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THE SNARE OF THE WORLD AND THE DRAWING OF CHRIST THE TWO GREAT ANTAGONISTS.
“Draw me, we will run after Thee.”
THESE are the words of the Church praying to be drawn to the presence and vision of Christ. They express the love a faithful soul bears to Him for His holiness and His passion, and a desire to be drawn more and more into fellowship with His sanctity and His Cross,—a desire, that is, to walk the way of the imitation of Christ. But they express more than this desire: they confess also our spiritual impotence and our spiritual slowness to follow Him. “Draw me,” for alone I cannot move a foot; I cannot begin my course; in me there is no power to originate: all comes from Thee, both to will and to do, to desire and to begin.
It is also to be noted that the Church here 389says, “Draw me, we will run,” as implying with what a fervent affection and kindling heart it would put forth all its strength to do the will of Christ, revealed in His gift of preventing grace. “My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken Thou me according to Thy word.”218218 Psalm cxix. 25. This is first a cry of distress under the clog and hindrance of an earthly and sluggish nature, and then a pure aspiration, mixed with intense desire to speed into His presence. There is in it a tone like the words of St. Peter when he first refused to suffer his Master to wash his feet, and then, lest he should lose his part and lot in Him, eagerly desired more: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head;”219219 St. John xiii. 9. or as when he said, “Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for Thy sake.”220220 Ibid. 37. It is such a longing as we may believe the beloved disciple had, when Peter turned and saw him following, and our Lord said, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”221221 St. John xxi. 23. such an aspiration as they all felt within when He “led them out as far as to Bethany, and lifted up His hands and blessed them, and . . . while He blessed them . . . was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.”222222 St. Luke xxiv. 50, 51. Each one, as he looked up stedfastly and worshipped, said, (no doubt, in 390his heart,) “Draw me, we will run after Thee.” And this has been the longing desire of the Church in every age from then till now. There has been in the midst of this rough world, and under the soiled array of the visible Church, a deep and living pulse beating with love for Christ, yearning and panting as the hart for the water-brooks.
This is the perfect and blessed life of a Christian upon earth; a state very high, far above our heads, though, God be praised, not out of our reach. If we were left to scale these ascents of love and peace in our own slothful weakness, they would indeed be unattainable; but it is He that “maketh our feet like hart’s feet,” and carries us up to walk with Him “on high places.” There is no measure of love, joy, peace, light, gladness, fellowship with Him, to which He will not draw and exalt those that seek Him in humility.
Now the spiritual life has three states through which all who attain to the love of Christ seem to pass; and these states are so marked that we may take them one by one. Although to every soul born again by the Spirit of Christ He may say, as He said of old, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee;”223223 Jerem. xxxi. 2. although this loving 391attraction of His Spirit has been all through life drawing each one of us to Himself, yet we, by our backward and reluctant hearts, have kept far away, or followed with a slow and struggling will. We are between two objects of love, two attractive forces; as if two loadstones, one seen and one unseen, were playing upon us. Let us see how it has been with us.
1. First, I suppose that most can remember a time when we were drawn so strongly to the world that the drawing of Christ’s love and Spirit was overbalanced by a more powerful attraction.
Happy are they who have no memory of actual sin, and of its clinging hold, by which they were once kept in bondage. The most dreadful part of sin is its sweetness, by which it fascinates even those who know its hatefulness and shame. It mocks a sinner while it destroys him. It unbinds all his resolutions, loosens his strictest intentions, relaxes his firmest purposes, and changes him, with his eyes open, from a half penitent to a fool. To pass by all other examples, take such a sin as anger. Before the temptation it is hateful: during the temptation, to indulge it is positively sweet. It gratifies a strong present impulse, as abundant food cloys a hungry palate. An angry man goes on word after word, reply after rejoinder, lash after lash, with a sensible and increasing elevation of 392spirit. He revels in it. For a time every thing is lost in the swell and sway of his excitement. It adds strength, vividness, and eloquence to his thoughts and words, which delight him. In a moment all the promises, rules, and prayers of years, it may be, are scattered and forgotten. In another moment he stands alone, stung to the quick at his own folly. No reproof can go beyond the rebukes he lays upon himself, no contempt exceed his own. Why did he not feel it a few minutes before? A little sooner would have saved him. But sin is sweet, and it draws steadily and smoothly, as the shoal-water of a whirlpool, with an imperceptible and resistless attraction. One such sin will overbear the meek and gentle drawing of Christ. Such a man needs no more than this one bond to keep him fast bound to this dying world. So it is with every sin. Take them one by one: change only the terms, and the same outline will serve for all. In such hearts the love of Christ takes no root: for them His holiness has no beauty, His passion no sharpness of compunction.
But we will pass to another kind of state. I mean, the state of those who love the pleasures, rank, honours, riches, refinement of the world. These things, free as they are from necessary evil, are among the most subtil and tenacious snares. Unnumbered souls perish in their meshes. Thousands 393struggle in vain to get beyond the sphere of their attraction. But their power of allurement is only less than the power of the Spirit of God: far too great for the infirmity of man. It is wonderful how fast worldly people are held; how the world embraces them, and weaves its arms about their whole being. “The children of this world are,” indeed, “in their generation wiser than the children of light:” for except in a few, where do we ever see such intense, concentrated, energetic, loving devotion as in aspiring and ambitious men, in the hunters after popularity, and the traffickers in gold? The human character is in them exhibited in all its range, versatility, and unity of force. They lack but one thing. They are “without God in the world.”224224 Eph. ii. 12. And the world has them for its own with a quiet and unchallenged possession. No drawings of Christ’s truth or Spirit make them waver or vibrate for a moment. The game is up, and their spoil before them. They plunge deeper and deeper into the manifold and multiplying attractions of the world, until their freedom of auction is stolen from them, and their will ceases to be their own.
And, further than this, we may take an example which comes nearer to ourselves. It is not only the greater sins, or the worship of the world, 394which hold us back against the drawing of Christ; but the soft pure happiness of home, the easy round of kindly offices, the calm and blameless toil of a literary life, the gentler and more peaceful influences of earthly cheerfulness:—all these too, with the lights and shades, the anxieties and joys which fall across an even path, steal away the heart, and wind all its affections about a thousand moorings. Happy men drop their anchors into the quiet waters of life; the very smoothness of its surface lulls them, and a conscious innocence makes them fearless. This world is very fair; and the elements of peace and joy still bear the marks of a divine hand; so that we love them freely, and with fondness. A great part of such a life rests on duty, and is blameless; it has therefore nothing to awaken a suspicion that the world is nearer to the soul than God. How many homes, how many families, how many hearts, how many parents and children, husbands and wives, brethren and friends, even pastors of Christ’s flock, does this describe!
But these fascinations are dangerously strong: they so fill the eye and heart, that little is desired more, and nothing is sought with earnestness beyond. Such people are often, indeed almost always, up to a certain measure, religious; but often not devout. They are pure, but not zealous; 395afraid of sin, but without compunction. They think they fear the world, while they love its happiness; and so hope to escape the danger of its allurements: they fear to offend God’s holiness rather than His love; and by this pious fear disguise from themselves their want of fervour. They serve God from conscience, not because it is their joy. His worship is a cool and satisfying duty; but neither sweetness nor delight. The vision of life is lovely and vivid; the outline of heaven veiled and dim: their enjoyment of life is present and sensible; the thought of death bitter, as an end of happiness, and fearful, as an entrance upon a state unknown. To sum this up in one true word, such people love the world more than they fear it, and fear God more than they love Him. The attraction is greater on one side, and the repulsion is all on the other. What a searching point of reality and truth there is in the words of the son of Sirach: “O death, how bitter is the remembrance of thee to a man that liveth at rest in his possessions, unto the man that hath nothing to vex him, and that hath prosperity in all things!”225225 Ecclus. xli. 1. I have been describing no evil or irreligious character; but one which, to a great extent, is Christian. In all the duties of the second table they are strict and sincere; but towards God their 396conscience is clear and cold. The warmth, pulse, and tide of life sets towards the visible objects of affection. This is a state in which it is hard to die. They are little prepared, either for so great a wrench, or for so high and awful a meeting with their Lord and Judge.
2. Let us take the next state. It may be that by sorrow, or chastisement, or by some other of His manifold strokes of love, it has pleased God to break or to relax these bonds, and to dispel the vain show in which they walked. Let us suppose that the world has lost its attractive power, and draws them but feebly to its centre. Little by little they get weaned from their stronger attachments. They see less fairness, and no stability in its best gifts; they have found its insecurity; and its sounds, even the most glad, ring hollow. They are not soured or fretful, nor love friends less, nor brood upon any disappointment, nor wince under any cross; but they have found out the emptiness of all that is not eternal, and the poverty of all that will not satisfy the soul. In this state they break, one by one, through the old attractions of life; they withdraw themselves to the outer sphere of its influence, where it plays feebly upon them, not as yet wholly escaping; sometimes for a while falling under it more fully again, and retracting in their escape; but upon the whole, the world draws them 397less, and the presence of Christ attracts them more. Still, the most that can be said is, that they begin to fear the world more, and love it less; and to fear the presence of Christ less, and to love Him more. After all, it is but a mingled state, a sort of mottled sky, neither the cold of winter nor the sun of summer; a dubious, veering, inconstant temperature between love and fear, life and death. If life does not draw them, death affrights them; though they have lost their fondness for earth, they have not attained a yearning for heaven. The fresh, calm repose of life is more soothing to them than the thought of the heavenly court, ardent with love, and arrayed in the glory of God. From this they draw back, both with conscious incapacity of such exalted bliss, and with a sense of personal sin. They are intellectually convinced of the blessedness of a life “hid with Christ in God, “and that there is no true happiness but to dwell in His love. Their whole life takes a new direction; they recast it upon the order of the Church, and with a direct intention to aim only at a holy resurrection. This disentangles them from a multitude of hindrances, and gives something of unity and purpose to their life. Their chief work, thenceforth, becomes the search and knowledge of their own state before God, their chief study His will, their chief rule of life the practice 398 of devotion. But there is yet one thing sensibly wanting: the love which “casteth out fear.” The deliberate choice of their superior will, that is, of reason and conscience, is fixed upon the kingdom of God; but the feelings and affections of their hearts, that is, of their sensitive and inferior will, are lively and prone to relapse. Their whole religious life is to be sustained against a force which strongly keeps its hold; and the attractions of the unseen world are faint. They are convictions rather than affections; they work by reason rather than by love; and this accounts both for the slight and uncertain enjoyment they find in devotions, as in prayer and the holy Sacrament, and the continual resistance, both of body and spirit, which must be overcome before they can begin to pray.
Perhaps nothing so certainly proves how we are related to the unseen world as our prayers. If they be irksome and tedious, cold and tasteless, it is a sure proof that our delight is not in God, and that we love Him chiefly, if not only, in the reason; that we are living if not lives of sense, at best of intellect and of imagination, rather than of the will. So long as we are in this state, however much this world may lose its hold upon us, the next has not as yet won our hearts. The thought of entering it must be appalling; and the expectation of death full of fear.399
And does not this describe the state of many who pass for devout, and believe themselves to be so, at least in desire? Such persons are in a balanced state between two attractions; of which, if the one be weaker, it is the nearer and the more sensibly perceived. This condition is at times dreary and overcast, and cannot last long. It must incline one way or the other. Either the world, by almost unperceived reaction, gets its hold again, or God in His mercy multiplies the power of His grace, and draws them almost unwilling to Himself. Whether it be by larger measures of His Spirit, shedding abroad His sensible love, or by fresh visitations of merciful discipline, matters not. Whatsoever draws us out of the range of worldly desires, and within the sphere of His heavenly kingdom, the issue is all one. It turns the scale, and “we run after” Him.
3. And this leads on into the third and last state, in which the balance is so turned against this world, that it can allure no longer; and the hope of God and His kingdom attracts alone. He has unnumbered ways in which He thus draws us to Himself: sometimes it is by a flood of blessings, wakening the whole heart to gratitude and praise; sometimes by revelations of His truth, overwhelming the soul with light; sometimes by a word read in silence, or spoken to us, which wounds like a 400shaft of fire; sometimes by the overflowing grace of the holy Sacrament, or by such a spiritual perception of the Cross as fills the heart with love and sorrow: besides all these, He has ministries, operations, and agents, countless as the angels of light. In some of these special ways He is often pleased to break the bonds of this world, and to draw His servants once for all under the abiding attractions of the world to come. Perhaps nothing does this so surely as a realisation of death.
There is great reason to doubt whether we ever realise what death is, till it comes home to ourselves. We may see it in others, and stand daily by dying beds; and yet it is with death as with bodily pain, we can all sympathise, but we cannot transfer it to ourselves. However familiar we are with the sights and sounds, the thoughts and fears of such a state, by seeing others die, it is only, as it were, by proxy. Such warnings are very wholesome, and dispose the mind to realise it, one day, for ourselves; but they can do no more. The consciousness that our time is come, and that we personally are going out of this world, is wholly incommunicable. That which makes it our consciousness, forbids its being shared by others. It is our own, because it is no other’s. The consciousness of our personality is as our own life, which, though common in nature, is incommunicable. 401So the thought of our own death; of our own personal appearing before God; our own personal account, judgment, destiny,—that which makes it different from all other perceptions is, that it is no other’s but our own. When we have once realised this, a change passes upon all things: sin becomes hateful, the world fearful, earthly happiness pale, and almost undesired. One great reality absorbs all—eternity; and in eternity the vision of God and of Christ, the kingdom of saints, the bliss of the soul, the glory of the body, the judgment, the resurrection, the armies of the quick and dead;—this one mighty vision draws the whole soul into itself, and we seem caught up out of the bonds of flesh and earth, free into the air. Perhaps no other words will fully express the feeling. It is as if our feet rested upon nothing but the spiritual world; as if we saw nothing but the presence of God.
This thought once realised, may, indeed, be wholly lost again. We may taste the “powers of the world to come,” and yet again fall away; but we are not now speaking of that danger, but with its direct opposite: the blessedness of such an awakening. It is as if our eyes were opened, or gifted with a twofold power of sight, and a reed were put into our hand “like unto a rod,”226226 Rev. xi. 1. to measure 402happiness and life, sin and death, hope and fear, time and eternity, “the temple and the altar,” the shadows which fall both upon the world and from it,—as if we were lifted into space beyond its path. How strangely do all things then change their magnitudes, and with them their force of attraction: what a new law of proportion and of power is seen to reveal itself on every side. Once we were in earnest for all manner of aims, objects, and schemes; we panted for this, were all energy for that undertaking; all on fire, all abroad: and now all is spoken in one calm word: “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”227227 Philip. iii. 11.
But it is not the mere fading of earthly and transitory things. A mere loosening from this world would do little. It might make us sour and restless, bitter and complaining, or even haters of mankind and enemies of God.
The true and blessed change wrought upon the heart is an awakened desire of God, by which He draws it to Himself. After much trembling and fear, penitent self-accusation, and sincere restitution, so far as they are able; after passing through the depths of a repentance, those whom God so blesses pass on, by faith in the blood of Christ, into a state of calm and cheerful 403desire, which collects all the affections of the soul into one longing hope. “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord.” “This shall be my rest for ever; here will I dwell; for I have a delight therein.” If they could venture they would say, “I have a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better;” or, “Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
It seems at such a time as if they could never fall back into old channels, never go abroad again into this unreal world, never be in earnest for any thing of time, never bestow an hour or a care on any thing which is not eternal. The whole life of their heart seems brought to a focus in the desire of peace in heaven.
Let us now suppose that God in His mercy has brought any of you to this state; that He has borne with you when you loved the world, and served Him only with fear; that He has drawn you out of this spiritual death into the second state, where you hung in a dubious balance of attraction: let us suppose, I say, that He has, in love, broken your bonds asunder, and drawn you, by the full force of love and holy fear, unto Himself. How will you answer to this mercy? Suppose 404 yourselves awakened by some of His gracious visitations: what should you do?
1. First, it would be the plain will of God that you should strive with all your soul and strength to follow whither He is drawing you; that is, to prepare yourselves to dwell with Him for ever, and, as a first step to this, to put off all that weighs you down to earth. I need not say all sins, for we have been speaking only of those who have long ago, by God’s grace, been cleansed of wilful sins. But there remains the burden of the past, the consciousness of sin dwelling in us, and much that is written in God’s book against the judgment of the great day. Our first step must be to put this off, by an humble accusation of ourselves before Him. So long as sin has any part in us, the world retains a hold. It can light up fears, and so withdraw the soul from God. But confession fairly casts out the embers and the ashes of death; so that the world has nothing on which to cast its fires.
The next thing is, to offer up to God all pure affections, desires, regrets, and all the bonds which link us to home, kindred, and friends, together with all our works, purposes, and labours. These things, which are not only lawful, but sacred, become then the matter of thanksgiving and oblation. When He calls us, they can be ours no 405longer; He has resumed what He lent, and we must yield them up. If we would hold them back, and dwell upon them, they would only disturb the balance of attraction, and make us draw backward to life again. Memories, plans for the future, wishes, intentions; works just begun, half done, all but completed; emotions, sympathies, affections: all these things throng tumultuously and dangerously in the heart and will. The only way to master them is, to offer them up to Him, as once ours, under Him, always His by right. In fact, as we would restore, at our last hour, all loans to their lawful owners, so we ought at all times to make restitution to God.
And after this we ought to awaken in our will the grace of faith, hope, and love, calling to mind all that He has done for us from childhood,—the pledges of His truth, goodness, and love to us. These things powerfully draw us on towards His unseen presence:—faith by realising His beauty, hope His mercy, and love His fatherly and pitiful compassion.
But when all this is done, there remains one thing still, the chiefest and best of all; which is, neither to go back in fear and misgiving to the past, nor in anxiety and forecasting to the future; but to lie quiet under His hand, trusting in the Cross alone, and having no will but His. This is 406 the greatest speed we can make to His presence; for he that has no will hut God’s will is not far from His kingdom; for “the kingdom of God is within” him.
2. But next suppose it to he God’s will that you should be once more set free from the trial He has sent for your instruction: what shall you do? It is plainly His will that you should give your whole heart and strength to perpetuate and to perfect what you have learned, to the very end of life.
His visitation was sent either to prepare you for His presence, or for a life which should he spent in an habitual and ripening fitness for departing. So it pleases Him, as it were, to build up our earthly life in mercy, as once He ordained in displeasure, laying the foundations in sorrow, arid setting up the gates in sickness; rearing it story upon story, every one resting upon some visitation of chastisement or warning. This is what He would have you learn now. He saw that you were still entangled in the world, deceiving others less than yourself with the belief that you were dead to it. He saw that your heart must be struck sharply on the cold flint, before it could give out fire, and kindle. He saw how much of truth hung suspended in vapour and imagination, and needed a rude touch, as from the presence of death, to fix it 407in reality. He saw how much devotion had no deeper springs than in the reason, leaving the heart dry; how weak an allurement would draw you from His kingdom; how slack a love held you to His service. And all this He would heal, and send you back into life, to prove you once more upon a deeper law, and with a clearer insight into the realities of death and judgment. This is now your trial; to perpetuate your present spiritual perceptions; to shelter them from the breath of common-place, which men call common sense, sobriety, and the like; and to keep them as keen and unearthly as you feel them now. Nay, more: your trial is not only to prolong your present convictions, but to carry them out and to perfect them by exercise and discipline, and the confirmation of habitual stedfastness. It will be a heavy and sad account if, twenty or ten years hence, when sorrow, or fear, or death comes near once more, you be taken unawares, or found no fitter than last time. Alas for us, if these things leave us on the same low level where they found us at the first,—if sorrows do not prepare us for affliction, and sicknesses do not make us ready to die; if, having once gone down midway into the cold waters, we stand next time trembling upon the bank, to begin all over again, with all the same infirmities and fears!408
Now, to keep alive and to ripen the convictions and perceptions which God’s mercy gives in such visitations, take these two counsels: first, to sustain in your minds the thoughts, and to perpetuate the prayers, rules, and practices you used while His hand was upon you. This, if any thing, under God, will keep up your inward state, and ripen it into an habitual consciousness. To this it will be well to add special commemoration of events and days. And the other counsel is, as far as you can to take upon yourselves the special care and consolation of those who are led by the hand of God into the cloud through which He has once guided you. In them you will see the liveliest memorials of what you were, of your fears, pains, faults, anxieties, and weakness. You will learn how to humble yourselves; and you will know, by a special knowledge of sympathy, how to help and soothe them. The safest and most blessed life for you will be to make such as the poor and penitent, mourners, the sick and dying, your spiritual kindred, under our common Father; and to live in them and for them, in thanksgiving for mercies to yourself, and as a preparation for the hour which must come at last.
What a wonderful mystery of paternal love will be revealed at that day, when, from the kingdom of their Father, the elect shall see the virtues 409which issued from the Cross to draw each one of them unto itself. What a two-fold revelation of cold unwillingness and of divine charity. “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.”228228 Hosea xi. 4. With the cords of Adam, with the sacred manhood of the Word made flesh, with the tenderness, pity, meekness, sympathy of our crucified Lord and God. Truly these are “cords of man and bands of love;” of love “which passeth knowledge,” whose goings forth are from everlasting; whose virtues are infinite, whose patience is eternal. From every wound of His Divine manhood issues forth, as it were, a radiance of love, drawing the hearts of His elect into the fellowship of His passion. All through our life this effluence of grace has been shed abroad upon us; even in our sins, in our unconscious and turbulent worldliness, restraining, preventing, and at last converting us to Himself. Ever since that day, virtue and holy inspirations have gone out of Him, silently persuading and secretly attracting us nearer and nearer to the foot of the cross. Even in our coldness, reluctance, relapses, He still held us fast. He knew us better than we knew ourselves, and the bands of love were still wound about us by His tender care. Little by little, He has brought us where we stand now: between Him and us, if we 410believe, there is but a veil, impervious to sight, to faith as open as the day. Happy they whom He has drawn to the horizon of this visible world, and there bid them wait in sustained and ripening preparation until their time shall come. Let us, then, say unto Him, “Lord, Thy cross is high and lifted up; I cannot in my own strength ascend it; but Thou hast promised, ‘I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.’229229 St. John xii. 32. Draw me, then, from my sins to repentance, from darkness to faith, from the flesh to the spirit, from coldness to ardent devotion, from weak beginnings to a perfect end, from smooth and open ways, if it be Thy will, to higher and holier paths; from fear to love, from earth to heaven, from myself to Thee. And as Thou hast said, ‘No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him,’230230 St. John vi. 44. give unto me the Spirit whom the Father hath sent in Thy Name, that in Him and through Him I being wholly drawn may hasten unto Thee, and ‘go no more out’ for ever.”411
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