|« Prev||XXIII. The Endless Quest||Next »|
XXIII. THE ENDLESS QUEST
“Lord, teach us to pray.”—Luke xi. i.
“He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him (lit. that seek Him out).”—Heb. xi. 6.
I MUST not set myself up as a man able to mend, and to make improvements upon, the English translation of the Greek Testament. At the same time, it seems to me to be beyond dispute that the English of the text falls far short of the exact point and the full expressiveness of the original. Remacu:—touching the text with the point of needle, Bengel exclaims: “A grand compound!” And it is a “grand compound.” The verb in the text is not simply to seek. It is not simply to seek diligently. It is to seek out: it is to seek and search out to the very end. A Greek particle, of the greatest possible emphasis and expressiveness, is prefixed to the simple verb: and those two letters are letters of such strength and intensity they make the commonplace word to which they are prefixed to shine out with a great grandeur to Bengel’s so keen, so scholarly and so spiritual eyes.281
Ever feeling after God, if haply I may find Him, in a moment I saw the working out of my own salvation in a new light; and, at the same moment, I saw written out before me my present sermon, as soon as I stumbled on the Apostle’s “grand compound.” “But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that seek Him out” to the end; of them that seek Him out saying, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!” That seek Him out saying, “Verily, Thou art a God that hidest Thyself.” That seek Him out with their whole heart. That seek Him with originality, with invention, with initiation, with enterprise, with boldness, with all possible urgency, and with all possible intensity and strenuousness. As also, to the end of a whole life of the strictest obedience, and the most absolute and unshaken faith, and hope, and love. “A grand compound!”
As we go on in life, as we more and more come to be men and leave off speaking as children, and understanding as children and thinking as children, we come to see with more and more clearness what it is to us,—what it must be to us,—to arise and return to God, to seek God, to come to God, and to walk with God. At one time we had the most unworthy and impossible thoughts of God, and of our seeking Him, and finding Him. We had the most 282 materialistic, and limited, and local, and external ideas about God. But, as we became men, we were led,—all too slowly, and all too unwillingly,—yet we were led to see that God is an Infinite and an Omnipresent Spirit: and that they that would seek God must seek Him in the spiritual world, that is, in that great spiritual world of things into which our own hearts within us are the true, and the only, door. “Thou hast set the world in their hearts,” says the Preacher in a very profound passage. The spiritual world, that is; the world of God, and of all who are seeking God out till they are rewarded of Him. “We do not come to God upon our feet,” says Augustine, “but upon our affections.” And thus it is that we, who are so materialistically minded and so unspiritually minded men, find it so distasteful, and so difficult, and so impossible to seek out God till we find Him. Were He to be found in any temple made with hands; were He to be found in Samaria or in Jerusalem, between the Cherubim on earth, or on a throne in heaven,—then, we should soon find Him. But because He has set the spiritual world, and Himself as the God and King of the spiritual world, in our own hearts,—we both mistake the only way to find Him, and miss our promised reward of Him.
How can I go away from Him,—and how can I come back to Him, Who is everywhere present? “Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? or whither 283 shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there. If I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there.” A question, a chain of questions like that, put continually, put imaginatively, put day and night and in dead earnest to a man’s self, will be the beginning of a new life to any man among us. Questions, problems, psalms and prayers, like that,—raised, reasoned out, understood, and accepted,—will open our eyes. A man has no sooner stated these things to himself than, from that moment, he begins to see as never before, something of the greatness and the glory of God; something of the Divine and Holy Spirituality of God; and, consequently, something of the pure spirituality of all his intercourse with God. I see then, that it is not God who has turned away and removed Himself from me in His omnipresence and omniscience: but that I have gone away and removed myself far from Him in all my thoughts and words and deeds. I have gone away from God in my heart. And, as my going away from God was, so must my coming back to Him be. And thus we are told of the prodigal son that his coming to himself was his first step back to his father. And his whole return began, and was carried out, by recollection, and by repentance, and by confidence in his father’s forgiveness, and by a resolution, at once acted on, to return to his father’s house. The whole parable took place in 284 his own heart. The far country was all in that prodigal son’s own heart. The mighty famine was all in his own heart. The swine and their husks were all in his own heart. The best robe and the ring and the shoes were all in his own heart. And the mirth and the music and the dancing were all also in his own heart. “He hath set the whole world,” says the wise man, “in their heart.”
Take then, as the first illustration of this law of our text, take the truly studious, or, as I shall call him, the truly philosophic seeker after truth, if not yet to say after GOD. Let that student be, at present, a total stranger to God. Nay, I am bold to say, let him be at secret enmity with God. Only, let him be an honest, earnest, hard-working, still-persevering, and everyway-genuine student of nature and of man. Let him never be content with what he has as yet attained, but let him love, and follow, and seek out, the whole truth to the end. Now such a true student as that will not work at his studies with one part of his mind only; but in the measure of his depth, and strength, and wisdom, he will bring all that is within him, as the Psalmist says, to his studies. He will bring his heart as well as his head: his imagination as well as his understanding: his conscience even, and his will, as well as his powers of recollection and reasoning. And as he works on, all the seriousness, all the reverence, all the humility, all the patience and 285 all the love with which he studies nature, will more and more be drawn out as he ponders and asks,—who, or what, is the real root, and source, and great original of nature and man? Who made all these things? And for why? And by this time, that true student has come, all unawares to himself, under the sure operation of that great Divine law, which is enunciated with such certitude in this splendid text. For he that cometh seeking God, whether in nature or in grace; whether in God’s works, or in God’s Son, or in God’s word: if he still comes with teachableness, and with patience, and with humility, and with faith, and with hope, and with love to the end,—all of which are the qualities and the characters of a true student,—that man, by this time, is not far from God. Till the very vastness, and order, and beauty, and law-abidingness, and loyalty, and serviceableness of nature; will all more and more pierce his conscience, and more and more move, and humble, and break his heart. And God will, to a certainty, reward that man, that serious, and honest, and humble-minded man, by putting this psalm in his mouth, till he will join his fellow-worshippers here in singing it: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handywork.” But it is the law of the Lord that is perfect, converting the soul: it is the testimony of the Lord that is pure, enlightening the eyes. “It is true that a little 286 philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism: but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion: for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further: but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity. Then, according to the allegory of the poets, he will easily believe the highest link of nature’s chain must needs be tied to the foot of Jupiter’s chair.”
We speak in that large and general way about what we call great students and great thinkers and great philosophers, as they feel after, and find out God; and we do not speak amiss or out of place. But there is no student in all the world like the student of his own heart. There is no thinker so deep and difficult as he who thinks about himself. And out of all the philosophies that have been from the beginning, there is none of them all like that of a personal, a practical, an experimental religion, and an out-and-out obedience to all God’s commandments. That is science. That is philosophy. As the Book of Revelation has it: “Here is wisdom”: and “Here is the mind which hath wisdom.” The mind, that is, which seeks God in all things, and at all times, and that seeks Him out till it finds Him. And till God says to that man also, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.”287
Is there any man here then, this day, who is saying: “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him! That I might come even to His seat”? What is the matter with you, man? What is it that has so banished your soul away from God? What was it that so carried you away into that captivity? And what is the name of the chain that holds you so fast there? Do you ask honestly and in earnest,—“What must I do to be saved from this far country, this hell-upon-earth into which I have fallen?” O man! You are very easily answered. Your case is very easily treated. You are not a great thinker: you are simply a great sinner. It is not speculation that has led you astray, but disobedience, and a bad heart. You must not expect to be flattered and fondled, and sympathised and condoled with, as if there was some deep and awful mystery about you. Oh no! there is nothing mysterious or awful abut you. You are a quite commonplace, everyday, vulgar transgressor. There are plenty like you. “Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? . . . Or, Who shall descend into the deep? . . . But what saith it? The word is nigh thee,” That is the word of repentance, and return to God, and a better life, and a broken heart, which we preach to ourselves and to you. Do you not understand? Do you not know what it is in you, and about you, that lands you in such nakedness and famine and shame and 288 pain and death? You know quite well. It is sin. It is nothing but sin. It is the sins and the faults of your heart and your life. Now, this is wisdom. This is the mind that hath wisdom. To put your finger on yourself and say: It is in this, and in this, and in this, that I always go away from God. It is in the indulgence of this appetite. It is in this wicked temper. It is in this secret envy and ill-will. It is in this sour and sullen heart. It is in this secret but deep dislike and evil mind at that man who so innocently trusts me, and who so unsuspiciously thinks me his friend. It is in this scandalous neglect of prayer; this shameful, this suicidal neglect of all kinds of personal religion in the sight of God. Believe the worst about yourself. Fix on the constantly sinful state of your own heart, and an the secret springs of sinful thought and feeling within you: seek yourself out, as the text says, and you are thus seeking out God. And the more evil you seek out of yourself,—and put it away,—the nearer and the surer you will come to God. Fight every day against no one else but yourself; and against nothing else but every secret motion of pride, and anger, and malice, and love of evil, and dislike of good. Every blow you deal to these deadly things of which your heart is full is another safe and sure step back to God. At every such stroke at yourself, and at your own sin God will by all that come back to you; till, at last, 289 He will fill your whole soul with himself. That was the way, and it was in no other way, that Enoch “walked with God” in the verse just before the text. And you too will walk with God, and God with you, just in the measure in which you put on humility, and put off pride; and fill your hot heart full of the meekness and lowly-mindedness of the Son of God; and, beside it, with the contrition, and the penitence, and the watchfulness, and the constant prayerfulness of one of His true disciples. To hold your peace when you are reproved,—that is a sure step toward God. To let a slight, a contempt, an affront, an insult, a scoff, a sneer, fall on your head like an excellent oil, and on your heart like your true desert—“with that man will I dwell,” says the God of Israel and the God and Father of our Lord Jeans Christ. Every step you take out of an angry and wrathful heart, and out of a sour, sullen, and morose heart, and into a meek and peace-making heart; out of envy and uneasiness, and into admiration and honour: on the spot your heavenly Father will acknowledge and will reward you. Seek Him out: and see if He will not!
And, then,—remaining always at your true post, within yourself,—come out continually in that mind, and seek out God in all outward things also. For, be sure, He is in all outward things as well: and He is in them all for you to seek Him out till you are rewarded of Him. In every ordinance of his grace 290 and truth He is to be sought out by you. On every new Sabbath, and in every psalm, and prayer, and scripture, and silent and secret hour of that Sabbath. In every week-day providence also. He is in every providence of His for many more beside you: but He is there for you, just as much as if He were there for no one but you. In public providences, in domestic providences, as well as in all those more secret and personal providences that have been so many perfect miracles in your life. And in every change and alteration in your circumstances. God, all-wise, does not make a change in your circumstances just for the love of change. It is all for His love to you, and to make you seek out a fresh proof of that love, as well as to draw out some new, and warm, and wondering love out of your renewed heart to Him. After you have appropriated to yourself all the reward He had prepared for you in one age and stage of your life, He leads you on to another age and another stage; and He hides Himself and His grace there for you again to seek Him out. And this goes on, all through your life, till He teaches you to say, “One thing do I desire, and that will I seek after, and that is God, my God, my Life, my Joy, my Blessedness.”
Men and women! What are you living for? What is your life yielding you? If you are not finding God in all parts of your life—what a fatal 291 mistake you are making! And what a magnificent reward you are for ever missing!
But, when all is said, it is not to be wondered at that so few of us seek, and seek out, God. For His greatness passes all comprehension, and imagination, and searching out, of men and angels. His holiness also makes Him a “consuming fire” to such sinners as we are. And then, His awful spirituality, omnipresence, and inwardness,—we would go mad, if we once saw Him as He is, and at the same time saw ourselves as we are. “And He said, There shall no man see Me, and live.” We must grow like God before we can both see Him and live. And thus it is that it is only His very choicest and chiefest saints who do seek Him out to the end either in His Son, or in the Scriptures, or in their own hearts, or in Providence, or in nature, or in unceasing prayer. It is only one here, and another there, who ever get the length of crying out with Job, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him.” And with Isaiah, “Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself.” And with Paul, “Dwelling in light which no man can approach unto: Whom no man hath seen, or can see.”
But, just in the depth and adoration of their cry; and just as their sight and sense is of the greatness and the glory of God,—just in that kind, and just in that degree, will their reward be, when He shall reveal Himself at last, and shall Himself 292 become their exceeding great and everlasting Reward. And though we are not worthy to stoop down and unloose the latchet of the shoes of such great, and such greatly rewarded, saints of God: yet, if we also seek God, and seek Him out to the end of our life,—feeble as our faith is, and smoking flax as our love is,—yet by His grace, after all our partial discoveries of God, and all our occasional experiences of Him, we also in our measure shall receive, and shall for ever possess, and enjoy very God Almighty Himself for our own Reward for ever.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! . . . For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things.” “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.” “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth: . . . my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. . . . They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.”
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY MORRISON AND GIBB LTD., EDINBURGH
|« Prev||XXIII. The Endless Quest||Next »|