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on the faces of the heavens the veto of God on uninterrupted work. By it the Great Ruler of the Universe interferes periodically, that His creatures may economise the limited supply of strength with which He has endowed them. At the very least, eight hours in the twenty-four, a quarter of a century in the life of a man of 75, are withdrawn, are rescued by night from the grasping demands of competitive labour; and as each day the shadow of night, creeping around the surface of the world, advances from village to village, from city to city, from country to country, from continent to continent, from east to west, millions of human workers hail the approaching pause in toil which is thus mercifully imposed upon them. At night's approach, indeed, “the wild animals roaring after their prey do seek their meat from God, and the sun ariseth and they get them away together, and lay them down in dens; " but man's prerogative and rule it is, when his life has not been distorted by artificial civilisation, that he " goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening." We are so accustomed ourselves, we take the familiar features of our life so much for granted, that we probably fail, at first, to see anything noteworthy in the interruption of work by the recurrence of night; and yet conceivably, at least, it might have been ordered otherwise. Man might conceivably have been so fashioned as to be a continuously working being, exposed to no such regulated interruption. And this enforced suspension of activity cannot but suggest a meaning. It suggests not merely the limited stock of strength at our disposal, which thus needs to be often and regularly refreshed and replenished, but it also reminds us that we have a higher life than that which is represented and made the most of by the activity of this life, which will last when all that belongs to this shall have passed away-a life for the nutriment and development of which God thus makes provision, or invites us to make provision, lest we should be swept without thought, without purpose, down the stream of time nto the vast eternity that awaits us.
No doubt the natural rule is in our modern world largely, perhaps inevitably, modified in the great centres of human activity. Gas and electricity are now the servants of us men; and they have gone far to make us, as we may think, independent of the light of the sun. And yet, at the worst, our modern life of high pressure only innovates, within limits, upon the appointment of God in nature. The streets may be lighted through the long hours of the winter night; but as the hours pass, the sounds of busy human life do die gradually away, and little, at last, is to be heard save the footfall of the policeman, or the striking of some clock that marks the advance of time. Man obeys, at last, the summons of night-late, but at last, he withdraws from the importunities of his busy existence for that re-invigoration of his strength, which comes with rest. Does he withdraw for any other and higher purpose as well? Night, it has been said, is an interruption; it is in this like illness-it obliges us to pause that we may take the measure of what we are doing and of what we are. It suggests that this busy world, with its incessant pre-occupations, is not our all; that there is one Being who infinitely transcends it, and who is hidden from our sight by its great and petty cares, by its engrossing pleasures, by its varied and exhausting demands upon our little stock of thought and strength.
II. NIGHT SUGGESTS DANGER.
The daylight is of itself protection. When daylight is withdrawn much
becomes possible which it forbids. Night is the opportunity of wild beasts and of evil men; they ply their trade during its dark and silent hours. And thus St. Paul describes the workers of darkness as "unfruitful;" and the thief to whose stealthy approach our Lord compares the unexpectedness of His second coming is "a thief in the night." But, at any rate, night is the appropriate and recognised season of peril and disaster. Nor is imagination the parent of the idea, since imagination does but dwell upon and realise in detail what experience has taught before. It may, indeed, be thought that this estimate of night belongs only to a rude and uncivilised stage of human life, when society and law are still in their infancy, when order is imperfectly recognised, when crimes and violence are necessarily frequent. Why should we pray God, it has been asked, "to lighten our darkness," when our streets are brilliant from sun-set to sun-rise with gas or electricity? Why beg that of His great mercy He would "protect us from all perils and dangers of this night." There is one form of nightly danger,-the creation of civilisation itself,-against which, we must often and sadly reflect, no human care will absolutely insure our safety. Most certain it is that if civilisation enriches us with one hand, she often, with the other, neutralises he rgift. Her science which gives man's benevolence such astonishing command over nature, also arms his passions, as we know too well, with new and terrific means for destroying life. Her medicine which soothes pain with so many a subtle anodyne, yet prolongs physical existence under conditions when to exist is necessarily to suffer. For there is a lofty and an equal justice which measures out to the successive generations of men a more equal share of the goods and ills of life than the unlikeness of their outward circumstances would at first lead us to suppose. And, so, if in some respects night is less perilous for us than it was for our rude forefathers, in others it is more so. It was not difficult for simple men who dwelt in tents or in rude cabins to escape from the ravages of fire. We do not often hear that the tenants of a shepherd's hut had been burned in their beds; but when long and intricate passages, and many flights of stairs, have to be traversed ere the old or the sickwhom a most stifling, scorching burst of flame and smoke has just roused from their midnight slumber-can reach a place of safety, the event will too probably be fatal. It is with civilised as with savage man-he has in the last resort only one Protector. He who gave us life can alone guarantee to us the permanence of the gift, since He can order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men, and can control the destructive forces of nature, and the sequence of events. "My time is in Thy hand." "I will lay me down in peace, and sleep; for Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety."
III. NIGHT IS A TIME DURING WHICH GOD OFTEN SPEAKS SOLEMNLY TO
THE SOUL OF MAN.
Certainly night is a season of sleep; but the sleep of the body is not wholly and always the sleep of the soul. Often we carry into sleep the thoughts and aims, the passions and aspirations, the terrors and anxieties of our waking hours; we traverse it in a condition of broken or half-suspended consciousness. This faculty of the soul is active while another is dormant; this truth or fact is clearly perceived while another is lost sight of, or it is distorted into some horrible or grotesque caricature of the reality. Sometimes the mind is hope. lessly passive; sometimes it is unnaturally energetic, controlled for one moment
by the severest exercise of the judgment, only that the next it may become the prey of the wildest freaks of the fancy. How familiar to all of us are the experiences of sleep! Yet how little do we really know of that strange border land between the world of sense and the world of spirits! Most assuredly to ascribe a dream to indigestion is in no way to account for the form the dream takes. No disorder of the bodily organs can possibly explain the subtle variety of intellectual and moral agitation which often enters into a single dream-those vague and dreadful apprehensions, that awful soul-appalling spectre, those terrible moments of suspense, those sharp spasms of agony, those ineffable ecstacies, playing as they do in swift succession upon every note upon the vast keyboard of the human soul. When Lord Bolingbroke, the deist, is arguing against revelation, he makes the important admission that it is in reason impossible to deny that Almighty God may, if He wills, communicate His mind and will to a human soul. No believer in God's existence can reasonably deny it; although how spirit may communicate with spirit, the infinite Spirit of God with the finite spirit of man-who of us men shall dare to say? But if we cannot explain how a process takes place, that is no reason for denying that it may or does take place; and the action of God upon the human soul is not more mysterious than it is certain—just as are numberless other facts, such as the action of the human soul upon the muscles of the body,-facts within and facts around us, matters of hard experience, yet defying all our efforts to explain or analyse them.
If God can communicate at pleasure with the soul of man, bearing in upon it thoughts and affections, influences which move the will, He may do so in states of half-consciousness, as well as in states of full consciousness. He may make a dream as well as a sudden intuition of the reason in a man's waking hours the vehicle of His mind and His will. The Bible tells us that He has done so again and again. The dreams of Pharoah's servants, which were interpreted by Joseph; the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, which were interpreted by Daniel; the dreams of our Lord's foster-father, revealing to him the high honour put upon his virgin spouse, and bidding him take her and the Divine Child into Egypt; the dreams of St. Paul, when the angel of the Lord stood by him in the midst of the Mediterranean storm and bade him fear not, since he would live to be brought before Cæsar, and assuring him that God had given all the companions of his voyage to his prayers-these are cases in point. If the Bible is to guide us, there can be no doubt that dreams have often been made the vehicle of communication of the Divine will to man, and that it leads us to expect that they may be so again. Certainly it must be within the experience of many of us that there are cases in modern life in which it is difficult not to think that as of old God speaks to the human soul thus in sleep, warning, encouraging, directing, invigorating it, echoing in the hours of sleep the lessons which conscience has proclaimed by day, and, perchance, notifying to it some truth or fact unknown before, to be verified not long after by experience. Of many such visitations as these, as we look back at them, we may surely and reverently say," Thou has proved and visited mine heart in the night season."
But it is not in dreams that God generally speaks to man in the silent hours of the night. We are accustomed to think of sleeplessness as a great misfortune; and no doubt for men who have to use their brains or their limbs by day the absence of sleep at night is a very serious trouble; it deprives them of the refresh
ment of body and mind which is needful for effective work. And yet sleeplessness may be a very great blessing, if only we think of it; first as part of the will of God respecting us, and next as open to its many opportunities. Never does God speak more solemnly, more persuasively, to the human soul, than during the waking hours of the night. We are alone, it may be, in the dark, yet in full possession of ourselves and of all our faculties; we are alive as really as during the busy hours of daylight to the solemnities of existence; and within us is a voice which speaks for God incessantly; only, during the hours of business and of pleasure it is silenced by the many-tongued clamour around us, or its lessons are forgotten amid the distraction of a thousand competing interests. In the silent night, conscience has its chance, conscience speaks and we listen ; we hear no other voice; conscience revives the past, and the eye of sense rests upon no object which can compete with and efface the awful impression. The past rises at the bidding of conscience-it rises as from the dead; neglected opportunities, the unresisted sins, the disregarded warnings, the profound degradations; they rise all of them, pressing eagerly, one after another, for distinct recognition by the terrified eye of the soul. Conscience often seems to inspire its faithful attendant memory with a weird and supernatural activity; and what was for long years forgotten reappears with every circumstance of contemporary distinctness, so that time and sequence have vanished, and the soul sees its whole history at a glance. And thus it is that the unseen is felt to be what it always is-near and importunate; thus it is that the duties of time are, for the moment, illuminated by the light of eternity, and we listen to the awful undertone of all human existence, and the troops of the angels who execute the will of the Highest sweep around us with a vehemence which is almost sensible, and in our ears the voices of the dead, whom we have known long since on earth, sound with a plaintive and incessant monotony, while a new world of practical thought and resolution steadily thrusts itself upon us. Then it is that religion asserts its empire, and we acknowledge to ourselves with sorrow how much we have overlooked, or forgotten, or despised, or set aside that which had the first of all claims upon us. For above all else One there is whom hereafter we shall see with the eye of the flesh; and even now in these, the preliminaries of His judgment, His voice seems to say to us, "For thee I left the glories of My heavenly throne; for thee I took upon Me a servant's form, and the life of toil and hardship; for thee I endured the spittle, and the scorn, and the nails, and the spear, and the lingering torture of the Cross, and the sharpness of death. What hast thou done, what art thou doing, for Me?"
Yes; it is true, now as of old, that night has its solitary, its priceless, opportunities. Not a few men living can date a complete change in the whole direction and purpose of life from the agony and struggle which those silent hours have witnessed when, like the patriarch, they wrestled in prayer with the Giver of pardon and the Source of strength, and have at last prevailed. Then, as at other times, all the lower instincts of nature are against the more generous aspirations of the soul; but then, beyond other times, it is true that "the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." "Every night," says a penitent, "wash I my bed and water my couch with my tears." "In the night," cries another, "I commune with my own heart, and search out my spirit." "I have thought," protests an exile, "upon Thy name, O Lord, in the night season, and I have kept Thy law." "At midnight," he
resolves, "I will rise to give thanks unto Thee." And why? "Because of Thy righteous judgment." And another solemnly exclaims, "Ye that by night stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God, lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and praise the Lord." Each of these men most assuredly could lift his eyes to heaven and could say one with another." Thou hast proved and visited mine heart in the night season."
One practical lesson, at least, may be remembered as bearing upon this subject-the duty of storing the mind while we are yet comparatively young and strong with that which in the hours of sleeplessness and pain will enable us to rise up to God. A mind well stored with Holy Scripture, with good prayers and hymns, need never feel that the waking hours of the night are lost; they may do more for the soul's true sanctification and peace than any others in this our brief earthly pilgrimage.
God grant that some of us may be able to utter a Christian echo to the Psalmist's words: 66 Thou, O Lord Jesus, Thou in Thy condescending love again and again hast proved and visited this poor heart of mine in the night season; and now, though all unworthy, it is Thine, purchased by Thy blood, consecrated by Thy Spirit, drawn and knit by bands of Thine own making, to Thy blessed Self-Thyself the everlasting home and prize of the lowest as of the highest of Thy redeemed."
Weariness, Disappointment, and Faith.
LUKE V. 5.
"Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing; nevertheless, at Thy word I will let down the net."
It is a voice of fatigue and lassitude trying to steady itself for fresh effort; it is the voice, also, of defeat and disappointment trying to rally itself for fresh enterprise. The night has been long and tedious; hour after hour, watch after watch, has come and gone, and the nets lie as they were cast; no stir and no strain has indicated one single success in the fishing which was their trade and their livelihood. It has been a lost night; they might as well have been in their beds on shore, sleeping. But there is a "nevertheless" in the sentence, and it marks a great transition and a great contrast. One has spoken Whose voice had authority in it, and He has said, "Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught." And although Simon Bar-Jona has not yet had revealed to him that mighty secret involved in Christ's words, "Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church;" although he has yet to go through the elementary experience of simple terror which shall draw forth from his lips on this very occasion, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" yet there was that in the voice which constrained attention and which enforced obedience. 66 Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing; nevertheless, at Thy word I will let down the net." We here see two feelings at work. In the first clause of the text-Weariness: "We have toiled all the night". Disappointment: "We have taken nothing." And both alike are overborne by the mightier motive of Faith: "Nevertheless, at Thy word I will go forth again to my work and to my labour until that great night come when no man can work.