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THE GENTLENESS OF GOD.
“Thy gentleness hath made me great.”—Ps. xviii. 35.
Gentleness in a deity—what other religion ever took up such a thought? When the coarse mind of sin makes up gods and a religion by its own natural light, the gods, it will be seen, reveal both the coarseness and the sin together, as they properly should. They are made great as being great in force, and terrible in their resentments. They are mounted on tigers, hung about with snakes, cleave the sea with tridents, pound the sky with thunders, blow tempests out of their cheeks, send murrain upon the cattle, and pestilence on the cities and kingdoms of other gods—always raging in some lust or jealousy, or scaring the world by some vengeful portent.
Just opposite to all these, the great God and creator of the world, the God of revelation, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, contrives to be a gentle being; even hiding his power, and withholding the stress of his will, that he may put confidence and courage in the feeling of his children. Let us not shrink then from this epithet of scripture, as if it must imply some derogation from God’s real greatness and majesty; 29 for we are much more likely to reach the impression, before we have done, that precisely here do his greatness and majesty culminate.
What then, first of all, do we mean by gentleness? To call it sweetness of temper, kindness, patience, flexibility, indecisiveness, does not really distinguish it. We shall best come at the true idea, if we ask what it means when applied to a course of treatment? When you speak, for example, of dealing gently with an enemy, you mean that, instead of trying to force a point straight through with him, you will give him time, and ply him indirectly with such measures and modes of forbearance as will put him on different thoughts, and finally turn him to a better mind. Here then is the true conception of God’s gentleness. It lies in his consenting to the use of indirection, as a way of gaining his adversaries. It means that he does not set himself, as a ruler, to drive his purpose straight through, but that, consciously wise and right, abiding in his purposes with majestic confidence, and expecting to reign with a finally established supremacy, he is only too great to fly at his adversary, and force him to the wall, if he does not instantly surrender; that, instead of coming down upon him thus, in a manner of direct onset, to carry his immediate submission by storm, he lays gentle seige to him, waiting for his willing assent and choice. He allows dissent for the present, defers to prejudice, watches for the cooling of passion, gives room and space for the weaknesses of our unreasonable and perverse habit to play themselves out, and so by leading 30 us round, through long courses of kind but faithful exercise, he counts on bringing us out into the ways of obedience and duty freely chosen. Force and crude absolutism are thus put by; the irritations of a jealous littleness have no place; and the great God and Father, intent on making his children great, follows them and plies them with the gracious indirections of a faithful and patient love.
It is scarcely necessary to add that there are many kinds of indirection, which are wide, as possible, of any character of gentleness. All policy, in the bad sense of the term, is indirection. A simply wise expedient has often this character. But the indirections of God are those of a ruler, perfectly secure and sovereign, and their object is, not to turn a point of interest for himself, but simply to advance and make great the unworthy and disobedient subjects of his goodness.
This character of gentleness in God’s treatment, you will thus perceive, is one of the greatest spiritual beauty and majesty, and one that ought to affect us most tenderly in all our sentiments and choices. And that we may have it in its true estimation, observe, first of all, how far off it is from the practice and even capacity generally of mankind. We can do almost any thing more easily than consent to use any sort of indirection, when we are resisted in the exercise of authority, or encounter another at some point of violated right.
There is a more frequent approach to gentleness, in the parental relation, than any where else among men. 31 And yet even here, how common is the weak display of a violent, autocratic, manner, in the name of authority and government. Seeing the child daring to resist his will, the parent is, how often, foolishly exasperated. With a flush of anger and a stern, hard voice, he raises the issue of peremptory obedience; and when, either by force or without, he has carried his way, he probably congratulates himself that he has been faithful enough to break his child’s will. Whereas, raising an issue between his own passions and his child’s mere fears, he is quite as likely to have broken down his conscience as his will, unnerving all the forces of character and capacities of great manhood in him for life. Alas how many parents, misnamed fathers and mothers, fancy, in this manner, that when self-respect is completely demolished in their poor defenseless child, the family government is established. They fall into this barbarity, just because they have too little firmness to hold their ground in any way of indirection or gentleness. They are violent because they are weak, and then the conscious wrong of their violence weakens them still farther, turning them, after the occasion is past, to such a misgiving, half apologizing manner, as just completes their weakness.
It will also be observed, almost universally, among men, that where one conies to an issue of any kind with another, matters are pressed to a direct pointblank Yes or No. If it is a case of personal wrong, or a quarrel of any kind, the parties face each other, pride against pride, passion against passion, and the hot endeavor 32 is to storm a way through to victory. There is no indirection used to soften the adversary, no waiting for time, nothing meets the feeling of the moment but to bring him down upon the issue, and floor him by a direct assault. To redress the injury by gentleness, to humble an adversary by his own reflections, and tame his will by the circuitous approach of forbearance and a siege of true suggestion—that is not the manner of men, but only of God.
True gentleness, we thus perceive, is, a character too great for any but the greatest and most divinely tempered souls. And yet how ready are many to infer that, since God is omnipotent, he must needs have it as a way of majesty, to carry all his points through to their issue by force, just as they would do themselves. What, in their view, is it for God to be omnipotent, but to drive his chariot where he will. Even Christian theologians, knowing that he has force enough to carry his points at will, make out pictures of his sovereignty, not seldom, that stamp it as a remorseless absolutism. They do not remember that it is man, he that has no force, who wants to carry every thing by force, and that God is a being too great for this kind of infirmity; that, having all power, he glories in the hiding of his power; that holding the worlds in the hollow of his hand, and causing heaven’s pillars to shake at his reproof, He still counts it the only true gentleness for Him to bend, and wait, and reason with his adversary, and turn him round by His strong Providence, till. he is gained to repentance and a volunteer obedience.33
But God maintains a government of law, it will be remembered, and enforces his law by just penalties, and what room is there for gentleness in a government of law? All room, I answer; for how shall he gain us to his law as good and right, if he does not give us time to make the discovery of what it is? To receive law because we are crammed with it, is not to receive it as law, but only to receive it as force, and God would spurn that kind of obedience, even from the meanest of his subjects. He wants our intelligent, free choice, of duty—that we should have it in love, nay have it even in liberty. Doubtless it is true that he will finally punish the incorrigible; but He need not therefore, like some weak, mortal despot, hurry up his force, and drive straight in upon his mark. If he were consciously a little faint-hearted he would, but he is great enough in his firmness to be gentle and wait.
But some evidence will be demanded that God pursues any such method of indirection, or of rectoral gentleness with us. See then, first of all, how openly he takes this altitude in the scriptures.
When our first father breaks through law, by his act of sin, he does not strike him down by his thunders, but he holds them back, comes to him even with a word of promise, and sends him forth into the rough trials of a world unparadised by guilt, to work, and suffer, and learn, and, when he will, to turn and live. The ten brothers of Joseph are managed in the same way. When they could not speak peaceably to him, 34 or even endure his presence in the family, God lets them sell him to the Egyptians, then sends them down to Egypt, by the instigations of famine, and passes them back and forth with supplies to their father, allowing them to feed even the life of their bodies out of Joseph’s bounty, till finally, when he is revealed as their brother and their father’s son, they are seen doing exactly what they had sworn in their wrath should never be done—bowing their sheaf to the sheaf of Joseph. Here too is the solution of that very strange chapter of history, the forty years’ march in the wilderness. The people were a slave-born people, having all the vices, superstitions, and unmanly weaknesses, that belong to slavery. God will not settle his land with such, and no thunders or earthquakes of discipline can drive the inbred weakness suddenly out of them. So he takes the indirect method, puts them on a milling of time and trial, marches them round and round to ventilate their low passions, lets some die and others be born, till finally they become quite another people, and are fitted to inaugurate a new history.
But I need not multiply these minor examples, when it is the very genius of Christianity itself to prevail with man, or bring him back to obedience and life by a course of loving indirection. What we call the gospel is only a translation, so to speak, of the gentleness of God—a matter in the world of fact, answering to a higher matter, antecedent, in the magnanimity of God. I do not say that this gospel is a mere effusion of divine sentiment apart from all counsel and government. It 35 comes by counsel older than the world’s foundations. The salvation it brings is a governmental salvation. It is, at once, the crown of God’s purposes and of his governmental order. And the gentleness of God must institute this second chapter of gracious indirection, because no scheme of rule could issue more directly in good without it. For it was impossible in the nature of things that mere law—precept driven home by the forces of penalty—should ever establish a really principled obedience in us. How shall we gladly obey and serve in love, which is the only obedience having any true character, till we have had time to make some experiments, try some deviations, sting ourselves in some bitter pains of trials, and so come round into the law freely chosen, because we have found how good it is; and, what is more than all, have seen how good God thinks it himself to be, from what is revealed in that wondrous indirection of grace, the incarnate life and cross of Jesus. Here the very plan is to carry the precept of law by motives higher than force; by feeling, and character, and sacrifice. We could not be driven out of sin by the direct thrust of omnipotence; for to be thus driven out is to be in it still. But we could be overcome by the argument of the cross, and by voices that derive a quality from suffering and sorrow. And thus it is that we forsake our sins, at the call of Jesus and his cross, freely, embracing thus in trust, what in willfulness and ignorance we rejected.
Nor does it vary at all our account of this gospel, that the Holy Spirit works concurrently in it, with 36 Christ and his cross. For it is not true, as some Christian teachers imagine, that the Holy Spirit works conversion by a direct, soul-renewing fiat or silent thunder-stroke of omnipotence. He too works by indirection, not by any short method of absolute will. Working efficiently and, in a certain sense, immediately in the man, or subject, he still circles round the will, doing it respect by laying no force upon it, and only raising appeals to it from what he puts in the mind, the conscience, the memory, the sense of want, the fears excited, the aspirations kindled. lie moves upon it thus by a siege, and not by a fiat, carries it finally by a process of circumvallation, commonly much longer even than the ministry of Jesus. He begins with the child, opening his little nature to gleams of religious truth and feeling—at the family prayers, in his solitary hours and dreams, in the songs of praise that warble on the strings of his soul, and among the heavenly affinities of his religious nature. And thenceforward he goes with him, in all the future changes and unfoldings of his life, turning his thoughts, raising tender questions in him, working private bosom scenes in his feeling, forcing nothing, but pleading and insinuating every thing good; a better presence keeping him company, and preparing, by all modes of skill and holy inducement, to make him great, So that, if we could follow a soul onward in its life-history, we should see a Spirit-history running parallel with it. And when it is really born of God, it will be the result of what the Spirit has wrought, by a long, and various, and subtle, and 37 beautiful process, too delicate for human thought to trace.
Holding this view of God’s gentleness in the treatment of souls, and finding even the Christian gospel in it, we ought also to find that his whole management of us and the world corresponds. Is it so—is there such a correspondence?
See, some will say, what terrible forces we have ravening and pouring inevitably on about us day and night—roaring seas, wild hurricanes, thunder-shocks that split the heavens, earthquakes splitting the very world’s body itself, heat and cold, drought and deluge, pestilences and deaths in all forms. What is there to be seen but a terrible, inexorable going on, still on, everywhere. The fixed laws everywhere refuse to bend, hearing no prayers, the great worlds fly through heaven as if slung by the Almighty like the smooth stone of David, and the atoms rush together in their indivertible affinities, like the simples of gunpowder touched by fire, refusing to consider any body. Where then is the gentleness of such a God as we have signaled to us, in these unpitying, inexorable, fated, powers of the world? Is it such a God that moves by indirection? Yes, and that all the more properly, just because these signs of earth and heaven, these undiverted, undivertible, all-demolishing and terrible forces permit him to do it. He now can hide his omnipotence, for a time, just at the point where it touches us; he can set his will behind his love, for to-day and possibly to-morrow; 38 simply because he has these majestic inexorabilities for the rear-guard of his mercies. For we can not despise him now, when he bends to us in favor, because it is the bending, we may see, of firmness. Able to use force, he can now use character, and time, and kindness. Real gentleness in Him, as in every other being, supposes counsel, order, end, and a determinate will. A weak man can be weak and that is all. Not even a weak woman can be properly called gentle. No woman will so much impress others by her gentleness, when she is gentle, as one that has great firmness and decision. And so it is the firm, great God, he that goes on so inflexibly in the laws, and the inexorable forces and causes of the creation—He it is that can, with so much better dignity, gentle himself to a child or a sinner.
See then how it goes with us in God’s management of our experience. Doing every thing to work on our feeling, temperament, thought, will, and so on our eternal character, He still does nothing by direct impulsion. It is with us here, in every thing, as it was with Jonah when the Lord sent him to Nineveh. It was a good long journey inland, but Jonah steers for Joppa, straight the other way, and there puts to sea, sailing off upon it, and then under it, and through the belly of hell, and comes to land nobody knows where. After much perambulation, he gets to Nineveh and gives his message doggedly, finally to be tamed by a turn of hot weather and the wilting of a gourd. Just so goes the course of a soul whom God is training for obedience 39 and life. It may be the case of a young man, setting off willfully, with his face turned away from God. Whereupon God lets him please himself a little in his folly, and finally pitch himself into vice, there to ]earn, by the bitter woes of his thraldom, how much better God is to him than he is to himself, how much worthier of trust than he ever can be to himself. Or he takes, it may be, a longer course with him—gives him a turn of sickness, then of bankruptcy, then of desertion by friends, then of slander by enemies, taming thus his pride, sobering his feeling, making the world change color, but not yet gaining him to the better life. Then he fetches him out of his disasters by unexpected. vindications and gifts of mercy, such as soften unwontedly the pitch of his sensibilities. A faithful Christian wife, gilding his lot of adversity before, by her gentle cares, and quite as much, his recovery now, by the beautiful spirit she has formed in his and her children, by her faithful training—making them an honor to him as to herself—wins upon his willful habit, melts into his feeling, and operates a change in his temperament itself. Meantime his years will have been setting him on, by a silent drift, where his will would never carry him, and changing, in fact, the current of his inclination itself. Till at length, dissatisfied with himself, as he is more softened to God, and more softened to God, as he is more diverted from the satisfaction he once had in himself, he turns, with deliberate consent, to the call of Jesus, and finds what seemed to be a yoke, to be easy as liberty itself.40
The change is great, nay almost total in his life, and yet it has been carried by a process of indirection so delicate, that he is scarcely sensible by what steps and curiously turned methods of skill it has been brought to pass. And so God is managing every man, by a process and history of his own; for he handles him as he does no other, adapting every turn to his want and to the points already gained, till finally he is caught by the gentle guile of God’s mercies and drawn to the rock of salvation; even as some heavy and strong fish, that has been played by the skillful angler, is drawn, at last, to land, by a delicate line, that would not even hold his weight.
In a similar way God manages, not seldom, to gain back infidels and doubters. First he commonly makes them doubt their doubts. Their conceit he moderates, meantime, by the sobering effect of years and sorrow. By and by he sharpens their spiritual hunger, by the consciously felt emptiness of their life, and the large blank spaces of their creed. Then he opens some new vista into the bright field of truth, down which they never looked before, and the mole eyes of their skepticism are even dazed by the new discovered glory of God’s light.
Disciples who are lapsed into sin, and even into looseness of life, are recovered in the same way of indirection. God does not pelt them with storms, nor jerk them back into their place by any violent seizure. He only leads them round by his strong-handed yet gentle tractions, till he has got them by, or out of, their fascinations, 41 and winnowed the nonsense out of their fancy or feeling, by which they have been captivated. And so at length he gets their feet upon the rock again never to be moved.
Indeed I may go farther. Even if you desire it, God will not thrust you on to higher attainments in religion, by any forcible and direct method. He will only bring you out into the rest you seek, just as soon as you are sufficiently untwisted, and cleared, and rectified, under his indirect methods, to be there. Commonly your light will spring up in quarters where you look not for it, and even the very hidings and obscurations you suffer, will give you out some spark of light, as they leave you. The obstacles you conquer will turn out to be, in some sense, aids, the discouragements that tried you will open, when they part, as windows of hope.
Having traced the manner and fact of God’s condescension to these gentle methods, let us now pass on to another point where the subject properly culminates; viz., to the end he has in view; which is, to make us great. He may have a different opinion of greatness from that which is commonly held by men—he certainly has. And what is more, he has it because he has a much higher respect for the capabilities of our human nature, and much higher designs concerning it, than we have ourselves. We fall into a mistake here also, under what we suppose to be the Christian gospel itself; as if it were a plan to bring down, not the loftiness 42 of our pride, and the willfulness of our rebellion, but the stature and majesty of our nature itself. Thus we speak of submitting, or losing our will, being made weak and poor, becoming little children, ceasing to have any mind of our own, falling into nothingness and self-contempt before God. All which are well enough: as Christian modes of expression; but we take them too literally. They are good as relating to our wrong will and wrong feeling, not as relating to our capacity of will and feeling itself. On the contrary, while God is ever engaged to bring down our loftiness in evil and perversity, he is just as constantly engaged to make us loftier and stronger in every thing desirable—in capacity, and power, and all personal majesty. We do not understand him, in fact, till we conceive it as a truth profoundly real and glorious, that he wants to make us great—great in will, great in the breadth and honest freedom of our intellect, great in courage, enthusiasm, self-respect, firmness, superiority to things and matters of condition; great in sacrifice and beneficence; great in sonship with Himself; great in being raised to such common counsel, and such intimate unity with him in his ends, that we do, in fact, reign with him.
Take, for example, the first point named, the will; for this, it will be agreed, is the spinal column even of our personality. Here it is that we assert ourselves with such frightful audacity in our sin. Here is the tap-root of our obstinacy. Hence come all the woes and disorders of our fallen state. Is it then His point to crush our will, or reduce it in quantity? If that 43 were all, he could do it by a thought. No, that is not his way. His object is, on the contrary, to gain our will—gain it, that is, in such a manner as to save it, and make it finally a thousand fold stouter in good and sacrifice, than it has been, or could be, in wrong and evil. He will make it the chariot, as it were, of a great and mighty personality, inflexible, unsubduable, tremendous in good forever.
So of the intellect. Blinded by sin, wedded to all misbelief and false seeing, he never requires us to put violence upon it, never to force an opinion or a faith, lest we break its integrity; he only bids us set it for seeing, by a wholly right intent and a willingness even to die for the truth; assured that, in this manner, Time, and Providence, and Cross, and Spirit, will bring it into the light, clearing, as in a glorious sun-rising, all the clouds that obscure it, and opening a full, broad heaven of day on its vision. Recovered thus without being forced or violated, it feels itself to be a complete integer in power, as never before; and having conquered such obstacles under God, by the simple honesty of its search, it has a mighty appetite sharpened for the truth, and a glorious confidence raised, that time and a patient beholding will pierce all other clouds, and open a way for the light.
And so it is that God manages to save all the attributes of force and magnanimity in us, while reducing us to love and obedience. Take such an example as Paul. Do we speak of will? why he has the will-force of an empire in him. Of intelligence? let it be enough 44 that he goes down into Arabia, and that in three years’ time his mind has gone over all the course of Christian truth and doctrine, helped by no mortal, but only by God’s converse with him, and his own free thought. Of courage, firmness, self-respect? what perils has he met, what stripes endured, and what offscouring of the world has he been taken for, unhumbled still, and erect in the consciousness of his glorious manhood in Christ—sorrowful yet always rejoicing, poor yet making many rich, having nothing yet possessing all things; confounding Athens and Ephesus and the mob at Jerusalem, out-pleading Tertullus the lawyer, convincing Felix and Agrippa, commanding in the shipwreck, winning disciples to the faith in the household of Cæsar, and planting, in fact, all over Cæsar’s world-wide empire, the seeds of a loftier and stronger empire by which it is finally to be mastered.
Such now are God’s mighty ones—humble it may be and poor, or if not such by social position, most effectually humbled, some will think, by their faith, yet how gloriously exalted. God renounces all the point-blank methods of dealing, that he may give scope and verge to our liberty, and win us to some good and great feeling, in glorious affinity with his own. He wants us to be great enough in the stature of our opinions, principles, courage and character, that he may enjoy us and be Himself enjoyable by us. Hence also it is that, when we are born of God, and the divine affinities of our great nature come into play unbroken, unimpaired, and even wondrously raised in volume, we, for the first 45 time, make discovery of ourselves. Our heads touch heaven, as it were, in the sense of our regenerated dignity, and joys like the ocean roll through our nature, that before could only catch some rill or trickling drop of good. And with it comes what strength, a mighty will, a sense of equilibrium recovered, an all appropriating faith, superiority to things, immovable repose.
And now at the crowning of this great subject, what shall more impress us than the sublime and captivating figure God maintains for Himself and his government in it. Easy enough were it for him to lay his force upon us, and dash our obstinacy to the ground. He might not thrust us into love, he could not into courage and confidence, but he might instantly crush out all willfulness in us forever. But he could not willingly reduce us, in this manner, to a weak and cringing submission. He wants no slaves about his throne. If he could not raise us into liberty and make us great in duty, he would less respect both duty and Himself. He refuses therefore to subdue us unless by some such method that we may seem, in a certain other sense, to subdue ourselves. Most true it is that he carries a strong hand with us. He covers up no principle, tempers the exactness of no law. There is no connivance in his methods, no concealment of truths disagreeble and piercing, no proposition of compromise or halving, in a way of settlement. His Providence moves strong. His terrors flame out on the background of a wrathful sky. He thunders marvelously with his voice. And 46 so his very gentleness stands glorious and strong and sovereignly majestic round us. Were he only soft or kind, bending like a willow to our wicked state, there were little to move and affect us even in his goodness itself. But when we look on Him as the Almighty Rock, the immovable Governor and Keeper of the worlds, girding himself in all terrible majesty, when he must, to lei us know that impunity in wrong is impossible, then it is that we behold Him in the true meaning of his gentleness—how good! how firm! how adorably great! Come nigh O thou sinning, weary prodigal, and acknowledge and receive, in blissful welcome, the true greatness of thy God! Be not jealous any more that religion is going to depress your manly parts, or weaken the strength of your high aspirations. In your lowest humiliations and deepest repentances, you will be consciously raised and exalted. Every throb of heaven’s life in your bosom will be only a throb of greatness. Every good affection, every holy action, into which your God may lead you, all your bosom struggles, your hungers and tears and prostrations, will be the travailing only of a princely birth, and a glorious sonship with God.
Holding such a view too of God’s ends and the careful indirections by which he pursues them, we can not fail to note the softened aspect given to what are often called the unaccountable severities of human experience. The woes of broken health and grim depression; the pains, the unspeakable agonies by which human bodies are wrenched for whole years; the wrongs of orphanage; 47 pestilence, fire, flood, tempest and famine—how can a good God launch his bolts on men, we ask, in severities like these? And the sufferers themselves sometimes wonder, even in their faith, how it is that if God is a Father, he can let fall on his children such hail-storms of inevitable, unmitigated disaster. No, suffering mortal! a truce to all such complainings. These are only God’s merciful indirections, fomentations of trouble and sorrow that he is applying, to soften the rugged and hard will in you. These pains are only switches to turn you off from the track of his coming retributions. If your great, proud nature could be won to the real greatness of character, by a tenderer treatment, do you not see, from all God’s gentle methods of dealing with mankind, that he would gladly soften your troubles? And if diamonds are not polished by soap, or oil, or even by any other stone, but only by their own fine dust, why should you complain that God is tempering you to your good, only by such throes and lacerations and wastings of life, as are necessary?
Again, to vary the strain of our thought, how strangely weak and low, is the perversity of many, when they require it of God to convert them by force, or drive them heavenward by storm. You demand, it may be, that God shall raise the dead before you, or that He shall speak to you in an audible voice from the sky, or that he shall regenerate your life by some stroke of omnipotence in your sleep—something you demand that shall astound your senses, or supersede your freedom. You require it of God, in fact, that He shall 48 manage you as he did Sennacherib, that He shall put his hook into your nose, and his bridle into your lips, and lead you back, in that manner, out of sins you will not consentingly forsake. How preposterous and base to ask it thus of your Father, that He will storm you with his power and thrust you into goodness by his thunder-bolts! Instead of being jealous, with a much finer class of souls, that God and religion are going to reduce your level, you even require to be made little by Him, nay, to be unmade, and even thrust out of your personal manhood. How much better to give a ready welcome to what God is doing for you and in you, without force, doing in a way to save and even to complete your personal manhood.
Last of all let us not omit, in such a subject as this, the due adjustment of our conceptions to that which is the true pitch and scale of our magnanimity and worth as Christian men. It is easy, at this point, to flaunt our notions of dignity, and go off, as it were, in a gas of naturalism, prating of manliness, or manly character. And yet there is such a thing to be thought of, revelation being judge, as being even great—great in some true scale of Christian greatness. A little, mean-minded, shuffling, cringing, timorous, selfish soul—would that many of our time could see how base the figure it makes under any Christian name. I will not undertake to say how little a man may be and be a Christian; for there are some natures that are constitutionally mean, and it may be too much to expect that grace will ennoble them all through in a day. Judging 49 them in. all charity, it must none the less be our conception for ourselves, that God is calling us even to be great, great in courage and candor, steadfast in honor and truth, immovable in our promises, heroic in our sacrifices, right, and bold, and holy—men whom He is training, by His own great spirit, for a world of great sentiment, and will, and might, and majesty. For when we conceive the meeting in that world, and being there compeers with such majestic souls as Moses, and Paul, and Luther, and Cromwell, nay with thrones and dominions otherwise nameless, we do not seem, I confess, to be so much raised in the sense of our possible stature in good, as when we simply meditate God’s gentle methods with us here, to raise our fallen manhood to its place; his careful respect for our liberty, the hidings of His power, the detentions of his violated feeling, the sending of his Son, and his Son’s great cross, the silent intercessions of his Spirit—all the changes through which he is leading us, all the careful trainings of care and culture by which he is bringing us back at last, stage by stage, to the final erectness and glory of a perfect life. Even as when the mother eagle lifts her young upon the edge of her nest, holding them back that they may not topple of, and puts them fluttering there and waving their pinions that they may get strength to lift their bodies, and finally to scale the empyreal heights. And when we shall be able, ascending thus our state of glory, to look back and trace all this, in a clear and orderly review, what a wonderful and thrilling retrospect will it be.50
Conscious there of powers not broken down or crushed into servility, but of wills invigorated rather by submission, with what sense of inborn dignity and strength shall we sing—Thy gentleness hath made us great. All the littleness of our sin is now quite gone. We are now complete men, such as God meant us to be;—great in the stature of our opinions, great in our feelings, principles, energies of will and joy; greatest of all in our conscious affinity with God and the Lamb. Be it ours to live, then; with a sense of our high calling upon us, abiding in all the holy magnanimities of love, honor, sacrifice and truth; sincere, exact, faithful, bountiful and free; showing thus to others and knowing always in ourselves, that we do steadily aspire to just that height of good, into which our God himself has undertaken to exalt us.51
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