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Now, we shall try to show to you that such a state of thankfulness is attainable, and that, if we believed in " the wijl of God in Christ Jesus," as Paul believed in it, that state would at once be ours.
Our subject, then, is this: The Perpetual Thanksgiving of a Christian life: its difficulty, its motive, and its attainment.
I. Its difficulty.—To give thanks in everything implies something more than silent submission; it implias a constant and trustful acceptance of everything God arranges, and of every change he sends. For with the spirit of trust in thi soul, its whole life would be a hymn of praise. And as we said just now, thi'i so difficult, that the first cry of any man who realized what it meant would bej that it was simply impossible. Let us examine carefully the sources of this; let us ask why it is that we do not trust God with sufficient self-abandonment to thank him in every lot of life.
Manifestly, one source of the difficulty lies in those constant changes of the soul's life which are produced by temperament and circumstances. There are periods of life when it is comparatively easy to be thankful. There are days of sunshine when the pulse of health is strong and free, and bare existence is a jot, when all nature seems to sing one song, and the very "trees of the field clap their hands ; " and then the soul chants gladly its hymn of thanksgiving to tie Father. There are other times, not joyous but sad, in which we readily f thanks too. There are hours when the shock of some trouble has passed, td the sorrow seems holy, and we can trace the glory of eternal love behind its veil. There are hours of solemn meditation, in which we get some deeper vision into the divine meaning of our life, and can see how through the yean we have been led wisely, and sheltered by the shadow of the everlasting wing; and in these times we can say, not loudly, but very quietly, "Father, I thank thee for all." But yet there are other periods, arising from the changing states of our spirits, when to give thanks in sincerity is one of the hardest tasks of life. There are days of dreariness, when our life seems one weary round o work without meaning or end; and then the song of praise dies amid <fle murmuring mill-wheels of toil. There are days of coldness in which the spirit's wings will not unfold; or, if they do begin to soar into praise, the cold blasts oi earthly temptation, or the loudly sighing winds of doubt, beat us down again'0 the world. And need I tell you that that disappointment and weariness will' wear the heart, that the burdened, quivering spirit for the moment loses all trust, and can raise no hymn, and feel no thrill of joyP
Now these inevitable and perpetual changes of the soul's life form one reason why it is difficult to live in perpetual thanksgiving.
But apart from this, there are two great sources of difficulty that are , manent, and underlie all changes of the soul, viz., our fancied knowledge oflifi and our unbelieving distrust of God.
(1) Our fancied knowledge of life. We profess to believe in things not se« and unknown, but we constantly judge our life by what we see and think I know, and hence we become unthankful. We speak, for instance, of speck mercies and calamities. That language may be true if taken to mean mereie in which we can specially discern the hand of God. But we carry it furthei we think we can tell which are great mercies, whereas that which we pass by > a trifle, or Bhudder at as a calamity, may be Heaven's greatest blessing disguise. We see good men fail in some great purpose, and poor men linger suffering till they die, and we call them strangely unfortunate. I do not ntt* to say that failure is not hard, or pain not evil; but when they come withot our fault, and in the path of duty, it'is tremendous arrogance for us to fan' that we can pierce the depths of life, and see that these are not blessings f< which to thank God; and yet we do so every day. We paint our pictures the future, and colour, in imagination, our schemes with success and our bop with fulfilment; and when they fade and fail, we are irritated and unthankful. Alas for our fancied knowledge! Could we see the truth we should know that the failure of that scheme, and the decay of that hope, were blessed helps to the heavenly life, for which we should thank God with all our soul.
It is our way with everything. Constantly we are taught our ignorance, yet constantly we assume to know. Experience reveals to us, that what the child would have chosen the man passes by; and as we move on through life we learn that the brightest rainbows of hope spring from the darkest clouds of trouble; and that in the deepest valleys of humiliation grow the fairest flowers of love and faith; and yet, while experience perpetually teaches that we know nothing of life, we are tempted to forget its lesson, and fancy that we understand it all. And it is just this childish ignorance, this arrogant assumption of our power to detect the good and the evil in the circumstances God sends, which makes it so supremely hard to be thankful in every change of our career.
(2) The other grand source of difficulty lies in our unbelieving distrust of God. This shows itself in two forms. We are afraid to recognise his presence everywhere, and when we do see it, we are afraid to trust him perfectly. The proofs ot this lie close to our daily experience. We see it, for instance, in the fact, that men scarcely dare to believe that God is acting through every little force in nature, and through every trifling change in their career. When ho breaks in upon us in life's greater sorrows, or flashes out on all men through some Biignty calamity, we stand awed, and say, "God is near;" but we are afraid to believe that, when life is moving on quietly through its common round of dreary toil, and no great sorrows break its sameness, and bring us face to face with the Divine—I say we are afraid to believe that then, amid the quiet work and forfiotten mercies of each day, God is acting, moving, breathing through our life; and because we do not believe it, it is hard in all things to be thankful.
Or, on the other hand, when we do discern the hand of God, we are afraid to trust him perfectly. I appeal to your experience whether, in our submission, we are not tempted to bow to a kind of awful will that must have its way, rather than to believe with all the simplicity of children that that which God has chosen for us is most wise, most just, and in the end most kind. Are we not almost afraid to believe broadly in the absolute goodness of our Father P Do we dare to stand up in the night of trouble when we feel that we are lonely Wdis, with the great universe around us, and the untried eternity before—do we flare, then, to say, and to mean it, "This sorrow, which makes me feel my awful loneliness, is a blessing; in this life which seems so stern, I am led every moment by the hand of a Father, and therefore all things are well" P No, no; tt is but seldom that we reach that simplicity of trust in the absolute goodness of God; and therefore it is hard "in everything to give thanks."
"• pass now to consider—
II. The -motive from which this thanksgiving arises. "In everything give thanks," says Paul, "for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning Ton." He seems to mean that God's will is so revealed in Christ, that, believing m !tiWe can give thanks in all things. Let us endeavour to trace the revelation pTen by the Saviour of his Father's will; and then we shall see how it becomeg 'powerful motive to perpetual thanks. He revealed that will in three great «ts. He showed that life was the perpetual providence of a Father; that that providence disciplined human character; and that discipline was explained by •ternity alone.
(1) Life the perpetual providence of a Father. Such was Christ's first revelation of the eternal will. You know how he said that, and lived it, from the commencement of his ministry to its close. He could not see the falling JPjjww cleaving the eastern sky, without telling his disciples, "Not a sparrow ^th without your Father." He looked into the mild, beautiful eyes of lilies, and saw the same hand fashioning them into grace and clothing them with glory, and asked men whether the providence that was thus about their path would not take care of them P He watched the hair of youth losing its lustre, and turning into the thin grey of age, and said that it was not beneath the eternal God to number tho very hairs on his children's heads. The life of Jesus, too, was one ceaseless, silent utterance of his belief in perpetual providence. How often did he say, "My hour is not yet come "—as though the events of every moment of his career were ordained by almighty love. Did he not go through the world, whether men took up stones to stone him, or the people shouted hoaannahs round his way, equally fearless, as though he were sublimely safe until his last work were done P In truth, those grand words of his, "I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world; now I leave the world, and go unto the Father," are only the expression of that profound faith in the perpetual presence of God, which not even the final cry of desertion could really tear from his soul.
Take that revelation, brethren, of the will of God in Christ—realize it as true of your life, and then mark the result. If every momeut, and every trifle of our history, are under the ceaseless providence of our Father, then where shall our thanksgiving end, or for what shall we refuse to be thankful? If in wb«t we call special providences we see only here and there an outflashing of that eternal love that has brooded over us from the cradle—guided and sheltered^ in every trouble—and will be near us still when the shadows of death fall onom way—I say, if God thus ceaselessly arranges, and watches over our life, whst man will dare to take one event God has sent him, and say, "I cannot thank him for that"? Therefore, because that is Christ's revelation of God's will, it is possible to give thanks in everything.
(2) Christ showed also, that that perpetual providence is a discipline of hurma character. The great point to be marked, in looking at this side of Christ's revelation of God's will, is the special purpose for which he taught that proridence was training man.
Now, it seems to me that all his teaching, as well as all his life, shows M this: that not getting more as our own, but being greater in our souls—no* pleasure in the present, but that holiness which is eternal blessedness—no' success here, but the attainment of "the image of the heavenly," even through failure and sorrow, is God's purpose in disciplining the life of man.
Does not the whole career of Jesus form one silent proclamation of these truths P Was not the learning "obedience by the things which he suffered" the end for which the Father's providence led the Divine Man through toil and failure, agony and death P Here there is a revelation of God's will. He would train men to a divine,, Christ-like character, and therefore he works constantly around their life. Again, accept that as true of ourselves, and then see its result. We know not what we are, or what we need, to train us into harmony *>'■ God's will; how, then, can we tell what events in life are best for us? Arew» not bound to believe that that far-seeing eye which sees to-day what we shall be eternally, sees also every trifle that we require as discipline? And if that be true, is there any event of which we can say, " I am not bound to be thankful here " P I believe that the more deeply any man is led to search into those dark "chambers of imagery " which lie in the human soul, the more profoundly b* feels that he cannot understand by what discipline God will purge him from hi' idols, and therefore will accept trustfully the very darkest and strangest dealings of his Father. For there are idols in every man's heart which are almost concealed from himself: we see them only when the lightning-flash of some great sorrow lights up the inmost recesses of the temple of the soul; and who that ever experienced that insight into his hidden idolatry did not feel compelled to say in awe, "God only knows what chastisement I need; I will accept all It* 'ends, for it is meant to make me pure and true "? And if we firmly believed that our Father was ceaselessly training us in his image, we should learn "in everything to give thanks."
(3) The discipline of life is explained by eternity alone. Such was the third great fact by which Christ revealed the will of God.
Ton all know how the life of Jesus grandly revealed that truth. Take his life apart from the eternal glory which crowned it, and it seems only a failure and a mystery. A few brief years of thankless toil—a divine manhood scorned by a shallow and unholy people—the purest effort ever made to elevate man, closed in. shame, desertion, and a cross—this is all you see of the life of Jesus if you regard it only from the side of time. But that life is explained by eternity. Through the apparent failure, and the dense agony, and the deep darkness of death, he rises to the everlasting realm; and then we see how that straDge, sad, earthly life had won the salvation of humanity, and crowned the suffering Son with the glory of the Father.
Once more, we see that this is a revelation of our life too. What that Ufa means, eternity alone can tell. We know only this—that the Father who ordained for Christ his strange dark way, is leading us on a way that must be dark until death shall lift the veil. Once more, I say, take that to your hearts ■ true, and then who will refuse to give thanks even for the darker things that nave saddened his career P We know not what is the eternal glory. We know not what we need to prepare us for its splendour. We know only this, that the Srestmultitude seen by the lonely apostle had all come out of "great tribulation —that the eyes with which they gazed on the glory of the Lamb had been cashed by the tears of human sorrow—that the voices with which they joined in the everlasting song had been trained by the quiver of anguish and the poem of woe—and that their white robes had been worn girt round their loins tor many a year of earthly pilgrimage before they were loosened in that heavenly city. Look at that picture. Christian brethren, and then in front of that Eternal Light which shall explain your life and mine, tell me whether it be not possible to thank God in sorrow. Oh, verily! it is here in view of eternity 'hat the question, "Is it possible to give thanks in everything?" finds its largest fTO Men ask, '' Can you thank God for those who die young, with their "Opesblighted, and their work undoneP" Yes; for who can tell me for what sower ministries in greater worlds their brief life, with its disappointment and '"lute, was training them while here P "Can a man thank God for those most desolate of sufferers, who, crowned with the woe of widowhood, pass days and J1?TM of silent anguish on beds of unceasing pain P" I say emphatically, yes; TMf there are heavenly services which those disciplined spirits are being trained »fulfil, and before whose " exceeding and eternal weight of glory " these years TM tribulation shall dwindle to a point in memory fast vanishing away. Hence, 'hen, we repeat, if we firmly believed in Christ's revelation of God's will, wo Mould find it possible with Paul "in everything to give thanks." This brings M «> consider
~~ The way in which that thanksgiving is to be attained. For the practical '(uestion meets every earnest man, "How am I to bring that motive to bear Jpon my life P I may believe that there is the ceaseless providence of the 'eavenly Father training me for eternity; but how am I to realize it in life's writer hours, so as to be able to give thanks then?"
We can but glance at the answer to that question ere we close.
•Wt us remember that this state of perpetual thanksgiving is not to be reached 5Ja single resolution, or attained in a day by an outburst of excited feeling.
e may say to ourselves most sincerely, "Henceforth I resolve to trust God in
etything," and for the time we fancy that our strong feeling will never pass
T,T' But little vexations soon shake our trust; greater troubles break down our resolution; the excited emotion on which we relied has declined, and we say in disappointment, "No man can be always thankful." You cannot attaia it in that way. It is not the creature of a resolution, nor the result of a few days' endeavour. It is the gradual result of a life of earnest fellowship with God. Let not that familiar phrase disguise from you its meaning by it* familiarity. We mean by it a life that in daily meditation realizes the presenc* of the Father—a life that by intense prayer feels the reality of a Father's lov« —a life that comes at length to walk through the world with its toils and itlj temptations, under a deep sense of the all-surrounding, all-seeing God. LiTSj that life, and gradually you will so realize the perpetual providence of God, thafj every year you will be more and more able
"To thank him for all that is past,
Live that life, and to your endeavours God will add his discipline, refining
Eerfecting your trust, until, under the touch of the eternal finger, your ecomes a harp tuned for eternal song. But remember that that state will not be reached perfectly in this world. W« see too dimly amid the mists and vapours of earth to be always trustful There are sorrows befalling us here for which at first we can render no thanbgiving, and our strongest efforts to submit leave us only sad and still. B* pea of our life rolls too gloomily for mortal eyes to pierce its depths, of comprehend its strange, sad murmur. But wait awhile, and when it has become the "sea of glass mingled with fire" before "the throne of God and of the Lamb," we shall understand its mystery, and burst into immortal praise!
THE PAETING BENEDICTION.
BT THE BEV. 8. COX.
EvEVTS have a strange consecrating power j they set apart and hallow the localities in which they occur. The place in which we have suffered aDy of the great sorrows of life, or rejoiced in any of its nobler prosperities, becomes to us a holy place; our thoughts revert to it with a loving pertinacity, investing it with the sacredness or delightsomeness of the events which happened to us there. Hence the charm which attaches to the home of our youth, the sacredness which attaches to our father's grave. Unconsciously we invest the early home with charms drawn from the dew and freshness of our youth, the parental grave with hues drawn from the love and sorrow of bereavement.
It is singular, too, that' at the approach of death, when we Btand on the threshold of the future world, when, therefore, if ever, our thoughts might be supposed to rest exclusively on what is before us, men not nnfrequently look back on the earlier experiences and scenes of their life, yearning
with importunate desire to revisit the pUc0 in which their first joys and sorrows W met, to round off their life by ending when they began. Very touching have been "* utterances of this desire, both in the old. and the young. Their parting spirits h»»J often seemed detained by it, as thoup they could not pass away until the w> were gratified, as though Death him» must wait until they reached the horns; while at other times the art magic of strorf desire has caused the familiar scenes to n* real and beautiful as of old, and pass before their eye», while they lay "a-dying" ■* foreign lands.
Now, it is one of the cardinal virtuesof the Lord Jesus Christ, one of his chJef«t qualifications for the mediatorial work, th*' he was, and is, "touched with a feeling0' our infirmities," that he can and did enter into all the innocent humanities of our nature. He was no cold, unimpassioned, abstract man. In him were all the tendernesses, preferences, and unsinfnl prejudice!