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THE METHODIST NEW CONNEXION MAGAZINE.
JANUARY, 186 2. Essays, fc., on Theology and General Literature.
ON LIVING NEAR TO GOD. MELANCHOLY is the story contained in the inscription which the Apostle read on the altar at Athens—" TO THE UNKNOWN GOD." Yet not wholly melancholy, for it told something of man's dignity, by witnessing to that feeling after God which, perhaps, even in his lowest condition, never utterly forsakes him. It taught, much more plainly thaa schools of philosophy can teach—for it was the instinctive voice of a whole people—that man must have a God, though one unknown, and will worship him, though blindly. Still it was melancholy, for it told more of man's degradation than of his dignity, because it told that he had gone so far away from God that he could not now find Him ; told that the feeling within him, though rooted at the centre of his being, and all but incapable of destruction, was nevertheless one which, as it did not in the case of the Athenians, so it could not in the case of any one, of itself, ever ripen into a true intelligence. Melancholy, then, because it was a confession of the utter impotence of man, by searching, to find out God; because it gave, in matters of religion, the last result of human wisdom and culture, apart from a revelation from heaven ; because it indicated a struggle to know, without the reward of labour-a consciousness of want, without the supply to meet it-an instinct to worship, without the knowledge of Him to whom the worship should be offered.
How much in advance of these philosophical and polished Greeks was the comparatively unlettered Hebrew, who, gifted with the divine power of song, could-because he had a few of the scattered rays which wore one day to be gathered up and focalized in the Light of the world-ring out from his familiar harp strains so sublime and rapturous as these :-"O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down,
the night hold me even there shthe morning
and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but lo! O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid Thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit ? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence ? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee ; but the night shineth as the day : the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee.” Contrast this language with the inscription on the altar which Paul found at Athens. How distant was God in the one case; how near in the other! So distant, that He was not seen at all; so near, that He was never absent from the view. So distant, that. He could not be known; so near, that the very pressure of His hand was felt. And yet, this nearness, if the language only be considered, might be the nearness of mere reason and intellectual apprehension ; the nearness of Divine perfection, rather than the nearness of human fellowship; the nearness of the poet's vision or of the philosopher's conclusion, rather than the nearness of the good man's inmost experience; the nearness, that is, of God to David, rather than the nearness of David to God. This latter is, for us, the nearness that is most true and most blessed, and, therefore, the nearness which it most concerns us to understand and realize.
Now, the nearness of objects is according to their natures. The same nearness cannot be aflirmed of things whose natures are different. Material objects are near to each other as the space between them is greater or less; events are near to each other as the time between them is long or short; persons are near to each other as the likeness, sympathy, that which forms the condition of communion, between them is much or little. The likeness must be moral, as the sympathy must be conscious. Intellectual resemblances may exist consistently with the widest separation ; but moral resemblances, especially those which are more correctly denominated spiritual, are so many mutual attractions and affinities of nature by which hearts are magnetized into fellowship, and blended into one. Two individuals may be very like each other in intellectual attainments, pursuits, judgments, and yet can no more approach one another than opposite cliffs, torn asunder by storm or by fire. The intellect wants sympathy to draw, and mere opinion is impotent to bind. They may, on the other hand, be very different in almost every purely mental characteristic, and yet, by the gravitation of corresponding sentiments, by the force of sensibilities and affections, which ever, as by some spiritual law, tend to and embrace each other, they may be as near as hearts can cleave, knit in a kinship of unutterable tenderness, each, as in the case of David and Jonathan, loving the other as his own soul. Nearness, in the most intimate sense, is attachment-a growing towards, adhering to, seizing hold of, as the tendrils of a plant incline to, and lock themselves into, the tendrils of a similar and neighbouring plant. It is, therefore, not of the head, but of the heart; rooted in sympathy, mutual complacency, reciprocal affection, and realizing itself in that identity of interest, which makes the joy or sorrow of one the joy or sorrow of both.
Now, essentially, as we have seen in connection with the words of David, God is not far from every one of us. In words, yet more striking than David's—“In Him we live, and move, and have our being." This perpetual nearness may be no secret to us. We may be fully conscious of God's all-surrounding and all-pervading presence, and yet virtually-in all that constitutes the blessedness of a true approach and neighbourhood—be far away from Him. What is distance from God, but unlikeness, opposition, enmity to Him? What, then, is it but sin? When the prophet would describe our sinful condition, he likens us to sheep which have gone astray from their shepherd. When he would account for God's unwillingness to succour or to save His ancient people, he says unto them, “ Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you.” So when Job would set forth the conduct of the wicked who prosper in their way, he represents them as saying unto God, “Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? And what profit should we have if we pray unto Him?” So, again, our Lord, when He would furnish a picture to which every one, throughout all time, might turn for a portrait of himself as a sinner, describes man as a younger son, who, sighing for freedom, independence, enticing pleasures, leaves his father's house, and, with a prodigal's haste, takes his journey into a far country.
Now, because distance from God is sin, the consciousness of sin, especially with the desire of deliverance from it, is this distance lessened. When the prodigal comes to himself, and finds that he is perishing with hunger-when, still more, reflection on his misery ripens into the resolution, “I will arise and go to my Father”—more than the first step homeward has assuredly been taken. When the cry for mercy breaks from his lips, when his eagerness for reconciliation allows him no rest, but constrains him to unceasing pleading and prayer, then is he far on his way. But, when doubt as well as indifference gives way
-when, by one great act of self-abasement and self-abandonment, he thinks only of Christ, and thinks of Him with especial reference to his own condition-when, with the heart unto righteousness, he believes in Him, and accepts Him as the only possible, yet the all-sufficient Saviour_his scparation terminates, and his return is complete. The
this he “comes wenerated affections; hough Thou wa
sin which divided himself and God is taken away. The mountain which stood between them, rendering access impossible, is removed by his faith. By this he “comes unto God," “ speaks to him face to face;" and, with the music of regenerated affections, sings, as he daily “ walks with God,” “O Lord, I will praise Thee: though Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, and Thou comfortest ine. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid ; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song ; He also is become my salvation.”
Nearness is thus of the heart, as also distance is. For this reason it is always relative, and capable of further increase. Of material objects, it is said, that they are never in absolute contact, though they appear so, while yet there is a point beyond which a closer proximity is impossible. But man's approach to God may be so intimate as to realize that inysterious but delightful oneness with Him for which the Redeemer, in behalf of His followers, prayed with a desire so importunate, yet with a fervour so calm; while, at the same time, there is no approach which can be called final, as there is no oneness which can be deemed perfect. By virtue of his capacity for unlimited progress, as, also, by virtue of that grace which is restricted in the supply only by his conscious want of it, man may ever be coming nearer to God, because he may ever he growing more like Him. The growth may be rapid as well as unceasing. There is no fixed rate of progress, though there is a fixed law. The measure of the possible is what can be accomplished by God's working in us both to will and to do, while the condition of His working is our working too. “All the fulness of God” is the sublime language, as, also, the sublime conception, of the Apostle, and every possession short of this is short of attainable good. If there is truth in any words, there is truth in these :-“ Ask, and it shall be given you ; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For if yc, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children ; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.” Not only give, but give Him in the utmost measure; for the degree in which His presence may be enjoyed is shown in the command to be “ filled with the Spirit.” Now, this plenitude of Divine influence is virtually perfection in the Divine likeness. Likeness, again, is nearness, and both likeness and nearness ultimately resolve themselves into love. We thus come to the precept which includes all others, as, also, to the privilege which includes all others, especially that highest one of living near to God; for he who obeys the first and great commandment, and he alone, in the fullest sense, can make the Psalmist's language his own :—“Nevertheless, I am continually with Thee : Thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven
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