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THY FATHER IN SECRET.
BY REV. RUSSELL LANT CARPENTER, B.A.
MATTHEW vi. 18 (part) :
SECRECY is essential to our idea of divinity. No sacred awe is inspired by that which we can see the whole of, or see through. The greatness which overwhelms is unsearchable. Jehovah was thought to hide Himself in clouds and darkness, and to visit men unexpectedly, suddenly, and terribly. “We shall surely die, because we have seen God,” said Manoah.* “How dreadful,” said Jacob, “is this place ! Surely Jehovah is here, and I knew it not.” + The “most holy place” in His temple was that lofty, dark and solitary chamber which the high-priest alone, and he but once a year, was allowed to enter.
False gods have been worshiped for the very obscurity which there is in falsehood. What is obviously great commands respect ; what is obviously worthless has attracted idolatry, from its fancied connection with some inscrutable greatness. The misshapen image, the unsightly picture, the wafer of bread, spurned by plain sense, have subdued the imagination. Doctrines which would have exploded as contradictions, have been adored as mysteries.
Men have availed themselves of awe-inspiring secrecy. Kings, when secluded in it, have seemed hedged with divinity. * Judges xiii. 22.
+ Gen. xxviii, 16, 17.
Priests have enchained men's souls by it. Even those to whom secrecy offers no crown, desire its shield.
A public secret is a contradiction in terms. Would any one impart his secret he whispers it in some favoured ear, or writes it in cipher or concealed character. Would he do anything secretly?—he avoids observation, and seeks solitude and shade. Would he hide anything in secret f—it must then be small, or it will be noticed. He strives to remove every trace of it; he rakes over his footsteps, and trembles lest he was observed. He would break the links that unite him to it-scatter the clues that lead to it. The secret torments him. In heedlessness he may hint it-in wine may utter it-in sleep disclose it: he quails as you approach it.
The secrecy of the infinite and omnipresent God is not as our secrecy ; indeed it might seem the very reverse—no secrecy at all. The apostle declares that “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead." He seeks no confidential recipient of His secret, but invites all who can hear. He writes in no invisible ink nor mystic cipher : on every rock, on every tree, on all that meets the touch or fixes the gaze, there is a revelation of Him, written so that those who know not letters, having never learnt, may feel after it or behold it; yea, the very fragrance and life of His messages invite those who run to read. He does not retire into darkness, but covereth Himself with light as with a garment. It is by the numberless manifestations of God that we are impressed as to His secrecy. It is no isolated mystery, concealed by its minuteness ; but the vastness of His secret makes us ask, “Canst thou by searching find out God ? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection ?"+ If any one were to say to us, “There is a secret in a certain book," we might search a library, perhaps find the book and learn the secret. But were he to say, “Read every book that has been written and then you may learn the secret,” we should exclaim, * Rom. i. 20.
+ Job xi. 7.
“Such a secret we can never learn !" Thus is it with God. Wouldst thou find out His works ? He hides them not; they are all around thee. Wouldst thou seek Him ? He flies not; He everywhere awaits thee. We are lost in the boundless knowledge. As soon as we are ready for instruction, He teaches us.
When to each of us comes the fulness of time for any revelation, it is revealed. He permits us to scrutinize the past, and to prophesy the future; bound up in the solid rocks are the chronicles of earth's creation; the orbs of heaven reveal with their own light the laws which they obey. Nowhere must we say, “Thus far our knowledge is perfect, but God excludes us from all beyond.” He is ever giving us glimpses of that which transcends our present attainment ; and as soon as any truth is perfectly reached, new regions are opened before us. He renders no precious truths inaccessible by labyrinths—has no paths that lead only to bewilderment; there is no tortuosity in His doings; all His works, in all places of His dominion that we have ever explored, are in accordance with a divine order which we call Law. He is not shifting or changing, so as to efface every clue to Him; but all that has ever been discovered of Him reveals His present nature, for He abideth the same. Whatever secrecy, therefore, appears in God, results from our own imperfection : we are bewildered by His openness, blinded by His light, and confused by the multiplicity of His witnesses. God may appear secret to us in another
perpetual presence in our secrecy. To Him are known all the secrets of all creatures that are anywhere living or that have ever lived. He is, so to speak, the repository of all mysteries. There is no dark deed that has ever been done, but He was by; no cautious whisper, but He heard it; no secret joy with which a stranger may not intermeddle, no heart's own bitterness* which none else may know, but lo! God knoweth it altogether. Though Himself infinitely above and beyond all secrecy, He is the witness of all secrecy—the secret witness
* Prov, xiv, 10.
knowing far more of the secret than he does who is so carefully striving to hide it; for He is acquainted with its remotest origin, and sees whither it must tend. There are millions and millions of men now living, and each has his secret; and of these millions and millions of secrets, concealed with such innocent reserve or guilty shame, with such circumspection or cunning craftiness, with such anxiety or unutterable torture, God is the possessor. He has my secret and my neighbour's secret; and, if it pleases Him, He can give mine to my neighbour and his to me; and it may not be to-morrow or the next day or the next twenty years, for He who lives through eternity chooses His own time. A drop of blood, a fragment of dress, a word, a look, careless or too careful, have brought some hidden atrocity to light. Yet there are criminals suspected, but not convicted. There are spots where terrible guilt has been enacted, but shuddering tradition declares not the doers. There are deep dungeons, now open to the sun, which testify to cruelties that found no record. The worst villanies may have left no apparent vestige. How terrible the disclosures if “the stone shall
cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it," *-if the voice of a brother's blood cry forth from the ground which hath opened to receive it,t—if the all-pervading atmosphere reveal the blows that have been struck through it, the abominations that have polluted it, the cries and groans by which it has been agitated! Now all the clues of secrecy are gathered together in the grasp of the Omniscient. All the caves and dens of the earth all the lonesome alleys and secret chambers—all the pits and ponds where crime deposits its tokens—all the solitary spots where the sinner looked this way and that way and saw no eyes meeting his
own, which enshroud from us some inscrutable mysteryare all as clear to Him as the highway and the church ; and where man scarce ventured to breathe, the breath of God was upon him. Yes! and all the evil which seems neither to make nor fear an outward sign-done in the dark chamber of * Hab. ii. 11.
+ Gen. iv, 10, 11.
imagery-is as open to Him as the traffic of the market : that wickedness, moreover, which is a secret to the blinded conscience itself—“If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it? and He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He know it? and shall not He render to every man according to his works ??' *
This view of the ever-present Deity, who besets us behind and before, has something terrible in it. There are times when, even though our designs are perfectly innocent, we cannot bear to feel that we are watched. It is harassing never to be left alone and to know that privacy is impossible ; but it is far worse, when we suppose ourselves alone, and indulge the unrestrained freedom of privacy, to find that there is an eye still upon us.
Not only does the criminal dread the detective officer, who is narrowly scanning his slightest and most inadvertent actions—is completing a case from his gestures and fitful expressions : the harmless subject of a despot shrinks from the consciousness that there may be a spy always near him—that he has nothing that he can call his own, undisturbed, unpolluted by inquisition. His craving for secrecy strengthens as it is denied. He longs for it for its own sake. What once he would willingly have manifested, he now seeks to conceal. He frets against this inspection as against prison walls.
But do we feel this impatience towards God ? Have we any mad anxiety for an impossible concealment? Far be it from us! The guilty may shrink from His detection, the servile
may dread Him as a tyrant; but as for us, let Him be in our secret, for He is our FATHER, and we would hide nothing from Him. All desires are known to Him; no secrets are hid from Him : be it so; to Him all hearts are open. We would as soon flee from the sunshine which gladdens and beautifies our retired chamber, as seek for happiness away from the effulgence of His love—as soon exclude the air which we breathe from encircling us and pervading us and reviving
* Prov. xxiv. 12.