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GOD’S RESTRAINING POWER.
(New Year’s Day.)
TEXT: JOB xxxviii. 11. “Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.”
THESE words are taken from a sublime discourse, which — is put by the writer in the mouth of the Highest Himself, the Creator and Preserver of the world. In it He answers Job out of the whirlwind, when he had complained, though reverently and humbly, that the Lord did not allow men to find Him; that, moreover, He gave no account of His matters to them, and that therefore nothing remained for them but silently to fear Him. Then the Lord came forth, it is said, out of the whirlwind, and talked with Job about his want of understanding; and from this discourse the words of our text are taken. And when, on a day such as this, we look back on the past, on so many unexpected disasters, so many hopes left unfulfilled, wishes disappointed, complications, as the results of which the Lord brought about something totally different from what we had anticipated and hoped, not always, perhaps, out of mere human selfishness, but out of genuine love to what is good, and from wise desires for the common welfare—when all this is gathered into one view before us, how ready are our thoughts to take the same direction as Job’s! The Lord is not to be found out by men; we do not divine His counsel, 213either in our most aspiring hopes or our most moderate wishes. He renders no account to us; for as one year after another passes, none of them solves the problem of those that went before; His ways are ever unsearchable, and His thoughts beyond the comprehension of us poor children of men. But if the Lord had wished us to rest content in this state of apparent submission, He would not have answered Job out of the whirlwind, and—which signifies still more—His Son could not have said to us, “Ye are no longer servants, but friends, for ye know what your Lord doeth.”
To this knowledge of the doings of the Lord we shall be helped by this sublime address, the kernel of whose whole contents is contained in the few words of our text. The Lord represents Himself, throughout this discourse, as He who has called into being and who sustains by His almighty word all things that are, and has also appointed to everything in the world its measure and rule; nothing can hold back from obeying His mighty word, nor may any thing go beyond what He commands it. “Hitherto, . . . and no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed!”
Let us, then, consider more closely how the spirit and meaning of all the Divine counsels, the great secret of the Divine government of the world, is contained in this fact, that God the Lord has appointed to all things their fixed and definite limits. And in connection with this day, let us see, first, how we find in this truth our best comfort in turning our eyes from the past into the future; and, secondly, how these words also contain for us the most sacred and precious example, the great law, according to which we are to regulate our whole life in the service of God.
I. A great part of the discourse which is ascribed to God the Lord in this ancient and sacred book is occupied with 214the works of Nature, and sets forth how, even in the natural creation, God has appointed all things their measure. As when the world came into being, and took shape at His word, He set free the infinite variety of forces by whose active agency all things consist, He also held them in check. Each of those forces is in itself just as proud and ungovernable an agent as that element to which the words of our text directly refer, and, tends to go on extending in all directions, and to overwhelm everything, far and wide. But the Lord calls forth an opposing force, and checks the one by means of the other. In this way, at the creation, He separated and united all things; thus He separated the light from the darkness, while He caused to remain, in fixed and definite degrees, the beneficent alternation of day and night; thus He separated the solid land from the waters, and yet, by means of the appointed proportion between them, each supports, preserves, and fertilizes the other.
But looking at the natural world as it lies before us in these days, we know even by our own eyesight, and still more from the well-grounded and harmonious testimony of those who have seriously and continuously occupied themselves in studying those natural facts, that there are to be found manifold traces, both on the surface and in the depths of the earth, of great and repeated disturbances. The hidden subterraneous fire has cast up vast masses from below, devastating and transforming the face of Nature; the sea, which the Lord seemed to have gathered together and shut up within impassable barriers, has yet often over flowed; but only thus, by the repeated mingling and dividing of the solid and the fluid, could the earth gain that perfect proportion by which it becomes capable of supporting and nourishing the whole mass of infinitely diversified life that moves upon it.
And even yet, though all these natural forces seem partly 215to be brought into equilibrium through the often recurring alternation of agitation and repose, and partly to be turned into other directions and controlled in various ways by human intelligence, the Lord sometimes allows them—though mostly in small and isolated instances—to overpass their ordinary limits, so that men again become afraid that this force or that might work its way to uncontrollable power, and sweep away all the rest. Often still the fires of the abyss, released from their bonds, burst forth into the air, and cover the ground with flaming death; the waters still often pour down in torrents from above, and far over flow their accustomed shores, destroying the works of men, and laying waste great tracts of the laboriously cultivated land; but the Lord, in His own time, extinguishes the fire, and causes the waters to go down, and man gathers again the spoil they have left; and everywhere it is God who determines, and gradually develops more and more clearly and exactly, the right proportions; and everywhere we see arise out of the seeming destruction a new and better order of things. But where one natural force seems to rise uncontrollable after having been confined, and in its unmeasured power threatens the ruin of all that is calm and peaceful, the presence of the Eternal is more hidden from us; just as the prophet did not find Him in the whirlwind and in the fire. Our predominant impression at such times is that of a force of Nature which has, as it were, broken loose; and we are overpowered by a sense of our own helplessness, and of the insignificance of man in presence of those universal powers. But when the floodgates of heaven or the doors of the lower world are closed, when the destroying tempests are stilled, and that which had poured forth without control returns to the limits within which it can subsist alongside of all other forces, then we perceive the Lord; then He makes Himself known to us, where order arises and is exercised, where a kindly and benignant rule 216prevails. And when we have thus grasped the idea that it was the Lord who spoke, saying, “Hitherto, and no further: here shall thy proud waves be stayed,” then we begin also to reflect that the two aspects of Nature are closely connected, and we no longer see in that apparent destruction a revolted power of mere Nature, but the governing will of Him who commanded that the waves should so far overflow, in order that the just proportions should be obtained for each new step in the order of things.
But all natural things are really for us either a feeble shadow of spiritual things or a specially significant emblem of them. Let us therefore consider in particular that part of His creation into which the Lord breathed the breath of life; let us consider man, whom He formed into a living soul. Oh! here it is above all, my friends, that we have so often to exclaim that the ways of the Lord are unsearchable and His thoughts past finding out. Those who, by natural relationship, are meant to be bound together in love, are severed by pride and selfish passion; those who should be of one heart, often scorn even the most superficial connection; those who should be serving each other as equals having mutual interests, aim only at lording it over others. Wild passions break out and distract men’s minds, so that there is an end to all rule and unity, not only for each individual but even for society as a whole. Thus in this department also we see Nature, after being brought into some degree of order, ready to destroy itself and to perish in confusion. And it is not always self-interest alone that kindles this fire, nor is the fire itself always a strife only over the possession of earthly things. This state of things occurs very specially when opposite views are taken in consulting and arranging about ordinary affairs; or as to the deepest sources of the public and common weal and woe; or the most efficient means, in difficult given circumstances, for promoting one object and discouraging another. And when 217such views are no longer confined to discussion, but each party, believing himself obliged to take precautions against the damage that might result from the other view, sets him self to oppose his antagonist by force, then what rumpus disorders take place in human affairs! How eagerly do men toil in their fury, believing that they are only destroying in order to build up what is fairer, but only building what must in its turn be overthrown. What a horrible game is then carried on with this as its watchword, that it is better for a few to perish, and so the mass be preserved, than that all should be corrupted through weakly sparing some infected members! and into what an abyss of ruin do great portions of our race sometimes plunge in this manner! But be it arrogant self-seeking and criminal ambition, or wild passions and burning rage; be it sensual lusts and ignoble pleasures, or only the man’s better will, aiming at what is really good, but misguided, and so inflamed into the resemblance of those evil motives; sooner or later a point is reached at which the Lord says, “Hitherto, and no further: here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” If men are no longer willing to derive their knowledge of sin from the law, God allows all the horrors of lawlessness to break loose, that they may see what is hidden in their hearts. But yet the Lord does not permit the reign of reason and morality to be utterly subverted. He has laid their foundations in human nature with a power that can never be entirely overcome. So if the wild flood has overflowed those shores, God brings man back to his senses, matured by sorrowful experiences; if there have been fierce outbreaks of hatred, the counsel of the Lord brings about a heartfelt love, made stronger by sufferings endured in common.
But let us turn our eyes from this chequered and tumultuous scene of outward acts and circumstances, and look into the more silent depths of the human soul. Think of a reflecting man who studies the mysteries of man’s mind, and 218seeks to understand the internal nature of the world in which he lives, and to search out the laws according to which everything in it goes on. In thus penetrating ever more deeply into his own nature and into the essential nature of all things, he may soon become aware how much nobler a pursuit such investigations are than those in which the greater number of our brethren, constrained by the cares of daily life, are obliged to toil. But if he then begins to imagine that they are too noble to be mixed up in any degree with common life, and therefore more and more withdraws from it, then the balance of the soul and of life is in danger. Actual life appears to him petty, or even contemptible, in comparison with the ideals with which his mind is occupied; then, in a very different spirit from the humility of those in this book of Job, who, in their debates and interchange of thought, sought to vindicate God’s hiding of Himself, he imagines that he has fathomed the mystery of the world and its laws; nay, that even the Highest Himself is not hidden from him, but that he stands within that light which is inaccessible to all others. Thus he builds for himself a temple of pride and sets himself up in it as the object of worship. And from this temple flows forth an icy stream of loveless and unbelieving sophistry, chilling to death the tender life of the spirit, and often even making the wonderful life-giving fountains of the Divine word for long periods unavailable to many because of its sweeping flood. But this flood also can only rage for its appointed time; then, to those spiritual elements that have burst their bonds, the voice of the Lord calls, “Hitherto, and no further: here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” New problems arise in the mysteries of Nature as well as in the human mind, and bring to nought the premature self-complacency of the wise of this world, who thought they had grasped and fathomed everything: they seek in vain the key to the riddle, and are obliged to acknowledge that they have unwisely spoken 219about what they did not understand, that which concerns them most nearly becoming indeed a witness to their ignorance. And when this spell of self-conceit is dissolved, then the killing frost also begins to yield, and a more genial atmosphere is spread over the spiritual life. That life absorbs only the more eagerly all the renewing and refreshment of childlike confidence; and the spirits that had grown afraid to trust accept all the more cordially the wholesome mysteries of faith, the longer they have been deprived of these comforts. And so these proud waves of the human mind not only subside, but leave a permanent blessing be hind them, and thus God appoints measure and limits to everything that seems to rise against His rule, and even to that which appeared to intend to take heaven by violence.
But however comforting are the prospects for the future which the knowledge of these truths opens to us, we have one point more to consider in this respect; that is, the new creation of God which has only taken shape since the Word was made flesh, and appeared to us in the glory of the only-begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. In this new creation which the Spirit of God establishes in the hearts of men, and from which we more and more expect, as time goes on, a new heaven and a new earth to result, it might be supposed that all would go on within right limits, and that the new earth would be distinguished mainly by this, that it should never again be the scene of ruin and devastation, though only in appearance; but that everything should progress in regular and successful order. But unhappily we nowhere see this. The praise of never swerving from the fairest and most perfect rule, and of maintaining the most perfect harmony of character, belongs exclusively to One, after whose measure we, indeed, are to become a perfect man, but only taken as a whole; and from whom, according to the measure that pleases Him, each of us, as a portion of the whole, receives manifold but variously diversified 220gifts of the Spirit, which manifest themselves in different ways according to differences of time and situation as well as of Nature. And already in the earliest times, when it was a still easier thing for all Christendom to agree, did there not arise under the very eyes of the apostles, as we see from Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians, an emulous contention as to those separate gifts, which presents to us an idea of confusion, in the single member separating itself from the body and wishing to be something by itself, as if it could do with out the rest. That was not the effect of the Spirit’s guidance, it was the impulse of human nature that did not yet understand itself in these higher circumstances, and which in newly receiving the gifts of the Spirit, wished to break away from obedience to His control. God allowed this to occur that it might be seen how much this mysterious bond still needed to be strengthened, and then the authoritative voice of the apostle interposed, reconciling and laying down rules. And when the Spirit of God was no longer confined to the limits of the Jewish nation, but brought heathen also to the knowledge of the truth in Christ, and the Church rejoiced that out of every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him, to be brought to the knowledge of the Gospel; how soon was that first joy disturbed by hot contentions that threatened to rend the Church of God even in its earliest infancy! But through the wisdom of the apostles and the earnestness and love of the primitive Church, God spoke a calming word of peace, and the waves stopped short at threatening, and were not permitted to overflow. And when the Divine word in its rapid course laid hold of widely different peoples, and the diversity of tongues refused to be brought into harmony; when the variety of dispositions in the Church of God was always becoming greater, and each one had something different to fear as being injurious to the new life in him, as well as some point in the doctrines of salvation that he felt 221peculiarly bound to maintain; when, as the result of this, doctrine was presented in various lights and the Christian life assumed various forms, according to the riches of the Divine wisdom, which provided that the Gospel should be all things to all men so that by any means some might be gained; how very far were the minds of men from recognising and entering into the purpose of this rich wisdom! What strife and misunderstandings arose! and how quickly in this sacred territory of the Christian Church and of the Divine Word sprang up all the overbearing arrogance of a fancied exclusive knowledge, all passionate desire to persecute and destroy, by which means it is falsely imagined that social relations are best protected, and the fruits of human wisdom most securely preserved and extended! It was difficult to believe that there yet lay in the inmost hearts of the excited disputants, as the cause of all this, a true zeal for the kingdom of God. These sad scenes of devastation with in the Lord’s vineyard have indeed always been the most dreadful of all the manifestations of human nature broken loose from restraint. The Most High, in permitting them, wished to appoint a sign by which Christians might discern in how small a degree that word of Christ, “My kingdom is not of this world,” had yet become spirit and life in their hearts. Often has the bloody sign been repeated, but ever again came the command of the Lord, “No further! “to those waves also; and so strife was again turned into peace, estranged hearts were again bound together, and always new light and life were gained. But now? Has not a permanent separation taken place since the time when a part of Christendom came to the conclusion in regard to all the teaching that still inculcates the legal spirit of the Old Testament, making much of outward ceremonial and never allowing men to feel secure; in regard to all the worship that is borrowed from the glittering pomp of sensuous paganism, and everything that compromises the equality of 222all believers under the one Master—that these are nothing but a defiling of our holy temple? And what a distracted condition was that of the Christian world so long as the warfare on this matter went on!—a warfare that was only ended by a schism which still continues, and makes itself from time to time more sharply felt; and the end of which we cannot forecast! Yet even in this case the Lord has spoken the same word of power, “One Lord, one Spirit, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.” At this watchword of the apostle, for unity in the Spirit by the bond of peace, a halt was bound to be made; this barrier could not be forced; before it even those waves of strife were compelled to subside.
Oh, what comfort for the future is warranted to us by such a retrospect! what comfort both in view of that which lies directly before us, and for the more distant future! All the forces that have ever been roused to strife and contention against each other, not only still exist among men, but are still far from being bound in an indissoluble union. On the contrary, as the summit of perfection has in no respect been reached, the same occasions still present themselves from time to time, now for one force, now for another, to break out, and with destructive power to overpass their boundaries, so that the Lord must again draw them within their lines, and prescribe bounds and limits. And even in the Church of Christ—nay, within the borders of our own Church—the thing that has been still is. Vanity still stirs up rivalry in connection with men’s different gifts; and the great diversity of views and opinions, instead of throwing increasing light on each, and helping men towards the truth in mutual love, still stimulates them to passionate contention, through their narrow and partial reliance on their own investigations on the one side, or the traditions of the elders on the other. Be it so! Even with these things in prospect we will look forward cheerfully to the 223future. The Lord has hitherto appointed limits in the natural world; and in the time to come that world will not deviate from His rule, according to which temporary disturbances are ever becoming of less significance. He has hitherto set limits to every outbreak of human passions; to all the complications that have arisen from men’s conflicting dispositions and wishes, up to the present time; He has thrown over the kingdom of grace the defence that He promised to Him whom He set on His right hand; and He will do so still in the future. And this is not all. Out of every apparent convulsion Nature has come forth into more fixed order, and more receptive to the formative influences of man. All the often-recurring ruptures and wars have brought the relations of the nations to each other, as well as the internal relations of each people, into such a form, that their brotherly connection comes out more distinctly, and peace and concord are gaining a firmer footing and more enduring power. After every display of the overweening extravagances of the human mind, the chasm between what is evolved out of its own depths, and what is produced in devoutly exercised spirits by the power of the divine Word, is gradually becoming less. Through all the sufferings of the Christian Church, she has fought her way to a blessed liberation from the bondage of human authority, and to a clearer light of truth. And so it will be with all the troubles that may be before us in the future. God the Lord will set bounds and limits to them with the same result as before, and not without an equal blessing; and we may indulge the special hope that the Church of God, although passing through many forms of strife and division, will, as the salt of the earth, be ever attaining a closer likeness to the perfection of Him in whom, as the express image of God, there can be nothing discordant, but all is holy unity and blessed peace.
II. But we are to find in the consideration of this truth, 224not only our comfort for the future, but our direction and the law of our life, for this and for every year which the Lord is still pleased in His grace to grant us on earth.
But we need to be on our guard in this matter against two forms of error. Men are often inclined, with an only too easy indifference, to accept it as a settled thing that the ways of the Most High are unsearchable. Out of this easy acquiescence the Lord thundered Job by the power of His sublime discourse. When men’s views on this point are in some degree corrected, and they allow themselves to be persuaded that though they cannot understand God’s doings in detail, or all at once—in which sense we may say everything is unsearchable to us—yet that at least in the great, general course of human affairs, they do see, though but as in a glass darkly, something of the beneficent rule and glorious wisdom of the Most High, in connection with all the struggles and commotions in this world; when this point is reached, most men are apt to fall into error, which takes with some the form of a culpable carelessness in regard to their own conduct; with others, that of an entirely passive expectation of coining events.
The latter class, when they see excess and overbearing pride bearing sway in the circle in which they move, and outbreaks of hostile and excited passions—though they are not without anxiety and concern as to how far the evil may have power to go, and all that may be ruined or retarded by it—yet console themselves with the thought that the Lord holds the reins over all, and directs in such a way that they may hold themselves entirely aloof, and regard themselves as not at all called on to co-operate in those divine plans. But for this comforting thought they would probably have taken some action, but now they wish to be mere spectators of what the Lord may bring about, as if in regard to human things, He carried out His purposes otherwise than by means of human instruments. The 225former class are persons who, if they believed that human instrumentality alone came into play, would perhaps often be alarmed at the manner in which they yield to their depraved inclinations; but they cherish the thought that the Lord Himself appoints bounds and limits, and restores order after confusion; and therefore they hold themselves no longer bound to feel any anxiety about the consequences of their acts, but think that, for their part, they can all the more readily follow, without measure or rule, the desires of their own mind. For, according to their theory, even though they could do no otherwise than obey the impulse of inward inclination and external necessity, the Most High will no doubt see to it that the consequences are neither more nor less than what He has determined. But what can we call this but a criminal indifference as to whether the will of God is to be done through us with our own will, or against it? And yet this is just what makes the essential difference between those who are God’s servants and friends, and those who are only His slaves—involuntary and unconscious instruments. What can we call it but criminal indifference as to whether the things we desire belong to what God will establish and maintain, or to what He can only suppress and destroy? And yet in the one case we belong, by our will, to the kingdom of God; in the other case, to the world.
And to return to that class of persons who—while recognising God as the upholder and mover of all, who out of everything can bring good—are yet pleased to wait in slothful inaction for what may happen, without caring to take a share in His work—have they not cause to charge themselves with knowing God and seeing Him, only apart from themselves?
So let it never be with us!—us who claim to be not far from God, but in Him to live and move and have our being; not so with us, who have not merely a God working apart 226from us, but to whom Christ has promised to come, and with the Father take up His abode in our hearts! And if it is this very Father in heaven who appoints to everything its just limits and appropriate law, and if He has given us of His Spirit, manifestly this cannot but have the effect of leading us also to endeavour to maintain and restore limits and law everywhere. First, in the kingdom of Nature; for when, in the beginning, the Most High made over the earth, with all that breathes and moves on it, to the first parents of our race, it was His design that man should subdue it, and have dominion over it. Thus we ourselves are to be the standard of all earthly things; their relation to us is to be brought out in all circumstances, and is to be the true law of their being, and to this we are to direct our efforts. And if the Lord should again, for the moment, set free the forces of Nature from this law which is ordinarily in operation, so that they overpass the bounds appointed to them, and lay in ruins, more or less of the works of men, then what is the only wise and fitting course? Not, surely, to sit calmly waiting to see what the issue may be; still less to allow ourselves foolishly to be seduced into irregularity and strife, throwing it over on the Lord to restore, as He may please, the old state of things out of the new disorders. No; all such events should be a new call to us to bring our measure and rule to bear more powerfully on external Nature, to establish more and more the dominion of mind over it, and to impress on it ever more deeply the stamp of that dominion; in short, to subdue it more and more, by every means, under the spiritual power of man, whom the Most High Himself has appointed as its ruler. The more we unite our powers on every such occasion, in this new year; the more faithfully we support each other in this work, each one with the gift that he has received, whether it be clear insight into affairs, or power over minds, or abundance of outward means; so much the more shall we 227glorify the Name of the Most High, by making progress in fulfilling the great vocation to which He has called us.
But this is no doubt only the outside view of the subject, that to which the better educated part of the community, who decide the action of the rest, are naturally prompted by the well-understood motive of personal advantage, or the most careful calculation as to the best means of securing what is required by their social life, which is constantly becoming more artificial and complex, as well as mutually dependent. Much more should we be concerned to keep rule and order in the spiritual world, and generally where man has to do with man. Nowhere should we be able to look on idly at men wandering away into error. Wherever the restless excitement and inflamed passions of the human soul have broken out in fury; where selfishness and lust of power have engaged in conflict with the right and good, and are reaching the point of tyranny; there we are to interpose: wherever arrogance and violence work hand in hand with cowardice and servility, in the most mischievous alliance that can be formed against right and truth, we must, as a matter of course, come openly and boldly for ward. Only we are to do this, not at all in the way of bringing to bear a force equally lawless and out of bounds, though of an opposite kind; but in this way, that by our whole life, by our opinions and modes of action, we really and truly represent law and order. And not only so: the spirit of order, that is a vital principle in us, should make us quick to detect the very first indications of the approach of a condition of things that in its consummation annihilates safe boundaries, and threatens to endanger and destroy all that promotes and preserves social life. But even without such premonitions, and without a definite purpose on our part, every one of us ought, in the circle of his work and of his social relations, so to contribute to the maintaining and strengthening of rule and order, that efforts in the 228opposite direction are restrained beforehand. Well for that community—and for such a community alone—in every rank of which there is a goodly number of those who, by their manner of life and the whole tone of their daily conduct, serve as a mighty voice of God, sounding out on every side the cry, “Hitherto and no further: here shall the proud waves be broken!”
But, my friends, if we are in earnest in this matter—and what could more nearly concern us on such a day as this?—if we really long that in each new year of our lives these principles should come more powerfully into action, we must guard with special care against what happens only too easily, allowing ourselves to be carried away either by the violent or the more insidious evil ways of men; and so, perhaps with the best intentions, giving vent to our feelings in an extravagant way, which it becomes needful for the Lord to check. For nothing can have more disastrous results than our attempting to overcome evil, not with good, but with counter-evil, and, in contending for law and order, ourselves going beyond what is lawful. But how easily do many, even of the best people, fall into this mistake! Indeed, we may as well say plainly, we shall only be safe from such errors in so far as we live fully and heartily in the new creation to which, God be thanked, we all belong, and obey the Spirit who rules in that creation. For only through this Spirit has the Lord caused His eternal and holy laws to find an entirely natural soil in the human soul. The Spirit who in our hearts cries, “Abba, Father,” the Spirit who is at once the Spirit of sonship and the Spirit of liberty, He alone it is who brings us thoroughly into accord with that inward character of the divine government in human affairs, by virtue of which everything passionate and uugoverned must be opposed, so that law and order may be everywhere restored. But where the power of this Spirit of Christianity 229is not yet felt, even the rational desire to extend knowledge is not pure love of truth, for many side issues find a place; and even the most zealous and self-sacrificing public spirit is, in that case, still a selfish feeling, seeing that it does not embrace the whole human family, and is therefore still liable to be swayed by passion or even by hostility. Nothing but the universal love and the pure truth taught by the Spirit of God can make men wholly free.
But how can we possibly count on maintaining rule and order, by means of a pure and vigorous life as new creatures, in the whole world of men, even among those whose hearts are, alas, still closed against the Spirit of God, who desires to dwell in all,—how, I say, can we do this, unless this Spirit in the first place demonstrates by actual fact, in the Christian Church itself, the blessed power of overcoming all inferior motives, that the Lord’s beneficent rule and order may be upheld? How shall we do it unless the Church is more and more getting rid of the delusion that the profit and honour of one may be shame and loss to another; and all are becoming more and more united in ono Spirit, with a common aim; unless each seeks the good of the rest without fearing to lose his own in doing so; unless there is the most joyful and confident seeking of the truth in love, so that love may have the glorious courage to be everywhere and always true and only true? For only thus, we are well assured, is that blessedness advanced, which the Lord came to bring, and in this way alone are men more and more freed from the influence of every meaner power, which makes them in reality weary and heavy laden.
For this end, my friends, the Lord opens to us all another year of forbearance and grace. If, during its course, the comforting truths that furnished the first part of our meditation constantly confirm us in the resolutions that have occupied our later thoughts, we shall employ this year 230according to the holy will of God. Let us, for this purpose, seek after all spiritual gifts, in so far as we are able to stir them up and cultivate them in ourselves; for all have the power, if they will use it rightly, to maintain and restore rule and order in their own minds. And as to those gifts that seem to be denied to ourselves, let us not only rejoice heartily when we find them in others, but hold such persons in honour, and protect and further them in their operations as wo alone can; for a thorough co-operation of all faculties and gifts of the Spirit is necessary, if suitable resistance is to be made where there are proud waves to be broken. But only in the proportion in which we allow the one Spirit, from whom come at once the gifts and the knowledge to use them rightly, to have undisturbed control; only in so far shall we be, each for himself and for the community, a pure example of divine moderation and eternal order.
As the divine Spirit who moved on the face of the waters established law and order in the natural world, so that those conditions are only developed more fully through all disturbances and warring forces; so when Christ appeared and His Spirit was poured out on all flesh, the eternal foundations of law and order were laid for the disordered spiritual world. Here also they will go on developing; each period as it passes will bear witness to their growing power; and as often as a new period begins, all in whom this Spirit lives and works should have this in view. But this Spirit is none other than the Spirit of love. And therefore the apostle, after exhorting Christians, as I have just been doing, to seek after all spiritual gifts, and most earnestly after the best, said rightly, in reference to love, that he would show them a more excellent way; for without love all the rest is worthless. And as those gifts are certainly perfect gifts, and the more richly any community is endowed with them the better times they may expect, love is even 231in this case the only bond of perfectness, because by love alone are those perfect gifts so united and kept in union that each fills up its appropriate measure, but never goes beyond it. Think of what spiritual gift you will; without love, it will either lie dormant in the soul like a dead faculty, or, once awakened, it will need only some slight provocation to exalt itself beyond the bounds of friendly concord with the rest. But love is this bond because love is itself the power that calls forth divine law and order. For it was through law and order that God, in His love, meant to reveal Himself in the creation of the world; and it is to love we owe the law and order of the new creation. Rule and limits must be set to all things else, but love, that produces and includes both, has no need to be so restrained. Love needs no rule, for she is not unruly; she has no proud waves that must be broken, for she envies not, is not puffed up, but is long-suffering and meek; she seeks not her own, and is not easily provoked (and what could raise more wild and foaming waves than that?), but beareth all things, because she hopeth all things. Therefore if, in the new year we are entering on to-day, love only dwells ever more richly among us, then the love of Christ, which is the source of all Christian brotherly love, will, on the one hand, constrain us to promote, by every means, thorough harmony and cheerful co-operation in every good work. And so it will come to pass more and more that, without great noise and battle drowning the voice of Christ; by a gentle but irresistible power—the power that belongs to the creating and upholding word of God alone—all threatening waves will be broken, and all hearts so bound together by this mysterious and yet unmistakable power, that wherever in the spiritual world anything still rises in rebellion, it may find no solid support; and the swollen streams in separate places may never again increase to a general and destroying flood. And on the other hand each of us will 232experience, in himself and in our whole community, fewer and fewer interruptions of the inward peace which the Lord left to His people; and there will more and more rarely occur such seasons of disturbance, that even to His own Church the Lord must address these words—words of healing, it is true, but still always the threatening words of a judge, “Hitherto, and no further; here shall thy proud waves be stayed.”
Let us then, with such comfort and such purposes, enter with cheerful courage on this new year of our lives. This year, like the rest—let us not deceive ourselves—will bring to us many occasions on which we shall find it needful to say, remembering with hope and confidence the words of our text; these waves also will find their boundary, and the limit which the Lord has appointed them. And if we are far from seeing how this can be, let us only, in the strength of love which rejoices in the truth, not be found wanting in our service to God; let us bear witness to the Lord’s will whenever a favourable door is opened to us, and seek to overcome evil with good, and to hush the tempest with words of peace: and thus shall we also be fellow-workers, and in a similar way, though it may be only in a small degree, with Him who commanded the winds and the sea. And so it will come about that all the storms will be only external to us, while in our spiritual house there will only be heard the rushing of the Spirit, bearing witness with our spirits, that we, who are faithful according to law and order, as the Son was faithful in all His house, are the children of God. And this house itself will prove to be like that one which, though the floods come and the winds blow, and beat upon it, stands immovable, being founded on the true rock. Amen.233
Even so, Almighty God and Father, we humble ourselves before Thy throne at the beginning of a new year that Thou givest us to use in Thy service, and in advancing Thy kingdom. Thou who restrainest and measurest all things, and under whose government nothing can happen but according to Thy command, wilt reveal in this year also Thy power and Thy wisdom, by all Thy dealings, to those who take pleasure in Thy ways, and whose eyesight is clear to behold Thy works, and their ears open to hear Thy holy voice. Oh, let that voice speak to us ever more distinctly from Thy written Word, and from the depths of our hearts, where Thou hast given Thy Spirit to dwell. Oh, that we might hear it ever more clearly, and follow it in loyal obedience more than hitherto, so that we should find the right measure of things without contention, and should live without times of disturbance and disorder in the kingdom which Thy Son has founded. To this end we commend to Thee, for this new year, all Christians on earth, and especially our evangelical Church. Build her up more and more, through the operation of Thy Spirit, into a Church well-pleasing to Thee! Let the light of the gospel be by her means ever shining brighter and further, that many may be awakened and born again to the new life, who are still sitting in the darkness and shadow of death! Glorify Thy Son more and more in all those who profess His name, and let the Spirit of order and of peace rule everywhere in the Christian Church! To this end grant Thy blessing on the bond of love and fellowship which unites Thy people, on the preaching of Thy Word, and on the distribution of the memorials of Thy Son.
We specially commend to Thee also, for this year, our beloved Fatherland. Bless the king, the crown prince and his consort, and the whole royal House. May that House 234be in this year an equally blessed and beautiful example of Christian piety, so that all loyal subjects may rejoice in seeing its undisturbed and ever-increasing prosperity. Continue to the king the enlightening and the support of Thy Spirit, for the fulfilment of the great duty which Thou hast laid upon him. Surround him with faithful and zealous ministers, who understand how to help him and to carry out what is right and well-pleasing to Thee. Keep all his subjects loyal and obedient throughout the kingdom Thou hast given him; so that under his protection Christian churches may rise up everywhere, and that we may be always coming nearer to our common aim of likeness to our Saviour. We likewise, gracious God and Father, commend to Thy special care the training of the young, and the Christian households throughout our Fatherland, and in this city; that so every family that guides its affairs according to Thy will, may have the sense of Thy good pleasure within, and may shine as a helpful example to those with out. Yea, do Thou bless each one in that calling to which Thou hast guided him; so that we all may have the happy experience that we also can contribute something to the advancement of Thy kingdom, by wise use of the talent which Thou hast entrusted to us; and that from one year to another each of us, as a faithful servant of Thine, may be able to be set over more. And for those to whom, in the course of this year, Thou hast appointed sorrow and adversities, take Thou a loving concern when they seek refuge with Thee; and let us all experience, more and more, that in the measure which Thou appointest to all things, the purpose of Thy fatherly love is that our souls, for which Thou hast so graciously cared, may be more and more attaining to the right stature, and that for this very reason all things must work for the best to those who trust in Thee and love Thee. Amen.235
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