"FOR ZION'S SAKE WILL I NOT HOLD MY PEACE, AND FOR JERUSALEM'S SAKE I WILL NOT REST, UNTIL THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THEREOF GO FORTH AS BRIGHTNESS, AND THE SALVATION THEREOF AS A LAMP THAT BURNETH." ISAIAH LXII. 1.
THE object of the foregoing lectures has been to trace out in the typical ritual and history of Israel the deliverance of redeemed humanity through CHRIST, and the life which is the true consequence of such redemption. It was shown, first, how the ransomed soul rises by means of death into life, innocent sacrificial death having power through some mysterious unknown law to overcome and do away guilty death. As day by day we "bear about in our body the dying of the LORD JESUS,"--the law of death already accepted, though to be perfectly fulfilled only in our last passage through the veil into the inconceivable light beyond, when our present fleshly state shall have passed away, as it died in Him,--even so "the life also of JESUS," already begun, "is made manifest," manifest in some faint degree even "in our mortal," but to become manifest how much more completely and triumphantly hereafter in our immortal, "body."
We next considered the life arising out of the shroud of death, the ransomed life of the redeemed, which is sustained and increases through GOD'S indwelling Presence, and is united to Him by a threefold cord. Two links of this chain of life, moreover, have been traced. One link, represented by the burnt-offering of the Levitical law, is the spirit of sacrifice, which expresses itself in two ways, distinct but harmonious,--the offering of what GOD has sanctified through the ministrations of His sanctuary, and the moral sacrifice of self-oblation perfected under the discipline of His Providence. The second link represented by the peace-offering of the Levitical law, is the communion which follows the sacrifice, the feeding together of GOD and the redeemed soul; and, as the consequence, the Divine Nature pervading, uplifting, transubstantiating the human into His likeness.
The third link of this threefold cord, is now to be considered as the fitting close of our subject. This third link is the power of prayer.
The necessity of prayer rests on the mysterious fact, that between us and GOD an obstacle exists, which has to be surmounted; that GOD requires to be inclined, or moved favourably towards us, by the means which Himself has ordained for this end. It has been already shown how the power of death, as a dark material shroud, lay on the face of fallen humanity, and needed to be destroyed in order to our redemption. In like manner, though we cannot as yet know the causes or reasons of the mystery which lie far beyond the reach of human experience, or divine revelation,--there are still interposing hindrances in the intercourse between GOD and the soul, even when redeemed, which have to be overcome. There is still need of effort to be exerted to win the blessed results of this great redemption, of force to be brought to bear on the outgoings of the Divine Nature. It is not that the Nature of GOD can be changed, nor yet that any influence can affect Him except according to His own Will, but that His purpose is, to be moved favourably, or not, towards man, according as we pray to Him.
The chapter of Isaiah from which the text is taken, is founded on this truth. It speaks of a glory to be developed in our ransomed and renewed nature, and of a delight in man's union with GOD, of which the fondest natural ties are but earthly shadows. The words throughout imply that the Prophet looked to GOD of His pure grace to kindle this light of His glory within us, and develop this new spiritual life. And then further he adds, that this work of grace depends on an influence to be exercised on GOD by the earnest pressure of prayer, and that this influence is to be continually kept up, nor suffered to rest, till GOD has been overcome by the persevering effort, and has granted the desire.
The chapter opens with the assertion of this consciousness of the power of prayer: "For Zion's sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth." The promised recompense is then declared: "Thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name. Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy GOD. Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate. But thou shalt be called Hephzibah, (delightful,) and thy land Beulah, (married,) for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee; and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride,"--the keenest natural joy being selected by the Spirit as the fittest type of the blessedness of the spiritual union,--"so shall thy GOD rejoice over thee." And then again is urged the power of prayer, and the necessity of its unwearying energy. "I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night; ye that make mention of the LORD, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth." The margin supplies another version of one portion of this last passage. Instead of "ye that make mention of the LORD," the parallel expression is, "ye that are the LORD'S remembrancers." The term strongly represents the action of prayer on the mind or memory of GOD, its reality in bringing before GOD an idea or desire, and in pressing it upon Him; and this declared to be an absolute necessity and condition of success.
In this revelation we see described the third link of our union with GOD. Without it we are still separate from Him. There may be the purest offering brought to the altar. The sacrifice may be duly made. But it cannot rise, it can have no place among heavenly existences, it cannot enter the Heart of GOD, cannot affect His mind, cannot have its part in the life of GOD, unless it be wafted upwards on the wings of prayer, wafted as the utterance of the suppliant soul by an impulse of the desires of love, seeking ardently to find its rest in the Eternal, the Infinite Godhead.
There was in the Temple of Jerusalem a visible manifestation of this vital truth. For fifteen hundred years a most impressive symbolic testimony was presented to the minds of men of the mysterious power of prayer. I speak of the altar of incense. This altar was placed at the uppermost end of the Holy Place, nearest to the Holiest Place, just outside the vail which parted the Holy from the most Holy, and therefore farther in than the altar of Burnt-offering, which was in the court, "before the door of the tabernacle," or Holy Place. On entering the temple there was first the altar of sacrifice, then the altar of incense, and lastly the Shekinah, the Divine Presence, on the mercy-seat between the cherubim over the ark of the Covenant.
The position of the altar of incense was expressly ordered: "Thou shalt put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy-seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee." Its preciousness appeared in this--that it was covered with pure gold, while the altar of sacrifice was covered with brass; "Thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof, and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about."
Year after year, during the entire period of the Mosaic covenant, twice every day, every morning when the Priest dressed the lamps, he was to burn sweet incense on this altar of gold, and every evening when he lighted the lamps at even, he was to burn incense upon it. As with the daily burnt-offering, so with the daily incense, the fire of the morning offering was laid on the yet smoking incense of the evening, and that of the evening on the yet kindled fire of the incense of the day. It was to be, as the Scripture said, "a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations." But the most momentous truth to be noted in reference to the mystery is this, that the "sweet savour" of the burnt-offering could only pass into the Presence of GOD through and by means of the sweet odour of the incense. The altar of the burnt-offering and the altar of incense were in the same line leading up to the Divine Presence, but the altar of incense was the nearest; it was between the altar of burnt-offering, and the Presence. As the flame of the continual burnt-offerings sent up its waves of light circling vapour to diffuse themselves throughout the Holy Place, they passed towards the Holiest Place, and on their passage mingled with the smoke of the incense rising yet nearer to the innermost shrine, and then borne upon its ascending stream they were carried through the vail into the very Holiest of all by its means, the incense-borne savour of the sacrifice penetrating into the secret Presence, where no human foot trod, save that once a year the typical High Priest entered, symbolising the Ascension of our LORD; undisturbed by human voice, unseen by human eye, save on that one solemn day of Atonement. The stream of incense bearing the sweet savour of the sacrifice hovered around the Holy Light above the mercy-seat, rested on it, unceasingly mingled with it, became one with it. It was a manifest symbol of the power of prayer, first, and above all of the prayer of the great Intercessor, ever standing before the Eternal Throne, and next, of all prayer offered in and through His intercession. It symbolised the prevailing power of perpetual prayer, reaching the inner Heart of Deity, surrounding, pervading the Divine Presence, the incense wreaths of prayer circling above, around, the Living GOD, who abiding above the mercy-seat was represented as thus pressed on every side, on one side by His own Covenant and promises of mercy, on the other by the suppliant voices of His Redeemed, the predestined sharers of the glory of His SON, His Beloved.
Prayer was thus shown to be the vehicle of sacrifice, its bearer into heaven, the means by which propitiation reaches and overcomes the Heart of GOD. Through its power of entrance into Heaven, the life which it bears upward becomes a real divine existence, thus obtaining a place and part in the life of Heaven.
To enter into the truth of this new life, we need to embrace and follow two simple principles. (1) All, even the least events of the most common-place course are the materials of the daily offering of GOD'S redeemed ones, because they are, one and all of them, separately and conjointly, expressions of the Divine Will, and form the scene, the occasions and the mode of our probation. Events, whether bright or sad, painful or easy, burdensome or joyous, trifling or momentous, nevertheless all alike, one as much as another, are to be lived in, as manifestations of that holy and perfect Will, are to be done or borne, as replete with the opportunities of a life of grace, and as means of conformity to the mind of CHRIST which is to be fulfilled in us. To ignore this momentous principle, to put it aside, is to deny a particular Providence, to destroy the unity of the Divine purposes in guiding the issues of our redeemed nature. To accept it, is to hold in our hands the clue to the whole practical secret of our spiritual advancement through the discipline of the Providence of GOD, of turning all expressions of His will into means of spiritual progress.
(2) With this, the first, we must needs join the second, and truly kindred principle. These details in which our daily life is cast, are designed to be the subject matter of prayer, as they are also the materials of sacrifice, the separate victims of a life ever offered in all its parts in constant expressions of desire and fervent homage to GOD. They form the substance of the incense which, morning and evening, throughout the day, throughout the night, are to rise before the Holy Presence. By offering all we desire, or think, or do, we are feeding the flames of the perpetual altar fires of the Covenant, and our life thus offered becomes transferred from earth to heaven, from the outer court to the innermost secret shrine, there to live for ever in the remembrance, in the Heart, of GOD.
Connected with the altar of incense in the Temple of Israel, there was another symbol of a yet higher result, of a yet more complete acceptance of the persons of the redeemed, and of their offerings. Near to the altar of incense stood the table of shew-bread. Like the altar of incense, it was overlaid with pure gold. "Thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, and make thereto a crown of gold round about." It was furnished and decked in all respects as a table for a guest. There were upon it dishes, and spoons, and covers, and bowls to cover the table, all "of pure gold shalt thou make them." In the stillness of that secret place, beyond the court into which alone the people were admitted, close to the mercy-seat, the seat of the Divine Presence, only parted from it by the vail out-side which it stood day and night for successive ages, through all the period of the existence of the Mosaic Covenant, that Table was set, prepared for the Unseen Guest, or rather the Master of the place, where He invisibly should feed. On this table were set in order every Sabbath day the twelve loaves of shew-bread, the food of the Invisible GOD within His own abiding place. But the bread was not placed there alone, it was always united with the incense; "Thou shalt set the loaves in two rows, six on a row, upon the pure table before the LORD, and thou shalt put pure frankincense upon each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, even an offering made by fire unto the LORD."
The twelve loaves manifestly represented the twelve tribes of Israel. The loaves were made of fine flour which the people themselves had offered, to become materials to compose the food of GOD. "Every Sabbath" the priest "shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant." The people, every tribe, and in each tribe each individual of the tribe, had his share in offering the fine flour of which this bread of GOD was to be made. But only when the pure frankincense, the emblematic symbol of the merits of the great Intercessor who was to come, was put on it, the offering was complete. It was then, as the Scripture says, "most holy of the offerings of the LORD made by fire by a perpetual statute." The shew-bread when overlaid with the incense, was the representation before GOD in His secret place of abode, of the whole people of GOD sanctified by, instinct with, meritorious prayer. Their persons, and all they could offer, the faithful themselves, and all they had of faithful service, united with the ever-offered prayer, became the food of GOD, abiding continually in His Presence.
As in the burnt-offering each one of the Faithful, though far away, was in the Temple being consumed in the flames of the oblation,--wherever he wandered, still ever there represented, morning after morning, evening after evening,--even so in the shew-bread, the yet higher mystery, each one by a like representation was taken up nearest to the inmost Presence, each one member in every tribe presented before GOD, and laid, and ever lying spread out before Him, to become the delightful food of the Unseen, the ever-present GOD, even in His Holy Place. This table of GOD was to the Israelite the symbol of the complete blessedness of their offered, their sacrificed life. It was the assurance to every one of his acceptance already secured, of his translation to the highest innermost sphere of life, of the delight which GOD had in him, of his presence and rest in the Divine Heart, of his presence in GOD as a satisfying food, even as himself below feeding on the sacrifice which he had offered to Him on His altar, became, even under the earlier dispensation in some imperfect degree at least, a partaker of Him Whom he adored, as the perfected result of the accepted sacrifice.
When we consider that these provisions of the Jewish Temple were no mere imaginings of the gifted Prophet; but were made carefully "after the patterns of heavenly things showed to Moses in the mount," they set before us a conviction, beyond what words can express, of the greatness of redeemed human life when truly offered to GOD, of the worth of human sacrifice when duly made, of what redeemed man is, and may become, with GOD; of the completeness of the union of the human with the Divine, the marvellous mutual incorporation, the marvellous mutual feeding and assimilation of each in the other's life, the satisfying in each of a real hunger.
To the Israelite indeed all this was comparatively at least but a symbol, or but very partially a reality of grace. [Mr. Freeman argues with great weight of reason for the real, though imperfect effects of the ordinances of the Levitical law of sacrifice, in opposition to the view ordinarily taken, that they were simply typical.] But to us it is not so; for the shadows have fled away. "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by JESUS CHRIST." Under these symbols therefore we have before us the aspect of our present life having reached its highest point of development, a glory that can indeed be perfected only hereafter, but which exists in a measure even now as we are on earth; a glory which faith anticipating beholds as already possessed, commencing with the presentation of our ransomed souls and bodies, and the offering of our everyday life disciplined under the Providence of GOD, instinct with an indwelling grace of hidden Deity, united with the One availing Sacrifice for the world, translated and uplifted by prayer, and laid before GOD, not merely to be contemplated by Him, but to be fed upon, to be delighted in, to become an unceasing object of rest and satisfaction to the Everlasting, within His own inscrutable Being, as food passes into our substance and becomes one with it.
We may here pause,--but before closing the last of this series of lectures, I would, though it can only be cursorily, consider some of the chief outward hindrances which meet us in carrying out in practical reality the principles of life which we have surveyed in theory.
The world presents the first hindrance, meeting us in the opening of our course, and lasting even to the end. Its vastness, its compactness, its imperial sway, its assumed infallibility, its remorseless and resistless force, its presence penetrating everywhere even into the most retired homes, its compassing us about in every movement, its state and grandeur; its plausibility, its dazzling brilliancy, its intense excitement, its unwearied zeal in enlisting in its cause intellect, beauty, affection, passion, expediency, ease; and (still more fearful power!) its falling in so triumphantly with every human weakness, passion, folly, desire; its unceasing readiness to gratify self in every form,--all this gives to the world, its traditions, its proverbs, its assertions, an advantage which has ever made it, next to our own rebellious deceitful hearts, the chief source of peril to the redeemed. It is not, however, of the grossness of the world's sin, or the craving of its ambition, or the grasp of its covetousness, that I would here speak, so much as of its stealthier, its more specious forms of seduction, which seem less evil in appearance or in individual detail, but yet are as fatal in their possible results. The softening away all high religious ideas under the plea of extravagance or unreality; the constant suppressing of all definiteness of truth under the fear of being extreme; the bringing natural affections and natural duties into such an overwhelming preponderance in the scale against the impulses of the religious instincts, and even of the Divine vocations; the magnifying of the things of the mere passing hour to the detriment of things eternal, and of conventional courtesies to the setting aside of the simplicity of truth,--how constantly are such influences at work gradually sapping away and deteriorating a once holy zeal, or accommodating to lower aims a once pure heavenly love. How surely moreover do these influences co-operate in the soul itself with its own natural infirmities, shrinkings, fears, and the constant pressure tending downwards of the lower self ever ready to yield to the supposed necessity, or the seemingly unanswerable excuse. Yet worse again and more fatal is the supposed success which the world claims in reconciling earnest religion, frequent communions and daily services, with the old frivolities and love of pleasure,--the double life, of fervent offerings within the sanctuary, and eager seeking after natural excitement or gay or vacant self-indulgence, thus at the same time satisfying or seeming to satisfy the craving after GOD by a partial surrender of time and thought, which costs little, and to sanctify, or at least neutralise the evil of, the old tastes and desires of the natural self, so as to lull the conscience, and yet spare the necessity of effort and self-sacrifice,--the easy and outwardly decorous habits which so often thrive in the perfumed atmosphere of a fashionable religion.
How surely, how fatally, do such influences tend to depress and check the development of heavenly aspirations, the goings forth of supernatural power, the apprehension of unseen things, the elements of a life of pure faith and divine love! The hindrances which such influences raise up, though presenting themselves in petty details, and quickly passing incidents, can nevertheless be met and overcome only by a firmness and endurance of trial like, if not equal, to the faith which sustained the confessors of earlier days,--a texture of soul such as Holy Scripture bids us cherish, when it warns us, that "the world still lieth in wickedness," and that "all who will live godly in CHRIST JESUS must suffer persecution."
2. Another hindrance peculiar to ourselves, arises from the proximity of the Church of Rome. It could not but be expected, that a body so powerful, so closely pressing upon us, and alas! so opposed to us, should exercise a great influence on the mind. I do not here speak of its power in drawing from our side some whom we can ill spare, and whose parting from us is full of pain, to whom Rome's peculiar system seems so specially attractive,--but rather of the continual fears which it excites in so many as to the tendencies of all sacramental teaching; of the reaction it causes against higher views of life and devotion than are common among us, because of their supposed hopeless identification with what is rightly deemed error. How constantly is high doctrine, while acknowledged to be Catholic and of primitive and patristic authority, as e.g. concerning the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, the Sacrifice of the Altar, the Priesthood, or the Ordinance of Confession,--rejected, or shunned, or at least discouraged, because it is found difficult to distinguish the truth on such questions from certain additions, or developments, against which we are bound to protest. And as it is with doctrine, so also with principles of life. Have we not cause for regret and anxiety, because high views of self-sacrifice, and desires of self-devotion rising above ordinary domestic duties and vocations in the world, the mystic graces of virginity, or poverty, the permanent self-consecration to the love and imitation of CHRIST in a course of service, separate from all earthly ties, the life of contemplation and continual prayer, the spending and being spent in spiritual works of mercy, the choice perhaps of loneliness for heavenly companionship, of temporal loss for eternal treasures,--because such aspirations are hindered and opposed, sometimes even quenched and ruined, out of mere misapprehension and confusion arising from the habit of viewing such aims only in connexion with abuses which we rightly deplore, and thus rejecting, it may be, the very inspirations of the HOLY GHOST, or at least stinting His gracious movements within the souls of His elect?
How are such hindrances to the progress of true religion to be overcome, unless, while steadfastly witnessing for the truth, for its soberness and simplicity, and for the faithful loyal observance of our own fixed principles, we at the same time cherish an intensely earnest watchfulness for the guidings of the SPIRIT of GOD abiding in us; a sincere reverence for all that ever professes to be, or may be, of GOD, lest we be found fighting against Him, and an assurance that whatever is eternal must be greater than what is temporal, whatever is unseen more precious than what is seen; a confidence in our own portion of the Church, as possessing powers of development of grace, to meet the real cravings of all devout minds, power of adapting to itself, and making its own, all that is holy, all that is great; the putting away prejudice, fear, mere antagonism, or groundless suspicions, and casting ourselves trustfully and lovingly wherever Holy Scripture, and primeval example point the way, believing that the Gift of Pentecost with all Its manifold diversities of life is imperishable, and undecayed; that it is not limited to the narrow channel of a single Apostolic See, however venerable, but has its Presence in the Body of the Church, and in all its members, binding us now, as at the beginning, and as straitly, to uphold the truth and the callings of GOD at any cost in their fulness equally as in their simplicity, not counting our lives dear to us, so that we "may finish our course with joy, and the ministry which we have received of the LORD JESUS, to testify the Gospel of the grace of GOD."
3. Once more. The unbelief, or unrestrained scepticism, which is everywhere around us, which even when not fully prevailing, or acknowledged, yet lurks beneath the lax indifference to truth, the questioning as to dogma, the resistance to all authoritative teaching, so characteristic of the aspect of modern thought, this vague liberalism has a direct tendency to lower the tone of practical life, to disparage high aims, and to reduce vocations of the HOLY GHOST to the same uncertainty which besets doctrine. There is the closest possible connexion between faith in the outward, and faith in the inward, revelations of the Spirit; between definiteness of truth, and distinctive vocations of life. Scepticism always tends downwards, and settles upon lower and lower views, till mere reason supplies the principles, to which alone the mind submits. A corresponding tendency as to practical points resents every aim of life above its own, and sinks to the level of mere natural morality, because the natural apprehension becomes the standard by which everything is at last tried. When miracles are easily set aside even in the case of our LORD, it is no wonder that lives of supernatural grace in His elect, which soar above the ordinary standard of the world, are readily discountenanced as extravagant and deluded. When our LORD'S own Divine life is become a matter of dispute, still more may we expect such incredulity to question the claims of a Divine life in His servants.
And how can this hindrance be removed, but by much prayer for ourselves, and. for our brethren, that the gift of faith may be increased, the love of truth and the consciousness of the Invisible be restored; that, as it was in the days when the foundations of the Church of GOD were laid by those into whose labours we have entered, so we may be revived through the fresh outpouring of the Spirit promised to the Church in her latter days. And most surely the same grace is to be looked for now, as of old. Time lessens not the wondrous work of GOD, nor diminishes His fulness. The river that flows from beneath the Throne of GOD flows on still, refreshing the Holy City as of old. "The LORD'S Hand is not shortened, that He should not save, neither His ear heavy, that He should not hear." But GOD waits for His remembrancers," for the pleading of the eternal Sacrifice, for the pressure of the prayer of faith; and He will surely, "because of our importunity." yet again revive us in the midst of our days, for "even unto your old age I am He, and even to hoar hairs will I carry you." It is the effect of passing time to dull the freshness of the first lights of faith, and relax the earnestness of first impressions. But GOD changes not, nor is the lapse of time known in Heaven. Life is there an everlasting present, and the outgoings of the Spirit are to-day, as they were at the beginning. The glory of our LORD is to us the everlasting, unvarying assurance of the undiminished fulness of His love and of the power of His grace. Only we need increased faith and rest in this assurance. We need a more perfect trust in the fulfilment of His promises. We need to rise above the distractions, and constraints of outward things; above our own scruples and fears, casting ourselves more simply, more unreservedly upon GOD, upon the powers of the world to come. "Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting GOD, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of His understanding. He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fail. But they that wait on the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."