« PreviousContinue »
injury, the New Testament is yet radiant with the atmosphere of hope. That hope is so sure and serene that it ministers peace to those who are yet in the midst of sorrow and strife. It is so joyful that it arms us in triumphant strength against all discouragement. It is so vast that not the spectacle of a world lying in wickedness can daunt its expectation. One of St. Paul's loftiest passages takes wing from the contemplation of the saddest facts. “ We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” Even we, he says, who have entered
upon the heavenly road, “groan within ourselves.” But " are saved by hope !” The same Divine Spirit that is bearing the world onward speaks in our hearts a full assurance. We know that all things work together for good. God is for us: who can be against us? And rising to that height where faith is clearer than sight, we know that even in tribulation, distress, persecution, we are more than conquerors. “ Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
In the religion of the New Testament kope is not a distinct and separate element. It has its root deep in that truth which is the centre and heart of all the love of God. Because He is our Father, and all things are in His hand ; because we come into the world the children of God, and the whole structure of nature and providence is set to bring His children up to Himself—therefore our hope is sure. If men in the name of Christianity have sometimes degraded hope from its rightful throne by the side of Love and Faith; if sometimes they have almost exalted Despair to reign in its stead, it is because they have forgotten what is first in Christ's teaching—that God is our Father. This is life eternal : that we should know Him, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. To know God, to rightly think of Him even so far as our weak human faculties can reach toward His height, will bring us to love Him supremely, to trust Him absolutely, and to look with calmest confidence toward that future which is in His hand. And so Jesus, standing at the last as in the very presence of His Father, speaks to His disciples, on the eve of death, words whose depth of peace, of joy, of hope passing into absolute certainty, our hearts have not yet measured. “ Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you : not
Ι as the world giveth give I unto you.” “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice ; and your joy no man taketh from you.”
It is for every man to take this spirit and carry it into every part of his life. To a Christian there ought to be no such thing as despondency. Christian hope is not something to be laid away for the supreme
emergencies of life and death. "All things work together for good." In the anxieties of business, in the solicitudes of affection, in all the concerns of daily living, this is to be our steadfast anchor, And in those yearnings and out-reachings toward the unseen world which sometimes become intense—in the craving for those who are gone, in the hunger for immediate sight and knowledge of God, in the longing to look beyond the vail of death-we are to rest on this, that the reality is something better than we can understand. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things that God hath prepared.
Nor is this Divine principle of hope to be used by any man in a narrow or isolated way. The whole human family is to be included in it. It is of the very essence of the Christian dispensation, that its love radiates in every direction, and stops nowhere. Its happiness yearns to diffuse itself to all.
Its hope, rooted in that Divine love which is wide as the earth and the heavens, includes in its sweep all the children of men. We are united, all of us, in the brotherhood of humanity; we are one in being children of the Heavenly Father ; we are one in the guidance of His loving providence toward a glorious consummation, when all things shall be gathered together in one in Christ.
Held in the spirit of the New Testament, hope becomes a supreme inspirer. Our part in the grand movement of the universe is not a passive one. We can hinder or we can hasten it. He who, trusting in Providence, neglects his own duty will reap speedily a bitter harvest. He who is slack in helping his fellow-men, on the plea that God will care for them, shows that he does not care for them himself. What he calls faith is unbelief; it is contempt for the Divine law by which God works through men. But to the brave worker, to the heart bowed down by sorrow, to the soul that is seeking its Father, comes the word of infinite encouragement, “ Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice !"
G. S. MERRIAM.
Cheery üdords for Sad Hearts. THERE was much in Babylon to depress and sadden the heart of the captive Jew. Look which way he would there was everything to remind him that he was far away from home. Here were long stretches of flat country, which might be fat and fertile, but which were altogother unlike the hills and dales of his own beloved land. Here were strange buildings; and here were stranger people. Even if his eyes
were closed he was still made to feel that he was no longer in the land which Jehovah had promised to his fathers. The language was unfamiliar. The sounds which greeted his ears were harsh and discordant. Babel revelry was heard in place of the sweet songs of Zion. He could hardly himself sing the Lord's song in a strange land. There seemed, moreover, the more he thought of it, but little hope of his return to the land of his fathers. The difficulties in the way of making the attempt were great, and the prospect of success was doubtful. What wonder, then, that there were moments in his captive life when he felt that he was helpless, friendless, hopeless? What more natural, at such seasons as these, than that he should give way to despair ?
It was at some such time as this that the prophet Isaiah was commissioned by Jehovah to speak these cheery words to their sad and sorrowful hearts : “ Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteous
The captive Jew had no monopoly of this spirit of fear and depression. Many good men since his day have had a fellow-feeling with him. The causes which have produced their sadness may be widely different from those which created his; but the condition itself is by no means dissimilar. The fear and depression devout men feel do not all spring from the same root. Sometimes they are to be traced up to purely physical causes. They are, it may be, the offspring of a feeble and nervous constitution, transmitted, and unaltered in the transmission ; for our blessed Master gives His disciples no guarantee that when men have won the truth their infirmities of the flesh shall pass away, and grace leaves the nervous man nervous still. It may be a sore distress. It may occasion frequent fits of depression ; but the producing cause remains. Sometimes the cast of men's minds disposes them to select dolorous topics for common meditation; or to dwell with a strange persistence on the sterner aspects of God's character, to the utter forgetfulness of other aspects quite as true, and absolutely needed for the right apprehension of those to which they so often recur. There is but little gladness in such men. They have not learned the Christian precept which bids them “rejoice evermore." They cast gloomy shadows around them. They are “cold columns in the sunshine, projecting darkness.” They rarely smile. Their voices are pitched in a minor key. Cheery tones they have none to utter. They have more plaints on their lips than songs, and the burden of many of them is—“My way is hidden from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God." With
very many, surprises form another source of fear and of con
sequent depression. In such men there is no Christian presence of mind; no quickness to apprehend what is the right thing to do, and to do it. On the contrary, under the influence of surprise grown men sometimes become as helpless as babes. They look this way and that way, and seem paralysed. They take counsel of their fears, and their fears unman them. This condition of mind may be produced by what men call a startling Providence; or it may spring from unlooked-for difficulty in the Christian life ; or from the sudden revelation of some truth hitherto hidden from their view. In either case fear predominates ; and where fear reigns judgment is overwhelmed. The surprise is not long in doing its work. Deep, agonising alarm, perhaps despair, fills the soul.
Loneliness of character is a further cause of sadness to some devout hearts. Do what men will, they feel that in many points they are unlike their neighbours, or even their most intimate and dearest friends. They strive to lessen the differences they cannot altogether remove, and in this very striving they still feel, and feel painfully, their own loneliness. Perhaps their circumstances, or their occupations, favour the growth of this strong individualism. They live in a world of their own, not because they seek it, but because of their natural character. Or the loneliness which men feel springs from a simpler cause, and one far more common; a change of residence, for example, and a severance from old and familiar companions. They feel that separation has created a void which is not easily filled up. They were wont to lean
a upon their friends, and they can lean upon them no longer. Letters may be interchanged, but a letter is not like a living friend. Occasional visits may be permitted, and may be keenly enjoyed, but the longest visit leaves much unsaid. The need of help crops out daily, and every time it is felt the sense of being alone becomes more painful and harder to bear. Or the loneliness is caused by bereavement; although the conviction of being left alone does not take possession of us at once. We are stunned by the heavy blow that has fallen upon us. Our senses appear to be numbed by it;-a merciful provision, since no stricken heart could take in at once all that is meant hy its recent loss and preserve its sanity. We may even chide ourselves because we feel so little when the blow first stuns us, as if we were unjust to the dead, and were untrue to ourselves. But the time comes when we feel all the poignancy of our great sorrow. We miss our companion, our friend, our relative, our child, daily, hourly. Our hearts hunger for them. Their voices still ring in our ears. Their very step and movement we are quick to catch, and find ourselves listening to the sound that for ever is still. They are gone; and the place that once knew them will know them no more. And yet when the night comes, and deep visions fall
It is not,
upon us, they are with us once again, and the old round of love and communion is renewed. We awake, and lo! it was but a transient dream! The dark, cold, stern, unwelcome reality comes again before
We are alone, and alone with our sorrow. The loneliness is all the keener because of that true and constant inflow of our soul with their soul ; and the stronger the love, the dearer and the closer the tie, so much the more oppressive is the present sense of loneliness. How many fathers, how many mothers, how many children have endured all this ! Nay, how many now at this very moment are doing their weary best to bear it all !
But to every devout soul thus cast down, whether from these causes, or from other causes, what a welcome message is this which the prophet brings ! It is not, be it observed, an assurance that the difficulties will be taken away.
It is not, that surprises will for ever cease. that absent ones will be brought back again to this dim spot which men call earth. It is not, in fact, by changing outward things that deliverance and succour will come. It is by a change in our relation to them.
See then the Divine method for removing this fear and depression. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee ; I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee by the right hand of My righteousness." Look carefully at these comforting words, precious to us for the cheer and hope they give. Do not let a single syllable be lost. Let them speak to our sad and weary hearts; and may God help us to walk evermore in the joy and strength they offer.
Here then, at the outset, is the Divine voice of consolation. If a child be awakened suddenly in the dead of the night, scared by some hideous dream, the foolish product of silly tales told by ignorant and superstitious nurses; or if it be aroused by unusual noises that startle those who may still be awake, what is it that soonest and most effectually quietens the fluttering heart of the troubled little one? Is it not the voice of the father, or the sweet and soothing tones of the mother ? As soon as the child catches the sound of those welcome and loving voices its fears melt away.
It cannot see either father or mother. It is too dark for that. It hears them, and that is enough. Is it not thus with us? Our Father speaks, not with an audible voice such as the child Samuel heard in the tabernacle of Shiloh, and yet He does speak.We hear what God the Lord hath said. We have His words, His very thoughts ; not vague and general, but separating and individual, as if we also were called by our name. There is comfort in the sound of that voice. It speaks peace to our Auttering heart. The very tones are reassuring, and the conviction is borne home to our inmost soul, that in