, and of the water of life flowing from Him, and of the priesthood coming from Him as Head. And I should realize more of His Body the Church. We should inquire more and more, and see what these things mean, and spend more time in searching out what the Bible, and the Church, and the font, and the altar mean.
And when we inquire the meaning of the Church, we see more clearly how she is truly one. The notes of her oneness and purity come out clearly. Oh, the preciousness of that note of purity! She is a Holy Church--each one of her members is meant to reach the fullness of the stature of Christ. If only we could get more time away from the world, and increase in the knowledge of these things more and more! Let us meditate more and more on these notes of the Church.
She is a Holy Church. I must become a more worthy member of her. She is catholic. She embraces the whole world. Let us see to that, and let us all increase in zeal for missionary work.
I wish to thank you all for the help you have given to the Calcutta Mission. I will tell you in few words exactly what we are trying to do there. Five men have gone out from Oxford, of ability and learning, and are taking part in the work now. They have a school for young natives, who are to graduate in the university at Calcutta, and then enter the ministry as priests of the English Church thoroughly educated in point of doctrine. There is a great work to do. They have now twenty youths; two have passed the examination, and have entered the university at Calcutta. So we hope to form a native priesthood, and for that I have been asking your alms. But, of course, Calcutta is only one corner of the missionary field. What one wants is to see the Church really catholic--all over the world. Cannot I inquire of God the meaning of these notes of the Church? Holy--I then must be holy. Catholic--I must embrace the whole world in my sympathies. What can I do for missions? For Bloemfontein--for the islands--to help on any one mission? What can I do to get rid of divisions? Cannot I get more time away from the world, and inquire into the meaning of these things, and try to understand them? What do we mean by these notes? One. Catholic. Holy. How do they come home to ourselves?
With the lessons of trust and progress there is a lesson of patience. "O tarry thou the Lord's leisure; be strong and He shall comfort thine heart, and put thou thy trust in the Lord." There is a very beautiful verse bearing upon this in the 97th Psalm. "There is sprung up a light for the righteous, and joyful gladness for such as are true hearted."
Look at the Bible version of this verse. "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart."
The idea is this. A seed sown in the dark ground lying hid until God's good providence calls it to life. The seed sown lies hid, till in the spring the warm sun, and the soft rain, produce the golden ear and the harvest. The seed is there all the time before God, and when the right moment comes it springs to life. The seed is sown--we may not know it is there--but there it is, and when it is wanted it will come out. We don't always see it, but we shall when it is wanted. "Unto the godly there is sprung up a light in the darkness." That is it exactly--it springs up.
As we are told in the Prophet Ezekiel, "I will seek out My sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in a cloudy and dark day." And in the 17th chapter of Isaiah we are told, "The glory of Jacob shall wax thin; at that day shall a man look to his Maker." In this figure the faith seems almost to have been crushed out, and only two or three seem to be left who believe, as now the old religions are said to be extinct, and reason is to be the only religion.
Then, at that day, look up to thy Maker. See how God will refute all this and show forth His truth. In a dark and cloudy day the seed sown will spring up. It is there. It was sown there at our baptism, and in Christ's light it may grow and flourish to any extent. It may grow brilliant and shine, not only to our own advancement in holiness, but so as to make us guides and leaders to others; so that, through us, His light may shine to others. "Let your light so shine before men." Such light that it may be seen and rejoiced in by the saints of God. But we must have patience. I will leave you with that thought. That is what was in my mind so much to say to you.
We began by speaking of the Church of Thyatira, and of Jezebelism, and I did so because of the unbelief and trouble around us now, and I wanted you to see how God could bring good out of this evil. From the pressure of this unbelief we shall come to understand more about our duty, and what conscience means. We shall prize revelation more highly, and hold on more firmly to the doctrines of the personality of the One God, and the eternal existence of the soul, and the need there is to "kiss the Son lest He be angry." The meaning of all this will, in the end, shine out in clearer light because of this unbelief.
And as to individual work. Any one here may possibly do as great a work for God as Lydia, whose heart the Lord had opened.
We have come to the end of our quiet day. What can I do as a result? One thing I see. I can give up my life increasingly to God, and increasingly visit the House of God, that the eyes of my heart may be opened, and I may see with greater clearness what my duty is. Each one, each man or woman may, like Lydia, do a great work for God, and give substantial help in putting down Jezebelism, and so may each one, receive the reward promised to the Church of Thyatira. "To him that overcometh . . . will I give the morning star." What does that mean? Well, I suppose the morning star means a light which is the forerunner of day. And to all true followers of Christ comes a light which will lead them on to the dawn of that day when all doubt, and mist, and trouble shall be cleared away, and we shall see God in all the beauty of His holiness; and this is the inheritance, the property, of every true member of Christ, every child of God--this perfect satisfaction, this incomparable rest, this endlessly increasing joy which will be ours when the day dawns, and in which we shall live for ever in the unveiled Presence of God! But to attain that we have got to begin by doing our duty!