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with no present attainment as though it were final, but ever to watch for new light and to believe that God has more truth in store for us ;-well to remember always, that
“Our little systems have their day ;
They have their day and cease to be :
And Thou, O Lord, art more than they;" — well to remember that God “is more than they,” and that our highest formulas are still but imperfect guesses at His truth. And yet in this loftiest realm of thought, while we ever maintain the free and open mind, keenly sensitive to every ray of heavenly light, we are not called so urgently to inquiry, speculation, quest after the new, as to a more vivid and practical realization of the old.
Oh, those simple, solemn truths, which lie at the foundation of religion,--the very alphabet of faith, -I ask you, have we mastered these? Do they live within us? Is there one of us that can say he has exhausted them ? Is there one of us that can say he has so completely submitted his heart to them, that his life obeys them as a law? I answer for myself, that of nothing am I more deeply conscious than this, that my belief in the simplest articles of religion is wanting in thoroughness and intensity; and my most earnest prayer is not so much for new truth, as for a firmer grasp upon the old.
We have indeed too much mere half-belief, — belief that seldom touches the springs of our being, -that instead of stirring our nature like some mighty Pentecostal inspiration, only betrays its presence through feeble and fitful impulses, and scarce affects the complexion of the spiritual life.
It has been remarked that Christianity contains in it nothing absolutely new; that its truths had all been anticipated, at one time or another, by the human mind. And the remark is in great measure true. This is indeed the special value of Christianity, as the religion of humanity, that it is not a system of abstruse dogmas and recondite speculations, but that it deals with the simple and common truths which we all need and which perhaps we most of us know. It is the work of Christ to make us feel them, to endow them with new power, to bear them into our heart of hearts and to plant them there, "a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life.”
Let us try our belief then; let us test it on our knees before God. The time will come when He himself will test it; when He himself will put the question, “Dost thou indeed believe?" Sorrow and trial are the Divine tests. When God afflicts us, it is as though He said to us, “Now prove the quality of thy faith.” When He lays us low, and strikes away the outward props that had supported us, and nothing is left to help us but our trust in Him, we learn the truth of ourselves. At such times how terrible to find that between us and the great deep of despair there is but the frail plank of a conventional belief to rest upon ; that the faith which expanded so gaily in the warm sunshine of prosperity is shrivelled up by the first blast of sorrow; and that we are walking through our Gethsemane with no good angel, but only with a phantom at our side! How terrible!
Take the text as a test, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Do you believe that? Do you know it to be true ? Does your heart confess it with full consent, or merely the lips, disciplined by education and habit? Is there a holy spirit of unselfishness in us, nourished and kept alive by perennial streams of charity flowing through the life, which goes forth at once to welcome it as divine ? Disciple, earnestly seeking the truth in thought and life, search thy heart and see !
Again (3), we are led naturally from this point to the best method of building up and consolidating our faith in spiritual truth. “Consult your reason,” says the philosopher; "examine well the foundations; elaborate a rational conviction.” the commandment,” said Christ, "and you shall know if the doctrine be divine.” Do the commandment. Be obedient and faithful, and more light will come, and more strength and joy in believing. Purify your heart, and God will reveal
Himself more clearly unto it. Obey the truth, and your trust in it will grow from day to day. Take the path of practical fidelity,—it is often difficult and toilsome,—but it is the straightest road to the serenity of faith. Prove the doctrine; bring it to the test of life ; place the soul beneath its rule, and
you will soon know if it be divine. The men of strongest faith are commonly those who have toiled and suffered most for truth, and through experience have proved its power. Such was St. Paul, who for Christ's sake could “count all things but loss.” Such was Luther, who in his hour of trial could say, “Christ lives, and I will go to Worms to brave the gates of hell and the powers of the air.”
Do the commandment then ; it is the way of light and peace ; it is Christ's way to the blessedness of a perfect faith.
Who, think you, will most thoroughly comprehend and most undoubtingly believe in the saying of the text ? Not the well-instructed Christian, with every appliance that can help him to master the theory of his faith, who is deeply read in “Evidences,” and versed in the latest “philosophy of religion,” but who has been content to stay at home and render his Christian service by proxy, and lead the easy life of conventional respectability. Not this man surely. But he who, though without learning and great intellectual advantages, has thrown himself heart and soul into the Christian warfare, and lived according to the measure of his power in the imitation of Christ; who has gone about doing good,” and denied himself, and welcomed pain and loss that he might pour blessing on his brethren. That man, poor, simple, ignorant as he may be, will see a world of meaning in the words of Christ, hidden for ever from the mere philosopher, and will feel their truth with an intensity that will put to shame the second-hand convictions with which we are so apt to be content. Yes, if you would learn how true they are, -if you would put to flight any poor scepticism that may be lurking in your
souls,-go and take the testimony of one who, in the haunts of sin and misery, by the bedside of the dying poor,
amidst the taint of pestilence and the moral plague, is giving freely of his richest treasures, and spending himself in others' service. He will tell you that the blessedness is real—how real we can only know by some participation in his experience -aye, by some partnership in his experience. Let us not hope to win the blessing of a deep faith without paying God's appointed price for it. We cannot cheat His laws. We cannot have the strength and peace of the saint, without his endurance and his struggle.
I do not attempt, then, to prove to you that it is "more blessed to give than to receive.” If you do not confess it at the bidding of your own souls, I should labour in vain. I draw
your attention only to the tremendous curse which attends the barren and unfruitful life. It enfeebles and blinds the soul, the spiritual organ, and renders it incapable of appreciating and realizing and loving God's divinest truth.
I will humbly follow Christ's method. He presented his truth in its simple majesty to the soul, and trusted the divine in it to welcome it as divine; and prescribed practical obedience, fidelity to the light, as the best means of clearing and strengthening the eye of the spirit. Of hollow and hardened Pharisees who could not see, and would not humble themselves that they might be healed, he could only say, “How shall ye escape the condemnation of hell ?”
To conclude : Consider for a moment the promise of the text, “It is more blessed ;"—not, it will cause you more happiness, it will make you more comfortable, it will increase your selfish gratification—but, “it is more blessed.”
The word denotes the deepest and the purest joy which is possible to man, -a joy which springs not from selfish sources, which comes of the renunciation of self for the sake of higher and holier things, the merging of self in God. It was Christ's when, having saved others, himself he could not save. It is the martyr's when, having resisted the pleadings of his lower nature, he has resolved to suffer for the truth. It is the mourner's when, having passed through the dark Gethsemane of grief, he has struggled on to the light of God, and, staying its rebellious throbbings, has laid his heart to rest on the Infinite bosom. It is his in every sphere who, when some interest or ambition is urging him to wrong, prepares to be poor and humble and despised and wretched, rather than resist his conscience or quench the light of God within him. It is God's for ever, and the best reward He gives His children, reserved for their highest moments when they give themselves to Him. May it be ours to win it often! May we fulfil the conditions ! May we seek it through loving submission and self-denying toil! Pleasure we may purchase at lower price.
Ease we may cheaply buy. But to secure blessedness we must spend ourselves. It is more and better than selfish pleasure ; it is, as we said, the deep joy of soul, which surely comes whenever we place ourselves in conscious harmony with God.
May He grant that when our term is run, and we review our pilgrimage, and watch, as in the shadow of approaching death, we may have the recollection of many moments in which we have denied ourselves that we might follow Christ; in which we have gladly welcomed toil and pain that we might win a blessing for human hearts ; in which we have resisted some seductive pleading and bid the tempter defiance, that we might serve the Lord ! So may
share in that solemn hour the blessedness which was His portion, who, though “in the bosom of the Father," was yet a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”