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AS GOD, SO WORSHIPPER
‘. . . All the peoples will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.’—MICAH iv. 5 (R.V.).
This is a statement of a general truth which holds good of all sorts of religion. ‘To walk’ is equivalent to carrying on a course of practical activity. ‘The name’ of a god is his manifested character. So the expression ‘Walk in the name’ means, to live and act according to, and with reference to, and in reliance on, the character of the worshipper’s god. In the Lord’s prayer the petition ‘Hallowed be Thy name’ precedes the petition ‘Thy will be done.’ From reverent thoughts about the name must flow life in reverent conformity to the will.
I. A man’s god is what rules his practical life.
Religion is dependence upon a Being recognised to be perfect and sovereign, whose will guides, and whose character moulds, the whole life. That general statement may be broken up into parts; and we may dwell upon the attitude of dependence, or of that of submission, or upon that of admiration and recognition of ideal perfection, or upon that of aspiration; but we come at last to the one thought—that the goal of religion is likeness and the truest worship is imitation. Such a view of the essence of religion gives point to the question, What is our god? and makes it a very easily applied, and very searching test, of our lives. Whatever we profess, that which we feel ourselves dependent on, that which we invest, erroneously or rightly, with supreme attributes of excellence, that which we aspire after as our highest good, that which shapes and orders the current of our lives, is our god. We call ourselves Christians. I am afraid that if we tried ourselves by such a test, many of us would fail to pass it. It would thin the ranks of all churches as effectually as did Gideon’s ordeal by water, which brought down a mob of ten thousand to a little steadfast band of three hundred. No matter to what church we belong, or how flaming our professions, our practical religion is determined by our answer to the question, What do we most desire? What do we most eagerly pursue? England has as much need as ever the house of Jacob had of the scathing words that poured like molten lead from the lips of Isaiah the son of Amoz, ‘Their land is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures. Their land is also full of idols: they worship the work of their own hands.’ Money, knowledge, the good opinion of our fellows, success in a political career—these, and the like, are our gods. There is a worse idolatry than that which bows down before stocks and stones. The aims that absorb us; our highest ideal of excellence; that which possessed, we think would secure our blessedness; that lacking which everything else is insipid and vain—these are our gods: and the solemn prohibition may well be thundered in the ears of the unconscious idolaters not only in the English world, but also in the English churches. ‘Thou shalt not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.’
II. The worshipper will resemble his god in character.
As we have already said, the goal of religion is likeness, and the truest worship is imitation. It is proved by the universal experience of humanity that the level of morality will never rise above the type enshrined in their gods; or if it does, in consequence of contact with a higher type in a higher religion, the old gods will be flung to the moles and the bats. ‘They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.’ That is a universal truth. The worshippers were in the Prophet’s thought as dumb and dead as the idols. They who ‘worship vanity’ inevitably ‘become vain.’ A Venus or a Jupiter, a Baal or an Ashtoreth, sets the tone of morals.
This truth is abundantly enforced by observation of the characters of the men amongst us who are practical idolaters. They are narrowed and lowered to correspond with their gods. Low ideals can never lead to lofty lives. The worship of money makes the complexion yellow, like jaundice. A man who concentrates his life’s effort upon some earthly good, the attainment of which seems to be, so long as it is unattained, his passport to bliss, thereby blunts many a finer aspiration, and makes himself blind to many a nobler vision. Men who are always hunting after some paltry and perishable earthly good, become like dogs who follow scent with their noses at the ground, and are unconscious of everything a yard above their heads. We who live amidst the rush of a great commercial community see many instances of lives stiffened, narrowed, impoverished, and hardened by the fierce effort to become rich. And wherever we look with adequate knowledge over the many idolatries of English life, we see similar processes at work on character. Everywhere around us ‘the peoples are walking every one in the name of his god.’ That character constitutes the worshipper’s ideal; it is a pattern to which he aims to be assimilated; it is a good the possession of which he thinks will make him blessed; it is that for which he willingly sacrifices much which a clearer vision would teach him is far more precious than that for which he is content to barter it.
The idolaters walking in the name of their god is a rebuke to the Christian men who with faltering steps and many an aberration are seeking to walk in the name of the Lord their God. If He is in any real and deep sense ‘our God,’ we shall see in Him the realised ideal of all excellence, the fountain of all our blessedness, the supreme good for our seeking hearts, the sovereign authority to sway our wills; the measure of our conscious possession of Him will be the measure of our glad imitation of Him, and our joyful spirits, enfranchised by the assurance of our loving possession of Him who is love, will hear Him ever whisper to us, ‘Be ye perfect as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ The desire to reproduce in the narrow bounds of our human spirits the infinite beauties of the Lord our God will give elevation to our lives, and dignity to our actions attainable from no other source. If we hallow His name, we shall do His will, and earth will become a foretaste of heaven.
III. The worshipper will resemble his god in fate.
We may observe that it is only of God’s people that Micah in our text applies the words ‘for ever and ever.’ ‘The peoples’’ worship perishes. They walk for a time in the name of their god, but what comes of it at last is veiled in silence. It is Jehovah’s worshippers who walk in His name for ever and ever, and of whom the great words are true, ‘Because I live ye shall live also.’ We may be sure of this that all the divine attributes are pledged for our immortality; we may be sure, too, that a soul which here follows in the footsteps of Jesus, which in its earthly life walked in the name of the Lord its God, will continue across the narrow bridge, and go onward ‘for ever and ever’ in direct progress in the same direction in which it began on earth. The imitation, which is the practical religion of every Christian, has for its only possible result the climax of likeness. The partial likeness is attained on earth by contemplation, by aspiration, and by effort; but it is perfected in the heavens by the perfect vision of His perfect face. ‘We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’ Not till it has reached its goal can the Christian life begun here be conceived as ended. It shall never be said of any one who tried by God’s help to walk ‘in the name of the Lord’ that he was lost in the desert, and never reached his journey’s end. The peoples who walked in the name of any false god will find their path ending as on the edge of a precipice, or in an unfathomable bog; loss, and woe, and shame will be their portion. But ‘the name of the Lord is a strong tower,’ into which whoever will may run and be safe, and to walk in the name of the Lord is to walk on a way ‘that shall be called the Way of Holiness, whereon no ravenous beast shall go up, but the redeemed shall walk there,’ and all that are on it ‘shall come with singing to Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.’
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